Monthly Archives: December 2012

Not Excepting Our Laws

Peter Brantley -- December 24th, 2012

Constitution in the National ArchivesThe United Kingdom’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) just released an extremely important announcement revising the UK’s copyright laws, bringing them more up to date with a digital age. “Modernising Copyright: A modern, robust and flexible framework” (pdf) formalizes permissions for a wide range of acts that in the U.S. are likely to be judged as Fair Use, but which have not obtained the benefit of explicit endorsement.

One of the IPO’s singular provisions in “Modernising Copyright” – that contracts cannot overwrite existing copyright exceptions and limitations – will have widespread repercussions. IFLA is helping drive similar discussions in international deliberations at WIPO focusing on libraries and archives. The U.S. Congress should give serious consideration to adopting a homologous principle. The UK, whose copyright framework is broadly similar to the U.S., now stands at the forefront of European thinking on copyright. Continue reading

PW Staff: Our Favorite Books We Read in 2012

PWStaff -- December 20th, 2012

PW has already named its Best Books of 2012, but since readers rarely get to see the faces behind the scenes, we thought we’d let our staff share the best book they read in 2012, because deep down, we’re all just book nerds. Here are our staff picks. Let us know your favorite book you read this year in the comments!

Peter Cannon, senior reviews editor:

When I was a college senior, I gave Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972, as a house present to a friend’s mother. At the time, I had no interest whatsoever in reading a long, serious contemporary novel, focused as I was on studying classic American literature at the same university where Stegner was in charge of the creative writing program. Forty years later, having broadened my literary range, I finally read Stegner’s masterpiece. I’m glad I waited.  At my current mature age, I can better appreciate the struggles of a mismatched couple in the post-Civil War American west, framed by the narrative of the couple’s cranky, crippled 58-year-old grandson, a retired history professor who tries to make sense of their story as he pieces it together. His fulminations against the hippie counterculture of his own day add to the fun. A brutally honest, unsentimental book.

Jessamine Chan, reviews editor:

I still have 400 pages to go, but at the halfway mark, Anna Karenina (the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky) is definitely my favorite this year. Every hour that I can devote to it has been immensely rewarding. I’m not a big fan of the disaffected, post-post-emotion trend in contemporary fiction, so I love that these characters just feel so many feelings. Levin seems always on the verge of a meltdown, and the women sigh and weep for pages and pages. That is my kind of book. Last week, I missed my subway stop because of one of Vronsky’s big scenes. I wish all books could command my attention and inspire my devotion the way this one does.

Michael Coffey, co-editorial director:

One topic, jazz, served marvelously by two books this year: Ted Gioia’s The Jazz Standards (Oxford University Press), and Marc Myers’s Why Jazz Happened (Univ. of California Press). When read together, Myers’s book offers an explanation (as much as there can be one) of how the culture produced the 250 standards of the jazz repertoire that Gioia lovingly details. While Gioia makes a fascinating connection between how Broadway show tunes and the popularity of strong singers like Frank Sinatra and Billie Holliday fed and fed off the development (and commercial success for a time) of the jazz form, Myers, who covers music for the Wall Street Journal and writes the popular blog, JazzWax, explores how migration, the depression, the advent of radio, the evolution of recording technology (including the concomitant rise of juke boxes), and the battle between musicians’ unions and record companies directly influenced the direction of American jazz. Both books make for lively accompaniments to listening. Continue reading

Unsubscribing to the Library

Peter Brantley -- December 14th, 2012

Although it is not a popular opinion, I believe that library ebook borrowing erodes ebook sales, at least modestly, particularly of frontlist titles, net of whatever positive marketing effect libraries have in introducing new books and authors to readers. Obviously, it would be useful to verify this with solid data, but it is damnably difficult to construct a reliable instrument with control cases. Determining whether (and how) innovative, alternative models of ebook retailing might impact both publishers and libraries bears further examination, and recently I have started thinking about the possible impact of ebook subscription services.

Most considerations of library e-book lending take into account the potential commercial impact on digital book markets, as well as consumer expectations of the e-books we buy. Without question, there are gaping holes in ebook functionality that frustrate readers. For example, the inability to lend an e-book I’ve purchased to my wife is a maddening display of pecuniary greed that diminishes the overall value of the publishing sector.

When it comes to the market impact of library e-book lending, there are many factors to bear in mind. One is the suggestion that potentially losing some frontlist sales while profiting from reader introductions to more authors and books is a worthwhile trade, ultimately smoothing the revenue curve across publishers’ available inventory. Many publishers, however, believe that community services such as Goodreads already do a good enough job with recommendations, while delivering more efficient and stronger direct sales.

Brian O’Leary, meanwhile, has convincingly argued that libraries are the first, best defense against piracy, bringing readers into the market who would not otherwise buy copies, and that failure to accommodate the demand for borrowing a free e-book, however inefficiently, would engender far worse consequences in consumer behavior than losing a modest number of sales from library lending. But so far, the focus of the current discussion on e-books has failed to examine truly alternative measures, like subscription access.

A much-discussed option for publishers is a subscription service to a comprehensive set of books for a modest fee, usually near $10 a month for a base level membership, with streaming access to titles that are convertible to downloadable ebook sales. This “Spotify-for-e-books” approach has seen recent entrants including 24Symbols, Jellybooks, and most recently Oyster, joining stalwarts Safari Books Online in technical literature, Tor (to an extent) in scifi/fantasy, and Harlequin in romance. In a kissing-cousins effort, Bilbary is attempting to marry borrowing from public libraries with publisher compensation via an innovative, subsidized rental model. It is also worth recalling that Google was entertaining the idea of eventual consumer subscription access to the Google Books library in its defeated settlement proposals. And Amazon, of course, could enter this market with rather trivial effort.

Thus far, however, no general trade book subscription effort has emerged, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. The obvious challenge is establishing a deep, broad-enough list of titles to induce a large enough number of subscribers to join, and the appropriate rights for older backlist titles may not be present. In addition, the revenue question gets sticky once readers have been converted to subscribers. The economics are not simple, and the only thing that obviates the same, exact problem that libraries now face (the belief that library lends lead to lost book sales) is if you can attract enough people as subscribers who would otherwise not be reading at all, or otherwise reading at the base threshold of whatever membership level you can up-sell them into.

Nevertheless, there is a growing realization by publishers that setting up consumer-facing retail relationships as an alternative to Amazon’s monopsony has its benefits. This is evident in the hard slog that start-up Bookshout is encountering as it attempts to provide a vendor-neutral cloud-based bookshelf for readers. It is also evident in the launch of the beta-status Ownshelf, which is similarly attempting to crack the proprietary media silos of Amazon, Apple, and to a lesser extent Google.

Quixotically, the existence of these start-ups is reliant on the platforms created by the technology giants whose retailing arms they seek to interpose: if it weren’t for iOS and Android, and the growing ubiquity of mobile phones and tablets, these start-ups would have no chance. Unless Apple, Amazon, and Google have the gumption to eliminate all alternative e-readers from their app stores (which just might warrant a wee bit of interest from the Department of Justice) there is some room to maneuver.

But therein also lies the catch: any subscription service from publishers can’t simply rest on the laurels of a compelling list with attractive membership levels, and effective marketing. They must be able to bridge the reader, device, and catalog. In the sector of technology literature, for example, it is not for nothing that Safari Books Online hired the Threepress team that developed the Ibis Reader web application. Look for more of this in the future.

For publishers, offering a subscription alternative would have another outcome: it would make library borrowing unattractive. In other words, an effective subscription book service would nudge one of the most attractive segments of the library population into a consumer market: heavy readers, who heretofore have accepted the hassles of library borrowing rather than face the monetary burden of having to purchase individual titles. By delivering these heavy readers into a marketplace, subscription models could potentially leave libraries serving as the public community hospitals of the ebook market.

The key question is whether creating this alternative market is worthwhile for publishers. Rational publishers might recognize the benefits of moving avid readers from libraries into the marketplace through subscription models, as well as opening up a narrow wedge against Amazon. A subscription could also alleviate some piracy issues, because if there are ready market options, consumers will flock to those in most cases, rather than deal with downloading non-reflowable PDFs or uncorrected OCR’ed EPUBs from rogue digital book sites. On the flip side, a subscription service might give final proof to O’Leary’s insight that there is a market for content whose price is zero, forcing that small sector into the grey net by removing the library option.

For libraries, the emergence of e-book subscriptions may not be good news. A thriving subscription market might enervate the viability of libraries in ebook lending. Or, it might not. Perhaps library markets could be effectively married with subscription models, despite the costs of managing the synergy. But that would take a degree of flexibility and nimbleness on both sides of the ebook aisle that I have yet to see.

10 Songs Inspired by Books

Gabe Habash -- December 13th, 2012

Fun fact: “Tea in the Sahara” by The Police is a reference to The Sheltering Sky, specifically the chapter in the book (titled “Tea in the Sahara”) in which Port is told of three dancers who wish to have tea in the desert, but end up dead from the heat. Here are 11 other book-song connections a little less obvious than The Grapes of Wrath and “The Ghost of Tom Joad.”

1. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon inspired “Whip It” by Devo

In case you weren’t spending your spare time searching the internet for the meaning behind the words of Devo’s most famous song, we’ll tell you: Devo member Jerry Casale wrote the lyrics to “Whip It” in one night, imitating Pynchon’s parodies in Gravity’s Rainbow. Said Casale: ”[Pynchon] had parodied limericks and poems of kind of all-American, obsessive, cult of personality ideas like Horatio Alger and ‘You’re #1, there’s nobody else like you’ kind of poems that were very funny and very clever. I thought, ‘I’d like to do one like Thomas Pynchon.’”

2. 1984 by George Orwell inspired “2+2=5″ by Radiohead

In addition to The Clash, Judas Priest, Stevie Wonder, Rage Against the Machine, Cheap Trick and many others, Orwell’s dystopia bible was a direct inspiration for Radiohead’s “2+2=5″ from Hail to the Thief. The song’s title is a reference to 1984‘s doublethink, in which logic does not matter as much as what authority tells you matters. Lyrics like “January has April’s showers” mirror the illogicality of Big Brother’s dictum. Bonus factoid: the alternate title for “2+2=5″ is “The Lukewarm,” a reference to the works of Dante, according to Thom Yorke.

3. Anthem by Ayn Rand inspired “2112″ by Rush

Many of Rush’s songs have objectivist lyrics, and that’s because drummer Neil Peart, who writes the words, is a big Ayn Rand fan. Or at least he used to be. But Objectivist prog nerds have been been air drumming/air bassing/air guitaring to “2112″, the band’s longest song at over 20 minutes, for over 30 years. In 1976, when the album was released, Peart credited “the genius of Ayn Rand” (he had also titled the Rush’s song “Anthem” as a nod to the writer on the earlier Fly by Night album). The song (without getting into descriptions of the long instrumental and SFX breaks) is about a wide-eyed boy who finds a magical thing (a guitar), presents it to the ruling Priests of the Temples of Syrinx, is rebuked, commits suicide, and spurs a planetary revolution. Wonders of the world they wrought, indeed. Continue reading

Dark Corners of the Book-Related Internet III

Gabe Habash -- December 10th, 2012

Welcome to Dark Corners of the Book-Related Internet, where we distill hours of book-related internet searching into 5 little tidbits we think you’ll love. Have a good week, everyone! And be sure to see previous bookish finds here and here.

1. One of the best articles you’ll read about the link between writers and suicide.

2. Everyone knows Bloomsday is June 16, but what day is Earwickerday, the day on which the events of Finnegans Wake take place? One man has figured it out…using European football records.

3. A partial inventory of Flaubert’s personal effects.

4. A great examination of paranoia through the lens of DeLillo, Pynchon, and Wallace that makes you want to parse (or re-parse) Lot 49, White Noise, and Infinite Jest and ask yourself: Yes, I’m paranoid–but am I paranoid enough?

5. The most hypnotic book you’ll ever see.

Click here for more great book finds in dark corners.





In re Books

James Grimmelmann -- December 10th, 2012

On October 26 and 27—yes, just before Hurricane Sandy—New York Law School hosted In re Books, a “conference on law and the future of books.” A loose spiritual sequel to our 2009 conference on the Google Books settlement, D is for Digitize, In re Books was designed to bring together authors, publishers, librarians, scholars, and readers to think deeply about the challenges facing books in a digital age, and how law can help face those challenges. I’m happy to report that, following some post-Sandy cleanup, full video of the conference is now available online. (We will have downloadable versions ready soon.)

In my opening remarks, I tried to set a tone of good will for the conference:

We here in this room are joined by a common love of books. We are authors, publishers, literary agents, librarians, archivists, scholars and especially all of us are readers. And we are gathered together in a law school, for of all the professions, it is the lawyers who are the most devoted to the written word. Our task is to consider the future of books and law in a digital age. We stand at the crossroads of legal code, computer code, and the codex.

The legal system for books we have today is essentially the same one developed three hundred years ago to make cultural and economic sense out of the rise of a transformative media technology: the printing press. Today, we are living through—we are creating—another, equally transformative media technology: the computer. We are, I submit, still in the in incunabulum age of the digital book; the basic technology is clearly established, but the social outlines of what digital books will become are not. Determining the most appropriate laws to go along with them—whether it be the next iteration of copyright, or the Worshipful Company of Kickstarters, or the Deposit Library of Babel, or the inalienable moral right to have your wiki revisions properly attributed—we will not today or tomorrow finish the task, but we can perhaps help to advance it. …

It is early in the morning of the next age of books. Let us welcome in the day and see what it will bring. Continue reading

15 Weird Christmas Books

Gabe Habash -- December 6th, 2012

A quick look at the calendar shows only a few weeks until Christmas, which means that you have only a small number of days left to buy gifts. What we suggest is bookmark this page, and then on December 23 when you realize you forgot to buy your gifts, you’ll have quick reference to seasonal books like Mr Sparrow’s Spectacular Boob to give to your friends and family when you find that Walmart is out of Chia Pets. Happy holidays, everyone!

1. It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies!: A Book of Zombie Christmas Carols by Michael P. Spradlin

2. Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book: The Definitive Guide to Getting Your Ugly On by Brian Miller, Adam Paulson, Kevin Wool, and Glenn Gontha

3. Mr Sparrow’s Spectacular Boob – A Funny Christmas Story about Animals, a Nativity Play and a Crazy Teacher by Professor Paradox

4. A NASCAR Holiday 3 by Liz Allison & Wendy Etherington, Brenda Jackson, Marisa Carroll, and Jean Brashear

Continue reading