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Thursday, April 30, 2009

US justice department examining Google books settlement

Still awaiting the big tick of approval from a US judge, Google's settlement with US authors and publishers over its book scanning scheme looks as if it has met another hurdle.

The US Department of Justice has begun informal enquiries into at least one aspect of Google's sweeping settlement of lawsuits from book publishers and authors, according to two people familiar with the discussions.
This follows expressions of concern from anti-trust experts.

Govt. to scale back NZ National Library revamp

The Government has decided to scale back the revamp of the National Library's Wellington building but will ensure the nation's treasures are protected by increasing storage, fixing leaks, upgrading equipment and addressing deferred maintenance.

The revamp is to cost $52 million which will include $35 million in capital spending and $17 million in operational spending over the next four years.

It is a significant reduction from the previously proposed redevelopment plan, which was originally costed at $82 million ($69 million capital plus$13 million operating costs) but has since been costed at about $90 million.

The Minister Responsible for the Library, Dr Richard Worth, said that the Government had been forced to reconsider the previous government's decisionin light of the international recession.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Conde Nast pulls plug on high profile business magazine

Just two years ago, PORTFOLIO magazine was born in the midst of a business media boom. The idea of the parent company was to tap demand from mushrooming brokerage companies and provide a new venue for luxury advertisers. The market was largely male, and largely nouveaux riche -- and boy, though newly so, they were rich, rich, rich.

Now Conde Nast, suffering from a dearth of advertising spending right across its range of publications (which include Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Wired), is pulling the plug.
"It is unfortunate we were unable to give Portfolio the time needed to fully mature," said CEO Charles Townsend. More than 80 editorial and administrative staff will lose their jobs.

Ironically, one of the stories in the last issue is called Confessions of a TARP wife. "Forget the opera," runs the blurb. "Cancel dinner at Bouley. How life has changed since my CEO husband went on the government dole."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Do Pulitzers sell books?

As we all know, the Pulitzers have been announced, and, as Publisher's Lunch remarks, it is interesting to follow the figures.
Sales as tracked by Nielsen BookScan show relative parity among three of the four winners to date in the outlets tracked by the service. The fiction winner sold close to 12,000 copies in hardcover and almost 44,000 in paperback so far; The Hemingses of Monticello is up to just over 45,000 hardcovers after the NBA win; and Slavery by Another Name has sold approximately 22,000 hardcovers and 4,000 trade paperbacks.

American Lion is in a completely different class, with registered sales of close to 360,000 copies, and the publisher reporting 500,000 copies in print. Random House Trade Paperbacks has moved up the paperback release to the end of April, with an announced 200,000-copy first printing.

In case you have forgotten, here is the list.

Fiction: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (Random House)

History: The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed (W.W. Norton & Company)

Biography: American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham (Random House)

General Nonfiction: Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon (Doubleday)

Poetry: The Shadow of Sirius by W.S. Merwin (Copper Canyon Press)

Earliest dust jacket identified

It's official. In March 2009, the earliest known publisher's dust jacket was found in the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Don't hold your breath and expect an object of great beauty (yes, it is that bland object to the left, above, the righthand image being a detail), but for all that it is a very interesting discovery.
For a start, the dust jacket was different from the modern dj, in that it completely enclosed the book, the overlapping edges being stuck to the rest with sealing wax. This meant that the customer could not see the actual book unless the bookstore provided a browsing copy -- rather like the plastic-wrapped fine artbooks of today. It had a comparable price, too, costing the significant sum of twelve shillings, roughly equivalent to forty-five pounds, or 120 New Zealand dollars, or 65 US dollars today (though I stand to be corrected by a certain economist).

The Bodleian treasure is sans book, the dust jacket being in their ephemera collection, but I find that the book itself was worth unwrapping, having an embossed leather trade binding, heavily embellished with gilt. The contents were top quality, too. Friendship's Offering was published annually from the year 1824, marketed as a Christmas or New Year's gift, and attracted contributors as eminent as the great English critic John Ruskin, the artist J.M.W. Turner, and the poet Thomas Hood. Known for his humorous ditties, Hood's most famous Friendship's Offering offering was uncharacteristically morose:

I remember, I remember
The house where I was born,
The little window, where the sun
Came peeping in, at morn;
He never came a wink too soon
Nor brought too long a day
But now, I often wish the night
Had borne my breath away.

Not children's reading, that's for sure - which it should not be, at that price.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What publishers should do

Jonathan Karp, of Twelve Publishing, makes much sense in an oped written for Publishers Weekly. After browsing bookstores and finding a plethora of blatantly unsellable books, he recommends they wake up their act.

"We are acquiring and publishing too many books," he writes. "We buy them opportunistically, and at times thoughtlessly. We edit and launch them too quickly. We market them carelessly and ephemerally. Too often, we abdicate our responsibility to be filters, guides, guardians and gatekeepers. And now, as in many other industries, we are suffering the effects. Anyone in a bookstore can see that."

And, with that, he offers a twelve-point guide, which I summarize in my own words.

1. End Kabuki Publishing. You know the book that everyone raves about, and yet no one has actually read? That's the kind of promo he's talking about.

2. Prioritize and specialize. Let your editors acquire and work with a limited number of manuscripts that are close to their hearts.

3. Tell the truth. Don't pretend to your marketing department that a book is great when it's not. Only promote the books that meet the house's standards.

4. Stop the copycat books. This is also known as the Grisham Effect. The public isn't stupid, and lookalike books don't sell.

5. More editorial quality control. Promote only those books that have been edited at leisure, thoughtfully, and with crucial feedback from others.

6. Imprints for everyone. I love this idea -- which is to organize publishing staff into teams, ideally of three, consisting of the editor, a publicist, and a sales/marketing rep., who generate and manage their own mini-list.

7. One bidder per company. Why have your own editors competing for the same book?

8. Pay authors to market their work. The author is the person most involved with the book, and the person who knows their audience best -- so why not earmark part of the advance for author-generated promotion? Excellent idea, in this internet age!

9. Be loyal to the book, not the ego. Why back an author when the book isn't great?

10. Announce all deals -- and not just a few. Again, perfectly possible, in a link on the publisher's website, perhaps. While it might disappoint a few prospective authors, it would avoid the problem of multiple books coming out on the same topic.

11. Downsize. In a digital age, he says, fewer books should be published, with more marketing.

12. Advertise, advertise, advertise. I say, amen, to that. I hate to say how many books I have bought because I saw them advertised on the back of a bus ...

Jonathan Karp welcomes feedback.

The excellence of "Defying Empire" recognized

Some time ago, I posted a piece a most intriguing book, Defying Empire, Trading with the Enemy in Colonial New York. This morning, I was delighted to receive an email from the author, Thomas Truxes, confiding that he had received an exciting letter from Fred Anderson, Chair of the Parkman Prize committee of the Society of American Historians.
The letter ran:

Dear Tom, I'm writing on behalf of the Francis Parkman Prize jury (Stan Katz, Kathleen Dalton, and myself) to inform you that we have unanimously voted to name Defying Empire as a finalist for this year's prize. Unfortunately no money accompanies this designation, but the following citation will be entered in the minutes of the annual dinner meeting of the Society of American Historians for 2009.

Thomas M. Truxes, Defying Empire, Trading with the Enemy in Colonial New York (Yale University Press): From his opening description of the October night in 1759 when New Yorkers celebrated the fall of Quebec to his account of the trials, three years later, which disclosed that some of New York's most prominent merchants had traded with the enemy throughout the Seven Years' War, Thomas Truxes holds the reader in thrall with a tale of enterprise, deceit, and revenge as compelling as a first-rate novel. Few writers can create history with such narrative drive and populate it with characters so vividly realized; fewer still can do it without sacrificing the rigor and integrity of their scholarship. Thomas Truxes does it all in a book that can be read as much for delight as for enlightenment. Defying Empire is a remarkable achievement.


The judges had over 200 entries to sift through, which may be a record number of submissions for the award. The three finalists were Defying Empire, Brian DeLay's War of a Thousand Deserts: Indian Raids and the U.S.-Mexican War, and On Zion's Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape by Jared Farmer.

Farmer's book was eventually judged the winner, but all three were considered so eminently prizeworthy that the judges insisted they be designated as named finalists, something that the Society permits only in cases where the jury members believe that the books are of exceptional merit.

I echo Mr. Anderson in saying, Congratulations, Tom, on a splendid book.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Penguin having fun with their logo

Joseph Sullivan, in his fine site, which is replete with comment and reviews of book designs, points out that Penguin is having fun playing with the company colophon.
I surely do agree that the jacket of The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime is beguilingly whimsical -- and those pencils are mind-bending. Wow!
The name of the designer of the Gaslight Crime book is unknown. Coralie Bickford-Smith dreamed up the jacket for The Craftsman, and author Richard Sennett must be mightily chuffed. Joseph Sullivan declares he is a Bickford-Smith fan, which is no surprise at all.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Tatler has a birthday

April 12, 2009, is the 300th birthday of the founding of the original Tatler by Richard Steele, (pictured) and to mark the occasion, The Oxford Dictionary of Biography is devoting this week's spot to Steele and his fellow essayist, Joseph Addison.

Today The Tatler, named after Steele's original, and published since 1901, calls itself "Britain's most sophisticated magazine," a soubriquet Steele would have applauded. The descendant of his publication would have also earned itself his approval by billing itself as a "vibrant mix of fashion, beauty and most glamorous celebrities," that presents "the social comment of the day with wit, style and irreverence."

The original idea was to publish the news and gossip running around the coffee and chocolate houses of the time, so Steele planted spies in the most fashionable sipping spots. Whites' Chocolate House in St. James's Street was his source for "all accounts of gallantry, pleasure and entertainment"- a fancy way of saying that was where he got all the inside gen on the gallivanting royals. Literary gossip (and Steele was the first dramatic critic) was picked up at Will's Coffee House in Bow Street, where Dryden once hogged the heat, bagging the chair closest to the fire in winter, and on the balcony in summer. The Tatler was so influential that when Addison began to frequent Button's Coffee House in Russell Street instead, Will's establishment waned and died.

Collecting antiques was all the rage, and fodder for commentary on the topic was garnered at the Grecian Coffee House in Devereux Court, described in Tatler's pages as the place where men of learning gathered. Such luminaries of science as Newton, Halley, and Sloane were loyal patrons -- and this despite the fact that the proprietor openly preferred "gentlemen of the law" to literary lights, scientists or medics.

Political news emanated from St. James's Coffee House, where many Tatler stories (and one set of Steele's love letters) were written. It was a Whig establishment - no Tory would allow himself to be seen there - which gives a clue to the politics of such patrons as Garrick, Reynolds, and Goldsmith.

The first paparazzi, perhaps?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Conan Doyle and the fairies

Back in 1917, when the world was perhaps a more credulous place, two young girls spread the story that they had been frolicking with fairies.

It happened in the romantically named Cottingley Glen, in England. Elsie Wright and her cousin, Frances Griffiths, who had been playing in the countryside, made up the fairies to account for the fact that they had come home soaking wet. Instead of falling in while skylarking (as really happened, no doubt), they solemnly assured their family they had been pushed by tiny mischievous beings. To back up their yarn, they presented a series of photographs taken with a borrowed camera, of themselves with fairies, pixies, and gnomes.

Their family did not believe them for an instant -- and their family was right, because the pix were ingenious fakes. The fairies etc. were paper cutouts taken from a popular children's book, Princess Mary's Gift Book, and stuck to twigs and so forth before the pictures were taken.
However, the story got around, and when he heard it, the famous creator of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, fell for it like a ton of bricks. It did not occur to him -- or any of the photographic experts consulted -- that it was strange that while the waterfall was blurred, the fairies were perfectly rigid, though supposed to be hovering in the air. Instead, he assured the world that the fairies were real, bringing huge publicity to the guilty duo -- who confessed many years later that they would have liked to admit it was a playful hoax, but were scared of upsetting anyone so famous.
Conan Doyle even wrote a book about it, called The Coming of the Fairies. It was published in 1922, and is still in print.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Need to advertise for a butler?

Even in these straitened times, it seems there are folks who need a discreet place where they can announce they are anxious to hire a lady's maid, and expect to get a sensible reply.
Well, if you belong to that select set, Georgina Pattinson of the BBC News has glad tidings for you. A 124-year-old magazine is exactly what you want.
This is The Lady, first published in 1885, and positively refusing to age. It was originally launched "to deal with the many subjects in which Ladies are interested, in a manner at once fully and completely, yet not tiresome: to provide information without dullness and entertainment without vulgarity," and continues to cling to this dignified stance. It is the place to advertise for a nanny, and expect to get Mary Poppins.
Set demurely amongst recipes for such nostalgic items as homemade chutney, pleas for domestic help look positively Edwardian. The current issue features advertisements ranging from a request for applications from couples who are willing to look after "a large estate," to cordon bleu school graduates who are willing to shift their culinary skills from Gloucestershire to W11, London, at their employer's whim. For the adventurous minded, there is the advertisement for a housekeeper in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, though there is the stern requirement that she "must be able to organise and prepare for large banquets."
Stella Gibbons, author of the hilarious Cold Comfort Farm, was a regular contributor, and that sniffish arbiter of social manners, Nancy Mitford, was another -- but that was back in the days when the magazine was priced at sixpence. Now, it costs a more modern sum -- and yes, it has a website.

New Zealand publisher honored

Elizabeth Caffin, who managed Auckland University Press for 21 years, will receive an honorary Doctor of Literature degree in Auckland next week (Maidment Theatre, 7 April, 7.30pm).

The award of the degree by the University of Auckland recognises her contribution as managing editor and then as director until mid-2007. In output, range, quality and electronic innovation AUP strengthened its local and international standing as a publisher of high quality books -- 352 of them! -- including no less than fourteen that gained prestigious Montana Books Awards

Elizabeth Caffin sought books of depth and originality which are accessible to the thoughtful reader, and demonstrated strong business acumen as well as literary judgment. In 2003 AUP won the 2003 Thorpe-Bowker NZ Publishers’ Award for outstanding achievement in the book industry for “continually producing fascinating New Zealand books that have outstanding editorial and production standards”.

Art inspires debate

Versions of Picasso's Guernica appeared on walls in Belfast during The Troubles amongst all the guerrilla art. Now the tapestry version of the painting is the centrepiece of a new exhibition in London's Whitechapel Art Gallery, more than sixty years after the original hung there for a fortnight to raise money for and awareness of the Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War.

The tapestry was commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller and normally hangs in the UN, where it was covered up during Colin Powell's speech in 2003 making the case for war in Iraq. In the newly revamped Whitechapel the tapestry presides over a UN style debating table, free to anyone who wishes to hire the room for discussion. The first debate there was about the role of art in protest.

A case for graffiti, perhaps?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Non-profit newspapers?

If it wasn't for banks and carmakers, the big news would be the prospective demise of the newspaper as we know it. U.S Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (Democrat, Maryland), thinks he has an answer, however.
On March 24, 2009, he introduced legislation that would allow newspapers to become non-profit organizations, in an effort to help the faltering industry survive.

As he points out in a press release, over the last few weeks we have been bombarded with bad news about the folks who produce the news that we folks read. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Rocky Mountain News, the Baltimore Examiner, and the San Francisco Chronicle are several of the warmly familiar names that have fallen by the wayside, and the Tribune company has filed for bankruptcy.
His Newspaper Revitalization Act would help by making it easier to switch to non-profit status. His plan is that local financial moguls (if there are any left) or even members of the public who can still spare a few dimes should fund endowments for their local newspapers, aided by tax breaks in exchange for restrictions on political partisanship. Under this arrangement, newspapers would not be allowed to make political endorsements -- a custom which, I must admit, is very foreign to this New Zealander -- but would be able to report freely on political campaigns.
Advertizing and subscription monies would be tax exempt, and contributions to the endowments would be tax deductible.
A good idea, or a bad one?