Whithrow Park, Manchester (c) ehlingmedia 2013

Whithrow Park, Manchester (c) ehlingmedia 2013

I am still on my reading tour in Northern England, and it has been good fun so far. Being the judge at the “Great German Bake-off” at Manchester University has certainly been one of the highlights of the trip. However, I have to apologise for being late with my weekly review – I trust you will forgive me.

I was as amazed as anybody else at Judge Denny Chin’s decision in the Google case. Given the fact that Google has digitized some 20 million books without much concern for permissions by copyright holders, the Judge’s reasoning is flabbergasting: “Google Books has become an invaluable research tool that permits students, teachers, librarians, and others to more efficiently identify and locate books, [...] It has given scholars the ability, for the first time, to conduct full-text searches of tens of millions of books. It preserves books, in particular out-of-print and old books that have been forgotten in the bowels of libraries, and it gives them new life. It facilitates access to books for print-disabled and remote or underserved populations. It generates new audiences and creates new sources of income for authors and publishers. Indeed, all society benefits.”

Well, this reasoning is thoroughly partisan on behalf of those who, by rights, would have to pay for books, and it rules strongly against those ruthless and greedy people who not only write stuff, but expect to being paid for it. Tough luck.

Google, of course, was over the moon with pleasure – if the verdict had gone the other way, the company could have been liable to pay up to 3 billion US-Dollars in compensation. It is also a sweet ruling for Google because it puts a de facto end to efforts in other countries to challenge the mass digitisation of books. If you want to read up on the issue, have a look at a piece I wrote recently.

Waterstones, as we know, is undergoing a tough structural change programme, with lots of redundancies among shop managers. James Daunt, the company’s CEO, recently admitted that not everything has gone as planned. Well, I recently had my personal experiences with Waterstones’ fulfilment capacities. Despite ordering my Finding England from its central distribution centre well in advance of my reading, the shop manager of Waterstones in Lancaster turned up at the reading with zilch copies of the book. That was on a Friday night. A dozen or so people put down their names for signed copies – but when I turned up in the shop to do the signing on the following Tuesday, the books had still not arrived. Yes, we all live by Murphy’s Law – whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. But Waterstones’ distribution centre has been a problem for many years. I wonder what Mr Daunt is going to do about that: the success of his own six-shop chain in London always rested upon quick fulfilment through specialised distributors. Perhaps it’s time Waterstones let people such as Bertrams, who know their job, do the work?

We are moving on to one of my favourite places: Korea. The country, which was guest of honour at the 2005 Frankfurt Book Fair, has for many years been one of the beacons of the publishing world, with strong growth, big investment in education and a thriving licencing-import business. Now, it seems, these great times are over. According to a recent article in the Korea Times, title output reached a historical low in 2012. As author Kim Tong-hyung puts it: “Koreans don’t read books. Koreans don’t read newspapers. Koreans go to the movies.”

Not good.

This week, my personal sweatshop was closed.

Keep the suggestions and comments coming.