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Daily book biz round-up: Arthur Slade wins $25,000; U.K. to review copyright laws; and more

Today’s book news:


Cough up some dough, Campbell!

D.C. Reid, a past president of both the Federation of B.C. Writers and the League of Canadian Poets, has taken B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell – and, by extension, the province’s librarians and publishers – to task for greenlighting the B.C. Books Online project. As you may recall, the project, which debuted in beta form last May, took 650 non-fiction titles by various B.C. publishers and made them available for free online through 12 library websites. Here’s Reid’s open letter to Campbell:

I am writing to let you know that if you want B.C. writers to be positive about your Beta Project that took 650 of our books – most for free – and put them on the internet, you will have to pay us. A digital book can be loaned to anyone on the planet, and the author will never sell another book.

I suggest $10,000 per book and $2,000 per year per book. This works out to a $6.5 million initial payment, with a further $1.3 million per year. This is fair for a project that reputedly cost $13 million, and because everyone else involved with this project gets paid. None of the writers I contacted have been paid. Most have not heard of the program. You need to pay us, too.

Reid’s points on the lack of financial support for writers are well taken, but it should be noted that all of the authors involved were contacted by their respective publishers and (presumably) agreed to take part. Also, once the beta period is over, the authors will receive the usual library royalty payments. In any case, the suggestion that the province hand out $10,000 per book is so removed from reality that it kind of undermines Reid’s argument, no?

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The changing face of DIY

In a recent column in The Globe and Mail, Russell Smith makes an excellent case for dismantling the stereotype of traditional publishers as obstinate elitists resistant to change:

Of course, everyone wants to get into selling e-books. No one is resisting this idea. The problem is that not everyone wants to buy them yet. Furthermore, no one has yet agreed on who will be in control of these sales, and in particular of how much each of these books is going to cost. Both the publishers and the booksellers want to set the prices, and the booksellers will want to set the prices much lower than the publishers will.

Smith goes on to discuss how e-books are helping change the face of self-publishing; he thinks that, in the age of PayPal, vanity presses may not be considered inferior to traditional publishing, despite continued lack of support from arts councils and awards juries:

Some of the most popular writers on the Internet are unpaid and unpublished in print. Furthermore, even successful published authors are beginning to experiment with putting their own works up for sale online. In this case, it’s not a lack of renown that causes authors to self-publish, but the opposite: If an author is a really big name, she knows she already has the following to generate sales without the help of a publisher’s marketing and sales departments.

The National Post examined the phenomenon of DIY publishing in a recent article:

It’s a curiosity of modern culture that an indie CD or film is cool, while a self-published book still carries a whiff of stigma. Don’t believe it? Just try to get your indie book reviewed in most publications that habitually fawn over indie music and film.


Michael Geist’s covert ties to Amazon

[This post has been updated]

The debate surrounding Amazon’s planned Canadian expansion has produced many arguments both for (the editorial boards at The Globe and Mail and National Post) and against (the Canadian Booksellers Association, the Association of Canadian Publishers). While such polarized opinions are to be expected, one of the most surprising voices to come out in support of Amazon is copyright activist and University of Ottawa academic Michael Geist, known for his anti-corporate stance on many copyright issues in the digital age.

In Monday’s Toronto Star, Geist went after the Canadian Booksellers Association, arguing that the “CBA’s attempt to cloak the issue as a matter of Canadian culture is unsurprising, but [Heritage Minister James] Moore should recognize this for what it is – a transparent attempt to hamstring a tough competitor that ultimately hurts the Canadian culture sector.” Geist went on to suggest that Amazon’s (theoretically) unlimited selection of books is a good thing for Canadian culture and that the “scarcity of space in brick-and-mortar stores has long been a key concern for Canadian authors and publishers, who fear that their titles might get squeezed off the shelves.”

In the wake of Geist’s op-ed, U.S. blogger Christian L. Castle, described on his blog as a Los Angeles–based journalist, has unearthed ties between Amazon and an Internet think tank headed co-created by Geist:

First of all, it should not be overlooked that Geist’s U.S.-backed Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, the Alcan of IP with its almost 100% American board, “was established in 2003 with the aid of a start-up grant from an Cy Pres fund, received by Prof. Michael Geist.” Now I’m sure that Geist would deny that he personally received any money, but if that’s true, they might want to revise that sentence on the SG-CIPPIC website.

It’s entirely possible that Geist, in his ignorance of book retailing and the publishing sector, truly believes that independent booksellers are a threat to Canadian culture. If that’s the case, however, he should have been above-board about his past dealings with Amazon.

[Update] Michael Geist responds: “The Amazon grant was money that came via a court order through a class action settlement. It was used to establish the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic in 2003. Being part of a Cy Pres Fund, Amazon did not oversee or make the award. A court did. There is no conflict and nothing hidden. In fact, look back at my earlier columns criticizing them for the Kindle to see how much influence they have over what I say. None.”

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Daily book biz round-up, March 18

What’s the buzz? What’s a happenin’? Here’s what’s a happenin’:

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What is Kobo?

Remember that rumour from this past summer that Indigo was planning to unveil a dedicated e-reading device? Well, some intrigue at the Canadian Intellectual Property Office is reviving such speculation.

Yesterday, blogger Mark Bertils noted that the Shortcovers app had gone AWOL in the Apple store. And a little digging from the Association of Canadian Publisher’s Nic Boshart has unearthed that Indigo-owned Shortcovers has taken out a trademark on the name Kobo, described as a portable e-reading device “for receiving, downloading, displaying, providing access to and reading text, images and sound and other digital content through wireless Internet access.”

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Amazon doesn’t want to get physical

Rumours that Amazon U.K. might be considering opening bricks-and-mortar stores have been greatly exaggerated, according to an Amazon spokesperson. Over the weekend, the Sunday Times published an article suggesting Amazon was “planning a surprise invasion of the British high street”:

Property landlords said that the American company, which has a market value of $59.1 billion (£35.6 billion), had launched a secret search for bricks-and-mortar stores to support its rapidly growing website. It is understood to be scouring the country for high-profile sites just as the Borders book chain is shutting up shop.

No sooner had the rumours begun circulating on the Internet than a spokesperson for Amazon announced that there was absolutely no truth to them. The ABC News website cites an unnamed Amazon spokesman asserting that the company “has no plans to open stores anywhere in the world.”

The article concludes by saying:

The Amazon spokesman declined to comment any further on the report, including whether it could partner with retailers, or its future plans.


Michael Turner massages the medium

In an interview this morning with Brian Joseph Davis at The Globe and Mail‘s In Other Words blog, innovative author Michael Turner offers a fresh, if not slightly perplexing, perspective on a writer’s relationship with technology. Turner says that “the problem with seeing ‘digital tools’ as ‘problems’ lies in the writer’s inability to see the computer and the internet less as tools than as a medium.”

He goes on to address the need for authors to have an online presence and embrace cutting-edge technology:

With respect to writers who see this new medium as an “annoyance,” I would add that they are in fact employing the new medium to advertise what they do – the advertisement, in this instance, coming in the form of difference. Thus, when an author identifies him or herself as a “good old-fashioned storyteller,” someone of bad manners and singular genius, a romantic, a lovable eccentric whose hat is always a little bit too big for their head, then the best way to convey that fantasy – and the book it squirted from – is to complain about “digital tools.”

Publishers are somewhat complicit in this, because for too long they cosseted and indulged their authors, until suddenly, with publicity campaigns going online, authors were told that the success of their book lay in their having an online presence. Obviously some authors have taken to this better than others, making their “platforms” more than where they are reading and how their book is “doing,” thereby expanding their practices, using their books as a device by which to cast shade, create depth, movement, hopefully leading them to new places, new ways of making meaning.

Turner’s online presence is definitely notable: his blog is updated frequently and the randomized version of his novel, 8×10, has been released via an online book remixer, BookRiff, a print-on-demand content broker.


Coupland borrows an Earth Sandwich

Sometimes writers will stop conversations to have this one:

“Can I use that?”
“That joke/anecdote/story/funny phrase.”
“In a story? Can I use it?”

Writers are often collage artists, making stories out of observations, culling dialogue from covert eavesdropping. It makes sense that some might make a habit of asking permission if they’ve ever been called out for stealing ideas.

Last week, Douglas Coupland twittered about ZeFrank,  the blogger who invented the Earth Sandwich idea Coupland uses in his new book Generation A. The Earth Sandwich is, in short, when two people on opposite ends of the earth put a piece of bread down, forming a sandwich, and take a photo. In the book, Coupland describes the Earth Sandwich in detail without giving credit to its creator.

In a promotional video for Generation A, now offline, there is a small credit on the screen, but the blogger claims this is  “still infuriating” and asks, “Do you think I could get away with doing something he did VERBATIM and them putting a tiny credit?”

Coupland’s twitter response said, “@zefrank. I send you warm wishes and much cheer. And thank you for the lovely (and amazing) Earth Sandwich idea. You are brilliant.”

This conversation starts a larger one – when we put ideas into the world, via the Internet or casual conversation at a bar, are they fair game for appropriation? Should we keep our wit to ourselves when Douglas Coupland is within earshot?

Friends of mine know to interject and say, “No, you can’t use that.” Perhaps we should all be wary of the observer with the moleskine. Or, you know, relax a little about our ideas.


E-love you forever: website will read bedtime stories to your kids

From Your Local Guardian:

Hardworking fathers can still read their children a bedtime story in their absence, thanks to a new invention by a Kingston father-of-two.

Chris Coombs, 44, has come up with a personalised audio book that fathers can record through the internet and email to their offspring at home.

He came up with the idea in 2001, after being called away from Kingston to visit his father, who had fallen ill in Canada.

His daughter Mia, now seven, had been born the day after the September 11 attacks in America and Mr Coombs was about to board a plane.

He said: “I wanted to reassure my four-year-old daughter that I had to leave the country for a few weeks but everything was fine.

“As an audio mixer and dubbing editor I recorded myself reading a story and then added sound effects and prompts.”

He discussed the idea with four other friends who often missed out on bedtimes stories and was born.

Putting aside the absurd idea of e-mailing bedtime stories to kids, it’s nice to see utterly gratuitous references to 9/11 making a small comeback.

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Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

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Tea and snacks inspired by Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

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Eva Stachniak talks to the audience about the best and worst of Catherine the Great's favourites

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