Dog-Eared and Dispatched: October 19, 2014
Hello, hello, hello. In this week’s rundown of the wild world of book culture, we have the latest news on the literary prize front, as well as news about two businesses who haven’t been hugely profitable: McSweeney’s and Amazon. There’s also a passel of footnotes for your delectation, on topics ranging from intellectual cowardice to typography, and from Wikipedia to Lemony Snicket. Are you ready? Well, then, get reading!
McSweeney’s is joining the ranks of publishing non-profits. At sixteen years of age, the literary concern is making it official, and acknowledging that “McSweeney’s mission was always to put out quirky, whimsical, commercially risky material without bending to the crass pressures of the marketplace. Huge profits — or, really, any profits — were never really part of the business plan. Now, McSweeney’s is officially becoming what it has unofficially been for years: a nonprofit in the mold of small, independent nonprofit publishers like Graywolf Press, Heyday Books and Copper Canyon.” Or, as the McSweeney’s website put it: “We believe that becoming a nonprofit will allow McSweeney’s to sustain itself for many years to come, with the help of an expanded community of donors, writers, and readers. We want to continue to pursue a wide range of ambitious projects—projects that take risks, that support ideas beyond the mainstream marketplace, and that nurture emerging work. A nonprofit structure, with a board and members supporting our efforts alongside our staff and writers, will allow us to put new resources behind all our undertakings, and explore a number of exciting projects that, until now, were out of reach.” We hope that the nonprofit structure will indeed help McSweeney’s continue to do the work it has undertaken, but wish that it were possible for small literary publishers to be profitable. [New York Times, McSweeney’s]
In the latest prize news, Australian Richard Flanagan has won the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. The choice has not sparked much controversy, as many readers’ main interest was in whether it would go to an American in this first year that the competition was open to writers from all countries, so long as their work was originally published in English. The National Book Awards have announced their shortlist, and although the longlist featured three debut authors, only Phil Klay made the shortlist with his debut novel Redeployment. [Man Booker, MobyLives!, National Book Awards, MobyLives!]
In addition to a New York outlet opposite the Empire State Building (the ultimate purpose of which is still unclear), Amazon is also opening pop-up shops in California where readers will be able to test out Amazon’s latest Kindle projects. This is perhaps one of the reasons Amazon will be hiring 80,000 seasonal workers (though whether it will pay for them to wait in line for security is another question). Other publishing professionals are watching the new stores with interest. As Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks commented to Publishers Weekly: “Amazon uses its devices as ecosystems to lock in users, […] So the more devices they sell, the more of everything else they sell as well (books, TV shows, products, etc). In my mind, this is an Apple store play for Amazon. They’ll learn some things about what makes for a successful device sales in-person experience. You should also recall that unlike Apple, Amazon devices are actually not as available through other retailers. So this will provide Amazon with a test during peak holiday sales, without much expense or ongoing commitment.” One wonders if Amazon, in its quest to become more like Apple, is also willing to face the same sorts of legal questions into its business practices. [Wall Street Journal, MobyLives!, Galleycat, Seattle Times, Publishers Weekly]
- Are copious footnotes a sign of intellectual cowardice?
- “Nostalgia, not the internet, is killing literature”: finding poetry in computers.
- Cosmigraphics: representing the world.
- First Drafts of History, or the early entries from Wikipedia.
- Tobias Frere-Jones on how typefaces get their names.
- The Headless Cupid was one of my favorite books as a kid, so I was sad to learn that Zilpha Keatley Snyder died this past week.
- And of course there’s Lemony Snicket’s new You Choose the Mystery video series.
- John Grisham says something stupid, is mocked.
- Remember how Adobe Digital Editions monitored reader information? Well librarians aren’t happy about it.
- After its possible merger with Hachette fell through, Perseus has been regrouping in order to survive.