Zimbabwe: Doris Lessing leaves books to Harare library

27 August 2014

From The BBC:

Celebrated author Doris Lessing has bequeathed her entire book collection to the city library in Harare.

. . . .

The winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, who died in November 2013, apparently left instructions that her library of over 3,000 books should be sent to the Zimbabwe capital.

. . . .

Lessing’s executors say that Book Aid International, a charity that Lessing supported, has been asked to help transport the donation. Throughout her life, Lessing fostered several programmes in Zimbabwe to aid literacy through libraries and studying.

. . . .

Lessing lived in Zimbabwe from 1924-1949, when it was known as Southern Rhodesia. She returned there in 1956, but was declared a “prohibited migrant” by the government for her anti-settler sentiments and left-wing political views.

Link to the rest at BBC and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

Amazon ignites culture clash over France’s beloved bookstores

24 August 2014

From The Seattle Times:

Like many of the bouquinistes, the booksellers who line the banks of the Seine in the French capital, Bernard Terrades is a bit brusque.

Terrades specializes in thrillers, and he speaks in the clipped, precise patois of the literature he sells. And he regards the rise of Amazon, currently at the center of a heated French debate over e-retailing, as more than a little sinister.

Terrades fears that online bookselling, which dominates in France, is robbing the country of its culture.

“It’s completely empty,” Terrades said. “There is no connection with customers. People have lost the curiosity to go out and find books.”

All of which makes Terrades’ decision to sell books through Amazon’s marketplace wrenching. When online shoppers happen upon his digital storefront on, they’ll never hear him wax on about the exploits of Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, the superspy creation of Terrades’ favorite author, Jean Bruce. Instead, they’ll see the uniform, lifeless Web page where Terrades sells his books alongside thousands of others.

“It really hurts me to do it, but I don’t have a choice,” said Terrades, whose Amazon sales account for about 20,000 euros ($26,477) a year, roughly 20 percent of his revenue. It’s what enables him to employ a part-time staffer to keep his bookstand and bookstore alive.

Like many French, Terrades is torn over Amazon. It has become a fixture in French literary life, a force that can’t be ignored. It’s so powerful that the French government recently passed legislation with no other goal than to thwart the Web giant. Dubbed the “anti-Amazon law” by the French media, it went into effect July 10 to combat what Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti called Amazon’s “dumping” of low-cost books in France in order to protect independent bookstores. It prohibits online retailers from discounting books or offering free shipping.

. . . .

“They come to Europe and they try to use the same business model,” said Kiran Girotra, professor of technology and operations management at INSEAD, a top European business school based in Fontainebleau, just south of Paris. “[It] hasn’t worked as well.”

That is a risky place for Amazon to be, perhaps more so than for most companies. Meteoric growth has always been the fuel that powers Amazon’s financial engine. Wall Street has long been willing to give the company a pass on slim profits, or even losses, as long as revenues continued to soar.

But Amazon’s international operations grew just 14 percent last year, to $29.9 billion. Many companies would be happy with that, but it’s just half the pace of its more mature North American unit, which grew 28 percent, to $44.5 billion. The weaker international performance, which also includes sales from emerging markets such as China and India, dragged Amazon’s overall growth down to 22 percent, a sharp drop from the 27 percent posted in 2012.

. . . .

The battle in Europe is as much cultural as it is financial. In France, the government moved to protect independent bookstores, as it has for years, because books hold a revered spot in a country that’s produced literary giants such as Voltaire and Proust.

In Germany, Amazon warehouse workers are fighting for a union contract because unions are deeply revered as part of the country’s fabric. And in the United Kingdom, lawmakers from across the political spectrum have chastised Amazon’s tax strategy for not paying its fair share.

To some extent, Amazon is battling cultural currents.

“These are uncontroversial issues,” said Girota, co-author of “The Risk-Driven Business Model,” which praises Amazon’s skillful shifting of strategy to adapt to evolving market challenges in the United States. “These are part of the broad social contract.”

Amazon, never averse to conflict, continues to battle its opponents in Europe. Executives say the clashes haven’t curbed sales; instead, they blame the slower growth on Europe’s moribund economic recovery. And they insist customers there want the same things its U.S. customers crave: low price, wide selection and shopping convenience.

“I don’t see people in Europe waking up in the morning saying I’m not going to shop at Amazon because I don’t like them,” Xavier Garambois, vice president of Amazon’s European retail operations, said in an interview at the company’s European headquarters in Luxembourg.

Link to the rest at The Seattle Times and thanks to CG for the tip.

The real problem, in PG’s eyes, is that the traditional guardians of literature both in the US and in Europe were presiding over a long decline in that business as the Internet and its myriad attractions were rapidly gaining an audience, particularly, but not exclusively, among the young.

Books were a stagnant business, headed toward a backwater. Bookstores were closing before Barnes & Noble and Borders exerted commercial pressure on them to close. Then Borders cratered.

PG says that Amazon saved books both as a commercial proposition and as a moving force in culture from the inept and blinkered grasp of a publishing business that, while once diverse and energetic, had become more and more concentrated into large media conglomerates which are surely among the most anti-creative organizations ever conceived by humankind.

Ebooks and a superb ebook store have reinvigorated both the purchasing of books and the culture of books. Millions of people who had given up visits to physical bookstores have regained their enthusiasm for reading via tablets and ereaders and an enormous range of choices in reading material that the corporate publishers deemed too non-commercial, not something you could put on the front tables at Barnes & Noble.

Amazon gave an Internet with an endless range of choices an internet bookstore with an endless range of choices. Books are much better off in this environment than they were in a world of narrow curation and bottom-line publishing.

Simply put, the literary, bookselling and publishing establishments were killing books with an exclusionary and elitist attitude coupled with an accountant’s obsession with quarterly profits. Amazon has opened the gates to an enormous democratic wave of authors and their books. Readers everywhere are responding to this wave with their dollars, euros and pounds.

And now, what the establishment can’t accomplish in free marketplace, it is trying to achieve with corrupt backroom political deals.

Google Wins Victory in Row With German Publishers

24 August 2014

from re/code:

A German regulator handed Google a victory on Friday as it said it would not pursue a complaint brought against the Internet search engine operator by a group of publishers for giving users access to their news articles.

Several publishers including Axel Springer SE and Burda had banded together in a group called VG Media to demand Google pay them for making their online articles available to the public.

“Sufficient suspicion is always necessary to initiate an abuse procedure. The complaint from VG Media did not establish this,” Andreas Mundt, president of Germany’s Federal Cartel Office, said in a statement on Friday.

Link to the rest at re/code and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

Whatever happened to writing for love, not money?

23 August 2014

From The Telegraph:

The life of the starving writer has long haunted the imagination. William Hogarth’s The Distrest Poet shows a young man in a filthy garret getting his wife to fend off the milkmaid. Hogarth’s work was a satire, but in the Romantic era the same image turned into an aspiration. Suffering proved authenticity; rich writers had sacrificed their ideals at Mammon’s altar.

The argument between the practical and the romantic has become sharper for writers in recent years as book advances have dwindled and earning a living from sales become more difficult. The current brouhaha in the US between Amazon and the publisher Hachette is about whether writers are being done out of a living by one side or the other. You can’t go on a writer’s Facebook page or meet them for a drink without the discussion turning to what their publisher is doing – or not – to boost their sales, who the most ruthless agents are, or where to get the best-paid creative writing gigs.

I know they have to eat, but when did it all become about the money? The time when writers could live comfortably off their income was an anomaly of the Eighties and Nineties. These days, apart from a few big-money payouts for the next big thing, publishers are going back to being as cautious as they were before.

. . . .

Call me a romantic but it might actually benefit a writer not to rely on books as their main source of income. A talented friend of mine recently had an interview at a large literary agency. The first question they asked was: “How can we help you make a living from your writing?” The answer turned out to be to make her rewrite her novel to make it more commercially appealing. It seems bonkers that publishers will only look at a manuscript if the author has an agent; that means the first port of call is the moneymen who, being moneymen, will ask questions in their own interests. Alternatively, I have heard it suggested that, rather as the bankers were bailed out by the, state so authors should be given public subsidies – the perils of which should be obvious. This isn’t China.

Link to the rest at The Telegraph and thanks to SFR for the tip. Coming to Shanghai’s Free-Trade Zone

23 August 2014

From The Wall Street Journal: Inc. said it plans to set up operations in Shanghai’s new free-trade zone, a move that will allow it to sell more merchandise from abroad in China and help boost competition against rivals like Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

The Seattle-based Web retailer said Wednesday it signed a deal with authorities in the free-trade zone to open the company’s global platforms to Chinese consumers, enabling them to import bags and books normally available for delivery only in other countries.

Amazon also will open a logistics warehouse to expand exports of goods from Chinese companies, Shanghai Municipal authorities said in a separate statement. The move will give Amazon a greater ability to make cross-border payments and enable the company to use the trade zone to experiment with financial innovation, according to the statement.

. . . .

Online retailers have been battling to come up with new ways to attract more of China’s 300 million online shoppers, and China’s government has pitched its newly launched free-trade zone in Shanghai as a laboratory where they can do it.

. . . .

Amazon, which has been operating in China for a decade, has been quietly building its presence here. The retailer has 15 warehouses in the country, according to MWPVL, a logistics and shipping consultancy.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

German Minister Shows Support For Authors’ Amazon Protest

22 August 2014

From National Public Radio:

Germany’s culture and media minister is speaking out in support of a campaign by more than 1,000 German-speaking authors who have accused Amazon of manipulating bestseller lists and delaying deliveries. In a statement translated into English by the English-language paper The Local, Monika Grütters said she “welcomes and supports” the campaign, adding, “Market power and domination over central distribution channels should not endanger our cultural diversity.” Amazon has been embroiled in a dispute with the German publisher Bonnier Group, a fight that in many ways resembles the retailer’s standoff with Hachette Book Group in the U.S. Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Link to the rest at NPR

Because big corporate publishers are so good with cultural diversity.

Amazon launches physical book sales in Brazil

22 August 2014

From The San Jose Mercury News:

Online retailer Amazon has started selling physical books in Brazil, two years after it began selling books in digital format in Latin America’s biggest country.

In a statement posted on the company’s website, CEO Jeff Bezos says Amazon’s new service will offer more than 150,000 titles in Portuguese starting Thursday.

. . . .

Alexandre Szapiro is Amazon Brazil’s vice president. He tells the G-1 news portal that by the end of the year, e-books will have a 5 percent share of the country’s book market.

Link to the rest at The San Jose Mercury News

Paperback Writer: Do irish writers make a living?

21 August 2014

From The Independent:

These are tough times for publishing. It is a late but definite casualty of the recession, with falling sales, the steady rise of self-publishing and yet another crisis of identity in ‘serious’ literature. But what kind of effect is all of this having on the actual writers? Emily Hourican asks if it is still possible to make a living as a writer.

. . . .

Anyone who was in London this summer, and saw posters for Eimear McBride’s debut novel, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing plastered across the sides of buses, would have been forgiven for thinking this was the hot summer blockbuster and McBride the new EL James. A bonk-buster, perhaps; chick lit, certainly. In reality, McBride has been called Joycean, even Beckettian, by reviewers clearly struggling with conveying the substance of a book that has no formal plot. This is a work of ‘serious’ literature, with claims to rewriting the duties and scope of ‘The Novel’, but for promotional purposes, it’s getting the Carrie Bradshaw treatment – the side of a bus.

It’s a bit bizarre alright, but then, these are angsty times for publishing – falling sales and profits, bulk discounting, the rise of self-publishing, even a crisis of identity and aspiration in fiction. The novel, Will Self intoned in May, is dead, “and this time it’s for real”. Fearful publishing companies are reluctant to take chances any more, instead they are casting around for a ‘sure thing’, something to halt the rot.

. . . .

“I’m afraid I did invent Benjamin Black for commercial reasons,” he agrees, with disarmingly cheerful candour. “He’s supposed to be doing my day job for me, though I wish to goodness he’d start pulling his weight and show some tangible – ie profitable – results. My Banville books earn very little. That didn’t matter in the days when I was making my living in journalism, but the freelance world is a chilly place.”

Interesting that Banville, who is a Booker Prize winner for The Sea, and widely recognised as one of a small handful of great contemporary writers, still refers to his profession as “the freelance world”.

So what does he make of the industry right now? “It does seem publishers, like everyone else, have had to be less ambitious and generous – some would say foolish – than they used to be,” he says, “and I hear that advances have been falling. Certainly, they were too high in the boom years of the 1990s, and raised expectations beyond all reasonable limits. But then, back then, bubbles abounded.”

. . . .

“There is no thing as a ‘typical’ advance,” Vanessa O’Loughlin agrees. Vanessa is founder of online magazine site, a one-stop shop for authors. She is also a literary scout, who has played a part in some major deals, most recently twentysomething County Meath writer Jax Miller’s six-figure signing with HarperFiction. “And royalties vary enormously too,” Vanessa says. “There are hundreds of variables in a publishing contract that impact the author, all up for negotiation”.

However, she does agree that, “advances have been gradually reducing since the start of the recession. Now, instead of an advance, publishers might offer enhanced royalties. They are starting to think outside the box.”

To me, that just sounds like more 
risk-sharing. They are unwilling to take a punt any more, so they persuade the writer to share risk – and rewards – with them. Quite like drilling for oil or gas.

Because very few writers will talk about advances. Of those I tried asking, one turned me down regretfully: “Sorry, but my agent and publishers would kill me”.

Link to the rest at The Independent and thanks to Renee for the tip.

VAT concerns for Scotland ‘Yes’ vote

20 August 2014

From The Bookseller:

Concerns have been raised over the book trade implications of a “Yes” vote in the Scottish independence referendum, with the introduction of VAT on printed books set to “affect all bookshops and publishers north of the border if the Scottish electorate votes for independence”, according to a group from the trade.

. . . .

In an open letter to The Bookseller . . .  the booksellers and publishers warn: “The UK and Ireland enjoy a 0% rate on print books unlike the rest of the EU where VAT is applied at varying rates, but no less than 5% (except of course Luxembourg where Amazon enjoy their 3% rate, at least until 1st January 2015). Any newly independent state of Scotland reapplying for membership of the EU would be required to apply VAT on books. In fact, according to European Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fule, new EU members must apply a 15% minimum.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

A case of self-publish or be damned?

20 August 2014

From author Michelle Jackson via The Irish Times:

As the paperback edition of my traditionally published novel Six Postcards Home hits the shelves I am monitoring the ebook version which I self-published on Amazon.

I suppose you could say I am one of a new breed, a hybrid author; someone who is traditionally published yet has self-published ebook editions and titles.

The term can be given to authors who publish in a variety of combinations, for example, authors who self-publish first then a traditional publisher prints hard copies after the book has proven successful. Some very talented authors have been picked up this way who received rejection before.

Self-publishing is a liberating process and stands for one-fifth of all ebook sales in the UK. While publishers and Amazon work out their differences in the courts the facts for the self-publishedwriter are simple. Authors earn a 70pc share of sales for self-published ebooks priced over £1.49 and can reach a global audience in the process.

Compare this to the standard percentage of 6pc – 10pc of a traditionally published book bought off the shelf.

. . . .

After the publication of my last novel, I decided to take a break from writing a new novel this year and I wanted to travel to find new inspiration. However, when I received a lot of lovely emails from readers, asking when my next book would be appearing, over coffee one day with fellow authors Niamh Greene and Marisa Mackle, we decided to produce a book of short stories in between our other writing commitments and Irish Girls on Holiday was born.

It seemed to be the perfect way for us to connect with our readers, offering a summer book that would otherwise not have been published. It is also a way for us to introduce each other’s readers to two new authors. We wrote seven stories each and commissioned a cover design. A major benefit of self-publishing was having control of the entire process – setting the publication date, deciding on the cover. And we had a lot of fun in the process.

Link to the rest at The Irish Times

Here’s a link to Michelle Jackson’s books

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