Dog-Eared and Dispatched
Greetings, Literary Citizens! In this week’s rundown of the wild world of book culture, we continue to investigate the escalating showdown between Amazon and Hachette as publishers, booksellers, and community members alike begin to take sides. Next, we examine Vanity Fair‘s profile piece on judge Denise Cote in relation to Apple’s ongoing (i.e., never-ending) antitrust case. Finally, we acknowledge a dark day in book culture as Rush Limbaugh receives a children’s book Author of the Year award. In this week’s footnotes, we highlight robots in libraries, essays on fast food bags, how iPhones might be poised to save the literary world, and much more. Let’s get to it!
While adding 15 more cities to its Sunday delivery program, Amazon’s befuddling battle with Hachette Book Group rages on. Now, rivals have begun capitalizing on the company’s choice to boycott this Big Five publisher; Books-A-Million, for one, has created a web banner announcing that it “proudly sells Hachette books,” while several indie booksellers have utilized social media landscapes like Facebook and Twitter to promote their own timely distribution of Hachette products. “We both fulfill Hachette orders AND have cheap e-books,” Porter Square Books tweeted on May 13. “I know, weird, right.” The Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) has also spoken out this week, with President Gail Hochman writing a letter to Amazon expressing concerns over the company’s recent choices: “Each of us has a role to play in this ecosystem, and surely Amazon does not need to—and should not, in any event—hold the works of selected individual authors hostage as a weapon in a negotiation with a publisher. This is a brutal and manipulative tactic, ironically from a company that proclaims its goal to fully satisfy the reading needs and desires of its customers and to be a champion of authors.” Organizations connected to Amazon have been taking some heat as well, with the Washington Post scrutinized for its lack of coverage on the topic (a matter which Post Executive Editor Martin Baron chalked up to “time pressure and low staffing”). As New York Times reporter David Streitfeld noted, Amazon’s strategy throughout this entire engagement has been rather unusual, particularly given the online retailer’s already massive pull within the marketplace, controlling, as several estimates have put it, a third to half of the American book business. Moreover, as Streitfeld points out, Amazon’s current stance is rather counterintuitive to its usual tactics: “Most of the time, [Amazon] has all sorts of ways to encourage you to buy a book: faster shipping, cheaper shipping, a discount, a cheap copy from a third party who was cleaning out his closet. Now, like a river reversing its flow, it is using all sorts of ways to get people not to buy Hachette titles: more expensive, slower shipping, pitching something else instead.” [Shelf Awareness, Publishers Weekly, The New York Times]
This week, Vanity Fair (VF) published a thorough profile of Denise Cote, the federal judge now infamous for the part she continues to play in the Apple antitrust case. Composing a mildly sympathetic yet overwhelmingly plain-spoken portrait of Cote, VF contributing editor David Margolick breaks down the case’s history as well as Cote’s, rather deftly conveying the complexity of both: “The trial proceeded pretty much as planned, right down to the minute, as things before Cote invariably do. And then, scarcely three weeks after closing arguments, came her opinion, all 160 pages of it. For Cote, such extreme efficiency was standard operating procedure. For Apple, though, it was all a bit too quick, as if parts of it had been preordained. And sure enough, if anything, what she’d heard in court had only hardened her views,” Margolick writes, later stating, “Cote had had huge, and hugely important, cases come before her before, but they’d rarely escaped the business pages. Reinforcing her obscurity was her reticence (Cote declined to speak to V.F. for this story), which makes her sometimes seem, even to friends, out of another time and place . . . Her job, Cote has written, is not to decide the wisdom of United States v. Apple, but to apply the law. Still, can one detect in her at times a certain discomfort, or defensiveness, or even sadness, at having become publishing’s most unlikely scourge?” In her review of Margolick’s column, Melville House Director of Library and Academic Marketing Claire Kelley questions if Cote’s “legacy [will] be remembered for effectively defending a evil internet behemoth and destroying book publishing culture as we know it,” going on to highlight (as Margolick also has) Cote’s utilization of an Emily Dickinson poem in the conclusion of her written judgement: “Is Judge Cote saying that she thinks the ‘toll’ publishers place on books is preventing the poorest citizens among us . . . [from] buy[ing] and read[ing] books? Or, could she rather intend for Dickinson’s war imagery—words like frigate, or warship, and courser, or a horse riding into battle—to indicate that, in the publishers’ fight for the survival of the printed book, she falls on the side of a monopolist’s insubstantial ebooks for a fraction of the cost?” [Vanity Fair, Mobylives!]
Against the odds, and to the dismay of countless, Rush Limbaugh has won Author of the Year in the Children’s and Teens’ Choice Book Awards. (Yes, you read that right. No, this isn’t a joke. I know, it sucks.) In addition to Limbaugh, this year’s finalists included Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck), Rick Riordan (The House of Hades), Veronica Roth (Allegiant), and Rachel Renee Russell (Dork Diaries 6: Tales From A Not-So-Happy Heartbreaker). As Melville House’s Director of Publicity Julia Fleischaker explains, Limbaugh’s Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims: Time-Travel Adventures with Exceptional Americans hasn’t got on so well with the critics: “The reviews for Rush Revere were, let’s say, not always kind. Booklist had some complaints, including factual inaccuracies and cross-branding with Rush’s Two if by Tea brand of, yes, tea. Kirkus offered a succinct assessment: ‘Exceptionally bad.'” Yet, as Fleischaker goes on to acknowledge, adult votes are of little impact where the final leg of this award is concerned, with the winner ultimately chosen based on children’s votes. “Do you believe the children are our future? Do you believe in teaching them well and letting them lead the way?” Fleischaker sardonically asks. “Well, I’ve got some bad news for you.” Damn. Well, at least we’ve still got the Colbert Report to cheer us up for a little while longer. [GalleyCat, Mobylives!, The Colbert Report]
1. Though it may sound like the beginning of a Batteries Not Included sequel, The Chicago Public Library’s 500 programmable robots are not the product of Hollywood engineering. Instead, these Finch Robots have been donated by Google with the intent of inspiring children and adults to enhance their computer science knowledge through the acquisition of basic coding skills.
2. Is fast food poised to become a literary experience? Perhaps so, if Chipotle’s new essay writers—Jonathan Safran Foer, Judd Apatow, Sheri Fink, Malcolm Gladwell, Bill Hader, Michael Lewis, Toni Morrison, Steve Pinker, George Saunders, and Sarah Silverman, to name a few participating authors—have anything to say (or write) about it.
3. Three Hugo Award nominees have issued a joint statement criticizing Orbit Books, their publisher, for not including the entirety of their books in the Hugo Voter Packet. In response, Orbit has noted that they “don’t feel that authors and rights holders should feel under pressure to make their work available for free.”
4. The Seattle Public Library turns 10-years-old this May, commemorating the landmark occasion with a week-long celebration that includes music, architectural talks, and, of course, reading.
5. Is Japan Sony’s last stronghold in the digital world? If the answer is not yet a definitive “yes,” it may be so shortly, with Sony concentrating its marketing and sales initiatives on the island nation while abandoning its e-reader stores in North America, Europe, and Australia.
6. OverDrive has expanded its operations to include 2,173 more public, school, academic, and corporate libraries since the beginning of the new year, bringing its total global network to 29,000 organizations. The company hopes to see these numbers grow even more following the BookExpo America conference (Thursday, May 29 to Saturday, May 31), at which time they plan to unveil a series of new technology and consumer-based services.
7. Penguin Random House has formed a Consumer Marketing Development and Operations Group “dedicated to marketing directly to consumers ” (because apparently that wasn’t on the agenda before).
8. Are iPhones saving literature? Salon senior writer Laura Miller delves into the debate.