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U.S. literary journals thrive with low overhead and dedicated audiences

A couple of weeks ago poet Michael Lista got the attention of the publishing Twitterverse with his National Post essay “Why literary magazines should fold.”

Now, we don’t need another American TV sitcom to point out the differences between our two cultures, but here’s an interesting article about the financial health of U.S. West Coast literary journals. Turns out, boutique publishers like The Threepenny Review, Zoetrope, and McSweeney’s Quarterly are doing just fine these days, but not for the reasons you might think. According to The New York Times:

If literary journals “are poised to do well,” as Laura Cogan, editor of San Francisco-based ZYZZYVA, said, it may be because they share qualities with many successful online ventures: skeletal staffs, low overhead and specialized audiences.

The article suggests journals associated with academic institutions have financially suffered the most over the last couple of years. Not that the successful print publishers are sitting around counting their money bags — they’ve been investing in the online side of their businesses by overhauling websites and promoting online subscriptions. McSweeney’s even hired a digital media director.

But, as the article concludes — and here’s where Canadians can nod in agreement — if these publishers are doing well, it is relative to their notions of success:

“No one has ever been able to make a good living writing or publishing literary fiction,” Stephen Elliott, a writer and founder of The Rumpus, said. “It doesn’t matter that there are exceptions. The rule stands.”

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Book links roundup: Kobo expands, Bezmozgis racks up the raves, and more

Sundry links from around the Web:

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Daily book biz round-up: March 18

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Daily links round-up: Free Kindles, James Frey, and more

Sundry links from around the Web:

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EU proposes seven-year limit on Google

An independent panel of arts and communications experts has advised the European Commission to limit the amount of time a private company such as Google can exercise preferential use of digitized materials from the public domain.

Speaking at a press conference in Brusells yesterday, Androulla Vassiliou, EU commissioner for education and culture, said that Google’s current 15-year limit should be halved to seven years in order to encourage competition in both digitizing and commercializing digitized assets.

Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that Google Books is currently the world’s biggest producer of digitized content of public domain works. In the six years that Google Books has been around, it has already digitized 15 million texts.

As the company responsible for the digitization of a work, Google is currently granted an extended period of preferential use throughout which access to the item is limited, in Google’s case, to a library’s website, noncommercial websites, or Google’s website. In pushing for the new limit, the panel is hoping for increased access for not-for-profit organizations, specifically Europeana, an online portal for digitized works of European arts and culture funded by the EU

According to The New York Times, the commission also recommended “direct[ing] more public funds to digitizing those works to increase educational resources and develop new businesses.”

The commission also suggested that that would offer value for money, as the funds needed to build 100 kilometers, or 62 miles, of roads would be enough to pay for the digitization of 16 percent of all available books in E.U. libraries.

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Publishing: not always a downer

There’s some funny book stuff floating around the internets today. Lest the trolls be confused or angered by humour, this is indeed an attempt to offer some Friday afternoon levity:

Eye Weekly columnist Sarah Nicole Prickett defends Chapters as her favourite bland non-space to rest without people judging her:

They don’t complain about how many magazines I’ve read for free and possibly ripped things from. They don’t look askance at my taste. Their eyebrows don’t say, “Oh, you’re just getting into Murakami now?” They make no suggestions, having nothing to prove; they work at Chapters. “Are you sure you want The Paris Review?” says absolutely nobody to me. “What about The Believer?” I never feel like I have to buy anything, the way I do everywhere else books are sold, as though upon walking in I’ve been handed a bucket, and now I must scoop out my share of the water to prevent us all from drowning. Not here. This ship will float on.

Those crazy kids at CBC Radio’s Day Six provide us with an audio track of Giller winners reading from Snooki’s debut novel, A Shore Thing:

Linden “Giller Gorilla” MacIntyre is a journalist with CBC’s The Fifth Estate, the winner of eight Gemini Awards, an International Emmy, and the 2009 Giller Prize for his novel, The Bishop’s Man.

Johanna “Skib-WOWW” Skibsrud is the 2010 Giller winner for The Sentimentalists, and the author of several collections of poetry.

The New York Times points to a project by a group of history teachers with an inventive and bizarre way to engage students. They produce music videos for altered versions of their favourite songs that replace the original lyrics with lyrics based on classic books and historical figures. Witness – for serious -  “Jenny From the Block” as Mary, Queen of Scots.

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Aussie readers asked for input about future of publishing

Last week, the Internet behemoth Google launched its e-book sales site, Google eBooks, in the U.S. The e-book market is now crowded with offerings from Amazon, Kobo, Apple, and Sony, which in turn has spawned a cottage industry for articles about the future of reading and the future of publishing. Amid all this cacophony, it’s small wonder publishers have responded to the rapidly diversifying marketplace with a mixture of fear and confusion.

In Australia, a consortium called the Book Industry Strategy Group is directly petitioning readers about their reading habits, desires, and preferences as a way of gaining clearer insights into the way forward. Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Barry Jones, chair of the BISG, states that the group is “seeking ideas from all Australians on how to face the challenges of the digital age, and to turn them into opportunities.” Jones suggests that opportunities lie in the flexibility and ready availability of e-books as against their print counterparts:

Where Amazon and Apple have got it right is the immediacy of purchasing an eBook. Both the Kindle and the iPad come with wireless connectivity to the Amazon and Apple stores, respectively. In the case of the Kindle, if you have an Amazon account, the Kindle comes preconfigured with your details so you can buy a book at 3am if you so desire. New York Times technology writer Nick Bilton calls this Me Economics, which is really just instant gratification in book buying. But it beats late-night television.

And although Jones throws a bone to those of us who still enjoy reading printed books (which he refers to as “pBooks”), it is clear that the digital arena is where he and his group are most invested:

And what about people who like the smell of books or the feel of books, or the cover artwork, or who just want to scribble over the pages? No, these sorts of people will mix up their reading habits and buy both pBooks and eBooks.

Public libraries are starting to offer access to eBooks via downloads or by access, by borrowers, to subscriptions taken out by the library. We want to hear about these initiatives and your experiences with them.

School kids will agree that carrying an eReader with all their textbooks on it beats carrying a heavy school bag with all their textbooks in it. And textbooks form a large part of the book industry in Australia. Can we hear your thoughts?

The public can submit comments and suggestions to the BISG until Jan. 31, 2011. One hopes that they will be slightly more innovative and nuanced than the sort of shopworn analysis Jones allows himself above.

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New online writing community geared toward teens

Parents and educators spend a lot of time, and spill a lot of ink, debating how to get teenagers interested in reading. Anyone who stops to think about the phenomenal success of Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight series will realize this is a somewhat odd debate to be having: teenagers are already reading (although perhaps not the kind of books that parents and educators might prefer).

Jacob Lewis, a former managing editor at The New Yorker, and Dana Goodyear, a staff writer at the magazine, seem to understand this. Lewis and Goodyear have teamed up to create, an online community where young readers and writers can connect and submit their own fiction, poetry, even cell-phone novels.

From The New York Times:

The idea for Figment emerged from a very 21st-century invention, the cellphone novel, which arrived in the United States around 2008. That December, Ms. Goodyear wrote a 6,000-word article for The New Yorker about young Japanese women who had been busy composing fiction on their mobile phones. In the article she declared it “the first literary genre to emerge from the cellular age.”

Figment is an attempt to import that idea to the United States and expand on it. Mr. Lewis, who was out of a job after Portfolio, the Condé Nast magazine, was shuttered last year, teamed up with Ms. Goodyear, and the two worked with schools, libraries, and literary organizations across the country to recruit several hundred teenagers who were willing to participate in a prototype, which went online in a test version in June.

The Beta version of the site is up now. It features new writing from Blake Nelson, author of the acclaimed YA novel Girl, as well as contests, reviews, and user-generated content.

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Vonnegut, Jr. memorial library opens in Indianapolis

When Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. died in 2007, American literature lost one of its most idiosyncratic and beloved voices. That voice is now being honoured with a new library in the author’s hometown of Indianapolis. The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library opened last week in an historic downtown building. Several of the rooms were paid for by donations from a local law firm, which is somewhat ironic given Vonnegut’s often cutting barbs about the legal profession. Among the items on display are Vonnegut’s typewriter and an unopened package of Pall Mall cigarettes.

As to why the library is located in Indianapolis and not the east coast, where Vonnegut lived for most of his life, The New York Times has this to say:

As the library welcomed the public for the first time last week, the author’s friends and family said that it belonged in Indianapolis, with which he had a complicated and not always complimentary relationship. Despite his criticism of the traditionally conservative city, this is where he developed his voice as a writer and learned the values expressed in his books.

“All my jokes are Indianapolis,” Mr. Vonnegut said at a speech here in 1986. “All my attitudes are Indianapolis. My adenoids are Indianapolis. If I ever severed myself from Indianapolis, I would be out of business. What people like about me is Indianapolis.”

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New York Times launches e-books bestseller lists

The New York Times has announced that, beginning early next year, it will begin publishing e-books bestseller lists for fiction and non-fiction. According to a story in yesterday’s Times, the lists will draw on “weekly data from publishers, chain bookstores, independent booksellers and online retailers, among other sources.” What the story doesn’t mention is whether Amazon and Apple will be sharing their e-book sales data, though the answer is, presumably, no. From The Times:

RoyaltyShare, a San Diego-based company that tracks data and aggregates sales information for publishers, will work with The Times, provide data and offer an additional source of independent corroboration.

The Times will also redesign the section of its Sunday Book Review that features the best-seller lists. The Times already publishes 14 lists, including those for fiction, nonfiction and advice books in hardcover and paperback, as well as children’s books and graphic books.

“To give the fullest and most accurate possible snapshot of what books are being read at a given moment you have to include as many different formats as possible, and e-books have really grown, there’s no question about it,” said Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the Book Review. The new listings, he added, give readers “the fullest picture we can give them about how a book is doing week to week.”

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Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Eva Stachniak poses with a copy of her book, Empress of the Night

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

Rimma Burashko with author Eva Stachniak

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

Eva Stachniak smiles as she signs a copy of Empress of the Night for a fan

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