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April 30, 2012

Amazon vs. Publishers: The Book Battle Continues

Photographs by Nice One Productions/Corbis (ring girl); Mike Powell/The Image Bank/Getty Images (ring); C Squared Studios/Photodisc/Getty Images (stools); Ocean/Corbis (books); Reuters/Rick Wilking (boxes)

By Brad Stone

There’s a glaring anachronism at the center of most fulfillment centers: aisle after aisle of old-fashioned books. Amazon stocks these volumes for the many customers who still favor the tangible pleasures of reading on paper. Yet the company is relentless about increasing efficiency and has at the ready an easy way to remove some of those bookshelves: on-demand printing. With an industrial-strength printer and a digital book file from the publisher, Amazon could easily wait to print a book until after a customer clicks the yellow “place your order” button. The technology is championed by those who want to streamline the book business—and it might turn out to be a flash point in the hypertense world of publishing.

The book industry isn’t eager to embrace any more wrenching changes. The introduction of the Kindle in 2007, and Amazon’s insistence on a customer-friendly $9.99 price for new releases, has set off a multifront fracas. Efforts by the largest publishers to sidestep Amazon’s pricing strategy attracted the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice, which recently filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple  and five book publishers over their alleged collusion to raise e-book prices. (Three publishers have settled the lawsuit.) The issue of print on demand has taken a backseat as this e-book drama plays out.

Yet executives at major New York-based book publishers, who requested anonymity because of the legal scrutiny of their business, say Amazon regularly asks them to allow print on demand for their slower-selling backlist titles. So far they’ve declined, suspecting that Amazon will use its print-on-demand ability to further tilt the economics of book publishing in its favor. Asking publishers to move to print on demand “is largely about taking control of the business,” says Mike Shatzkin, founder of Idea Logical, a consultant to book publishers on digital issues. “It adds some profit margin, but it also weakens the rest of the publishing universe.”

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Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’ Typewriter Sells for $8,281

By Gabe Habash

The personal Smith Corona typewriter of Truman Capote, and likely the one he used to write In Cold Blood, has been sold on eBay for $8,281. The auction drew two bidders and three bids, and the winning bid was considerably higher than its $7,000 starting price.


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Richard Lovelace, “Stone Walls”

Richard Lovelace (1618 - 1658)

On this day in 1642, courtier, soldier, and gentleman-poet Richard Lovelace presented the Kentish Petition to Parliament, and was promptly imprisoned for it. His confinement produced “To Althea, From Prison”; this has become one of the most anthologized of 17th century poems, known especially for the poster-famous lines in the last stanza….

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April 29, 2012

The 2012 Forbes Fictional 15

Filed under: Lists — Tags: , , , , — Bookblurb @ 5:33 pm


By David M. Ewalt

It’s a great time to be imaginary. The characters that make up this year’s edition of the Forbes Fictional 15, our annual listing of fiction’s richest, boast an aggregate net worth of $209.5 billion. That’s up a stunning 59% from last year — and it’s enough cash to give $30 to every (real) person on the planet.

On top of the list is the ancient red-golden dragon Smaug, known by hobbits and dwarves across Middle Earth as “Smaug the Tremendous” and “Smaug the Unassessably Wealthy.” Smaug’s personal fortune jumped 16% from last year to $62 billion after wyrm watchers crafted a more detailed analysis of his massive hoard of coins, jewels and antiques.

Fiction’s second-richest character makes his first appearance on the list in 2012, and not without controversy. Diamond mining magnate Flintheart Glomgold (net worth $51.9 billion) stole the title of “World’s Richest Duck” from his arch nemesis (and former list member) Scrooge McDuck when the longtime rivals bet their entire fortunes on the results of an around the world race. Now penniless, McDuck is crying fowl: He says Glomgold cheated, hiring The Beagle Boys to kidnap his nephew Donald and Magica De Spell to ground his zeppelin. He’s sworn to recover his fortune.

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The sound and fury of book-prize brouhaha leaves literature nowhere

Arguably insouciant … How would Christopher Hitchens have reacted to his final book's failure to win an Orwell prize? Photograph: Eamonn Mccabe for the Guardian

As the fuss surrounding the Pulitzer and Orwell prizes shows, book awards are increasingly more about hype than substance.

By Robert McCrum

The great literary boom of 1980 to 2010 is over, but its glittering prizes still linger, like discarded party favours the morning after the night before. Hardly a day goes by without some new titbit of literary prize gossip, or speculation.

Last week, it was the brouhaha over the news that this year’s Pulitzer prize, one of the premier US literary trophies, would not be awarded in the fiction category.

Then came crowd-pleasing advance publicity for the People’s book prize (promoted by Frederick Forsyth and the late Beryl Bainbridge).

And on Wednesday, new depths were plumbed in reports that the Orwell prize jury had “snubbed” the late Christopher Hitchens by not shortlisting his final book of essays, Arguably. (I bet they’re shaking their heads up on Parnassus about that one.)

Really, it’s a shame Hitchens is no longer around to make hay with the ideas that: a) he was troubled by prizes; b) he had somehow always hankered after the Orwell trophy; and c) there can be any meaning whatever in handing out posthumous awards to books whose authors are beyond the reach of lunch, dinner, and especially critics.


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Tor UK follows US in abandoning DRM

Filed under: e-tailers — Tags: , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 6:17 am

 |By  Philip Jones

Tor UK is to follow its US sibling by taking Digital Rights Management (DRM) off its e-book titles. US science fiction list Tor become one of the first mainstream imprints to say it intended to put its books out without DRM. Tor, Forge, Orb, Starscape and Tor Teen—all parts of Macmillan USA—said that from July 2012, its entire list of e-books would be made available DRM-free.

The move to abandon DRM on e-books has built up recently with industry observers believing that such a move could help to break Amazon’s hold over the fast-growing e-book market, while enabling e-book lovers to shift e-books more easily between devices.

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Read It and Whine! Writers Don’t Need Prizes, They Need Ideas

Photo by Ricardo Barros

The publishing industry’s pursuit of prizes has led to an epidemic of novelistic navel-gazing.

By Chris Lehmann

Woe betide our republic of letters! The shadowy culture arbiters who serve on the Pulitzer Prize board have withheld their favor from the field of American novels published in 2011. Booksellers, writers and critics have been up in arms ever since news of the non-award broke in mid-April. In a cri de coeur published in the New York Times’s op-ed pages, novelist Ann Patchett—who also runs an independent bookstore in Nashville—decried the committee’s abstention as a cause for “indignation” and, indeed, “rage.”

“I can’t imagine there was ever a year when we were so in need of the excitement the [fiction Pulitzer] creates in readers,” Ms. Patchett wrote.

It’s easy to miss, amid Ms. Patchett’s vehemence, the patent condescension that prize-dependent marketing visits upon American readers. In her distinctly arid account of readerly engagement, news of a prestigious laurel is what’s needed to generate “the buzz,” as she puts it, “that is so often lacking.” But the question is far better turned on its head: If an entire industry must rely on aloof prize boards to gin up sustained interest, then the trouble would seem to be the industry itself, rather than the prize boards or the consumers.

This was, after all, the identical argument that publishing executives trotted out in favor of Oprah Winfrey’s relentlessly middle-brow book club when Dame Oprah threatened its retirement, and when Jonathan Franzen sullied it with his sniveling high-brow criticisms: If we sacrifice Oprah’s market-making might, then surely the sky will fall! the collective wail then went; without patient tutelage from the sovereign of daytime talk, it was thought, Americans would revert to simply using books to squash bugs or prop open their outhouse windows. In reality, of course, publishers survived the withdrawn patronage of the Big O just fine—and far from being starved for reliable advice, readers can glean literary recommendations, opinions and argument from a wider range of sources than ever, thanks largely to the explosion of online literary sites.

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The Worst Book Covers of All Time Have Destroyed My Faith In Humanity

Filed under: Lists — Tags: , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 5:35 am

Good bless you, Eleanor Burns.

By Jesus Diaz

The worst album covers of all time made me miss the good old times of record shops. These books, however, just scare me. They scare me because, with the advent of personal digital book publishing, things are probably going to get even worse. I don’t even want to get into Amazon or iBooks’ selfpublishing sections.


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April 28, 2012

Bangs, Whimpers, and Apes: The Top 10 World-Ending Events In Science Fiction

Filed under: Lists — Tags: , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 6:04 am

 By Jon Korn

The world ends all the time in science fiction. And, depending on which conspiracy sites you’ve been reading, it might be Doomsday for real this year. After all, it’s not often that the Mayans and Roland Emmerich agree on something.

So, in honor of 2012 possibly (probably?) being the last year of history, it only seems right to count down my top ten favorite world-ending events in sci-fi. So go grab some dehydrated water and a grip of shotgun shells. I’ll meet you in the storm cellar.

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Harper Lee at Home

Filed under: Today in Literature — Tags: , , , — Bookblurb @ 5:58 am

Harper Lee

On this day in 1926 Harper Lee was born in Monroeville, Alabama. After the immediate and overwhelming success of To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), and despite forecasting more, Lee is known to have published only three short magazine articles since, all in the 60s; nor has she broken the silence and anonymity into which she quickly retreated.

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