Today, less than four years after introducing Kindle books, Amazon.com customers are now purchasing more Kindle books than all print books -- hardcover and paperback -- combined.
That is pretty stunning -- and I admit to being somewhat baffled by this.
True, I don't have a Kindle, but I do have an "e-reader" and, despite being pleased by what electronic offerings I can download to it, I am still a very reluctant user.
(I have also actually not ever paid for any e-book: everything I get is public domain or publisher-provided.)
All this may be a sign of age -- I have a 'smartphone' too, and except for Google Maps and a few obscure-sport-score-providing apps can't really be bothered to use it to anywhere near its full potential -- but I'm still stunned by how popular e-books seem to be.
I do note that Amazon still refuse to provide any actual numbers.
The best they are willing to admit to is:
Since April 1, for every 100 print books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 105 Kindle books.
That's pretty phenomenal.
But I note that it does not reflect the purchase-patterns of visitors to the complete review, many of whom click-through to Amazon and make purchases there (for which I receive a commission -- so: many thanks !).
So, for example, so far in May for every 100 print books sold, only 16 Kindle books have sold -- quite a different ratio.
(Admittedly sales are down dramatically as a consequence of the changed Google algorithm (which means far fewer visitors come to the site), but that ratio has held fairly steady for quite a long time now -- i.e. Kindle sales have shown no dramatic (relative) increase in recent months.)
There are a few possible explanations for the different ratios at Amazon overall and the small segment coming from this site: the complete review visitor-demographics may favor print-purchasing, and links almost all lead to print editions (rather than Kindle editions) -- and I assume there are more not-available-as-e-books titles under review at the complete review (while most of Amazon's bestsellers are available in all formats).
Still, a relatively small percentage of all purchases users make are via direct clicks (i.e., users tend to click on the Amazon link for book X at the complete review, but are much more likely to purchase something completely different (often not a book at all).)
Interestingly, in The New York Timesreport on Amazon's e-book success Claire Cain Miller and Julie Bosman note that:
Over all, e-books account for only about 14 percent of all general consumer fiction and nonfiction books sold, according to Forrester Research.
Which is much, much closer to the complete review experience .....
The James Tait Black Prize shortlists have been announced -- and good for the University of Edinburgh for finally providing some decent web-space and timely coverage of and for the prize.
(An 'A' for effort -- but a few misspellings of titles and names (Jacon De Zoet ? Alisdair Gray ?) are rather disappointing; presumably that's why stv refers to it as the "James Tate Black awards" .....)
Only one title under review at the complete review -- The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell -- but, of course, I'm also rooting for Alasdair Gray's A Life in Pictures (which I do hope to eventually get my hands on; get your copy Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
(And, as I recently mentioned, interest in Thierry Jonquet's Mygale (which Serpent's Tail publish as Tarantula) is certainly very great, thanks to the Pedro Almodóvar-adaptation, and they should do pretty well with that, especially once the film is released in the UK.)
They've announced that Philip Roth wins Man Booker International Prize 2011 -- and, apparently
worried that there wouldn't be enough fuss about the prize, judge Carmen Callil graciously volunteered to kick up a storm (well, of the literary kind -- i.e. lots of hot air, little else) and withdrew from the proceedings (though rather late in the day ...); see, for example, Alison Flood's report, Judge withdraws over Philip Roth's Booker win, in The Guardian.
Obviously something went wrong here -- it's hard to see how a three-person jury couldn't find someone on the thirteen-name-strong longlist that wouldn't leave one of the judges apoplectic and storming off in a huff -- especially since they were the ones to pick the longlisted authors .....
(The only conclusion I can draw is that the two guys rigged it for Roth from the start -- which would explain why there were so many longlisted authors that they really couldn't give the prize to: Anne Tyler, Philip Pullman, Marilynne Robinson, Wang Anyi, Rohinton Mistry (the last three all having published far too few (available-in-English) titles for such a lifetime-achievement prize), etc.)
I'm ambivalent about Roth -- I've been very impressed by a good deal, but, man, has he written some crap -- and, of course, find Juan Goytisolo the far more interesting writer, but Roth certainly falls in the 'deserving' (albeit boringly predictable) winner category.
Several of his works are under review at the complete review:
he goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book.
It's as though he's sitting on your face and you can't breathe
Of course, she doesn't do herself any favors by asking: "Emperor's clothes: in 20 years' time will anyone read him ?"
Two decades isn't a long time -- hell, he may still be churning them out two decades from now -- and consider just how many third-rate books from 1991 are still being read .....
Anyway, lots of ink will be spilt .....
Indeed, a lot already has been: see, for example:
Bowkers has announced that it's released its annual report on US print book publishing, and the press release sums up the findings and numbers -- including:
Based on preliminary figures from U.S. publishers, Bowker is projecting that despite the popularity of e-books, traditional U.S. print title output in 2010 increased 5%.
Output of new titles and editions increased from 302,410 in 2009 to a projected 316,480 in 2010.
The 5% increase comes on the heels of a 4% increase the previous year based on the final 2008-2009 figures.
(Note and recall that it's: "new titles and editions" (emphasis added): what they count is ISBNs, and so that 2010 paperback edition of a 2009 title counts in the 2010 total too, despite not really being new.
So the actual number of truly new titles is far, far, far smaller.
Of course the real fun is elsewhere:
The non-traditional sector continues its explosive growth, increasing 169% from 1,033,065 in 2009 to an amazing 2,776,260 in 2010.
These books, marketed almost exclusively on the web, are largely on-demand titles produced by reprint houses specializing in public domain works and by presses catering to self-publishers and "micro-niche" publications.
Note here too: reprint houses are responsible for the vast majority of these titles -- i.e. they're just print editions of public domain (i.e. old) works with ISBNs slapped on them.
Again: the actual number of truly new titles is far, far, far smaller.
And note that many of these are 'virtual' editions: the 'publisher' will print one for you on demand, but I would guess that not a single copy was printed of the vast majority of these titles.
(I discussed all this last year when last year's numbers came out, but that seems to have fallen on fairly deaf ears: people seem to like to focus on the big numbers and not what they actually represent.)
Note also, however, that in some respects Bowker is also undercounting the market, as many self-published works presumably go ISBN-less: the 2010 numbers have only 11,127 titles published by Lulu last year (among them my very own The Complete Review: Eleven Years, 2500 Reviews !) while Lulu claims to publish: "Approximately 20,000 titles" per month (though possibly they mean globally -- though even then the majority are surely American titles).
The Sophie Kerr Prize is awarded annually by Washington College to: "to the graduating senior who has the best ability and promise for future fulfillment in the field of literary endeavor" -- and is noteworthy because it comes with bucketloads of cash: at $61,062 (this year) it is again one of America's richest literary prizes .....
Anyway, they made an even bigger production than usual out of it this year: first they named five finalists, and then they decided to make the award-announcement in New York (which is not where Washington College is located).
And yesterday they announced: Anthropology Major Takes Nation's Top Student Literary Prize, the Sophie Kerr.
(The winner: Lisa Beth Jones.)
As longtime readers will recall, I regularly complain -- and refer to this as the Man 'Asian' Literary Prize -- because books by authors from astonishingly many Asian countries have been excluded from this prize.
Now they've announced that submissions are open for the 2011 prize (though only publishers are allowed to submit titles ...) and lo and behold, with no fanfare, announcement, or explanation, the entry rules suddenly list a whole lot of countries which previously weren't considered Asian enough: Turkey, Iran, and the 'stans (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan).
Good for them !
And good for the authors of these countries !
(And, yes, I still have to ask: what's wrong with the Arabic-speaking countries (Syria and Jordan, in particular) ?
But on the whole: well done !)
Adding the Central Asian states will have little effect -- the number of eligible titles (remember: they have to be published in English (translation or original) during 2011) will be minimal (if any).
Iran is already a bit more interesting -- very little translated, too, but a handful of titles will be eligible, and Haus Publishing better already have sent off a copy of Mahmoud Dowlatabadi's The Colonel (I would be stunned if this title, if entered, didn't make the longlist).
But it's Turkey that is the big addition here: there should be quite a few eligible titles from here (which their publishers will, I hope, enter ...) and that will help finally give the Man Asian Literary Prize a truly Asian feel.
A great decision by the prize-folk: everybody wins (well, except for those Arabic-writing countries, oddly left out in the cold ... maybe next year ?).
All of which begs the question of whether, in the 21st century, should we care what the French write and think ?
The answer to this question is yes -- that we should read literature in French again and care about what it says.
This is because a distinct resistance movement to theory has recently been gaining ground with French authors.
Most important, Levé's book is about a real experience rather than the theorised, abstracted version of the world that apparently killed off French literature in the late 20th century, and it is this aspect of the work which makes it so powerful and compelling.
For much the same reasons -- an emphasis on writing about life as it is lived instead of ideas -- French writing in the new century is gaining ground.
Authors are returning to the strengths of the French tradition: the clarity of its language, the uniqueness of its history and its quixotic mission to solve the problems of mankind. Added to all this is the hyper-complexity of contemporary life in a globalised world.
I'm not sure about either the argument or the selection of titles in support of it -- the bigger picture is surely far more complex -- but then I never thought French writing (even at its most tired) was not worth engaging with.
Of course, I find that goes for almost any literature .....
(Also: I've been avoiding writing at any greater length about Jess Row's The Novel Is Not Dead from the current Boston Review -- too much to say; too annoyed by the premise (who on earth takes claims of 'the death of the novel' seriously ?) -- but it's that when he chooses "one example out of a thousand" it's ... The Stone Virgins by Yvonne Vera that really throws me.
He goes so far as to argue that:
If there is a canon of 21st-century novels that strives to remake the form, taking nothing for granted, The Stone Virgins deserves to be in it.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Hino Keizo's Isle of Dreams.
This is a translation supported by the Japanese Literature Publishing Project -- and yet again I have to ask: what is everybody involved here thinking ?
Don't get me wrong, I'm both pleased it's finally available in English, and it's certainly a book that should be available in English.
It is, however, slightly dated -- it was originally published in Japan in 1985 -- and while still powerful certainly would have packed much more of a punch in the late 80s (as it must have in Japan); even the Germans managed to get a translation out by 1993 .....
Okay, so it's great that it's finally available in English; still, I can't help thinking the JLPP would be better served concentrating a bit more (not entirely, mind you, but more ...) on truly contemporary work.
(Ii's 2006 The Shadow a Blue Cat, a JLPP-supported title also being published by Dalkey (see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) is more like it !)
I have no idea how they select the titles, but as is, it's far from the most coherent list I've ever come across (well, I think it's a crazy-ass mess, but what do I know ?).
Additionally, they really need a marketing plan: a few titles get some attention, but I've seen JLPP titles from half a dozen different US publishers that have basically been tossed onto the market like dead fish and which sank without any notice (and, more surprisingly and disappointingly, without any complaint: no one seems to care, including (and sometimes: especially) the publishers).
Dalkey has a solid and pretty effective marketing system, and even so this title doesn't seem to have gotten print press attention anywhere beside Publishers Weekly and The Japan Times -- two publications not high on the radar of your average American reader.
Surely, JLPP would do well do develop a comprehensive marketing plan and approach that doesn't leave them dependent on what individual publishers can and are willing to do (a lot of the European national book offices, as well as the Korean one, show what can be done).
(And since I'm already complaining: their website is still a largely useless nightmare -- though after so many years of changing URLs I suppose I'm happy that I can at least find it.)
"There is no bestselling author from Myanmar in the world," Nu Nu Yi said. "We are complete strangers outside the country, and publishers will take into account the potential profits."
The frustrating un-availability of Burmese fiction in English is not that surprising, but this 'anecdote' she relates is pretty shocking:
"In 2000 I attended the International Writing Program in Iowa in the US, and at the time no translations of my work had been published," she said.
"Almost all the writers from around the world brought copies of their novels published in translation and read from them.
When it was my turn, I took out a stack of papers on which two or three of my short stories had been roughly translated.
"When one of the writers from another country saw my pile of papers, he asked if my stories had ever been published outside of Myanmar.
When I said no, he remarked that my writing must not be up to international standards.
It hurt me a lot."
As I metioned close to a year ago, I'm really eager to see Esterházy Péter's Esti (see also the Hungarian publisher's publicity page), and now even more so, after hlo have Dezső Kovács write about it, in The fragment and the whole.
As he notes:
Dezső Kosztolányi's 1933 collection of short stories, Kornél Esti, recently published in English, is the starting-point for Péter Esterházy's 2010 novel entitled Esti
I reviewed The Colonel by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi a few months ago, and am thrilled to see that it is coming out soon in an English translation (by Tom Patterdale) from Haus Publishing (see also their publicity page).
Very little contemporary Iranian fiction gets translated, and this is an important (and very good) novel -- a major summer event.
It is also one of the titles in English PEN's Supported titles 2011-program for the second half of the year --and there's some more good stuff on this list: I'm certainly curious about The Fat Years (by Chan Koonchung), and the prize-winning Marie NDiaye should attract attention.
And, finally, another Tomás Eloy Martínez translation !
(Interestingly, two of the five titles are Argentine.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of What the World's Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desire by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, A Billion Wicked Thoughts.
(Hey, always curious about search-query data (sex, too), I picked it up at the library.
Figured it was worth the quick look .....
No worries: back to regular programming tomorrow .....)
My favorite Max Frisch anecdote -- okay, the only one I know, but, hey, I heard it from Frisch himself: he saw Greta Garbo in New York, at a bar or restaurant, sometime after I'm Not Stiller came out in English and wanted to introduce himself -- but then realized his only claim to fame was as author of I'm Not Stiller, and couldn't bring himself to do it, figuring she'd take it as a really bad pick-up line (since -- as true fan Frisch knew -- she was discovered, re-named, and brought to the US by director Mauritz Stiller).
Swedish Academician -- chair no. 6 -- Birgitta Trotzig has passed away; see, for example, the brief AP mention.
Since the members of the Swedish Academy select who gets the Nobel Prize in literature there will be some interest in who gets her seat .....
I've complained extensively about how the new Google algorithm has impacted traffic to the complete review (since almost all the traffic to the site comes via searches, and almost all of that via searches on Google), but sometimes search-interest in a specific subject is so great that people nevertheless find their way here, even when the review-page isn't a top result.
When HBO aired their adaptation of Mildred Pierce the review of James M. Cain's novel got very impressive traffic, for example (helped by the fact that that page actually fares quite well even under Google's new algorithm).
Now Pedro Almodóvar's adaptation of a relatively obscure French noir -- published in the US by City Lights ! -- is being shown at the Cannes film festival (La piel que habito (The Skin I live in); see the official page at Cannes), and there is apparently a great deal of interest in the source material: no less than 169 (!) different search-query formulations led visitors to the complete review review of Thierry Jonquet's Mygale (published in the UK as Tarantula) on Saturday alone (the day of the week when traffic is -- by far -- the lowest and slowest to the site) !
(The leading queries were: "mygale" (leading 162 visitors to the review) and "mygale book" (97 visitors) -- but at 169 different queries there were a lot of variations .....)
I'm curious to see what happens once the movie attracts some real attention .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Maria Sveland's Bitter Bitch -- the Swedish bestseller Bitterfittan (a title that's been decorously toned-down for English-speaking audiences) that's now available in English.
"Lack of good translators means that regional writers are constrained even if we have to get our works translated," he said, adding,
"Do you think Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical realism would have reached global audiences if it weren’t for the brilliant translation ?
Meanwhile, Debabrata Das reports:
I’ve written 23 books and get to hear nothing.
One of my books was translated into English and I was amazed at getting 29 letters from readers in a week
In the Manila Bulletin Ronald S. Lim finds that 'Three authors reveal that writing genre fiction is not as easy as it seems ...', in Busting the literary myth.
As elsewhere, sales-success alone is still only worth so much:
In the Filipino publishing industry -- where 1,000 copies takes years to sell out -- Rose Tan's feats should have earned at least some grudging respect.
But as she herself pointed out in her talk, the romance genre is still facing an uphill battle with regards to being taken seriously.
In The Guardian Charles Nicholl pays 'A visit to the city that inspired RK Narayan's fictional south Indian town, Malgudi, on the 10th anniversary of his death', in Rereading: RK Narayan.
Certainly an author (and fictional place) worth exploring; the collection, Malgudi Days, is a decent place to start; get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
At the Center for the Art of Translation's weblog, Two Words, Scott Esposito reports on a recent event there in Two Voices with Stephen Snyder on Yoko Ogawa, Haruki Murakami, and the Business of International Literature, at which Snyder offered some behind-the-scenes commentary as to what American editors do to Japanese fiction in translation.
Sickening reading -- and a far too under-reported part of the whole translation game, which often doesn't just involve rendering a foreign work in English but also involves horrific editorial interference (and chopping away of text ...).
So, for example:
Because of experiences like these, Snyder feels very strongly that the Japanese authors he translates -- and to a certain extent, most international authors -- are being very consciously packaged and presented as a commodity on the international market.
His best example of this is Haruki Murakami, who, has had hundreds of pages cut from his books and his language changed dramatically in the translation and packaging process.
There's a lot more to be said about this -- and I wish translators would come forward more often with these horror-stories (since readers are generally left in the dark by publishers, who feel free to cut and alter at will, in the vast majority of cases without so much as a mention of what they've done to a text).
(The audio of Snyder's talk is also available at the blog-post.)
Quite a few Ogawa Yoko titles - including the three translated by Snyder -- are under review at the complete review:
If, as Snyder claims, 'hundreds of thousands of copies of her three books that are available in English' have indeed been sold I would imagine that The Housekeeper and the Professor accounts for the vast majority of those sales.
On Monday, 16 May Helon Habila, will read from his new novel and then be in conversation with me at the Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn at 19:30 (see here).
In preparation, the most recent additions to the complete review are review overviews of his three novels:
The shortlist for the prestigious Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize has been anounced, with the winner to be honored 8 June.
The only one of the shortlisted titles I've even seen is the Saramago; I am, however, curious about the Per Wästberg -- he's the Swedish Academician who is currently chairman of the Nobel Committee.
(See the Granta publicity page for Wästberg's The Journey of Anders Sparrman, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
Tim Parks has some fun considering the "sophistications of the global literary scene" (which, of course, he does not find very sophisticated) in Franzen's Ugly Americans Abroad at the New York Review blog, with Jonathan Franzen's recent blockbuster, Freedom, as Exhibit A -- as he wonders:
Freedom's failings are interesting in so far as they deepen the mystery of the book's international success.
It's one thing for the Americans to hype and canonize one of their favorite authors, but why do the Europeans buy into it ?
[Aside: why does it not surprise me that the circles James Wood apparently hangs out in while in Germany lead him to report: "Here in Germany, Franzen's the only American novelist people talk about" ?
(Secondary aside: why does it not surprise me that Parks feels obliged to finds space and reason to mention: "James Wood writes to me from Berlin" ?
Ah, yes, when opining on the 'sophistications of the global literary scene' such authoritative voices (and apparently none is more authoritative to American audiences at this time than Wood's ...) lend necessary (or at least the illusion of ...) weight .....)
(Peter Stamm's Seven Years, also discussed in the post (and subject of a future Parks-review) is also under review at the complete review.)
Svět knihy Praha -- Bookworld Prague -- runs through the 15th, and in The Prague Post
Stephan Delbos reports that the: 'Annual literary festival returns with focus on Arab literature'.
Meanwhile, the Prague Microfestival runs from the 14th through the 18th, and Delbos has a Q & A with festival organizer Louis Armand at The Prague Post's Colophon weblog.
It's always nice to hear about translation from and into languages that aren't that dominant on the world stage -- Vietnamese into Polish certainly qualifies, and at Viet Nam News Minh Thu talks with Lam Quang My about that, in Poet promotes nation's literature abroad.
Among the questions:
How did you start off translating Vietnamese poetry into Polish and why did you choose 28 Vietnamese poets from the 11th century ?
Yet another take on the always popular question: in The Guardian Janet Murray gets several authors, creative writing teachers, etc. to weigh in on the question, Can you teach creative writing ?
At least Will Self isn't convinced -- though among those who do think it is teachable my favorite response is that from one-time doubter Fay Weldon (now cashing in as a teacher ...):
Now I believe creative writing can be taught, but only by published writers.