Books in Nicks

26 August 2016

From The London Evening Standard:

‘Books in Nicks’ is the brainchild of SC Steve Whitmore, who has worked closely with charity Give A Book to offer books free of charge to detainees in all 43 custody suites within the MPS estate.

SC Whitmore said the inspiration for the scheme came when he arrested an 18-year-old man for assault and possession of drugs earlier this year.

Knowing he was going to be in custody, the teenager asked if he could borrow a book, but SC Whitmore said he struggled to find anything of interest for him.

He explained: “The range and type of books available didn’t appeal to him, so I offered him my own book, ‘Catcher in the Rye’, and told him to keep it.

“The look on his face was amazing, his attitude and hostility towards me completely changed and it created common ground for us to talk about. He said he’d never been given a book before to own, and that really moved me.”

Prisoners will have the choice more than 30 titles, which they can then take away with them, including classics such as Moby Dick, Great Expectations, Catcher in the Rye and Treasure Island.

Link to the rest at London Evening Standard

Amazon outstripped Flipkart as India’s biggest online retailer

24 August 2016

From Mashable:

India’s local poster boy of online retail, Flipkart, has a big problem. A $5 billion big problem to be precise.

. . . .

Amazon India may have surpassed Flipkart to become the biggest online retailer in the country last month. This comes weeks after Seattle-based company’s boss announced that he will be investing an additional $3 billion in India, making the total investment in the country to $5 billion dollars in three years.

Amazon India had better gross sales in the month of July, reports Livemint citing five people with knowledge of financial numbers. The American company’s Indian subsidiary had gross sales (value of goods sold) of over Rs 2,000 crores, a figure that Flipkart missed.

. . . .

Though Flipkart, founded in 2007, still assumes its lead in the Indian e-commerce market, it is facing more competition than ever from Amazon India, which entered the country in 2013. Flipkart had 37 percent of the market share in India as of March this year, while Amazon India’s was pegged between 21 to 24 percent during the same period. To make things worse for Flipkart, Amazon India is attracting more people on the website, according to data from several marketing research firms

Link to the rest at Mashable

Online bookseller Bookman & Black cancelled

22 August 2016

From The Bookseller:

David Headley, founder of Goldsboro Books in London’s Cecil Court, told The Bookseller he was “hugely disappointed” about the development, which followed some “unexpected setbacks” with the website which have resulted in the project under the Bookman & Black name being abandoned. Headley declined to say more about the cancellation of the venture, which was due to launch in October, for legal reasons.

Subscribers to the Bookman & Black website in its beta form only received a newsletter last month explaining it would be launching soon with an inventory of over 250,000 books, adding that the company was “working closely with authors, publishers and fellow book lovers to create a range of exciting and exclusive content”.

. . . .

“It is, of course, hugely disappointing that we are not going to launch,” Headley said. “I continue to be a firm believer that online bookselling needs a new approach. The support from the literary community in setting the company up, from well-known authors and major publishing houses, has been overwhelming and encouraging and I am grateful for their support.”

. . . .

Its aim was to aspire to replicate the experience of an independent bookshop online, with Headley saying at the time: “At Bookman & Black we believe it’s time for a change in the field of online bookselling. We will be looking to work with publishers and authors to provide readers with an alternative online shopping experience, with all the joy and magic of browsing a physical bookshop, offering the knowledge and expertise of the professional bookseller.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG has no knowledge of what went on behind the scenes of this project.

However, he speculates:

  1. One of the partners in this venture was a bookstore owner (two individual owners, actually, according to their website) and the other was a website developer. They spoke different languages.
  2. The bookstore owner knew nothing of note about the internet, the web, etc., etc., etc.
  3. The website developer thought it would be building an extension of a typical bookstore website like the one it had created for the bookstore owner.
  4. The original project plan kept growing and growing and growing as the bookstore owner requested one vague new feature after another. In part, these requests resulted from the bookstore owner examining Amazon’s website, perhaps for the first time.
  5. The website developer kept soldiering along so long as the bookstore owner kept paying the bills.
  6. The bookstore owner ran out of money.
  7. The bookstore owner was sincere in his/their belief that “it’s time for a change in the field of online bookselling” (translation: Let’s take down Amazon and save physical bookstores).
  8. Building an online bookstore to seriously compete with Amazon and constructing a perpetual motion machine require about the same effort.
  9. “Support from the literary community . . . from well-known authors and major publishing houses” and £4.90 will buy you a ride on the Underground.

Again, this is all speculation. PG could be wrong about the whole thing. Perhaps Bezos hired the Russian mob to strangle this initiative in the cradle before it could grow to destroy his empire. Maybe the Cecil Court merchant’s association applied pressure through Theresa May’s office. Or Brexit ruined everything.

One of the atypical aspects of this project is the public announcement via The Bookseller that it’s a flop. Most of the time, participants in these sorts of failures are content to have everyone forget the project ever existed.

Israeli Sci-Fi Is a Reality

22 August 2016

From Tablet:

Anyone who was at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque during the Sukkot holiday of 2006 will remember the sight of the city’s quiet, highbrow arthouse cinema jam-packed with people, many of them teenagers in costumes (the term “cosplay” hadn’t made it to the local fan community yet) trying to catch a glimpse of the festival’s guest of honor, some (especially the teenage girls) screaming in excitement whenever he passed by.

I remember being asked by someone—a security guard, I think—just what this guy did to get this kind of attention, and if he’s some kind of a rock star.

“No, he’s a writer,” I said.

“Ah, a writer,” said that person who asked me the question in a rather skeptical voice.

The festival was the ICon, Israel’s annual science fiction and fantasy convention. The guest of honor was novelist and comics writer extraordinaire Neil Gaiman. One of the special events held as part of the 2006 festival was a celebration of the 10th anniversary of The Israeli Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy, one of ICon’s co-organizers.

. . . .

For 10 years the society has been a home to genre fans, and keeping any kind of cultural activity going on in Israel for so long is an achievement in its own right, let alone an activity that promotes thinking beyond the limits of the here and now—limits that sometimes appear to be almost sacred to Israeli society at large.

A decade later, the Israeli Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy is still here—and what seemed amazing in 2006 seems almost mundane today. Jam-packed lobbies are a regular sight at the annual ICon festival and the Olamot convention held during Passover. Nobody raises an eyebrow when costumed visitors of either ICon or Olamot sit down for a drink or lunch at one of the many coffee shops and restaurants along the HaArba’a street (where both events are held).

. . . .

The annual Geffen Awards for excellence in translation of genre fiction (named after one of the society founders and pioneer of science fiction publishing in Israel, Amos Geffen) were born, as well as The Tenth Dimension—the society’s magazine that kept trying to find its voice all throughout its years of existence, mostly remembered today for its incredible covers by artist Avi Katz — and a series of weekly lectures. All this was always accompanied by heated arguments (this being Israel, after all) about what the society does and what it should be doing. Should it just be a home for science-fiction and fantasy fans who want to have fun, or should it actively promote the genre among literary and academic circles?

The answer, as evident from developments over the past 10 years, is that it can do both.

Link to the rest at Tablet and thanks to Julia for the tip.

Self-publish and be damned happy

22 August 2016

From The New Zealand Herald:

The family story you’ve always meant to write, that set of poems you penned as an angst-­ridden teenager and the history of your local sports club – if you think there’s an audience waiting on your words now is the time.

Self-publishing has never been easier – or cheaper – and hundreds of us are taking the opportunity to tell stories that in the past would not have made it past a publisher’s rejection tray. Modern self-publishing – a far cry from vanity publishing – is usually about pursuing a passion a major publishing com­pany wouldn’t dare take a risk on.

For years, David Appleby ­believed there was an untold story about the New Zealand ­hockey team that won gold at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Appleby could have been in that team but pursued his accounting career rather than risk his job for what was then an amateur pursuit.

Four decades on he was able to indulge his passion, self-publishing the hugely successful Striking Gold.

“I was totally foreign to publishing but I thought there was an ­untold story about the guys and their achievement – and there was a need for a legacy document to be put in place while they were all still alive,” Appleby says.

Three years ago Appleby hired Auckland journalist Suzanne ­McFadden to write the story. The rest of the journey unfolded by chance. He bumped into Geoff Walker – former publishing ­director at Penguin – and over a coffee gleaned as much information as he could.

Walker acted as a consultant and introduced Appleby to independent publisher Mary Egan, who ­became the project director – organising the proof reading, design and the printing of the book in ­China. Peter Greenberg was hired as a distributor and Appleby picked up an independent marketing person to help generate publicity.

. . . .

That added to the cost and even though the bulk of the 3000 print run was sold, Appleby didn’t make any money.

“I never intended it to be a ­profit-making exercise. We got good sales to a small target market – but you wouldn’t want to do it for a living. The numbers don’t stack up – but I’m really happy we’ve ­created a legacy document.

“And as [team member] Ramesh Patel said to me – if you don’t sell any books at least you’ve made 16 people happy.”

. . . .

[Professor Grant] Schofield was determined to self-publish the book – which ­espouses a high-fat, low-carbo­hydrate diet – after a negative experience with a publishing company. He and former All Blacks skipper Buck Shelford co-authored a men’s health book, Buck Up, for Penguin.

“First of all you give away all your intellectual property to the ­publisher, which seems wrong at every level, then they rely on you to promote it. And I wanted an ebook but they were against it,” Schofield lamented.

“I kept thinking, ‘I know better than this’ and then I was like, ‘Oh, get serious, these guys have been in it for years and they know best.’ But sometimes being in something for years when things change rapidly puts you in the worst possible position.”

. . . .

Schofield admits he and his team made errors – the ­design and ­photography could be better – and he wishes they’d taken a leaf out of ­Annabel Langbein’s recipe books.

“In terms of writing recipes ­Annabel Langbein does it ­superbly. We should have just gone to her book, looked at her templates and copied it. In hindsight not doing that is so dumb it’s unbelievable.”

They were smart enough to look on the inside cover of a Langbein book for the name of her publisher – Asia Pacific Publishing.

Despite the mistakes, the book has been a smash, selling 20,000 copies and spawning a spin-off ­ebook dedicated to a high-fat, low-carb diet for athletes.

Schofield said the main lessons he has learned are to trust your own ideas and follow what you believe.

“Regardless of any success, ­initially we wanted something we could be proud of, which drove the passion for it, thank goodness, because I think if you sat down and did a business plan you probably wouldn’t do it.”

Schofield hadn’t intended to try to sell What The Fat? in book shops but once word got around he was soon ­getting calls from Whitcoulls and Paper Plus asking to stock the book because so many people had been asking about it.

Link to the rest at The New Zealand Herald

Teffi Who? The Rediscovery of One of Russia’s Greatest Writers

21 August 2016

From the Los Angeles Review of Books:

Although her name rings few bells in the West, Teffi was once a Russian literary superstar. Of course, Teffi wasn’t really her name. Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya claimed that she took the comic-sounding and intentionally androgynous nom de plume for good luck, but it seemed like she already had all the luck she needed. She was born in 1872 into an eminent St. Petersburg family, where literature and poetry were an integral part of life (her older sister Mirra Lokhvitskaya gained national fame for her verse, and was even dubbed “the Russian Sappho”). Teffi had wit, talent, fierce intelligence, and great personal charm. She began to publish in her early 30s and tried her hand in various genres, but it was her short stories, with their keen and hilarious observations of contemporary society, that were read by everyone from washerwomen to students to top government officials. They won her literary success on a scale unprecedented in pre-Revolutionary Russia.

When Tsar Nicholas II was asked which writers he’d like to see included in an anthology of Russian literature marking the 300th anniversary of Romanov rule, he replied, “Teffi. Her alone. No one else is necessary.” On the opposite end of the political spectrum, Teffi had a fan in Vladimir Lenin, with whom she worked in 1905 at the short-lived New Life [Novaia Zhizn’] newspaper. Teffi’s witticisms echoed throughout St. Petersburg’s salons. There were Teffi bonbons in multi-colored wrappers and a Teffi perfume. (Commendably, Teffi never let any of this go to her head, especially after she gorged on a kilo box of Teffi candy to the point of nausea, becoming — as she herself put it — sick of celebrity.) She was hailed as the female Chekhov, Gogol’s literary heir, the Queen of Russian Humor, and the Queen of Laughter.

She left Russia in 1919, during the Red Terror, when the Bolshevik Revolution began to devour its own children. But success followed her. She remained a literary A-lister, filling concert halls in Paris with Russian émigrés eager to hear her read. The émigré literary world, which may have been even more fractious than that of Imperial Russia, showered her with kindness; her stories were welcomed in Russian-language journals around the world, from Berlin to Harbin, China. Everyone had a sweet tooth for Teffi. As the icing on the cake, when her books “returned” to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union, they were celebrated as recovered gems of Russian humor.

. . . .

[Teffi] became a victim of her immensely successful but severely confining brand. Witty, elegant, sharp-eyed, kindhearted Teffi and her breathlessly funny stories about the foibles of Russians of all classes were in huge demand. But the editors and the reading public only wanted — and were willing to pay good money for — the Teffi they knew. What’s worse, they perceived all of her stories as funny, even when they were clearly tragic. Teffi was even attacked in the press for purportedly making fun of one of her most touching characters, an uneducated Russian peasant woman named Yavdokha, who loses her son in World War I but is too simpleminded to understand what has happened. Needless to say, the author wasn’t making fun of the poor woman’s plight, but rather drawing attention to it. (Because of this incident, her 1916 collection of stories came with what amounted to a warning label, informing readers that some of the stories were not meant to be funny.) Years later, in Paris, Teffi was asked to give a lecture on the subject of asceticism to a large émigré audience. She prepared a serious scholarly lecture, but when she started to deliver it, giggles broke out in the auditorium. Before long, the entire audience was howling with laughter, and when Teffi was done — flushed with embarrassment — she got a standing ovation. The verdict was unanimous: “Only Teffi could come up with something so hilarious!”

Link to the rest at LARB

Amazon has some books by Teffi.

Aspiring authors set up their own publishing company

19 August 2016

From the Grimsby Telegraph (UK):

A global not-for-profit publishing company has been launched by a group of proactive writing students here in Grimsby.

A group of first-year professional writing students at University Centre Grimsby (UCG) have set up their own publishing company Hammond House Publishing.

Among its 35 members are published authors from the US, Australia and Hong Kong.

The group is open to all writers and is not just exclusive to students.

. . . .

“The purpose of our company is to provide support to aspiring writers,” he said.

“Like a lot of aspiring authors are aware, it is increasingly difficult to get published. We’ve had a lot of feedback from writers who have decided to self-publish as they’ve found it so difficult and expensive.

“So it is our aim to allow independent authors to publish their own work.”

The company is being self-funded but the group are seeking sponsorship from local companies. However, it does raise money through its £10 yearly membership fee.

Link to the rest at Grimsby Telegraph

Global publishing chiefs condemn closure of Turkish presses

18 August 2016

From The Bookseller:

Chief executives from leading publishing houses around the world, including Markus Dohle of Penguin Random House, Carolyn Reidy of Simon & Schuster and Arnaud Nourry of Hachette Livre, have said they are “deeply concerned” about the closure of 29 publishing houses in Turkey and called on president Tayyip Erdogan to protect writers’ freedom of expression.

The Turkish government shut down 29 publishers under state of emergency regulations last month in reaction to a failed coup in the country, according to the Turkish Publishers Association (TPA), which condemned the closures as “an assault on parliamentary democracy, the government and the people”.

PEN International Publishers Circle has now organised a petition against the crackdown, which urges the Turkish authorities to stop using state of emergency regulations to restrict “lawful freedom of expression”.

. . . .

The publishing chiefs said: “The PEN International Publishers Circle is deeply concerned at the news that 29 publishing houses have been ordered closed since the failed coup in Turkey on 15th July 2016. According to our colleagues at the Turkish Publishers Association, the closure of these publishing houses ‘carries the risk of human rights violations, the stifling of freedom of thought and expression and also irreparable financial and moral losses’.

. . . .

All the closed publishers’ goods, assets, rights and documents were transferred to the Turkish treasury, without hope of appeal or the treasury being liable for any monies owed, according to the TPA. The knock-on effect is that secondary businesses, such as printing presses, bookbinders and distributors, will also face bankruptcy, while authors and translators will suffer too, it said.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Amazon Deletes Kannada-Langauge eBook, Indian Literary Community Freaks Out

16 August 2016

From The Digital Reader:

The Times of India, Bangalore Mirror, and other sites are reporting that Amazon won’t let a Kannada-language ebook into the Kindle Store. (According to Wikipedia, there are around 50 million people in the world who speak that language.)

Amazon’s apparent reluctance to allow Kannada e-books on its Kindle platform has angered sections of writers and Kannada groups pitting the Kannada Development Authority, a statutory body, and Kannada Sahitya Parishat, the apex literary body, against the Seattle-based ecommerce behemoth.

The two organisations are gathering details to decide on its next move to get Amazon to respond to the request of writers to introduce Kannada e-books on Kindle.

The spat is showing signs of gaining momentum in the coming days as Amazon India, headquartered out of Bengaluru, is said to be planning to offer books in Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, Malayalam and Gujarati on its e-reader.

While the Kannada Development Authority has written a letter to Amazon, the Sahitya Parishat is consulting experts to guide it in the matter.

“We have written to Amazon requesting it to treat Kannada in the same way as it wishes to treat other Indian languages. We have also asked them to explain why they want to exclude Kannada from Kindle,” Hanumanthaiah, the Authority Chairman told ET. “We will decide our future course of action after receiving Amazon’s reply,” he added.

. . . .

For the record, Amazon launched the international Kindle store in 2009, and seven years later it still neglects to support most of the languages on this planet.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

The post below discusses books and trigger warnings. PG suspects Amazon just managed to trigger 50 million people without having any intention to do so.

Someone needs to ask the AAP and the Authors Guild where they stand on the dire shortage of US books translated into Kanarese and how long Kannada speakers will be relegated to second-class status.

Adult library usage falls ‘significantly’

15 August 2016

From The Bookseller:

There has been a “significant decrease” in the proportion of adults who engage with public libraries across all demographic groups for the first time since records began.

A report on public library engagement comissioned by the government department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has revealed that 33.4% of adults had visited a public library in the year April 2015 to March 2016, down from 33.9% a year earlier, and down from 48.2% in 2005/06. The report revealed there has been a “significant decline” in the proportion of adults who used a public library in all individual English regions since 2005/06, when records began, with the South East region seeing the largest decline, from 51% in 2005/05 to 31.9% in 2015/16.

The research also found that the gap between ethnic groups using libraries is increasing, with a higher proportion of adults from BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) groups using a library in the year April 2015 to March 2016, than adults from the white ethnic group (45.6% compared with 31.6%). The divide reflects a “significant” decrease in the proportion of adults from the white ethnic group using public libraries since 2013/14, while the proportion of BAME adults using libraries has remained stable.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

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