Like A Lead Zeppelin

1. I love it that the “Penguin paperback look” has become a design meme. BoingBoing points out that a set of album covers by Ty Lettau of Sound Of Design resembles the retro Penguin look. This calls to mind a more explicit recent implementation of the same idea by LittlePixel (great work, but there are way too many Simple Minds albums here).

2. Some of my friends in the book business think literary publishing is about to crash like a lead zeppelin. There was a tremendous uproar in the book world today: influential literary agent Andrew Wylie (Philip Roth, Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie, the estates of William S. Burroughs, John Cheever, John Updike and Vladimir Nabokov) has made a bold, unprecedented e-books deal with Amazon that will give Amazon and its Kindle format exclusive access to many important e-book titles. Exclusive access has (thankfully) never not part of the literary publishing industry tradition, and the major publishers don’t like being cut out of the profit equation, which is why CEO John Sargent of Macmillan (who is emerging as an unofficial spokesman for the publishing industry when it battles with Amazon) and spokesperson Stuart Applebaum of Random House are planning to put up a fight. Many of my twitter friends seem to be lining up on the Macmillan/Random House side, objecting to Wylie and Amazon’s audacious move. Me? I’ll walk the line a little longer. I like audacity, and God knows the e-book marketplace can use a kick in the ass.

3. This latest uproar was compounded by the fact that Amazon wound everybody in the publishing biz up earlier this week with a slightly vague announcement that, according to their (unreleased) figures, they are now selling more Kindle editions than hardcover books. I’m not too bowled over by this announcement either. First, Amazon doesn’t release it’s sales figures, so these numbers are obviously being spun like a frisbee. Second, as I said on twitter: wake me up when e-books start outselling paperbacks.

4. Nobody in the big business/investment community, meanwhile, really cares about providing e-book readers for poor people, though fortunately some small start-ups are thinking about it.

5. Some never-before-seen Franz Kafka works may finally reach us, and since his best novel The Castle was similarly rescued from his trash heap, we have good reason to be excited. Still, I like Steve Mitchelmore’s take: “Kafka’s work is already a secret. If his novels and stories amount to “a symbol of 20th century totalitarianism” or mean he is “the patron saint of paranoia”, then the lock on Kafka is still to be broken and whatever “letters, journals, sketches and drawings” are disinterred, they will only increase universal misunderstanding.”

6. A cool find, via Frank Wilson: Jacques Brel as Miguel de Cervantes as Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha, circa 1968. Quite a performance, too.

7. Edmund White riffs on Allen Ginsberg’s photography and William S. Burroughs painting (which, White points out, was more profitable for Burroughs than his writing).

8. I love Woody Allen’s early comedy books, Getting Even, Without Feathers and Side Effects. But he sounds seriously unexcited about the audio-book versions he just recorded. Sometimes, maybe it’s not a good idea to get the original author to read his audio books. I also don’t see how Woody’s recognizable voice would help many of the brilliant short pieces in these books, since they are parodies, vamps and rave-ups written in a variety of first-person voices. Woody Allen Fail.

9. The Lonely Truth Quest of Sander Hicks.

10. Lee Rourke’s The Canal looks pretty interesting.

11. Arthur Canon Doyle on video, talking about Sherlock.

12. The search for the right cover for Steig Larssen’s breakthrough book.

9 Responses

  1. Levi,
    I’ve been thinking


    I’ve been thinking about the whole wylie/publishers cage match. If wylie can cut out publishers that easily, how far away are we from the author’s estates wylie represents going it alone?

    Thanks for the great links.

  2. “I like Steve Mitchelmore’s
    “I like Steve Mitchelmore’s take: “Kafka’s work is already a secret. If his novels and stories amount to “a symbol of 20th century totalitarianism” or mean he is “the patron saint of paranoia”, then the lock on Kafka is still to be broken and whatever “letters, journals, sketches and drawings” are disinterred, they will only increase universal misunderstanding.”

    His is one of the more supple intellects in the litblogosphere in my estimation. I’ve started reading Jospovici because of him: In a Hotel Garden (1993) and Moo Pak (1995). It’s not Jennifer Weiner, but it’ll do.

  3. i cant help but see exclusive
    i cant help but see exclusive deals like this as, in general, gaming the system.

    on the other hand, the system needs to be overhauled, and pressure by these kinds of deals can help do that.

    it’d be nice if people as powerful as mr wylie would work to create a more diverse marketplace all the way through rather than simply taking what he can from the already too-big status quo, but in the long run this might be a good thing, and in the short-term, content producers and the agents who love them deserve a bigger piece of the pie.

    i guess. right?

  4. #2 is interesting.
    At the

    #2 is interesting.

    At the Macmillan blog one commenter wrote this:

    “And remember, people can read Kindle books on Kindles, PCs, Macs, iWhatevers, Blackberries, and Android devices.”

    I think this is a key consideration in evaluating Wylie’s strategy and the impact such deals can have.

    Is this true?

    Does this deal mean the books must be read only on Kindle or can they be read on any platform?

  5. TKG, this is definitely true.
    TKG, this is definitely true. Kindle editions can be read using Kindle software on many different devices, including PCs, Macs and mobile devices. You have to download the Kindle software, which is free. I’ve used it to sample a few free Kindle books, and it works fine.

    I’ve made it well known that I’m not a fan of the Kindle device. However, I have no big problem with the Kindle format.

  6. Mayowa – I think it’s already
    Mayowa – I think it’s already heading in that direction, isn’t it? And perhaps Wylie is probably just trying to maintain his stable of authors. Back in January The Sunday Times featured an article about Ian McEwan and other British authors negotiating for bigger royalty percentages on their back catalog in ebook format (link at the end). McEwan signed with an independent ebook publisher and negotiated an exclusive deal with Amazon for his back catalog.

    It does raise some questions in my mind at least about the future and whether we have been too quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I wonder if book bloggers truly have risen to fill a vacuum left by traditional book reviewers – or have we only hastened their departure by making the paid profession of book reviewing no longer essential to the book industry? And has the quality of book reviews improved or suffered because of it?

    Authors bypassing publishers and dealing directly with distributors isn’t such a far stretch…and it seems Amazon has already taking steps to make it happen (according to that same article and their ebook publishing program). And why wouldn’t an author dispense with an agent (and the agent’s fees) if she has the option?

    Still, I think the question of whether or not there will be paper & print books in the future is the wrong question to be asking. I agree with Levi – let me see those ebook vs. paperback sales figures. More relevant (and worrisome in my mind) is what will be the quality of the books that are left if everyone is to be, essentially, self-published? I know that sounds a bit elitist and hysterical, but not unrealistic.

  7. Hi Patti — well, I think the
    Hi Patti — well, I think the idea is that by striking an exclusive deal with Amazon/Kindle, the new venture will have the enthusiastic support of Amazon.

    Also, this must be understood as a move against traditional publishers, on behalf of authors. The fact that Wylie’s arrangement is exclusive should not be interpreted as limiting the ability of the authors to make other deals. Wylie runs a literary agency, and therefore must be seen ONLY as representing the best interests of his authors. That’s what a literary agent supposedly does — represent the best interests of an author. So, the real purpose of the exclusive deal is to leave the publisher out of the equation. The idea is that authors represented by agents can bypass publishers completely, and reach readers directly through the delivery/fulfillment system (in this case, Amazon).

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