Monthly Archives: September 2012

Royal Library: Public Interests Over Private

Peter Brantley -- September 27th, 2012

Revue der SportenThe Royal Library of the Netherlands, the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB), has announced the release of a digital collection of magazines and journals from the period 1850-1940. Although many of these materials have uncertain and cloudy rights status, the KB has decided to make these rare materials available online on an “opt-out” basis for rightsholders. In an open letter, Managing Director Bas Savenije explains (in English via Google Translate), “[w]e want the public interest in access to this cultural heritage to prevail over the private interests of potential copyright holders.”

The KB worked with this collection for several reasons. Magazines from this decade are vulnerable because the paper stock was poor, and over decades, the issues have received significant handling and are wearing out. The titles are often highly specialized, and targeted limited audiences. Formally, Dutch copyright law would have kept these titles from public view for countless more years. Copyright for published magazines is valid for 70 years after the date of publication and has therefore expired, but many contributing authors would have held their own copyrights, which would persist for 70 years after their death. Most of these authors are now dead, and the copyright would have passed onto multiple heirs. Continue reading

‘Ulysses’ in Pie Chart Form

Gabe Habash -- September 27th, 2012

Here’s a steaming, segmented pie chart for Joyce’s steaming, segmented masterpiece. If you’re keeping track, we’ve already baked pies for Underworld (shepherd’s pie), Madame Bovary (strawberry rhubarb), Crime and Punishment (mince), and The Metamorphosis (apple).

As always, we bake our PWxyz pies fresh and leave them out on our windowsill for your olfactory enjoyment, before digging into that fresh Gorgonzola and mustard pie. As a bonus, we’ve made a second mini pie, because, let’s be honest, Ulysses probably could have about 10 pies.


*Here’s a sub-pie chart for Ulysses’ references.

Imagining Enron: CROs and Collective Licensing

Peter Brantley -- September 24th, 2012

Ever since the Google Book Search (GBS) settlement, interest in collective licensing of books has mushroomed. Now, a recent international survey by Jonathan Band, PLLC of Policy Bandwidth, “Cautionary Tales About Collective Rights Organizations,” suggests that the agencies responsible for managing collective licenses, Collective Rights Organizations (CROs), are prone to drifting into overreach, accounting mismanagement, and occasionally fraud due to a lack of sufficient oversight and safeguards. Judging from Band’s study, the establishment of a CRO appears all too often tantamount to creating an opportunity for hanky-panky and the kind of fiscal sleight of hand that the Enron scandal made infamous. Continue reading

The Best Kurt Vonnegut Book (Readers’ Pick)

Gabe Habash -- September 20th, 2012

Last week, using the hashtag #bestvonnegut we asked our extremely well-read Twitter followers what their favorite Kurt Vonnegut book is, and they responded in a big way. The winner is…

Slaughterhouse-Five, with 28% of the vote. The result makes sense since SH5 is probably Vonnnegut’s most-read and most famous book (and we also put it as the #1 book that inspires the most tattoos). Second place was very close, with Breakfast of Champions just edging The Sirens of Titan. User “jen johnson” had this to say about her pick: “You never forget a first love. Breakfast of Champions. #myfirstvonnegut is the #bestvonnegut!”

If you didn’t get to vote, tell us your favorite Vonnegut in the comments below–and keep an eye out for more polls on our Twitter page!


*the following books received one vote each: Hocus Pocus, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Welcome to the Monkey House, Player Piano, Man Without a Country


Stephen King’s Strange E-Book History

Gabe Habash -- September 18th, 2012

In August, Stephen King published “A Face in the Crowd,” which he co-wrote with Stewart O’Nan. The short has decent reviews and a story about a man who sees someone (someone eerie!) he recognizes in the stands at a baseball game. But what’s most significant about “A Face in the Crowd” is its cover, which looks like this:

But baseballskulls aside, the e-short is the latest in the legendary writer’s history with digital publishing, one that began in 2000 when “Riding the Bullet” was published. The novella was released by Simon & Schuster for $2.50 (it’s now $3.99) and sold over 400,000 copies in the first 24 hours, prompting this headline: “PDF eBooks are Here to Stay.”

PW‘s review was glowing, both about the story and about the possibility of having a book in cyperspace:

E-publishing takes a giant step with the release of this grandly entertaining ghost story. Not only is it the first original e-publication by a megaselling author, but it may be the most accomplished work ever to appear only in cyberspace–and it’s available through an unprecedented number of vendors and platforms.

Also in 2000, King started writing The Plant, his unfinished epistolary serial novel composed of six installments. King has stated that he’s just run out of ideas for the novel, but also that he’s made over half a million dollars from what he called his “e-book experiment.”

The novel was also notable because King put the book on his website unencrypted and allowed readers to pay $1 on the honor system. King stated that if the percentage of paying readers fell below 75%, he’d drop the project altogether. About The Plant, King said: “My friends, we have the chance to become Big Publishing’s worst nightmare.”

King went on to publish other e-book exclusives, including a few titles with his son, Joe Hill (see In the Tall Grass and Throttle). But the story takes a strange turn in 2009, when Stephen King published “Ur”, which is about…a Kindle from a parallel universe.

The Kindle (which is pink–showing that it’s fantasy because everyone knows all Kindles are white) has a “UR” function, allowing it to search for data in other universes. It turns up new Hemingway books and also that an alternate world was destroyed when the Cuban missile crisis escalated into nuclear war. King said about “Ur”:

I realized I might get trashed in some of the literary blogs, where I would be accused of shilling for Jeff Bezos & Co., but that didn’t bother me much; in my career, I have been trashed by experts, and I’m still standing.

But perhaps the weirdest wrinkle in Stephen King’s e-book history isn’t King himself, but Steven King–a self-published writer with a number of horror titles on Amazon. Criticized on the product page for his book Tit For Tat for posing as Stephen King and tricking people into buying his book, Steven King’s author page (as of September 18) had this to say:

IMPORTANT NOTICE!!!!! STEVEN KING is changing the name on his books to STEVEN CROWN.

After reading a review where a reader mistook SteVen King for StePHan King, the author has decided to start changing the name on his covers to Steven Crown. ALL books should be switched over by Thursday September 20th, 2012. That should avoid readers making any accidental purchases. It is not intentioned that even one reader be mislead.
Steven King has just celebrated his thirtieth birthday, and is living his dream of being a writer in his downtown Toronto loft. Steven continues to look for his life partner, and considers Tit For Tat his crowning achievement, taking 1 year to write. He hopes one day it will become a major motion picture.

He is fortunate to work as a ghost writer for three publishing companies, churning out best sellers. He graduated from the University of Toronto. His hope is to spend the rest of his life writing, next to a woman who will spend the rest of her life reading.

Crown’s books have only been on Amazon since July 2012, and though most of them have the imposter criticism, Tit For Tat isn’t selling all that badly–it’s ranked higher on September 18 than For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Bell Jar, and countless more books of better quality with the word “bell” in their titles.

Moving Up a Level

Peter Brantley -- September 14th, 2012

Qiqi EGR Public Library by Stephen Depolo, Flickr

Days after Douglas County Libraries published a worksheet on consumer vs. library ebook pricing, the library community is reeling with news broken by Infodocket in Library Journal that Hachette USA is raising its prices on ebooks for libraries by up to 220 percent. Hachette currently permits only backlist ebook titles to be sold to libraries, having withdrawn its frontlist titles in 2010.

In additional reporting, Hachette has indicated that it intended this action to go fully into effect earlier this year, but an internal Overdrive “systems issue” prevented these increases from being reflected until now. Hachette contends that this pricing is justified because ebooks do “not need periodic replacement as do print copies” and there is no limit on the number of borrows. [Overdrive admitted further error on Sept. 17, adjusting its previously miscalculated average price increase from 220 percent to 104 percent.]

Of course, there is no limit on the number of borrows for print books either, and I would really appreciate hearing from Hachette as to whether they are therefore guaranteeing that their ebooks will never become inaccessible and unusable as a result of future ebook format shifts, retailer platform changes, DRM transitions, and evolution in HTML standards and rendering conventions. Or, perhaps they see those as “acts of God” and not their responsibility.

In reaction to the news, American Library Association’s president, Maureen Sullivan, has issued a strong statement decrying these new price increases. After many months of attempting to encourage publishers to develop a fair market in ebooks for libraries, ALA was stunned by Hachette’s pricing move, and the president has “asked the ALA’s Digital Content & Libraries Working Group to develop more aggressive strategies and approaches for the nation’s library community to meet these challenges.”

Clearly, library engagement on these issues must move to a new level. An organized economic boycott of ebooks by libraries would have little impact because it is painfully obvious that many publishers would be happy enough for libraries not to have access to ebooks at all. Instead, a public education and communications campaign must be initiated that highlights how large international media- and publishing conglomerates are turning their backs on our communities, steadily eliminating the opportunity for all readers to have full and equal access to the world’s learning and literature.

However, I am afraid that even public relations will not re-empower libraries to fulfill their missions. It may be time to encourage Congressional hearings that would entertain the possibility of legislation to support public libraries. Rather than rely on a private sector that clearly does not always align with public needs, maybe the best long-term strategy will be to require the deposit of published books with one or more national digital libraries that would then provide ebook hosting services for the nation’s public libraries.

Whatever the resolution, it is imperative that library actions be escalated in order to obtain a comprehensive national solution to enable publicly funded libraries to meet the needs of the citizens they are chartered to serve.

9 Unfinished Novels by Great Writers

Gabe Habash -- September 13th, 2012

Here’s something interesting: basically every writer has an unfinished novel.

An incomplete list: Truman Capote, Jack London, Kafka, Stendhal, Charles Dickens, J.R.R. Tolkien, Vladimir Nabokov, Stephen King, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Karl Marx.

And while all those authors have compelling reasons for why they never ended up publishing (most involved death), below we’ve picked 9 unfinished novels with especially great stories for why they never made it to print.


Bouvard and Pecuchet by Gustave Flaubert

Flaubert began work on Bouvard and Pecuchet in 1863 and spent an obsessive amount of time on the book until his death in 1880–taking a break only to write Three Tales in 1875-76. He was so obsessed that he claimed to have read over 1,500 books in preparation for writing it and expected it to be his masterpiece. The book, finally published in 1881, follows two friends who move from work as clerks to a pursuit of knowledge in the countryside, and find failure in their repeated intellectual endeavors. Flaubert’s manuscript ends toward the story’s conclusion, after Bouvard and Pecuchet have met the majority of their disappointments. According to his notes, the likely ending would’ve consisted of the villagers forcing them out and the two protagonists returning to their jobs.

Reception: Ezra Pound compared the book’s virtuosic scope to Ulysses (“it can be regarded as the inauguration of a new form which has no precedents”). In 2006, Julian Barnes said:

“…requires a stubborn reader, one willing to suspend normal expectations and able to confront both repetitious effects and a vomitorium of pre-digested book learning.”


The 120 Days of Sodom by Marquis de Sade

Composed over 37 days while Sade was imprisoned in the Bastille, The 120 Days of Sodom was written in tiny script on a scroll 12 meters long. When the Bastille was stormed in 1789, Sade (who was transferred to an insane asylum) feared that it was lost forever, but it was found hidden and still intact, and was published in 1904. Of the book’s four parts, only the first is written in detail, with the three following parts written in note form.

Reception: The book has been called vile pornography and misogynistic, as well as being read as a satirical response to Rousseau (and religion, politics, and more) and has endured a history of bans until it became more widely available in the latter half of the 20th century. Continue reading

Scaling up “Doing it for Ourselves”

Peter Brantley -- September 12th, 2012

At the same time as the American Library Association is gearing up for new meetings with New York publishers and the AAP this Fall, individual public libraries are demonstrating an almost fervid interest in developing their own independent ebook platforms.

The Internet Archive pioneered the concept of running an Adobe Content Server platform to host our own DRM-protected ebooks through Open Library, and we were delighted to give early assistance to the Douglas County Libraries (DCL) when they independently came to the same conclusion: rolling your own ebook platform provides a degree of independence from ebook intermediaries such as Overdrive, and most importantly, provides a means to purchase versus license e-books, eliminating vicissitudes in fees or business terms that licensing conveys.

Philosophically, the desire to acquire and lend e-books through the same “from our own shelves” model as print books, CDs, and DVDs, greatly motivates the enthusiasm for direct digital content management. Hot on the heels of DCL’s initial success, the Califa consortium of California libraries launched their own ebook platform, which in turn has attracted other library systems such as Kansas’. Harris County, the home of Houston, Texas, has just announced that they are also pursuing a DCL-like model for hosting publisher- and author-provided content. Continue reading

First Crowdsourced Dictionary Words Include ‘Floordrobe’ and ‘Shabby Chic’

Gabe Habash -- September 11th, 2012

Collins Dictionary announced in July that it was opening up its online dictionary to public suggestions, and this week marks the first batch of approved crowdsourced words and definitions.

The publisher received over 4,400 submissions, and here some of the 86 that made the cut:

gazang (v) – (informal) (of the seller of a house) to inconvenience (a potential buyer) by withdrawing from an agreement to sell shortly before the purchase is completed

oojamaflip (n) – (slang) a thing whose name is temporarily forgotten

rowie (n) – (Northeast Scotland) a bread roll made with butter and fat

zhoosh(v) – often foll by up (slang) to make more exciting, lively, or attractive

What’s a Library Dollar Worth?

Peter Brantley -- September 9th, 2012

The Douglas County Libraries, under the leadership of James LaRue, this week initiated the publication of an ongoing pricing report for print and ebooks appearing on the New York Times weekly bestsellers lists for fiction and nonfiction. For libraries, the information is disheartening, although not surprising. For print books, library prices are generally on par (and often slightly cheaper) than consumer prices for the same book.

The digital picture, however, is entirely different. Great swaths of the spreadsheet are missing, illustrating the effect that publisher boycotts are having on the ability of libraries to provide access to their patrons. And, in those cases where ebooks are available, the report shows usurious markups, up to six times the consumer price for the same title. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, for example, is available for $9.99 at Amazon, but libraries have to fork out $47.85. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand is $12.99 at Amazon, but an amazing $81.00 from both 3M and Overdrive.

In a narrative accompanying the report, Douglas County states that they were driven to release these numbers because: 1) The pricing comparison assists them in being good stewards of public funds; 2) it enables them to explain to patrons why so many ebooks are unavailable, either due to their absence from the market, or the astronomical pricing; and 3) that “presenting these numbers to the library and publishing worlds exposes a problem that is, or should be, a matter of public concern.” Continue reading