Friday, January 30, 2009
Meanwhile, WHSmith has said that it intends to open 44 new shops by the end of its financial year this August. Let’s just repeat that: 44 new shops in the next seven months. In other words, expansion during a recession. Isn't this something to be celebrated? If Smiths is such a disaster – the line is frequently: ‘if it didn’t exist, why would you invent it?’ – why is it the one opening new shops, rather than the so-called 'cooler' brand, Waterstone's?
Thursday, January 29, 2009
A new study in the journal Psychological Science used MRI imaging to study the brain as a person reads and proved, once and for all, what we already suspected: Reading fiction really is genuinely stimulating and a like living vicariously. (Click here for a larger view of the image above.)
"Readers use perceptual and motor representations in the process of comprehending narrated activity, and these representations are dynamically updated at points where relevant aspects of the situation are changing," says Nicole Speer, author of the study. "Readers understand a story by simulating the events in the story world and updating their simulation when features of that world change."'
While their long list was a bit daunting and seemed to take in fully a third of the translated titles in the US (there really aren't that many). Here is the very fine fiction shortlist, and here is the poetry. The winner will be announced in Brooklyn on February 19 at Melville House books and hosted by Francisco Goldman.
Anyone want to bet against me the Bolano's 2666 is going to take the prize? I fully expect him to win both this prize and the National Book Critics Circle fiction prize as well. That said, I wonder how long interest in Bolano will hold up -- a couple years ago, W.G. Sebald went through a similar arc of interest from readers/critics, who has faded from view today.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
“I think that just like public television— I think book review sections almost need to get subsidized to keep the intellectual life in America alive,” Mr. Brinkley said. “So if we can do that for radio and we could do it for television, why can’t we do it for the book industry, which is terribly suffering right now?”
People may remember that earlier this year, Irish humorist Julian Gough (author of a number of highly recommended novels, by the way) channeled then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. in calling for a bailout for writers.
So far, the call has gone unheeded, that at least the government is putting some of the bailout money toward education.
Still, at the end of the day, each city gets the book review we deserve. It's a shame that the Washington Post pulled the plug only a week after Obama's inauguration. He is, after all, a reader and a writer -- unlike George W., They should have given it another six months just to see if there was a cultural change. I guarantee, the next book Obama is spotted with, provided it's not "My Pet Goat" it will become a bestseller.
And is it me, or is there a wee bit of triumphalism in the Times reporting on the Book World's demise? You can see it in the way they underscore their own page count at the TBR vs. everyone else, as if to say "Hey, look, we still have a stand along book review."
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Monday, January 26, 2009
Nelson's most recent editorial, entitled "Change I Believe In," which ran in today's issue begins:
Call me gullible or impressionable, but I'm actually feeling kind of hopeful this week. It's not just the new year or the inauguration (which I loved most for its goofs and gaffes) or even that—please, please—publishing business firings are coming to an end, at least for a while...
I've largely refrained from writing lay-off (or as my polite UK colleague Roger might say, redundancy) stories. There have been so many jobs lost, that it has become a litany of woe. And it is nearly always unexpected. Just two weeks ago, after hearing of another round of lay-offs at Random House, I phoned a high level publicist there with whom I've worked for nearly a decade, just to see if he would pick up the phone. He did, but said that everyone was "extremely nervous." The next day I got an email...from his personal account, as my friend no longer had a desk. He too had been let go.
It's curiouser and curiouser how publishing companies will be able to run with such reduced staff. (I'm getting more publicity pitches that begin "Hi! I'm excited to be joining the campaign for..." as new bodies take over responsibilites for new titles -- and we know what that bodes for a book's success).
Publishing in New York tends to the favor the young -- novelists who are still fresh and dewy like newly sprouted grass, sales, publicity and editorial assistants willing to suffer living in a remote studio apartment in Queens.
The middle aged, are valuable so long as they can retain the contacts and clout to justify their larger salaries.
Publishing can be especially barren for those in their 30s (as am I) and 40s (as I almost am) for this is the period when one often starts to want get a bit more of a life -- be it have kids, get a bigger apartment for yourself/partner/aforementioned kids, or at the very least, start socking away a bit more money for a sense of security.
My casual observation is that publishing folks tend to jump ship around age 29, often to a new career -- editors become agents, lots of publicists I've known have become blushing Wall Street brides (fewer still, grooms), saavy marketing and sales people tend to leave to get an MBA.
Keeping a job in publishing for the long term is a bit of a gamble -- one with increasingly long odds.
So, who do I know who was fired this past month? Well, I'm closely acquainted with a dozen or so people, among them a woman seven months pregnant with her second child, a forty-something editor who couldn't contemplate another career and admitted me "I just don't know how to do anything but edit books," a white-haired senior sales staffer at a prestige publisher who I knew from my days as a bookseller in the late 1980s -- when back then he was a somewhat more spry and darker haired senior sales staffer.
Today, in addition to Sara Nelson, Daisy Maryles, the long serving executive editor who had been with PW for more than 40 years was among a handful of other senior editors let go.
The New York Observer, in reporting on PW's re-org, described Nelson as a kind of "den mother" to the publishing industry -- a statement that, while charitable, drew a snicker or two from the Observer's comments chorus (see Roger's previous post).
A book review editor, and father of three, who works for a newspaper that has shed 20% of its staff in the last year was aghast when I informed him of Nelson's dismissal.
"I all but thought her job was assured," he said, adding "It's starting to feel like we work in a World War I trench, just kind of waiting for the shell to hit."
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Before Waterstone’s was owned by HMV and became the corporate organisation it now is (this is not entirely a criticism: Jon Howells remains one of the best press officers in the business), it was just about possible to ring branches to get reactions to stories. I did it many times, the whole ‘off the record’ rigmarole, the whole ‘one bookseller commented’ etc etc. It is time-consuming and laborious, but it is also real journalism.
But now? You don’t even need to call! They’re all hitting the keyboards before you even pick up the phone. Of course, as with so much on the Net, one has to read the Comments carefully, weeding out the abusive, silly ones, and it’s always worth remembering that people usually only write if they want to complain: far fewer people write to say everything’s dandy. But I don’t think it is true to say that all the comments are inaccurate.
Having read all the Comments on the site after the story that there would be redundancies as a result of Waterstone's moving to a central distribution hub, I would make two point. Firstly, Waterstone’s Get Selling training initiative may have involved head office too, but it does sound patronising. Can you imagine Penguin introducing a ‘Get Publishing’ scheme?
Secondly, surely it was a PR blunder for MD Gerry Johnson to receive a bonus at the end of the year, when staff are about to be made redundant. Here’s what one Waterstone bookseller said about that on the site: ‘With the staff at Quercus taking a pay cut to make sure there are no redundancies, and several larger publishers enforcing pay freezes, Gerry’s big fat cat bonus sticks out like a sore thumb.’
To which I would add, it seems out of character for Johnson, who comes across as very much a ‘man of the people’, a straight talking guy who seems to have a lot of commonsense.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Harvard professor Robert Darton, writing in the New York Review of Books, tries to parse the recent Google settlement -- the one that allows them to go forward with it's massive book digitization effort. It's a solid overview, if not particularly new. He like everyone else, he arrives at a stalemate about how he feels:
"No one can predict what will happen. We can only read the terms of the settlement and guess about the future. If Google makes available, at a reasonable price, the combined holdings of all the major US libraries, who would not applaud? Would we not prefer a world in which this immense corpus of digitized books is accessible, even at a high price, to one in which it did not exist?Perhaps, but the settlement creates a fundamental change in the digital world by consolidating power in the hands of one company. Apart from Wikipedia, Google already controls the means of access to information online for most Americans, whether they want to find out about people, goods, places, or almost anything...Now Google Book Search promises to create the largest library and the largest book business that have ever existed.
He ends by acknowledging that no matter how it plays out, the settlement will be viewed as a "tipping point in the development of what we call the information society."
Thursday, January 22, 2009
It's no secret that popular television shows the power to put books on bestseller lists, so when the headline went out today on the Huffington Post that Gweneth Paltrow's latest GOOP newsletter was recommending books, heart fluttered a wee bit. Think of the spike Dalkey Archive saw for its edition of Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman after it appeared on Lost? Or the boost for copies of John O'Hara's Meditations in an Emergency after Don Draper was spotted reading it on Mad Men? Think of what
So, what the A/B listers are reading? Anything worth getting excited about?
Christie Turlington claims she snuggles up to Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury" and Hemingway (I seriously doubt it -- even Oprah couldn't move the needle for Faulkner).
Paltrow goes in for Crime and Punishment and Jane Eyre, as well as Paul Bowles The Sheltering Sky, a fine book indeed. But I have to hand it to Madonna for suggesting: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts -- edgy -- and her other choices, The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa and The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, are at least contemporary.
My question is whether or not the power of celebrity could be harnessed more often to try and boost the profile of contemporary writers? I don't mean the AAPs flaccid "Get Caught Reading Campaign" -- is tennis player Nicole Vaidisova really a celeb? -- I mean as hucksters, blurbsters, human pitchmen/women?
It would seem these days with so many movies being adapted from books these days, it would be in the stars best interest to, well, take an interest.
Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Monday, January 19, 2009
In short, to use that time-honoured, quintessentially English (and Australian) phrase, he was a good bloke – and they can sometimes be hard to find the higher you go in companies. My thoughts go out to his wife, the publisher Clare Ledingham, and their three children.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Angus Philips, Director of the International Centre for Publishing Studies, Oxford Brookes University, mentioned Amazon too. “The story going around before Christmas was: what if Amazon buys the new Dan Brown for the Kindle and then licences print rights?” He thinks that what we are looking at in the future is a mixed economy of print and digital. But he asked: “Why not release the digital versions first, for a price?”
George Walkley, Director of Digital Strategy at Little, Brown, and self-confessed “geek” agreed. “Publishers should consider digital editions much earlier, and we also need to be able to add value – we have barely begun to explore the potential for additional content within the e-book.”
Peter Crawshaw, co-founder and Director of Lovereading.com, was concerned about price. “At the moment, you pay more for the e-book version of Henning Mankell’s Firewall than the paper version. That is preposterous and unsustainable.”
Interestingly, environmental issues were not mentioned at all, perhaps because people are confused over the relative carbon footprints of e-book reader production and paper books. The best question from the floor concerned VAT. Currently, this exists on e-books, but not on printed books. Kohn said envisaged no change, and that the revenue from e-book VAT at the moment is tiny. However, as the market grows larger, this area will need watching. Currently, books do not have VAT because it would be seen as a tax on knowledge. But a book is a book is a book. If it is a tax on knowledge on printed books, then surely it is a tax on knowledge on e-books and should not be applied.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Theoretically, college students are perfect test subjects for the testing of E-books. Afterall, don't they pay thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for the priviledge to read for four years (this is in the US, of course)? There are a number of ongoing projects, including one at Northwest Missouri State University, where last year they issued Sony PRS-505 e-book readers -- which they determined “was not necessarily designed for what we want to do." This spring they are using the new updated Sony reader, the one with a touch screen, and are utilizing CourseSmart, the consortium of five textbook publishers. Elsewhere, the University of Texas is starting a similar experiment with students next Tuesday. In both instances, the school is paying for the e-textbooks, something surely doesn't please either of the school's bookstores.
In Missouri, the administration believes that about 50% of the student body is interseted in e-textbooks. At Texas, the school's bookstore, University Co-op, already has e-textbooks available for hundreds of classes. Numbers don't lie: In the 2008 fall semester, the Co-op sold e-textbooks for 198 different courses which were taken by a total of nearly 15,000 students. The total number of e-textbooks sold: 55.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Few would disagree with that. What hasn’t been discussed so much is the possible effect on distributors. Once the distribution centre – actually, Johnson calls it a Consolidation Centre – starts running, some observers believe two consequences are likely: a greater increase in the number of deliveries direct to it from printers, bypassing distributors, and an increase in the number of bulk deliveries to it from publishers’ own distribution centres.
One senior figure from that side of the business told Publishing News: “There is the possibility of redundancies across the distribution centres. Distributors will save because goods-out will be pallets, not parcels, going to Waterstone’s consolidation centre. So there won’t be so many people needed to do the picking for x number of Waterstone stores.”
As of today, many Waterstone staff are angered because the story appeared in today’s Guardian first, ahead of today’s store briefings.
Friday, January 9, 2009
So, what do you do? You do what everyone does. You see what people above you have put and simply copy it. Today, 9 January, at Random House in London, I noticed that the author Edward de Bono – yes, he of ‘lateral thinking’ fame – had put 10/1 a few people earlier than me, and everybody had simply followed suit. Call me sad, but this amused me no end.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
A few years ago I started slicing the spines off my pre-pub galleys with a table saw and running them through a high-speed document scanner. I read them on my Tablet PC, where I can mark them up at will, or else load them onto my e-book reader. It's convenient, if a somewhat labor intensive process for eliminating galley clutter. Now, Plustek promises with their new $600 Bookreader scanner, you can scan a book in and get an MP3 out the other end.
I've been a fan of the Audible service for years -- it's dowloadable files have been far more convenient than CDs since it's inception. With a reasonably speced Ipod, you can carry around a small library in your pocket. Is the Plustek scanner something worth considering -- say, for a librarian with a discregard for copywrite who wants to illegally expand their libraries audiobook holdings?
Not likely. After all, the first question such a device raises is what kind of voice will these MP3's be read in? After all, one of the great pleasures of listening to a book as opposed to reading it is the interpretation and skill of the narrator. Plustek promises a "lifelike voice." Unfortunately, no matter how "close" to life the voice may be, it won't suffice.
Reading -- whether done with the eye or the ear -- remains at it's heart about the human interaction. Still, I'm sure there must be a few books out there that might benefit from being interpreted in a "lifelike" voice -- computer manuals, for example. Or a home repair manual -- both might sound better read with an utter lack of enthusiasm in a plodding computer voice.
Like many, however, I was saddened to read of his passing. Arcade Publishing, which Seaver founded with his wife Jeanette in 1988, is one of those companies that exists for the right reason - to publish new, original and interesting writing without fear. No doubt it's been a struggle financially to do this over 20 years, but thank goodness there are still publishers trying to do it.
Incidentally, Seaver's wife Jeanette appears to have finally outed him as 'Sabine d'Estrée,' the mysterious translator of that celebrated erotic work, The Story of O and its sequel. No doubt John de St Jorre is pleased the mystery is now over. He performed some fascinating detective work on the subject in his wonderful book about Maurice Girodias and the legendary Olympia Press, The Good Ship Venus (Venus Bound in the US).
'The relationship between Sabine d'Estrée and Dick Seaver was a loyal and lengthy one,' observed the canny St Jorre, who was responsible for unmasking the book's French author, Dominique Aury. 'When Seaver moved publishing house, so did Sabine. There is no trace of Sabine doing translations for anyone but Seaver.'
Pretty close, I'd say.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
I had previously thought the Emdashes blogger was the person most obsessed with the New Yorker magazine. But the proprietor of The Millions blog has documented a year’s worth of fiction that has appeared in its pages, offering a précis of each. Wow! That’s dedication. I just cleared out my tottering pile of the magazine and took it to the recycling bin just last night, especially after considering you can now get the magazine as a digital download.
Another New Yorker-obsessed blogger was Moby Lives (aka, Dennis Loy Johnson, proprietor of Melville House Press) who tracked the ratio of male-to-female authors that appeared in the magazine each week. He came back to blogging a few months ago after a multi-year hiatus (Moby Breaches!). Check it out.
No, that’s not true, either for the publisher or the public. How many poets receive the same advance as Patterson? In the UK, a James Patterson paperback will be discounted, almost as a matter of course; a Faber poetry title will not be. Poetry is a specialist interest for which it is possible to charge more. It is one area – and how booksellers wish there were more of them – where it is possible to sell titles at full price.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
The Librairie was a reliable source of the latest bestsellers from France (I discovered Daniel Pennac there, among others), as well as books and magazines, and dictionaries in more than 100 languages. The AFP reports that the store’s rent is going to balloon from $360,000 to nearly $1 million this year – an astronomical sum for any bookstore, let alone a foreign language one.
It’s wonder that S.F. Vanni, NYC’s only Italian-language bookstore (sorry, Rizzoli doesn’t count) still manages to survive, though admittedly the last time I was there stock consisted of a few hundred dusty titles – lots of them Andrea Camilleri novels.
Note: If you’re looking for S.F. Vanni, you can find it 30 W 12th between 5th & 6th Aves. Call ahead -- 212-675-6336 -- for opening hours, as it’s only open sporadically Tuesday – Friday -- and the proprietory closes up shop, as per Italian tradition, for an afternoon siesta.
Monday, January 5, 2009
Lisbon wrapped up its year-long tribute to the poet Fernando Pessoa in the hope that he will become symbolic with the city, much in the way James Joyce is with Dublin. They’ve even erected a new bronze statue of Pessoa sitting at his favorite sidewalk café, the Brasileira in Chiado Square.
Dublin, mind you, if far ahead in the head-count, with statues of Joyce, as well as Oscar Wilde and the poet Patrick Kavanagh. (Which I once hit squarely in the had with an egg while walking the other side of the canal on which the statue sits in permanent contemplation – something I attribute to having played American baseball.)
A couple interesting facts to note about Pessoa, who died of tuberculosis at age 47: He spent nine years of his childhood in South Africa and once wrote an advertising slogan for Coca-Cola.
Were anyone you know planning a trip to Lisbon, I would highly recommend that put the Bertrand bookstore on their agenda. Founded in 1732, it is among the oldest continually operating stores in the country.
December was a busy month for the German Book Office in New York.
First, the organization celebrated its 10th anniversary with a lunch on December 5—unfortunately timed for Black Wednesday; guest of honor Random House CEO Markus Dohle sent his regrets. Eleven days later, it hosted its second “buzz panel” to promote new German-language titles to potential editors. The biannual event, which was inaugurated in May, drew 40 people to listen as translators and scouts pitched books at Deutsches Haus on the New York University campus. Finally, the GBO began serving as the official, rather than de facto, New York office for the Frankfurt Book Fair. Hannah Johnson is the new liaison assisting U.S. publishers with their arrangements for the annual fair.
The GBO, which is a public/private partnership supported by the German Foreign Office, the Goethe-Institut and the Frankfurt Book Fair, has been “instrumental in bringing hundreds of book titles to the attention of American publishers,” said Riky Stock, GBO New York's director since 2002. A recent example of a book published with the help of the GBO, Stock noted, is Fred Wander's novel The Seventh Well, released by W.W. Norton. Stock emphasized that the GBO does not sell rights, but assists with logistics and bringing attention to German authors who haven't hit the bestsellers list. “A popular writer like Cornelia Funke might not need our help, but there are plenty more who do,” Stock said. Over a calendar year, the GBO promotes as many as 40 fiction titles, 40 children's books and 80 nonfiction titles, which are divided into spring and fall lists and published as catalogues.
Looking forward, Stock said that GBO's attention is turning increasingly toward working with university presses, which have been especially receptive to publishing German nonfiction, and she cited recent sales to Stanford and Princeton University presses; Stanford has signed Violence as Worship by Hans G. Kippenberg, while Princeton has acquired Trust in Violence by Jan Philipp Reemtsma. In 2009 the GBO's 10th annual “editor's trip,” which takes a group of overseas editors to visit German publishers and editors, will focus on nonfiction books.
“People always say that Americans aren't interested in translated literature or books from foreign countries,” said Stock. “Our experience at the German Book Office has proven that not to be true. We wouldn't be here after 10 years if they weren't.”
This article is reprinted from the January 5 edition of Publishers Weekly.