Dog-Eared and Dispatched
Greetings, literary citizens! In this week’s rundown of the wild world of book culture, we explore the aftermath of Amazon’s first-quarter financial report. Next, we investigate copyright claims pertaining to Lawrence & Wishart’s translation of the collected works of Marx and Engels. Meanwhile, we get up to speed on News Corporation’s pending purchase of Harlequin Enterprises. Lastly, we present the latest news on the Apple antitrust case as the company does the expected and pushes for yet another trial delay. This week’s Footnotes range from Marvel and Comixology’s potential parting of the ways to The Onion’s newest parody project. Ready. Set. Read!
With the announcement of its first-quarter results last Thursday, April 24, Amazon also revealed that the company had, for the first time in its twenty-year history, made a profit—$108 million to be exact. With a total gross revenue of $19.74 billion, this puts Amazon’s profit margin at roughly .05 percent. According to Forbes reporter Brian Solomon, “Amazon has long traded at a massive multiple of its near-nonexistent earnings, but Wall Street appears to be getting tired of billionaire founder and CEO Jeff Bezos’ aversion to profits.” Surprisingly, Amazon’s lack of profit has hitherto been a minor concern of the media and the masses, with Melville House publisher Dennis Johnson stating, “Like the gobsmacked emerging from an infatuation, a growing number of people have begun to experience the first stages of an occasional, fleeting discomfort with their beloved—such as becoming aware of the weird fact that the company with the exhilaratingly high stock valuation had, uh, never made a profit.” Such feelings of discomfort have grown exponentially in the aftermath of Amazon’s latest financial report, however, with the company’s stock falling 9.9 percent by the next day. Moreover, in a follow-up conference call, Amazon added that “it expects to lose as much as four times that amount” in the next quarter. As The New York Times‘ James Stewart noted, “When it comes to suspending disbelief about a lack of profits—the only thing that ultimately matters when it comes to stock valuation— Amazon.com has been in a class of its own. Its price-to-earnings ratio, a common measure of stock valuation, has at various times topped 3,000 (the market average is about 18)—and that’s when it actually has had a profit.” [The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Mobylives!, Shelf Awareness, The New York Times]
On Thursday, May 1, the Marxists Internet Archive removed the Collected Works of Marx and Engels—a 50-volume translation—from their site at the request of rights holder and independent, radically inclined U.K. publisher Lawrence & Wishart (L&W). In the days preceding the official removal, the internet was awash with outrage, with L&W’s claim to copyright infringement being interpreted as an example of how “capitalism wins again.” In response, L&W stated that the publishing house “is not a capitalist organization engaged in profit-seeking or capital accumulation . . . It makes no profits other than those required to pay a small wage to its very small and overworked staff, investing the vast majority of its returns into radical publishing projects, including an extensive and costly (to L&W) program of free e-books. Without L&W and the work which its employees have invested over many years, the full collected works of Marx and Engels in English would not exist. Without the income derived from its copyright in these works, L&W would not exist.” Despite these clarifications, the representatives of Marxists.org remained steadfast in their stance, remarking that “these writings, the translations of which were paid for by L&W, International Publishers, and the state supported Progress Publishers, do in fact belong, politically, to the world and not an institution; not in a legal sense, but in moral and political sense . . . We believe that yes, this is more important than the institutional prerogatives of one publishing house.” As Melville House marketing manager Dustin Kurtz pointed out, however, there are several flaws to this logic, not to mention just a few overlooked facts: “First, it is important to note that though the original writing of Marx and Engels is in the public domain, these translations are not. Older translations exist, and thus there are many editions available offline and on of, for instance Capital and the Communist Manifesto, but the L&W claim to copyright is valid,” Kurtz wrote, going to explain, “At present, even radical publishers need to take money from the last book—whether or not the Soviets paid for initial translations—in order to pay the next book’s copyeditors, so that those copyeditors can buy food for their many, many cats. (Copyeditors love cats.) L&W is asking, essentially, ‘How’re we going to feed the copyeditor’s cats?’ The collective would like to disseminate these works precisely to help everyone figure that out. Or, not those specific cats. Other cats. Future cats. They’d like to feed those.” [Salon, marxists.org, Lawrence & Wishart Books, mobylives!]
As of Friday, May 2, News Corp. has struck a deal with Torstar Corporation for a $415-million purchase of Harlequin Enterprises. Both parties are still waiting for the all-clear from the U.S. and Canadian governments, as well as Canada’s Heritage Department, but they estimate that the deal will close during the third quarter. Once the acquisition process is complete, Harlequin is scheduled to become an imprint of HarperCollins, with the romance publisher’s headquarters to remain in Toronto. “Harlequin has built one of the largest and most widely recognized consumer brands in publishing with a highly focused publishing program for women,” HarperCollins President and CEO Brian Murray stated. “The Harlequin name and rich heritage will be preserved independently, with the aim to leverage capabilities to bring the book-reading public more choices. Harlequin’s business has grown internationally, and will give HarperCollins an immediate foothold in 11 new countries from which we can expand into dozens of foreign languages for authors who choose to work with us globally.” As reported by CNN, Harlequin publishes more than 110 books a month. [Shelf Awareness, Publishers Weekly, CNN]
In the latest episode of “The Case That Never Ends” (i.e., the Apple antitrust lawsuit), Apple is now pushing for the district court to delay its recently revised July 14 trial date—which, as of last week, was pushed back from its original May deadline—pending another appeal. According to Reuters, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to hear Apple out on why the trial should be put on hiatus. In addition to this, the court has decided to refrain from sending out damage notices to consumers until after they’ve ruled on the appeal, with the notifications originally scheduled for distribution on Monday, May 5. Like much of the nation, 33 state attorneys are getting a little fed up with Apple’s stonewalling: “What Apple really wants is to delay its damages trial at all costs, and it knows that if it can bait this Court into granting any sort of stay—even a short administrative stay—Apple can blow up the trial date that marks the culmination of years’ worth of district-court litigation . . . It is apparent that Apple views delinquency as an optimal litigation strategy.” Put more succinctly by Melville House editor Kirsten Reach, “No news does not feel like good news. No news feels like it shouldn’t be news in the first place.” [GalleyCat, Reuters, Publishers Weekly, Mobylives!]
1. Open Road and HarperCollins return to court this week to hash out their copyright dispute pertaining to Jean Craighead George’s 1973 bestselling children’s book, Julie of the Wolves.
2. The Prison Reform Trust has weighed in on the U.K. prison book ban, calling the restrictions placed on the Incentives and Earned Privileges scheme “punishment without purpose.”
3. With Comixology now owned by Amazon, Marvel may be looking for alternative distribution options in the near future.
4. Tripling in size over the past year, the e-book daily deal site BookBub has now raised $3.8 million in Series A funding.
5. Scholastic launches two new digital reading programs aimed at increasing retention during classroom and independent literary activities.
6. Mad Magazine editor and comic writer/illustrator extraordinaire Al Feldstein died this Tuesday, April 29, at the age of 88.
7. The Onion is currently preparing for the June launch of a Buzzfeed/Upworthy parody site aptly named Clickhole.