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On the Books: Authors United warns Amazon, watch your reputation

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The 1,100 member group Authors United posted a letter of direct appeal to Amazon’s board of directors—urging them to end their book-pricing standoff with publisher Hachette, which has hurt some authors’ book sales.

The letter warns the board that their reputation may be at stake: “[I]f this is how Amazon continues to treat the literary community, how long will the company’s fine reputation last?” The appeal continues, noting similar disputes “have a long and ugly history,” and asking, “Do you, personally, want to be associated with this?” For months, Amazon has delayed shipments of books by Hachette authors and removed the preorder option for those titles in an attempt to force Hachette to lower its e-book prices. [NPR] READ FULL STORY

On the Books: Millennials read more than their elders, study finds

A new study from the Pew Research Center has yielded some surprising results on Americans’ reading habits across generations— finding that younger people are actually reading more books than their elders. The data shows that “88% of Americans under 30 read a book in the past year, compared with 79% of those age 30 and older.” The fact that Millennials read more than older Americans contradicts the popular characterization of a generation more interested in social media and the internet than paperbacks and hardcovers.

Another unexpected finding is that Millennials are equally as likely as older adults to have used a library in the past year. Additionally, Pew found that 62 percent of younger people believe there is “a lot of useful, important information that is not available on the Internet,” while only 53 percent of older Americans believe the same. [NPR]

Yesterday, Kindle users were notified by Amazon via email that they were eligible to receive damages from August’s court settlement of the class-action lawsuit filed against Apple for conspiring to fix ebook prices. Users may opt to receive a check or account credit. [Publishers Weekly]

In other Apple news, court papers filed on Sept. 4 disclose that Apple shareholders have sued the company’s executives for their role in “ensnaring Apple in a multi-year anticompetitive scheme to retail price competition… in the electronic book (‘e-book’) market.”

Herbert R. Lottman, the American biographer of influential French figures, died on Aug. 27 at the age of 87 after losing a battle with degenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. He wrote landmark accounts of French artists and intellectuals like Albert Camus, and he served as the European correspondent for Publishers Weekly for over three decades. [The New York Times]

On the Books: You can now have your cookbook and eat it too

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German design firm KOREFE has reinvented the term “visual feast” with The Real Cookbook, the world’s first and only edible cookbook.

The book is made to be cooked and eaten after reading—the pages are not paper but sheets of fresh lasagna noodles, imprinted with a recipe explaining how to add fresh fillings to the book and then bake it to cheesy perfection.

The award-winning novelty was “designed as a special project for a large publishing house,” according to the KOREFE website. “The prose etched on the four inner pages of pasta toys with the idea of how important the contents of a cookery book can be,” said Antje Hedde, the head of the innovative design firm.

Just remember to bake after reading. [Design Daily]

The coalition of over 900 authors banded against Amazon known as Authors United shared a fiery new letter this week, as the book-pricing standoff between the online retail giant and publishers including Hachette continues.

The email, penned by Hachette author Douglas Preston, accuses Amazon of sanctioning over 7,000 Hachette titles, affecting 2,500 authors. “Hachette authors have seen their sales at Amazon decline at least 50%,and in many cases as much as 90%,” Preston writes. “Amazon has other negotiating tools at its disposal than harming the very authors who helped it become one of the largest retailers in the world.”

The letter also charges that Amazon has misrepresented the situation to the public, “falsely trying to depict us as ‘rich’ authors who are seeking higher e-book prices, while it is fighting on behalf of the consumer for lower prices.”

The letter was distributed to the members of Authors United—the writers who signed the open letter calling on Amazon to resolve its feud with Hachette, published as full-page New York Times ad in August. Preston closes by hinting at an eminent Authors United call-to-action: “[W]e are forced to move on to our next initiative. I will be asking you once again for the use of your good name— perhaps as soon as next week. Stay tuned.” [Publishers Weekly]

Acclaimed author Margaret Atwood is the first contributor to The Future Library project, a forward-thinking initiative started in Oslo, Norway that can best be described as a bibliological time capsule. The fiction work Atwood is currently writing will be locked away in a vault, not to be read by any human for a century.

The project—conceived by Katie Paterson, an award-winning Scottish artist—started with the planting of 1,000 trees outside Oslo this summer. “Every year until 2114, one writer will be invited to contribute a new text to the collection,” reports The Guardian, “and in 2114, the trees will be cut down to provide the paper for the texts to be printed—and, finally, read.”

Atwood, a Man Booker Prize-winning novelist, is excited to be the first on board. “I think it goes right back to that phase of our childhood when we used to bury little things in the backyard, hoping that someone would dig them up, long in the future,” she told The Guardian. 

“[W]hen you write any book you do not know who’s going to read it, and you do not know when they’re going to read it,” Atwood said. “So books, anyway, really are like the message in the bottle.” She predicts that language may evolve so much over the next century that future readers may need a paleo-anthropologist to help translate the book.

One perk of a release date set for 100 years in the future? No need to worry about the critics. “You don’t have to be around for the part when if it’s a good review the publisher takes credit for it,” Atwood said, “and if it’s a bad review it’s all your fault.”

On the Books: Nikki Finke secures book deal with Simon & Schuster

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Simon & Schuster president Johnathan Karp confirmed to The New York Times that Hollywood gossip reporter Nikki Finke has signed a book deal with the publishing house. Karp said he plans to edit the book himself, but declined to share any specifics about the content or release date of the book. “Whenever we publish, the book will be an event,” he said in an email to the Times.

Finke, founder of the gossip website Deadline Hollywood, has been in the line of fire this week—the site NikkiStink.com published an open letter to her, saying she has “threatened and bullied the Hollywood community into providing you information so that you could use it to ridicule, abuse and destroy people.”

Most of the content has now been removed from the site, but it previously cited instances of her incisive written remarks about celebrities from Kate Hudson to Billy Crystal. If her book is as derisive as her gossip reporting, it “will likely be met with dread in movie and television industry circle,” The Times wrote.

Finke also made headlines this week for her involvement in a reported legal dispute with Penske Media Corporation, which in 2009 bought Deadline, which The Times describes as “[one of] the most influential news sites in the movie business.” [The New York Times]

Several Japanese publishers are taking issue with Amazon’s new tactics in their negotiations with them, which are similar to those recently criticized by writers in the U.S. and Germany. According to the Agence France Presse and the Japanese newspaper Asahi, the publishers claim that Amazon is threatening the Japanese publishing industry by pressing for higher commission rates in contract renegotiations. The companies claim that the higher the commission a publishing house pays, the more Amazon will promote their books.

This directly affects book sales in Japan, where Amazon’s market share continues to grow. “Some smaller publishers are facing demands to accept a surge in commission fees,” an anonymous industry source told the AFP. “If this kind of practice continues, small Japanese publishers who have created a diverse publishing culture here will be forced to go bankrupt.” [Business Insider]

Award-winning author Sherman Alexie and bestselling novelist Jess Walter launched a podcast this week, titled “A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment.” Alexie won the U.S. National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2007 for “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” a semi-autobiographical novel. Walter wrote this 2012’s bestselling “Beautiful Ruins. “We’re going to talk about everything,” Alexie told the Los Angeles Times. [L.A. Times]

On the Books: German authors sign open letter criticizing Amazon tactics

While Amazon and Hachette duke out their differences in the United States, German publisher Bonnier is now involved in a similar dispute with Amazon. Amazon and Bonnier are also negotiating over ebook prices for books published by Bonnier, and while negotiations are ongoing, Amazon has delayed shipment for their books and discouraged customers from buying them. More than 1,000 authors are protesting the treatment, signing an open letter to be published in several major newspapers in the region, and those authors include 2004 Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek, bestselling authors Ingrid Noll and Nele Neuhaus, and many others.

“Amazon manipulates recommendation lists. Amazon uses authors and their books as a bargaining chip to exact deeper discounts,” the letter reads. Germany is Amazon’s largest market outside of the US. [The New York Times]

The Observer profiles Russell Grandinetti, a senior vice president at Amazon and the man representing the company in the publishing world. He’s one of the most important people in the Amazon-Hachette dispute, and probably in the publishing world at large. “The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader,” he said. “Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.” [The Guardian]

Lev Grossman, author of the Magicians trilogy and Time book critic, writes about finding his voice in fantasy after trying out literary fiction. “In a fantasy world those demons can get out, where you can grapple with them face to face,” he writes. “The story I was telling was impossible, and I believed in it more than I believed in the 10,000 entirely reasonable, plausible things I’d written before.” [The New York Times]

At The Guardian, Sam Leith wonders why British people love to hate Martin Amis. “But there are really three Amises. There’s Amis the writer and Amis the private individual. And then there’s Amis the public figure: the Idea of Martin Amis. That’s the Amis who hogs the attention and draws the fire. The other two are, as it were, collateral damage.” [The Guardian]

The Jewish Books Council put together a “Jewish literary map of New York City,” an annotated map of the city marking places referred to in great books by Jewish writers. [Jewish Book Council]

On the Books: Orwell estate swings back at Amazon

Bill Hamilton, literary executor of George Orwell’s estate, penned a scathing letter to the editor  in yesterday’s New York Times criticizing Amazon’s misrepresentation of the author in a message the online giant posted on ReadersUnited.com last week. The letter was intended to defend Amazon’s position in its ongoing conflict with publisher Hachette over e-book prices, but Amazon’s choice of words has backfired in an ironic way.

In comparing its current e-book pricing standoff to the resistance Penguin Books faced with the introduction of inexpensive paperback books in the 1930s, Amazon quoted George Orwell “out of context as supporting a campaign to suppress paperbacks,” Hamilton wrote. Hamilton likened Amazon’s subversion of the truth to the propaganda tactics employed by the authoritarian government in Orwell’s famed dystopian novel, 1984.

This is about as close as one can get to the Ministry of Truth and its doublespeak: turning the facts inside out to get a piece of propaganda across,” wrote Hamilton. “It doesn’t say much for Amazon’s regard for truth, or its powers of literary understanding. [NPR] READ FULL STORY

Amazon: Ebook prices are 'unjustifiably high'

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Amazon’s fight with Hachette over ebook prices isn’t ending anytime soon.

For weeks, Amazon and Hachette have been deadlocked in a dispute over how much ebooks published by Hachette should cost, and how much of that revenue should go to the publisher, author, or Amazon. During this period, Amazon has delayed the shipment of Hachette’s books, removed the preorder button for some titles, and made the books harder to find on Amazon’s website.

Over the weekend, the Amazon Books Team posted an open letter arguing for lower ebook prices. According to the letter, many ebooks are being priced at $14.99 or $19.99, which Amazon believes is unjustifiably high, given that ebooks have “no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs,” and aren’t sold secondhand.

In 2013, Hachette—along with HarperCollins, Penguin (now Penguin Random House), Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan—was found guilty of conspiring to fix ebook prices. Amazon says the movie was disrespectful to readers and demonstrated a misunderstanding of how ebooks play a role in the publishing industry. According to Amazon, Hachette is afraid that cheaper ebooks will ruin book culture—but its own data suggests that ebook prices are elastic in a way that’s good for the publishing industry. READ FULL STORY

On the Books: Barnes & Noble and Google team up for same-day shipping

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Barnes & Noble is teaming up with Google Shopping Express, a service that will let the bookstore provide same-day delivery to Manhattan, West Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area. The service will help the two compete with Amazon, which already provides same-day shipping in 10 cities in the United States. From Amazon, same-day delivery costs $5.99 for Amazon Prime members and around $10 for other customers. Users who have subscribed to Google Shopping express do not have to pay any additional fees for same-day delivery, and the service costs $4.99 for other customers. [The New York Times]

Nine hundred writers have signed an open letter to Amazon—to be published in this Sunday’s New York Times—asking them to stop singling out authors for “selective retaliation.” Amazon is delaying shipments of books published by Hachette, which they are negotiating contracts with. READ FULL STORY

On the Books: American authors land on Booker Prize longlist

Joshua Ferris, Karen Joy Fowler, Siri Hustvedt, and Richard Powers are the Americans who made this year’s Man Booker Prize longlist. For the first time, Britain’s most prestigious literary award is open to authors in the U.S., as long as the books are also published in Britain. The list is male-dominated: only three of its 13 writers are women. The toast of America’s literary establishment last year, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, was snubbed. Last year, 28-year-old author Eleanor Catton won for her 800-page novel The Luminaries. A shortlist will be announced on September 9th, and the winner on October 14th. [The New York Times]

In Amazon news, vice president of Kindle Content Russ Grandinetti has asked authors to stop complaining about the company. A group of authors—including Lee Child, Stephen King, John Grisham, and James Patterson—are planning to publish a full-page ad in The New York Times explaining why they are siding against Amazon in the Amazon-Hachette dispute. Grandinetti asked the group to stop publication of the ad, and proposed a plan where Amazon to stock Hachette titles and give authors standard royalties on ebooks. While Amazon and Hachette continue to negotiate among themselves, the proceeds each company normally earns would go to a literacy charity. [Publishers Weekly] READ FULL STORY

Amazon launches all-you-can-read service Kindle Unlimited

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Just yesterday, Amazon launched a page announcing a new subscription service titled Kindle Unlimited before quickly making the page unavailable. But today, it’s been made official. Amazon is now offering Kindle Unlimited, where readers can pay $9.99 a month for unlimited reading and listening on any device. Users will have access to more than 600,000 titles and thousands of audiobooks.

Basically, Kindle Unlimited works like a Netflix for the book world. And as EW pointed out yesterday, its main rivals will be Scribd, which offers over 400,000 titles for $8.99 a month, and Oyster, which offers over 500,000 titles for $9.95 a month.

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