Dog-Eared and Dispatched: August 10, 2014
Welcome to another idiosyncratic update on the world of book culture. Companies fail to come to terms (and not just with Amazon), and lengthy longlists for literary prizes are announced (and I indulge in some favoritism towards translated literature). The footnotes are plentiful and varied, and include topics from ebooks to earnings reports to cover art to, ahem, translation. Make sure your cares and concerns are safely stowed, ensure your seat is in a fully reclined and comfortable position, and prepare for reading.
It is perhaps not a surprise that the complex sale of Perseus Group to Hachette, with the immediate sale of the distribution wing to Ingram has come to naught. The plan was announced back at the end of June, and was met with a great deal of surprise, especially among the small publishers currently distributed by Perseus Group. Perseus employees were told that the deal would be settled by the end of July, but as July ended the three companies still had not ironed out the details, and Ingram pressing its own interests seemed to add further wrinkles. Neither Hachette nor Ingram have commented on the matter, save to confirm the deal was off; Perseus, however, is “excited to move forward” with its own business, especially in light of its strong sales figures for 2014. Perseus CEO David Steinberger would not, however, deny the company might be sold some time in the future – after all, there’s always a buyer for a good product. It’s odd to see such a well-established company as Perseus act as giddily as an internet start-up, though. [Galleycat, LNL, MobyLives!, Reuters, Publishers Weekly, Wired]
Apparently it’s not out of the ordinary for publisher negotiations with Amazon to last a long time. Kensington Publishing’s negotiations lasted six months longer than the resulting contract. According to The Wall Street Journal: “Amazon accounted for only 52% of Kensington’s digital sales during 2013. Now that a new contract is in place, [Kensington president Steven Zacharius] expects Amazon will account for as much as 65% of total digital sales over the next 12 months.” In other news, Amazon has again broken silence in its dispute with Hachette, launching the tin-eared Readers United* (a stand against “Authors United,” one supposes) that appeals to readers’ sentimentality and stupidity (since it cannot appeal to readers’ intelligence) with some historical fiction about the mass-market paperback revolution. Industry pundit Mike Shatzkin criticizes Amazon’s comparison of ebooks and paperbacks so I don’t have to; he cites favor major differences, but notes: “the most striking difference today is that a single retailer controls so much of the commerce that it can, on its own, influence pricing for the entire industry. The mere fact that one single retailer can try that is itself a signal that we have an imbalance in the value chain that is unprecedented in the history of publishing.” Amazon is quite right that ebook prices are elastic; they are so elastic that many college students aren’t paying at all for text books if they can avoid doing so (and at $200 a pop, one understands why – it’s hard to argue that price point isn’t pure publisher greed). That does not, however, mean Amazon will be satisfied with the readers’ paradise of free books for all – not for the long term, anyhow. [Wall Street Journal Publishers’ Marketplace, Whatever, Shatzkin Files, MobyLives!, Galleycat]
* The Amazon site includes the noxious item: “We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store.”
On a happier note, several prizes have announced their longlists this week. The Guardian has announced the longlist for its “First Book Award”, celebrating debut books across all genres. Selections include: Fiction – Things to Make and Break by May-Lan Tan (CB editions), Young Skins by Colin Barrett (Jonathan Cape), In the Light of What we Know by Zia Haider Rahman (Picador), The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane (Sceptre), After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry (Serpent’s Tail), We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas (4th Estate); Nonfiction – Iceberg by Marion Coutts (Atlantic), Bricks and Mortals by Tom Wilkinson (Bloomsbury), Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos (Bodley Head), Do No Harm by Henry Marsh (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), American Interior by Gruff Rhys (Hamish Hamilton).
The American Literary Translators Association has announced the longlist for the 2014 National Translation Award, which includes a wide translations from a great variety of languages (and the judges compare the translation to the original!): Poems of Consummation by Vicente Aleixandre, translated from the Spanish by Stephen Kessler (Black Widow Press); Cavafy — Complete Plus by C.P. Cavafy, translated from the Greek by George Economou (Shearsman Books); The Dark by Sergio Chejfec, translated from the Spanish by Heather Cleary (Open Letter Books); Theme of Farewell and After-Poems by Milo de Angelis, translated from the Italian by Susan Stewart & Patrizio Ceccagnoli (The University of Chicago Press); Life’s Good, Brother by Nazim Hikmet, translated from the Turkish by Mutlu Konuk Blasing (Persea Books, Inc.); Distant Lands: An Anthology of Poets who Don’t Exist by Agnieszka Kuciak, translated from the Polish by Karen Kovacik (White Pine Press); A Treatise on Shelling Beans by Wiesław Myśliwski, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston (Archipelago Books); Between Friends by Amos Oz, translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); The Girl with the Golden Parasol by Uday Prakash, translated from the Hindi by Jason Grunebaum (Yale Univeristy Press); The African Shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, translated from the Spanish by Jeffrey Gray (Yale University Press); Four Elemental Bodies by Claude Royet-Journoud, translated from the French by Keith Waldrop (Burning Deck); Light and Dark: A Novel by Natsume Soseki, translated from the Japanese by John Nathan (Columbia University Press); Crossings by Habib Tengour, translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker (The Post-Apollo Press); An Invitation For Me to Think by Alexander Vvedensky, translated from the Russian by Eugene Ostashevsky & Matvei Yankelevich (New York Review Books); A Schoolboy’s Diary by Robert Walser, translated from the German by Damion Searls (New York Review Books). This, of course, is where I suggest that you really need more Walser in your life (and more coffee).
Finally, the Best Translated Book Award has announced their panel of judges; the longlist will be announced next March (just when you will need some more translations to read – you’ll have finished the ones listed above by then, won’t you?).
- Infographic: Tolkein’s Ten Tips for Writers.
- HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster show earnings increases for 2014.
- Penguin is receiving some flak for a redesigned cover of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (see also: Portrait of a Cover Artist).
- When, as a writer, do you reach the point you can quit your day job? (Who says you have to?)
- Did you hear the one about Geoff Dyer going to a Geoff Dyer conference?
- Satirical novel asks: is academia broken? (Short answer: yes.)
- Interesting change in Canadian copyright law.
- NASA is giving away free ebooks, so if you want to learn how to survive in space (or need some material to ground your space western), now’s a good time to head over.
- On translating Tolstoy.