Edward Nawotka reports at the Publishers Weekly site yesterday that Used Book Market Growing Rapidly, discussing one of the panel-discussions at BEA over the weekend.
Among the statistics of interest: "New research presented by Ipsos Book Trends indicates that one out of every 10 book buyers bought a used book in the last nine months."
And, apparently: "used books now account for about $533 million in sales annually -- 13% of overall book units sold and 5% of total revenue"
Annoying 'statistic' of the day: these books sales apparently "could lead to as much as $1.5 billion lost in new sales"
At least it's tempered by a "could" and "as much as", but this 'lost sales'-concept is a canard that no one should ever pay attention to.
To repeat what we've often explained before: lost sales (as used here and far too often elsewhere) assumes that the consumer would have bought the product at the higher price (i.e. a new, retail edition) but for the existence of the lower-priced (used) alternative.
It ignores the fact that if only the higher-priced (new, retail) alternative is available people might not be able (or willing) to afford that.
(Similarly, many people defer buying a book until it is available in a cheaper paperback edition -- it's worthwhile for them at that lower price, but not at the higher original price.
And real cheapskates (like us) can always check it out for free at the library.)
The discrepancy is already apparent in the numbers cited: used book sales total $533 million -- but that leads to "$1.5 billion lost" ?
Consumers should have paid three times as much just for the same products ?
Didn't anybody consider that maybe they didn't have that extra billion to spend ?
(We know we don't.)
And before the book industry starts complaining too much: did anybody consider that that extra billion of discretionary income -- if that's what it is -- might, at least in part, also go towards book purchases of the retail sort -- since it's the used-book buyers that buy the most books overall ("The heaviest book buyers, the study found, buy more than one-third of their books used") ?
(Anybody also consider that many used-book purchases are of titles that are no longer in print or in stock -- i.e. titles that can only be bought used ?)
We're actually surprised used sales don't make up a bigger percentage of the market -- and we note that about one-fifth of all the books bought at Amazon.com by users via our link with them are so-called 'marketplace' (i.e. used, or in any case second-hand) sales.
T.J.Binyon was awarded the £30,000 BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize yesterday for his biographical work, Pushkin.
(It is not yet available in the US -- only forthcoming in October (but feel free to pre-order from Amazon.com -- or get your copy from Amazon.co.uk).)
The Guardian didn't list it as a favourite: at 5-1 odds it was a long-shot behind Samuel Pepys by Claire Tomalin (6-4) and Nelson: Love and Fame by Edgar Vincent (5-2) -- but it rated better odds than Orlando Figes' Natasha's Dance at 12-1 -- odds that suggest that, despite the Johnson-folk's (or rather: their PR folk's) vigourous dementi regarding David Sexton's infamous (but apparently not quite so widely ignored as originally believed) article ("The organisers of the BBC FOUR Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2003 refute the claims in today’s (Wednesday 14th May) Evening Standard that one of the shortlisted titles, Natasha’s Dance by Orlando Figes (Allen Lane), has been ‘ruled out’ as a possible winner")
and the removal of said article from the Evening Standard-site (presumably in reaction to Figes apparently instituting a libel action against the newspaper), punters suspected there might be something to what Sexton wrote.
We've commented on the Sexton-article brouhaha often enough (most recently just two days ago).
This result doesn't clear things up (though, at a stretch, one might read a resounding statement of support for serious Russian scholarship into it).
We're curious to see whether any of the prize-round-up articles make mention of the Sexton-article-controversy (and all its implications) -- or whether any of the judges step forward and reveal what (if anything) actually went on behind the scenes.
And, of course, we're eager to hear the outcome of the libel proceedings.
(Unfortunately the Evening Standard has apparently chosen -- so far -- not to share with its readers what's going on.
We would certainly encourage all involved to air things out publicly .....)
The first article we've come across about the prize-winner -- Ian Burrell's, in today's issue of The Independent -- doesn't make any mention of anything controversial (though noting that empty-handed Figes has had previous award success: "Figes won the Wolfson History Prize, the WH Smith Literary Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, for his 1997 work, A People's Tragedy" -- which is certainly impressive but seems remarkably irrelevant).
(Updated - 11 June): Additional notices -- all completely ignoring any mention of any possible controversy:
Hugo Hamilton's memoir, The Speckled People (see our review), is now available in the US and has been getting excellent reviews.
James Lasdun praised it highly in yesterday's issue of The New York Times Book Review, Trevor Butterworth throws around such praise as that it's "great literature" and that he believes that "for many years to come, it will be seen as a masterpiece" in yesterday's issue of The Washington Post, and it got a similarly enthusiastic rave in the The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Previous reactions (in the UK and elsewhere) were also generally overwhelmingly extremely enthusiastic; we seem to be among the few not totally carried away.
We're curious to see how well the book does sales-wise.
This week's issue of The New Yorker offers the newly anointed: it's "début fiction" time again, meaning that in a day or a week or two we'll be reading about at least one (and likely all three) of these authors getting some ridiculous advance for an incomplete story-collection (or even an unwritten novel).
What they write, or whether they're any good, is largely irrelevant, so you don't really have to bother with the stories themselves: more important of course is personality (i.e. how they'll do in the media interviews and on the book tour), so you might as well skip right to the interviews with them (well, at The New Yorker it's just a 'questionnaire').
So learn about the stars of tomorrow: Heather Clay, Lara Vapnyar, and Daniel Alarcón
There are lots of stories that won't go away, but what about those that never arrive ?
We've mentioned (here and previously) David Sexton's apparently controversial Evening Standard article of 14 May about the Samuel Johnson Prize.
Orlando Figes (a Johnson finalist, though, if the Sexton article is to be believed -- and the Johnson-PR people claim it is not --, not a contender) apparently has instituted a libel complaint against the Evening Standard over the article.
The article used to be available online (here) but has mysteriously been removed.
We figured the British press would jump on this story, and that at the very least the weekly book columnists would have some fun with it.
Not only is no one having any fun with it; they're not even mentioning it.
As near as we can tell, no one has printed a word about it.
It has, very neatly, been swept under the rug.
There's always hope that in the final pre-Johnson articles there'll be a mention or two, but this should have been a big story and we're astonished that it didn't rate extensive coverage.
And we're still wondering: why ?
What is the reason ?
Have Figes' legal tactics so cowed everyone ?
(His legal representatives even sent us a letter 'suggesting' that we "remove reference to the article" from our site.)
Is there professional loyalty among the British newspapers, leading them all not to want to embarrass the Evening Standard and the fact that they may have printed a libelous article ?
Even the Evening Standard has apparently remained completely mum.
(Our efforts to obtain any comment from them on the matter were unsuccessful and, at least on their website, they seem to have made no effort to inform their readers of what has happened.)
More amazingly, no other newspaper seems to have run with the story.
Perhaps all parties prefer it this way.
We certainly don't.
Either Sexton wrote (and the Evening Standard published) untruths and inaccuracies and Figes has a case, in which case the reading public deserves to know how he has been maligned and he should be publicly vindicated -- or Sexton wrote truthfully and accurately, in which case Figes looks like a blowhard who uses threats of legal action to silence his critics.
We have no idea which is the correct interpretation (well, okay, we do, but we're in no position to say).
But somebody should clear things up -- it's the least the reading public deserves.
The original Figes-fuss (having to do with questions of attribution and facts (in both cases: were they adequate ?) in his book, Natasha's Dance) has been out there for a while now.
It would seem easy enough to clear up: an open debate about the points of contention (with a solid starting point for discussion readily found in the alleged errors and missteps enumerated in the many reviews that have made mention of them -- most famously fellow Johsnon-nominee T.J.Binyon's "page 87, where 16 lines of Professor Figes's prose contain eight egregious mistakes" (Blurred vision of Russia, Evening Standard (23 September 2002)).
But there has been little debate, open or otherwise: reviews throw things up, and a few letters to editors seem to seek to clear a few things up, but most of this just skims at the surface and there's been little real debate or a thorough evaluation of just what Figes did (and, arguably, didn't) do.
(Similarly, there's been little word about the extent of the revisions being made -- and the procedure: does Figes get to / have to do it all himself, or is an outsider vetting things this time ? -- for the forthcoming Penguin paperback edition.)
All very disappointing.
Well, we're curious to see who nabs the Johnson prize.
We remain non-partisan, but we're almost rooting for Figes to win just to see what happens then.
Of course, we thought the excrement would have hit the fan weeks ago, but instead everyone has merely turned decorously away from it.
Suhrkamp has brought out a new one-volume annotated complete collection of Paul Celan's poems -- see their publicity page, buy a copy at Amazon.de, or read the review by Leopold Federmair in yesterday's issue of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
There's a lot of Celan-commentary about: see another article, by Dietrich Seybold, in yesterday's NZZ about the reception of Celan in post-war (West) Germany.
And the June issue of literaturkritik.de offers a number of Celan-related articles.
Sorry: all in German.
We recently mentioned being made aware of the Prickly Paradigm Press (by an advert in the LRB ! the power of advertising claims even us as its victims !), and they were kind enough to send us a few of their intriguing-sounding titles.
Simple, attractive little volumes, in the 80-page range (with considerable give or take), pretty much pocket-sized (hurrah !), a bit expensive for our tastes (and wallets) at US $ 10 a shot.
We look forward to reading and reviewing them.
For now we only have one of these titles under review -- Eliot Weinberger's 9/12, a look at New York After.
We haven't seen any reviews of it yet, but we imagine it could do quite well.
Weinberger is always worth reading (we have his four other essay-collections under review as well), and as a foreign-conscious (as well as politically and culturally conscious) New Yorker he has some interesting things to say about the events of 11 September and the aftermath.
(On a day when we learned that not a one of the 762 illegal immigrants who were detained after the events of 11 September 2001 -- many for inordinate lengths of time, without being accorded even basic civil rights protection -- was even charged as terrorists -- and A.G. John Ashcroft nevertheless urging "Congress to give the authorities still greater power to pursue terrorist suspects" (yesterday's issue of The New York Times) and not getting laughed (or booted) out of office --, and a day when yet another document turned up, reiterating that in September 2002 there was no solid intelligence of any sort proving Saddam Hussein's regime had anything remotely resembling a so-called "weapon of mass destruction" (while the President and his confederates were proclaiming the contrary) -- Eliot Weinberger's book is a refreshing counter-polemic.
But we wonder how many readers will be interested: current polls suggest that Americans still prefer to hail their chief, despite his dishonesty, his administration's misguided social policies, and perverse economic policies.
Weinberger writes: "it is apparent that Bush believes that his role, his only role, as President of the United States is to help his closest friends" (and that's a pretty accurate assessment); amazingly, the American public seems just fine with that.)
The essays included in Weinberger's book were all previously published -- abroad ("This is their first print publication in English").
And Weinberger is a cosmopolitan writer, so it's nice to see that Suhrkamp has come out with a selection of his essays in German, in a volume titled Kaskaden (get your copy from Amazon.de).
We're curious to see how it does in what should be a receptive market.
Buried in the article also this titbit about Northwestern University Press:
Director Donna Shear reports that the two Kertesz books the press had on its list, Fateless and Kaddish for a Child Not Born, had been puttering along with total sales of about 2000 copies each.
The Nobel announcement meant an immediate sellout, a new printing of 20,000 for Fateless and 10,000 for Kaddish, with later printings to follow.
So far, NWU has sold over 35,000 copies of the former, nearly 15,000 of the latter, at a unit cost (since these were backlist paper reprints) of under a dollar a copy.
The only downside was that Kertesz, who had apparently been dissatisfied with his English-language translations, did not cooperate.
This is the first we've heard of any Kertesz-reaction regarding the translations.
We're not sure what "did not cooperate" means, but it can't be a good sign for the quality of a translation if the original author doesn't want to help spur sales in the huge English-language market.
Sadly, Kertesz's hands are presumably largely tied: he has to put up with the translation, regardless of the quality.
(We haven't reviewed these two titles (we requested copies from NWU Press but they were unable or unwilling to provide us with them).
We do, however, have two other Kertesz titles under review, neither available in English (yet): A kudarc and Valaki más.)
When A.S.Byatt writes about a book: "This is one of the best anthologies -- as an anthology -- I have ever read" we pay at least a bit of attention.
Byatt writes this and more in The empire strikes back, in today's issue of The Guardian, in her review of The Dedalus Book of Austrian Fantasy: 1890-2000 (ed. Mike Mitchell).
Sounds pretty interesting. See also the Dedalus publicity page for the book (with links to more reviews) -- or buy a copy at Amazon.com (in the US) or Amazon.co.uk (in the UK).
Harold Pinter has a little volume (only 24 pages) coming out from Faber, War (see their publicity page or buy it at Amazon.co.uk).
It collects a few of his poems about recent events, and a speech.
We're impressed that Faber is publishing such a thing (and note, with some amusement and no surprise, that they apparently aren't selling it in the US) -- though at £5.00 they should make out quite well too (that's a lot of pence per page).
Fiona Maddocks discusses this and more in yesterday's Evening Standard, in Pinter's war against Bush.
On Tuesday 10 June at 18:00 Pinter will introduce and read from this volume at the National Theatre ("on the set of Henry V").
"Afterwards, he will answer questions about his work", with Michael Billington chairing.
(For additional Pinter information refer, of course, to the impressive HaroldPinter.org.)
We've previously mentioned that Iris Murdoch's library was to go up for sale at the Antiquarian Book Fair.
Cahal Milmo reports on that (and other fair fare) in today's issue of The Independent, in Murdoch's library of inspiration put up for auction.
Among the other books available at the fair: a copy of Vanity Fair presented by William Makepeace Thackeray to Charlotte Brontë. Asking price: £ 1 million.
(And here we are complaining about publishers that charge US $ 22.95 for a book .....)
The Kirkus review (15 January 2003) raises a significant point about this volume:
Viel's first is competent but oh-so-noirishly familiar.
And asking the cover price for 130 pages of such thin gruel might just be the absolute perfection of chutzpah.
The cover price is US $ 22.95 -- and there are actually only 121 pages.
The exorbitant price is particularly noteworthy because the publisher is The New Press -- a publisher that is registered as a non-profit and therefore enjoys many anti-competitive tax-advantages over most other publishers.
In the book itself they also proclaim: "The New Press operates in the public interest rather than for private gain" -- which begs the question: why isn't that reflected in the cover price ?
(We can't afford these books, and we'd think that providing books to the public at lower prices would be the best way to serve the public interest -- but what do we know ?
(Obviously we know nothing: we provide our information for free and get by (barely) without being a tax-evading so-called non-profit organisation.))
The New Press also publishes many of their paperback editions in the outrageous trade-paperback format, instead of in the much cheaper mass market paperback size.
The only possible reason for doing so is that it allows for profit-maximization; the public would clearly be better served by having access to the cheaper alternative.
Admittedly profit-maximizing tactics provide them with more money to publish books that otherwise might not get published ... that's the theory, anyway -- but in the end it makes them look very much like most other publishing houses: the bottom line comes ahead of all else.
Jonathan Coe's long, long, long awaited B.S.Johnson-biography has been -- yet again - delayed.
There's a title, and even the possibility to pre-order it at Amazon.co.uk (Like a Fiery Elephant: the Story of B S Johnson), but now it's only expected in April 2004 (!).
(Given how oft-delayed this volume has been we aren't freeing up our calendar in the hopes of being able to read it around then yet either.)
Meanwhile Johnson's Albert Angelo has come out in German translation -- and has been getting some good reviews.
Too bad the book -- and most of Johnson's others -- aren't easily found in English at the moment .....
In yet another twist inspired by the BBC's Big ReadThe Independent offers a quiz of sorts (identify fifty of the hundred books by their first sentences), plus a competition (write your own first sentence to an imaginary novel; the best wins a set of the Big Read hundred) in Opening gambits
So, the Orange Prize (restricted to fiction by authors who are women) went to Valerie Martin's Property.
We haven't reviewed it, so we have no idea whether it's any good or not, but there you have it.
In the Orange Prize poll as to who the public wanted the prize to go to Property was only the fifth choice (out of six), with ten percent voting for -- but then the audience favourite was Donna Tartt's The Little Friend; it's the only one of the nominated titles we reviewed, and we can't possibly imagine that it could have been the best of the lot.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Graham Swift's new novel, The Light of Day -- yet another twist on the cop-PI novel by a literary British author (like Amis' Night Train or Ishiguro's When we were Orphans).
Notable among the review-reactions: how many critics discussed -- often at great length -- Swift's earlier novels, as if this one had to be measured against those.
Given the lull between books (his last novel appeared some seven years ago) it's unclear why Swift isn't given a bit more leeway.
Fair enough, perhaps, to give readers fair warning of what they should and shouldn't expect if they buy the book because it's by Graham Swift (the US Knopf edition has the author's name printed on the cover in type more than twice as large as the title); still, it would be nice if the book were allowed to stand and fall on its own merits.
Amusing also James Wood throwing down a gauntlet in his London Review of Books review (17 April), suggesting: "The Light of Day may trouble those currently engaged in 'the war against cliché'."
(Wood doesn't elaborate on who that might be, but obviously he's needling Martin Amis -- whose last essay collection was, of course, called The War Against Cliché.)
We just got around to reviewing Paul Theroux's Dark Star Safari, but -- at least in England -- his new story-collection, The Stranger at the Palazzo d'Oro and Other Stories has now appeared (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk) -- and the first reviews we found are both from the Telegraph-site: Sam Leith's and Mark Sanderson's.
American audiences will have to wait until January 2004 to get a copy of the book locally (complain to the publishers, not us -- we don't understand it either).
However, you can pre-order at Amazon.com -- though note that their page for the books suggests: "Reading level: Ages 4-8".
From the descriptions (and reviews) we've read that doesn't sound quite right.
Heinemann International finally rests The African Writers Series (AWS) which, since the 1950s, has published over 300 works of African writers, and launched the likes of Chinua Achebe, Ayi Kwei Armah and Mungo Beti.
We haven't read about this anywhere else yet, and the news seems almost too shocking to be true; here was one of the great publishing lines of the past half-century -- and now it's folding ?
(Well, not folding -- "the company would rather emphasise the backlist rather than put money into publishing new titles", so they're apparently simply not putting out any new titles (or fostering new talents), just making money off the cash-cow backlist.)
And it leaves the very bleak African publishing scene looking that much bleaker; there are some sprightly regional houses, but the AWS and their distinctive looking books was clearly the continental leader in all respects.
Meanwhile, in yesterday's issue of This Day Onyebuchi Ezigbo reports that AWS-author Ekwensi Sad over Poor Reading Culture in Nigeria: "Mr. Cyprian Ekwensi, has lamented the absence of a reading culture in the country"
And his complaint is certainly a valid one -- though we wonder about his choice of words ...:
Ekwensi lamented the non-existence of standard library in Schools, calling on governments to focus more attention on education by setting up library facilities in as many schools as possible.
"Library is the postage box for knowledge acquisition. Reading helps to develop the mind and enables a child to acquire greater knowledge", he said.
He enjoined communities to assist in the establishment and management of community libraries instead of waiting for government.
Of course, with the publishers closing up shop there wouldn't be that many books to put in the libraries .....
The Bookseller took a look at the Big Read top-100 and how well they did in sales-terms in 2002 -- see their chart for the results.
(See also their top-40 chart for only the week ending 24 May.)
The Guardian immediately interpreted these results as: Harry Potter toppled in sales charts (John Ezard, in yesterday's issue).
Meanwhile, in yesterday's Evening Standard, David Sexton writes about this and more in No short cuts to classics, discussing in particular one odd promotion effort:
WH Smith, however, has taken a different tack.
It has launched a set of "Little Reads", flimsy little paperbacks priced at £1 apiece, reprinting just the first chapter of a book from the Big Read 100 as a "sampler".
The hope is that nervous or chary readers will be tempted to begin, and then find they want to go on.
Any who do get hooked can redeem the cost of the Little Read against the price of the full-length book, five minutes later if need be.
Dai Sijie's popular novel Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (originally written in French, Balzac et la Petite Tailleuse Chinoise) is among the works we've been meaning to get to; eventually we probably will.
Meanwhile, the movie version came out -- in France last year, and it's now being released in some English-language venues.
Here some links of possible interest:
- The Fifty WORST Books of the Century, as determined by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute ("whose purpose is to convey to successive generations of college youth a better understanding of the values and institutions that sustain a free society" -- in other words: take into account their ideological biases when considering this list)
The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two China Miéville novels, Perdido Street Station and The Scar.
His is a name one hears increasingly frequently: his books have won a couple of prestigious prizes, and they get decent review coverage.
(He is also among the authors most often recommended to us.)
The books are certainly worthwhile -- and at a mere 31 years of age one imagines quite the bright future ahead for Miéville.
Petty complaint: the American editions of both books we read were the paperback originals -- oversized super-trade paperback sized (more than 6 x 9 x 1.25 inches -- i.e. bigger than many hardcovers).
They made for one of the physically most unpleasant reading experiences we've had in ages: the soft covers mean the books flop around in your hands and are practically impossible to come to grips with, and we'll certainly think twice before picking up any book in this format again.
(Admittedly if one puts the book on a bookstand or flat on a table and reads them that way they're fine -- but that's not how we read.)
The justification for this format is a mystery to us.
As fantasy / science fiction titles the publishers apparently did not want to bother with actual hardcover publication -- but they still wanted to gouge the consumer and so they published them in this horrific format which they think then somehow justifies the exorbitant pricing ($ 18.95 and $ 18.00)
(Being destitute we, of course, could not even think of purchasing books with such price tags, but even if we had the cash we'd think it was a rip-off.)
At least Perdido Street Station will soon be available in an also overpriced but at least handy mass-market paperback edition (more two years after the unwieldy hunk-of-junk edition came out).
We hope the publishers have learnt their lesson (yeah, right ...) and will bring out the next Miéville title either in a proper, solid hardcover edition, or go straight to mass-market size.
As good as he is, we doubt we'd pick up a third book by him unless it were available in an easier-to-read edition.