Cincinnati Main Library (c) unknown

Cincinnati Main Library (c) unknown

In our little world of publishing, many things reminds one of an England v Germany soccer match. As you may have noted, Germany beat England at Wembley, yet again. But oh so many punters had of course put their wagers on the Three Lions, only to lose out, yet again. You may call that the triumph of hope over experience. Or you may call these punters perfectly qualified for senior positions in publishing. Why? Just read this little piece on idbooks about a survey that was taken amongst 535 publishing professionals. 96 per cent of them agreed that electronic books will be a tremendous success. How many of them had ever touched these things? Erm… 40 per cent.

There have been quite a few snide remarks upon recent US publishing statistics which have seen sales of ebooks flattening in the past six months. Whether or not this segment has really reached its maturity with just above 30 per cent of volume and around 12-13 per cent of US-Dollar sales is anybody’s guess. The good people at Digital Book World are adamant that ebooks will continue their upswing. Their reasoning: Parents are turning their children into ebook readers at an increasing rate. More parents intend to buy their kids ebooks and e-reading devices this holiday season than last year. And they even have a study to feed their opinion.

You may remember that in October, self publishing in the anglophone countries was hit by hysteria over ebook search results in some shops that came up with pornographic content. As a result, WH Smith closed down its site for almost a wek, wbile its aggregator Kobo remved all self published titles. Amazon and Barnes & Noble (Nook) reacted in a similar, although less radical manner. Now the UK Booksellers Association has decided that it will not set up a controlling body that would vet the contents of online shops. They suggested that booksellers and content aggregators might do what is really their job: control and select what you want to offer, be it in print or digital. A wise decision.

Staying with self publishing, Wolfgang Tischer of Literaturcafé recently summarised the ascent of and reasoning about the phenomenon, at least in the German language discourse. It’s well worth reading.

In children’s publishing, Danish behemoth Egmont is streamlining its international operations, following the formation of “Egmont Publishing”, a new division unifying Egmont Magazines and Egmont Kids Media. The new Über-boss will be Rob McMenemy, who has headed Egmont’s UK business. This will affect all international subsidiaries, such as Lyx, Ehapa and vgs in Germany, but will exclude the Nordic countries.

What will be the consequences of last week’s Google verdict? Given that Judge Denny Chin elevated illegal scanning from crime to world-saving venture, the Authors’ Guild will need more than luck and a generous judge to succeed with its appeal. If, as is to be expected, this verdict should stand, only the undefineable criterium of “fair use” will be the guideline as to how much of a copyrighted text may be copied without prior consent and presented online. I do agree with Judge Chin in that an online index of the world’s knowledge would be a desirable thing to have – the universal library that we all have dreamed of. But the Google Book project is not charitable venture, it is a strategic investment to enhance the quality of the search results, and thus increase customer “stickyness”. Its results  far exceed those displayed by Google News, the potential for abuse of copyright is quite high. Libraries, as had to be expected, are jubilant. We authors, at least for the time being, have lost out, it seems.

The Guardian had a great story about Anthea Bell, who has made a tremendous mark by translating German and French writings into English, ranging from Kafka and W.G. Sebald right to the adventures of Asterix. Given that so few books are translated into English, it is encouraging to see a mainstream newspaper devoting a whole page to a literary translator.

Talking of veterans in the publishing industry: Daniel Menaker, former editor at Random House and HarperCollins, has just published a wry memoir of his years in publishing. Of course, his view is tainted by the goings-on in the US industry, but the sheer madness of it all is very much present on our side of the Atlantic, too. Big egoes, bad economics. Yup, that’s the way we do it.

Random House was of course the publishing company that turned Fifty Shades of Grey into a world hit. Whatever you think about it – it did lift booksellers’ sales, so who are we to niggle? But here’s the threat: Ms James recently announced that she has written a new novel. Yes, it does contain sex. Gawd…

Japan is one of the countries lagging behind in the big ebook revolution. Take-up is slow, but, according to a story on goodereader, sales have tripled in 2012 to just under 37 billion Yen. So it looks as if the waggon has started to rumble along. But this still only makes for a minute proportion of the overall market, where printed publications account for a total of 1.7 trillion Yen. There are other interesting factoids in the story, such as that digital bookshops only offer between 100,000 to 300,000 titles, that there are more than 14,000 bookshops in Japan, some of which stock a million titles. The tiny flaw, which makes all these figures a shade less impressive – the piece gives no sources for its figures and no definition for the statistics. But it’s readable, anyway.

This week also saw big waves in the normally calm seas of Börsenverein (the German Publishers and Booksellers Association) over the question of Open Access. On Monday, the publishers’ committee had published an “Opinion” that seemed to reach out to academics and their institutions. The authors of the paper even made a point of saying that some academic publishers’ pricing strategies had severely blotted the industry’s copybook. On Thursday, Humanities publisher Manfred Meiner went into attack mode, saying that the paper’s claim that German academic publishers as a whole were offering a new approach to the problem was without any foundation. No discussion had taken place within the association, and both the management and the president of the trade body had not been consulted. Rules are rules, obviously. Mr Meiner called for the publishers’ committee’s president, Matthias Ulmer, to step down. Boys, boys … really?

Also on the Open Access front, there’s a new and rather nifty thingy in the USA: launched on Tuesday, the Open Access Button is a browser bookmarklet. Whenever a researcher encounters a paywall, they click the button, and their individual moment of frustration and denial is added to a world map. They’re given the option of adding a bit about their particular experience: who they are and what they’re looking for. And then, so the process has short-term benefits for the researcher as well, they also receive a link that suggests ways to find the paywalled material for free. I Like.

For those of you who are bookshop lovers (as I am), here is a great set of pictures from inspiring bookshops around the world. Enjoy!

hge (c) ehlingmedia 2010

hge (c) ehlingmedia 2010

From my own sweatshop this week, you might be interested in

Keep the comments coming!