Thursday, December 29
Statistics Wrong For Da Vinci Code Success
A team of statisticians developed a model to predict books that would hit big. Trouble is, books like "The Da Vinci Code" didn't rate high in the model. "This year's runaway bestseller should have had only a 36% chance of reaching the charts, according to Alvai Winkler and his team. Their model fits work by some topselling authors but gives only middling marks to the Harry Potter titles and rules out almost everything by Charles Dickens except for his lesser-known Christmas story The Battle of Life." The Guardian (UK) 12/28/05
The Lit Economy
"Literature is conventionally taught as a person-to-person aesthetic experience: the writer (or the poem) addressing the reader. Teachers cut out English’s middlemen, the people who got the poem from the writer to us, apparently confirming his point that we have to deny the economics of cultural value in order to preserve the aesthetics. But, once we’re outside the classroom, how rigidly are these conventions adhered to? How many people today really imagine “art” as a privileged category, exempt from the machinations of the marketplace?" The New Yorker 12/26/05
Has Book Reviewing Gotten Creepy?
"For those of us who are serious about book-reviewing, here are a few of the questions that nobody—not even the New York Times—has yet been able to answer: In the world of serious literary criticism, where do newspapers belong? The credentials of their editors are often more journalistic than literary, an interesting conundrum assuming that literary merit is the stated goal. Regarding the visual and performing arts, newspapers are mostly event-oriented, with a dominant focus on what’s commercially viable (rock music, blockbuster museum shows). Yet book sections often feature books that will sell a relative handful of copies compared to those they overlook." Bookstandard 12/28/05
The Culture Of Texting
"About 7.3 billion text messages are sent within the United States every month, up from 2.9 billion a month a year ago. Compared with an ink-and-paper letter, messages may seem disposable. The relative inconvenience of typing out words using a numeric keypad -- the letter "c," for example, requires three presses of the "2" button -- and the brevity of the message may seem a hostile environment for heartfelt discussion. But the discipline of having to distill thoughts into short bulletins, then waiting to receive the response, allows users to pour more meaning into the writing, some text-message users say." Washington Post 12/29/05
Wednesday, December 28
Understanding Israel's Book Market
"Israel leads the world in per-capita new titles per year - more than 4,000, or about 70 a week. 'I think that there is no need to publish more than 1,500 to 2,000 new books a year in Israel, tops. In France, 25,000 new books are published every year, but its population is 10 times the size of Israel's. In other words, they publish about half the quantity that we do, and France is a cultural superpower. Everyone there reads books on the streets and in the Metro'." Ha'aretz 12/23/05
Tuesday, December 27
Judge Blocks Book On Folk Singer
A British judge has blocked publication of a book by Niema Ash about folk singer Loreena McKennitt. "The ruling requires Ash to delete seven of 34 sections complained about by McKennitt as violations of privacy or confidentiality, before Ash can again publish the book." The judge said that "most of the material to which McKennitt objected was either trivial, anodyne, not intrusive or not inherently confidential, but nonetheless awarded the singer 75 per cent of the trial costs and £5,000 for 'hurt feelings and distress.' The court costs alone are expected to amount to more than $1-million." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/28/05
Monday, December 26
Korean Publishers Burned On Fake Cloner
"South Korean publishers rushed to put books on celebrated scientist Hwang Woo-suk on store shelves only to find him embroiled in a scandal and their products becoming one of the biggest flops of the holiday season." Yahoo! (Reuters) 12/27/05
Thursday, December 22
Meet The Author On Amazon
Amazon has begun "Amazon Connect, begun late last month to enhance the connections between authors and their fans - and to sell more books - with author blogs and extended personal profile pages on the company's online bookstore site. So far, Amazon has recruited a group of about a dozen authors, including novelists, writers of child care manuals and experts on subjects as diverse as real estate investing, science, fishing and the lyrics of the Grateful Dead." The New York Times 12/26/05
2005 - The Death Of Fiction?
"The big book story this year was the death of fiction. Literary media, like the make-or-break-an-author’s-reputation New York Times Book Review, have cut back on reviews of novels in favour of non-fiction coverage. Globally, fiction sales are down. Publishers and agents returning from the Frankfurt Book Fair reported that Canadian fiction, despite its stellar international reputation, wasn’t generating the heat it used to. Even J.K. Rowling was in a slump, with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth book in her wizard series, not flying off the shelves as quickly as in the past." CBC 12/20/05
Turkish Writer Fined For "Insulting Turkish Identity"
Turkish writer Zulkuf Kisanak "has been fined 3,000 lira (£1,300) under a much-criticised law against insulting Turkish identity. He was first given five months in jail, but an Istanbul court then reduced the sentence to a fine. He is among more than 60 writers and publishers, including novelist Orhan Pamuk, to face charges under the law." BBC 12/22/05
Wednesday, December 21
Investigating Fairness In The NYT Book Review
Were New York Times staffers unfairly favored in the Times' best books list of the year? (six NYT writers' books made the list). Times public editor Byron Calame investigates: "What's fair is particularly challenging in the world of the book section. There, reviewers are expected to express their opinions, but readers also have the right to expect that books are assessed based on their merits, not just on a critic's ideology or personal grudges and preferences. The complications only grow when some of the authors are on the staff of The Times." The New York Times 12/19/05
The "Angriest Black Man In America"?
Aaron MacGruder's Boondocks comic strip runs in 300 American newspapers. "Taking on the prevailing American mainstream, as well as the establishments of both the liberal left and black America, has made his strip popular, but it must make him lonely. With so few black and leftwing voices out there, how does he balance the demands of the under-represented constituencies of which he considers himself a part, and the demands of his cartoon?" The Guardian (UK) 12/22/05
Tuesday, December 20
The Writer And The Immigration Service
Beijing-born writer Yiyun Li has "had stories published in prestige magazines such as the New Yorker and the Paris Review. She's won the Pushcart Prize and the Plimpton Prize for New Writers. Random House has signed her to a $200,000, two-book contract. Her first book, a story collection called 'A Thousand Years of Good Prayers,' was published this fall to wide praise. Now she has another problem: How do you explain to the federal immigration bureaucracy what the word 'extraordinary' means?" Washington Post 12/21/05
Seeing The Book Business From Both Sides
"Laurence J. Kirshbaum, who spent 30 years in the book business, nearly all of it at Time Warner and its corporate forebears, made his mark in the staid publishing world by signing up celebrity authors like Madonna and offering million-dollar advances to franchise writers like James Patterson and Nelson DeMille. Now he has become part of a steady stream of editors and publishers who, over the last two decades, have jumped to the agenting side of the business." The New York Times 12/20/05
Monday, December 19
Neue Deutsche Bücher Sind Ganz Plötlich Wunderbar!
"Having eschewed the traditional model of heavy, politics-laden prose in favor of light, even lively storytelling, German authors are in the midst of a breakthrough that is propelling their work to hitherto unfound success abroad." The factors leading to the increased popularity of German literature abroad appear to be myriad, but there is little question that the influence of the Frankfurt Book Fair has played a role, as has Oprah Winfrey's famous book club. The New York Times 12/20/05
Well, There Are Only So Many Ways To Describe Bloodstains
Crime writers have long been relegated to an unfashionable corner of the literary sphere, somewhere between political satirists and romance novelists. But why should great writing go unrecognized and unrewarded just because it happens to concern cops and robbers? At least one prominent author is speaking out. The Independent (UK) 12/19/05
Making Their Own Way
A new Boston-based children's magazine may be the ultimate in niche marketing, and it represents a fascinating crossover between the world of traditional publishing and the do-it-yourself ethos of the online world. "On several counts, Kahani is unusual. The founders knew nothing about magazine publishing when they started in 2004 but found their way with study, practice, and expert advice. They have no advertising; they've funded the project themselves, so far. Most unusual is the publication itself: the first children's literary magazine for South Asian kids in the United States." Boston Globe 12/19/05
Sunday, December 18
Your Own Slice Of The Pi
From the moment Yann Martel's Booker Prize-winning novel, The Life of Pi, came to public attention, it seemed to cry out for images to match the vivid prose. A deal for the movie rights predictably followed, and now, Martel is taking the unusual step of soliciting illustrations for a new edition of the book. Amateurs and professionals alike are invited to submit entries in the competition, which is being sponsored by Martel's publisher in partnership with newspapers in Canada, Australia, and the UK. The Age (Melbourne) 12/17/05
The Exploding Trend Of The "Stupid Book"
We've all been there. You've been Christmas shopping for weeks, scouring the stores looking for just the right gift for that one impossible-to-shop-for friend, when your eyes light on a brightly colored, snappily titled tome in a stack of books by the register. In an instant, you know two things: 1) this is a decidedly useless book, devoid of any literary or substantive value; and 2) it's pretty funny, it's vaguely clever in a cynical, pop-culture-saturated way, and you are unquestionably about to buy it for your friend. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/17/05
Friday, December 16
The Next DaVinci. And The Next, And The Next...
When it comes right down to it, imitation is not only the sincerest form of flattery, it's also a surefire method of marketing success. So no one should be surprised that the publishing world is about to start churning out countless books whose plotlines sound an awful lot like a certain bestselling novel concerning religious sects, freemasons, and old Italian artist/inventors. Some are comparing the rush to duplicate the success of The DaVinci Code to the explosion of the "legal thriller" genre in the early 1990s, which was sparked by the commercial success of author John Grisham. Chicago Tribune 12/17/05
Literacy Of American College Grads Falls
"The average American college graduate's literacy in English declined significantly over the past decade, according to results of a nationwide test released yesterday. When the test was last administered, in 1992, 40 percent of the nation's college graduates scored at the proficient level, meaning that they were able to read lengthy, complex English texts and draw complicated inferences. But on the 2003 test, only 31 percent of the graduates demonstrated those high-level skills. There were 26.4 million college graduates." The New York Times 12/16/05
Thursday, December 15
Atlantic Magazine Says Goodbye To Boston
The Atlantic publishes its final issue in Boston, where it has been for 148 years. It now moves to New York. "David Bradley, who owns the Washington-based National Journal Group of publications and bought The Atlantic from Mort Zuckerman in 1999, has built readership up to about 1.5 million, and doubled newsstand sales to close to 60,000. The latest audited circulation is about 405,000, but according to an e-mail from Bradley, the magazine is still losing about $3 million a year." Boston Phoenix 12/16/05
When It Comes to Books, Gimmicks Don't Work
"Gimmicky books make awful gifts. Why? Because they're so much easier to give than they are to receive. They're so much more gratifying to gift givers than they are to recipients. And the act of follow-through is not often a big part of these transactions. A gift book may be chosen on impulse, but it can confound whoever winds up with it for a long, long time." The New York Times 12/16/05
Ottakar's Says It Can't Compete
UK book chain Ottakar's says it can't compete with big discount chains. "Ottakar's said like-for-like sales since the end of January had fallen 3.4%, with a marked deterioration from the summer with sales falling by 6.7% despite the release of the latest installment in the Harry Potter saga. Shares in the company, which dropped below 400p this month when a proposed £96m takeover by Waterstone's was referred to the competition commission, fell a further 2% to 357.5p." The Guardian (UK) 12/16/05
Wednesday, December 14
Will Tech Save The Book Biz?
The low-tech business of books is looking to some digital strategies for help. "Technology, often declared the enemy of literacy, has been called upon to save it. With hints of optimism and anxiety, publishers are counting on the digital text and digital channels to win over a public drawn to other media." Yahoo! (AP) 12/15/05
Edith Wharton Library Returns To America
George Ramsden, a British bookseller, has signed "a $2.6 million agreement to sell the 2,600-volume Edith Wharton library to the custodians of the Mount, the writer's estate in Lenox, Mass., which she designed, built and finally left forever in 1911 as her marriage unraveled." The New York Times 12/15/05
Study: Wikipedia Rates High In Accuracy
"A study published Dec. 14 by the journal Nature found that in a random sample of 42 science entries, Wikipedia had an average of just one more inaccuracy per entry than the Encyclopedia Britannica. Nature also polled more than 1,000 scientists who have published papers in Nature's prestigious pages and found that 17% consulted Wikipedia on a weekly basis." BusinessWeek 12/14/05
Tuesday, December 13
How "Alt-" Will New Alt-Weekly Chain Be?
"A half-century after New York's Village Voice launched the genre of alternative weeklies, there's still plenty of war, injustice and corporate domination around. But the anti-establishment counterculture has moved topside. Rock 'n' roll jingles hawk luxury cars, mutual funds come with social consciences and alternative weeklies have become a profitable, parallel universe to the mainstream media. In an unmistakable sign that the counterculture has morphed into corporate culture," now two "alt-weekly" chains are merging... Los Angeles Times 12/14/05
Ten-Year-Old Wins A Book Deal
A ten-year-old girl's book about surviving her parents' divorce has been picked up by a publisher. "When her mother and father separated three and a half years ago Libby Rees wrote a list of the things that helped her make sense of what was going on. The result was a 60-page book called Help, Hope and Happiness, published by Aultbea Publishing based in Inverness." The Guardian (UK) 12/13/05
Celeb Mags Headed Down
After seeing big circulation increases earlier this year American celebrity magazines have seen some shrp declines. "Us has seen the steepest drop-off, with fourth-quarter sales running about 15 percent below its January-through-September average. People is down about 9 percent; Star, 8 percent, and In Touch, 5 percent, said sources. (People, Us and In Touch are all on pace to report a year-over-year increase for the second half as a whole, however; Star will be slightly down.)" Women's Wear Daily 12/13/05
Monday, December 12
A Magazine Outsiders Can't Get
Even as owner David Bradley is moving the Atlantic magazine out of Boston, he's starting another magazine in Boston. This one is a publication for Harvard alums only. "It's certainly an original gambit, to market a subscription-based magazine to a group that outsiders can't join. Alumni magazines typically lose plenty of money, and it's hard to see who would want to read this one, apart from the not-inconsiderable universe of narcissistic Harvard graduates.
Boston Globe 12/13/05
Harper Collins To Digitize
Harper Collins say it will digitize 20,000 books in its catalogue in a bid to rein in potential copyright violations on the internet. "The move comes as the US publishing industry is bringing lawsuits against web search leader Google over its effort to scan copyrighted books in libraries - a move the industry fears would set a dangerous copyright precedent." Austrailian IT 12/13/05
Japan's Culture Of Comics
Comic books may be an American invention, but Japanese comic book culture has taken things to a whole new level... Mercatornet 12/12/05
How Project Gutenberg Is Different From Google
Both are digitizing books. But "Google is working from the top down. It's very centralized. Project Gutenberg is the opposite: It's decentralized, it's grassroots. From the consumer's point of view, if you're trying to get a quotation from a book, you could get the book from Project Gutenberg and cut and paste, say, the whole "Hamlet" soliloquy. On Google, you can't. Also, ours is totally non-commercial. You won't find advertising on any of our pages." Wall Street Journal 12/12/05
Sunday, December 11
Whitbread Pulls Out Of Book Awards
Retailer Whitbread is pulling out of sponsoring its annual book awards. "The hotel and restaurant firm, which set up the awards in 1971, says it is pulling out because it no longer sells products using the Whitbread name. It is looking to find a new sponsor for the book awards, which include the £25,000 book of the year prize." BBC 12/12/05
The Sudoku Craze
"Since the arrival, at the very end of 2004, of the number grid game sudoku, Britain - like Israel, France, India and the US - has become a puzzle nation. The statistics are amazing. Sudoku puzzles now feature in most national newspapers, and are moving on to mobile phones and pay-to-play websites. The magazine Puzzler Sudoku was first launched in March with a circulation of just 15,000. It now sells 300,000." The Observer (UK) 12/11/05
Thursday, December 8
Is Flap Over Wikipedia Accuracy Warranted?
The storm over erroneous entries on Wikipedia is more thunder than substance. "Of course, the flip side of the enormous flexibility provided by the Wiki format is that "anyone" includes people who are driven by motivations other than community spirit. But vandalism, malice, racism, spam, and the like can be kept to a minimum, as long as there are more good guys than bad guys. This is obviously happening at Wikipedia, or no one would be using it." Technology Review 12/07/05
So-What Factoids... (Should You Care?)
"So-what books have been proliferating. A lot. Some reasons: They're light and user-friendly. They require no attention span. They supposedly make good gifts, although 78 percent of recipients will glance at this kind of book exactly twice before consigning it to oblivion. That's not a real statistic. Neither are most of the statistics that show up in these things." The New York Times 12/09/05
Brits To Investigate Waterstone Acquisition Deal
The British Office of Fair Trading will investigate Waterstone's proposed purchase of rival Ottakar's. "The OFT received more than 350 letters from consumers, publishers and authors opposed to the £96m deal, which was announced in September. Yesterday the watchdog said that the weight of opinion was a key factor in its decision to send the proposed deal to the Competition Commission for scrutiny." The Guardian (UK) 12/07/05
Wednesday, December 7
Time For The Non-Profit Newspaper?
Arguably, American newspapers are badly-served by the publicly-owned profit model. But aren't newspapers as institutions more important than their business model? "The St. Petersburg Times, with its Poynter connection, is a rare example of a nonprofit. How could other newspapers be liberated from the for-profit world to concentrate on their mission? There are two tax-favored models before us: public broadcasting and real estate investment trusts." Editor & Publisher 12/08/05
Tuesday, December 6
The Curse Of The Writing Workshop
"Writing workshops, for their ubiquity, are currently the most significant phenomenon influencing American literature. Enrollment into them has become de rigueur for people with a calling to write, and is assumed by increasing numbers (including publishers) to be as necessary a first step toward a writing life as college would be toward a professional life. But because the self-styled "best" of these workshops comprise such a poor lot of dull, mechanical stories, it becomes necessary to ask: What goes on in these programs, and how do they influence today's writers, for ill or for good?" New York Press 12/07/05
Publishing Industry In A Slump
"A look back at the fall publishing season, when publishers typically release their biggest books hoping to cash in on the holidays, reveals that the publishing industry is still struggling. The Association of American Publishers reported last month that sales of adult hardcover books, sluggish for several years, have fallen by 2 percent so far this year. Similarly, the American Booksellers Association, a trade group representing bookstores, said that overall bookstore sales in the first nine months of 2005 declined 2 percent from a year ago." The New York Times 12/07/05
Is Print-On-Demand The Salvation Of University Presses?
"The new digital technology eliminates the need for printing plates, which are so costly to create that many copies of a book need to be produced to justify the expense. Now publishers can go more directly from a computer file to the printed page — a technological process not so different from using a high-quality copy machine. The data can also be stored digitally indefinitely, allowing for quick reprints down the road. The same systems, however, allow anyone to publish, using so-called vanity presses that have sprung up to print books with little or no editorial review, a trend that worries some academic publishers." Chronicle of Higher Education 12/06/05
Monday, December 5
Book Club To The World
Iranian-born writer and English professor Azar Nafisi dreams of an international book club, enabled by the internet. "Just imagine, she muses, the potential for global enlightenment if millions of people came together as a community of readers to discuss the words and ideas of international authors, both living and dead, who can provoke the shock and recognition that how alike we are is far more than our differences." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/06/05
Wikipedia Makes New Rules For Contributors
Plagued by complaints of misinformation, Wikipedia will "now require users to register before they can create articles. The website hopes that the registration requirement will limit the number of stories being created. 'What we're hopeful to see is that by slowing that down to 1,500 a day from several thousand, the people who are monitoring this will have more ability to improve the quality. In many cases the types of things we see going on are impulse vandalism'." Wired 12/05/05
The Teen Pulp Connection
"Teen pulp, which evolved out of children's books and rebelled against their supposed strictures, appears to take up far more real estate on the shelves of bookstores than books of more subtle literary bent for the pre-adult set. The genre also reflects a different set of expectations about how books are read and why." The New York Times 12/05/05
Are Lit Teaching Standards Failing Students?
Nine years ago Britain institutes a national literacy framework for teaching English. "But the framework has now become a double-edged sword – it provides schools with a common programme to ensure that children have a broad diet of fiction, non-fiction, plays and poetry. It has helped us think about the way in which words, sentences and texts weave together. However, for many teachers the framework has become a strait-jacket that limits children’s progress. It has trapped us into 'delivery' mode with teachers trotting through objectives without thinking about whether these are relevant to children’s needs." Times Education Supplement 12/05/05
Sunday, December 4
Harper's Without Lapham
"These days, a decade is a long time to be editor of one magazine, and Lewis Lapham has been editor-in-chief at Harper’s for 28 of the last 30 years. But now he is handing the job to his deputy, a man whose byline—Roger Hodge—I once assumed to be a twee Canterbury Tales pseudonym. It turns out Hodge is not only real but intelligent and thoughtful. He grew up on his family’s ranch in Texas and started at Harper’s as an intern at 29, in 1996." New York Magazine 12/05/05
Fiction Sales Plummet?
"International demand for English-language literary fiction has gone seriously south. Although hard numbers for the fall season won't be available until January, the anecdotal evidence is not encouraging. Agents and retailers are complaining that sales for new fiction are soft, that orders for reprints and back-listed books are down, and that publishing houses from Berlin to Boston are becoming choosier about what novels they buy, when they are willing to buy them, and what they are willing to pay." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/03/05
Thursday, December 1
A Month Of Novels
November was National Novel-Writing Month. "Nearly 60,000 people around the world set out Nov. 1 to reach the goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. About one in six made it. Students could enter under less-strict guidelines." Boston Globe 12/03/05
Aberdeen Starts First Scottish Literary Center
Scotland's Aberdeen University is establishing the country's first center dedicated to study of the novel. "It will be Britain's first dedicated centre for the study of novels and novelists from the English-speaking world, including Scottish, Irish and American fiction, and will use as its main resource the university's own collection of fiction, said to rival that of any university in the world." The Scotsman 12/02/05
Giles Coren's book Winkler has won this year's Bad Sex Award. "The food critic's book describes a sexual act between a man and a woman, in which she 'she scratched his back deeply with the nails of both hands'. The rest of the winning passage is unprintable for a family audience. The annual award pitted Coren against writers including John Updike, Salman Rushdie, Ben Elton and Paul Theroux." BBC 12/01/05
Enough With The Literary Navel-Gazing Already!
Jon Carroll has had it with the trend of writers writing about writers and writing and expecting the rest of the world to give a damn. "Writing is not an inherently interesting profession. It's very boring to watch. Writers do not dress well, and they frequently mumble. Periodically, a writer goes into rehab or opens an antique store; it's not exactly cinematic. It's not like freeing the virtuous farmers from the yoke of oppression by wearing a mask and engaging in swordplay. It's the life of the mind. It's paint drying." But then, people in nearly every profession seem to be obsessed with their own importance these days... San Francisco Chronicle 12/01/05