Shelf Awareness for Friday, February 10, 2012
Lending Ending: Penguin Cuts Ties with OverDrive
Penguin is ending its relationship with digital library distributor OverDrive effective today and will "stop offering e-books and digital audiobooks to libraries--at least until it finds a new partner," paidContent reported, adding that Random House is now the sole of the six major U.S. publishers "to allow unrestricted access to its e-books in libraries--though it will raise prices beginning in March."
The American Library Association, which met with big-six publishers regarding the issue of digital book borrowing cutting into paid sales, noted that a "key issue that arose in each meeting is the degree to which 'friction' may decline in the e-book lending transaction as compared to lending print books. From the publisher viewpoint, this friction provides some measure of security. Borrowing a print book from a library involves a nontrivial amount of personal work that often involves two trips--one to pick up the book and one to return it. The online availability of e-books alters this friction calculation, and publishers are concerned that the ready download-ability of library e-books could have an adverse effect on sales."
Penguin is "continuing to talk about our future plans for e-book and digital audiobook availability for library lending with a number of partners providing these services," the publisher said in a statement.
OverDrive CEO Steve Potash told the Associated Press (via the Wall Street Journal) that he is still "actively working" with Penguin on the issue.
Amazon Wants N.J. Deal; Some Dems Say 'Fuggedaboutit'
Amazon is in talks with New Jersey officials about opening two warehouses with 1,500 full-time jobs in exchange for a 22-month sales-tax holiday, the Associated Press reported. The company is considering existing space in two locations, with each warehouse measuring 1.2 million square feet.
Amazon does not currently collect the state's 7% sales tax, but Assembly Democratic leader Lou Greenwald, who has been involved in the talks, called this an unfair advantage: "My goal and the goal of legislative leadership is to find a way to balance the interests of the retail merchants and the Internet merchants in a way that will ensure equity and a level playing field going forward."
The tax break is opposed by Senator Ray Lesniak, who said, "It's a bad deal for New Jersey, no matter what. We're giving up hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues we should be getting and we're also putting at risk jobs in our retail centers and central business districts throughout the state."
John Holub, president of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association, commented: "Retailers across the state from Main Street to the malls want a level playing field immediately. The retail industry supports over one million jobs. While they can compete on price, they can't break the law and not collect the sales tax. We can't afford to wait two more months, let alone two more years, for out-of-state Internet retailers to start collecting sales taxes."
Indigo's Third Quarter: Sales Up Slightly, Profits Dip
In the third quarter ending December 31, revenue at Indigo Books & Music rose 0.5%, to C$352.9 million (the Canadian dollar is equal to the U.S. dollar), and net profit slipped 12.2%, to $23.7 million. Sales at superstores open at least a year rose 1.8%, and IndigoSpirit small-format stores were up 2.5%. Sales from Indigo's online channel, chapters.indigo.ca, rose 9.3% compared to the same period in 2010.
CEO Heather Reisman said that the company was "very pleased" with holiday results and noted, "We recorded the highest sales day in the history of our company during December and experienced double digit growth in our gift, lifestyle, and toy businesses."
Reisman attributed the drop in profit to "lower gross margins as a result of increased promotional discounts to drive print sales and increased sales of low margin eReaders. This margin impact has not yet been offset by expected growth in the gift, lifestyle and toy businesses."
In other Indigo news, Ted Marlow has resigned as president and is returning to the U.S. He took the job last April after having been president of Urban Outfitters for more than a decade.
E-Books Driving General Digital Growth
Retail e-commerce spending hit the $161.5 billion mark in 2011, up 13% from the previous year, according to a new report from comScore, which noted that as tablets and e-readers have gained in popularity, "acceleration of e-book downloads... represented a strong driver of this growth."
PaidContent reported that users "are downloading more e-books, music, TV shows and movies than ever.... Digital content and subscriptions were the fastest-growing category [up 26%], followed by consumer electronics (you need devices to consume all that content, right?)."
Heidi Urges Swiss to Vote for Fixed Prices
On March 11, Switzerland votes on a referendum that would guarantee fixed prices on books and e-books for at least 18 months after publication, making it the first country to put book pricing issues to a public vote, Carlo Bernasconi, editor-in-chief of Schweizer Buchhandel reported. A fixed price law passed the parliament last March, but a group of young liberals, the right-wing party Schweizer Volkspartei and the country's largest retailer, Migros, collected more than 50,000 signatures for the referendum. The Swiss Bookseller and Publishers Association is running a campaign in favor of fixed book prices and borrowed Heidi from the eponymous Johanna Spyri novel to yodel for a yes vote. (See a billboard featuring Heidi on the wall of wholesaler Schweizer Buchzentrum.) Polls predict a narrow victory for the measure.
BEA Speakers to Include Chabon, Nesbø & Alley
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon, Norwegian novelist Jo Nesbø and actress Kirstie Alley will be among the speakers at this year's BookExpo America in New York City, USA Today reported.
Nesbo will speak June 5 about his upcoming book, Phantom. Chabon will discuss his next novel, Telegraph Avenue, June 7, the same day Alley will talk about her as yet unnamed memoir, set for fall publication. Additional speakers will be announced soon.
Diesel's Valentine's Message to Customers
Diesel Books in Malibu, Calif., affirms its love for its customers. You can see Valentine's Day displays at Diesel's other stores here.
Cool Fashion Idea of the Day: Book Lover’s Ball
Here's a question you don't see every day: "How do you translate the essence of a book into fashion?"
Quillblog interviewed "21-year-old design wunderkind" Adrian Wu about his plans for last night's Book Lover’s Ball, an annual fundraiser to support the Toronto Public Library Foundation. The festivities concluded with a fashion show, for which six designers were "paired with a book that shares a common thread to the designer’s aesthetic or philosophy." This year, Wu was paired with Margaret Atwood’s essay collection In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination.
His answer to that earlier question: "What I'm showing is more of a styled version of my collection, but I did alter the collection to fit the meaning of the book. It's more feminine and less ambiguous than as it was presented at Toronto Fashion Week."
Jennifer Gonzalez Joining Macmillan Sales
Effective March 5, Jennifer Gonzalez is joining the Macmillan Sales Department in the new position of v-p, children's sales. She has been director of sales, mass merchants, at Random House for the last three years. Before that, she was director of sales, mass market and brand initiatives, for Candlewick Press and worked for Levy (now ReaderLink) in the field as a district manager and in its Chicago office as a senior account executive on the Target team. Last but not least, she was a bookseller and operations manager at Barnes & Noble.
Mark Von Bargen is being promoted to senior director, trade sales, for children's books. He has overseen all channels of distribution and will now focus on trade retail and wholesale accounts in the U.S. and Canada, Scholastic Book Fairs, and the library and educational markets.
Book Trailer of the Day: Straight
Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality by Hanne Blank (Beacon Press).
Media and Movies
Media Heat: Elizabeth Weil on All Things Considered
Tomorrow on Fox 5 News: Tonya Reiman, author of The Body Language of Dating: Read His Signals, Send Your Own, and Get the Guy (Gallery Books, $24.99, 9781451624342).
Today on NPR's Science Friday: William J. Broad, author of The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards (Simon & Schuster, $26, 9781451641424).
Tonight on the Dennis Miller Show: Vince Flynn, author of Kill Shot (Emily Bestler Books, $27.99, 9780857208668).
Tomorrow morning on the Today Show: Taylor Armstrong, author of Hiding from Reality: My Story of Love, Loss, and Finding the Courage Within (Gallery, $26, 9781451677713).
Sunday on All Things Considered: Elizabeth Weil, author of No Cheating, No Dying: I Had a Good Marriage. Then I Tried To Make It Better. (Scribner, $25, 9781439168226).
Sunday night on PBS's Moyers and Co.: Bruce Bartlett, author of The Benefit and the Burden: Tax Reform--Why We Need It and What It Will Take (Simon & Schuster, $26, 9781451646191).
TV Premiere: Comic Book Men
This Sunday at 10 p.m., Kevin Smith's new reality series Comic Book Men--which he describes as "Pawn Stars in a comic-book store"--premieres on the AMC network. Set at Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash, a shop Smith owns in Red Bank, N.J., the show intersperses Smith's commentary with action that "takes place within the shop, which opened in the late '90s. Customers stroll in to chat and try to sell their geeky collectibles," USA Today reported
"You're definitely gonna see stuff you had as a kid," Smith said. "It's an instant time machine."
The show has been criticized for its all-male cast, but Smith countered: "This is the reality. These dudes work here." He also noted he owns the copyright to the title "Comic Book Women."
The show "is built around store employees Walt Flanagan, a high school pal of Smith’s who has run the store since 1997, Bryan Johnson, Mike Zapcic and Ming Chen, who interact with customers trying to sell items and talking comic books," the New York Daily News wrote.
While Smith doesn’t watch much television, he said, "I’m just glad it came to be my friends.... that would give me one show I’d totally watch."
His cast, however, was initially reluctant. "Flanagan, when I told him about the show, he was like, 'I don’t want to be Snooki,' " Smith said.
Movie Trailer: The Bourne Legacy
Universal has released its first trailer for The Bourne Legacy, based on Eric Van Lustbader's first Bourne novel after the trilogy originally written by the late Robert Ludlum. Directed by Tony Gilroy, the "spinoff of the studio's blockbuster Bourne Identity series" features Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker; Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol) in the title role.
"Will the film measure up to the original trilogy that starred Matt Damon?" asked Deadline.com. "Well, Gilroy's writing in boiling down Robert Ludlum's novels into such compelling films was as much the backbone of the series as Damon's performance as Jason Bourne, or the efforts of directors Paul Greengrass and Doug Liman."
Books & Authors
Awards: American Alpine Club Literary
Bernadette McDonald has won the 2012 American Alpine Club Literary Award--presented annually to "recognize excellence in alpine literature,"--for her book Freedom Climbers, "which recounts the true story of Polish adventurers who escaped Communist oppression after the Second World War and became the world’s foremost climbers of the Himalayas," Quillblog reported, adding that McDonald "has become the first writer to have scored the mountain lit hat-trick for a single title, having also won Grand Prize at the Banff Mountain Book Festival and Britain’s Boardman Tasker Prize." She will be honored by the AAC March 3 at a benefit dinner in Boston.
Book Brahmin: Emma Straub
Emma Straub is the author of Other People We Married (just out in paper from Riverhead) and the forthcoming novel Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures (also from Riverhead). Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Tin House, Slate, the Paris Review Daily and many other journals. She works as a bookseller at Brooklyn's BookCourt; designs and silkscreens posters with her husband; and is a staff writer for the teen girl hotspot, Rookiemag.
On your nightstand now:
About 50 books--some galleys, some hardcovers, some paperbacks, my diary. Right now I'm reading Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim, the NYRB edition, and it's just delightful. Next up is the new Heidi Julavits novel, The Vanishers.
Favorite book when you were a child:
As a child, I really loved mysteries. I read every Christopher Pike book, then every Agatha Christie. Maurice Sendak, Archie comics, Roald Dahl, Lynda Barry.
Your top five authors:
Of all time? Whew. Okay. George Eliot, Jane Austen, Jennifer Egan, Lorrie Moore, maybe Tom Perrotta? Or Colm Toibin? Oh, that's hard.
Book you've faked reading:
I don't do this anymore. I work at a bookstore, and I don't like lying to people in order to make them give me money. But, oh yes, in my misguided youth, I think I faked reading books all the time. I would never admit which ones. Not the ones that impressed you, dear boy I had a crush on, rest assured.
Book you're an evangelist for:
I love selling people on contemporary authors who I think should be hugely, hugely famous: Kate Christensen is probably my favorite. The Great Man is such an incredible novel. Have you read it? You really should.
Book you've bought for the cover:
My husband is a book designer, so I take covers very, very seriously. The Coralie Bickford-Smith Penguin Classics are to die for. Right now I really love big type, not just because that's what my book looks like. The Art of Fielding, The Marriage Plot. Big, loopy and beautiful.
Book that changed your life:
Recently? I'd say both Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad and John Williams's Stoner. Any book that shows you how life can be described in new and expert ways changes your life, don't you think?
Favorite line from a book:
Is it cheating to use the first or last line? I'm tempted to do both: "Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderly again...," from Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca, and "Reader, I married him," from Jane Eyre.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Well, right now I'm rereading Middlemarch, and there are so many subplots that I do feel like I'm reading it for the first time. And loving every minute of it.
Review: Half-Blood Blues
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan (Picador, $15 paperback, 9781250012708, February 28, 2012)
One of the risks of historical fiction is that the history can get in the way of the fiction; the author's imagination is often crammed into a box of flat characters and plodding narrative in the name of accuracy. Such is not the case with Esi Edugyan's atmospheric second novel. Although set mainly in late 1930s Germany, as Hitler's "jackboots" march toward war, and later in Paris, Half-Blood Blues merely uses politically unstable Europe as a backdrop for a dialogue-rich story about a multi-ethnic jazz band and its prodigy trumpet player.
Sid Griffith, a light-skinned bass player from Baltimore, narrates as he and his childhood friend, dark-skinned drummer Chip Jones, leave the U.S. for the more racially and musically tolerant Europe to play the smoky clubs of Berlin. They are joined by four German musicians: an aristocrat on clarinet, a burly alto sax player, a blond-haired Jew on piano and Thomas Hieronymus ("the Kid") Falk, a rare German-born black man, on trumpet. Hitler's Germany soon becomes as intolerant of jazz as it is of blacks and Jews, however, and the Hot-Time Swingers forge papers and flee to Paris in hope of a recording session with their hero, Louis Armstrong.
Edugyan's prose sparkles not only with the jive and banter of jazz musicians, but also with the metaphors of a music built on improvisation--"that massive sound, wild and unexpected, like a thicket of flowers in a bone-dry field." But none of the players has the gift of the Kid, who in "one pure, brilliant note" can create "the sound of something growing a crust, some watery thing finally gelling... the very sound of age, of growing older, of adolescent rage being tempered by a man's heart." In a moment of jealousy over the Kid's brilliance, however, Sid betrays him; the war catches up with the other German band members and the two Americans barely escape back to Baltimore.
Edugyan doesn't ignore the racism of the rural South, the inner cities, the clubs and restaurants, but she subtly uses the novel's setting to explore racism's even deeper horrors. Still, Half-Blood Blues suggests that perhaps the universal language of jazz can lead the way to a time beyond such prejudices. As Sid first walks the streets of Paris before the German invasion, he notes: "These was jazz streets, after all. That music done hung its hat here once, drawn near everyone to gig." Half-Blood Blues is itself one of those gigs for everyone. --Bruce Jacobs
Shelf Talker: With a fine ear for the jive and metaphor of jazz, Esi Edugyan's Scotiabank Giller-winning novel recounts the struggles of a multi-ethnic band in Europe on the brink of World War II.
Robert Gray: Whenever a Writer Friend Succeeds...
It isn't fair to begin a column about friendship and mutual support among writers with a mean-spirited, if mischievously delightful, line from Gore Vidal, but I do so only to establish counterpoint: "Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies."
The view from my Facebook window tells me otherwise. Although the Internet can be a den of the über-snarky, it is also a haven where writers are building friendships (the real kind, not the FB kind) with their peers.
The recent publication of Jessica Keener's fine debut novel Night Swim prompted me to pay closer attention to the enthusiastic support she received online from authors whose work I admire, including Patry Francis (The Liar's Diary), Susan Henderson (Up from the Blue) and Leora Skolkin-Smith (Hystera), among many others.
I like this trend. It feels like evolution. It's so... anti-Vidal. I wondered what they thought. I asked.
"Over the past five or so years, with the surging growth of the Internet and bloggers, and the birth of an online private forum for writers called Backspace, I began to connect with writers in a much more supportive way than I had ever experienced before," said Keener. "The online medium fostered a wonderful world of pen palship. What writer doesn’t enjoy crafting a letter or passing a note?
"As I see it, the Internet nurtures reading and responding--a give and take in words. In the process, I discovered many writers I might never have met sitting in my office at home. I became a regular follower of Susan Henderson's Litpark, thrilling over the variety of writers and artists she hosted. I found writers whose work I respected and who sweated as I did over the language of heartache. E-mail exchanges between writers I'd never met became increasingly confessional and intimate and ultimately led to in-person meetings. When I finally met Susan and Patry Francis (in New York, at a Backspace Writers Conference) as well as M.J. Rose--whose blog about publishing and marketing I'd been reading for months--I began to see that I was surrounding myself with a supportive community of writers, peers willing to care for each other professionally and personally."
Francis noted that when she started submitting her work to agents, "I was suffering from an extreme case of writerly isolation. I viewed loneliness and fierce rivalry as occupational hazards." Gradually she discovered online alternatives, "and eventually the tangled, marvelous, distracting, infinitely fascinating world that is social media. There, counter to stereotype, I found an incredibly large-hearted and generous community. No one embodies that spirit more than Jessica Keener. Her willingness to give of herself, to offer encouragement, nurture, constructive criticism when requested, and enthusiastic support to others is truly unique."
Or perhaps not so unique anymore, if what I've seen online is any indication.
Henderson said she met Keener when they were both on a fiction panel with an editor "I’d been rejected by for years. And that’s kind of at the heart of writers' journeys, this marriage of success and failure, throughout our career. Here I am invited to sit beside an icon on this panel and yet I’m remembering those letters he wrote me. So that’s one of the immediate places we bonded, and that idea was at the core of why I created my blog LitPark, because it’s hard to be alone with all the rejection and self-doubt and still believe you’re on a path to publication. The self-doubt can eat you alive.
"When a writer lands a book deal, there's almost always a long story behind it--a story of multiple revisions, hair pulling, rejections, thoughts of quitting, and in the end, pure stamina, sometimes decades of stamina. Often when you read a little blurb about an author's debut novel, you know that debut is actually her third or fourth--the others just never saw the light of day. And I think it's knowing this that's behind the joy and celebration we feel when our friends finally achieve what had seemed impossible."
Although they had communicated online, Keener said she only recently met Skolkin-Smith, who observed that, as "the field of publishing becomes more narrow (in terms of only a few brand names getting print reviews and the rest of us authors dangling on a thin hope that we will be read at all), I honestly don't know what I would do as an author lost in the shadows without the support and recognition of people I've met in literary cyberspace. On blogs and social networking sites, it feels like a new cyber landscape is defined by a passion for literature, and in no small way the new connections made possible now have transformed both reader and writer. I am grateful, alerted to the miracle of words in a new light, a new way."
Keener summed up the view from my Facebook window nicely: "The writing business is nerve-wracking and for a long time it was incomprehensible to me. This has changed. As my peers and I exchange experiences, my sense of control and grasp of the business side of things has shifted significantly for the better. As for the writing itself--that struggle and challenge will remain personal and mysterious and unique, but the sting of isolation is gone. Even now as I write, new friendships that exhilarate and inspire are forming."--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)