Shelf Awareness for Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Beating Amazon to the E-Punch: Kobo Touch Launches in Japan
The Kobo Touch e-reader will be released in Japan next month, according to Hiroshi Mikitani, CEO and chairman of Rakuten, which purchased Kobo from Indigo for $315 million earlier this year. The device will retail for approximately ¥10,000 (about US$125.50). "Timing is key, of course," Engadget reported, noting that "murmurs of the Kindle Touch's Japanese debut haven't escaped Mikitani's notice."
"As a Japanese company, we cannot lose (to overseas rivals)," Mikitani told the Asahi Shimbun. "With Kobo devices, we will be able to export Japanese content. The Japanese publishing industry will become a huge content industry."
Advance orders for the device are scheduled to begin July 2, and Rakuten's goal is to have 50,000 titles available by the end of the year.
Mid-Sized Publishers: Settlement Bad for Everyone but Amazon
In a remarkable move emphasizing the depth of their concern, nine midsized publishers--and by virtue of some of their distribution operations, more than 1,000 distributed publishers--sent a joint 19-page comment to the Justice Department against its proposed settlement with Hachette Group, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster in the e-book agency plan pricing case. (The comment period ended last night at midnight.)
The publishers are Abrams, Chronicle, Grove/Atlantic, Chicago Review Press (parent company of IPG), New Directions, Norton, Perseus Books Group (parent company of PGW, Consortium and Perseus Distribution), Rowman & Littlefield (parent company of NBN) and Workman, who describe themselves as "the next tier down from the 'Big Six' publishers." They note, too, that they are all publishers that were not able to enact agency pricing with Amazon but have "benefited significantly" from the adoption of the agency plan for e-books by Amazon.
"Those arrangements contributed dramatically to increased competition and diversification in the distribution of e-books," the publishers wrote. "This significantly increased the selection of e-readers and produced technical innovations that have enhanced the e-reading experience for consumers. In addition, those arrangements helped support the health of diversified brick and mortar retail choices for book-buying consumers. Moreover, because publishers operate in a highly competitive market, under the agency model they have continued to compete vigorously with one another on both the price and quality of e-books." In fact, during the agency model period, average e-book prices "actually decreased."
The nine publishers warned that "if the agency model is effectively banned [under the proposed settlement], Amazon will have the ability to price whole categories of e-books below cost in a way that is likely to drive out competition from other, less deep-pocketed e-booksellers as well as brick and mortar booksellers." In that case, "numerous third parties--not just [the nine publishers] but also authors, booksellers and the public--are threatened."
The publishers stated that the Department has never contacted any of them or "sought to collect information," and as a result, the proposed settlements "demonstrate a lack of understanding" of the publishers' position and "the publishing industry as a whole."
The settlements' provisions intended to reduce discounting during the two-year period when publishers effectively can't sell under the agency plan are "completely unworkable and unenforceable," the publishers charged. Moreover, while the Justice Department alleged collusion between Apple and the five publishers, it does not call the agency model "inherently anticompetitive." Still, the settlement "would effectively ban the use of agency agreement for a two-year period" by the publishers, and thus "go too far... seeking remedies that are not rationally related to the misconduct alleged and that would inevitably injure independent publishers, consumers and all other industry participants."
The publishers criticized the Justice Department's "view of the publishing industry--a world in which Amazon is supposedly the champion of consumer welfare because it priced certain e-books for $9.99 regardless of how much Amazon paid for those books." In fact, "the evidence (ignored by DOJ) demonstrates that where Amazon has the ability to price below cost, it does so on a widespread basis that is likely to drive out competition."
Petrocelli on the Settlement: Why Help the Monopolist?
One of the many letters sent to the Justice Department during the comment period was from Bill Petrocelli, co-owner of the Book Passage, Corte Madera and San Francisco, Calif., who wrote a characteristically eloquent missive drawing on years of relevant book world history. Besides being a bookseller, Petrocelli is a lawyer who was involved to differing degrees in some of the major bookstore litigation of the 1990s, including the Northern California Booksellers Association and American Booksellers Association efforts against publishers and Borders and Barnes & Noble. (Read the full letter here.)
During Book Passage's 35 years in existence, Petrocelli wrote, "the publishing business has been rife with predatory, anti-competitive practices that have been extremely harmful to booksellers, small publishers, authors, and readers alike. Most of these unfair practices have been documented in independent studies, newspaper articles, private litigation, and even examinations by government investigators. All of this information has been made available to the DOJ and to its sister agency, the Federal Trade Commission, but no action has ever been taken by either agency to put a stop to such practices."
Now the Justice Department has taken steps, he continued, "but, shockingly, it has not acted to protect competition in the book business. Rather, it has stepped in to facilitate the aggressive tactics of the worst monopolist the book business has ever faced... Amazon.com."
The Justice Department's case is riddled with errors that ignore "all of the anti-competitive practices by Amazon.com that lead up to the moment the Agency Plan was announced." Amazon's "misuse of its monopoly power" has included "sudden, unannounced" delisting of titles; "tying its products together, thus precluding other booksellers from competing for its customers' business"; using "its political power and economic threats to undermine the efforts of states to force it to collect sales tax"; setting up publishing operations to "force publishers out of business and achieve vertical integration of publishing"; and selling e-books and the Kindle "below cost... a form of predatory pricing" and "a potent anti-competitive tactic."
The Department's reference to publishers as mere "intermediaries" between authors and readers "has overlooked a crucial element of the book business: i.e. publishers and bookstores perform essential services without which the current book business cannot function. These services are crucial to authors. Moreover, these services are crucial to book buyers--all book buyers--whether they buy print books or they buy e-books.... The tone throughout the complaint is that the book business can survive just fine without publishers and bookstores, if it ever comes to that. As long as consumers can get books at low prices, the DOJ lawyers seem to be saying, the Justice Department doesn't care whether publishers and booksellers continue to exist at all. This attitude of the DOJ is wrong-headed to the point of being tragic."
In setting up agency pricing, the sued publishers were dealing with a major threat, Petrocelli argued: Amazon's push to price all e-books at $9.99 was intended "to wean the maximum number of customers away from print books and into its e-books. Its apparent goal was to create the greatest possible price disparity in order to induce the maximum number of book buyers from print books to e-books, where it held a monopoly.... [Publishers] had every reason to fear that the next step by Amazon would be to put severe pressure on them to reduce the wholesale price substantially below the retail price of $9.99 that Amazon had artificially set."
The proposed settlement will have "a far-reaching impact on the entire book business--affecting print books, as well as e-books," Petrocelli said. These affects would be "devastating" for both authors and readers. Prices would inevitably rise and Amazon's penchant for the "arbitrary de-listing of books is a foretaste of how an Amazon.com monopoly would operate."
He called for the Department to study "the unintended consequences" of the settlement and do an in-depth analysis of the book business to "consider carefully what is necessary to preserve vitality and competition over the long run."
He also argued that the Justice Department should apply the anti-monopoly section 2 of the Sherman Act to Amazon. "The Justice Department admits that Amazon was using tie-in sales, vertical integration, sales below cost, and other aggressive tactics to maintain and expand that monopoly. The evidence is clear that Amazon was trying to extend its monopoly to the larger, overall book market."
The key issue, he said, is that "the creation of a monopoly in the book business is a far more serious offense than the claim of collusion alleged in this case, because it creates a permanent, anti-competitive situation that is extremely difficult to dislodge."
News Corp. Considering Separating Businesses
News Corp., parent company of HarperCollins, is considering separating its publishing and entertainment businesses, according to the Wall Street Journal, a News Corp. newspaper. Under the proposal--similar to suggestions made for years by investors wanting to focus on the company's faster-growing, more profitable entertainment operations--HarperCollins would be included with the Journal, the Times of London, other newspapers and education businesses. The entertainment company would consist of film and TV properties, including 20th Century Fox, Fox News and Fox TV operations.
Images of the Day: Fantastic Flying Event
Last Friday, Octavia Books, New Orleans, La., hosted an event for the release of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) that drew more than 200 enthusiastic fans.
The author, whose book inspired the wonderful Oscar-winning short film of the same name, was interviewed by Susan Larson of WWNO's Reading Life. Here: Joyce on stage and signing books (with his Oscar to the right).
A Memorial, Kathi Kamen Goldmark–Style
Those who came to celebrate the life of Kathi Kamen Goldmark yesterday at the Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco were encouraged to don leopard print, sequins and/or vamp attire--all favorites of the author, radio producer, singer/songwriter and all-around connector whose death took her from this literary scene last month.
If Rabbi Larry Raphael was taken aback by the most dense sea of leopard print the 107-year-old synagogue had ever seen, he didn't show it as he welcomed attendees to the resplendent "community-built" facility that housed both the Hall of Justice and the Superior Court after the 1906 earthquake.
Ben Fong Torres, rock journalist, author and radio personality, who fell in love with Kathi in the 1970s when they met, served as master of ceremonies. With a respectful nod to cliché, he said, "She is still here."
Laura Barry, Kathi's beloved stepdaughter, spoke first: "I can say with confidence that every one in this room shares a unique and beautiful relationship with her.... Not only did she make wonderful things happen, but she encouraged others to do the same. Once you were in her life you could count on being in her heart as well."
When Kathi's only child, Tony Goldmark, took the podium he echoed Laura's statement about how children born to special parents (or married into the relationship) might not realize how unusual their perspective is on happiness. After 29 years of life, Tony said, he was just now realizing how "abnormally wonderful my mother was in how she loved me and everyone she knew." As a son, he said he won the lottery to have landed a mother who was too busy laughing at his pranks to punish him and too quick to support his creative efforts to criticize him.
After a musical interlude, Kathi's mother, Betty Kamen, shared two stories. In one Betty gave permission to a young Kathi to change a hated dress before a guest arrived, only to be told by her daughter that Aunt Rose (the imminent guest) had given Kathi that dress; the other involved second grade girls gossiping about a classmate during a sleepover. Eavesdropping--as mothers will do--Betty said she heard Kathi tell the other girls: "You have to understand Amy. Her mother is never home."
At this point, there were very few dry eyes in the synagogue.
Lightening the mood, brother-in-law Dave Barry said, "I was going to tell the dress story; thanks, Betty." But even though he could joke about meeting Kathi through music--well, not music, exactly, but the Rock Bottom Remainders--Dave had a hard time keeping totally composed as he talked about a woman who just knew where to buy flamingo hats and kazoos in bulk. "To share the stage with Kathi was to share her joy, and what a wonder that was," he said.
Still, the last full sentence Kathi said to Dave was about the upcoming 20th anniversary Remainders shows set for the Los Angeles area last weekend. "I have big problems with the set list," she joked. After raising millions for charity, the Rock Bottom Remainders hung up their guitars and sequins.
"Kathi made us do it," began Amy Tan, who was the last official speaker at the memorial for a person she described as having the uncanny knack for getting people to do things that were unnatural for them. This, from a once-timid writer who could not sing, who--at Kathi's prodding--made a pretty good faux-dominatrix smacking Stephen King on the behind as a Remainderette. (Co-Remainderette Scott Turow was also in attendance.)
"None of us had the energy to keep up with all of her ideas," Tan said. "Not until Sam came along." Bandmates Sam Barry and Kathi married in 2009. Tan went on to call all those in attendance Kathi's co-conspirators. "So if we laughed or cried, Kathi made us do it."
Attendees then adjourned to another room where the party Kathi wanted began. Her band, Los Train Wreck, was joined onstage by Roger McGuinn of the Byrds--and just about anyone else who wanted to sing or say a few words.
All day people commented how Kathi shared her gifts with anyone who knew her. That afternoon, Sam Barry stepped up to play harmonica, sing and share the gift of his wife's joy with all.
"Joy and sadness don't sit well together," observed Brenda Knight, associate publisher at Cleis Press & Viva Editions, one of the hundreds of publishing people who attended the memorial.
Yesterday in a synagogue an earthquake couldn't crumble, joy and sadness might not have sat well together, but they rocked. Kathi made them do it. --Bridget Kinsella
Matt Parkinson Promoted at Dark Horse
Matt Parkinson has been promoted to v-p of marketing at Dark Horse. He was formerly senior director of marketing, a post he assumed in December. Before that, he was director of online marketing and has worked at Dark Horse seven years.
Video of the Day: 'Write Like the Wind'
"Write Like the Wind," a hilarious video urging George R.R. Martin to finish the Song of Ice and Fire series. Some of our favorite lines: "You're not our bitch and you're not a machine and we don't mean to dictate how you spend your days, but please bear in mind in the time that you've had, William Shakespeare turned out 35 friggin' plays. And if you keep writing so slow, you'll hold up the HBO show."
Book Trailer of the Day: Sixty Miles of Border
Sixty Miles of Border: An American Lawman Battles Drugs on the Mexican Border by Terry Kirkpatrick (Berkley).
Media and Movies
Media Heat: Yoko Ono On Point
This morning on the Today Show: Jimmie Walker, author of Dyn-o-mite!: Good Times, Bad Times, Our Times--A Memoir (Da Capo, $25, 9780306820830). He will also be on Fox & Friends and Wendy Williams tomorrow.
This morning on MSNBC's Morning Joe: Kenneth R. Feinberg, author of Who Gets What: Fair Compensation after Tragedy and Financial Upheaval (PublicAffairs, $26.99, 9781586489779). He will also be on CNBC's Squawk Box and NPR's Talk of the Nation tomorrow.
Tomorrow morning on Good Morning America: Terry Caffey, co-author of Terror by Night: The True Story of the Brutal Texas Murder That Destroyed a Family, Restored One Man's Faith, and Shocked a Nation (Tyndale House, $22.99, 9781414334769), about the case that will be profiled on ABC's Final Witness.
Tomorrow on CNN's Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien: Katherine Losse, author of The Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network (Free Press, $26, 9781451668254).
Tomorrow on NPR's Diane Rehm Show, readers review Tinkers by Paul Harding (Bellevue Literary Press, $14.95, 9781934137123).
Tomorrow on Extra: Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, author of Gorilla Beach (Gallery, $25, 9781451657081).
Tomorrow on NPR's On Point: Yoko Ono, author of An Invisible Flower (Chronicle Books, $16.95, 9781452109114).
TV: First Peek at Shirley MacLaine's Downton Abbey
Shirley MacLaine was honored by the American Film Institute recently with a life-achievement award. As Elizabeth McGovern spoke about MacLaine's upcoming role on Downton Abbey's third season, she shared the first official look at her on-screen mother "going head-to-head" with the always delightfully intimidating Maggie Smith. "Is it 2013 yet?" asked Entertainment Weekly.
Books & Authors
Awards: Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence
The American Library Association's inaugural Andrew Carnegie Awards for Excellence in Literature went, in nonfiction, to Robert K. Massie for Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (Random House) and, in fiction, to Anne Enright for The Forgotten Waltz (Norton). They each receive $5,000.
Catherine the Great was praised as a "compulsively readable biography of the fascinating woman who, through a combination of luck, personality, and a fine mind, rose from her birth as a minor German princess to become the Empress of all the Russias."
Of Enright's novel, the ALA observed: "The vicissitudes of extramarital love and the obstructions to its smooth flow--including spouses, children, and the necessary secrecy surrounding an affair--are charted in sharp yet supple prose. In a year without a Pulitzer Prize in fiction, this award becomes even more meaningful for the literary community."
Attainment: New Titles Out Next Week
Selected new titles appearing next Tuesday, July 3:
The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner (Atria, $26.99, 9781451617757) follows a young screenwriter whose sitcom gets picked up.
Gold by Chris Cleave (Simon & Schuster, $27, 9781451672725) takes place during the 2012 Olympics, where two women compete for the gold in cycling.
Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mercury by Lesley-Ann Jones (Touchstone, $26, 9781451663952) chronicles the life of Queen's lead singer.
A Ship Without A Sail: The Life of Lorenz Hart by Gary Marmorstein (Simon & Schuster, $30, 9781416594253) examines the troubled personal life of an accomplished lyricist.
Divine Alignment by Squire Rushnell (Howard Books, $19.99, 9781451648560) ascribes higher meaning to everyday coincidence.
Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith (Simon & Schuster, $25, 9781439177303) explores anxiety through personal and psychiatric perspectives.
Advent by James Treadwell (Atria, $26, 9781451661644) sees a return of magical powers into the modern world.
Review: True Believers
True Believers by Kurt Andersen (Random House, $27 hardcover, 9781400067206, July 10, 2012)
Karen Hollander, the narrator of Kurt Andersen's rambunctious True Believers, carries all the passionate and ambiguous baggage the 1960s laid on the boomer generation. As the novel opens, Karen turns down a potential Supreme Court nomination, knowing the political vetting process will expose an incriminating secret she has been carrying since her radical student days in '68. Instead, she begins a memoir where she can tell the true story of those years herself. To finish it, she needs to corroborate her memory with evidence from both the surviving participants and the government agencies charged with investigating them. Jumping back and forth in time, the novel gradually uncovers what really happened when she was 18 and hellbent on saving the world.
Andersen brings all the wit he honed at the Harvard Lampoon (and later at Spy), as well as the probing eye for cultural details shown in his previous novels, Turn of the Century and Heyday. In Karen's granddaughter Waverly, an Occupy protester, he brings to life the contemporary fruit of the seeds planted in the protests of the Vietnam era, tying together a half-century of American upheaval, fear and unpopular wars. As Waverly tells her grandmother, "Protests now mostly seem like cover versions of old songs. Like we're all in a sixties tribute band.... Nine-eleven is my earliest memory--so America has been at war but not really at war my whole life."
Beneath the surface of Karen's memoir runs an early abandoned Catholicism with the repetitive superficiality of its confession/absolution pattern--"rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat," as her latest lover calls it. Gradually, she realizes that it was merely replaced, that "Christian confession and penitence in the first millennium were beta versions of the second millennium's legal trials and statutory penalties." Likewise, her childhood infatuation with Ian Fleming's James Bond novels and their romantic duels between good and evil haunts her, despite her encounters with the murky acronymic government agencies assigned to undermine America's "enemies."
In Andersen's epic novel, the young always think that they are on to something new, that their drive to change the world justifies their behaviors, that the improved future will forgive them. It is the great ambiguity of the 1960s that the grandchildren of the baby boomers discover that "setting the world on fire more or less literally" must lead to doing so only in a figurative sense. The practicalities of career and family often force us "to work hard, become successful, and leave both radicalism and true love--every form of wild romance--to others." Only in the end does Andersen suggest that perhaps, after all her searching for the truth, Karen Hollander can break the cycle and rediscover some of the romance of her youth. --Bruce Jacobs
Shelf Talker: Kurt Andersen's sympathetic heroine brings a smart, funny voice to the political and cultural ambiguities of the last 50 years.