Pencil Leaners

From Public Books:

Between 1935 and 1939, the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP)—an initiative funded by the Works Project Administration under the New Deal—provided employment for some 6,000 jobless writers [in the United States]. Today, as stunned authors in Australia and around the world come to terms with the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, that experiment deserves reconsideration. As the ABC recently noted, Australian writers—who earn, on average, less than $13,000 directly from their work each year—will be affected on multiple levels: by the cancellation of festivals, talks, and other paying gigs; by the closure of bookshops; by redundancies and cuts in publishing houses; and by job losses in the related industries (from academia to hospitality) through which they supplement their incomes.

It was the American New Deal more than anything else that legitimated the kind of stimulus packages again being discussed in Australia not just for the arts but across the economy. When Franklin D. Roosevelt took office, the crisis of the Great Depression forced him, despite his own fiscal conservatism, to rush through various rescue measures of a now-familiar nature. The US government guaranteed bank loans to prevent further financial collapses; it encouraged industrial cartels to control prices and production levels; it purchased unsold crops from farmers; and through the Civil Works Administration, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, and, eventually, the Works Progress Administration it sought to create jobs.

Recent calls for postpandemic bailouts for artists in general or writers implicitly evoke that legacy.

. . . .

Obviously, the publishing scene today—dominated by vast multinationals, for whom books are merely part of a broader engagement with the “entertainment industry”—differs greatly from the more small-scale milieu of the 1930s. Even so, it’s still worth noting how contemporary thinking about funding literature differs from the Federal Writers’ Project in several important ways.

Most importantly, the job schemes of the 1930s as a whole, including the Writers’ Project—emerged from intense class struggles in a way that today’s plans do not.

In her history of the Works Progress Administration, Nancy E. Rose writes:

Starting in early 1930, unemployed councils, organized by the Communist Party, began to lead hunger marches to demand more relief. On March 6, 1932, which was proclaimed International Unemployment Day, hunger marches took place throughout the country. … In general, cities with strong Unemployed Councils provided better relief.

Agitation by the unemployed coincided with intensified industrial disputation. By 1934, some 1.5 million workers were on strike and FDR went to the polls the following year in the midst of a massive wave of industrial action, in which the newly formed Congress of Industrial Organizations played an important role. Those titanic clashes paved the way for the Second New Deal, under which the most significant reforms (including the WPA) were implemented.

Crucially, writers themselves fought, through explicitly political groups like the Writers’ Union and [before that] the Unemployed Writers’ Association, for the program from which they benefited. In 1934, the UWA’s secretary Robert Whitcomb explained:

The unemployed writers of New York City do not intend to continue under the semi-starvation conditions meted out to them. If the government does not intend to formulate some policy regarding the class of intellectual known as a writer … then the writer must organize and conduct a fight to better his condition.

The following year, with something like a quarter of the entire publishing industry out of work, the two organizations launched a widely publicized picket of the New York Port Authority, in which their members carried signs reading: “Children Need Books. Writers Need Bread. We Demand Projects.”

. . . .

The authors employed by the FWP included many who went on to conventional success, people like Nelson Algren, Saul Bellow, Arna Bontemps, Malcolm Cowley, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, Kenneth Patchen, Philip Rahv, Kenneth Rexroth, Harold Rosenberg, Studs Terkel, Margaret Walker, Richard Wright, Frank Yerby, and others. As David A. Taylor notes in Soul of a People, his history of the FWP, “four of the first ten winners of the National Book Award in fiction and one in poetry came from this emergency relief project.”

. . . .

Thus, even though the program did actively recruit some literary stars, the author Anzia Yezierska, who’d previously worked in Hollywood, experienced enlisting in the New York FWP as a kind of proletarianization. “There was,” she wrote later, “a hectic camaraderie among us, though we were as ill-assorted as a crowd on a subway express, spinster poetesses, pulp specialists, youngsters … veteran newspapermen, art-for-art’s-sake literati, clerks and typists … people of all ages, all nationalities, all degrees of education, tossed together in a strange fellowship of necessity.”

Not everyone approved of this camaraderie—W. H. Auden dismissed it as “absurd”; one of the project’s own directors complained that “all the misfits and maniacs on relief have been dumped here”

. . . .

The FWP faced especial hostility and ridicule, with one editorialist complaining that it meant that literary “pencil leaners” would join the “shovel leaners” of the WPA. Again, the authorities stressed the project’s utility, with its remit described in an official announcement as the

employment of writers, editors, historians, research workers, art critics, architects, archaeologists, map draftsmen, geologists, and other professional workers for the preparation of an American Guide and the accumulation of new research material on matters of local, historical, art and scientific interest in the United States; preparation of a complete encyclopedia of government functions and periodical publications in Washington; and the preparation of a limited number of special studies in the arts, history, economics, sociology, etc., by qualified writers on relief.

It duly enlisted its staff to labor on perhaps a thousand volumes, including 50 state and territorial guides, 30 city guides and 20 regional guides. David Taylor describes these texts, composed by a dazzling group of writers, as “a multifaceted look at America by Americans, assembled during one of the greatest crises in the country.”

Many writers resented their tasks (at one point, Yezeriska was sent to catalog the trees in Central Park); many worked on their own manuscripts on the side.

. . . .

In books like Gumbo Ya-Ya: A Collection of Louisiana Folk TalesBibliography of Chicago Negroes, and Drums and Shadows: Survival Studies among the Georgia Coastal Negroes, FWP employees collected the folklore that Zora Neale Hurston described as “the boiled-down juice of human living.” They interviewed people who had been enslaved, generating an astonishing assemblage of reminiscences. It’s thanks to the FWP that we have a small number of audio clips in which we can hear the actual voices of the survivors of slavery explaining what was done to them.

Alfred Kazin described how, in the late 1930s:

Whole divisions of writers now fell upon the face of America with a devotion that was baffled rather than shrill, and an insistence to know and to love what it knew that seemed unprecedented. Never before did a nation seem so hungry for news of itself.

Link to the rest at Public Books

Global Association of Literary Festivals Holds First Online Webinar

From Publishing Perspectives:

Our regular readers will remember the formal establishment we reported on May 12 of the Global Association of Literary Festivals.

. . . .

And in a way, the development of the new association may well have come at a surprisingly good moment during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. With festivals driven to consider online evocations of their usual offers, there’s temporarily less organizational burden on them, a chance to reflect and strategize.

The downside, of course, is that revenue has also come to a standstill for many if not most festivals, and while we’ve seen one sterling example of a huge success on the ether this spring—the UK’s Hay Festival with its 490,000 streams served out in a two-week offer of sessions—few festivals start with the heft of the Hay and the fundraising capacity that program was able to mount so it could stage its digital presentation.

Wednesday’s session, then, is a consideration of the issues and the imperative faced by many faces during the pandemic–which health officials caution is still in its first wave, and not subsiding.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG suggests that the timing of the creation of the Global Association of Literary Festivals is sadly ironic because, as indicated in the OP, literary festivals have stopped happening since last spring.

After sheltering in place and avoiding airline travel for several months (and likely several more to follow) PG wonders how many people who are not traveling on corporate expense accounts will be interested in flying to book festivals.

In the US, the National Football League, the source of more television and ticket revenue than any other sport, may well be operating under rules that will keep 50% or more of the seats in NFL stadiums empty. Both the pre-season, which attracts both fans and viewers, as well as the season itself are likely to have many fewer games than is normally the case.

PG wonders how many exhibitors, typically a large source of revenue for commercial gatherings, such as literary festivals, will be willing to pay the necessary exhibitor’s fees, pay for the creation and shipping of exhibits and pay travel, food and lodging costs for publisher’s personnel to staff and mingle, etc., with sales of traditionally-published books entirely in the tank (other than via Amazon).

As far as attendees are concerned, PG can’t help but believe that numbers will be impacted by the absence of a great many retiree readers who are likely to be extra-cautious about venturing forth prematurely.

If the Association of Literary Festivals is holding a webinar, why not webinars to introduce big books from traditional publishers? Or webinars for sci-fi or fantasy fans?

PG is not an expert on the world of romance and authors and fans, but why not a Romance webinar?

A commercial webinar need not consist only of individuals sitting at their desks peering into the screen. Nothing precludes a festival that features authors in local professionally-operated studios speaking about their books or being interviewed, perhaps from a distance, by an expert and experienced interviewer?

Publishing revenues to plunge and thousands of jobs at risk

From The Bookseller:

Publishing, including books, newspapers and magazines, could see a £7bn fall in revenue and 51,000 jobs axed due to Covid-19’s effect on bookshop closures and print sales, a report claims.

In total, 400,000 jobs could be lost across the creative industries amid projected weekly revenue losses of £1.4bn a week in 2020, according to research by global forecasting firm Oxford Economics. It predicts publishing will see a 40% decline while 26% of jobs could go.

However, its definition of publishing includes directories, newspapers, periodicals and other activities alongside books—a total sector employing 177,000 people with a total turnover at the start of the year of £16.3bn.

That is substantially more than the £6bn the PA says book publishing brings in alone each year. Figures for book publishing have not been broken out in the Oxford Economics report.

The Creative Industries Federation, which commissioned the research, has warned of a “cultural catastrophe” facing the entire creative sector. It predicts the sector will be hit twice as hard as the wider economy, with a combined revenue drop of £74bn this year and one in five jobs expected to be axed.

. . . .

“Publishing could lose £7bn in revenue and 26% of jobs, affected by the closure of bookshops and decline of print sales. As we emerge from lockdown, we will need imagination and creativity more than ever. We will need those who can take specks of ideas and carve them into a vision for the future. But for that, we need our creative industries.”

. . . .

“The freelance community has been hit really badly by Covid-19 and many freelancers haven’t been supported by any of the government schemes. People are losing their jobs and their businesses.  I worked in publishing for 30 years, and know there’s an incredible creative and innovative eco-system in publishing, in and out of house, from editors and agents, to production, sales and designers. I think what’s been proven is those jobs aren’t going to go anywhere, they’re not going to be automated. The industry is still going to need that ecosystem and it will impact publishing if we lose it.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Revisiting Brideshead on Its 75th Birthday

From The National Review:

Beetween December 1943 and June 1944, English author Evelyn Waugh took unpaid leave from the army to finish his novel Brideshead Revisited, now considered by many to be his greatest. The book (which Waugh first suggested calling “A Household of Faith”) has many themes — Catholicism, aristocracy, youth, redemption — but the author’s specific focus was, in his own words, “the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters.” Today Waugh’s religiosity, much like his traditionalist tastes, may seem niche or archaic, but his treatment of the human experience of time is — well, timeless. In an updated preface, Waugh offered Brideshead “to a younger generation of readers as a souvenir of the Second War rather than of the twenties or of the thirties, with which it ostensibly deals.” While nostalgia functions both as a theme and a narrative device in the novel, what is often overlooked is how masterfully the two themes, nostalgia and grace, are interwoven.

Like The Great GatsbyBrideshead is narrated by a protagonist who is also a character in the story — Charles Ryder, now a commander officer in the British army. Ryder reflects back on his life before the war. He is temporarily stationed in the English countryside, where he stumbles across an abandoned manor. He was once intimately connected with its former inhabitants, an eccentric aristocratic Catholic family. The rest of the story is told through flashbacks, beginning with his student days at Oxford.

At Oxford, Ryder meets and befriends the impossibly charming Sebastian Flyte, who, though later redeemed (unlike the similarly flawed protagonist in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray), squanders his youth and beauty through foolish and hedonistic pursuits. Julia, Sebastian’s sister and, later, Ryder’s love interest, parallels her brother’s self-destruction in her ill-advised marriage to the agnostic Canadian businessman and politician Rex Mottram. At one point Julia and Sebastian’s pious younger sister, Cordelia, references G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown story in which the thief is attached to “an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.” Such is the operation of divine grace upon the soul, and “Twitch upon the Thread” is, not by coincidence, the name given to the novel’s third part.

Nostalgia, in terms of character psychology, allows for a certain plasticity of time. From the outset, for instance, there is something peculiarly childish about Sebastian. At Oxford, he carries around his teddy bear, eccentrically named “Aloysius,” calls his mother “mummy,” and is emotionally dependent on his nanny. When the young Ryder (prior to his conversion to Catholicism) asks how Sebastian can possibly believe the wackier tenets of the Catholic faith, he answers that he thinks it “a lovely idea.” That, to Ryder, seems proof enough that the whole thing is ridiculous, a belief he repeats to Julia more forcefully when she feels incapable of “living in sin” with him. He tells her “it’s a thing psychologists could explain; a preconditioning from childhood; feelings of guilt from the nonsense you were taught in the nursery.”

. . . .

Orwell was right that the first-person narration can at times feel mawkish. Waugh himself worried about this. “The book is infused with a kind of gluttony,” the author wrote in a later edition, “for food and wine, for the splendors of the recent past, and for rhetorical and ornamental language, which now with a full stomach I find distasteful.” Take, for instance, Ryder’s longing for the interior decoration at Brideshead (the name of Sebastian’s lavish family home): “I often think of that bathroom — the water colours dimmed by steam and the huge towel warming on the back of the chintz armchair — and contrast it with the uniform, clinical, little chambers, glittering with chromium-plate and looking-glass, which pass for luxury in the modern world.” Nevertheless, the point of this is how such objects, as they were, or are, influence how a character conceives of himself. A good example of this is Anthony Blanche, who, Ryder tells us, in later life “lost his stammer in the deep waters of his old romance. It came floating back to him, momentarily, with the coffee and liqueurs.”

Link to the rest at The National Review

Sweden’s digital audio subscription market will shrink 25%, says a Mediavision survey

From The New Publishing Standard:

It’s been so long since we heard anything negative about Sweden’s experiment as the world’s audiobook subscription Petri dish that it sometimes seems digital subscription, led in the Nordics by audiobooks, can do no wrong.

But if a Mediavision survey is correct, the good times may be coming to an end.

According to the Swedish news site BreakIt (auto-translated),

One in four subscribers to the audiobook companies plans to cancel the subscription or change service within 12 months.

This says BreakIt, equates to 195,000 households.

. . . .

It’s not clear from this how much the anticipated shrinkage will be due to genuine disaffection with the service and format, or how much any particular operator is likely to be hit or to benefit.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG doesn’t watch audiobook pricing as closely as he does ebook pricing.

When PG checked, the top five New York Times Best Sellers for audio versions of bestselling books were priced as follows on Audible (a quick check of Barnes & Noble audio CD prices for these books surprised PG because the CD pricing was very close to and sometimes lower than the downloadable audio price from Amazon):

  1. Where the Crawdads Sing – $31.50
  2. Hideaway – $31.49
  3. Fair Warning – $26.94
  4. Camino Winds – $31.50
  5. If It Bleeds – $27.99

A couple of questions occur to PG:

Should audiobooks be less expensive?

Each of these tradpub audiobooks have a price tag which is about twice what the ebook version of the same title is.

Is the price of audiobooks too high?

PG understands that a narrator who has likely spent time developing his/her talents is involved and will require payment. He also understands that audiobook recording studio time and/or recording equipment and a home audio setup won’t come free, but, is the price of audiobooks depressing sales?

Particularly during a serious world-wide economic downturn?

Just as with ebooks, once the original version of an audiobook is created and uploaded to Amazon, all each purchaser is receiving is a bunch of organized electrons. (He’ll set aside CD version as the equivalent of a hardcopy printed book.)

For an organization with as many hard drives as Amazon, electrons are pretty close to free. Delivering 100 copies of an audiobook to 100 purchasers doesn’t cost much more than delivering a single copy of an audio to a purchaser.

What would happen to audiobook sales if an audiobook was priced at 99 cents? Or $2.99?

Or if someone purchasing an ebook could get an audiobook of the same title for $1.99 more?

Is the best opportunity to sell an audiobook at the same time a customer is purchasing an ebook of the same title? Or vice-versa?

Sophisticated retailers, online and offline, work hard to increase the amount of money their customers spend with them. Cross-selling, up-selling, free shipping thresholds, selling related products are goals for any smart retailer. Gaining a greater share of the customer’s purchasing activity is an obsession with well-run business organizations.

Which, of course, raises the perennial question about why commercial publishers aren’t managed very well. Maybe publishing is just too special to be subject to market forces.

That would be of little concern to PG if authors didn’t ultimately bear a great deal of the financial burden created by ineptly-managed publishers.

“Do better, publishing people”: an open letter to the industry

From The Bookseller:

I have to start by admitting that when I began writing this letter last week, I was boiling mad and ready to take everyone on. Now, in its tenth or twentieth draft (I don’t know which) I’m still boiling mad, but most of your gaslighting social media posts that sent me over the edge have gone, so I’ve calmed down a little. A little.

I am still boiling mad and I still think you need to know a few things. Firstly – and most importantly – you need to know: publishing is a hostile environment for Black authors.

I’m not talking about the inclusive indies, the ones who’ve been forging their way ahead, I’m talking about the major players in publishing. Yours is an environment that the world thinks is welcoming, liberal, ‘right on’ and intellectual, but in reality can be extremely damaging for Black authors.

Let me also be clear: Black writers do not want special consideration, we do not want special treatment, we want a level playing field, an equality of opportunity, the chance to write books and explore as many subjects and genres as our white counterparts. We want to look around and see other Black people being as successful as us in all different genres in all branches of the publishing business. And that is not the experience for most of us when we come to write our books or have them promoted or see them on the shelves.

When we try to enter the world of publishing, a lot of us already have so much on our shoulders. Black writers know that every word we write, every story we tell, will be taken up as speaking for every single black person that ever lived. We are often seen as a monolith and everything one of us does is often used to represent all of us.

. . . .

Agents are the first gatekeepers most of us encounter and we very often hear from them that they can’t connect with ‘Black’ stories, they don’t understand ‘Black’ voices, the story isn’t teaching them anything. And yet, we can see with our own eyes that they very often represent white authors who are telling stories about Black people and earning millions and accolades whilst doing it.

. . . .

Showcasing black pain? Tick

Willing to constantly talk politely about race and nothing else? Tick

Making white people feel comfortable? Tick

Teaching white people something about the ‘Black experience’? Tick

No one in publishing will admit this, but you can tell by the rejections you receive, the conversations that you have about a book, suggestions that are made that this checklist is – often unconsciously – there.

As we move through the publishing process, what do we come up against next? People who don’t ‘get’ Black voices so set about changing our words to fit the stereotypes in their heads. Editors who need subtle, modern-day ‘slave’ narratives added in even if it doesn’t fit the story arc. Those who ask you to find redemption for a white antagonist so as not to put people (read: white people) off. Publishers who want you to make characters racist because that’s obviously what’s missing from your rom-com. Editors who pick apart every single word to make sure you don’t get uppity and think you might just be good at this writing stuff.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Ten Publishing Things That Will Never Be The Same

From Publishing Perspectives:

In Publishing’s Post-Pandemic Future

No longer will we print 200 copies of an academic monograph, ship 150 to warehouses around the world, then on to university libraries, and hope the remaining 50 will evaporate somehow over time. Should any library actually want a print copy for archival or other reasons it’s perfectly easy to produce one on a print-on-demand basis and that single copy will cost less in money and damage to the environment.

  • As it happens, the same technology and attitude will pervade the thinking of general as well as academic publishers when maintaining the availability of backlist titles.
  • This will of course lead to a complete revision and rethinking of reversion clauses.

Scientific publishers will abandon any semblance of print production including the age-old tradition of printed offprints of an author’s article.

  • Print in the new world is akin to the old French tradition of delivering the mail by postmen on stilts—charming but ridiculous.

And how about the absurdity of sending printed copies to media for review?

  • During the lockdown, newspaper mailrooms have been empty and it has been pointless to send printed books. It turns out that for the purposes of review and criticism, a PDF is perfectly adequate in all but heavily illustrated art, lifestyle, and children’s books.
  • Of course the reviewer will find it hard to sell the PDF on eBay as a way of supplementing the paltry reviewer’s fee but perhaps it’s about time that reviewers were paid properly for their important function.

. . . .

Can anyone imagine any learning environment without a significant digital dimension? From the library to the lecture theater or classroom, the buzzword in educational publishing for schools and colleges has been “blended learning”–essentially a teacher, a book, and some digital supplements.

  • This will be reversed and will become a digital course supplemented by a teacher and the very occasional printed textbook.
  • It will still be blended learning but as in any blend everything depends on the proportions of the ingredients. In education, these proportions will never be the same again.

. . . .

With more people working from home, how can our industry justify typical midtown offices? How can senior executives justify large offices for themselves and battery-hen cubicles for lower-level staffers?

  • Old-fashioned offices and structures will not survive to be replaced by more employee-friendly work spaces and work practices.
  • Adieu, 9-to-5 work schedules. I’m very glad I haven’t invested heavily in big-city commercial property, and I’m pretty certain that most publishers will be looking to reduce their rent bills by taking less space and renegotiating leases.

. . . .

No more sales conferences in exotic places.

  • No more teeming academic conferences.
  • No more all-company rallies.
  • No more flying around the world when a phone call would suffice.
  • Leaving parties will be sadly frequent but less grand.

And finally, of course, the parties.

  • No more book launches in lovely but pokey independent bookshops.
  • No more cheap white wine.
  • No more self-serving speeches by the publisher.
  • No more shushing in order to hear the author’s speech or reading.
  • No more air kisses and mwah mwah.
  • No more trying to persuade staffers to mingle.
  • No more sucking up to journalists in the hope of a one-line mention in a diary column.
  • No more bundling up the unsold books to return to the warehouse.
  • The post-COVID-19 launch parties will be digital. Many more people can and will attend. The wine and refreshments will be top-notch. The author can be heard and seen. The event can be recorded and shared universally.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Bread Winner

From The Wall Street Journal:

For Jack Lawson, “ten hours a day in the dark prison below really meant freedom for me.” At age 12, this Northern England boy began full-time work down the local mine. His life underwent a transformation; there would be “no more drudgery at home.” Jack’s wages lifted him head and shoulders above his younger siblings and separated him in fundamental ways from the world of women. He received better food, clothing and considerably more social standing and respect within the family. He had become a breadwinner.

Rooted in firsthand accounts of life in the Victorian era, Emma Griffin’s “Bread Winner” is a compelling re-evaluation of the Victorian economy. Ms. Griffin, a professor at the University of East Anglia, investigates the personal relationships and family dynamics of around 700 working-class households from the 19th century, charting the challenges people faced and the choices they made. Their lives are revealed as unique personal voyages caught within broader currents.

“I didn’t mind going out to work,” wrote a woman named Bessie Wallis. “It was just that girls were so very inferior to boys. They were the breadwinners and they came first. They could always get work in one of the mines, starting off as a pony boy then working themselves up to rope-runners and trammers for the actual coal-hewers. Girls were nobodies. They could only go into domestic service.”

Putting the domestic back into the economy, Ms. Griffin addresses a longstanding imbalance in our understanding of Victorian life. By investigating how money and resources moved around the working-class family, she makes huge strides toward answering the disconcerting question of why an increasingly affluent country continued to fail to feed its children. There was, her account makes clear, a disappointingly long lag between the development of an industrialized lifestyle in Britain and the spread of its benefits throughout the population.

. . . .

In preindustrial times, both men and women had faced a fairly set course in life on the edge of subsistence. During the Victorian era, their fortunes rapidly diverged. Many of the best-paid roles within the newly industrialized economy were designated as exclusively male. Those designated as female were very low paid (well below subsistence level). Thus developed the “breadwinner wage” model—the idea being that a man needed to support a family upon his earnings but a woman needed only pin money, her basic needs having been provided by father or husband.

Ms. Griffin’s groundbreaking research tracks the effects of this philosophy through personal autobiographical accounts. Working-class men gained power and personal freedom from the new opportunities and broader horizons. Working-class women, by contrast, faced the same old narrow set of options. This new pattern of gender divergence was most pronounced in urban situations, where the higher male wages were largely to be had, and was attended by a significant rise in family breakdown.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

In the dim caverns of his memory, PG remembers reading that survival and eventual prosperity of married settlers who journeyed to the American West generally required the hard work and often income-producing farming and ranching also required the active physical participation of both spouses to a greater extent than was were the family circumstances of the typical Breadwinner economic model.

In the American West economic model, children were also expected to provide productive labor in the process of obtaining food and income from the farm or ranch.

When PG was a wee lad, he remembers helping to herd livestock and run to get tools from the shed as required by his parents.

His mother was definitely involved in the agricultural and livestock activities on a regular basis. She and PG both were chased by an angry cow as they were trying to give some medication to her calf. PG was 7 years old at the time and discovered a running speed he didn’t realized he possessed as he headed for the fence.

When PG was 11 years old, he learned to operate a Caterpillar D6 (sometimes known as the most important piece of military equipment used in the Pacific theater of World War II) and thought he was the coolest kid around driving it to help his father on the farm.

Unfortunately, PG doesn’t have any photos of himself operating the D6, but here are a few to give anyone who is still interested a sense of the size of the machine. PG remembers that it required about a three-step climb from the ground to the seat.

Military Caterpillar D6
This is a civilian D6
Caterpillar D4 (a little smaller than a D6) practicing landings in preparations for service in the Pacific Theater.
Another D4 in the Army’s Fort Leonard Wood Combat Engineer’s Museum.

Life Behind the Iron Curtain

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin
By Vladimir Voinovich (1969)

Most Soviet satires feature a protagonist of (at least) average intelligence who can comment on the inadequacies of the communist system. But Ivan Chonkin is more of an Ivan the Fool, the archetype of Russian folklore. When the Red Army deploys him to the countryside to guard a downed plane and then forgets about him, the bowlegged soldier must fend for himself. But Chonkin, determined to fulfill his one and only order, eventually becomes the target of the (equally inept) secret police. First circulated in samizdat, “Ivan Chonkin” criticizes Stalinist Russia’s most sacred institutions, prime among them the Red Army and the secret police. In the novel an ex-prisoner exalts labor camps as a better alternative to regular life: “Movies, amateur shows, a bath every ten days. The amateur shows are better than we’ve got in the city. We had one People’s Artist in the camp and two Honored Artists and I didn’t keep track of how many plain regular ones.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Watership Down author’s estate wins back all rights to classic novel

From The Guardian:

The estate of Watership Down author Richard Adams has won back all of the rights to the late author’s classic novel about anthropomorphised rabbits, in a high court ruling against the director of the famed animated adaptation.

The high court in London ruled on 27 May that Martin Rosen, the US director of the 1978 adaptation of Adams’s novel, had wrongly claimed that he owned all rights to the book, in which a group of rabbits fight to survive the destruction of their warren.

The court heard that Rosen, who owned the motion picture rights to Watership Down under his original 1976 contract, had entered into contracts worth more than $500,000 (£400,975) while claiming that he held all rights to the novel. Rosen also made $85,000 from an unauthorised licence for an audiobook adaptation, and also failed to pay the estate fees and merchandising royalties from the 2018 BBC/Netflix television adaptation, on which he served as an executive producer.

In his ruling, Judge Hacon ordered Rosen and his companies to pay an initial $100,000 in damages for copyright infringement, agreeing unauthorised license deals and denying royalty payments. Rosen and his companies were also directed to provide a record of all license agreements involving Watership Down, and pay court costs and the estate’s legal fees totalling £28,000. Rosen is set to pay additional damages, to be determined at a later hearing.

The court also terminated the original contract in which motion picture rights for Watership Down were granted to Rosen.

. . . .

“As custodians of this most beloved novel, our family has an obligation to protect the publishing and other rights for Watership Down and to preserve the essence of our father’s creation,” Johnson said. “After many years trying to resolve matters directly with Martin Rosen, we are extremely pleased with the high court’s ruling. We can now look forward to the future and develop new projects that honour the powerful and pertinent messages of Watership Down about the environment, leadership and friendship.”

Speaking to the Guardian, Johnson said she was “utterly exhausted … it has taken a long time to pull it all together and say, dad didn’t get his due.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Lockdown diaries: the book marketer

From The Bookseller:

If you’d asked me how I was coping a month ago, the truth would have been not so well actually. I let the anxiety that so many of us have been feeling overwhelm me, and I was tired of all the Zoom. SO TIRED.

I was pretty good at keeping ‘work’ at ‘work’ before all this – I’d just stay in the office late before going to the theatre, a gig or dance class. I worked late a lot. My brain likes being alive in the evening. I was made for the London culture life! So what happens when that’s taken away? The PMS Pandemic breakdown is what happens. And what a rollercoaster of emotions that was.

Today I’m working hard on keeping balance and boundaries in place. I’m grateful for the new ‘hide self view’ update in Zoom – I love seeing other people but I found it tiring to see myself, I know I’m not alone in this. I never really took proper lunch breaks in the office, now I’m militant about that full hour. Ten minutes of morning yoga has become such a habit that I automatically roll out my yoga mat after making my bed now. Every morning. WHO am I?!

Usborne recently held a well-being seminar as part of Mental Health Awareness week, and I discovered the word bibliotherapy. Isn’t that lovely? I’ve never really been that much of a self-help reader but that’s what I’ve found myself steering towards during these times. I’ve felt the need to educate and reflect. If you’ve been feeling similar, I’d highly recommend listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk on overwhelm in the time of Covid19. It’s wonderful, and might just be the conversation you also need to hear today.

Speaking of conversations, have you found that we’re having more valuable ones? As a marketer, the audience is always at the forefront of your mind, however, never have I felt such a strong desire to be truly connecting with them. I run a niche YA Instagram channel, which I often just about found the time to fit it in around campaigns, however the moment lockdown was announced my approach to this social channel changed. I officially introduced myself as a person to our followers in week 1 by sharing my private collection of comfort reads, and the conversations have blossomed from there. We’re ten weeks into the Usborne YA Social Distance Bookstagram Bingo and I cannot begin to express just how amazing these discussions have been.

Although I may be struggling to get through books at the pace I once did, I’m certainly not finding it difficult to talk about them. And that’s a marvelous thing. Thanks to the conversations I’ve had with our readers the last few months, we’ve collaboratively built The Usborne YA Book Club. It launches in a few weeks and I’m really excited to see how this grows and what learnings crop up.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

The Pandemic’s ‘Acceleration of Trends’

From Publishing Perspectives about the ‘Digital Publishing Summit / Readmagine 2020:

Today (June 2), Wischenbart has given a Presentation of the Digital Consumer Book Barometer in the first of the day’s two sessions. A man of several brands, Wischenbart produces, among them, the Digital Consumer Book Barometer as one of his projects. Others are the Global Ebook Report and the Global 50 Ranking of the Publishing Industry, along with Frankfurter Buchmesse’s CEO Talks series.

. . . .

The “barometer” looks at developments relative to ebooks and audiobooks primarily in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland—the German-language core markets, in other words—with additional input from Italy, Spain, Brazil, and Mexico.

And in the case of this year’s report, it’s important to note that Wischenbart’s observations take us to the time just before the world pandemic of the coronavirus COVID-19 began to lock down the hardest-hit markets on which the report focuses. In that sense, then, the research can be seen as a kind of baseline before the damage—in some cases wreckage—would begin to upend publishing in the Worldometer system tracks as 213 countries and territories.

. . . .

Wischenbart tells Publishing Perspectives in an exchange prior to his presentation online today, that the status quo before the COVID-19 crises was already characterized by “some significant developments and challenges.” He lists:

  • A growing pressure on prices in the digital offer
  • Consumers who naturally switch between digital and analog formats
  • Consumers who similarly switch between reading and listening—or may be gradually changing their primary mode
  • Purchase vs. subscription
  • Streaming capabilities and library lending
  • Steady growth in downloaded audiobook sales, although the format’s sector remains a small percentage of most markets—in the audio-friendly US market, for example, 8.9 percent in March, per the Association of American Publishers’ StatShot

“These trends and patterns shaped the year 2019,” Wischenbart says. “It’s to be expected that these deep shifts will have an even greater impact on publishers and retailers in 2020″—and that would have been the case even had a novel coronavirus not imposed historic barriers to sales and production worldwide.

Another interesting, associated effect of the pandemic was the UK government’s sudden decision to drop its VAT on digital reading seven months before it had been planned, to help locked down readers find safe digital reading material while being asked to stay home. That was a case of a long-overdue correction to an anomaly in a market that long had charged zero VAT for print, but 20 percent for digital products.

. . . .

“Publishers certainly earn money with higher-priced offers with comparatively low sales,” Wischenbart says, “up to €15 euros for an ebook and more than €20 euros per download for the audiobook. But the price trend was clearly pointing downward.”

Wischenbart says he sees a hardening of the price ceiling in Spain and Italy, he says, where before the pandemic hit, €10 had become the most that consumers would pay to download an ebook. And overall, he says, the trend was universal toward “the cheapest offers” in the digital markets he was studying.

. . . .

The importance of bestsellers, Wischenbart says, has generally been seen to increase in ebooks much more than in audiobooks. In audio, in the markets he’s looking at, he says he sees romance, children’s and YA books, the midlist and backlist being more prominent than bestsellers.

. . . .

Like most specialists, Wischenbart says he sees an upturn in digital reading consumption during the pandemic. This is something stressed by Xu Hai of China’s vast Phoenix Publishing & Media in his interview with us for our Coronavirus Worklife series.

Wischenbart agrees, though, of course, that it’s yet to be seen how lasting the virus-driven changes in consumer behavior may be.

And as he looks forward to what may be effects in play from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, he lists:

  • The question (as raised by Xu Hai in China) of hybrid users: are consumers who may have been print-bound, so to speak, now more open to digital–and even more attracted to digital?
  • Ever greater competition between various media, formats, and the battle for consumers’ attention and time—what Rakuten Kobo’s Michael Tamblyn (who speaks on Thursday for Readmagine) has called “the attention economy” in which all publishers must “fight for time,” the limited time of consumers
  • More competition between established “core actors” in the publishing space and newcomers, new entrants into the markets

. . . .

[T]he overriding impact of the pandemic on digital publishing might be as an accelerant. The advent of the inconveniences and impositions of the locked down experience may have caused existing trends such as more segmentation between consumer sectors to speed up.

If indeed the pandemic has collapsed time in speeding up consumer adoption of one form of reading or to speed up consumer transfer from, say, reading to more film and television consumption, then the most watchful and agile publishers are the ones who’ll be ready to respond as these effects become more evident.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Radical Publishing in a Pandemic

From Tribune Magazine (UK):

The Covid-19 pandemic has had disastrous consequences across the economy, and with the IMF predicting a 3% contraction of the economy this year, that will only get worse. While this will hit many industries hard, there is a particularly deep fear for those in the relatively privileged cultural industries. Many musicians, DJs, artists and performers have seen their income drastically cut, and with companies across the world scaling back their advertising, and with shops selling non-essential items remaining closed, many magazines and newspapers are facing a threat to their very survival. So far, for the most part, the publishing industry has remained out of the news. Yet in an industry such as this, one whose future already seemed uncertain, squeezed as it is by the Amazon behemoth and huge corporations churning out pulpy biographies and endless cookbooks, the results could be just as catastrophic.

Smaller publishers and radical publishers, in many ways the cultural and intellectual lifeblood of the industry, face particularly increasingly uncertain times ahead. Often with tiny backlists, and little to no cash reserves, any halt to their distribution can be disastrous. While many of the major publishers have decided to delay the release of their big summer titles to later in the year, in the meantime hoping to ride out the uncertainty, for smaller houses the choice is far starker.

Kit Caless runs the small London publisher Influx Press. He describes the situation as “savage.” “In terms of trade sales we’ve gone from a decent January and February to sales disappearing overnight. I’d guess we have 5% trade sales of what we’d usually see in March and April.” Without strong back catalogue favourites to rely on, pushing a title back by just a few months can drastically reduce a publisher’s revenue. Influx have cancelled 25 forthcoming events, including appearances for their authors at major literary festivals. “Coronavirus has changed the atmosphere” says Zeljka Marosevic, the publisher of Daunt Books, “publication dates that seemed appropriate in January 2020 no longer do.” The company, which grew out of the London-based chain of bookshops, have also significantly changed their plans due to the crisis. Books have been pushed back to later in the year, or even into next, and as Marosevic notes the closing of shops has hit them hard – “publishing is social; books are social”

. . . .

Even if a book is published as planned, getting them to customers is proving tricky. One of the major things to note about the current crisis in publishing is not in itself a publishing crisis—yet—it is a crisis of distribution. Books will be printed regardless of the economic circumstances, the question now is how those books reach customers. It is also, as Sarah Braybrooke from British and Australian independent publisher Scribe notes, a question of how resilient smaller publishers will be during the ensuing turmoil. “In general I worry that a lot of companies do not have the cash reserves they need to get through a crisis like this – not just publishers, of course…The loss of enterprise that could come out of this time could diminish our culture in ways that are almost impossible to imagine.”

Link to the rest at Tribune Magazine

As bookstores in France re-open, early euphoria gives way to plummeting book sales in week two

From The New Publishing Standard:

After a long and painful lockdown it was hardly surprising that many booklovers made a beeline for their nearest bookstore when the green light was given for booksellers to re-open their doors.

From May 11-17 unit sales in bricks & mortar stores were up 6.8% and revenue up 2.7% as lovers of the printed book rushed to get new stock.

But the long lockdown had also introduced many French booklovers to the convenience of digital, be it buying print books online (tempered by the closure for a while of the Amazon warehouses in France) or discovering the delights of the digital book.

Too soon to say how the new normal will level out, and among the factors impacting print book sales will be consumer income that will have taken a hit during lockdown. But the big fear, now seemingly being realised, was that some bookstore buyers may never come back.

In the second week of “deconfinement”, May 18-24, reports Livres Hebdo using statistics from GFK, book sales fell 8% in value and 9.1% in unit sales, and compared to the same period in 2019 revenue was down 10.9% and unit sales down 6.4%.

. . . .

[I]t may well be that it is not publishing per se that has taken the hit, but bricks & mortar book-selling, and that as the new normal settles in publishers may not be any worse off financially, just facing new marketing challenges where ebooks, digital audio and online print sales are a much bigger part of the retail landscape than hitherto.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG notes that, unlike the world of bricks and mortar, on Amazon and other digital sales venues, books from traditional publishers sit side-by-side with books from indie authors.

Readers who have been hammered financially over the past several weeks or months may be even more interested in the reasonable prices of indie ebooks compared to those from traditional publishing. At a minimum, they won’t have the same ability to engage in discretionary spending that they enjoyed a few months ago.

Even those few without significant financial scars may be frightened by their view of their fellows and less apt to spend freely even if they can afford to do so. Who knows, in some circles, spending lots of money may be regarded as unseemly when so many people are suffering financially and emotionally.

Physical bookstores are/were the one market where Big Publishing could sell books without the contemporaneous exposure to price competition from indie authors.

It is inevitable that B&M bookstores will take a significant financial hit from the long shut-downs and continuing economic crash in many parts of the world. Bookstores are, after all, subject to the same forces that affect the larger retailing world.

Some bookstores will simply not be able to afford to reopen. We don’t know how many will fall into that category, but PG thinks it will be a large number. Many indie bookstores are shoe-string operations that were chronically under-capitalized prior to the virus event.

PG has no doubt that publishers will do their best to stuff all bookstores full of physical books, but if the stores haven’t already defaulted on their lease payments and facing eviction notices, the owners may discover that they’re too far in the hole to afford to pay rent, utilities, staff, etc., and decide to cut their losses and walk away (or hide away to avoid lawsuits).

What we don’t know is how many bookstores will try to reopen only to close permanently when they discover that, even with fewer meatspace competitors and a little bit of cash in reserve, a large share of their customers aren’t coming back.

PG doesn’t take pleasure in predicting a financial and emotional disaster for owners of small bookstores. He never likes to see anyone forced out of business by events they can’t control.

However, PG will say that the Virus Months have accelerated the timing of a financial collapse of the traditional book business which, even in the absence of plague, would have occurred, perhaps less suddenly, at some future time.

U.K. Wholesaler Bertram Group Is Up for Sale

From Publishers Weekly:

Bertram Group, one of the top U.K. book wholesale companies, is up for sale, according to The Bookseller. An advertisement online notes that the company had revenuer of some £250 million last year, with a gross profit of £9 million. The assets that have been put up for sale include the company’s 185,000 sq ft warehouse, as well as 200,000 titles held in stock. In addition, Bertram’s subsidiaries, Dawson Books and Education Umbrella, are also for sale.

The company had shut down its warehouse temporarily due to the pandemic and sold off Wordery, its online bookstore, to Elliot Advisors (which also owns Waterstones and Barnes & Noble) earlier this month. Bertram also divested its European library businesses, Erasmus Antiquariaat en Boekhandel BV and Houtschild Internationale Boekhandel BV, to the Italian company Casalini Libri SPA.

On May 3, the company announced it would go under “strategic review.” The Bookseller has noted that numerous publishers interviewed by the magazine are owed money by Bertram’s.

The move to sell the company is widely viewed as a means of trying to avoid bankruptcy.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG says it’s a good time to be a bankruptcy attorney.

Coronavirus Worklife: Kalem Agency’s Şafak Tahmaz in Turkey

From Publishing Perspectives:

Ask anyone in world publishing who’d like to be at this year’s canceled spring trade shows, and they’ll tell you that Nermin Mollaoğlu of Turkey’s Kalem Agency is someone they miss most. Her bustling 10-person team—and the exuberant spirit they maintain in one of the world’s most challenging regimes—are favorites in international rights centers.

. . . .

Kalem by 2017 had created more than 2,100 contracts representing Turkish literary rights in at least 53 languages. The agency also produces the annual Istanbul International Literature Festival and works as a sub-agent for agencies and publishers in a huge range of markets. The company is coming up on its 14th anniversary.

As the contagion closed in, Tahmaz says, “Nermin made up her mind very, very fast, which we all appreciated and decided to close our office down on March 11, just after it was declared that the first coronavirus case had been detected in Turkey. We got our laptops, necessary files, backups, and started to work at home the next week.

. . . .

[H]ere’s some news from one of the most aggressive agencies in Europe and the Mediterranean for the international publishing industry to consider: “It’s a funny fact that last month,” Tahmaz says, “our fiction titles doubled. And our nonfiction titles broke their own record. Children’s titles are also doing well.”

. . . .

“Publishers in Turkey haven’t given up on new titles and they haven’t lost their excitement for books. But because of the crisis, the exchange rate started to fluctuate again. Revenue streams decreased when bookstores were shut down. But in audiobooks and ebook sales, the publishers in Turkey finally have comprehended the value of digital publishing and a great many publishers have demanded ebook and audio rights for both old titles and the new deals.

“It’s like a silver lining of these dark days. Especially for me, as I feel really comfortable reading in Kindle and listening to books, as well!”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Amazon’s Audible used by almost 20% of the population of France in 2019

From IDBOOX (translation via Google Translate):

Audible has released the figures for its annual study on audio books in France. In 2019, the audio book recorded a good progression, especially in usage.

. . . .

Audible [study results for] 2019 Audiobook [usage show] 18.8% of French people listened to an audio book in 2019. This represents an increase of more than 19% compared to 2018.

Women between the ages of 25 and 34 mostly listen to audio books (48.9%).

We listen more to audio books and audio content in the Paris region (51.6%) and in the Grand Est region (50.4%).

. . . .

According to Audible and Opinéa, 73.5% of French people listen to audio books on smartphones, 38.8% on computers, and 33.4% on tablets. Note that 12.9% of people who listened to audio content in 2019 listened to it on a connected speaker.

We prefer to listen to audio content at home, this is the case for 40.9% of the respondents. 39.6% listen to it before falling asleep, and 30.2% by doing household chores.

. . . .

83.1% of French people listen to audio content alone. A small percentage listens with family or friends (8.4%).

Link to the rest at IDBOOX

Enemy of All Mankind

From The Wall Street Journal:

On Sept. 11, 1695, a Mughal treasure ship found itself so shrouded in Indian Ocean haze that the lookout failed to sight an English vessel until she was only 5 miles distant. She was coming on very fast—possibly making 15 knots—but this didn’t worry the captain of the Ganj-i-sawai (Anglicized into Gunsway in the copious accounts that were to follow): His ship mounted 80 guns; he commanded 400 musketeers and had 1,000 men aboard.

The British interloper, the Fancy, had a crew of only about 150, but she possessed 46 guns—an extraordinary weight of metal for a pirate ship—and a determined captain who had been waiting months for the Gunsway. The Mughal ship fired first and was at once beset by a scarcely believable run of bad luck. That initial shot burst the gun, killing its crew and leaving a swath of flaming wreckage; and the first broadside from the Fancy not only struck the Mughal’s 40-foot mainmast but knocked it right down to the deck in a tangle of spars and rigging. Amid the confusion, the Fancy ranged alongside; her men swarmed aboard the Gunsway in the smoke and, having subdued a far larger crew, made straight for her rich cargo.

This encounter, dramatic in itself, is the pivot on which far greater events turn and continue to reverberate down to this day, as Steven Johnson argues with verve and conviction in his thoroughly engrossing “Enemy of All Mankind.” “Most confrontations like this one, viewed from the wide angle of history,” he writes, “are minor disputes, sparks that quickly die out. But every now and then, someone strikes a match that lights up the whole planet.”

The man who struck this particular match was Henry Every, a Devon-born Royal Navy renegade who had turned pirate and, after stealing a fortune from the richest man on earth, became the first object of an international manhunt. On that one violent day in the Indian Ocean, he set in motion a chain of events that, as Mr. Johnson shows, did much to shape the modern world.

. . . .

The career that was to capture the world’s attention began blandly enough in 1694, when Every was hired by a group of British investors who had formed a company called Spanish Expedition Shipping to recover treasure from sunken galleons in the West Indies. They built a “ship of force” named the Charles II, which, with three consorts, got as far as Madrid, a voyage that should have taken a couple of weeks but, for reasons lost to history, consumed five months. And there they waited, without getting their promised pay, for some never-received orders, until Every, the first mate of the Charles II, seized the ship, renamed her the Fancy and set sail for the riches of India.

. . . .

Euphemisms notwithstanding, reports of the attack generated growing anger on a national level. One of the earliest, issued just days later by a local British official, held that “it is certain the pirates, which these people affirm were all English, did do very barbarously by the people of the Gunsway . . . to make them confess where their money was.” They seized a woman “related to the king, returning from her pilgrimage to Mecca, in her old age. She they abused very much, and forced several other women, which caused one person of quality, his wife and nurse, to kill themselves to prevent the husbands seeing them (and their being) ravished.”

. . . .

Mr. Johnson writes: “Against extraordinary odds, Henry Every had made his fortune. But he must have realized, listening to the screams echoing across the water from the Gunsway, that his men’s actions had now made him something else: the world’s most wanted man.”

And, surely against any desire he likely had, one of the world’s most influential ones. His attack took place during the vigorous infancy of the joint-stock company, which—then as now—allowed investors to diminish their financial risk by investing in the whole operation rather than gambling on a single voyage. The joint-stock company most crucial to Britain—really, almost an alternate, farmed-out government of its own—was the East India Co. It had already grown so important to England’s commerce that to assuage the Mughal emperor’s wrath the whole British government had to make amends by condemning the Fancy’s attack and its English captain. And, in condemning it, had to suppress piracy as a whole. A mere 30 years earlier Sir Francis Drake might plausibly be seen as a pirate operating under British protection. No longer.

Parliament passed new laws; the East India Co.—which came to have a navy of its own—enforced them, and in time it became clear that Henry Every’s profitable day had helped bring about a trading system that, despite the fall of empires and the rise of modern technology, has not in essence changed for three centuries.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Children’s book wins Australia Book of the Year award for first time.

From The New Publishing Standard:

The Australian Book Industry awards, affectionately known as Abias, is hosted by the Australian Publishers Association to recognize excellent Australian writing, although of course with a bias towards sales rather than literary quality.

In that respect it was only a matter of time before a Bluey book came up for an Abias award.

Published by PRH Australia imprint Puffin, titles from the Bluey board book series were the 2nd, 3rd and 4th bestselling books in the country in 2019, and derive from the Emmy-winning Australian children’s TV series of the same name. Bluey being a dog, the antics of which have earned sales totaling over 1 million across 7 titles in the series.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG checked and Amazon (US) does appear to carry Bluey books.

Amid the global coronavirus crisis Storytel sees subscribers grow 38%, streaming revenue 45%, even as publishers that sidelined digital struggle for survival

PG Note: Storytel sells audiobooks.

From The New Publishing Standard:

The only surprise with the latest results from Sweden-based Storytel would have been if subscriber rates and earnings had dipped amid a global crisis that has left print-focussed publishers imperiled.

That of course did not happen, and while streaming revenue took a notional hit at SEK 429m ($44m) compared to the SEK 438m forecast, this in large part was down to “negative currency effects from the Norwegian Krone and an increase in Family subscriptions during the period.”

Overall Storytel’s Q1 results came in at 33.5% revenue growth (streaming and non-streaming) to SEK 513.2 million ($52.7) and a subscriber boost of 71,400, taking Storytel’s total subscribers to 1.54 million.

The average number of paying subscribers in the Nordic segment was 785,800, while 43,200 subscribers were added outside the Nordics, taking total non-Nordic subscription levels to 369,000.

Tellander issued a Q2 forecast of 1.25 million global subscribers, amounting to 41% YOY growth, and a 43% YOY revenue growth to SEK 458m ($47m), with the caveat that the coronavirus crisis meant there was an element of uncertainty about how things might pan out.

Addressing shareholders, Tellander, echoing a common theme that audiobook downloads had dipped as commuters stayed at home, said that afternoon and evening consumption “more than compensated” for the downturn in commuter consumption.

. . . .

New consumption patterns have started to emerge as a result of lockdown on many markets. Morning listening while commuting has gone down in some markets for obvious reasons, but this is more than compensated for by a higher rate of listenings in the afternoons and evenings. In the Nordics, we also see a clear growth in consumption on Sundays and at the beginning of the week.

Crime & Thriller and Fiction have kept their positions as the most consumed genres in our service, but the influx of new users, combined with families spending more time with each other at home, has boosted the Children category to third place. At bedtime this category actually surpasses Fiction and is the second-most popular genre among our customers. Biographies and Personal Development are two other genres that have grown pronouncedly during the coronavirus pandemic.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Confessions of a Bookseller

From The Wall Street Journal:

In the coastal Scotland community of Wigtown, tourists can pay to operate a bookstore called The Open Book for a week or two and live in an upstairs apartment, fulfilling their dream to run their own bookshop. The rental attraction is typically booked years ahead, proving that running a bookstore is a popular dream for bibliophiles.

Wigtown, known for its many bookstores, is also home to Shaun Bythell, who’s owned the prosaically named The Book Shop—“Largest in Scotland”—since 2001. Mr. Bythell has a more cautionary view of the business, as he made clear in “The Diary of a Bookseller,” published in an American edition in 2018, and “Confessions of a Bookseller,” just out in a U.S. edition, too. “Confessions,” which like its predecessor unfolds in the form of a daily journal, excels at the same kind of acid comedy that made “Diary” such a guilty treat. Those who can’t peruse the shelves of their local second-hand bookstore during this lockdown season will find Mr. Bythell’s diaries a sharp reminder of what they’re missing. But it’s probably better to shop at a bookstore than to own one, or so readers gather from Mr. Bythell’s wryly observed accounts of his tribulations in the trade.

In “Diary,” the 40-something author takes as his muse a 1936 George Orwell essay, “Bookshop Memories,” in which Orwell pointed to his time as a bookstore clerk as a personal purgatory. For outsiders, Orwell noted, old bookshops can easily seem “a kind of paradise where charming old gentlemen browse eternally among calf-bound folios.” In reality, Orwell countered, bookstores draw a lot of hapless souls “because a bookshop is one of the few places where you can hang about for a long time without spending any money.” Dealing with this clientele, Mr. Bythell writes, has turned quite a few bookshop owners into “a stereotype of the impatient, intolerant, antisocial proprietor.” He counts himself among them. “The constant barrage of dull questions, the parlous finances of the business, the incessant arguments with staff and the unending, exhausting, haggling customers have reduced me to this,” Mr. Bythell tells readers.

In his diary, though, Mr. Bythell gets the last word. His wicked pen and keen eye for the absurd recall what comic Ricky Gervais might say if he ran a bookshop. A “short man with a wispy beard” buys a copy of “The Hobbit,” which suggests a theory: “I am putting a mental jigsaw together,” Mr. Bythell writes, “of what a hobbit looks like, based on a composite of every customer I have ever sold a copy to.” 

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Canadian Publishers on Court Setback

From Publishing Perspectives:

After an ominously long pause in news around Canada’s bitterly contested Copyright Modernization Act of 2012, the Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP) has issued a statement of “frustration and disappointment” over an appellate court’s decision.

. . . .

fter an ominously long pause in news around Canada’s bitterly contested Copyright Modernization Act of 2012, the Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP)  has issued a statement of “frustration and disappointment” over an appellate court’s decision.

. . . .

In its simplest terms, the new April 22 decision—relative to an original ruling that favored the publishers in the summer of 2017—says that the educational community has acted wrongly but that schools and universities are not required to pay the licensing fees certified by the copyright board.

This new decision, as described in media messaging from the association’s executive director Kate Edwards, asserts that while the “fair dealing” guidelines used by the Canadian education sector “do not meet the Supreme Court’s test for fair dealing, it did not uphold the decision that tariffs certified by the copyright board are mandatory.

“In essence,” Edwards says, “the decision reaffirms that the Canadian education sector has engaged in illegal and unfair copying on a systematic basis—and makes the prospect of enforcement for small- and medium-sized publishers impossible.”

. . . .

Announcing that the publishers association is “frustrated and disappointed” by this turn of events, the organization now flatly calls the Canadian market’s copyright framework “broken,” writing, “Amendments made to the copyright act in 2012 opened the door to illegal and systematic copying by the K-12 and post-secondary education sector, which has now accrued cumulative liabilities of more than $150 million (US$105.2 million).

“At the same time, amendments have limited statutory damages for non-commercial use to a point that enforcement is impractical. Urgent action on the part of the federal government is needed to implement reforms that will correct market damage and provide a policy framework that supports future investment in Canadian writing and publishing.”

. . . .

Briefly, the disputes around the Copyright Modernization Act have to do with the scope of “fair dealing” (also called “fair use”) in educational settings in Canada.

Since the implementation of the 2012 act in 2013, universities in the English-language Canadian market have worked along the lines of a “10 percent” approach, which other educational institutions, including K-12 schools, have then adopted. In some university settings, instructors have copied up to 10 percent of a book, or a full chapter, and to then distributed this copied material to students without a publisher’s permission and without paying a licensing fee, sometimes called a tariff.

At the height of what turned into a furious standoff between educational entities and the publishers, all the school boards in Ontario and the ministries of education for all Canadian provinces except British Columbia and Québec filed a lawsuit in February 2018 against the government’s copyright collection agency, Access Copyright.

And what the Association of Canadian Publishers—which represents the Canadian-owned English-language houses—had seen as its greatest victory was a July 12, 2017, ruling in Access Copyright v. York University from the federal court of Justice Michael L. Phelan, who wrote in his decision that the Modernization Act’s guidelines as interpreted by York University were unfair and that tariffs (those licensing fees) certified by the country’s copyright board are enforceable.

Our full write on the court’s 2017 is here. To refresh you quickly, Justice Phelan wrote, in part, “The fact that the guidelines could allow for copying of up to 100 percent of the work of a particular author, so long as the copying was divided up between courses, indicates that the guidelines are arbitrary and are not soundly based in principle.

“York has not satisfied the fairness aspect of the quantitative amount of the dealing,” Phelan writes in his decision. “There is no explanation why 10 percent or a single article or any other limitation is fair. Qualitatively, the parts copied can be the core of an author’s work, even to the extent of 100 percent of the work.”

And Phelan struck down the concept that York and other educational venues had cited, that of being able to “opt out” of paying licensing fees if they wanted to, fees which normally are covered by a several dollars per student per academic term. To accept that educational institutions could simply decide not to participate in the collection of funds federally mandated in the creation of Access Copyright would, the court wrote, certainly lead to economic damage to publishing.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

The UK Scraps Its 20-Percent VAT on Digital Books

From Publishing Perspectives:

In the kind of major turnabout that publishing professionals normally can only dream about, Her Majesty’s Treasury in the United Kingdom has issued a statement today (April 30), announcing that as of tomorrow—May 1—the UK’s long-derided value added tax (VAT) on digital publications will be gone.

. . . .

Understandably upbeat, the Publishers Association’s CEO Stephen Lotinga says, “We’re delighted that the government has taken this step to significantly fast-track the plans to scrap VAT on ebooks and journals.

“This is a boost to readers, authors and publishers, especially important at this difficult time,” he says. “We hope that it will enable many more people to easily access and benefit from the comfort, entertainment and knowledge that books provide.”

Until now, the UK’s publishing industry has labored under a 20-percent tax on digital publications, while the print rate had been zeroed.

. . . .

Logic seems to have fallen on the chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, who “said the zero rate of VAT will now apply to all e-publications from tomorrow (May 1)—seven months ahead of schedule—potentially slashing the cost of a £12 ebook by £2 and e-newspapers subscriptions by up to £25 a year.” That’s a saving of US$2.52 on a $15 book, and as much as $31 coming off the price of a digital newspaper subscription, by the government’s calculations.

. . . .

“We want to make it as easy as possible for people across the UK to get hold of the books they want whilst they’re staying at home and saving lives. That is why we have fast tracked plans to scrap VAT on all e-publications, which will make it cheaper for publishers to sell their books, magazines and newspapers.”

. . . .

  • The Financial Times has reported that nearly 40 percent of adults surveyed in the UK have said that reading was helping them cope while they stay at home.
  • The Reading Agency released a survey—here written up by our colleague Alison Flood at The Guardian–showing that one in three adults is reading more since the lockdown was announced on March 23.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Helping youngsters confront their fears in our lockdown era

From The LittleHampton Gazette:

Samuel and the Monster has been self-published by Alexia Pinchbeck at £9.99.

. . . .

Alexia, aged 38, who lives in East Wittering, said: “Samuel and the Monster, a picture book for two to five-year-olds, is a short, simple story with brightly coloured, bold illustrations that overnight put a stop to my four-year-old son Samuel’s nightmares and broken nights. It is written and illustrated by me.

“After experiencing six months of horrendous nightmares and disrupted nights with my then three-year-old, Samuel, as well as the demands of a newborn baby, I was beside myself with sleep deprivation.

“Then, one night, everything changed. Trying a completely different approach, I got Samuel out of his bed, told him take a deep breath and declare with conviction ‘There are no monsters!’

“We repeated this until he was giggling, happy and in a relaxed state, when I asked him to repeat the mantra ‘I am Samuel, I am Samuel, I am Samuel and I am amazing!’

“By the end, he was a different child, and went back to bed relaxed and happy. Overnight, his nightmares disappeared. And, rather than reclaiming my night’s sleep, I went down to the kitchen and wrote and illustrated this simple story between 2am-6am.

“It was very spontaneous, with no planning whatsoever, and the words and illustrations have altered little since that initial 2am version. By the time Samuel woke at 7am, I had a story and pictures to accompany it and I read it to him. He was thrilled. And, more importantly, he has slept through the night since.

. . . .

“With everything that is going on currently, I questioned whether now is the right time to launch, but after much thought I realised that now more than ever we need a book which provides a discussion point for fears, anxieties and our monsters for youngsters between 2-5 years old.

“I believe this book now has more relevance to a child who might be experiencing greater anxiety around their existing fears, or new worries. That, and of course all of us parents at home are needing more books to read with our children than ever before.”

Alexia added: “The actual experience of writing and illustrating the initial idea was exciting. It is a simple story and idea, with brightly coloured illustrations and loveable characters. Even the monster. The whole time I was painting I was full of energy from 2am-6am, motivated by the possibility of helping Samuel to sleep and, by association, the rest of the family.

“It then took a year to get to this initial point through to publication, some points of which have been really quite challenging. It took me many months to come to the conclusion that I would self-publish, namely after a conversation with a friend who has both published and self-published books made me realise that, even if successful in eventually getting an agent, it could be two years before I would then see the book on the shelves.

“So, having run a – very different – business already, at the beginning of the year, I made the decision to self-publish. I got my website up and running, worked with a graphic designer and a book designer to turn the book into a book of the standards of a traditionally published book, explored all of the print, production, packaging and postage.”

. . . .

“Samuel and I are working on a sequel to Samuel and the Monster together, as it turns out there is more to the story that we are learning about at the minute. As he is home with me homeschooling, we’re using it as an opportunity to work on our writing and storytelling skills. His tales are marvellous.”

. . . .

“But it was only a few years ago, shortly after having my first child, Samuel, now nearly five, that I actually got really honest with myself about wanting to write and illustrate books. “Whilst initially this was children’s books, recently the desire to write something longer form has started to niggle at me, so I’m finding a few minutes every day to start to write that.

“If not writing, the words start to build up in my head, and its almost like they curdle into something negative if not siphoned off for good purpose.”

. . . .

“The feeling writing gives me is addictive, whether analogue: a gorgeous black pen spooling out across a smooth blank page of a notebook or, slightly less satisfying but still enjoyable nonetheless, letting out a flood of words on to the blank screen of my computer.”

Link to the rest at The LittleHampton Gazette and here’s a link to the author’s website, where you can order a copy.

Unfortunately, PG was unable to find the book for sale or pre-order on either Amazon or Amazon-UK.

PG was unable to resist a photo on the author’s website of Ms. Pinchbeck reading to Samuel. Click on the photo to see the author’s Portfolio and more photos.

Booksellers Association criticises Amazon for ‘ill-judged’ hardship fund donation

From The Bookseller:

The Booksellers Association (BA) has branded Amazon’s £250,000 donation to a booksellers hardship fund an “ill-judged attempt to mitigate a decades-long campaign to undermine the bookselling sector”.

Yesterday, it was revealed the retail giant was behind a huge donation to the Book Trade Charity fund for booksellers facing hardship during the pandemic. The pledge was sparked by a trade crowdfunder and brought the total fund up to £380,000.

Meryl Halls, m.d. of the BA, earlier supported the crowdfunding effort and praised the “heartfelt and moving response” from the trade for her struggling members.

However, Halls said she was now shocked by the revelation that Amazon had donated the large sum and said many of her members were angry and had responded by calling for the company to pay its fair share of tax.

She said: “The BA and our independent booksellers are taken aback by the revelation that the recent large donation is from the company held responsible by the majority of booksellers for the long-term demise of high street bookselling, and booksellers’ responses have been first stunned silence as they process the dissonance of the situation, followed quickly by a real sense of anger at the discordance at the heart of the gesture.

“There is a definite sense that this seems like an ill-judged attempt to mitigate a decades-long campaign to undermine the bookselling sector at the moment when we are facing the biggest existential threat we have ever faced.

“A common reaction amongst booksellers has been – ‘if Amazon really wants to support independent bookshops, then let them join bookshops in paying its fair share of tax’.”

The identity of the donor was originally not revealed by the charity, who said only that it had come from someone “committed to independent bookshops as part of a mixed bookselling economy”.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Perhaps he missed it, but PG didn’t see anything in the OP indicating that The Booksellers Association had refused to accept the £250,000 donation from Amazon or sent the money to Chancellor of the Exchequer as a portion of Amazon’s fair share of tax payments.

Sweden’s BookBeat Rides High on the Pandemic’s Audiobook Boom

From Publishing Perspectives:

In what many of us refer to as “normal times,” says Niclas Sandin, “the secret of the insane audiobook growth you’ve seen in the last decade in the Nordic markets comes down to premium content that the users are willing to pay for.”

. . . .

“In Sweden, for instance,” Stockholm’s Sandin says, “we have more than 100,000 books in our catalogue. But 50 percent of all the consumption comes from the 50 most popular authors. Of this, 90 percent of the consumption is in Swedish even though the English catalogue is bigger in size. And we see similar behavior in both Finland and Germany.”

Sandin is CEO of BookBeat, which in these not-at-all normal times is experiencing its highest rates of growth in its history during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. For all the dependability of the kind of content that draws consumers, he’s watching his service’s numbers jump fast.

“So far, about one month into this strange new world,” Niclas tells Publishing Perspectives, “we’ve had the highest number of new users registering with BookBeat ever, since our launch in 2016. The effect has been most apparent in Finland and Germany, which have stricter lockdowns than Sweden.

“In Finland during the last week,” he says, “we’ve actually been the fourth most-downloaded app in the App Store, shadowing communication tools like Microsoft Teams, Google Hangout, and Zoom. This means we’ve already reached 300,000 paying users just a couple of months into 2020 and there’s no sign of the growth slowing down on any of our core markets.”

. . . .

“Later in 2020, we’ll add Denmark and Poland to our core markets since they’ve shown a lot of potential and we see room for more players. The other 23 markets are currently in an evaluation phase in which we try to establish the potential to do a broad launch. The key is to make sure that consumer behavior is there and that they’re willing to pay for digital audiobooks.

“And at the same time, we need to see an interest from publishers to produce books for each market so there’s a sustainable ecosystem.”

That’s an important key to success for audio subscriptions, he says. Sandin has learned that waving huge numbers of titles at consumers without being able to purvey the most popular books of the day just won’t work. “They will call your bluff if you pretend to have a wide offering that merely consists of hundreds of thousand titles that almost nobody will ever listen to on that market.

“If you want to fix this, we believe the most rational and sustainable solution is to get local publishers onboard and get them to invest in audio. To achieve that, you have to make sure you offer them transparent and predictable revenue so they benefit as the market starts growing.

“Because of this, our standard offering to publishers is a net-price model instead of the variable-revenue share model many other services seem to push.

“Meaning the key is to get the major publishers in each market onboard. So we focus our efforts where this is a possibility, as in Germany and Poland instead of trying to do it all by ourselves on new markets without the publishers’ backing.”

. . . .

“Looking at what’s popular, the clearest trend is actually great and long fiction series.

“Last time I looked,  the seven Harry Potter books had all reached the Top 10 list of our most listened-to titles during the first two weeks of April. I guess people, both young and old, need other stories in their life than just the continuous news flow right now, and what could be better than bingeing through 100 hours about the world’s most famous wizard?”

. . . .

“And the big shift we see,” Sandin says, “is that we’ve lost the commuter peaks. “They’ve been replaced by more listening at other times during the day.

“Overall, the average listening levels are the same and in some markets even higher than before. We actually had the highest listening hours ever for BookBeat on the Monday after the Easter weekend.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Causeway Bay Books Owner Attacked

From Shelf Awareness:

Lam Wing-kee, one of the five Hong Kong publishers and booksellers kidnapped by China in 2015, was attacked yesterday by a man who threw red paint at him, days before he was to open a bookstore in Taiwan.

. . . .

“I was attacked with red paint in the cafe,” Lam told Reuters. “Some people don’t want me to open the bookshop in Taiwan.” He described the attack as a threat by supporters of Beijing.

Last week, Lam said he plans to open Causeway Bay Books, named after the original store in Hong Kong, this coming Saturday, April 25, in Taipei.

Lam moved to Taiwan last year, when a law that would have allowed people to be sent to China for trial came close to passage in Hong Kong. Mass protests led to the withdrawal of the law. But in recent days, Hong Kong authorities have arrested many pro-democracy activists.

The five owners and staff members of publisher Mighty Current and its bookstore, Causeway Bay Books, were kidnapped and detained in 2015 by China, which was unhappy that they published and sold books critical of the Chinese leadership. In 2016, Lam was released on bail and allowed to return to Hong Kong to retrieve a hard drive listing the bookstore’s customers, but he went public, telling about being blindfolded by police and being interrogated for months.

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

PG thinks it’s good to be reminded that, as difficult as the book business can be for authors, publishers and booksellers in Western nations, our challenges are minuscule compared to those doing the same things elsewhere in the world.

Here’s a 2016 article about this same subject, from The Bookseller:

Author publishes missing Hong Kong booksellers’ title online

The author of a controversial book on China’s president has released the title online.

The provocative book, believed to be the reason five booksellers from the Mighty Current publishing house in Hong Kong went missing between October and December 2015, is a tell-all about the love life of China’s president, Xi Jinping, entitled Xi Jinping and His Lover.

Its US-based Chinese author, who writes under the pseudonym Xi Nuo, told the BBC he published it online to challenge the Chinese authorities and that the publishers should not be held responsible. His co-author has not been named in the interests of safety.

The book was completed in 2014, but publisher Gui Minhai decided against releasing it, according to Xi Nuo, following a visit from a Chinese government agent.

Described by the BBC as “written in simple and almost vulgur language”, the title is presented as a work of fiction but includes real life figures, with details of purported affairs of China’s leader as well as “alleged incidents” within his marriages.

Xi Nuo told the BBC: “I decided to publish this book. I want to tell the Chinese authorities and Xi Jinping, the president of China, that you are wrong. Completely wrong. You better release the five guys. Let them go back home.”

The author of a controversial book on China’s president has released the title online.

The provocative book, believed to be the reason five booksellers from the Mighty Current publishing house in Hong Kong went missing between October and December 2015, is a tell-all about the love life of China’s president, Xi Jinping, entitled Xi Jinping and His Lover.

Its US-based Chinese author, who writes under the pseudonym Xi Nuo, told the BBC he published it online to challenge the Chinese authorities and that the publishers should not be held responsible. His co-author has not been named in the interests of safety.

The book was completed in 2014, but publisher Gui Minhai decided against releasing it, according to Xi Nuo, following a visit from a Chinese government agent.

Described by the BBC as “written in simple and almost vulgur language”, the title is presented as a work of fiction but includes real life figures, with details of purported affairs of China’s leader as well as “alleged incidents” within his marriages.

Xi Nuo told the BBC: “I decided to publish this book. I want to tell the Chinese authorities and Xi Jinping, the president of China, that you are wrong. Completely wrong. You better release the five guys. Let them go back home.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Love, hope and business

From The Bookseller:

Contrary to what you might read elsewhere, there are three stages to a pandemic. The up curve, the downwards one and the bit in between. I don’t wish to get ahead of myself, but with Italy allowing bookshops to re-open and other first-wave countries slowly and carefully relaxing their restrictions, the United Kingdom will also shortly be in transition too.

There is some way to go, of course, and with Covid-19-related deaths continuing to escalate, this will remain for many a scary and discombobulating time. A generation-defining moment of fear, change and renewal. Not unique to the book trade, but deeply felt by this most social and empathic of businesses.

. . . .

“Love is keeping our distance.”

. . . .

A few weeks ago, I alluded to the sentiments of France’s President Macron in arguing that no bookshop should go down as a result of the economic fallout created by the coronavirus. But there remains other areas of the trade also severely impacted. Small presses have seen their revenue drop by as much as 90%, and now face increased costs from storing books that were meant to be in bookshops. Freelances’ commissions have dried up, and they must wait for invoices to be paid—never on time, of course. As we note in the magazine this week, many suppliers, such as printers and distributors, have kept on, albeit at reduced levels. Libraries’ doors have been shut at a time when their services have never been more in demand. Event organisers’ businesses have vanished. And many authors’ books may not now have the lives their creators would have wished.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Camus’s Inoculation Against Hate

From The New York Times Book Review:

Toward the end of January, I began to notice a strange echo between my work and the news. A mysterious virus had appeared in the city of Wuhan, and though the virus resembled previous diseases, there was something novel about it. But I’m not a doctor, an epidemiologist or a public health expert; I’m a literary translator. Usually my work moves more slowly than the events of the moment, since translation involves lingering over the patterns of a sentence or the connotations of a word. But this time the pace of my work and the pace of the virus were eerily similar. That’s because I’m translating Albert Camus’s novel “The Plague.”

One morning, my task was to revise a scene in which the young doctor Rieux, realizing that plague has broken out in the Algerian city of Oran, tries to persuade his bureaucratic colleagues that they should take the outbreak seriously. He knows that if they don’t, half the city will die. The city’s leader doesn’t want to alarm people. He would prefer to avoid calling this disease what it is. When someone says “plague,” the politician looks at the door, making sure no rumor of this word has escaped down the tidy administrative hallways. The dramatic irony is delicious — like watching characters debate the word “bomb” when there’s one ticking under the table. Dr. Rieux is impatient. “You’re looking at the problem wrong,” he says. “It’s not a question of vocabulary, it’s a question of time.”

As I translated that sentence, I felt a fissure open between the page and the world, like a curtain lifted from a two-way mirror. When I looked at the text, I saw the world behind it — the ambulance sirens of Bergamo, the quarantine of Hubei province, the odd disjunction between spring flowers at the market and hospital ships in the news. It was — and is — very difficult to focus, to navigate between each sentence and its real-time double, to find the fuzzy edges where these reflections meet.

. . . .

“The Plague” did not come easily to Camus. He wrote it in Oran, during World War II, when he was living in an apartment borrowed from in-laws he disliked, and then in wartime France, tubercular and alone, separated from his wife after missing the last boat back to Algeria. Unlike the shorter, harsher sentences of “The Stranger,” which Sartre quipped could have been titled “Translated From Silence,” the sentences of “The Plague” bear witness to the tension and monotony of illness and quarantine: They stretch their lengths to match the pull of anxious waiting. By the time the book was published in 1947, writers were looking for a way to bear witness as well to the Nazi occupation of France, and “The Plague” was championed as the novel of the occupation and the Resistance. For Camus, illness was both his lived experience and a metaphor for war, the creep of fascism, the horror of Vichy France collaborating in mass murder.

Link to the rest at The New York Times Book Review

Books from Scotland: the big picture

From The Bookseller:

It feels slightly strange to be writing this introduction to the Books from Scotland special as the world, and the world of Scottish books, has changed greatly, perhaps even irrevocably, since we started planning these features some months ago. The impact the coronavirus will have on Scottish publishers, booksellers, authors, agents, libraries and festivals—in short, Scotland’s entire books industry—is substantial, very real and absolutely immediate. It would be unrealistic to pretend that the next year or two will be anything but challenging for most of the sector.

Even so, there are many reasons to be optimistic (even if cautiously so) about the next few months and years. Spending even just a brief amount of time in the Scottish books world will give readers an appreciation of the strength and depth of talent and innovative spirit on hand, and give an insight into why it is one of the most vibrant of the UK’s cultural sectors.

That vibrancy is undoubtedly partly due to the changing face of modern Scotland itself. In the past few decades—particularly, it could be reasonably argued, since devolution—the country has become more and more of a dynamic, progressive and outward-facing nation. Its arts, and its publishing sector, have both reflected and helped to drive that.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Scottish book scene is how diverse and cutting-edge it is. We have showcased just a handful of the new voices of modern Scottish literature across this special, including the Cairo-born, Aberdeen-based author Leila Aboulela; the working-class queer Glaswegian kid-turned- fashion designer-turned-acclaimed novelist Douglas Stuart; and Melanie Reid, the high-flying journalist who writes movingly and humorously, but in a very honest and clear-eyed manner, of adjusting to a life with a disability after she was paralysed following an accident.

. . . .

The Scottish book trade entered 2020 off an incredibly strong year. Physical book sales rose across the country for the fifth consecutive year in 2019; the Edinburgh International Book Festival welcomed a record 265,000 attendees; a string of new indie bookshops opened (including Topping & Company and the Portobello Bookshop in Edinburgh); and another Edinburgh bookshop, Golden Hare Books, was crowned the UK’s best indie at the British Book Awards. Meanwhile, major award wins included Sandstone Press-published Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi (translated by Marilyn Booth) winning the International Booker Prize.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Down but not out.

From The New Publishing Standard:

[O]ne of the regular features of our global publishing industry coverage has been the phenomenon that is Big Bad Wolf, the Malaysia-based reseller of remaindered English-language books that astonishes at every turn by selling said books, by the million, in countries where English is not the first language.

Take Indonesia for example. Since its first event in 2016 Big Bad Wolf has been taking typically 5 million books at a time to Jakarta, and millions more to smaller Indonesian cities, stacking them high in huge halls, and attracting hundreds of thousands of eager buyers.

And doing the same thing, with millions more books across, in 2019, more than thirty cities in ten countries, from Taiwan to the UAE, from Pakistan to the Philippines, from Sri Lanka to South Korea. And also Thailand, Myanmar, and homeland Malaysia, in addition to Indonesia, for those curious.

This year started with high expectations to far exceed that. A debut event in Phnom Penh, Cambodia kicked off the 2020 Big Bad Wolf calendar, quickly followed by visits to Yangon in Myanmar, Manila in the Philippines, and Pahang in Malaysia before arriving in Indonesia in March.

But despite having thermal scanners at the entrances to check visitor temperatures, the Jakarta event was a race against time as Covid-19 spread across the country, and in fact the event was wisely called off early when it became clear the virus was gaining ground in Jakarta.

And then the Big Bad Wolf fell silent, with no events lined up in April or beyond, and with the home country Malaysia under a strict lockdown.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Italy gives bookshops permission to reopen

From The Bookseller:

Italy, the country worst affected so far by the coronavirus pandemic in Europe, is allowing bookshops to reopen.

Italian premier Giuseppe Conte announced the development, with stationery shops and children’s clothes shops also among the small number of stores allowed to reopen this week. However, it was confirmed the country’s wider quarantine and travel restrictions will remain in place until 3rd May.

Ricardo Franco Levi, president of the Italian Publishers Association, issued a statement to say re-opening bookshops marked “a first step” in a return to normality for the world of books, and aid to support publishers and booksellers would be indispensable.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Fantasy Is a Dangerous Tour Guide

From Electric Lit:

Although I read Cortázar stories many times, in high school and university, I never got tired of them. There was always something new to be said about his sense of humor—especially in that story about a guy who can’t stop vomiting rabbits—and the way in which he combined mystery, taboo and a sense of the uncanny. His stories were perfect artifacts, simple, but at the same time profoundly complex structures in which reality was disturbed by strange, marvelous or fantastic events. In an interview with Margarita García Flores, in Mexico’s Radio Universidad, Cortázar talked about the importance of play, about the “right to play, to imagination, to fantasy and magic.” After all of those lessons with all those different stories as teachers, at least one thing  became clear to me: when Cortázar wrote, he had fun. 

All Fires the Fire was the first Cortázar book I read, when I was twelve. Many of the stories in that book stayed with me, especially the first one “The Southern Thruway,” the story of a traffic jam that lasts several months, which felt like something that could happen any day on Mexico City’s highways. I didn’t, however, remember “Island at Noon.” It is not one of the most quoted or studied stories by Cortázar, but now that I reread it, that seems unfair. It’s a small jewel, like the view of a perfect island through the window of a plane. The protagonist is called Marini, and he’s a flight attendant who watches every day at noon from the plane’s window the outline of the same Greek island, Xiros. He becomes obsessed with it, with all the new details he discovers by contemplating it from afar, just for a few seconds: “the smallest details were implacably adjusted to the memory of the preceding flight.”

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Providence Lost

From The Critic:

Of all the events in the history of British Isles from the Conquest to the present day perhaps none is quite so important to understand as the Reformation and, with that, to understand one of its main and more immediate offspring and consequences, the English civil wars. Their legacy is everywhere, as was outlined in one of the best history books of the last 20 years, Blair Worden’s Roundhead Reputations. Some of the fundamental divisions in our society, not necessarily between Labour and Conservatives, but of attitude and broader questions of ideology, can be traced back to them.

Our forebears, even 250 years after the events, had a better understanding of these things than we do. When, in the late 1890s, it was decided to put up a statue to Oliver Cromwell outside parliament, there were such fierce objections to the state paying for it that Lord Rosebery — who as prime minister had been one of the progenitors of the idea, but who was by this stage no longer in office — paid for it out of his own considerably well-lined pockets. It was strangely appropriate that he did, because the Primrose family coffers had been boosted by his marriage to a Rothschild; and it was one of the Lord Protector’s more enlightened policies, in 1656, to re-admit the Jews to England, whence they had been expelled more than 300 years earlier.

The concerns about Cromwell rumbled on well into the twentieth century. When Winston Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, suggested to King George V that one of the new Dreadnoughts be named after the Lord Protector, the King roundly objected, reminding Churchill that there had been an unhappy sequence of events involving Cromwell and his distant predecessor, Charles Stuart.

. . . .

Providence Lost: The Rise and Fall of Cromwell’s Protectorate, by Paul Lay, concentrates on the period of less than five years between Cromwell assuming control of England as Lord Protector in 1653 and his death — supposedly from gout and “various distempers” (which may have included Fenland malaria, contracted long before in Cromwell’s earlier life as a Huntingdonshire farmer) — on 3 September 1658, the anniversary of his famous victories at Dunbar and Worcester. Cromwell was 59 — far from a bad age for those days — and as Lay also points out, his health had been broken by the hard physical campaigning of the civil wars, and by the illnesses, including dysentery, that he had contracted during them.

. . . .

What Lay gives us is a warts-and-all picture of a man with the weaknesses of any other, and who struggled heroically to stabilise, and to attempt to unite, a country shattered by a decade of civil wars.

More than that, of course, Cromwell had to unite a country that had gone against an ancient precept, that of hereditary monarchical rule. He was one of the more prominent men who signed Charles Stuart’s death warrant, but it was far from clear at the time, in the winter of 1648-49, that Cromwell would be the man who ended up as the next English head of state. The new form of rule was meant to be parliamentary; but when Cromwell and others close to him in the Commonwealth forces discerned just what a shambles this was, a new form of administration had to be found: and that was the Protectorate.

Link to the rest at The Critic

Sheltering in Place with Montaigne

From The Paris Review:

By the time Michel de Montaigne wrote “Of Experience,” the last entry in his third and final book of essays, the French statesman and author had weathered numerous outbreaks of plague (in 1585, while he was mayor of Bordeaux, a third of the population perished), political uprisings, the death of five daughters, and an onslaught of physical ailments, from rotting teeth to debilitating kidney stones.

All the while, Montaigne was writing. From a tower on his family’s estate in southwestern France, he’d innovated a leisurely yet commodious literary mode that mirrored—while also helping to manufacture—the unpredictable movements of his racing mind. Part evolving treatise, part prismatic self-portrait, the essai, in Montaigne’s conception, was the antidote to self-isolation, a recurring conference in the midst of quarantine, perhaps even a kind of textual necromancy—his best friend and intellectual sparring partner, the poet Étienne de La Boétie, had died of plague in 1563.

. . . .

Given the subject matter, “Of Experience” has about it a remarkably buoyant magnitude. Take, for instance, the following passage, as translated by Donald Frame in The Complete Essays of Montaigne:

It takes management to enjoy life. I enjoy it twice as much as others, for the measure of enjoyment depends on the greater or lesser attention that we lend it. Especially at this moment, when I perceive that mine is so brief in time, I try to increase it in weight; I try to arrest the speed of its flight by the speed with which I grasp it, and to compensate for the haste of its ebb by my vigor in using it. The shorter my possession of life, the deeper and fuller I must make it.

Propelled by verbs—perceive, arrest, grasp, make, try, try—the sentences wheel and wrestle across the page, resisting stasis at every turn, refusing to wait around. They achieve that mimetic, nearly miraculous work of performing the very action they describe. Here and elsewhere, Montaigne’s musings on mortality, his gripes about illness and aging, his love-hate relationship with the natural order, not to mention his fervent epistemological stocktaking, make for a stubborn blueprint for life in the red zone, an operative action plan for how to wring futility’s neck.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Libraries Connected launches online services round-up

From The Bookseller:

Our buildings may be temporarily closed but public libraries still have lots to offer their communities. Here at Libraries Connected, we are showcasing the best digital services from public libraries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Working with a team of public librarians from across the country, we’ll be highlighting key services that can be accessed through library websites and social media platforms.

. . . .

On this page you can find some of the excellent online rhyme times, story times and lego clubs that keep children engaged and support early literacy and creative thinking. We want to help families to choose live and recorded events not just from their own library service but anywhere in the country.

We’re also promoting activities to keep adults connected through library reading groups and book discussion groups.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

It appears that some, but not all, activities may require a British library card. PG didn’t check to see if non-UK residents could apply for a remote guest card.

The following library program appears to originate on the island of Guernsey, part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, consisting of the Channel Islands of Guernsey, Alderney and Sark.

The Bailiwick of Guernsey goes back to 933, when the islands came under the control of William Longsword, having been annexed from the Duchy of Brittany by the Duchy of Normandy. The island of Guernsey and the other Channel Islands formed part of the lands of William the Conqueror. In 1204 France conquered mainland Normandy – but not the offshore islands of the bailiwick. The islands represent the last remnants of the medieval Duchy of Normandy.

The Bailiwick of Guernsey is not to be confused with The Bailiwick of Jersey, also located in the English Channel consisting of the island of Jersey together with nearby uninhabited islands and rocks collectively named Les Dirouilles, Les Écréhous, Les Minquiers, and Les Pierres de Lecq.

Novel Rejected for Pandemic Lockdown Published 15 Years Later

From The Kashmir Observer:

A dystopian novel about a deadly pandemic wreaking havoc across the world that was rejected 15 years ago has finally been published after reality once more proved itself stranger than fiction.

Scottish author Peter May, 68, a former journalist and BBC screenwriter, wrote Lockdown in 2005, imagining London as the epicentre of a global outbreak, only to see his manuscript turned away by publishers, who deemed its subject matter “extremely unrealistic and unreasonable”.

“At the time I wrote the book, scientists were predicting that bird flu was going to be the next major world pandemic,” Mr May told CNN.

“It was a very, very scary thing and it was a real possibility, so I put a lot of research into it and came up with the idea, what if this pandemic began in London? What could happen if a city like that was completely locked down?”

His novel centres around a police detective investigating the murder of a child after their bones are discovered at the site of a makeshift hospital, an idea anticipating the opening of the NHS Nightingale at the capital’s ExCeL Centre this week.

“British editors at the time thought my portrayal of London under siege by the invisible enemy of H5N1 [bird flu] was unrealistic and could never happen – in spite of the fact that all my research showed that, really, it could,” the author told iNews

Following the thriller’s dismissal, Mr May abandoned the project and eventually came to forget he had ever written it, until a fan contacted him on Twitter suggesting he write something for the age of the coronavirus, refreshing his memory and prompting him to retrieve the file from a Dropbox folder.

“I thought about it for a minute before I realised that I’ve kind of already done it,” he recalls. “I told my publisher about it and my editor just about fell out of his chair. He read the entire book overnight and the next morning he said, ‘This is brilliant. We need to publish this now.’”

Link to the rest at The Kashmir Observer

Lockdown was unavailable on Amazon when PG checked, but the preview below worked right after PG posted it.

Book sales surge as self-isolating readers stock up on ‘bucket list’ novels

From The Guardian:

Book sales have leapt across the country as readers find they have extra time on their hands, with bookshops reporting a significant increase in sales of longer novels and classic fiction.

In the week the UK’s biggest book chain, Waterstones, finally shut its stores after staff complained that they felt at risk from the coronavirus, its online sales were up by 400% week on week. It reported a “significant uplift” on classic – and often timely – titles including Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

Waterstones also reported a boost for lengthy modern novels, headed by the new bestseller Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, but also including Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and The Secret History, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Dystopian tales are also selling well, particularly Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

Nielsen BookScan, the UK’s official book sales monitor, also reported nationwide increases in sales for War and Peace, The Lord of the Rings and the first instalment of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.

“Our bestseller is Hilary Mantel – those 900 pages aren’t going to seem daunting any more and it’s doing really well,” said Waterstones’ Bea Carvalho. “And we’ve seen really good sales for the classics – those bucket list books, the ‘I’ve always wanted to read it’ type things such as Infinite Jest.”

Total physical book sales in the UK jumped 6% in the week to Saturday 21 March, according to Nielsen, noting a 212% growth in volume sales for “home learning” titles, a 77% boost for school textbooks and study guides, and a 35% week-on-week boost for paperback fiction, driven by supermarket shoppers. Arts and crafts book sales were also up by 38% week on week.

Adult non-fiction, however, was down by 13%, as readers sought solace in imaginary worlds.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG notes this is from the March 25 edition of The Guardian.

I miss the smell of the books mixed with coffee

From The Bookseller:

For 32 years my shop has been my home from home! Bookselling has been my passion for so long, everything I do and think involves books in one way or another. Every book I read I think “I know exactly which one of our customers will love this” or “I think I will go big on this one” .

I nose at people’s bookcases on TV and in photos, try my utmost to see what people read on public transport. The thought of my lovely shop empty and unloved with no energy and laughter from our customers is making me sad beyond words. I worry about our lovely customers quite a few are over 70. To a lot of them we really are so important.

I will miss my colleagues who are like second family to me, and yes of course I worry about how long this will last and what impact it will have on us in the long term.

But above all I miss my shop and I miss the smell of the books mixed with coffee. I miss the deliveries which after all these years in the business hold the same excitement for me when I open a tote and wonder what’s in it.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

India’s Juggernaut Opens #ReadInstead, a Campaign and Literature Fest

From Publishing Perspectives:

Known in the industry as one of world publishing’s most resourceful thinkers, New Delhi’s Chiki Sarkar has alerted Publishing Perspectives this morning (March 26) to her sure-footed adaptation to the COVID-19 crisis.

“As you know,” she says, “the coronavirus has closed down print business–so that part of our business is making zero money, as it is for all Indian publishers.”

Indeed, as Jeffrey Gettleman and Kai Schultz have reported at The New York Times, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi gave his nation just four hours’ notice before locking down all 11.3 billion people for three full weeks, “the biggest and most severe action undertaken anywhere to stop the spread of the coronavirus.”

. . . .

So it is that in announcing the shuttering of India on Tuesday night, Modi said, “There will be a total ban on coming out of your homes … Every state, every district, every lane, every village will be under lockdown.”

Sarkar, whose Juggernaut publishing company is two years old and presents more than 5,000 titles by some 2,000 authors, is, fortunately, a publisher whose grasp of digital marketing capabilities has defined her success. Supported by her CEO Simran Khara and a strong editorial staff, she’s been carefully watched for her understanding that making books less intimidating to many in her culture has meant also making Internet retail and development less intimidating in a tradition-bound industry.

You see how she puts across an aggressive appeal to readers on her site. The first banner in her slider at the top is a massive ad for a book offering the World Health Organization’s guidelines on safety in the pandemic. And after a single line of “Readers Club New Releases,” she’s showing potential customers an entire “COVID-19 Reading List.”

This is the sort of adaptive, social response she uses to reach into consumer interests, and as her enormous market’s physical retail channels went dark on Wednesday morning—and with some foresight—Sarkar was positioned to take advantage of her online fluency.

“Last week,” as the contagion’s approach grew, she tells us, “we initiated a massive #ReadInstead campaign.

“We made our app go free, which has been huge for us. Our installs doubled and our ebook downloads have grown four times. The campaign is also being extremely well received on social media.

. . . .

With the #ReadInstead campaign moving, she says, “We launched a massive online literature festival with Scroll.in“–the news and entertainment site that registers a reported 12 million unique users’ visits daily.

. . . .

The festival opens Friday (March 27), and Sarkar says, “We’ll run it for a month, and most of India’s top writers are taking part. The festival has talks, dialogues, and writing workshops, and some of India’s most respected actors are doing readings.”

She’s not kidding about the level. Author Amish Tripathi—who can pull seven-figure advances for his work based in Indian mythology—leads an impressive array of authors whose headshots have gone up in advance of a timed announcement coordinated with Scroll.in.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG noted the statement that ebook downloads have increased four-fold.

Given the lack of perceptible marketing (and marketing talent) in American publishing, particularly now, it was nice to see some innovative promotion and marketing on the part of an Indian publisher in the face of difficult business conditions. Not all publishing minds are sheltering in place.

Lady in Waiting: Self-Portrait of a Lady

From The Wall Street Journal:

Lady Anne Glenconner, the 87-year-old daughter of the Earl of Leicester, came from a generation and a class that were not brought up to express emotion. “There were no heart-to-hearts” and no self-pity was allowed, she writes in “Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown.” You didn’t “dwell.” You kept the proverbial stiff upper lip. And, as her stalwart and disarmingly honest book testifies, that is what she did. Nevertheless, emotion resonates through this delightful memoir, which offers a candid, humorous look inside the royal family and the daft world of the British aristocracy.

Born Anne Veronica Coke, she grew up in one of Britain’s greatest manor houses, Holkham Hall, a North Norfolk estate she couldn’t inherit because she was female. (It went to a cousin.) Her father, she writes, “was not affectionate or sentimental, and did not share his emotions. No one did, not even my mother.” In 1939, at the outbreak of war, he was posted to Egypt with the Scots Guards. Anne and her younger sister, Carey, were sent to live with their cousins in Scotland. They didn’t see their parents for three years. Her mother never knew that Anne’s governess bound her hands to the back of the bed every night (the woman was eventually sacked, not for child abuse but because she was a Roman Catholic).

At Holkham Hall, Anne began a close friendship with Princess Margaret when, as children, they would jump out from behind the curtains to scare the footmen. Reunited at Anne’s coming-out dance in 1950, they chatted until the sun rose over the front portico. Three years later, Anne was picked to be one of six maids of honor at Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, a ceremony Anne describes with starry-eyed detail (ivory silk dresses with gold piping). The archbishop of Canterbury offered them brandy during a recess and, later, the queen sat down on a red sofa, her skirt billowing, “and when she kicked up her legs for total joy, we did the same. It was the happiest of moments.”

Anne then fell “madly in love” with the charming Johnnie Althorp, but she made the mistake of introducing him to her friend Lady Fermoy, who, like a character out of Trollope, snapped him up for her own daughter. He vanished without telling her that the engagement was off. (Later he would become the father of Diana, Princess of Wales.) On the rebound, Anne married Colin Tennant, eventually Lord Glenconner, a millionaire with a castle in Scotland whose family fortune had come from the invention of bleach powder in 1798. Her father disapproved: Tennant was “nouveau riche.” On a Holkham pheasant-shooting weekend, where guns were “placed by rank,” an enraged Tennant was made to follow behind the lords, dukes and marquesses, walking with the beaters, the men who flush out the birds with sticks.

. . . .

[D]uring their 54 years of marriage Tennant was to lose his temper many times, often lying on the ground in a fetal position and howling. Nevertheless, Anne insists, he was “never boring.” When she asked him why he kept screaming at people, he answered: “I like making them squirm. I like making them frightened.” Why did he marry her? He said he knew she would never give up.

. . . .

In 1958 Tennant bought the island of Mustique in the Caribbean for £45,000 and developed it into a playground for millionaires and aristocrats. As a wedding present, he gave Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones a piece of land where she built a villa, Les Jolies Eaux. After Margaret’s marriage broke down, she created a scandal by staying there with her young lover, Roddy Llewellyn.

Anne was made lady in waiting in 1971, a role she held for nearly 30 years. She was devoted to the princess, whom she feels was much maligned. Margaret was rude when she was bored, but she was also capable of great kindness. Anne saw to all her needs, accompanying her on royal tours and even living with her for a year in Kensington Palace, where one of Anne’s duties was to turn the garden hose on the cats of their neighbor Princess Michael of Kent.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

China Bestsellers February 2020: A Market Stilled by Contagion

From Publishing Perspectives:

With Italy the new world epicenter of the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak—and World Health Organization specialists saying that New York City is the next likely epicenter (as reported by Adam Bienkov at Business Insider)—it can be difficult at times to remember that for more than two months, businesses have been closed and workers have been displaced in China.

Most physical bookstores—a major feature of China’s book retail system—have had to remain closed. And our associates at Beijing OpenBook tell us that while online retail in books is a robust force, shipping logistics have been disrupted, making the digital alternative to a bookshop trip far less efficient than usual.

“In our February data,” OpenBook’s Rainy Liu tells us, “we’ve also seen the effects of weak marketing campaigns, but we look forward to more new content after we overcome the outbreak.”

. . . .

OpenBook’s researchers believe that they’ve seen increased reading time engaging some of the Chinese population during the struggle, but the most striking effect they can detect in February’s analysis is a significant drop in the release of new titles.

No new book entered the overall charts in February, and key sales went to two types of books: classics (including international work such as Albert Camus’ The Stranger but apparently not The Plague), and popular novels which likely were welcome for filling slow time out of work. A heavy contemporary tradition of reading classics in China these days is driven by school assignments, and once those were accomplished, even more popular work seems to have come into play.

. . . .

Titles related to epidemics and plagues also have found new footing on the charts in China, with Gabriel García Márquez ‘s Love in the Time of Cholera at No. 11. Its popularity is in part thanks to promotional schemes around Valentine’s Day, when news media focused on issues of affection amid infection and romance in isolation.

In nonfiction, as in fiction, no new titles appeared on the charts in February, although eight titles made a return. Chen Lei’s hugely popular “30 Minutes” books remain big sellers, with as many as 10 featured on the list in February. 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon is perpetually in the lead among these books from Chen.

Wang Xiaobo’s Silent Majority has found readers during the outbreak, as has the late Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Collins makes hundreds of books and resources available for free

From The Bookseller:

Collins has made hundreds of books and learning resources free for teachers and families as schools close over the coronavirus.

The firm is giving free access to its online learning platform, Collins Connect, for the length of the school closures. The platform is for both primary and secondary schools and is home to learning and teaching resources for a range of subjects including English, maths and science at all levels, as well as international curricula.

On collins.co.uk it will also be providing free resources and support to parents who have children at home. It includes more than 300 e-books from its Big Cat reading programme, activity sheets, a times tables practice tool, revision and PDF downloads of many of its titles. Collins is adding resources daily to the site.

In addition, Collins will be enabling free access to textbooks in e-book format for schools that are already using its titles in the classroom so that pupils can continue their learning at home.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

As Brits treat social distancing as a game, UK’s Waterstones opts to close stores nationwide just days after Daunt asked for books to be given special status

From The New Publishing Standard:

Sometimes it can be embarrassing to be British. First we had Brexit. Then the coronavirus arrived and our government looked the other way. Now the coronavirus is firmly established in the UK, spiralling out of control, and the Prime Minister is sending out mixed messages about social distancing, one second telling everyone it’s fine to go out to the park, the next telling them he will impose stricter controls if people go out to the park.

Against such a background businesses like Waterstones are forced to juggle the well-being of staff and business against the sad reality that, absent legal enforcement, social distancing and other virus containment measures are next to meaningless.

While the governments of Italy, Spain and France among many have acted swiftly to reduce the social mobility that spreads disease, Boris Johnson has chosen a more populist path, like a weak teacher appealing to a class to behave, knowing full well a handful of selfish pupils will do no such thing so long as they have the option.

As the week ended James Daunt, CEO of Waterstones, the UK’s biggest national bookstore chain, spoke of unprecedented demand for books as the majority of the British public tried to stay at home more, and picked up more books during their occasional forays out.

Daunt went so far as to call on the government to exempt books from the inevitable retail closures that Boris Johnson must, at some stage, when things get so bad it’s too late, impose upon the nation.

. . . .

But just this weekend, as it became apparent a substantial minority of the British public were treating Johnson’s government guidelines as a joke, James Daunt has taken a bold decision to not even bother waiting for Johnson to do the right thing, but to close all the Waterstones stores nationwide.

To help prevent spread of the Coronavirus, and to protect the wellbeing of our customers and staff, sadly Waterstones will temporarily close its doors by the close of trade Monday 23 March until further notice.

It gives consumers one full shopping day to make their final book purchases before Waterstones shuts shop for the foreseeable future, because neither the Prime Minister nor certain of the British public can be relied upon to do the right thing.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Coronavirus Worklife: Dioptra’s Rights Staff and Colleagues Go Remote in Greece

From Publishing Perspectives:

When Dioptra Publishing’s staff was informed on Monday (March 16) that it would begin immediately working from home, “Mr. Papadopoulos made the announcement outside our office building under the sun,” says Ermioni Sakellaropoulou.

Of course they were in sunshine. Dioptra’s offices on Paraskevis Street are set in Peristeri, a suburban municipality in metropolitan Athens, northwest of the city center.

Established in 1978, the company focuses on nonfiction. Originally concentrating on nutrition and health, personal development, psychology, and spiritual life, the house has gone on to expand to  parental care, cooking, and Greek and international fiction including detective novels and children’s books.

Sakellaropoulou, who is the company rights and acquisitions editor, tells Publishing Perspectives, that CEO Constantine Papadopoulos “urged us to continue our work responsibly as always and added that everything will be back to normal as soon possible—but only if we collaborate and cooperate successfully together.”

And so, Sakellaropoulou and her colleagues said goodbye to each other and dashed home to start sorting out how to work by remote, some caring for kids and other family members while trying to keep the company going from home—an experience being replicated among the staffers of publishers in markets all over the world.

. . . .

At this writing, Greece has 464 cases of the coronavirus COVID-19, and has registered six deaths from the contagion. . . . In a way, it’s a blessing that Greece so far doesn’t see a more fearful level of spread, being relatively close to its Mediterranean neighbor Italy—which now has surpassed mainland China for deaths, its terrible toll standing at 3,405 and 41,035 cases among the living.

“Admittedly,” Sakellaropoulou says, “our correspondence from other publishers abroad has kept coming in, although not at the same pace as in the past in the follow-up period after a London Book Fair. But this indicates to us that the work still is going on.”

The bulk of what’s coming in at this point, she says, are new offers and updates on various companies’ interest, inquiries on titles available, and, of course, correspondence about previously made plans for collaborations ahead.

“Hopefully,” she says, “these trying times will come to an end as soon as possible.

“Nevertheless, we’re getting a chance to catch up on some of the tasks we often have to put off—manuscript readings, rights list readings—and we’re giving a lot of attention to titles that have been scheduled for publication and need attention from us.

“As far as my colleagues are concerned,” Sakellaropoulou says, “again through remote working, we’re trying to exchange ideas on how to keep up with the day-to-day workload. We’re exchanging photos and tips for working under these circumstances.

“And of course one of the main talking points in my department is what demands the readership will have after this crisis. Will they still want to buy nonfiction and self-help titles, as they used to in the past few years? Or will they buy fiction so that they can escape from the reality of the present?”

. . . .

“I want to send my warmest wishes to all the people of publishing,” she tells us, “and I look forward to seeing you all in person, once again, at our international book fairs, when they finally start operating again.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives (The OP includes photos of Greeks working at home.)

Caught Mapping

From Public Books:

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.

. . . .

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.

Link to the rest at Public Books

Will the Amazon Netherlands launch this week boost Dutch book and ebook sales?

From The New Publishing Standard:

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.

. . . .

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.

Print books?

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.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Coronavirus Has Ground Chinese Publishing to a Halt

From Lit Hub:

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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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.”

. . . .

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!”

. . . .

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. 

Link to the rest at Lit Hub

Bookshops in Changsha reopen with sufficient epidemic prevention measures

From XinhuaNet:

A staff member checks a customer’s temperature as she enters Sisyphe bookshop in Tianxin District of Changsha, central China’s Hunan Province, Feb. 26, 2020. Some bookshops in Changsha reopened after sufficient epidemic prevention measures are taken.
A woman gets her hands disinfected as she enters Lezhi bookshop in Tianxin District of Changsha, central China’s Hunan Province, Feb. 26, 2020. Some bookshops in Changsha reopened after sufficient epidemic prevention measures are taken.

Link to the rest at XinhuaNet

For China’s Book Biz Right Now, There’s Nothing to Do but Work and Wait

From Publishing Perspectives:

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. 

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives