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Canadian Booksellers Association says no to Amazon

In reaction to the news that Amazon is seeking government approval to establish operations in Canada, the Canadian Booksellers Association released a statement demanding that the government reject the online retailer’s application. From the press release:

CBA contends that allowing Amazon to operate a business within Canada would contravene the Investment Canada Act which requires that foreign investments in the book publishing and distribution sector be compatible with national cultural policies and be of net benefit to Canada and the Canadian-controlled sector.

CBA President Stephen Cribar argues that Amazon’s entry into Canada would detrimentally affect the country’s independent businesses and cultural industries: “Individual Canadian booksellers have traditionally played a key role in ensuring the promotion of Canadian authors and Canadian culture. These are values that no American retailer could ever purport to understand or promote.”

CBA urges the Canadian government and the Department of Canadian Heritage to continue its support of our unique cultural perspective by placing reasonable limits on American domination of our book market and rejecting’s current application.

The release urges Canadians to write letters to their MPs and to the ministers of industry and culture, and even to Stephen Harper himself, though we all know how he feels about books.

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Will the big “A” remove Twilight buy buttons?

It’s not difficult to imagine Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos fluttering his fingertips together and ordering Smithers to remove the buy buttons on book pages that don’t please him. Amazon has yet to allow customers to purchase Macmillan titles due to a dispute over e-book pricing, despite the fact that it announced last Friday it will “capitulate”.

Last night Hachette CEO David Young announced its support of Macmillan, following a similar move from HarperCollins on Wednesday.

From a letter sent out by Young to agents (via MobyLives):

At Hachette Book Group, we have been considering a new pricing model for 
some time, and have decided to transition to selling our e-books through an 
agency model. There are many advantages to the agency model, for our authors, retailers,
 consumers, and publishers. It allows Hachette to make pricing decisions that
 are rational and reflect the value of our authors’ works.

In the long run
 this will enable Hachette to continue to invest in and nurture authors’
 careers – from major blockbusters to new voices. Without this investment in 
our authors, the diversity of books available to consumers will contract, as
 will the diversity of retailers, and our literary culture will suffer.

With three out of six of the big U.S. publishers supporting the Apple-approved agency sales model, Amazon isn’t likely to continue stealth removal tactics, especially with a Twilight-powered company like Hachette. How long can Bezos hold out before making a public statement?

Perhaps Jobs and Bezos are actually sitting in a room together, planning this all out and cackling before they release the hounds.


Amazon and Macmillan get in the ring

Over the weekend a corporate brawl over e-book pricing lit up the Internet. After the U.S. publishing firm Macmillan announced that it would be raising prices of its e-books above Amazon’s $9.99 standard, Amazon responded by silently removing the “buy” buttons on all Macmillan titles. On Sunday, Amazon announced in a confusing note posted to its online Kindle forum – in which it claimed without irony that Macmillan has a ‘monopoly‘ on its own books – that it have will ‘have to capitulate.’

In a humorous round-up of the Amazon/Macmillan e-pricing hijinks, blogger and novelist John Scalzi details how Amazon failed over the weekend:

Amazon apparently forgot that when it moved against Macmillan, it also moved against Macmillan’s authors. Macmillan may be a faceless, soulless baby-consuming corporate entity with no feelings or emotions, but authors have both of those, and are also twitchy neurotic messes who obsess about their sales, a fact which Amazon should be well aware of because we check our Amazon numbers four hundred times a day, and a one-star Amazon review causes us to crush up six Zoloft and snort them into our nasal cavities, because waiting for the pills to digest would just take too long.

These are the people Amazon pissed off. Which was not a smart thing, because as we all know, the salient feature of writers is that they write. And they did, about this, all weekend long. And not just Macmillan’s authors, but other authors as well, who reasonably feared that their corporate parent might be the next victim of Amazon’s foot-stompery.


Unhappy Kindle users unleash a flood of one-star reviews for title with no e-book editon

Over at Publishing Perspectives, Hannah Johnson highlights an interesting phenomenon surrounding a book called Game Change, the controversial political tell-all about how Barack Obama won the 2008 U.S. presidential election. Despite receiving much attention in the press, 119 of the 193 Amazon reviews slap the book with a rating of one star. The reason has nothing to do with the content; users are angry at the book’s publisher, HarperCollins, for delaying the release of an electronic Kindle version.

David A. Tranter gives the book one star and writes:

I purchased a kindle to have immediate access to books as soon as they are released, not stand in a virtual line waiting for the publisher to get with the program. Had Amazon infomed me before I bought a kindle that new releases would be available only once interest in the hardcover version had died down completely, I wouldn’t have purchased a kindle. Wake up HarperCollins and Amazon!

And B. Hobbs writes:

So the publishers decided to make Kindle users wait for six weeks to buy the hot “new” political tome? In six weeks, we’ll be on to something else. Sorry, I spent a premium on my Kindle. I’m not going to run out and buy another hardback for $25. Just not going to happen.

The protest has prompted a heated discussion about whether one-star reviews should be used to punish a publisher for not releasing a book in the users’ preferred format, a situation at least one reviewer, Neel Gulhar, acknowledges:

I know some think that rating a book as 1-star due to an e-book release delay is unethical or inappropriate. But I think these publishers need to get the message that its [sic] not the right thing to do, and they need to work out their differences with Amazon. The best way to do that is to do this rating and damage the overall average – hopefully that hurts them where it hurts (the pocketbook).

One of the commenters on a discussion thread entitled “AMAZON: Please delete the one-star ‘no Kindle’ reviews” sums up the problem with this protest nicely: “This is like giving a waitress who busted her butt to serve her customers a poor rating on a customer satisfaction form because the restaurant didn’t carry a particular brand of beer.”

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Coalition fights new litmag funding restrictions

Last week, Q&Q reported on new federal funding guidelines that could imperil Canada’s small literary and arts magazines, by limiting Canadian Heritage money to publications with annual paid circulations of at least 5,000. Now, a growing number of people are expressing their anger in an oh so timely fashion – by forming a Facebook group. The Coalition to Keep Canadian Heritage Support for Literary and Arts Magazines has been online for less than 24 hours, but already more than 700 concerned citizens have joined the group. You can lend your support to the cause by signing up here.

From the group’s Facebook page:

By joining the Coalition, readers and writers everywhere send a strong message to the Honorable James Moore, the Department of Canadian Heritage, and the Canada Periodical Fund that we believe in our literary and arts magazines and feel that they should continue to do so by supporting them through well-deserved and sustained financial support.

To do so [...] would be the cheapest economic stimulus package the Government of Canada could initiate. Every single dollar granted to us or paid to us by a subscriber or a newsstand buyer goes back into the economy.

Put it this way, when Canadians get into their Chrysler and GM cars, they have to drive somewhere. A lot of them drive to their newsstands and bookstores to buy a literary or arts magazine.

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Dissing God

Publicists take note: Sometimes the best way to lift a book out of obscurity is by harnessing the tireless outrage of religious fundamentalists.

The Guardian’s Alison Flood is reporting how a group of Christian extremists is focusing its ire on a profanity-laced collection of poetry, which otherwise would almost certainly have been overlooked by the British press.

Christian activists are due to stage a protest outside the Welsh Assembly tomorrow over Patrick Jones’s poetry collection Darkness Is Where the Stars Are, which they describe as “ugly, indecent and blasphemous.”

Jones is scheduled to read his poetry at the Assembly’s T Hywel building tomorrow at 12pm, but the group Christian Voice – which has already successfully campaigned against Jones launching his work at Waterstone’s Cardiff branch last month – is planning “a public act of Christian witness” outside the building.

The book in question, published by the innocuously named Cinnamon Press, alludes to carnal relations between Jesus and Mary Magdalene and contains the blasphemous assertion that “god does not die because he was never alive.” Apparently, it represents the culmination of two decades of work by Jones, who was formerly most famous for his ties to the band Manic Street Preachers.

Ironically, the mastermind behind the protests is urging members to commit some very un-Christian-like acts of deceit:

“Say how much you would like an invitation to the event, but don’t say you wish to protest!” the organisation said in an email. “Say whatever is needed to get alongside and get a ticket without bearing false witness. You cannot give a false name for either event as ID will be required. So Onward, Christian soldiers, Stand up, stand up for Jesus!”

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Mafiaboy is repentant … the Mafia, not so much

There’s a new book out by Michael Calce, aka Mafiaboy, the young internet hacker who caused turmoil eight years ago when he hacked some of the biggest websites around — including Yahoo, eBay, and CNN — resulting in millions of dollars of losses and an international manhunt that eventually involved both the RCMP and the FBI. Calce, only 15 years old at the time, was eventually tracked down and arrested in Montreal, where he subsequently pleaded guilty to a staggering 56 charges. He was sentenced to eight months in a group home.

Now 23, the erstwhile hacker is apologetic for the chaos he precipitated, and wants to warn the world that the online environment is not secure from copycat hackers who might still wreak untold havoc. Calce told the CBC that his book, Mafiaboy: How I Cracked the Internet and Why It’s Still Broken, written with Craig Silverman, is meant in part as a warning about the dangers of not taking internet security seriously:

“The idea is to convey a message to the general public that it’s crazy how people are putting their whole life online — online banking, Facebook, dating,” Calce says.

“The technology is becoming more and more incorporated in our life and it’s becoming less and less secure. I see a big problem there and I want to bring this issue to the public.”

Although it appears that Mafiaboy has changed his ways, the actual Mafia is not so easily swayed. The CBC is also reporting that the Neapolitan Mafia has stepped up its efforts to assassinate author Roberto Saviano, whose 2006 book, Gomorra, brought him acclaim, international bestsellerdom, and a death threat from the organized crime organization. Saviano has been in hiding since the book’s release, but the renewed threat on his life has prompted him to flee his native Italy, at least temporarily.

Saviano told the daily La Repubblica that he’s planning to leave the country after reports surfaced that the Neapolitan Mafia, known locally as the Camorra, is stepping up its plans to assassinate him by Christmas.

“I shall leave Italy, at least for a period and then we’ll see,” said the author, who has faced repeated death threats from the Casalesi crime clan of Naples.

“I want a life. I want a home. I want to fall in love. I want to [be able to] drink a beer in public, go to a bookshop and choose a book after browsing the back cover,” said the 28-year-old writer.

Saviano bemoans the two years he has spent in hiding under 24-hour police protection, saying that his “humanity has been impoverished.”

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Publisher of controversial Mohammed novel firebombed

As previously noted on Quillblog, publication of the novel The Jewel of Medina was canceled by Random House U.S. due to the possibility that it might offend Muslims and perhaps initiate attacks by those at the radical end of the faith. It was a dumb move – to pre-emptively censor oneself – but one dumb move always engenders another, and now the offices of the book’s U.K. publisher have been firebombed. And it gets worse.

From The Telegraph:

Hardline clerics said that further attacks would be “inevitable” if publication of the novel, The Jewel of Medina, goes ahead as planned next month.

Police moved in to arrest three men moments after a fire broke out at the London home and office of Martin Rynja in the early hours of Saturday.

The attack came days after Mr Rynja’s company, Gibson Square, bought the rights to the book by the American writer Sherry Jones, which has already been likened to Sir Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.

Islam’s radical fringe has clearly decided once again  that the “dangerous Muslim” stereotype is better propagated from within. They’re like the drunken frat boys at a party who are determined to wreck it for everyone, or the former child stars who keep getting pulled over high on meth.

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Authors vs. funding cuts: the revolution will be artsy

On Wednesday, the arts community gathered in a crowded Toronto theatre to denounce the $40-million in arts funding cuts announced by the Tories in recent weeks. According to the Toronto Star, the night’s speakers, who included former chair of The Writers’ Union of Canada Susan Swan and activist and author Naomi Klein, had some choice words for the government.

“Could it be, Mr. Prime Minister, that you don’t want to understand the value of the arts? Could it be that you would prefer the arts to be an arm of government propaganda instead of the free expression of ideas and innovation that’s so crucial for a successful democracy and a good economy? Could it be that you feel threatened by artistic expression because you can’t control it?” Swan said.

“Artistic expression spreads goodwill about Canada around the world. Culture is us, Mr. Prime Minister, and if we don’t value ourselves, the world won’t either,” she added.

In response to the cuts, one community group, dubbed Department of Culture, is proposing a number of measures to defeat Harper, including organizing “swing teams” in vulnerable Tory ridings. A more whimsical tactic is to draw attention to a quote by Quebec author Gabrielle Roy inscribed on the Canadian $20 bill, which reads, “Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?” From the group’s website:

To direct attention to the place of the arts in our society as a means of both economic and cultural exchange we encourage you to recite the quote every time you pay for something with a $20 bill.

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Danish publisher wants controversial U.S. novel

Earlier this month, Random House U.S. decided to pull Sherry Jones’s novel The Jewel of Medina, for fear its content (about the child bride of the prophet Mohammed) would “incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment.”

Today, the Guardian reports that Danish publisher Trykkefrihedsselskabets Library (Free Speech Library) is negotiating with Jones’s agent, Natasha Kern, to publish the novel in Denmark.

[Free Speech Library] co-owner Helle Merete Brix said that the fact that Random House was prepared to pay $100,000 for the book showed its quality, and that she was determined not to “bow to any censorship.”

Brix expects the negotiations to conclude on Friday. This Quillblogger expects Brix will hand over a lot of Danish kroner.

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