Small Press, Great Books

Michael Dirda had a column in The Washington Post about small presses that I found interesting. Some of these smaller presses are doing innovative and interesting things in publishing so they are often worth a look. Whether you are looking for mysteries or reissues of great literature or just English translations of excellent books from around the world, you are sure to find something that appeals from one of these publishers.

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Secret Libraries

Library of Congress Jefferson Building
Library of Congress Jefferson Building – not a secret library!

Last year, BBC Culture highlighted secret libraries around the world. The libraries had been hidden or restricted for various reasons – religion, politics, or just plain forgetfulness. This piece highlights a few of these libraries in different countries. I’d love to visit some of these!

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EU Commission’s New Bookselling Rules

Publisher’s Weekly had a good article this week about the EU Commission announcing updated bookselling rules. The rules are likely to have significant pricing impact, particularly the change to VAT for ebooks and the refusal to allow Amazon contracts to include “most favored nation” clauses. The third rule that was issued ends the practice of ebook sales being determined by geographic location and making the EU one market in terms of ebook sales.

Check out the interesting changes and what people think will happen because of them.

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Print vs Ebook Sales

Last week, The Guardian published two articles with titles that purported to discuss the decline of ebooks and the resurgence of print in the UK. Additionally, CNN had a story online about the same situation playing out in the US.

The first article, How ebooks lost their shine, is actually more about the bounce back of print books and books as art objects (versus books as reading material). The article even states “The figures from the Publishing Association should be treated with some caution. They exclude self-published books, a sizable market for ebooks. And, according to Dan Franklin, a digital publishing specialist, more than 50% of genre sales are on ebook. Digital book sales overall are up 6%.”

The second article, Screen fatigue sees UK ebook sales plunge 17% as readers return to print, does not make the same note about the statistics but goes more in depth as to the fact that the decline might be attributable to the decline of dedicated ereaders in favor of tablets and cell phones which are harder to read on.

The CNN story gives similar data and ends with a depressing statistic for the US, “A quarter of the population hadn’t read a book of any kind, whether in print, electronic or audio form.”

Both Guardian articles have good points but I think reading all three of the articles together gives a better and fuller picture of the British and US book market and reader engagement.

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Old School Mysteries


In honor of this weekend’s Malice Domestic conference, the Washington Post’s Michael Dirda recommends some mysteries from the 1930s that have been reissued and will likely be fun reading for any fan of Christie or Doyle. I definitely plan to check out some of these older works and also have on my TBR Amy Stewarts’ Kopp Sisters mysteries, new works in the old school style.

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Literature and History: Jane Austen

East front of the Wentworth Woodhouse from A Complete History of the County of York by Thomas Allen (1828-30) – public domain image


A recent statement from the British Chancellor of the Exchequer caused a bit of a history and literary kerfuffle. In the statement regarding financial aid for historical preservation, the Chancellor said that Wentworth Woodhouse was the inspiration for Jane Austen’s Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice. Almost immediately, the Jane Austen Society put out a statement that Austen had never seen Wentworth Woodhouse and so it couldn’t be the inspiration.

It looks like Jane Austen is still causing mischief and mayhem in the 21st century. And they say romance novels are ephemeral!

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Best Books of 2016 Lists

The Washington Post has published its lists of the best books from 2016. They created one list of the top 10 books along with separate lists for fiction, nonfiction, audiobooks, science fiction and fantasy, mystery and thrillers, poetry, romance, memoirs, childrens and YA, and graphic novels.

I have actually not read any of the books on any of these lists but I do have a couple of them on my TBR. It also seems a little early to be making these lists considering that quite a few books will be published between when the list came out and the end of 2016 but I think this is an attempt to help people with holiday shopping for book lovers.

Have you read any of the books on these lists? What ‘best of’ lists do you follow?

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I am heading to New Orleans to combine a holiday with attendance at my first Bouchercon – an annual mystery book conference – next week. There are a lot of great authors in the lineup and too many sessions to attend everything I’d like but I’ll do my best and post a recap once I’m back home. However, this means the blog will be silent for the next couple of weeks as I’m traveling and soaking up the atmosphere of both NOLA and a great book conference!

Never heard of Bouchercon? Read about the conference and see the program for this year here.

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New Copyright Provisions Possible

Copyright infringement cases, like all court cases, can be very expensive and time consuming. Because so many authors, particularly self-published authors, make very little money on their work, a “small copyright claims” bill is being supported by the Authors Guild.

The legislation, H.R. 5757, introduced in the House of Representatives “establishes in the U.S. Copyright Office a small claims board to serve as an alternative forum for parties to voluntarily seek to resolve certain copyright claims”  and would consist of two attorneys and three claims officers. The bill is now with the Committee on the Judiciary where it will either be the subject of hearings and markup or it will “time out” at the end of the Congressional session.

The Authors Guild stated, “The costs of obtaining counsel and maintaining a copyright cause of action in federal court effectively preclude most individual copyright owners whose works are clearly infringed from being able to vindicate their rights and deter continuing violations. Moreover, sometimes authors want to put an end to infringements that are causing a relatively small amount of economic damage. In such cases, the prospect of a small recovery dissuades some copyright holders from filing a suit that costs more to file than the potential recovery.”

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Are Chain Bookstores Good or Bad for Bibliophiles?

There has been a good deal of press about Barnes and Noble this summer. First, reports came out that first quarter revenue fell by over 3%. Then, the stock fell almost 40% when the college bookstore division was spun off. Most recently, the CEO of less than a year has been fired. None of this is good news for the only large national physical bookstore chain left in the US.

Some people see Barnes and Noble’s downfall as a good thing, as it was Barnes and Noble – along with other large chain bookstores that no longer exist – that drove many of the small, independent bookstores out of business. Now that Amazon is doing the same to Barnes and Noble, it is hard not to see it as a nearly karmic sense of irony.

However, the loss of Barnes and Noble – should it not be able to survive – creates two pretty significant problems for bibliophiles. The first is that it leaves Amazon as the sole major national outlet for books. While I certainly patronize Amazon, this would be fairly catastrophic in terms of publishing. Amazon would use that power with little regard to the ecosystem of publishing which would inevitably lead to far fewer traditionally published books. I have nothing against self-publishing but Amazon doesn’t actually treat authors very well and it’s very hard to make money by self-publishing unless you are already a big name.

Which leads to the second problem as discussed in this New Republic article – Barnes and Noble is the only seller that currently buys very large orders of pre-publication books which publishers need in order to produce and market books. Amazon, Target, Walmart, etc. do this as well but not nearly to the extent that Barnes and Noble does and, of course, the Targets and Walmarts only order books from very well known authors who are basically guaranteed to sell. So if you get rid of Barnes and Noble, publishers will basically not be able to have midlist authors, nonfiction, literary fiction, or take a chance on an unknown author because there simply won’t be money to do so. As the article states, “…the death of Barnes & Noble would be catastrophic—not just for publishing houses and the writers they publish, but for American culture as a whole.”

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