Bookselling is the most over-romanticised job in the world

6 October 2018

From The Guardian:

Readers around the world cooed last month when a Welsh bookseller announced he was giving away his shop to a regular customer. It was a lovely story, but as an ex-bookseller of five years, I could only dwell on the harsh realities this unsuspecting man would inherit: slow days, stocktaking and, unavoidably, a few regular oddballs.

Bookselling has been relentlessly romanticised, most often by Hollywood: in truth, it is further away from You’ve Got Mail (Tom Hanks’s snazzy shop Fox Books would have been toppled by the internet) and much closer to that moment in Notting Hill when Hugh Grant catches Dylan Moran ferreting away a book in his pants. This actually happened at a bookshop I worked in: a man was caught packing his trousers with true crime and was asked (amazingly politely) to hand them over to a long-suffering colleague (they went promptly back on the shelf).

Even the grimier portrayals like Bernard Black – Moran’s later turn behind the till in UK TV comedy Black Books – are not that accurate. Yes, booksellers do often hate you, probably because you only know that the book has a blue cover. No, we could never say it because, unlike in Bernard’s shop, there is always an overbearing senior manager hovering nearby. Even the Yorkshire Dales “bookseller from hell”, who lived gloriously free from corporate bigwigs reminding him that the customer was always right, quit his shop after outrage over his policy of charging customers 50p to browse.

. . . .

Stray bodily fluids are by no means a unique treat for booksellers – but anyone who has sold books in the last decade must also deal with: never-ending questions about why it is cheaper online; constant jibes about losing your job to Amazon; cavalier parents who treat your children’s department like a creche; older (usually male) customers who only ask you about books to test your (they hope) comparatively measly knowledge; and hundreds of inane queries about bathrooms, loyalty cards and coffee shops, when, really, all you want to talk about is books.

Link to the rest at The Guardian


3 October 2018
Comments Off on Diary

From The London Review of Books:

I have never felt the need to call myself a feminist, no matter how often my late-developed gender awareness tells me I ought to be one. In my primary school in China in the mid-1980s, the most ferocious person in class was a girl. She used to carry a tree branch to beat boys with and absolutely no one dared to offend her. Our desks were designed for two, usually a girl and a boy; the better student was supposed to help their neighbour. We drew a line (called the ‘38th parallel’ after the line separating North and South Korea) down the middle of the desk and neither side was allowed to cross the border. I had a compass with one needle leg as a weapon, ready to attack the boy when his elbow strayed into my territory. One day his mother found some blood on his sleeve when she was washing his clothes and asked him what had happened. He told her that he had had a minor nosebleed: it was too shameful to admit that he was being bullied by a girl (male pride prevented him from retaliating). Poor boy. After the bloodshed I stopped using the compass and adopted a softer tactic: pinching.

Academically, girls weren’t, and aren’t, in any way inferior to boys. The Chinese education system favours cramming, and girls are more focused and better behaved than boys, at least at certain ages. For us, the one-child generation, the gender ratio in school was about fifty-fifty, and girls’ academic scores varied from the middle to the upper range; very often they came top. In 1999, Chinese universities expanded enrolment by 48 per cent (1.6 million freshmen compared to 1.1 million in 1998), and it’s no surprise that more girls than boys have been getting into university ever since. In 2018, the proportion of female college students is 52 per cent. Women are on the whole more qualified than men in the job market. In fact any HR expert from the big Chinese firms will tell you – in private – that it’s difficult to find qualified men. So they have to improvise, which means lowering the standard of recruitment to get the gender balance they require. Some feminists see this manoeuvring as systematic discrimination against women, but if they look more closely they are liable to find that the story doesn’t fit their narrative of oppression.

Many of today’s successful Chinese startups were founded by women in their thirties, and I’ve seen companies with all-female staff. Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, who has access to the data of the billion or so Chinese consumers on the Taobao and Alipay platforms, says that ‘women are the economy, today and in the future.’ One recent report suggests that 79 per cent of technology firms in China have at least one female executive; in the US the figure is 54 per cent and in the UK 53 per cent. According to Bloomberg, ‘women launch more than half of all new internet companies in China.’ It’s hard to imagine that men could conspire to stop the rise of women in the Chinese economy. The younger the age group, the less the gender distinction seems to matter. When it comes to millennials, you see hardly any signs at all of male dominance. Male pop idols are styled as ‘little fresh meat’ (the unisex look), partly to appeal to the ‘female gaze’, but maybe unconsciously they want to look feminine – girls are better and cooler in school after all.

. . . .

We should, of course, keep in mind that the cities and the countryside are like different planets. Rural life is still dominated by the patriarchy, untouched by modernity. Women are expected to fulfil their duty as wives and mothers, otherwise they are viewed as flawed goods and cast away; it is unthinkable for women to initiate divorce proceedings. Husbands beat wives for no reason. Many women go to cities to be cleaners, care workers or housekeepers and don’t want to go back to their villages. My housekeeper has a lazy husband and a jobless, videogame-addict son in the countryside, and to feed them she has to work for several families, seven days a week. I asked why she doesn’t get divorced and save up some money for herself; she said that if she did she would lose her purpose in life.

It is impossible to ignore the fact that China’s top leadership are all male, which could easily lead to accusations of misogyny in politics. But I think it’s more of a generational than a gender issue. The seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee are of my parents’ generation, and came of age at a time when, thanks to the Cultural Revolution, higher education was unattainable for many. In ten or fifteen years’ time, when the one-child generation ascends to power, the leadership of China is likely to reflect the gender balance of my university cohort. Education matters here. The present party leadership has no particular reason at the moment to object to female power. President Xi Jinping himself has had to learn to live with it: when he worked as a provincial official his wife was a superstar singer and a household name, and their only child is a daughter. Yet in her new book, Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening, Leta Hong Fincher claims that the subordination of women is fundamental to the Communist Party’s dictatorship and the ‘stability’ of the system. Xi, she maintains, sees patriarchal authoritarianism as critical to the survival of the party. But she doesn’t pay enough attention to the Chinese bureaucratic system, in which rank counts much more than gender. Male officials have no problem following a woman’s lead if she has a higher rank. One of the strengths of the party is its ability to welcome talent from all quarters. Jiang Qing was the leader of the Gang of Four and there were plenty of female zealots in the Cultural Revolution.

. . . .

This is not to say that things are easy for feminists in China. There is no lack of news about the crackdown on feminists’ activities; but compared to the human rights lawyers and political dissidents, feminists are handled rather gently by the authorities. Xiao Meili, a close friend of the Feminist Five in Guangzhou, gave an account on Weibo of a visit by National Security officers in 2017:

National Security officer: The political tasks in the second half of this year will be really, really heavy [the then upcoming 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China] … You girls are too famous. Could you please co-operate and move to the lake area [far from the city centre]. Have you ever been there? The scenery is very beautiful.

Xiao Meili: Why don’t you move there then?

NS: I have to go to the office every day.

Xiao Meili: We really don’t want to move. This is too much trouble.

NS: We’ll help you find the apartment and relocate, and pay for your first month’s rent.

Xiao Meili: You should cover the agent fee and all the rent …

NS: If it was up to me, you girls could remain in Guangzhou. No problem. But it’s not up to me any more; we’re just passing on the directive from above. You girls are too famous now, and you should know what happens to fat pigs … When you move, don’t forget to mention on Weibo that you are being forced to move away from Guangzhou city centre. You have to say it loud and clear, so my boss knows that I’m doing my job.

Xiao Meili says that NS officers also harassed her landlord and her friends’ landlord to push them to move to the suburbs.

Link to the rest at The London Review of Books

The Danish Tolstoy

30 September 2018
Comments Off on The Danish Tolstoy

From The New York Review of Books:

Henrik Pontoppidan rules over the province of Danish letters with a grey-bearded authority akin to Leo Tolstoy’s or Henry James’s. The author of three sweeping epics, Det Fortjættede Land (The Promised Land, 1891–1895), Lykke-Per (A Fortunate Man, 1898–1904), and De Dødes Rige (The Kingdom of the Dead, 1912­–1916), he was awarded the 1917 Nobel Prize for Literature, an honor he shared with his exact contemporary, the now little-read Karl Gjellerup. Ernst Bloch admired him, and Georg Lukács likened his novelistic achievement to Flaubert’s. On the occasion of his seventieth birthday in 1927, Pontoppidan was lauded by Thomas Mann in an open letter to the Danish newspaper Politiken, describing him as “a full-blooded storyteller who scrutinizes our lives and society so intensely that he ranks within the highest class of European writers.” In August, a cinematic adaption of Lykke-Per by the Academy-Award winning director Billie August opened in Danish theaters.

And yet, Pontoppidan’s writing has remained almost entirely unavailable to English-language readers. He has occasionally been invoked as proof of the Swedish Academy’s penchant for giving Nobel Prizes to seemingly obscure minor writers (Adam Gopnik, writing in The New Yorker, once asked: “Who wouldn’t rather be in the company of Proust, Auden, and Nabokov than of Erik Axel Karlfeldt and Henrik Pontoppidan?”), though it’s probably safe to assume that such judgments are not based on any great familiarity with Pontoppidan’s writing. Lykke-Per, his masterpiece, was not published in English until 2010 (in a translation by Naomi Liebowitz titled Lucky-Per), and only then in an academic edition costing a little over $80. At long last, an affordable new translation by the Irish writer and filmmaker Paul Larkin, published by the Danish Museum Tusculanum Press and bearing the more English-friendly title A Fortunate Man, is now available. Though I do not always agree with Larkin’s choices (in particular, regional dialects and Danish colloquialisms are often rendered in a rustic, sometimes archaic English, like something out of Thomas Hardy), it is on the whole an impressive, fluent achievement. It presents the first real opportunity for English-language readers to encounter what the scholar Flemming Behrendt, in his afterword, calls one of the most re-read and talked about novels in Danish literary history.

Published serially between 1898 and 1904, A Fortunate Man offers a vast, fictional panorama of Danish society in an age of social and industrial change and cultural renewal. It is set against the backdrop of a Copenhagen that, in the final decades of the nineteenth century, was transformed into a battleground of struggles between conservatives and progressives, Christians and atheists, the old and the new. The influential critic Georg Brandes gave a series of lectures on modern European literature, championing French naturalism and Darwinian freethinking, that inaugurated the prolific cultural and intellectual flowering known throughout Scandinavia as the Modern Breakthrough, encouraging writers like Ibsen, Strindberg, Hamsun, and Jacobsen.

. . . .

A Fortunate Man tells the story of Per Sidenius, the descendant of a long line of austere clergymen, who revolts against the dogmatic piety of his family home and embarks on the young man’s familiar march on the metropolis, where he intends to seek fame and fortune as an engineer. His great ambition is to build a massive harbor project on Denmark’s west coast that will, he fervently believes, “transform Denmark into an industrial manufacturing power of the first order.” Neglecting his studies at the College of Engineering, Per spends his days and nights in his poky abode, reading up on hydraulics and turbines and making elaborate and detailed drawings.

Link to the rest at The New York Review of Books

Europe’s antitrust chief uses U.S. visit to explain Amazon probe

29 September 2018

From MarketWatch:

The head of the European Commission’s antitrust authority used a visit to the U.S. to describe in greater detail the latest American tech titan that’s the subject of possible action, Amazon.

As European Union Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager has had a lot of influence on U.S. technology companies like Google  which was fined $5 billion for violating EU antitrust rules, and Apple, which was ordered to repay over $15 billion to Ireland.

Now she has her eyes on another American company: Amazon.

. . . .

The EU’s investigation into Amazon which was announced last week was flagged as a company that may be in violation of EU antitrust law through an e-commerce sector inquiry Vestager’s commision conducted over the summer.

“We found that there are price maintenance issues where businesses not only give you a recommended price, but they also police that you actually take this recommended price,” Vestager said at a press conference held in Washington D.C. on Thursday.

When it comes to Amazon, she added that there is also a concern centered around how the platform utilizes consumer spending behavior data from the “little guys”, or third-party sellers that sell goods their goods on Amazon. “Since you have thousands and thousands of little guys you get quite a big horizontal picture of what’s going on in the marketplace,” she said, “and that is giving the big guy an advantage that cannot be matched because you have this special access to data.”

. . . .

On her visit to Washington, Vestager also met with Makan Delrahim, the assistant attorney general for the antitrust division, and Joe Simons, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. “It’s been a very long time since we have had this sort of formal meeting,” Vestager said, “but it was a good way to sort of make a point of information and then of course cooperation will continue.”

“This is about her getting ready for her next job in the EU and it shows she can play a bigger role in the U.S.,” said Roslyn Layton, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.

Unlike the United States, Layton said that Europe has still not fully recovered from the financial crisis in 2008. “Many people say, ‘Why not make better policy to help growth?’ Well, those things are hard and it doesn’t sound consumer friendly so it is much easier to say let’s go after the big U.S. companies.”

In addition to Amazon, given that the majority of technology companies Vestager has investigated are from the United States, many question whether she intends to use European antitrust policy to weaken U.S. companies to benefit smaller European ones. Be it in the United States or the EU, the goal of any antitrust policy should be to leave consumers better off, said Guido Lobrano, senior director of global policy at Information Technology Industry Council. “It is a reality that tech companies and large groups have originated in the United States because it is favorable to innovation which is not quite the case in Europe,” he said.

Link to the rest at MarketWatch

If PG were in a business and his competitors were selling on Amazon, in addition to watching online pricing and the Sales Rank of his competitors (probably with some technology that automated the process), he would be using this information to inform his own pricing strategies and, where appropriate, to hammer on his suppliers for lower prices.

If a competitor were selling a product below cost, PG might use the opportunity to restock his inventory.

It’s much, much easier to monitor competitor pricing/promotion activities on an ecommerce platform than it is if a competitor is selling through 500 individual physical stores. It costs money to track in-store competitor activities in meatspace (there are companies who will do this for a fee) and generating a physical retail version of Amazon Sales Rank and tracking it over time would be very expensive.

Books just keep getting longer

27 September 2018

From Macleans:

When Ben Blatt succumbed to Pottermania, he was in Grade 3, and the third book—1999’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban—had just come out. “At that age, I considered a 300-page book to be rather imposing,” he recalls of a summer spent catching up on past events at Hogwarts while eagerly awaiting the next instalment. “But then each new book that came out was longer and longer. It got crazy.” The fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, ballooned to more than 800 pages. “Of course,” he adds, “I would have read them all even if they were 4,000 pages long.”

Fast-forward 18 years and Blatt can now prove what his nine-year-old self only felt. More than just wizard tales are getting longer these days. Blatt’s recently released book, Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve, takes a big-data approach to literature. Just as complicated statistical analysis can reveal hidden truths for investors and sports teams, Blatt runs the numbers on books to uncover such things as characteristics of famous opening lines and, in one of his more intriguing sections, how authors appear to get more verbose with success. “Harry Potter was my jumping-off point, but it quickly became apparent the same thing happens to a lot of other series, like Fifty Shades of Grey or Twilight,” Blatt says. “Book inflation is real.”

This expansionary trend holds for literary works as well as popular potboilers. Going back to 1980, Blatt examined the word count of authors whose first book was a big hit or won a major prize. Among this collection of successful rookies, 72 per cent wrote a longer novel their second time out. Most were quite a bit longer. Blatt suspects the twin temptations of ego and ambition explain much of this phenomenon. “If your first book is well-received, your publisher is going to be happy,” he says. “And so you figure it’s time to write the great American novel.” Amy Tan could be considered a cautionary tale in this regard. While she scored a major success with her compact first novel, The Joy Luck Club, in 1989, everything she’s written since has been much longer and much less successful.

. . . .

Blatt admits book inflation doesn’t hold for all authors. Some stick religiously to a proven formula. Every book in The Hunger Games trilogy, for example, has the same number of chapters and sections, and almost identical word counts. But there’s plenty of evidence to support the inflationary trend across fiction as a whole. A recent study of New York Timesbestsellers reveals their average length has grown from 320 pages in 1999 to 407 in 2014. A more casual survey by a book blogger found that popular novels appear to have doubled in length between the early 1900s and today. The same thing holds for non-fiction: biographies of U.S. presidents and other important figures now routinely exceed 1,000 pages.

. . . .

“People aren’t intimidated by huge books anymore,” says Melanie Kindrachuk, a librarian at the Stratford Public Library in Ontario and chair of the provincial library association’s Readers’ Advisory Council. “If it’s a big book by a popular author, they’re prepared to give it a try.” This may be partly due to technology: a 1,000-page epic weighs no more than a limerick when on an e-reader. But it also reflects changing habits. “If someone comes into our library asking for a book suggestion, I’ll start by asking them what they’re watching on TV,” Kindrachuk says. “If they’ve just finished binge-watching Downton Abbey or Game of Thrones, I know they’ll have the patience for a bigger book.”

Link to the rest at Macleans

Lengthening books: read them and weep

27 September 2018

From The Guardian:

At 500 pages, The Overstory is a “majestic redwood” of a novel. Its place on this week’s Man Booker shortlist is testament that long books are fine by the judges. It’s the long-winded ones they rejected: “We occasionally felt that inside the book we read was a better one – sometimes a thinner one – wildly signalling to be let out,” said Kwame Anthony Appiah, their chairman.

Most readers can empathise, and may feel that the word “occasionally” was tactful. One book survey found that the average number of pages had increased from 320 to 400 pages between 1999 and 2014. Some think that the shift to digital formats has contributed, not least in removing the fear of being crushed beneath your duvet by your bedtime reading. Val McDermid, another of the judges, cited the inexperience of editors; commercial pressures which deny them the time they need to spend on books; and the unwillingness of writers to listen. The phenomenon of “book inflation” over careers has been noted: the last part of Karl Ove Knausgård’s My Struggle runs to almost 1,200 pages, and Paul Auster’s most recent novel 4321 is almost as long as his previous three books put together. The approving may credit increased boldness and mastery of material. The unimpressed blame growing authorial egos.

. . . .

That may be partly the legacy of doorstop classics: Moby Dick, Middlemarch, and Crime and Punishment. (It’s not a purely western phenomenon: China’s beloved The Story of the Stone runs to 120 chapters). Ulysses needs all of its 700-plus pages to capture a single day, while War and Peace, at over 1,200, ranges over 15 years, five families, domestic drama and grand historical events. Readers gallop through Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet (regarded by its author as a single novel) while short books don’t always keep their readers; A Brief History of Time, despite living up to its titular promise, was bought much more than read. But Persuasion, one of Jane Austen’s shorter novels, is arguably her best. Virginia Woolf’s groundbreaking Mrs Dalloway is not much over 200 pages. Rather a single Bashō haiku than the 1,150-plus pages of James Clavell’s Shogun. The long and short of it is that authors must earn their length.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Paris tribunal guts Twitter’s T&Cs… including the copyright clause for user-generated content

26 September 2018

From IPKat:

Have you ever found yourself clicking– ‘Yes I agree to these terms & conditions’, without actually reading them? Probably yes [everyone does it…even lawyers]. Did that include your registration with Twitter? If so, you may not have realized that you agreed to a licence allowing Twitter (and its partners) to use at will any of the copyright-protected content you created and uploaded on their site. But not to worry, the Paris Tribunal, in a 236-page-long decision, “righted wrongs” last month by going over Twitter’s terms and conditions with a [very] fine-tooth coomb.

. . . .

The tribunal’s review declared ‘null and void’ most of the clauses challenged by the claimant, including the contract’s copyright licensing provisions for user-generated content.

. . . .

The case was brought before the Paris Tribunal by the French Consumers’ Association– ‘Union Fédérale des Consommateurs – QUE CHOISIR’ (UFC), on behalf of the (claimed) collective interest of Twitter’s users. This type of legal action is the closest thing to a class action that exists in France. In this case, UFC’s eligibility to act on behalf of Twitter’s users relied on Article L 621 of the French Consumer Law Code, on the basis of which Twitter users were deemed consumers.

The status of Twitter users as consumers was vehemently disputed by Twitter, which argued that its service is ‘free’, making it impossible for its users to be ‘consumers’ (within the meaning of the Consumer Law). According to Twitter, a person may be regarded as a ‘consumer’ only if it pays for contracted products and services.

The Paris Tribunal rejected this contention, stressing that whilst Twitter users do not ‘pay’ for the service, using its platform is not gratuitous. The Tribunal emphasised that users consented to their personal information and other data being used by Twitter (and its commercial partners), in exchange for the right to avail themselves of Twitter’s services. Consequently, since Twitter is not free, the consumer protection law does apply to their terms and conditions.

Twitter’s terms and conditions are spread across three main contractual documents: the ‘Terms of Service’, the ‘Privacy Rules’ and the ‘Twitter Rules’  (see here for the current English versions of these documents).

. . . .

The ToS features a provision according to which Twitter users license the copyright vested in all of the “content” that they upload onto the platform (e.g. text, photos, and videos) to Twitter and its “ecosystem partners” (i.e. third-party partners). The first sentence of the licensing clause reads as follows:

“You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. What’s yours is yours — you own your Content (and your incorporated audio, photos and videos are considered part of the Content).”(here) [this is the English equivalent of the clauses in French as considered by the Court]

Twitter’s licensing terms follow this paragraph (see here for the current English equivalent of the provisions considered in Court).

UFC challenged the licensing provision on two grounds. First, the claimant argued that the opening sentence gives the misleading impression that the licencing agreement is narrow in the scope its grants to Twitter whilst in fact, it grants a world-wide, royalty free licence for any use and for all content ever uploaded on the platform, with the right for Twitter to sub-licence such uses to third parties within their commercial “ecosystem”. In this Kat’s view, the licence granted to Twitter falls short of being an assignment of rights only to the extent that it is non-exclusive. The absence of exclusivity allows users to carry on using and sub-licensing (non-exclusively) their own content as they see fit.

Link to the rest at IPKat

PG notes that there is something of a parallel with the KBoards uproar of a few days ago.

The lawyers who work for the new owners of KBoards and those who work for Twitter have an obligation to act in the best interests of their clients.

One of the typical behaviors of IP and corporate attorneys is to do what PG will describe as “over-drafting” of contracts.

A representative example of over-drafting is the practice of some lawyers working for large Hollywood entertainment companies to ask a creator for a copyright license that grants not just worldwide rights, not but rights throughout “the universe” or “the currently known and unknown universe.” This language will cover exercise of the potentially valuable creator’s rights in the Alpha Centauri system when we get there. Somebody in Hollywood will already own the right to show reruns of Gilligan’s Island to the space explorers.

One species of over-drafting occurs when there is no one who represents a counter-party who is in a position to say, “That’s a stupid clause” or “You’re asking for much more than you need.”

Another species of over-drafting appears when one attorney writes a perfectly good TOS during the early stages of an internet company’s existence, then another attorney or law firm is asked to review the TOS a couple of years later. How does the second attorney demonstrate his/her usefulness? By changing and expanding the TOS.

Boilerplate contracts and contract provisions (a category within which a TOS resides) never get shorter. They invariably expand over time as each lawyer provides a personal legal touch.

In PG’s improbably humble opinion, the attorneys drafting the Twitter TOS wandered into the over-drafting arena. Drafting the TOS in 2018 should cover the uses Twitter will make of user posts in 2018 and knows it will use in 2019 because of current development activities.

PG suggests it is not too much to expect from Twitter to ask it to articulate the actual ways in which it will use content contributed by third parties during the foreseeable future (which is not forever, especially for an internet company).

As the platform changes, the TOS changes and users can make their decisions about whether they want to post something on Twitter or not. Their historical posts are subject to the TOS in place when they made them.

Canadian Publishing in 2018

25 September 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

One of the great pleasures of being a journalist from the United States browsing in a Canadian bookstore—be it Type Books in Toronto, McNally Robinson in Winnipeg, or maybe Woozles in Halifax—is the realization that there are so many new books in English that I’ve never seen before and that I must read now.

Books this fall that are all likely to prove more popular above the 49th parallel than below it include DK’s recently updated Our Great Prime Ministers, about Canada’s past leaders; Fernwood Publishing’s Viola Desmond: Her Life and Times by Graham Reynolds, about the Nova Scotia civil rights activist who adorns Canada’s new C$10 banknote; Dundurn’s Riding into Battle: Canadian Cyclists in the Great War by Ted Glenn; Portage and Main’s series of indigenous YA supernatural thrillers by David Robertson; and S&S Canada’s gossipy literary memoir In Other Words: How I Fell in Love with Canada One Book at a Time, by former publisher Anna Porter.

. . . .

“Sometimes, we fear the rest of the world thinks of us as a giant Idaho,” says Leo MacDonald, senior v-p of sales and marketing at HarperCollins Canada. “As a company, we push back on that perception. Just look at a book like Forgiveness, the memoir by Mark Sakamoto that won the 2018 Canada Reads contest. That book is a very Canadian story—but, as it involves his family’s experience during World War II, is very relatable. And the theme of forgiveness is, well, universal. And it is about a family divided, which makes it very timely.”

. . . .

Earlier this year BookNet, the Canadian organization that compiles sales and other data about Canadian publishing, conducted a survey on reading habits and found that 81% of people responding had read or listened to a book in the last year, with 33.5% saying their reading or listening had increased over the previous year. What has sparked a change? It is likely the combination of several factors, including a boom in locally produced audiobooks and the popularity of homegrown international bestselling authors such as pop poet Rupi Kaur, controversial self-help polemicist Jordan Peterson, and literary icons Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje—and even an increased awareness of the availability of free-to-read material from libraries. To wit: half of Canadians have checked an item out of a library in the past year, and the Toronto Public Library, which is one of the largest library systems in the world, saw 3.7 million e-book loans, nearly one million audiobook loans, and nearly 25 million print-book loans last year. When it comes to print books, that is nearly five books loaned for each resident of Toronto, a city the same size as Chicago. And that is good for authors; Canada has a program, the Public Lending Right, which compensates writers for these library loans (alas, not publishers).

Overall, Canada’s publishing market is the 12th largest in the world and is valued at approximately $2.1 billion, according to the latest statistics released by BookMap. It’s a strong showing for a nation of 37 million people that, in effect, represents two wholly separate publishing industries: one in English and one in French.

. . . .

Sales Are Steady-ish

In 2017, sales of print books in Canada fell 4%, compared to 2016, according to BookNet. “But, when you include e-books, sales have been generally flat for the last seven years,” said Noah Genner, CEO of BookNet, during a presentation on the industry at the organization’s annual TechForum event. In total, the Canadian book industry sold approximately 51.5 million copies in 2017. The organization tracked some 700,000 ISBNs in 2017 and saw, as had been the trend in previous years, more books being published but each title selling in fewer quantities. In 2017, 60% of all print book sales were for backlist books, which was up 2% over 2016, BookNet reported.

The generally flat sales trend is one of the reasons so many publishers have poured resources into pushing harder and harder into the American book market. Those who attend industry events in the U.S. (such as Winter Institute, the American Library Association annual meeting, or BookExpo) have noticed more booths from Canadian publishers, be they Second Story Press or Coach House Books from Toronto, Talon Books or Arsenal Pulp from Vancouver, or Biblioasis from Windsor. For many publishers, U.S. sales can account for as much as 50% of sales, and for many children’s publishers, it is even more. Vancouver’s Arsenal Pulp Press credits the U.S. with 55% of its annual sales, while at Groundwood Books the U.S. amounts to 65% of sales. In all, export sales accounted for 19% of the overall book market in 2016, rising 11.8% for the year to C$260.5 million, according to Statistics Canada. This success is enabled in part by Livre Canada Books, the organization responsible for promoting export and rights sales abroad.

. . . .

The ACP reported in a press release in 2017 that “books imported to Canada from the U.S. contribute to a trade deficit with the U.S. book industry of approximately C$375 million each year.” It went on to state, “Without the government programs and policies the cultural exception makes possible, this deficit would grow and limit the domestic industry’s capacity to publish new Canadian-authored books and educational resources.”

What’s more, it’s not just Canadian publishers who need be concerned about the relationship between Canada and the U.S. Some 245 publishing companies are Canadian-owned, but several of the 15 conglomerate publishers in the country are not. In fact, the foreign-controlled companies accounted for 53.8% of revenue in 2016, while 46.2% was generated by Canadian-controlled firms. All this means that Germany’s Bertelsmann, which owns Penguin Random House Canada, as well as U.S.-owned HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster (both of which have large Canadian operations), are paying attention to what happens in Washington and Ottawa.

But if there is one company that needs to keep an eye on the relationship between Trump and Trudeau, it is Indigo. The dominant Canadian bricks-and-mortar retailer is opening its first store in the U.S. in New Jersey later this year, and it has expressed ambitions to open three to five more in the near term. The company has also been rumored to be a possible buyer for beleaguered Barnes & Noble, something that the company will not address.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG notes the OP manages to touch on just about everything relevant to understanding the Canadian book market except

« Previous PageNext Page »