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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Early English Printing Found

William Caxton
William Caxton portrait from Library of Congress

For all the history fans out there, a librarian found what is thought to be from one of the oldest printed books created in England. The pages, found in a box in the University of Reading archive, are from a religious book originally printed by William Caxton in the late 1400s. The university press release has more detail on the pages and how they ended up where they were discovered.

Follow the links for some fascinating reading for history buffs and bibliophiles alike.

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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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EU Court Allows Library Ebook Lending

Last month, the Court of Justice of the European Union put forward a ruling that libraries may lend ebooks just like physical books so long as authors are paid for their work. It appears that until now libraries in the EU did not have the right to lend ebooks the way libraries in America have for quite some time.

Publishers, of course, are quite unhappy with the decision because they will lose some money. However, the apocalyptic rhetoric coming from publishers is obviously overblown. If publishers have been able to make ebook lending work in America, they can certainly do so in the EU. Additionally, the idea that they find this decision shocking is ludicrous. Back in June, the advocate general for the court published an opinion on this case so publishers had five months to prepare for the court’s ruling.

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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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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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Read A Romance Month 2016

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August is a Read a Romance Month so I thought I’d provide a few content links for readers looking for articles, essays, book recommendations, and interviews on romance.

Check out the feature on Alaskan author Jennifer Bernard in the Alaska Dispatch News. The article not only talks about Bernard and her books but also touches on the enduring disregard for romance. But Bernard has a great quote that readers and writers alike can agree with:

“I grew up in an academic family that disdained romance,” she said. “In order to even attempt to write my first book, I had to grapple with that ‘snobbish’ attitude. I had to figure out why I wanted to write, and who I was writing for.”

She soon realized that she had little interest in impressing the literary community.

“I wanted to write for people,” she said. “People who are looking for a laugh, or a happy sigh or the delicious satisfaction of a happy ending.”

Bustle also has a number of pieces on romance that are worth reading, including a recommended romance list for readers of classic literature. If you can only read one article in Bustle’s set, it should be “Bustle’s Romance Novel Month Celebrates A Genre Dominated By Strong, Smart Women”.

And, of course, the Read a Romance Month site has daily posts by romance writers from across the genre so look for your favorite author and maybe discover someone new to read.

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Picking Books: Editors or Data Mining?

NPR recently published a blog post on how to judge which book will sell well – editor judgment or data from ebooks. It’s an interesting 21st century problem along with the fact that traditional publishers lose money on 80% of the books they publish according to the article.

There are, of course, a lot of problems with strictly using data to determine whether a book is worth publishing – which I should note no one in the article says is a good idea. It ignores any segment of the reading population that doesn’t read ebooks – perhaps they would buy and enjoy a book that readers of ebooks didn’t like.

My other major objection is that a book that does well in terms of the data might lead publishers to publish a number of books that an algorithm says are similar. This will mean a spate of books that are all the same which history tells us readers do NOT want. Everyone should remember the Twilight publishing phenomenon where suddenly there were eight million YA paranormal romance novels and none of them were the “next Twilight” because readers had already moved on.

There is likely a place for data mining in the publishing realm but I suspect that it is a small piece of a very large puzzle of what readers want and when so that another 500 years from now it will still remain as much a mystery as it is today.

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