Readersforum's Blog

May 16, 2013

A ‘novel’ idea for spreading literature in Africa: The cellphone

Publishers across the continent are increasingly targeting readers with mobile phone apps and other technologies that are far cheaper than either e-readers or traditional books.

By Donna Bryson

New technology and new thinking are helping African literature leapfrog the high costs of traditional publishing and reach new readers across the continent.

As e-readers boom in popularity in the West, African publishers are stretching their reach with the help of a device millions already have in their pockets: their cellphones.

“You can give people instant access to work now,” says Angela Wachuka, executive director of Kenya’s Kwani Trust, which publishes the popular Kwani? literary journal. “Before, you had to rely on delivery or people coming to find you.”

Mobile internet now accounts for well over half of all web traffic in some African countries, and it is expected to grow 25-fold on the continent in the next four years, according to the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association, an industry organization.

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May 8, 2013

E-Books and Democracy


WRESTLING with my newspaper on the subway recently, I noticed the woman next to me reading a book on her smartphone. “That has to hurt your eyes,” I commented.  Not missing a beat, she replied, in true New York style, “My font is bigger than yours.” She was right.

The information revolution raises profound questions about the future of books, reading and libraries. While publishers have been nimble about marketing e-books to consumers, until very recently they’ve been mostly unwilling to sell e-books to libraries to lend, fearful that doing so would hurt their business, which is under considerable pressure.

Negotiations between the nation’s libraries and the Big Six publishers — Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Group, Random House and Simon & Schuster, which publish roughly two-thirds of the books in America — have gone in fits and starts. Today Hachette, which had been a holdout, is joining the others in announcing that it will make e-books available to public libraries. This is a big step, as it represents, for the first time, a consensus among the Big Six, at least in principle, that their e-books should be made available to library users.

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Folio Prize to allow self-published work

folioprize| By  Joshua Farrington

The Folio Prize has confirmed it is to consider self-published entries, a move which has been welcomed by the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).

Sixty titles on the 80-strong longlist will be put forward by the Folio’s academy, made up of members of the literary community, and it is understood they will be allowed to select self-published works.

The remaining 20 will be called in by judges following publishers writing letters of support for particular titles. Self-published authors will be able to act as publishers and write letters of support for their own titles, which will then be considered to be called in.

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February 16, 2013

Harlem Shake at HarperCollins

By Jason Boog
The Harlem Shake meme exploded online last week, as a video maker named Filthy Frank took an infectious beat created by a producer named Baauer and invented a kooky dance sequence.

UPDATE: The Epic Reads team at HarperCollins posted a publisher edition of the Harlem Shake today, bringing the dance craze to a major publishing house (embedded above).

Videomakers around the globe took the same 30-second clip from the song, choreographing surreal dances in everyday locations, including firemen, office workers and an entire news team.

Below, we’ve collected a few other literary video takes on the viral video phenomenon. We would love to see more literary participation, perhaps in a large-scale library performance, a big bookstore dance or even an Amazon warehouse ballet.

We have already uncovered a few examples of librarian patrons doing the Harlem Shake, but our favorite was the West Point Library edition of the dance.

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November 30, 2012

Publishers brace for authors to reclaim book rights in 2013

A copyright law that lets authors break contracts after 35 years will start taking effect in January. The law, which is meant to give authors like Stephen King and Judy Blume a “second bite at the apple,” could provide yet another disruption for traditional publishers.

By Jeff John Roberts

The book publishing industry, already facing disruption from Amazon and  e-books, will confront a new form of turbulence in 2013. Starting in January, publishers face the loss of their back lists as authors begin using the Copyright Act to reclaim works they assigned years ago.

These so-called “termination rights,” which let authors break contracts after 35 years, have already made the media thanks to a court squabble between the Village People and music studios. On the book front, publishers  and agents are staying mostly mum even though the bestseller lists from 1978 reveal some very big names eligible to reclaim their work  – Stephen King, Judy Blume, John LeCarre and so on. Here’s a plain English overview of how the law works and why (for now at least) we’re likely to see literary types negotiate rather than litigate.

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February 5, 2012

When will big publishers speak out about Amazon?

Free speech about Amazon: It's out of the box now ...

  By Dennis Johnson

Barnes & Noble‘s dramatic statement on Tuesday that, no matter what, it wouldn’t, under any circumstances, including beards, sell books published by Amazon, ever, come hell or high water — eh, except for, well, ebooks on its website — has certainly been the talk of the industry the last few days, and continues to draw interesting observations … For example, we just noticed that the statement said, precisely, that B&N had decided “not to stock Amazon published titles in our store showrooms.” Showrooms? Beyond what that word might signify — hint — didn’t the nationwide outrage over Amazon encouraging readers to think of brick-and-mortar stores as “showrooms” for its price check app mean anything to our nation’s largest brick-and-mortar bookseller? (And note that at least one significant report, in the New York Times, suggested that outrage over the price check app may have actually been a factor in the huge drop in Amazon’s earnings for the quarter.)

Well, be that as it may, B&N’s statement was encouraging — finally, a big player has responded logically to Amazon! — and resonant with the larger feeling, in the wake of the price check app scandal, that not just industry but public perception had turned a corner; something could happen.

And interestingly enough, a long essay from the Authors Guild, issued on the same day as the B&N statement, posits that public perception — read media perception — has indeed turned. The article — “Publishing’s Ecosystem on the Brink: The Backstory” — observes that, finally, mainstream media is starting to report about Amazon more critically.

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December 1, 2011

Libraries are active partners with the publishing industry

By Greg Hill
Samuel Pepys, the great English diarist who chronicled London life in the 1660s, was a sucker for an interesting book. In Pepys’ day, book buyers purchased the loose pages of manuscripts and had them bound themselves. For example, on July 8, 1664, Pepys wrote that he’d gone “to the binder’s and directed the doing of my Chaucer … and thence to the clasp-maker’s to have it clasped and bossed.”

Librarians love bookstores, of course, and that affection’s largely returned by booksellers, who’ve long known that thriving libraries inspire readers to buy books.

Last month Publisher’s Weekly had an article about a Library Journal survey showing more than “50 percent of all library users report purchasing books by an author they were introduced to in the library. This debunks the myth that when a library buys a book the publisher loses future sales. Instead, it confirms the public library not only incubates and supports literacy, as is well understood in our culture, but it is an active partner with the publishing industry in building the book market, not to mention the burgeoning e-book market.”

Librarians certainly buy a lot of books for themselves. I spend a little extra to buy new books locally and support our local booksellers. When used books are hard to locate, I turn to For example, my friend Leon showed me how engaging his 1938 copy of Judge James Wickersham’s “Old Yukon: Tales, Trails, and Trials” was recently, and I craved my own copy. revealed a bookstore in Massachusetts would part with theirs for $6.99, after I threw in another $3.99 for shipping. Now, it’s mine.

The Judge’s book has the entire May 1903 issue of the Fairbanks Miner, with an exclusive with Felix Pedro and a tall “Tanana Tale,” about a miner who claims to survive falling in the Tanana River at 70 below, getting lost, and staving off starvation by eating the tail of his lead dog.

“I gave Doughnuts the bone out of his tail,” he explained, “and after gnawing it a while he came on into the Fortymile with me.”

Few events are so pleasing as books in the mail. The pleasure’s heightened when they arrive wrapped in tissue paper. My new “Old Yukon” measured up, and was further wrapped in pages from a New York Times several weeks old. Several eye-catching articles popped out, including one by Jess Bidgood about the Occupy Wall Street Library, also known as the “People’s Library.”

November 17, 2011

Young adult novels heating up the charts

Writer Elaine Dimopoulos attributes the books’ appeal to being deep inside the protagonist’s head.

Publishers, stores embracing trend

By Meredith Goldstein

Employees at the Brookline Booksmith kept getting the same questions, over and over.

‘‘Where’s ‘Twilight’? ’’ Or ‘‘Where are the Stephenie Meyer books?’’

The staff response: ‘‘Young adult books are in back.’’

Staff members noticed that, curiously, most of the inquiring customers were not young adults at all. Many were middle aged. And that led to a revelation: Young adult books are no longer for that audience alone – and, as a result, sales are often outpacing grown-up bestsellers, sometimes by millions.

The Booksmith now keeps its best-selling young adult titles in the front of the store, displayed prominently on tables among the adult bestsellers and new releases.

It all began with the “Twilight’’ series, which has the first of its two final movie installments, “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1,’’ hitting movie theaters this weekend. The book ignited a publishing industry trend that continues to see adults purchasing books written for teens.

The market shift is considerable. An example: Jonathan Franzen’s much-anticipated novel “Freedom’’ has sold more than 600,000 hardcover copies since it was released in August 2010, according to Nielsen BookScan, while Suzanne Collins’s “Mockingjay,’’ the third book in her “Hunger Games’’ trilogy – released that same month and geared to young adults – has sold more than 1.3 million single, hardcover copies to date.

Hardcover copies of books for young adults (known as YA books) are a few dollars less than adult releases, but the huge sales numbers still have the books earning more money at the register. As of last week, all three books in Collins’s “Hunger Games’’ trilogy were on the Amazon Kindle bestseller list. They beat out “The Help’’ and Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.’’

This reader-driven trend has changed the scope and priorities of the publishing industry. Six years after the release of the first “Twilight’’ book, literary agencies have restructured themselves to account for strong young adult sales. Publishers continue to increase the number of YA acquisitions.

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November 6, 2011

Press X to Not Die: Amazon’s book publishing threatens publishers, bookstores

Filed under: Publishers — Tags: , , , , — Bookblurb @ 10:02 pm

By Adam Arinder

When it comes to consumerism, competition is a good thing.

With companies trying to win your hard-earned dollar, they’ll throw price cuts and deals in your face until you buy their product. That said, competition isn’t so great if you’re one of the companies trying to compete for people’s money.

A company could provide a great service, like allowing people to rent movies for a reasonable price, and be very successful at it. Then, one day, someone comes in and provides a better, more convenient service and puts the original company out of business.

Sorry, Blockbuster.

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, started out simply selling books in 1995. Today, the company sells all sorts of products, both physical and digital.

The online giant has recently made a big push in terms of digital distribution. From the release of the original Kindle e-reader in 2007 to the Amazon Appstore last March, Amazon has made huge strides when it comes to software downloads.

Online services from companies like Netflix and Amazon are impacting their brick-and-mortar counterparts every year. Along with the aforementioned Blockbuster bankruptcy, bookstore giant Borders closed its doors earlier this year — partially due to e-books and Amazon.

Why leave your house and go to a bookstore when you can simply click a button to buy your favorite book conveniently from home, usually for much cheaper?

However, Amazon isn’t satisfied with bringing down retail stores — it has its sights set on publishers, as well.

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October 30, 2011

Will Amazon Kill Off Publishers?

What happens when more writers have the option of a one-stop shop: agent, publisher and bookseller.

Monopoly vs. Diversity

By Dennis Johnson

Are publishers still needed? Or, as Amazon’s self-published authors would put it, are legacy publishers still needed? Well, they must be, or why would Amazon go to such lengths to build a publishing program — down to the detail of buying expensive retirees who used to run big houses to lend it an air of legitimacy.

But that means writers and readers are dealing with a company that’s imitating the thing it says they don’t need anymore. A thing that it actively denigrates, like calling publishers legacy or traditional publishers — i.e., casting everything as old versus new, and, of course, old is bad. But it’s not about old versus new, or for that matter, print versus digital. It’s man versus machine, and diversity versus monopoly.

Can Amazon sell a lot of books? You bet. They really do know how to develop algorithms that can move just about anything. Good books, bad books. Beautifully edited, completely unedited, edited by chimpanzees – it doesn’t matter. The numbers, they brag, speak for themselves.

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