As widely reported, Amazon.com has both unilaterally removed all Macmillan (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Tor; Picador, etc.) 'Kindle' books from its site, and currently no longer sells any Macmillan print titles directly (the latter, however, are still available via the site, through third-party sellers).
Disappointingly, neither party has posted information about this dispute at their respective sites -- you'd figure Amazon would have a press release, or mention it on their daily blog, but, no, they'd rather keep their customers in the dark.
While the Macmillan site also bafflingly posts no information, Publishers Lunch has made a paid advertisement from Macmillan freely accessible
which covers the basics.
Apparently the dispute has to do with the terms Macmillan offered Amazon for the sale of e-versions of its books, with Macmillan insisting on an 'agency model':
Under the agency model, we will sell the digital editions of our books to consumers through our retailers.
Amazon does not seem to be a fan of the agency model.
And while it's certainly their right not to agree to those terms and hence to not offer Macmillan e-books on their Kindle platform, by also de-listing all Macmillan print-books they seem to have overreached.
Well, it's a pure power play -- and it'll be interesting to see how it plays out.
What impresses about the whole Amazon-enterprise is that it has made it easy to purchase almost everything that gets published; by not selling Macmillan print titles they would seem to be undermining their own brilliant retailing model.
Certainly, they can afford to, but consumers should not be thrilled -- especially since print titles are, in essence being held hostage to an e-books debate that few people (Kindle owners, and no one else) have much vested interest in.
Yes, Amazon is looking to the long term, but one has to hope that this turns into the PR disaster for them that it should.
(It's worth noting that Amazon has done this before: in 2004 they de-listed German publisher Diogenes' books from Amazon.de (in a conflict that at least centered on terms for print titles ...); see, for example, Rüdiger Wischenbart's piece in Publishers Weekly, Battle of the titans: Amazon.de de-lists top German-language publisher from its Web site.)
My preference is for the market to decide: retailers should be free to price products however they want (well, with some drive-the-competition-out-of-business-underselling prohibitions, etc.).
Macmillan's agency model obviously limits retailers' ability to set prices (it looks like a backdoor way for the publisher to regain complete control over pricing), which I'm not thrilled by, but if the pricing is not realistic presumably consumers won't play along; I have no problem with Amazon not being willing to agree to whatever split Macmillan is proposing for e-titles and they're welcome to negotiate about that -- but holding the print books hostage, in effect, is bad, bad form, and they should suffer for it.
It's tremendously annoying that while this all has to do with just a sliver of the market -- not even the whole e-book market, just Amazon's silly (if apparently fairly popular) proprietary Kindle e-books -- Amazon has made turned this into a bigger brawl than need be.
Of course, they probably had to do that, in order to try to force Macmillan's hand.
Amazon is presumably feeling cocky after their stunning fourth quarter results (which it's hard not to be impressed by), but flexing their muscles in this way looks far too much like abusing a market-dominant position.
As an 'Amazon.com associate' (i.e. getting commissions on all sales that result from click-throughs to the Amazon site from this one) I have a strong interest in Amazon's continued success -- but tactics like this do nothing to make them more attractive to consumers, and I am deeply disturbed by them.
For now, Amazon is still the most attractive such commercial partner (in no small part because of its international reach); antics like this, however, make me think twice.
We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles.
We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan's terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books.
Few, however, have made much of the fact that while Amazon admits: "we will have to capitulate" they did not immediately do so; in fact last I checked, some eight hours after this message was posted, Macmillan titles were still not available from Amazon.com.
It's no surprise that Amazon 'capitulates', but it begs the question why they went through (and continue to go through, at least for a little while longer) this circus.
Some have suggested it's meant to provide cover for them to raise e-book prices generally; we'll see.
In any case: it's not great victory for consumers: Macmillan's 'agency' model isn't very appealing, either .....
Don DeLillo has a new book coming out (Point Omega; get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) and in the Wall Street Journal Alexandra Alter profiles him, in What Don DeLillo's Books Tell Him.
(This is billed as: 'a rare in-person interview' -- so expect no fewer than a dozen of these over the next month or two .....)
His approach to writing borders on obsessive.
He fixates on the shapes of letters and words, and judges each phrase for its visual appearance as well as its rhythm and clarity.
The Spanish edition of Roberto Bolaño's posthumous El Tercer Reich is due out from Anagrama next week (see their publicity page), and at El mundo Matías Néspolo offers some background and introductory information, in Bolaño salvaje.
Usefully, they also have an excerpt (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) -- the first chapter.
Admirably, Random House's Vintage Español is actually publishing this in an American (Spanish) edition in a timely manner (in early March): see their (useless) publicity page, or pre-order your copy from Amazon.com.
No word as to when the English translation will appear.
(We shouldn't complain too much: New Directions is publishing new Bolaños at a frenetic pace this year, so there should be enough to tide us over .....)
The author best known for her work Out of Africa was in the final four for the 1957 prize, but was the favourite two years later in 1959.
However, according to documents from the Nobel Archive in Stockholm, Blixen was not awarded the prize in 1959 -- despite having the committee's majority support.
Interesting to learn:
In 1959, Blixen was in the running against 55 other authors from around the world, including Graham Greene, André Malraux and John Steinbeck.
When the Committee whittled down the list to just four, Blixen's name was the top choice.
(Greene was in the running ? But who were the final four ?)
the Committee's final member, Eyvind Johnson, lobbied for Italian candidate and eventual winner Salvatore Quasimodo to take the prize, saying that Scandinavian authors had won the literature award four times as many times as those of other nationalities.
You'll remember, of course, that in what now turns out to be a remarkable bit of Scandinavian irony, the 1974 prize was shared by ... Eyvind Johnson.
(No complaints from him about Scandinavian over-representation that time, curiously enough .....)
As you've no doubt heard, and can read about everywhere, J.D.Salinger has passed away.
See, for example, Charles McGrath's obituary in The New York Times -- or, preferably, check out his stories at The New Yorker: find links to all of them here.
Martin Amis continues his brilliant publicity rampage, building up to the publication of The Pregnant Widow (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com).
Last we had heard from him -- just a few days ago -- he was proposing euthanasia booths (for those irritating old people (and novelists who have lost their talent, perhaps ...); see my previous mention).
Now he's moved on to criticizing fellow authors -- starting with Nobel laureate and multiple Booker-winner J.M.Coetzee.
Prospect offers a small preview of Tom Chatfield's interview with Amis (apparently to be made available on the site on 1 February), in Martin Amis rubbishes JM Coetzee:
"Coetzee, for instance -- his whole style is predicated on transmitting absolutely no pleasure," he explained.
"I read one and I thought, he's got no talent.
But the denial of the pleasure principle has got a lot of followers."
Apparently Amis will also try to make the case that: "all the good novels are the funny ones".
Eurozing now reprints Jo Glanville's interview with The Cartoons That Shook the World-author Jytte Klausen, originally published in the Index on Censorship, See no evil.
See also the Yale University Press publicity page for the (infamously cartoonless) book, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
As I mentioned yesterday, there's a new literary prize in India, the Tagore Literature Awards
-- and they've now handed the first batch out; see, for example, Sandeep Joshi's report, Tagore Awards presented to 8 litterateurs in The Hindu.
First Lady of the Republic of Korea Kim Yoon-ok presented the awards
There's an explanation behind that -- the Samsung sponsorship, as well as:
Sahitya Akademi secretary Agrahara Krishna Murthy said: "The initiative taken by the Korean government and the Korean Embassy towards instituting Tagore Literature Awards for Indian languages is a fine gesture, which leads to promotion of Indian literature as well as cultural and literary bonds between the two countries."
Still, it seems a bit odd that a foreigner would hand out national literary prizes -- and it's hard not to see this as a further case of Indian literature not originally written in English (English was not one of the eight languages that was prize-eligible this time around)
being presented as 'different' and foreign.
(The same goes for the use of the term 'litterateurs' in the newspaper story headline.)
A reader alerts me to the interesting The Phantom Reader-issue of Tehelka, all about the reading habits of Indians.
Among the pieces worth a look: the Tehelka Readership Survey 2010 -- which offers titbits such as that 85 per cent of English-book-buyers in India are male.
By far the favorite writer among those surveyed is Chetan Bhagat; among the Indian author making the top ten there only Arundhati Roy and Rabindranath Tagore (as popular as Shiv Kera and Robin Sharma ...) are likely names familiar to 'Western' readers.
Every year, writings in eight different languages will be awarded, with all 24 Indian languages being covered by the end of the third year.
The same cycle of eight languages being rewarded every year will continue thereafter.
The awards presentation ceremony will be held every year, coinciding with Tagore's birthday.
The awards have been instituted to recognise the best of Indian writing in 24 regional languages.
This year, the awards will recognise the best works in eight languages -- Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Punjabi, Telugu and Bodo.
It'll be interesting to see how much attention the prize-winning titles get (and how many have been/will be translated into English).
A co-production of the Sahitya Akadami and Samsung (see their press release), I hope it catches on.
The Chinese Literature for Overseas Communication project was officially launched at Beijing Normal University (BNU) last Thursday and is dedicated to presenting a panoramic view of major developments in contemporary and modern Chinese literature to the outside world.
Jointly established by BNU and the University of Oklahoma (OU) in the U.S., the project is geared to translate and publish a total of 10 volumes of literary works into English that will be published by the Oklahoma University Press and made available to the public within the next three years.
Sounds good -- but they need to work on that project name.
'Chinese Literature for Overseas Communication' ?
(And elsewhere they have it as the 'Chinese Literature Overseas Dissemination Project' .....)
But I look forward to the books !
We have no opportunity to work freely and widely.
So, new generation journalists and writers become idiots.
Everybody knows who's responsible for it.
This is the most disappointing matter for me.
The situation in our country is like that.
Q: How effective is the junta's infiltration into the literary world of Burma?
A: They have their own protégés to conduct their slogans and policy of 'counter media with media' and 'counter literature with literature'.
They are blooming here now.
I often note how baffled I am by the 'business'-side of (book) publishing (i.e. how un-business-like management tends to be, even (or: especially ?) among the biggest houses), but compared to the world of periodicals even that can seem almost sane.
I'm particularly fascinated by what amount to vanity (i.e. money-losing) publications, ranging from Murdoch's New York Post to any number of influential magazines.
As Richard Brooks now reports in the Sunday Times, the LRB has done particularly well, as London Review of Books £27m in the red -- but it isn't counting
The family trust has allowed Wilmers to accumulate these huge debts, which can continue with "no intention of the lender seeking repayment of the loan in the near future".
Where can I sign up for one of these things ?
It's amazing how quickly they rack up the debts, too:
The "pounds" are left to LRB’s publisher, Nicholas Spice, who also prepares the accounts.
The latest, due to be filed this week to Companies House, are expected to show debts of £27m, up from £23.2m in the year to March 2008.
They have been rising steadily over the past two decades.
They were £3.2m in 1994, £8m by 2000 and £16m by 2005.
So that works out to their losing over £2 million per annum for the past five years.
I can barely even imagine what I could do if I had one per cent of that (£20,000 -- less than what they're (not) paying in interest ...) to burn through annually .....
[I'd like to point out that the complete review has always been in the black (admittedly on the back of cheap labor (my own)) -- and while the LRB's print-presence obviously makes it a far more valuable entity, reaching a broader audience, online, at least, Alexa data suggests that the complete review has pretty much exactly as many visitors as the LRB-site does .....]
The National Book Critics Circle announced the finalists for its book awards yesterday.
Not a one of the books is under review at complete review, I'm afraid (though there is a review-overview of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall).
While not all that surprised that none of the finalists are under review (the complete review skews strongly towards fiction, and foreign fiction at that, and barely covers anything in several NBCC categories) I do find it striking that not one of these books reached me, i.e. no one bothered (or offered) to send me a copy of any of them.
In fact, recently the review copy flow here has slowed to a trickle -- I've reviewed more books so far in 2010 that I have gotten new ones.
I realize I'm small potatoes (though at least in raw visitor numbers (misleading those these can be) the complete review is certainly one of the biggest sites on the block ...), but I must say I'm feeling a bit neglected.
True, even aside from the reliable usual suspects (those foreign-fiction-oriented independent presses, and a few university presses) several major-house publicists have been very thoughtful in directing review copies my way
over the past few months -- but far more often confusion seems to reign, as in the 'follow-up' e-mails I receive asking whether I am going to review the book they never sent me.
(My favorite recent example is an e-mail introducing me to and offering to send me a book a few days after I received a copy -- a title that no one there seems aware that I reviewed several months earlier .....)
As I've mentioned repeatedly -- most recently here -- Martin Amis has a new book coming out (The Pregnant Widow; get your copy at Amazon.co.uk or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com) and so he's being profiled and written about all over the place.
Apparently, the publicity hasn't been anywhere near enough for him, so now he's trying to stir things up some more: Maurice Chittenden's Sunday Times piece, Martin Amis calls for euthanasia booths on street corners, should certainly help.
Yes, apparently Islamicism isn't the only thing Amis can rail against:
"There’ll be a population of demented very old people, like an invasion of terrible immigrants, stinking out the restaurants and cafes and shops.
I can imagine a sort of civil war between the old and the young in 10 or 15 years' time."
Interesting, however, that he bares his silly little insecurities :
Meanwhile, he says, he is worried about the death of his talent as a writer: "Medical science has again over-vaulted itself so most of us have to live through the death of our talent.
Novelists tend to go off at about 70, and I’m in a funk about it.
I’ve got myself into a real paranoid funk about it, how talent dies before the body."
Has he considered that he might already have lived through it ?
Much as I've admired much of his work, reading some of those recent books certainly suggests he lost most of it a while back.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Tove Jansson's The True Deceiver.
It took a while for this to make it into English -- it's a 1982 novel that Sort Of Books finally brought out in the UK last year, and NYRB Classics has now brought out in the US -- but is well worth seeking out.
(It's also the first published-in-the-US-in-2010 translation that I've read that will obviously make it onto next year's 'Best Translated Books' shortlist.)
In The Bookseller Philip Jones reports on one measure of who the most popular authors in Europe were in 2009, in Larsson, Meyer and Brown were Europe's top authors in 2009.
Unfortunately, the compilation is not based on actual sales numbers, but rather attributes: "points for every month that a title has stayed in the top 10 bestselling lists" in (only) seven major European markets.
This allows even an author like Herman Koch -- whose Het Diner (see the NLPVF information page) does not appear to be translated into any of the other represented languages -- to crack the top ten.
Other surprises include Camilla Läckberg (at number six) and Tatiana de Rosnay, while Paolo Giordano is also still waiting to make an impact in English (though he soon will).
Relying on bestseller-list-positions does help balance different size markets, but I still wish they'd base these ranking on the actual number of copies sold.
For if Vienna was where the notion of repression was born, Prague, just up the main railwayline (and in Freud's day a vital part of the same Empire), is surely where it now most obviously resides.
There is no city on earth so tourist-oriented that has so much to be quiet about.
With The Pregnant Widow due out soon (in the UK; get your copy at Amazon.co.uk, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com)
there will be no end of Martin Amis profiles anytime soon.
The most recent addition is Toby Clements' in The Telegraph.
While French books often come with the plainest of covers -- with out even any illustration, instead simply offering title, author, and publisher --
they do often come with a thin paper band (often red) with something printed on it in large letters -- what prize the book has won, a brief blurb, etc. -- hugging the cover, and in Le Figaro Mohammed Aïssaoui and Françoise Dargent look at this phenomenon and wonder: Le bandeau, meilleur ami du livre ?
As Susan Wyndham reports in the Sydney Morning Herald, Australia Post gives the stamp of approval to literary legends, as: "a group of Australia's most prolific, most popular, most awarded and mostly grey-haired authors" are being immortalized on postage stamps.
Each author gets two stamps, no less: "one with a new photograph and the other with a younger image".
Peter Carey apparently flew over just to take part in the festivities, but they aren't all taking it equally seriously, as Bryce Courtenay is quoted as saying:
"Stamps aren't what they used to be," joked Courtenay, who was born in South Africa.
"It was the king's head on stamps when I was young. Now they just put old shitbags on them."
See also the Australian postal service pages -- where they also describe what's on offer:
This stamp issue is accompanied by a large-format prestige booklet featuring the 12 stamps in three blocks of four.
It has a special fold-out section of three pages showing the colour separations of the stamps as well as the full colour pairs.
The colour separations are imperforate and the full colour pairs perforated.
The issue also includes the handsome 64-page book Novel Lives, a collection of biographical features by Jason Stegaer, literary editor of the Age, on our six Legends.
Nice to see them put so much work into it -- though I note the 'legends' series has been around for a while, and it's taken them until now to get to these writers .....
In The Bookseller Philip Stone reports on the sales-effect the recent announcements of the category-winners of the Whitbread Costa Book Awards have had, in Costa winning Toibin is ahead of the pack -- complete with all the sales-figures.
Yes, Brooklyn easily leads the pack, with 31,822 copies sold total, 3,825 in the last two weeks -- but the biggest boost came for:
Raphael Selbourne's Beauty (Tindal Street).
The First Novel Award winner sold just eight copies during the biggest week of the 2009 (ending 26th December) and only 17 copies during the subsequent week.
However, last week the book sold 951 copies at UK book retailers, according to Nielsen BookScan data -- up 5,494% on two weeks previous.
Indeed, he sold only a total of 244 before the prize-announcement -- and 1302 since !
(I am, however, quite surprised that Graham Farmelo's much-raved about book (which has been out for ages in the UK), The Strangest Man, has only sold a total of
9,112 copies (of which an impressive 2,310 have come in the past two weeks ... prizes are apparently worth quite a bit more than reviews, at least in moving people to buy books ...).)