As I write this, Sydney, the city where I’ve set my life and much of my fiction over the past 27 years, is ringed by fire and choked by smoke. A combination fan and air purifier hums in the corner of my study. Seretide and Ventolin inhalers sit within reach on my desk. I’m surrounded by a lifetime’s accumulation of books, including some relatively rare and specialist volumes on China, in English and Chinese. This library might not be precious in monetary terms, but it’s priceless to me and vital to my work. I wonder which books I would save if I had to pack a car quickly and go. The thought of people making those decisions right now, including people I know, twists my gut.
I check the news online and the Fires Near Me app (with watch zones set for friends’ homes) compulsively. Distracted from the book I’m writing, a short history of China, I compose furious, polite, pleading letters to politicians about their failure to declare and act on our climate emergency, and their continuing support for coal. Then I try, with the aid of other apps like Freedom, to remove myself from my digitally infused physical surroundings so that I can write about place. So that I can write this. The best places for writing are those that fade from consciousness as the landscapes of the imagination take over.
Back in August, on the first day of a visit to Spain, I considered setting the start of this essay in Barcelona. Bit of a cliché, of course, how being in a new place sharpens the powers of observation. But it’s true if you make it so. It’s also a vital habit to cultivate for a novelist and travel writer. Many a beautiful notebook bought with the intention of keeping a daily journal has become a beautiful failure. But put me on a plane, and I’ll fill two pages before we even land. Do you want to know the name of every film I’ve seen on planes? Neither do I. But they’re all there. My travel journals are a continual source of wonder. All those details: Who was that brilliant and witty person I seemed so taken with? Others trigger memories that have slipped the loosely strung fishing net of my mind, which generally retains only the biggest catch, while everything else wriggles back into the sea. Recently, when in conversation, I likened my memory to a sieve, a friend objected: “It’s a filter,” he said. Nice thought, but sadly it’s not that deliberate.
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The fronts of buildings in Barcelona are lovely, with long, shuttered windows and balconies overspilling with flowering plants. The Catalan flag, fluttering off some balconies, proclaims the residents’ politics. The backs of the buildings are more intimate. In one apartment, a couple is rising from a siesta. The woman is putting on her bra. An arm reaches for her and pulls her out of sight for a moment. She reappears, and finishes getting dressed. The novelist in me imagines they are illicit lovers, doing what the French call the cinq à sept but from, let’s see, de la una a las tres in the afternoon. In the flat below, another woman, older, less obviously content, mops the floor, back and forth, back and forth, lost in thought, a lock of hair falling onto her cheek and sticking there. Upstairs, on a clothing rod suspended across the bottom of the window, a woman’s white slip flutters in a gentle breeze next to citrus-colored sheets and a hot pink pillowslip. In a higher window, too far up for me to see anything else, a bright ceramic plate hangs on the wall.
For publishers and authors outside the Netherlands it may come as a surprise to learn that Amazon finally launched in the Netherlands this past week. A surprise because Amazon launched its Kindle Netherlands store way back in November 2014.
But until last Tuesday Dutch consumers could only buy ebooks and Prime Video from Amazon NL, and needed to use other Amazon stores to get other goods.
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But now Dutch consumers, while not yet barred from using other Amazon sites, can head to Amazon for a full panoply of goods previously unavailable across 26 categories rather than just 2, and that will bring more eyeballs to the store that may then checkout the Kindle NL store.
Sadly at this stage it appears the only print books being sold are through third-part sellers and the bestseller chart is dominated by English-language titles, while even in the Kindle store over half the top 50 bestselling ebooks are English-language.
That will reflect in part that the Dutch are very comfortable reading English-language books, but perhaps more a reflection of the lack of engagement between Dutch publishers and Amazon.
Books can be prophetic, even when their creators didn’t aim for them to be. In Ling Ma’s debut novel, Severance, a virus is wreaking havoc worldwide. The narrator, a specialty Bibles production coordinator in New York, is informed by her point-of-contact that her company’s contractor in Shenzhen is shutting down its printing factory, with 71 percent of its workers infected. In the book, the virus is known as the Shen Fever; in reality, we now know what it’s called.
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Luke, the founder of a boutique publishing studio in Beijing, told me about the challenges the printing factories were facing during the epidemic. With workers sharing military-style bunk beds in factory dormitories and working in close quarters, the factories are taking extra measures to contain the virus. Not only are migrant workers coming back from their lunar New Year holiday required to self-quarantine for 14 days, but the factories have to stock enough face masks to meet the government requirement to reopen.
Paper, too, has become a problem. As paper can’t be stored for longer than three months, it often needs to be delivered a month ahead of printing. Right now, every time a delivery truck enters a new province, the driver must renew his travel permit and have his temperature taken; all of these procedures slow down the process drastically. As a result of those delays, Luke told me, several of his books previously scheduled to publish in March won’t hit the shelves til June; one of them has been postponed indefinitely.
“Small companies like us are particularly vulnerable to the crisis. Each year we carefully select four to five books to publish. We simply can’t afford to lose money,” he said. Founded in 2018, the studio has introduced a series of books on art and poetry criticism, including Eliot Weinberger’s classic, Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei. In China, only registered publishing houses are eligible to apply for Cataloging in Publication (CIP) numbers, issued and regulated by the Archives Library of Chinese Publications (ALCP), a branch under the Information Center of the Press and Publication Administration (PRA). Small book companies like Luke’s studio do everything but “publishing” the book, from purchasing rights, commissioning translators and cover designers, to placing orders with the printing factories. When publications are postponed, the financial pressure falls mostly on them.
“How do you cope with it all?” I asked Luke.
“Tough it out,” he said.
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A few days before, February 24, a letter from One Way Street, a bookstore chain, had gone viral on WeChat.
“Before we can see an end to this outbreak, our bookstores can’t hold on any longer,” the letter begins. “We were planning to celebrate One Way Street’s 15th year anniversary in 2020, but the year began in a way that none of us had expected.”
Fifteen years earlier, when the nonfiction writer Xu Zhiyuan opened the first One Way Street location with his friends, it was considered to be “going against the current,” as bookstores were dying back then. But Xu wanted it to be Beijing’s The Strand or Shakespeare & Company, a public space for cultural dialogue, and he has succeeded; over the years, the space has hosted over 500 events and organized its own literary prize, inspiring other independent bookstores to pop up across the country. It also issues an intellectual journal, We Read the World, whose first issue I once stumbled upon in my college library, a serendipitous encounter I shall always cherish. Now, its not particularly profit-driven business model has been grimly tested by the outbreak.
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According to the letter, of its five locations in China, only one is currently open and receives one-tenth of its usual foot traffic. With people stranded at home, the bookstore sells 15 books per day, its February revenue slashed by 80 percent compared to the previous year. After exhausting online sales campaigns through various channels, it turned to its readers with different tiers of crowdfunding programs in return for gifts and gift cards. “Sort of like a membership presale,” Xu said. At the other end of the call, he sounded calm; after all, One Way Street has nurtured a solid brand with a twenty-million-strong online reader base.
The resilience of One Way Street comes from not relying too much on book retail, which is enervated by online booksellers with outrageously cheap pricing, and Xu plans to take it one step further. When I asked him about the future of bookstores in China, he said: “We have to reimagine what a bookstore is. It has to be a producer of knowledge, a place where emotions converge. We need to use new ways—audio, video, publishing, online classes, membership—to generate an intellectual life, a social life.”
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I also talked to Lara, who works at a big publishing house in Beijing. Back in 2017, when she was a junior editor and me an inexperienced translator, we worked closely on an Irish short story collection, the first literary work I translated from English into Chinese. Being around the same age, we’ve become friends and stayed loosely in touch. I was surprised to learn that since the end of last year, she’d been hesitating if she should quit her job or even the publishing industry altogether.
“Why?” I asked.
“I don’t have the energy for it anymore,” she said. “It has no impact… You went through so much trouble to make a book, but when it comes out, only few will read it. There’s little value doing it, either financially or socially.”
Every publishing professional I talked to is saying the same thing: It’s getting harder and harder to publish a book. A good book, that is. Publishers are encouraged to churn out books promoting “core socialist values” and Party policies, whose readership remains a mystery to me. On the other hand, the application process for publication permission is frustrating, to say the least. The ALCP provides no clear guidelines to adhere to or fight against, and approvals come as surprisingly as rejections do. Last year—some said in the fall, some said even earlier—it gradually became clear that books by American authors were invariably getting rejected. Whether it had anything to do with the trade war, no one knew for sure. This obstacle was a big blow to a lot of publishers; at least half of the books Luke’s studio purchased were by American authors. Now, it looked like the epidemic could be the last straw, with word spreading that some editors had seen their salaries cut.
“Everyone is trying to figure out where the safety line lies,” Lara said. “Thus begins the self-censorship: This one is pretty tough, that one will probably get killed… Eventually no one touches the controversial ones. What’s the point of publishing, if it has come to this? The thing is, we’re getting more and more used to it. As if all of this is normal. We’ve learned the price of rebellion.”
Even so, in 2019’s year-end meeting, she and her coworkers were told that fewer books would be approved in the coming year.
“Guess how I try to calm myself down?” Lara said, laughing. “I started practicing calligraphy. But the more I wrote, the angrier I became. I don’t know why!”
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It’s easy to give yourself up to the fever of China’s e-commerce-fueled consumerism, with the novelty and convenience of technology that keeps you hooked and energized and, more importantly, feeling like you belong. In the past, the book world has been cautious, if not reluctant, to join this game, but the outbreak quickly left them no other choice. According to a national survey of 1,021 bookstores, by February 5, 90.7 percent of bookstores were closed and over 99 percent reported lower-than-average revenue. On March 9, Xu Zhiyuan was joined by five independent bookstore owners in a virtual Taobao chat room for his first livestream event, “In Defense of Indie Bookstores.” Whether these e-marketplaces, the enemies-turned-friends, will be helpful for the book industry remains to be seen.
It struck me that none of the problems we talked about were new. In prosperous times we had sensed but ignored them, until the looming pandemic threatened to push what’s already vulnerable to the verge of extinction, and we could no longer afford to look away.
In Beijing, the book business is holding its breath to see how the coronavirus outbreak will impact the lives and careers of its workers. Though the Chinese New Year holiday was officially prolonged to February 10 because of the virus, most colleagues at Duku, the publishing house where I serve as deputy editor-in-chief, started working from home over a month ago, on February 3.
At 8 a.m. sharp that day, Duku published a post on WeChat about how a virus affects the human body and how our immune system works to protect us. The post was by Zhu Shisheng, a doctor and IT engineer now living in Canada. Duku has just released his series of 14 short biographies of medical pioneers, among them Alexander Fleming, William Harvey, Edward Jenner, and Andreas Vesalius. The series shows how several of the most important medical discoveries were made and changed our world, and how these great people fought intellectual ignorance and cultural inertia in the process.
The post received more than 100,000 clicks in a short time and prompted the sale of 100 sets of the series that day. We were fortunate that, with most bookstores closed, we could still sell books at all; though some bookstores are starting to reopen, sales have fallen 90% since the start of the outbreak.
Fortunately for Duku, 60% of our sales come from online orders—but unlike other Chinese publishers, Duku has opted out of selling through the dominant online bookselling platforms, such as Dangdang (the largest online bookstore in China) and Amazon, due to their demands for excessive discounts. Likewise, we do not offer e-books. Instead, we rely on print book sales, many of which are made directly to customers through subscriptions or online promotions.
Online influencers, many of whom are still working, are also an important sales channel for us. One influencer, Diandian Mom, who runs a small reading club for parents and kids, recommended Zhu’s medical biography series five times last month, saying she found them very helpful when explaining the current situation to her child; she ultimately sold 64 sets.
Almost all editors at publishing houses are also now taking part in this kind of online marketing. Liu Ya, editorial director of our children’s imprint, Duxiaoku (which means “young Duku”), has been cycling an hour every day to our deserted office. Recently, she hosted a WeChat book club where she recommended books to 1,500 parents (a smaller number than usual), focusing on books about common diseases, nature, and viruses. She also recommended two YA books: one on understanding the media and another on becoming a doctor.
Orders are still coming in, but business is slower than usual. To cater to our customers, our warehouse staff returned to work on February 1. But deliveries around the country are taking longer—up to seven or eight days, from a typical delivery window of three to four.
[T]he program this year is citing serious findings by the National Literary Trust.
Quoting from a summary of the new study’s findings:
“Research from the National Literacy Trust, published today, shows levels of daily reading among children and young people in sharp decline: just 25.8 percent of children said they read daily in their free time in 2019, the lowest level the National Literacy Trust recorded since it surveyed children in 2005.
“Levels of enjoyment are also down. More than half (53 percent) of children and young people said they enjoyed reading either ‘very much’ or ‘quite a lot’—the lowest level evidenced by the National Literacy Trust since 2013.
“The report, published on the National Literacy Trust website today, is entitled National Literacy Trust (2020) Children and Young People’s Reading in 2019. Findings from the National Literacy Trust’s ninth Annual Literacy Survey of 56,906 children and young people aged 9 to 18 in the UK in 2019.
“Frequency and enjoyment are two of the three key elements that make good readers, as defined by the National Literacy Trust’s Read on. Get On. (ROGO) Index, the third being cognitive reading skills.”
The Arabian Nights (also known as One Thousand and One Nights) is a collection of centuries-old stories originating in the Arab world that has traveled far and wide and had an enduring influence on global literature. The captivating tales tell of merchants, treasures, voyages, and adventure, and of thieves, slavery, lust, and violence, all tied together by the storyteller Scheherazade, the princess who famously uses the power of these narratives to delay her own death sentence. This masterpiece of the Islamic Golden Age has been a pervasive force in the cultural imagination, creating a reference point for “Arabian” storytelling that has endured for generations, and is in many ways still the best-known work of Arabic literature.
Yet in my view, the secret to Arabian Nights’ fame is not only in the interweaving plots, fantasies, and illusions of its narratives but also in the fact of its retelling. These tales passed from storytellers and travelers throughout history and around the world, surfacing in texts from Chaucer to Shakespeare, before being published in French in the 18th century and rewritten by authors and scholars in many languages ever since. When we speak of the Arabian Nights and its success, we are celebrating not only the power of exceptional storytelling but the power of translation.
The Arab world is a mosaic of countries and creativity, yet perceptions from the outside are all too often filtered through the lens of current affairs: discussions of conflict, politics, and natural resources can come together to present a distorted picture of the region. But as the director of a leading prize for Arabic writing, I am acutely aware that the ideas, innovation, and myriad voices coming out of this part of the world are multifaceted, diverse, and deserving of an audience.
Over the four years I have been director of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, I have had the pleasure of witnessing the honoring of some of the finest pieces of modern writing in Arabic literature and the humanities. However, many of the honored authors—such as Hussein Al Mutawwa, Ahmed Al Qarmalawy, Abbas Beydoun—are not known outside the Arab world.
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In recent years, literary prizes have become drivers of translation, recognizing the urgent need to celebrate Arabic literature of quality and ensure it is shared with the world. In 2018, we launched the Sheikh Zayed Book Award Translation Fund, in recognition of the active role of translation in fostering cultural communication and in promoting the diversity of Arabic literature internationally. By providing grants for foreign publishers to translate our winning titles, we are able to share stories that represent the differences in our culture, history, and experience but that transcend cultural differences to locate what is universal.
It’s not hard to fathom why. The World Health Organisation has just raised the warning level to its highest. The world is on the brink of a global pandemic. And the London Book Fair is inviting 25,000 people from around the world to cram into a closed environment for three days in a city of 8 million people, and then fly home.
Today comes news that Macmillan US and Simon & Schuster US have pulled out of the London Book Fair, as has the Penguin arm of Penguin Random House, and also Ingram.
Many smaller publishers and also literary agents are also pulling out, and it’s pretty much certain others will follow suit over the weekend and into next week, and there now seems little realistic prospect of the London Book Fair going ahead next month.
There are a number of literary tourist things to do in Dublin, Ireland. There are the numerous James Joyce themed tours. Then there is the Dublin Writer’s museum. As you trek around the city, you’ll note the number of signs pointing to Trinity College, where you can view the Book of Kells. Though we’ve given you some facts about the Book of Kells before (and noted the strict copyright), here’s a little bit more information on this prestigious manuscript. Here are four reasons why the Book of Kells is important:
1. IT’S THE MOST FAMOUS OF THE EARLY MEDIEVAL MANUSCRIPTS
This may sound like circuitous logic, but the Book of Kells has been well known for a very long time. We have a few well-preserved illustrated manuscripts from before the 12th century. The Book of Durrow, Lichfield Gospels, and the Lindisfarne Gospels rank in a similar period, but even among those three, the Book of Kells has a unique position of veneration.
A lot of this has to do with the very precise illumination of the manuscript. Though it has some similar iconography and styles to the Linisfarne gospels, the actual hand-work is more detailed. The illustrations are lush and layered.
People have been writing about the Book of Kells since the 12th century. The 12th century historian Giraldus Cambrensis even concluded the book had been written by an angel.
It has been housed at Trinity College since the 17th century, given to the school for safe keeping. It’s been on display there since the 1800s, inspiring visitors since.
2. ITS HISTORY IS A MYSTERY
Unlike other manuscripts that have been produced, the Book of Kells did not document its creation. The most popular theory posits that the book was either created on the island of Iona, or its production was begun at Iona. Later, the book (and its creator) fled Iona when it was sacked by Vikings, where it ultimately ended up at the Abbey of Kells. Another popular theory has it as being produced at Kells to commemorate the founding of the Abbey on its centennial or bicentennial anniversary.
We aren’t even sure about the year of production, only that it dates somewhere between the 8th and 9th century. Nor is anyone really sure of its production heritage, alternately claimed to be English, Irish, and Scottish in origin.
The fact that it is unsigned or unattributed is also unique. During this period and in this region, it would not have been uncommon for the book to have some attribution to its maker. Sure, in other regions, manuscripts could be “manufactured” by many nameless hands. However, it is a bit unusual for a piece like this, with its artistry and illustration, to have no attribution. Monks and scribes producing insular books at this time generally had a sense of their own artistry, leading some to sign their pieces or for the pieces to have some sort of specific attribution. It also was not uncommon to write out the ownership of such a book in the marginalia, and the fact that that does not fully exist for this book is strange. Though, we do have some records from the Abbey of Kells written in the book starting in the 11th century.
It’s thought that about four artists and three scribes worked on the book and its illustration. Sadly, they remain nameless, but that doesn’t stop the Book of Kells from being important.
The rise accompanies the government’s national living wage increase due in April, which will see the national living wage (for those over 25) increase 6.2% from £8.21 to £8.72. The Waterstones increase goes slightly further with booksellers above the national living wage also being given a 6.2% rise.
The increase applies to each of the firm’s bookselling bands—Bookseller, Senior Bookseller, Lead Bookseller and Expert Bookseller—reflecting the upcoming national living wage increase for entry-level booksellers and rewards more experienced booksellers throughout the ranks.
Waterstones recorded a profit of £22.7m last year, up 39% on 2018, as pretax profit rose by 33% to £26.5m, in its most recent accounts and has come under pressure from campaigners to give booksellers a pay rise.
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“Once again, we have chosen to reward all bookselling bands rather than simply to raise the minimum, so that our most experienced booksellers benefit as much as a new starter. Salaries for bookshop managers and support roles will be reviewed in the autumn, following the same performance review cycle as this year. To take another step forward towards our goal to deliver rewarding bookselling careers is pleasing, particularly in such a hostile economic environment and we do so with thanks to you all.”
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Earlier this week campaigners for the real living wage, which is different from the national living wage, sent nearly 1,000 emails directly to James Daunt urging the Waterstones m.d. to pay booksellers the real living wage, which is independently-calculated based on what people need to get by.
If you google the words “self-publishing stigma,” you’ll find enough material to fill a book.
The search results for this phrase are packed with articles and blogs, many of which pose similar questions: Where does the stigma around self-published fiction come from? Is it justified? And as the years roll by, is it finally starting to fade?
While questions over writers’ and publishers’ attitudes to this type of fiction may be up for discussion, though, one thing seems pretty clear: A whole lot of people read self-published books.
And a whole lot of writers are making money from selling them.
According to Amazon’s 2019 review of its Kindle sales, there are now thousands of self-published authors taking home royalties of over $50,000, while more than a thousand hit six-figure salaries from their book sales last year.
So who are the authors earning a living from self-publishing, and how have they managed it?
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Lawyer-turned-writer L.J. Ross told Mashable that self-publishing is the best decision she’s ever made — and when you look at the mind-boggling levels of success she’s achieved, that statement makes a lot of sense.
Since publishing her debut novel, Holy Island, on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform (KDP) in 2015, Ross has gone on to publish a whopping 19 novels — and sell a total of around 4.5 million copies. She hit the top of Amazon’s Kindle eBooks best seller list seven times last year (a record), and has now set up her own print label in order to supply paperbacks to UK retailers.
“Looking back, I think Holy Island represented a ‘perfect storm,'” Ross said. “The cover was bright and eye-catching, featuring a strong landscape which, at the time, was a little more unusual for a crime fiction novel. The story taps into my own predilections for old-fashioned, closed room murder mysteries, but with a modern twist. It’s unusual, because it straddles two genres: romantic suspense, and crime fiction.”
Ross said that everybody advised her against mixing those genres, and told her it would never work. But she pushed ahead anyway.
“The benefit of remaining independent is that you can take your own creative and business decisions, so I chose to leave them both in because I preferred the story,” Ross added. “As it happened, readers did too, and I was very fortunate to capture a kind, loyal readership, some of whom tended towards crime fiction and some of whom tended towards romantic suspense, but all of whom found a middle ground in Holy Island.”
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Holy Island ended up being the first in a series of novels to revolve around the character Detective Chief Inspector Ryan. Ross said it’s easier for books to “cross-fertilise” on Amazon KDP if you have a series, because of the way the platform signposts an author’s other books. If a reader enjoys one, it’s very easy for them to find the next.
Recurring characters aren’t Ross’ only tool, either. She keeps marketing simple, making her books’ descriptions minimal and limiting quotes from other writers, so that potential purchasers never stray too far from the “buy” button. She has a mailing list, which enables her to market directly to readers. And she only contacts subscribers when she has news of an upcoming release.
However you choose to market, I think it’s important to let readers know a little about yourself, so they can feel connected with the author and understand more about the person behind the stories they enjoy,” Ross added.
Despite some approaches from traditional publishers, Ross has yet to be tempted. With the exception of audiobooks and some foreign rights (rights to publish in other countries outside the UK), which she says she publishes along more traditional lines, Ross is happy to remain within the self-publishing sphere.
“In my case, it’s been a very sustainable means of income and has allowed me to work as a full-time author from the beginning,” she explained. “However, from speaking to and hearing from many other independent authors, I know that there are thousands of people out there who have been able to supplement their day job with a very healthy income, or work part-time as an author, alongside all of the other full-time indie authors who have been able to give up the day job.
“In short, it’s been a liberating, life-changing experience for many writers.”
Selling the rights to publish books in other countries is one of the great subterranean aspects of the Canadian publishing business, adding as much to bottom lines as it does to international reputations. There’s a whole government agency devoted to giving publishers a leg up, and international book fairs happen every month, from New Delhi to London to Beijing to the biggest of them all each October in Frankfurt. We asked Bob Dees, the publisher of Toronto’s Robert Rose Books, about his experience getting one of his books into the German market. Do you try to sell foreign language rights for all your books? No. There are certain titles that are clearly North American.
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You Are What Your Grandparents Ate [by former Globe and Mail columnist Judith Finlayson] had not just an international market opportunity, but it had a market opportunity in Europe that was larger than in North America because of a greater awareness of the subject matter of epigenetics [the study of biological mechanisms that turn genes on or off]. We came across a recent German edition of National Geographic devoted to the anniversary of the Dutch Hunger Winter and how it was still influencing the descendants of those who lived through it, subjects that are integral to You Are What Your Grandparents Ate . Our foreign language rights manager at the time, Nina McCreath, went online to find German publishers who specialized in this intersection of health and science and found four, and based on their responses, she booked appointments for Frankfurt 2018. Then what happened? We had sales materials prepared, about eight or 10 pages to give an indication of the design, which in this case is unique, and its capacity to attract a readership to the subject. And we had one edited chapter that we were able to share with them both in hard copy and electronic copy. We’re fortunate that English tends to be the language business is done in, even in Frankfurt. Even so, not everyone comes with an equal level of English, and we were even more fortunate there because Nina speaks fluent German. We were able to use that as a tool to create a more successful relationship with these potential publishers. Many publishers may use an agent who speaks the language in question. Having a foreign sales agent with at least a couple of extra languages is incredibly valuable.
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How did this one get done so quickly? We try to be an easy publisher to deal with for foreign language agreements. Big name publishers have a reputation for being difficult to deal with. It doesn’t mean we don’t try to get the best deal, but sometimes the legal departments can be problematic, some will take three or four months to do an agreement, and some publishers don’t want to wait that long. It took us probably about two or three weeks.
You Are What Your Grandparents Ate takes conventional wisdom about the origins of chronic disease and turns it upside down. Rooted in the work of the late epidemiologist Dr. David Barker, it highlights the exciting research showing that heredity involves much more than the genes your parents passed on to you. Thanks to the relatively new science of epigenetics, we now know that the experiences of previous generations may show up in your health and well-being.
Many of the risks for chronic diseases — including obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and dementia — can be traced back to your first 1,000 days of existence, from the moment you were conceived. The roots of these vulnerabilities may extend back even further, to experiences your parents and grandparents had — and perhaps even beyond.
During a one-hour live stream, two members of staff circled around the children’s section of an empty bookstore in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, flipping through illustrated books for dozens of online viewers.
At one point, the female member of staff who was holding the camera picked up Forever Young, a picture book by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, and said: “I love this book, and I highly recommend it. Fellow watchers, if you are interested, I can add you to our readers’ group on WeChat.”
Amid the coronavirus outbreak, many of China’s 70,000 bricks-and-mortar bookstores are among numerous small and medium-sized enterprises who have taken a hit from a lack of customers as many cities have closed shops and public facilities.
The virus is a further blow to physical book shops who were already under pressure from online rivals, as well as a growing trend of reading books on electronic devices, such as Amazon’s Kindle.
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Owspace, originally from Beijing, operates four stores in China, but only one store in a shopping centre on the eastern side of the capital city has opened for business, although daily traffic is down to around 10 per cent, with sales dropping 90 per cent accordingly.
“Even if all of our bookstores reopen, and our business is like what it is now, then we won’t be able to stay in business after two to three months,” said Wu Yanping, a manager at Owspace, who added that around 40 per cent of Owspace’s revenue comes from book sales.
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A recent survey covering more than 1,000 physical bookstores across China in early February revealed that more than 90 per cent had no revenues.
From Wolf Hall to Beyond Black and Giving Up The Ghost, cultural figures pick their highlights from a remarkable career
Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies
Margaret Atwood The Tudors! Who can resist them? Gossip! Rumour! Scandal! Ruffs! Backstabbing! Madrigals! Farthingales! Witchcraft! Lace-on velvet sleeves! Cut-off body parts! More!
We know the plot, or at least its bare outlines, but we seem compelled to relive it in books, films, plays, operas, and television series: and all the more so when viewed through the shrewd, calculating, vengeful, cautious, Machiavellian eyes of master game-player Thomas Cromwell, fixer and hitman to Henry VIII, as rendered in sumptuous, riveting detail by Hilary Mantel in Wolf Hall. If Cromwell had had a phone Mantel could hack, you’d scarcely be brought closer to the inner wheels and cogs of his bloody-minded and bloody-handed machinations.
Bring Up the Bodies picks up from Wolf Hall. Things are not going well for Anne Boleyn, who has beguiled her way into the queendom over the cast-off though not yet dead body of Katherine of Aragon, but has failed to produce a male heir. Nor is she playing her cards adroitly: she’s too smart, too argumentative, too intent on influencing policy, too secretly Protestant, and too prone to miscarriages. It’s clear that Henry now wants to be rid of her, having spotted a more docile girl in Jane Seymour; and once he’s made this wish explicit, Cromwell goes to work. It’s always a dicey job, being henchman to an absolutist tyrant, especially one who’s becoming increasingly paranoid and petulant. There was that fall from the horse and the concussion, and then the weeping sore on his leg: what exactly was wrong with Henry? Doctors are still pondering; but whatever it was, it did not improve his temper.
We’re the silent sharers of Cromwell’s deliberations as he weaves his way to his goal – the removal of Anne, and, not incidentally, payback for the courtiers who had humiliated his old master, Cardinal Wolsey – through secret dealing, blackmailing, hectoring, torturing, and the stage-managing of a bogus show trial worthy of Stalin. We know the story won’t end well for him – henchmen often capsize – but we watch with horror and admiration as he achieves his gruesome ends.
Mantel’s triumph is to make us understand – and even like, in a grudging sort of way – this historically unattractive figure. Her meticulous research is lightly worn, unlike the carefully considered fabrics and textures of the courtiers, and her depiction of the many flawed human instruments on which Cromwell plays is sadly convincing.
I await the forthcoming third volume, The Mirror & the Light, with great anticipation. There’s an axe in it somewhere, I’m guessing. No spoilers though.
Tariffs on books manufactured in China continued to be slowly relaxed.
Following an agreement between China and the U.S. to a phase one trade deal in December, the U.S. Trade Representative indefinitely suspended an additional 15% duty on children’s picture, drawing, and coloring books. The duty had been slated to begin on December 15, 2019.
It becomes quite clear, in the first few pages of “New Kings of the World,” that Fatima Bhutto doesn’t care for America. The 37-year-old granddaughter and niece of two Pakistani prime ministers— Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Benazir—she is pugnacious (and sometimes eloquent) proof that the leftist elite of the non-Western world is alive and kicking. Ms. Bhutto, a novelist and nonfiction author, sets out to chart the “vast cultural movement emerging from the Global South.” This movement is, she says, “the biggest challenge to America’s monopoly of soft power since the end of the Second World War.”
Hollywood, with its “white fantasies of power, wealth, and sex,” is Ms. Bhutto’s bête noire (or bête blanche), and she anoints three Eastern phenomena as its most serious competition for the world’s cultural attention: Indian cinema (which goes by the nickname “Bollywood”); Turkish television soap operas (called dizi in their land of origin); and the popular music from South Korea (called K-Pop) that enjoys an extraordinary popularity not merely in the cognate countries of the Far East but also in Latin America and the United States.
There is no question that the genres that beguile Ms. Bhutto have made the globe a more lively and varied place. In her telling, they have brought an end to the American hegemony over the world’s cinemas, living rooms and headphones. America is no longer, she says, “the undisputed paragon of modernity, the exemplar of political liberty and cultural supremacy.” Instead, globalization and technology have “flattened” the cultural playing field, even as non-Americans have grown disenchanted with the “neo-liberal” economics of the U.S. and Hollywood’s lack of “empathy” for the world at large.
t is possible to find much of interest in Ms. Bhutto’s descriptive survey without accepting her sweeping theory of domination and rivalry, much less her politicized sense of popular entertainment, whether it comes from America or from the realms of the “new kings.” Of the “new arbiters of mass culture,” Bollywood receives her greatest attention, and for good reason. The Indian film industry, she tells us, produces between 1,500 and 2,000 films per year, more than any other country. India sells twice as many cinema tickets as Hollywood and exports films to more than 70 countries, an astonishing number when you reckon with the fact that the films—almost all musicals—are in Hindi and pursue themes that are “deeply entrenched in the history and fabric of Indian life.”
Yet these films appeal to an audience beyond the vast Indian diaspora. Having once been the most popular foreign films in the Soviet Union (whose people had little access to Hollywood’s fare), Bollywood productions are enjoyed all over Asia, in much of Africa and even in Latin America. The loveliest parts of Ms. Bhutto’s book are those where she takes us to Peru, where Bollywood films are known as cines Hindu. In a country with few historical ties to India, Bollywood fan clubs abound. “Each club,” Ms. Bhutto writes, “has its own codes, insignia, and rules and they maintain a fierce rivalry between each other.”
. . . .
By comparison to her account of Bollywood and Turkish TV, Ms. Bhutto’s treatment of K-Pop is almost cursory, which is a pity, for it is the most intriguing of the three genres in her book. At a time when a Korean-language film has won the best-picture award at the Oscars, many Koreans would take issue with her sniffy assertion that their culture “is little more than American culture repurposed.” Still, it would be fair to say that K-Pop is more Westernized than either Bollywood or dizi, featuring as it does music and stage-dancing whose fizzy routines are not unlike those of the more tinselly European and American pop acts.
With typical emphasis on grand theory, Ms. Bhutto describes K-Pop as “a perfect storm of colonial history, heavily Americanized culture, and neo-liberalism.” The last put-down is a reference the Korean government’s active role in the export of K-Pop immediately after the 1997 Asian currency crisis, which hit South Korea particularly hard. The truth is that K-Pop is a genuinely hybrid musical form that attracts listeners turned off by the coarseness of so much of contemporary popular music.
Already struggling with newly quantified levels of piracy and a diminished cultural allowance for young citizens, the Italian publishing industry faces new constraints on bookselling discounts.
. . . .
There’s more pressure on the Italian book industry this week. On Wednesday evening (February 5), the Senate in Rome passed law that imposes a sharp new reduction in how deeply booksellers can discount titles.
This, after the Association of Italian Publishers (Associazione Italiana Editori, AIE) revealed that piracy may be costing the book business close to 25 percent of its revenue and issued warnings about anticipated cuts to the “18App” program designed to give each Italian teen €500 to spend on cultural events and products, including books.
Among the best unified and most carefully reported publishing markets in Europe, the Italian publishing industry seems to have become a punching bag for the new year, despite its recovery from most of the damages of the financial downturn of a decade ago.
And increasingly, the president of the association, Ricardo Franco Levi, finds himself having to state the case for where unfair disadvantages are impacting the business.
. . . .
According to reporting from Mauretta Capuano, at the Italian news agency (Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata, ANSA), the Senate’s approval was unanimous for what is being cast by politicians as an effort in promotion and support for reading.
The law brings into place a national endowment of €4.4 million, earmarked for several purposes including:
An increase of €1.3 million in a tax credit for merchants who sell books
A drop in permissible booksellers’ discounts from the current 15 percent to just 5 percent
Stores can create promotions once per year with discounts of 15 percent
Publishers can discount books no more deeply than 20 percent
From Milan, Levi has issued a statement to the news media, condemning the new legislation:
“With this law,” Levi says, “the readers will lose. Losses of €75 million are expected for the sector” because of the new law, “and 2,000 jobs are at risk.”
Part of the dilemma here is that the senate has named its measure what Levi describes as “the so-called ‘Book and Reading Law.’” In truth, Levi says, the law does nothing but discourage book sales or reading.
In his commentary, described by the association itself as bitter in tone, Levi establishes that the organization has represented the Italian market’s biggest and smallest publishers for 150 years.
The AIE’s membership, he points out, accounts for some 78 percent of the trade market as well as virtually the entire educational sector of school, university, and professional publishing.
And his point is, of course, that the new law is something being imposed by politicians who have no in-depth understanding of the actual market forces in play let alone what effects this new legislation may have.
“By imposing a reduction in sales price discounts,” Levi says, “this law will weigh on the pockets of families and consumers.
“This is not what’s needed in an Italy, which is at the bottom of the European reading charts,” he says, reflecting one of the most conspicuous and disciplined elements of the AIE’s annual self-assessments—its willingness to transparently compare its performance to that of its sister markets in Europe, even when the comparison is unflattering.
“This is not what the world of books—the first cultural industry in the country—needs in a delicate moment of consolidation of growth,” Levi says, “which has finally marked the recovery of pre-crisis levels. This is not what’s needed for Italy, which still and always sees labor at the top of its citizens’ concerns.
Technical development and sophistication of reading devices that provide an experience similar to that of reading an actual book is the key factor driving the global e-book market. User penetration of e-books is expected to grow at a significant rate recording a CAGR of 3.3% during the forecast period, 2018-2023.
In 2013, e-books held 12.3% of the total books sale and the percentage is expected to rise to 25.8% by the end of 2018. In 2017, traditional publishers sold 10% fewer e-books compared to 2016. This is attributed to the decrease in e-book prices that has led to a decrease in sales by value. As traditional publishers saw a sales drop, customers moved to independent publishers, essentially to Amazon.com.
. . . .
The global e-books market is largely dominated by countries like the United States, Canada, Japan, China, and the United Kingdom. North America held the highest market share of 58% in the global e-books market in 2017, out of which the United States recorded the highest market revenue in 2017. With the increasing prominence of e-book in countries like the U.K, Germany, France, Europe holds the second highest market share in the global e-books market. High internet penetration and increase in number of customer preferring e-books, Asia-Pacific is the fastest growing region. With the advent of digitalization and penetration of smart devices, the region is likely to witness considerable growth over the years to come.
PG notes that the OP originates on the public side of a website belonging to a market analytics data provider.
In PG’s observations, these companies provide some interesting facts outside their password protected data trove as a legitimate marketing tool to promote sales of paid subscriptions which all tend to cost more than PG is inclined to pay. He apologizes to any visitors to TPV who, like PG, are disappointed by the lack of depth in these underlying public releases.
In 1933, Lucy Malleson – who published detective stories under the name Anthony Gilbert – received a letter from one of her literary heroes. Dorothy L Sayers, creator of the flamboyantly monocled detective Lord Peter Wimsey, was writing to invite her to join the Detection Club, a secret society for crime writers, which Malleson regarded as “an association of the aristocracy of the detection writing world”. “Everything snobbish in my system,” Malleson recalled, in her memoir Three-a-Penny, “acclaimed this opportunity to hobnob with the great.” With some trepidation, she arrived at the Northumberland Avenue Hotel in London for the initiation dinner, to be swept up by “a massive and majestic lady in a black dress” – Sayers herself – and led down a hall lit only by flickering tapers. On instruction, Malleson placed her hand on a skull, which an impassive John Rhode was holding on a cushion, while the club’s president, GK Chesterton, dressed in a scarlet cloak and flanked by torchbearers, intoned commandments “in a voice that might have come from the abyss”. Malleson was to swear that her detective would make no use whatsoever of “Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God”; that she would “conceal no vital clues from the reader”, and be sure to “honour the King’s English”. Should she fail in her solemn duty, Chesterton warned, a curse would befall her: “May other writers anticipate your plots, may total strangers sue you for libel, may your pages swarm with misprints, and your sales continually diminish!”
The Detection Club had been established three years earlier by a group of crime writers that included Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, Baroness Orczy and Ronald Knox. Chesterton was its first president, replaced in 1936 by EC Bentley; Sayers, originally the club’s secretary, held the chair from 1949. And ever since its foundation, members have regularly convened in London restaurants and hotels, at dinners notorious for their macabre rituals and mock-serious insistence on their “fair-play” creed, which also prohibits the use in any detective plot of “hitherto undiscovered poisons”, “more than one” secret room or passage, or the introduction of identical twins without proper warning. In the early 1930s, the proceeds from The Floating Admiral,a collaborative novel put together by 12 authors, enabled the club to rent premises at 31 Gerrard Street in Soho, where members repaired after dinner for the convivial discussion of “clues and corpses”. Beyond this, the club had “no object”, as Sayers informed a prospective member, “except mutual assistance, entertainment, and admiration”.
The archives of the Detection Club are now held, incongruously, in the Marion E Wade Center in Illinois, among a series of manuscripts, letters and ephemera belonging to seven Christian British writers including CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Chesterton and Sayers.
. . . .
These archives show Sayers at her dynamic best, and reveal just how much energy she expended, over several decades, to keep the club afloat. She informed new candidates of their selection and assuaged their doubts about the sinister initiation ceremony. (Josephine Tey was anxious to know whether she was in for “a quiz? an endurance test? A ritual???”) She deliberated on the merits of potential candidates, pondering whether an excellent stylist had put quite enough detection in his last novel to qualify for membership, and whether an ingenious plot could compensate for a fictional detective who was “rude and cruel”. She cajoled friends to attend lectures by coroners, chief constables, philosophers and, once, a “genuine Viennese psychoanalyst”, who was imported to address the club on murder.
Sayers’s activities for the club extended far beyond the purely administrative. She reassured a member who had become so drunk at a meeting that they couldn’t remember anything about the night (“you were completely normal after dinner, and particularly helpful and charming to Anthony Berkeley’s American guest, whom he so discourteously abandoned”), reminded members of the customary tip for the head waiter (“in consideration of the extra fuss caused by skulls, candles, and other impediments which have to lie about the place and be carried up and down in lifts, etc”) and remonstrated sternly with those who left club premises in disarray.
. . . .
In part, her enthusiasm was born of her sincere belief in the importance of the detective genre. “If there is any serious aim behind the avowedly frivolous organisation of the Detection Club,” she insisted, “it is to keep the detective story up to the highest standard that its nature permits, and to free it from the bad legacy of sensationalism, clap-trap and jargon with which it was unhappily burdened in the past.” In a 1928 introduction to an anthology of detective stories, Sayers argued that the genre’s progression from sensational Victorian thrillers to the logical puzzles of the Edwardian era meant that, for her generation, detective writing was a matter of technical craft, not of style or art. Sayers was critical of novels of the sort that Chesterton called “a drama of masks and not of faces”, where murder was committed only to provide a corpse, and nothing more serious was at stake than the detective’s reputation. Rather, she insisted, detective novels should – like any “literary” fiction – contain atmosphere, character, human truth and a driving force beyond the mechanics of plot. Only then, she suggested, could an author “persuade us that violence really hurts”. Over the 1930s, Sayers herself moved away from the puzzle-plots of her earlier novels, seeking to write a new sort of detective fiction, with a human dilemma at its heart. Her 1935 masterpiece Gaudy Night – widely acclaimed today as “the first feminist detective novel” – explores how a clever woman can reconcile her desire for intellectual and emotional fulfilment, and retain her hard-won independence even as she falls in love. As she worked, Sayers’s confidence was surely boosted by intimate conversations with other brilliant writers who sought to expand the possibilities of their chosen form.
From 8 January 2020, Paris Musées is offering as Open Content (i.e. making available without charge and without restrictions) 150,000 digital reproductions in High Definition of works in the City’s museums.
The launch of Open Content will mark a new stage in Paris Musées’ digitisation policy. It will contribute to enhancing and improving the way our collections are made available and will strengthen the measures taken to ensure better public access to art and culture as well as increasing visibility and understanding of the works in our municipal collections.
Making this data available guarantees that our digital files can be freely accessed and reused by anyone or everyone, without any technical, legal or financial restraints, whether for commercial use or not.
Digital files that contain works that belong in the public sphere under a CCØ (Creative Commons Zero) licence will be made available to everyone via the Paris Musées’ Collections portal. At first only reproductions of works in 2D that are not copyright restricted will be available as Open Content, those works that are still in copyright will be in low definition in order to illustrate, on the Internet site, what is available in the collections. Art lovers will now be able to download works by the great names in photography (Atget, Blancard, Marville, Carjat) or in painting (Courbet, Delacroix, Rembrandt, Van Dyck).
. . . .
This policy of free access is part of a programme of development, cultural mediation and opening up of the collections to Internet users. Each user will receive a file that contains an image in HD (300 dpi – 3000 pixels), a document with information about the work and a copy of the Good Practice Charter for images available under CCØ licence which will ask a user to cite the source and offer information about the work.
Although this licence is already used by international museums such as the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Paris Musées will be the first French institution to take part and make available a considerable number of reproductions.
Paris Musées, as the producer and distributor, will allow everyone to easily, enduringly, freely and instantly use High Definition images to support their research and improve their physical and digital cultural mediation tools. The reproductions of the works in the scheme will also be part of virtual exhibitions which will include cultural mediation to provide users with as much information as possible.
. . . .
How to access the free of copyright reproductions ?
On parismuseescollections.paris.fr, the images of those works that are under CCØ licence can be downloaded either directly from the file that contains the work in question, or via the home page, from a page dedicated to images free of copyright.
The API (Application Programming Interface) is an interface linked to an app. Access to Paris Musées data via the API has added to our Open Content Policy by making it possible to download High Definition copyright free images and also tie these in to information linked to the works.
. . . .
As the producer and distributor Paris Musées will allow anyone, with just one click, to obtain the reproduction of a work from our collections, to print it, draw inspiration from it or even use it as a screensaver.
In response to strong demand from researchers, students and teachers, we are ensuring they can easily, enduringly, freely and instantly use High Definition images to support their research, their teaching and their publications, thereby improving their physical and digital cultural mediation tools.
To showcase the reproductions of the works concerned, Paris Musées will create targeted virtual exhibitions which will bring users a maximum of information while encouraging them to download and reuse the images.
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As we write—on the last day (January 31) in which the United Kingdom will be part of the European Union—we’re reminded how frequently such momentous events seem to actually arrive “not with a bang but with a whimper,” as Elliot might have it.
In March, when so many of us in world publishing convene for London Book Fair, the separation will at last be a reality and the transition of 2020 will be well underway. For several iterations of the trade show, of course, sessions on “what will Brexit mean?” have been strongly and nervously attended in the show’s Insight Seminars program.
Today in Whitehall, EU supporters have marched in a “fond farewell” demonstration and Brexiteers are at Parliament Square, with a major celebration timed for 9 p.m.
One highly respected author from London writes this week in a private publishing industry list, “Anger is the dominant emotion of the times. I’m stealing myself against Friday night here in the UK when we leave the EU. Dark days.”
Aside from having many ancestors who lived in England and Scotland, PG has enjoyed his travels in Great Britain very much and has fond feelings for those who live there.
Best of luck on your new experience, British friends. Your progenitors accomplished great things in their days, so somewhere in your genes, you know how to successfully pursue new ideas, adventure and commerce.
Seven years ago, The Bookseller published an open letter from Sam Husain, then chief executive of Foyles, exhorting publishers to support bookshops with better terms. He wanted an average discount closer to 60%, an improvement of 20 percentage points on what he saw was prevalent at the time. He argued that despite lower volumes on some titles, bookshops needed to be rewarded for the value they put into the market, including visibility, knowledge and author events.
Last week Blackwell’s made a similar intervention in a private letter to suppliers, requesting a 7% promotional rebate, to be applied on all invoices after 7th February—equivalent, it seems, to increasing the discount it receives on the published r.r.p. by a modest amount.
. . . .
In terms of strategies, it’s hard not to think Foyles did it better: an open discussion about the future of high street bookselling made sense, a blanket demand for a back-hander looks more gauche. It was no surprise that by the time The Bookseller saw the letter, its contents were already part of a lively discussion on Twitter.
There was also confusion over the demands: publishers have long been prepared to give a bit extra in return for additional visibility, but Blackwell’s offers no such assurances, stating that the extra discount would support its drive towards profit and growing the market. The letter, too, stipulates that the rebate is for 2020, but does not say what will be different in 2021—either Blackwell’s needs the money now for a particular reason, or it will need it forever. Publishers expect the latter.None of this means Blackwell’s is wrong to make the demand, or amiss in setting out the costs and virtues of running bookshops staffed with savvy booksellers. Missteps are forgivable when the argument is sound. And it is. Blackwell’s has grown sales by £15m in three years, but its overheads continue to rise too. The same is not true for all publishers: although they screw their faces up at the accusation, many are more profitable than once they were, and it is not unimaginable that they could use some of what is the digital bounty to invest in bookshops. Academic publishers may feel less secure, but their discounts—far lower than those offered by trade publishers—were established in a bygone era when textbook prices were high, and student need was reliable. Wherever you sit, Blackwell’s is right to argue for an adjustment.
There is a wider discussion to be had, too. Long forgotten in Husain’s missive was a call to use consignment—whereby booksellers only pay for the stock once it is sold—a suggestion perhaps too radical at the time. But the “returns” bit of the current model is wasteful, bad for profit and bad for the environment. Any discussion on terms must include a review of this model.
Calling for a government intervention, the Association of Italian Publishers (Associazione Italiana Editori, AIE) and the Federation of Italian Newspaper Publishers (Federazione Italiana Editori Giornali, FIEG) have presented results of newly commissioned study on the impact of piracy in the Italian market.
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“This data reveals the need for the imposition of strong law enforcement and the education of users who are not always fully aware of the effects of their behavior.”
AIE and FIEG are reporting an annual loss of some €528 million (US$585 million) to the books industry and an aggregate of €1.3 billion when news publishing is added in, accounting for as much as 23 percent of the market, exclusive of exports and educational content.
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Some of the most interesting revelations in the report have to do with who the researchers can identify are the pirati, the pirates.
As is often the case–and a part of what makes combatting the problem so difficult–the culprits are everyday users, many of them unaware of how damaging their fondness for free or cheap content can be.
Some 36 percent of users–more than one in three Italians older than 15, the researchers found–carried out at least one act of piracy with a work of published content in the last year.
One in four users are estimated to have downloaded an illegal ebook or audiobook free of charge at least once
Seventeen percent of those surveyed said they’ve received at least one ebook from a friend or family member
Eight percent said they’d been given at least one photocopied book by a friend or acquaintance
Seven percent of respondents said they’d bought at least one photocopied book in the last year
In the university setting, the issue is more dramatic, with some 80 percent of university students committing at least one act of piracy–involving either physical or digital content–in the last year. And 81 percent of professional respondents–including attorneys, notaries, accountants, engineers, and architects–said they’d committed at least on act of piracy in the past year.
Speaking in the morning’s session for the research effort, however, IPSOS president Nando Pagnoncelli said the general public, for the most part is not unaware that piracy is illegal.
Some 84 percent of those older than 15 told researchers this, he said. But 66 percent said that piracy is unlikely to be discovered and punished by authorities, and 39 percent said that they don’t consider piracy to be serious enough to prosecute.
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And he also made the point, frequently heard now in piracy discussions, that ensuring easy legitimate access to content is important, the “abundance over scarcity” context in which it’s believed that piracy is less attractive because users don’t have to resort to illicit means to attain content they want.
Between 1950 and 1970s, the US and the Soviet Union (USSR) spent millions in an attempt to beat each other into space. The activity, known as the Space Race, led to a technological leap, paving the way for many of the things we take for granted today, including GPS, powdered milk and the PC mouse. Publishing has never quite made it into orbit, but just as the world changed once the US landed Apollo 11 on the Moon, so publishing was irrevocably altered by its own celestial eclipse: the 2013 merger of Penguin with Random House.
In the run-up to the mega-coupling, Random House and Hachette had long duked it out to be top dog in the UK, with Hachette ahead at the turn of the last decade thanks, in large part, to the runaway success of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. With digital just beginning to make its mark, it was a period when print success made the difference to the publisher rankings, with Random House only leaping over Hachette again in 2012, thanks to E L James’ own leftfield take on Meyer’s chaste vampires.
The rest is, um, history. As this week’s publisher league table shows (see p06), PRH has an unassailable lead over the rest—a gigantic market share of 21%, making it bigger now than the next two, Hachette and HarperCollins, combined.
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The curiosity is Hachette, for so long—and, for the purposes of this analogy—the USSR to RH’s US. In 2019 its sales fell 2.7%, with a market share of 12.2%, way off its 2009 high of 16%. While much has remained the same since P joined RH, Hachette has not, consolidating its divisions within one building, and broadening its business with smart acquisitions, such as Bookouture, Quercus, JKP and Short Books. What it has not done is chase the market. If there was an element of vanity about the Space Race, it is hard not to read Hachette’s settling into second as an effort to put profit before growth, to focus on maintaining its bloc, rather than re-engaging in a disorderly hustle for the top.
In 1950, at the age of twenty-eight, Mavis Gallant left a job as a journalist in Montreal and moved to Paris. She published her first short story in The New Yorker in 1951, and spent the next decade travelling around Europe, from city to city, from hotel to pension to rented apartment, while working on her fiction. The following excerpts from her diary cover March to June, 1952, when Gallant was living hand to mouth in Spain, giving English lessons and anxiously waiting for payment for her New Yorker stories to arrive via her literary agent, Jacques Chambrun.
The Border, March, 1952
An armed guard in gray, a church, a wild rocky coast on which rushes a steel sea. Black rocks, cliffs, wind, a cold spring sun. Fragile, feathery fruit trees in pink. At Portbou, leave the train. A large room, like a drafty baggage depot. I wait; my luggage is wrenched open and inspected by insolent guards. Organized disorder. Luggage is chalked. People drift to the currency exchange to declare what they are bringing in. I am bringing in so little (twelve thousand lire) that I expect them to think I am hiding more. We are funnelled into a doorway between filthy guards to show our passports. I am caught between a quarrelling French couple. Evidently bringing the baby was her idea—he knew better from the start. A wait, a long one. Inexplicable multilingual confusion, lending of pens, filling out of forms. I reach the window. “Journalist?” says the arrogant young man. (Will they all be like this?) “Beautiful, too!” I know what I must look like after a night and a day and a night in a third-class train. On to another window, where something is stamped, and a rush to the Barcelona train. They seem old (the carriages) but not shabby, just high and rather solid. No compartment doors, thank God, as I have been suffocating since Sicily. I share the window with a young girl who wears the Saint-Germain-des-Prés uniform—plaid slacks, black shirt, peajacket, mascara, no lipstick. Holes in her socks (the heel is a great grubby-white moon) and she obviously doesn’t give a damn. She has two addresses for cheap rooms in Barcelona and Madrid and writes a note for one, Calle de Hortaleza 7, Madrid. The carriage fills: an old woman, who can hardly hide her loathing for Miss Saint-Germain; two businessmen, who gravely offer each other smoking tobacco and papers for rolling; a booted soldier, fat blond wife, two babies. Everyone sleeps. The soldier wakes up and says to one of the babies, who is crying, “Si tú no te callas, te tiras por la ventana,” which I immediately write down, as it is the first sentence in Spanish I have heard and miraculously understood, though if he had not pointed to the window I might not have known about ventana.
Gray stone houses, balconies, trolley lines, dust. Like a bourgeois part of Paris suddenly deserted, disappearing under grit and sand.
No restaurants open before ten at night. It rains, it blows, every other sign advertises a detective agency. Nothing in the bookshops, just grammars and technical books. No one smiles. It is a big city, and dirty and gloomy. A suit for a man costs five dollars.
Breakfast is always a cup of warm milk flavored with haricot beans, and a bit of dry bread. Orphanage food. The food is very strange and I am bothered by the people staring. It isn’t the lively Italian curiosity but, rather, heavy and dull, like cows in a field.
I live on bread, wine, and mortadella. Europe for me is governed by the price of mortadella. I know the Uniprix [department store] in France, the Upim in Rome, and here the sepu, all alike, with music piped in. In Madrid, subdued flamenco, and they seem to like the airs from Sigmund Romberg operettas.
Went to see “Oliver Twist,” which was dubbed and seemed very strange. In one scene, when he is beaten, the young people in the audience burst into maniacal laughter.
This flat is full of sound. There is a squeaky baby I have not yet seen, who cries like a toy being pressed. His mother croons and sounds like the Duchess in “Alice.” And then there is the strange dark woman who shouts, and a very little, dark old creature with a senile face who creeps up to me and murmurs in the passage. I talk to her cheerfully in English until someone comes and rushes her off to the kitchen. The people are not friendly, but nice. I think not accustomed to foreigners.
“Mama, look at the señora smoking,” a little girl cried, staring at me, in a café. Cool wind, fluttering apricot-colored tablecloths. At night the sky is deep indigo, the moon a piece of cold metal. Few city lights, and so it is almost a country sky. The sound of Madrid is a million trampling feet. Its smell is cooking oil. Everything tastes of it, even the breakfast croissants. This flat is awash in it. At lunch I saw a meal being prepared—a bath of oil with something sinister swimming inside.
In an announcement today (January 10) from their offices in London’s Bell Yard, the Booksellers Association reports a third year of gains in the number of sales outlets it counts among independent bookstores in Ireland and the UK.
The association’s managing director, Meryl Halls, says, in a prepared statement, “It’s very heartening to see the number of independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland grow for a third year. This is a testament to the creativity, passion, and hard work of our booksellers, who continue to excel in the face of challenging circumstances, particularly those wider high street challenges which so often see bookshops outperforming their high street peers.”
The 2019 performance, Halls says, “is enhanced by the news of Waterstones store openings during 2019 and bolsters the bookselling community across the board.”
As her comment about Waterstones indicate, the association’s membership isn’t limited to independents. It includes chain and “nontraditional” stores—the latter term normally referring to food stores and other outlets not led by a book-related inventory.
A: Viv Groskop, writer, broadcaster and standup comedian, writes:
I am tempted to answer with more questions. Define “book.” Define “really funny”. Define “recently.” After all, Nora Ephron is recent in historical terms, though she is also dead. I also slightly balk at “by a woman” because – this is crazy! – men can be funny too and anything by Craig Brown or David Sedaris would always be at the top of my make-me-laugh-dancing-monkey wish list.
In 2010 or so I bought my first e-reader. A Kobo. I was intrigued by the idea of an e-reader; I thought it might be convenient. But I equivocated — should I buy a Kobo? Or a Kindle?
Kindle was associated with the growing bookseller Amazon, the Kobo with the Canadian company Chapters/Indigo. Which company would have more books available? Apple released the first iPad at the beginning of the year and sales took off immediately. Technology was changing so quickly I wasn’t sure what to buy. Would it all be obsolete a year from now?
Little did I know then that the questions I was asking would form the crux of what occurred in books over the ensuing decade, in which what we read, how we read and who we read have created industry-wide changes.
Bookstores aren’t dead
One of the hallmarks of the decade before the 2010s was the death of the bookstore, thanks to the proliferation of big box stores selling books plus online retailers, Amazon in particular.
A recent headline in the American newspaper the Grand Haven Tribune asked: “Are bookstores back?” The piece quotes the American Booksellers Association, which says between 2009 and 2019 the number of new shops owned by members increased by 53 per cent. They might not be big, but they are there.
New bookstores have been opening in Toronto and across the country, too. A bookshop can’t live by selling books alone — but they can when the community gets involved. Stores such as Another Story Bookshop in Toronto have increasingly organized author readings; some organize writers’ workshops, book clubs. In other words, bookstores and books do what they’ve always done: contribute to a community of ideas and storytelling.
Print’s not dead, either
The total volume of print units sold in 2018, as tracked by BookNet Canada SalesData, is 54.7 million at a value of $1.13 billion. BookNet’s State of Digital Publishing in Canada survey showed that 18.6 per cent of books purchased in 2017 were ebooks. That was up just slightly from 2016.
But when it comes to Canadian books, the picture looks bleaker. According to the More Canada Report, published in December 2018, only 15 per cent of books purchased were written by Canadians. Part of the problem is that it’s difficult for readers to identify Canadian books. That’s in great part due to the way they are bought: through Amazon. Amazon’s algorithm recommends books to you — but not necessarily Canadian books, leaving Canadian publishing houses and Canadian authors at the mercy of an algorithm that isn’t interested in promoting them.
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The report also found that independent publishers’ sales were down 44 per cent over the past 10 years.
That’s happened as big publishers are getting bigger. The publishing giant Penguin Random House didn’t quite exist at the beginning of this decade — the takeover of the two companies Penguin and Random House by the German multinational Bertelsmann wouldn’t take effect until 2012.
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Self-publishing has also become a way to, sometimes, make a living as a writer and publish books that mainstream publishers might not have picked up. It also allows mainstream writers to capture income in different ways — they become hybrid writers, publishing some of their work in the traditional way under one name and self-publishing under another.
Some, such as the science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer, have launched Patreon accounts so that readers can basically become “patrons of the arts and of individual creators,” he told the Star in a 2018 interview. Even bestselling authors find the freedom of non-traditional publishing a positive thing. They get to keep a bigger cut of the books they sell and they get the creative freedom to do what they want.
Does all this access to potential audiences work? It depends. Overall, writers are earning less money than they ever have. A Writers’ Union of Canada survey in 2018 found a 27 per cent decrease in writers’ income over the previous three years. Part of the reason for that was copyright legislation in Canada. In the U.K., authors reported in 2018 that their incomes had declined 15 per cent over the previous three years.
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Marketing books changed as publishers embraced online advertising through Facebook, finding the ability to directly target a specific audience and, as the algorithms got even better, specific readers, was attractive. “Influencers” also became a key part of targeting book buyers. With the increasing closure of traditional media outlets came the withering of books sections and an erosion of readily accessible reviews. Instead, reader-generated review sites such as Goodreads proliferated. Some mainstream news outlets, including the Star, kept their books sections going, and many smaller literary magazines began publishing more reviews and stand-alone review sections.
As PG and others have pointed out before, stories about the book industry that cite legacy publishing and traditional book store industry statistics are always wrong because Amazon doesn’t break out sales figures for books, including books from traditional publishers, self-published books and print on demand books and, with no denigration of Kobo intended, Amazon sells the large majority of English-language ebooks.
Amazon created the market for ebooks, at least in the English-speaking world, by offering ebooks at attractive prices, building and selling ebook readers at attractive prices, creating the software and commercial infrastructure to build, distribute and sell ebooks efficiently around the world and putting a lot of brains and money into the task of introducing and attracting readers to ebooks. Because old-line traditional publishing promotional tools like book reviews in newspapers and magazines (yet another sinking ship and no friend to Amazon or other online competitors), Amazon acquired and built Goodreads up into a leading (the leading?) online book review site.
Could anyone else have accomplished this task as quickly and effectively and at the scale Amazon did? A hypothetical competitor might have done so, but real-world competitors have not. See, for example, Nook.
PG is not certain whether the Writers Union of Canada welcomes indie authors or not, but most traditional authors organizations are of little interest to indie authors because these organizations focus on topics like improving the standard contract terms that old-line publishers offer authors and flagging the latest fly-by-night publishing scam that comes floating up from the sewers.
PG is not familiar enough with the details of the Canadian bookstore market to know whether a retail disaster on the order of Barnes & Noble has occurred or is threatened, but as he has mentioned before, if Barnes & Noble can’t be saved, a huge part of the world of traditional publishing and bookselling will simply disappear.
If you were counseling a college student nearing graduation about career choices, would you recommend that they go to work for Barnes & Noble? Penguin Random House?
As far as a writing career is concerned, if this hypothetical college student wanted to earn a living by writing, would you suggest s/he complete a quality manuscript, then start sending it to agents or publishers and wait for a response? While working at Starbucks? Instead of signing up for campus interviews with companies who want to hire graduates right away?
What characteristics are necessary for a political career? How do you recognize an unfit ruler? Should you oppose or try to reform him? These questions are central to recent debates about liberalism, conservatism and meritocracy—and perhaps even impeachment.
Yet they are also very old questions. As Harvard professor James Hankins shows in “Virtue Politics,” a magisterial study of “soulcraft and statecraft,” humanist scholars in the Italian Renaissance were concerned with many of the same puzzles that obsess us today. While acknowledging the variety of responses that they offered, Mr. Hankins focuses on a particular kind of answer. He calls it “virtue politics”: the attempt to reform civic life by improving the morality of the ruling elite.
Virtue politics was not invented in the 15th century. As Mr. Hankins shows, it drew on intellectual currents that extend back to ancient Greece, classical Rome and the Church Fathers of the early Christian era. In different ways, Aristotle, Cicero and Augustine all argued that virtue was the basis of political achievement.
But the central figure in Mr. Hankins’s account is Francesco Petrarca, better known as Petrarch. He is remembered today mostly as a poet and an editor of Latin texts. Mr. Hankins contends that he was also a significant political thinker. According to Mr. Hankins, Petrarch saw his literary and scholarly endeavors as a step toward saving Italy—and perhaps all of Christendom—from misgovernment. Learning to speak and write beautifully was not simply a cultural achievement but also, he believed, a political necessity.
Borrowing a term from German ethnologist Leo Frobenius, Mr. Hankins describes this enterprise as paideuma—an “intentional form of elite culture,” as he writes, “that seeks power within a society with the aim of altering the moral attitudes and behaviors of society’s members, especially its leadership class.” The humanists’ task was to institutionalize and propagate this paideuma through writing, speaking and teaching.
On the intellectual level, Petrarch and his followers sought to rescue classical antiquity, especially pagan Rome, from Christians’ historical suspicion. Although the Romans had not known the true God, humanists argued, their political success was based on their superiority in virtue. When it came to personal rectitude and public spirit, the Romans often exceeded ostensible Christians. The humanists had to acknowledge that not all Romans met this lofty standard. But they adopted Cicero—the statesman, lawyer and philosopher—as its personification.
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True nobility was closely related to the humanist conception of the good government. Unsatisfactory rulers might secure desirable outcomes from selfish motives. Those with true nobility would pursue the right goals for the right reasons. In this respect, humanist political thought had a perfectionist quality. The test of legitimacy was not simply performance, but good character.
Mr. Hankins shows that the humanists’ obsession with character explains their surprising indifference to particular forms of government. If rulers lacked authentic virtue, they believed, it did not matter what institutions framed their power.
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Indeed, a ruler of true nobility, in the humanists’ view, should be cherished even if he came to power in an irregular manner. Despite their admiration for Cicero, some humanists defended Julius Caesar —who invaded Italy, against the senate’s order, and ruled as dictator for life. To these writers, Caesar’s outstanding character and good intentions outweighed his questionable methods. “Can a man raised to power through his own merits, a man who showed such a humane spirit, not to his partisans alone but also to his opponents because they were his fellow citizens—can he rightly be called a tyrant?” asked the Florentine statesman Coluccio Salutati “I do not see how this can be maintained, unless indeed we are to pass judgment arbitrarily.”
Such humanist defenses of Caesar’s virtue are superficially similar to Machiavelli’s infamous account of the virtù of a prince—the capacity for amoral calculation that, in Machiavelli’s view, must guide the effective prince (a generic term that includes any aspirant to power). Mr. Hankins devotes his last three chapters to exploring the differences. If Petrarch is the hero of “Virtue Politics,” Machiavelli is its villain.
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In this respect, Machiavelli prefigures our current predicament. The Renaissance tradition remained influential well into modern times. Particularly in New England, humanist arguments about virtue were often blended with Protestant theology in an amalgam that historian Mark Noll calls “Christian republicanism.” John Adams believed Petrarch showed that “tyranny can scarcely be practiced upon a virtuous and wise people.”
Yet virtue politics was eclipsed by modern constitutionalism. In their emphasis on the separation of powers, Locke and Montesquieu and the other Enlightenment philosophers whose ideas inspired the American Founders shared Machiavelli’s doubts about the sufficiency of virtue. English scholars like Edward Coke and William Blackstone also promoted a greater appreciation for the role of law. We can see the legacy of this shift in the ambiguity of the impeachment process, which appeals both to virtue and to legality.
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Mr. Hankins makes an explicit plea to the modern successors of the elite that the humanists tried to cultivate. Those who enjoy cultural or political influence should consider carefully whether they are worthy of such power.
Some might suggest that for a literary blog to feature three snow-related posts in a day is excessive. Well, tough. The weather has always been a great common denominator. And to our credit, we’ve refrained from calling this “Winter Storm Pax” or “the snowpocalypse.” We have standards.
Here, then, are seven poems from our archives fit for a snowy night. I won’t claim they’ll warm or comfort you—they’re poems, not pap—but they’re terrific reads, and they will be of some help. Next time you share an elevator with a distant colleague, you’ll use the weather as a conversational crutch, as one does; but instead of saying, “Man, it’s cold out!” you’ll say, “Snow is a hat worn by mountains.” You’ll make a lasting impression.
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Debora Greger, “To the Snow” (from The Paris Review No. 154, Spring 2000)
Snow, let go. It’s late, You are cornmush. You are cold. Let me cover you with this white sheet. No one will know.. . . .
Snow is a hat worn by mountains, the tallest of which do not remove the
hat in summer.
Sunlight settles like a shawl upon the hills and dewy berry fields.
The sun is not a wag or hail-fellow-well-met. It does not loaf or shirk.
It keeps its face funeral-ready, as you should.
Away you go in the car. Father and Mother. Puff and Baby Sally.
Away you go into the country. Spot and Jane.