Why is the Iranian government opening the world’s biggest bookstore?

23 April 2017

From Aeon:

There is a conundrum facing Iranian officials. The government, on the one hand, wants Iranians to read more. At the same time, with the other hand, it wants to cover their eyes.

Love of the written word is deeply rooted in Iranian society, due to its extraordinary history of arts, sciences and literature. However, Iranians aren’t reading enough. Bookstores in Iran are a rarity, with some 1,500 shops for a population of almost 80 million. There was a time when publishers gave books a print run of 3,300-5,500 copies. Now, the numbers have dropped drastically to 500, sometimes even 300 copies.

That’s why the Iranian government recently announced it would be opening the largest bookstore in the world – by square footage – during the coming months. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, this title was held by the Barnes & Noble bookstore in New York City, which covered 154,250ft. Unfortunately, the 5th Avenue flagship store closed down in 2014.

. . . .

Mahamoud Salahi, the head of the Art and Cultural Organization of Tehran Municipality, announced that Bagh-e-Ketab (the Book Orchard/Garden) will be 484,376ft (45,000m), triple the size of the once world-record holder. This bookstore is expected to cater to all walks of life and ages, but will focus on youth and include an auditorium for theatre performances, and four research departments for university professors to hold workshops and study sessions. The Tehran municipality has reportedly already spent 100 billion rials (more than $3 million) on the project.

‘Currently, we are at a stage of getting the store’s equipment. We hope that all interested publishers will be able to place their work on our shelves,’ Salahi told Iranian reporters. During 2015, he pushed for a campaign to promote reading by distributing free books and booklets on buses and subways for people. This had existed previously, but was halted three years prior, for reasons unknown.

. . . .

To fight censorship, authors and readers at home and abroad are uploading banned books to the internet, where Iranians download them for free. Iraj Pezeshkzad’s classic coming-of-age novel My Uncle Napoleon (1973) and Sadegh Hedayat’s The Blind Owl (1937) are readily available online, together with countless other banned Western titles translated into Persian. This includes Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion (2006) and The Blind Watchmaker (1986) as well as The Satanic Verses (1988) by Salman Rushdie – the very book that caused Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s revolution in 1979, to issue a death fatwa for the author, which is still in place today.

Iranians have also come up with online publishing houses to bring out writer’s works as ebooks, either from their own websites or via apps such as Google Books. The Iran-based Nogaam has published 25 books since 2013, mostly by authors who reside in the country and would otherwise have no chance of being published due to censorship. Books are crowdfunded, and once writers are compensated for their work, the titles become available for free download. Other companies such as Fidibo serve as digital libraries that feature ebooks with publishing permission from the Iranian government.

Link to the rest at Aeon

Amazon in Australia: what it means for you as a shopper

20 April 2017

From The Sydney Morning Herald:

The expansion of US online giant Amazon in Australia will most likely be a game-changer in the country’s retail landscape, transforming the way we shop and threatening the supremacy of established local retailers.

“We are going to destroy the retail environment in Australia,” an Amazon executive behind the Australian roll-out told Justin Braitling, the chief investment officer at Watermark Funds Management, late last year.

. . . .

Australians, of course, can already buy a limited range of items from Presently these are mostly limited to entertainment, including Kindle e-books, audiobooks, e-readers, and some items on the streaming site Amazon Prime Video

So what will be available when Amazon rolls out its full suite of retail services into the Australian market? Perhaps an easier question is: what won’t be available?

Before launching its operation in Australia, it’s understood Amazon will go through and collect price-points on everything, before setting prices at a 30 per cent discount.

The roll-out here is expected to be gradual, with an initial focus on consumer and home electronics, including non-perishables, such as canned food and other household necessities.

. . . .

Determined Australian bargain-hunters can already buy items from the US Amazon store that aren’t available locally, but it can be a time-consuming and more expensive process.

Amazon will often refuse an Australian billing address or credit card when an attempt is made to buy from the US site, but third-party forwarding businesses have popped up to fill this void.

Shoppers can sign up to these businesses, which provide an intermediary US address, from which the item will be forwarded to Australia. To skirt around the billing problems, Australian shoppers pay the intermediary business, which then pays Amazon on the shopper’s behalf.

Essentially, Amazon’s further expansion into Australia will eliminate this prolonged process. Local warehousing will dramatically slash delivery times, shaking things up for established retailers.

Link to the rest at The Sydney Morning Herald

PRH UK to pay work experience participants in diversity drive

20 April 2017

From The Bookseller:

Penguin Random House UK will now pay its work experience participants the National Living Wage in a bid to make the publishing industry more accessible and diverse. The initiative will make it the first publishing house in the UK to offer fully paid work experience placements, the company has claimed.

Every year, 450 work experience placements will be offered at PRH UK to give people a taste of what it’s like to work for the trade publisher as part of a two-week structured learning programme. The new pledge means that all participants will now receive a salary of £262.50 per week. Previously they would have received only travel and food expenses.

. . . .

Unpaid internships and work experience placements have been a hot topic in the publishing industry for years, with numerous people calling for them to be abolished.

Internships at the publishing house are already fully paid. The difference between work experience and internships, as PRH defines it, is that the latter offers interns “the opportunity to immerse themselves in the company for a longer period of time and deliver a specific work project”. As such, interns undergo an application and interview process, similar to applying for a job at the company. Work experience candidates, by contrast, are “randomly selected”, without any pre-requisite skills or experience necessary, and are referred to as “students” in so much as they are there to learn rather than to work.

As part of the “random selection” process, all personal referrals for work experience were banned last year when it “professionalised” the programme, which also intended to ensure selection was fairer and more transparent. As the result of the changes, PRH says its work experience applicant pool now reflects the ethnic diversity both of London and the UK, reaching and appealing to more young people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, while two thirds of its applicants have grown up outside of London or the South East.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Now if they would pay a National Living Wage to their authors.

Amazon expands its literary horizons, making big imprint in translation niche

17 April 2017

From The Seattle Times:

The literary translation community in the U.S. has a tradition of being highbrow, a carefully tended yet narrow reflection of the stirrings of global culture beyond the Anglosphere.

Then jumped in, like a whale into a koi pond.

Armed with financial might and an intimate, machine-learned knowledge of reader behavior, the e-commerce giant made a big splash.

That annoyed some literary types, wary of the leviathan that has shaken up almost every aspect of the media world.

But AmazonCrossing, the publishing unit devoted to scouring the world for good tales, has in a short time become the most prominent interpreter of foreign fiction into English, accounting for 10 percent of all translations in 2016, more than any other publishing house in a field populated by small imprints.

. . . .

The goal “is to find great stories, and we think you can find them anywhere,” said Gabriella Page-Fort, AmazonCrossing’s editorial director.

. . . .

Yet Amazon’s shine has been tarnished by a contentious relationship with New York publishing houses, bookstores and some authors. Many bookstores — hurt by the online retailer’s dominance in book sales and its pricing power — have boycotted titles published by Amazon. They’re also less likely to get reviewed by the traditional literary outlets, experts say.

But some members of the literary-translation community, long beset by indifference from major publishers and a lack of resources, appreciate Amazon’s foray in their field.

“It’s kind of amazing. They have the resources and the ability,” says Chad Post, an academic at the University of Rochester who publishes Three Percent, a blog about international literature that draws its name from the estimate that only 3 percent of all books published in English are translated from foreign languages.

. . . .

In a way that befits Amazon’s online roots, AmazonCrossing has set up a website that allows authors and translators to submit books for consideration to be translated into English.

There’s also an invitation-only program for translators to be matched with projects. It has received some criticism from translators who perceive they’re bidding against each other for jobs, according to Bernofsky, the Columbia University academic. “A lot of translators absolutely refuse to do that,” she said.

Page-Fort contends that the website lets translators discover new projects, translate sample pages and submit proposals. “Crossing editors then review how a translator will approach the specific text and choose the translator who best complements the voice and tone of the author,” she said.

AmazonCrossing is also globalizing, translating from English into French and various other languages. Overall the imprint has translated more than 900 books into five languages by authors from 35 different countries and 21 languages.

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

Writer seeks Kindled spirit: Six novelists reveal how to self-publish successfully

16 April 2017

From Mail Online:

The dawn of the digital era means that authors can self-publish their books – and make a fortune. Laura Silverman asks six independent novelists to reveal the secrets of clicking with your readership.

. . . .

WHO: Mel Sherratt, 50, Stoke-on-Trent

EBOOKS SOLD: 1 million

SELF-PUBLISHING SUCCESS: The former housing officer had spent 12 years trying to bag a traditional deal, but was continuously turned down for being ‘cross-genre’ (her writing is a mix of women’s fiction, crime and thriller). At the end of 2011 she self-released her debut Taunting the Dead which reached No 3 in the Kindle UK fiction chart, topped the police procedurals category and has been downloaded 200,000 times. Mel has written 12 more ebooks – six of which she has published herself.

KEY ADVICE: Get to grips with your marketing. ‘I often review my backlist and produce a yearly marketing schedule to offer my books at different prices,’ she says. ‘I can put the books on promotion whenever I want.’

THE PAYOFF: ‘I started self-publishing five years ago and have made a six-figure salary in each of the past three years.’

. . . .

 WHO: Janet MacLeod Trotter, 59, Northumberland

EBOOKS SOLD: 800,000

SELF-PUBLISHING SUCCESS: ‘My success has only come about because I self-published,’ says Janet, who had 12 of her novels published in the traditional way but was dropped by her publisher in 2010. She turned to self-publishing to raise money for her brother after he was injured in a bike accident.

The Vanishing of Ruth went to No 1 in the Waterstones crime and romance categories in 2011. After the success of her first ebook, she self-published her backlist and now has 22 books to her name. The Tea Planter’s Daughter was one of the top ten bestsellers of 2012 for a self-published author.

KEY ADVICE: Judge your book by its cover. ‘Give your books a new look every so often,’ she says. ‘I’m currently revamping the covers for my Jarrow trilogy. When you’re self-publishing, the design and look of your book or series is all down to you.’

THE PAYOFF: ‘For the first time in 30 years, I’m making a decent living from my writing.’

Link to the rest at Mail Online and thanks to Mike for the tip.

The Greatest Poetry Reading I’ve Ever Seen

14 April 2017

From Literary Hub:

An invitation to represent England at the 100th Anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway was scary enough. But to share a stage with the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko at the same time: absolutely terrifying. I remember Yevtushenko from the 1960s when I was a Columbia student. He was the pop star of the intelligentsia in those days, everybody’s idea of a poet, passionate, young, courageous, glorious to look at. Women screamed and fainted at his performances.

The conference was to take place in Tromsø way high up above the Arctic Circle in the summer of 2001, a pretty town, an island city right out of a child’s toy chest. The theme was War and Peace—Tolstoy’s grandson as the guest of honor. The moderator of my session asked me if I minded speaking first.

“If you don’t,” he laughed, “you might not get a chance to speak at all.”


“It is a little, er, difficult to stop this poet once he gets going.”

But there was no Yevtushenko in the theater when the session started. A minute or two into my speech, a figure appeared in the front row. I’m no good at faces, but I was pretty sure I’d spotted him because he stared at me in that disconcerting, unblinking way that Russians do. When I finished, the moderator thanked me especially—and pointedly—for keeping to my 20-minute limit. A Dane spoke after me. When he finished, the moderator thanked him too—again pointedly—for keeping to the 20-minute limit.

Then Yevtushenko approached the podium. He was nearly 70, hair thin, face deeply lined, back no longer straight. Even so it was clear at once what all the fuss was about. This was a hell of a delivery. Maybe his English belonged in a farce, but no Western voice soars and swings like that. Up and down. Loud and soft. Face and body in motion too. He began with an unpublished poem and went on to something about a Russian nutcracker, Tchaikovsky’s swans and great big dinosaurs. But he could have been saying anything, anything at all. With a delivery like that, who cares?

And he’s a man who knew how to handle a moderator as well as an audience. After 40 minutes or so, he turned to the moderator—visibly restive by this time—and said, “Is all right? I can finish? You permit?” Then came questions. As soon as the first one started, Yevtushenko leaned across to me and said, “What is phrase seel-kee prose? What this mean?” In my speech, I’d described an American I knew as being master of the New Yorker’s “silky prose.” I explained as best I could. “Is good,” he said. “Is little bit ironic, yes?” I nodded. He leaned back in his chair, then forward again. “You sink?”

Sink? “I’m not sure what you mean,” I said cautiously,

“You sink?” he said louder.

Could he mean think? Could I have said something really stupid? I gave him a puzzled look.

He leaned back in his chair. “You have beautiful voice. All seel-kee.”

Link to the rest at Literary Hub

PG says the best poetry is meant to be spoken and heard. In a tradition going back a few centuries, poets generally wrote and performed their poetry because the sound and tempo of the words was crucial to full understanding of the poem. Poetry was a performance art. Unfortunately, poetry is primarily a subject for academic study today.

In the middle of the twentieth century, several poets were well-known for their performance abilities. Dylan Thomas performed his poems on the BBC during World War II and even wrote and performed a poem, A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London, commemorating a young victim of a German bombing attack.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko was an accomplished performer of his poetry as well, both in Russian and English.

Below are a couple of YouTube videos of Yevtushenko’s poetry performances, first in Russian, then in English.

The poem is Babi Yar. The first lines of the poem are:

No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone.
I am afraid.
Today, I am as old
As the entire Jewish race itself.

Babi Yar is a deep ravine near Kiev where Einsatzgruppen (Nazi SS paramilitary squads who followed the German army to pacify and cleanse the civilian population in conquered territory) killed 34,000 Jews in two days, September 29-30, 1941. Later, additional Jews, gypsies, Communists and Soviet prisoners of war were slaughtered there.

Two years later, while retreating over the same ground, the SS tried to cover up any signs of this atrocity. The bodies were dug up, burnt, and all the evidence destroyed. Babi Yar is the grave of over 100,000 victims of the SS.

Following the war, the Soviet government refused requests to erect a monument at the site and it remained unmarked for over 30 years. An official memorial to Soviet citizens shot at Babi Yar was erected in 1976. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Ukrainian government allowed the establishment of a memorial specifically identifying the Jewish victims.

In 1962, Dmitri Shostakovich wrote his Symphony No. 13 in B-flat minor, subtitled Babi Yar.  The first movement, Babi Yar: Adagio, includes choral settings for Yevtushenko’s poems including references to the Dreyfus affair, the Białystok pogrom and Anne Frank.

Following Yevtushenko is a recording of Thomas performing his wartime poem.




Manchester is ‘an indie author hotspot’ for Amazon

6 April 2017

From The Bookseller:

Amazon has revealed statistics from its Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) programme claiming Manchester as “an indie publishing hotspot”.

The northern city is home to more independently published authors per capita than any other town or city in the UK, based on Amazon’s ranking of the highest concentrations of self-published authors using its Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform. ​The data reflects the number of KDP authors in “top 50” towns – in terms of population – divided by population.

Manchester is the only place in the North West to feature in KDP’s “top 10 publishing hotspots in the UK”. After that, York was the second highest, followed by Nottingham; Bristol; Southampton; Plymouth; Milton Keynes; Northampton; Portsmouth; and Edinburgh.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Australia’s copyright reform could bring millions of books and other reads to the blind

4 April 2017

From The Conversation:

Proposed changes to Australia’s copyright law should make it easier for people to create and distribute versions of copyrighted works that are accessible to people with disabilities.

The Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and other Measures) Bill was introduced to Parliament on Wednesday.

If passed, it would enable people with disabilities to access and enjoy books and other material in formats they can use, such as braille, large print or DAISY audio.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has long been calling for action to end the “world book famine” – only 5% of books produced in Australia are available in accessible formats. This means that people with vision impairment and other reading disabilities are excluded from a massive proportion of the world’s knowledge and culture.

Under the current law, educational institutions and other organisations can produce accessible copies of books, but the system is slow and expensive. Only a small number of popular books are available, and technical books that people need for work are often out of reach.

Technology should make accessibility much easier, but publishers have been slow to enable assistive technologies.

. . . .

Amazon’s Kindle, for example, used to allow text-to-speech to help blind people read books, but Amazon gave in to publishers’ fears and allowed them to disable the feature. Apple’s electronic books are much better, but there are still major gaps.

Link to the rest at The Conversation

Currency concerns could exile illustrators

4 April 2017

From The Bookseller:

This year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair began with “a positive vibe” for many UK fairgoers, despite some anticipating a “rocky road” ahead as the impact of Brexit begins to hit their businesses.

. . . .

Usborne UK and commercial sales manager Christian Herrison noted a “positive vibe” at the fair, and said Brexit had rarely been mentioned in meetings at the fair. But he added: “I’d say Brexit is not at the forefront of people’s minds, but it’s there. It’s a concern. The only effect we’ve felt is the drop in the pound, which is hurting lots of publishers and making print buying more expensive. We will have to review r.r.p.s and how we produce books, and consider things such as whether we can afford to put as many stickers in our sticker books.”

United Agents’ Jodie Hodges echoed Herrison’s concerns. She said: “I worry about the costs of expensive books: picture books, novelty, pop-ups, board books etc. If the pound continues to suffer then the costs associated with producing these books will rise and inevitably start having an effect on authors and illustrators… It’s possible that advances and royalties will be hit.”

Hodges also pointed out the “Catch-22” for illustrators: they “are already barely earning enough from their advances and royalties, and they are also discouraged from publishing too widely for fear of cannibalising their own sales (domestically and internationally)… If it becomes even harder [for them] to earn a living from books then this will become a bigger issue.”

Agent Ben Illis said “the path ahead is a rocky one”, and he too envisioned a squeeze on authors and illustrators as publishers’ costs rose. Yet there may be a bright side, he said. “This may provoke a shake-up in the standard terms of agreement between authors and publishers. It may even open the door to some interesting new contractual models, which many would say would not be before time.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

What I’m really thinking: the failed novelist

3 April 2017

From The Guardian:

My biggest mistake? Thinking it was my destiny. After all, I’d written stories since I could hold a pencil, won every creative writing prize at school, then, as an adult, short story competitions. I joined writers’ groups, honed my craft, completed a great manuscript. I found an agent, finally. He was reputable and confident, and initially there was a flurry of interest from publishers. How could I fail?

But, over several months, my manuscript was rejected for reasons that bewildered me: often because all the slots for debut literary fiction that year were taken; once because I was a woman; but mostly because editors “just didn’t love it enough”. When I took the call from my agent saying we had no deal, I cried like a little girl.

I defiantly started a second novel. It was my masterpiece, but it bombed, too. Years of work and emotional investment wasted, I finally gave up, to save my sanity.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Dave for the tip.

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