Thursday, July 31, 2008

Online books sound as good as the real thing

I've been checking out this week, the US website that presents full 'preview' versions of  children's picture books. It's the latest service to try and convince fearful publishers that showing off their entire books online will actually generate sales rather than kill them. 

The service shows low resol
ution Adobe Flash versions of the books, thus ensuring that there's very little chance of piracy (even if you download and print the file, it's barely readable). If you like what you see, it invites you to buy the book, rate it, embed it in your blog or share it with a friend. Very Web 2.0.

At the moment, the site only directs visitors to US online booksellers Amazon and Barnes & Noble,  and the American Booksellers Association's BookSense service (recently relaunched as  Indiebound).

Among the 300 titles online in the 'beta' version of Lookybook are backlist titles from reputable publishers like Charlesbridge, Kids Can Press and Chronicle Books.

I've been looking at online 'virtual editions' technology for over a year now. Australia's trade magazine Bookseller+Publisher (of which I was Publisher until May this year), has just followed Publishers Weekly and The Bookseller in publishing an 'e-mag' edition, based on the European Neptune FSI viewer technology (also Flash-based). There are now plenty of similar technologies around.

Interestingly, what people seem to like about the FSI solution was the fact that it closely mimicked reading a 'real' publication, even down to providing the sound of turning pages. I remain to be convinced that people will use such technologies in preference to reading the printed matter, but as way of reaching readers without having to print and distribute more books or magazines, it has exciting potential.

One use of this technology could be to provide online editions of all your Frankfurt samples. A few companies are already creating online editions of their rights catalogues, but why not the books themselves? Nothing's likely to replace the need to quaff 'relationship-building whisky' at the Scottish stand in Hall 8, but having online samples might have saved the blushes of one leading Australian publisher last year, who was obliged to stand in a empty stand on the opening day, as they waited for all their samples to arrive.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Stephenie Meyer's Fans Hear Wedding Bells

If anyone's forgotten, it's an election year in the United States and publishers have been just a little bit reluctant to release much blockbuster fiction or nonfiction into the media vacuum this summer...until now!

Yes, vampire fans, Little, Brown Books for Children is delivering 2.5 million copies of Stephenie Meyer's Breaking Dawn, the final installment of her bestselling "Twilight" quartet on Saturday at 12:01 a.m. Teenage girls across the nation -- and world, no doubt -- will get to learn if Bella and Edward the vampire finally tie-the-knot. (Can't stand to wait: here's a spoiler from Entertainment Weekly).

I've been told that a few grown men out there are even fans of the books -- though the one I tried to talk to, a private banker no less -- flatly refused to allow me to use his name or even mention his very existence. (Sorry Dude!)

Are their male Stephenie Meyer fans out there? If so, unmaskyourselves.

MAN Booker Dozen...You Know, Like Donuts

The MAN Booker Prize longlist was just announced -- and though they're calling it the "Man Booker Dozen" it includes 13 books, just like when you buy a baker's dozen of donuts.

Of the books on the list that I've read, I can honestly say that Joseph O'Neill's "Netherland" is the best novel I've read all year. "A Fraction of the Whole" by Steve Toltz was terrific, though sales here in the US were modest, despite the best efforts of his publisher.

Of the others, Tom Smith's "Child 44" was a very fine thriller, but more a genre book that the high-minded fiction one expects to get the nod from Booker committees. I found Rushdie's "The Enchantress of Florence" inpenetrable (and I'm a fan), but he seems to have a permanent slot reserved for him, perhaps as his having written the book voted the "Booker of Bookers."

Amitav Ghosh is reliably good, as is Sebastian Barry. I hope to read through the rest, just as soon as I finish the even longer long list for the Dylan Thomas Prize, which I'm helping to judge this year.

Looking back, the first Booker Prize winning novel that I remember selling well in the US was 1990s "Possession" by A.S. Byatt. I was working in a bookstore in Boston when it was published and the combination of its romantic plot and a pretty cover featuring "The Beguiling of Merlin" by Edward Burne-Jones convinced more than a few customers to opt for a copy. Since then, the Booker has had it's hits ("Life of Pi") and misses ("Vernon God Little"), and more than a few choices to which readers have seemed sadly indifferent.

I wonder, can more be done to reclaim some of the prestige among book buyers? Share your thoughts.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The American Nobel

Whenever I travel abroad I always marvel at the number of American authors whose names I recognize when visiting bookstores, even when they’re published in Cyrillic, Thai, Setswana, whatever…Whether in Valletta, Bucharest or Jakarta there seem to be shelf upon shelf of USA originated material. On the other hand, visitors to the US from abroad nearly always remark at how few translated titles there seem to be on offer.

That's not to say that there's a dearth of information about world lit available stateside. One of the finest, yet lesser known sources of information comes out of remote Norman, Oklahoma – deep in Indian territory where most publishing folk are too fearful to tread lest they get scalped by the yokels, errr, locals. (I can say that, I live in Texas, where we have a long standing rivalry with our neighbors to the north).

It’s called, most fittingly, World Literature Today. Published six times per year, WLT is a journal fat with reviews of books from languages and countries that span the globe. Most are done by academics with a thorough knowledge of the language and literature out of which a book arises.

What’s more, World Literature Today sponsors the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. It is, to me, one of the best judged and juried prizes going -- and to many, an early indicator of likely candidates for the Nobel Prize.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez won the prize in 1972, a full decade before he was lauded in Stockholm. (Actually, 32 laureates, candidates or jurors in the past 39 years have been awarded Nobel Prizes following their involvement with the prize).

Take a look at the list of recent winners: Patricia Grace (New Zealand), Claribel Alegría (Nicaragua), Adam Zagajewski (Poland). Time to brush up on your Swedish ladies and gentlemen…