Friday, February 27, 2009
CEO Tim Hely Hutchinson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "As far as independent booksellers are concerned there is a danger that publishers like me will pay lip service to supporting independents and use various bandaids to make things better, but are not doing much to stop the economic thing of the big guys gradually crushing the smaller people. And I actually do think that we need to go further in finding more meaningful, more economically meaningful solutions to this issue because we certainly do want independent booksellers to survive".
So what is to be done to protect independents? More discount for them? Lower rents and rates? As ever, these issues throw up all the familiar questions of intervention v the free market. Should the BA or PA step in? Should publishers agree not to make exclusive deals with the chains? Should the UK have something like the Robinson Patman Act? And so it goes on.....
Thursday, February 26, 2009
The one penny books are entirely undesirable either: Alec Klein's fine book, A Class Apart, about Stuyvesant High School is there, as is Robert Draper's book on George W. Bush, Dead Certain, is on sale as well. Take a look for yourself.
Our industry needs to examine how any book manages, yard sales excepted, to end up on sale for just a penny. UPS/FedEx and the shipping companies are raking it in. Frankly, all this shipping back-and-forth of books -- for what? A Penny -- surely isn't worth the cost to environment.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
German author Eckhart Tolle offered US news program Nightline a rare interview, one in which he suggests that our ego is the key to discontent.
Having sold ten million copies of his book, A New Earth, he's quite content.
For more on Tolle, see Oprah's ten part online-only series on the book.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
"Seaver's writers were distinguished and significant, often foreign and sometimes lessor known. though they included Harold Pinter, Octavio Paz, and John Berger," writes Salter. "There were possible Nobel laureates but modest sales."
Salter too mentions his suspicion that Seaver had more to do with the book than merely serving as translator.
"I have a kind of Scrabble hand, the letters A A E E E I U and G L N P R," writes Salter. "They are the letters of the name Pauline Reage, listed author of L'Histoire d'O and pseudonym of the books' actual writer, Dominique Aury...The trouble is that Seaver, who translated the book into English, on sever occasions told me that Dominique Aury was not the real author despite all that has been written saying so. Pauline Reage was anagram for the name of the genuine author, a name I would recognize and know, he said.
"I'm waiting for his yet-to-be-published memoir to reveal the answer."
For those who haven't yet seen it, the March issue of Harper's magazine in the US features a cover story about last year's Frankfurt Book Fair. Entitled, "The Last Book Party," and subtitled "Publishing Drinks to a Life After Death," it's a wry, well-observed if too cynical look at the Fair.
The author, Gideon Lewis-Kraus takes in the Fair on the arms of a few key US and UK players, most notably, Bob Miller of Harper Studio, and Morgan Entriken of Grove/Atlantic, agents Ira Silverberg and Andrew "The Jackal" Wylie, and the New York Times' publishing reporter Mokoto Rich -- a cast, aside from Rich, of "usual suspects." (It's not news, as such, that Morgan likes to party, but has dialed it back with the arrival of his AARP card.)
Things get a bit more interesting when Lewis-Kraus, encounters the likes of Random House CEO Marcus Dohle, whom he rather unkindly refers to rather unkindly as "the printer" and HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray, whose pants are, deemed "too shiny." Little, Brown publisher Michael Pietsch is described as "the kind of man you would be chuffed to have as your uncle." (As it happens, Bob Miller is sort of the author's uncle -- Miller's mother was the author's second wife.)
Throughout, the not-so subtle suggestion is that an army of dull, technocratic Germans are running the traditional community of Jewish creative/intellectual elites out of the publishing business. (The Frankfurter Hof, where many of the parties take place, is explicitly referred to as "Hitler's favorite hotel."). However clever that observation may appear to be -- it's a superficial one. Publishing has been largely diversified, ethnically and racially, for decades, and at least as long as any of those working in it can remember.
Then again, the author also seems to think that everyone in publishing is also sartorially challenged (what people are wearing consumes plenty of space) and ever-so-slightly uncool.
The Fair is summarized as "part industry convention and part endurance trial" a place where everyone comes across as weary of the work and unfashionable (what people are wearing is a big theme). It's a bit of a shame that the author and so many of the people quoted here, as well as the author (who is attending his first Fair) come across as so jaded.
Call me crazy, but if you love books -- what could be more stimulating than a few thousand, or tens of thousands, or over the course of a week -- hundreds of thousands -- of people gathered together to talk, peruse and, yes, sell books? If you can't find something at Frankfurt to get excited about with regards to publishing, you're not looking.
Follow-up: The LA Times interviewed the author of the piece here.
Monday, February 23, 2009
The full list is as follows: A Kind of Intimacy, Jenn Ashworth (Arcadia Books); Ablutions, Patrick DeWitt (Granta); An Equal Stillness, Francesca Kay (Weidenfeld & Nicholson); Black Rock, Amanda Smyth (Serpent’s Tail); Days of Grace, Catherine Hall (Portobello); Guernica, Dave Boling (Picador); The Street Philosopher, Matthew Plampin (HarperCollins); Ten Storey Love Song, Richard Milward (Faber); The Earth Hums in B Flat, Mari Strachan (Canongate); The Piano Teacher, Janice Y K Lee (HarperPress); The Rescue Man, Anthony Quinn (Jonathan Cape); and The Vagrants, Yiyun Li (Fourth Estate).
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Hachette UK CEO Tim Hely Hutchinson and Curtis Brown's Sheila Crowley
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
US talk show host Conan O'Brien spent some quality time with Hunter S. Thompson as the late author was promoting his book Kingdom of Fear back in February 2003. If you've never seen Hunter in action, making "art" by blowing away his own books with a machine gun, take a look and (please) be amused.
“In light of the Chinese government's efforts to minimize the effects of China's significant piracy problem, it is truly unfortunate that the government has chosen to ignore this blatant infringement, which is being facilitated by government-run institutions,” said AAP President and CEO Pat Schroeder in a report submitted to the Office of the United States Trade Representative.
“Companies such as Kangjian Shixun that are profiting from blatant infringement must be held to account and China should take effective steps to stop libraries from engaging with such illegal enterprises. The threat of Internet piracy in China is growing daily and a country that expects to be a leader in the digital world cannot afford to let it continue."
The AAP is also recommending that 12 others be put on the “Priority Watch List,” including – surprisingly – Canada, as well as Egypt, India, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, and Thailand.
Among the other counties mentioned in the report, which was compiled by a half-dozen other copyright related trade organizations, are Spain, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and South Korea.
“Piracy around the world impedes economic growth by diminishing the incentives to create and distribute content, and undercutting the companies who produce these products,” wrote Schroeder. “And as access to online and mobile technologies increases, the threat of digital piracy looms ever larger as a real threat for the book and journal industry, both now and in the future. It is therefore essential that the gaps in intellectual property protection underscored in this report be closed.”
The full report is online at www.iipa.com
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
It's the early 90s, and I'm in graduate school in New York. All the fiction writers I know want to write like one of two men: Raymond Carver or Donald Barthelme. It's surprising to realize how much their work has faded from view. There was a time Barthelme was so hip, MTV used his story "Chablis" as a public service announcement for reading. "Reading: Feed Your Head" was the tag line. Those were the days.
Don B is back in a big way, in part because of all the attention being brought back to him from the publication of Tracy Daugherty's new biography, Hiding Man: A biography of Donald Barthelme.
It's about as close as you'll come to finding a skeleton key to his very strange, unusual masterpieces. (My full assessment, written for the Dallas Morning News, is here)
And for your reading pleasure, I direct you to this online collection of some of his best. My personal favorite, "I Bought a Little City," which is here read by Donald Antrim also happens to have given its name to a cool little coffee shop in Austin. These days, though, with a 14 month old at home, I don't get to coffee shops much and the story I best relate to is this gem, which beings, appropriately, "The first thing the baby did wrong was to tear pages out of her books."
Monday, February 16, 2009
Friday, February 13, 2009
Remembering those months is to remember another era. The UK still had the NBA and the main book trade news story of any week was the latest attempt by Dillons’ boss Terry Maher to circumvent it. On the day the fatwa was issued I was at Penguin for a publication lunch for Philippa Gregory’s Wideacre – such a non-event compared to what was unfolding elsewhere. There was a gap at the table because one of the Penguin senior staff had been called away to a meeting. We didn’t think anything of it at the time. That meeting, of course, was as a result of the Ayatollah’s announcement and Rushdie having to leave his house in Islington.
And so the madness began. A week or so later I travelled to Mosques. I was so struck by how peaceful they seemed – and yet there was all this insanity outside. The threats to booksellers and Penguin staff were real. The publisher received letters signed in blood. There were arson attacks on shops. For more than a year a policeman was on duty outside Penguin’s offices and became a familiar book trade sight.
The years went by and gradually the story became ‘would Rushdie be at such and such a party?’ It was surreal. You would be at the annual Authors of the Year bash at Hatchards on Piccadilly and you would suddenly realise he was there, across the other side of the room, having been slipped in via a back entrance. Pretty soon it became obvious that he was at every party and the novelty wore off.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
2005 – 1,562
2006 – 1,483
2007 – 1,422
2009 – 1,350
Curiously, figures from Book Marketing Limited show that between 2003 and July 2007, sales through independents grew by 2% in volume and 10% in value. The reason cited at the time was that those less efficient independents that were perhaps protected by the NBA had fallen by the wayside, leaving the well-run businesses to carve out a niche. BML has its annual Books and the Consumer Conference at the end of next month and it will be interesting to see the updated figures.
The independents v chains debate is one that frequently leads to a lively debate on the Comments section of the Bookseller’s website (http://www.thebookseller.com/news/76068-hard-year-for-indies-as-numbers-dwindle.html). Here’s a recent comment: ‘There is of course a vast difference between (i) a local indie that serves a people and a place, is embedded there, who answers to that place - not a faceless board in London - and whose relatively modest profits largely stay in the local economy and (ii) a here today/gone tomorrow chain store branch with no real interest in the area except insofar as it contributes towards the corporate bottom line and the wealth of shareholders (who themselves have no local connection),and whose use of local business-to business services is minimal….It should otherwise be obvious that one sustains and nurtures the local community and the other takes from it as much as it can, notwithstanding the provision of local "sponsorship", events, etc when HQ decides it would be prudent PR.’
(Above: Standing proud: Main Street Trading Company in St Boswells, Scotland)
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Among those included are the aforementioned Bob Stein. There are also contributions from a host of other people you may have heard of before, but perhaps can't remember why.
He argued that a reader’s ability to comment on a text suggests that the hierarchy between the writers and readers is false. By commenting on a text, either scribbled in a bound book or as a comment posted online to a digital text, the readers places him or herself in a parallel role to that of the author.
Stein proposed the new definition of a book should be “a place where readers (and sometimes authors) congregate.”
“A book obscures the social relations that underlie a book. They are much more a social experience than we realize,” he said. In this conception of the book, writing is a collaborate event. Authors will no longer sit alone conceiving of a book entirely on their own. Nonfiction authors “become leaders of communities of inquiry” and fiction writers will be “creating a world together with their readers.” Books will, he suggests, be created transparently and collaboratively, largely online, with the participation of readers.
In this brave new world, the key role of publishers “is to build and nurture vibrant communities for authors and tend to their readers.” They will be judged on their ability to “curate and build communities for their authors around their readers.”
Stein said that it is likely his grandchildren will think of reading entirely as social experience. “The idea of reading alone…they won’t even understand that concept.”
Reprinted from Publishers Weekly
“Captain, HarperCollins say they may have to lose 5% [http://www.thebookseller.com/news/76858-harpercollins-consults-over-job-losses.html]. Look, there goes another Production Director off the side now. What do you want us to do?”
The bow of HMS Random House plunged through the Atlantic swell, moonlight playing on its mighty steel hull.
“Hold your nerve, men. Steady as she goes.”
“Captain! In-coming Amazon press release re discounts!”
“Engine room, hard to starboard, now!”
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
The biggest splash so far is the presence of the second generation Expresso Book Machine. It's notably smaller than the previous generation, perhaps half the size, though it appears just as labor intensive to maintain (everytime we've stepped in to take a look, someone is bent over with their hands in the guts of the machine).
Here's a first look:
Monday, February 9, 2009
Friday, February 6, 2009
It has been more than a week since John Updike’s death was reported in the UK media and there are still articles and comments about him in the press. I cannot remember another writer’s death that has caused such an outpouring and it is a measure of the esteem in which he was held.
Here’s something I wonder about: is there a contradiction between Updike the polite, conservative upholder of old-fashioned values, with his jackets and ties and collegiate appearance and his lovely short stories that capture the little joys and sadness of family life; and Updike, the man who divorced, who disrupted the classic suburban family, who arguably behaved in anything but that conservative way.
I love his writing, but I worry that there isn’t a trail of hurt somewhere; that his children may have a different view. Inevitably, one finds it difficult to separate the life from the art. I’m sure I remember reading an interview with his son David – whose short stories Out on the Marsh were published in the UK – in which he evaded a question about those years.
One doesn’t know the details, but I just worry that his children may read all the tributes and think ‘That’s all very well, but I was there and it hurt’. Yet of course, it must have hurt Updike too. Forgive me for the above; in some ways, since Updike is American I don’t feel he is one of ours to talk about. But there, I’ve done it now. And for stories such as ‘The Family Meadow’ he will always be one of my favourite writers.
One of the final pieces John Updike published before his passing was an appreciation of the mysteries of Mars and NASA's ongoing attempts at exploration.
In the article, written for National Geographic, he describes it as "a dying planet not yet dead," which is what I think of as a surprising analogy for Updike's own place in the constellation of American literature.
He was a man of his time -- 60s and 70s suburbia -- and though his skills never diminished, his status did fade as he lost his grip on the mores of the age. (See: Tom Wolfe). Updike was a Dying Planet Not Yet Dead and will likely remain so for some time.
And, just for fun, here's an audio interview he did with National Geographic in 2007 about bizarre and novel dinosaurs.
I'm a fan of Tina Brown's new online news thing "The Daily Beast." As befits a Web site that takes its name from literature, (as does Starbucks...) Ms. Brown has launched a new supplement dedicated to all things literary: The Book Beast.
The first posts include a piece by Lee Siegel on the me-too critics lauding Updike only now that he's dead, an excerpt of Bryan Burrough's engrossing (my critique) new book about the Texas oil dynasties, and a look at the new Norman Mailer Writer's Retreat in Provincetown.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Back in October following the Google settlement with the publishers, I predicted that it was only a matter of time before Google Book Search was brought to your cell phone.
Lo and behold, it only took the tech wizards at Google took just three months to launch a mobile version of Google Book Search. They've optimized 1.5 million public domain books to be read on your cellphone or PDA. (Americans have access to them all, while those abroad are limited to half a million).
The books are scanned OCR'd copies, so there may be errors in the transcription, and they flow like any digitized text. One cool feature, provided the screen on your phone is big enough, is the option to split the screen in two and see the original text.
I can only imagine the eyestrain this is going to cause.
If you're reading this on your cell phone, you can try it here -- (though at the time of this writing, it still seem a little buggy).
Monday, February 2, 2009
Yet there are winners too. The supermarkets are packed as a siege mentality takes over. Men who are normally in London are out with the kids and, after the snowball fights, are even doing the shopping. It could conceivably favour those bookshops which have managed to open: suddenly, some people have a tiny bit more of unexpected browsing time on their hands as they are given this strange day’s holiday. But it’s doubtful.
However, it is undeniably beautiful and brings to mind the poem London Snow by Robert Bridges (1844-1930):
‘When men were all asleep the snow came flying,
In large white flakes falling on the city brown,
Stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying,
Hushing the latest traffic of the drowsy town….
And all woke earlier for the unaccustomed brightness
Of the winter dawning, the strange unheavenly glare:
The eye marvelled – marvelled at the dazzling whiteness;
The ear harkened to the stillness of the solemn air.’