E-publisher Joyland goes retro with paper-and-ink books

December 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Joyland, the “hub” for short fiction spearheaded by writers Brian Joseph Davis and Emily Schultz, is branching out into the realm of print books. Joyland Retro, a biannual print-on-demand journal that includes material from the site, is being produced in conjunction with the self-publishing service Create Space, a subsidiary of Amazon. The first volume of Joyland Retro, which features stories by Zoe Whittall, Andrew Hood, Jim Hanas, Nathan Sellyn, and others, is available now via Joyland and Amazon, and retails for $10.95.

“We spent six months researching the most ethical way to print and distribute two issues a year for really cheap,” Davis wrote in an e-mail to TSR, “… and this is the best for now.” Because Create Space employs local printers in different markets, Davis says, the service is “a lot more ‘locavore’ than you would think.”

Bookstores can order Joyland Retro through Create Space or directly through the Joyland website, and Davis says that he will ship bookstore orders wholesale. He points out, however, that Joyland Retro is “technically” a magazine, “so we’re going to concentrate on reaching our readers directly, as you have to with a subscription-based operation.”

The new print-on-demand venture is being run entirely through the Joyland website, and is not affiliated with Joyland eBooks, which are produced in partnership with Toronto publishers ECW Press. The e-book series has slowed down a bit in the past six months, because husband-and-wife team Davis and Schultz have been concentrating on their new baby. But Davis says there is a new collection from Toronto journalist David Balzer due for release in spring 2012. Davis describes the e-book program as a success, “in that we’ve kept alive the tradition of breaking new authors with short-story collections.”

So, is the retreat into “analog” book production the beginning of a digital apostasy on Davis’s part? “Just the opposite,” he says, calling the combination of digital and traditional publishing “the hybrid future.” Davis goes on:

We’re just being ecumenical now. One thing I thought about while putting the collection together is that digital reading and print reading are developing into discrete operations in our minds, in the same way that listening to music and making music are controlled by different parts of the brain. On the one hand, the world needs less “stuff,” and I’m glad the website is this temporal, weekly, ecstatic experience. On the other hand, authors really like being on paper and that can’t be reduced to “nostalgia.” If anything, it adduces something about how the brain works in processing text, truth, and its own consciousness. This might be the only publishing interview that ends with the statement: Digital is Dionysian. Print is Apollonian.

The copyright wars, part MMXI: Wiley vs. BitTorrent

November 1, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

If you’re casting around for a definition of irony, you could do worse than point to a lawsuit against the peer-to-peer file sharing company BitTorrent instigated by a publisher whose backlist includes an instructional book called BitTorrent for Dummies. Although it seems counterintuitive, the publisher of that volume, John Wiley & Sons, has filed suit in New York claiming that 27 individuals “have engaged in the illegal copying and distribution” of titles in the company’s popular Dummies series of books, using the BitTorrent software.

The complaint, a copy of which was obtained by the website TorrentFreak, alleges that between October 12 and October 19 of this year, twenty-seven individuals illegally downloaded copies of Wiley titles including Day Trading for Dummies, Calculus Essentials for Dummies, Dreamweaver CS5 All-In-One for Dummies, and WordPress for Dummies. While the identities of the twenty-seven individuals are currently unknown (they are identified in the complaint as John Doe 1–27), their IP Addresses are listed, and they all reside in New York State. “That tidbit is quite relevant,” writes a poster named “etdragon” on the website Myce, “considering recent mass lawsuits have been thrown out of other courts due to the fact that all the defendants did not reside in the state in which the claim was filed.”

Myce also points out that the Wiley suit marks a precedent: previous lawsuits claiming copyright infringement against BitTorrent have involved producers of movies, music, and video games. This is the first time a major multinational publisher has filed a mass suit against users of the file-sharing site.

In the complaint, Wiley alleges that the defendants “knowingly and purposefully infringed, and induced others to infringe, Wiley’s copyrighted works.” It goes on to state:

Although Wiley cannot determine at this time the precise amount of revenue that it has lost as a result of the peer-to-peer file sharing of its copyrighted works through BitTorrent software, the amount of that lost revenue is enormous. For example, BitTorrent users on a single site, demonoid.me, have downloaded one of the works that is the subject of this suit, Photoshop CS5 All-In-One FOR DUMMIES, more than 74,000 times since June 6, 2010.

The complaint also suggests that Wiley stands to suffer damage to its corporate reputation as a result of inferior versions of its books proliferating among file-sharing online users:

The damage to Wiley includes harm to its goodwill and reputation in the marketplace for which money cannot compensate. Wiley is particularly concerned that its trademarks are used in connection with unauthorized electronic products, which could contain malicious viruses.

The suit requests an injunction preventing the defendants from further disseminating Wiley’s titles or using Wiley’s name or associated trademarks. In addition to court costs, the suit also asks for “treble damages and/or treble defendants’ profits from their willful infringement, couterfeiting, and/or false designation of origin of Wiley’s trademarks,” as well as punitive damages.

The Wiley suit once again pits the holders of copyright and those who profit off the creation of copyrighted works against the denizens of the Internet who believe that information should be free and that copyright infringement is inevitable in a digital world. This debate is of particular salience here in Canada, where the Conservative government is currently considering Bill C-11, the Copyright Modernization Act, which would, in at least one instance, side with the copyright holders by criminalizing activity that circumvents digital locks placed on copyrighted materials.

If the history of the music and movie industries is anything to go by, the piracy proponents may indeed have the upper hand in this argument. And Wiley’s claims for damages may be futile: the vast majority of cases involving other media have resulted in out-of-court settlements.

However, Wiley is to be commended for taking a stand on the principle of intellectual property ownership, which helps ensure fair compensation for creators of the very content digital pirates seem so anxious to consume and share among one another online. What the piracy advocates tend to ignore is the fact that should these content creators decide it is no longer worth their while to create the content, there will be nothing left to pirate.

The print vs. e-book debate, truck stop edition

February 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

H.B. Fenn and the state of our industry

February 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The Canadian publishing industry was dealt another body blow yesterday, as the country’s largest book distributor, H.B. Fenn and Company, announced that it had filed a Notice of Intention to Make a Proposal under the provisions of Canada’s Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. The filing allows the company 30 days’ breathing room to come up with a restructuring plan. If no viable plan is reached after this period, the company can apply for an extension with the courts. According to D.J. Miller, a lawyer quoted in The Globe and Mail, “The purpose of the proposal will be to compromise the existing debt and allow the company to move forward with less debt.” In theory, Miller said, this does not necessarily signal that the company will go bankrupt. In practice, according to Fenn publicist Lisa Winstanley, speaking to the National Post, “We’re ceasing operations effective immediately.”

Winstanley was laid off, along with the other 124 employees of the company, after a meeting at Fenn’s offices in Bolton, Ontario, yesterday morning. In a brief press release, founder and CEO Harold Fenn said that they “have worked extremely hard to build the Company and keep it going even under today’s adverse conditions.” The press release stated that Fenn “has encountered significant financial challenges due to the loss of distribution lines, shrinking margins and the significant shift to e-books, all of which have significantly reduced the Company’s revenues.”

Although many industry watchers reacted with shock to yesterday’s announcement, there were indications that all was not well with the company. Last September, Fenn shuttered the offices of Key Porter and laid off the bulk of its staff. Fenn became controlling shareholder in the Canadian-owned publishing firm when it bought out co-founder Anna Porter in 2004. At the time, Fenn claimed that despite the changes, it remained committed to Key Porter’s publishing program, which operated under the aegis of vice-president and publisher Jordan Fenn, Harold’s son. Just last month, Fenn announced that Key Porter would be suspending its publishing operations indefinitely.

The writing was on the wall, at least with the benefit of hindsight.

A number of people have compared Fenn’s downfall to that of General Distribution Services/Stoddart Publishing in 2002. While there are no doubt similarities, Fenn’s troubles do not signal a seismic shift for the domestic publishing industry. GDS represented a significant number of Canadian independent presses; by contrast, outside of its own publishing line, Fenn Publishing, and Key Porter, the only Canadian-owned publisher Fenn distributed is Whitecap Books. Bad news for Whitecap, but not a huge blow to the domestic industry as a whole.

At least, not in the short term. Looking into the future, things might appear murkier.

Fenn suffered financial pressure resulting in part from one the departure of one of its largest clients, the Hachette Book Group, which opened a domestic office in 2009 and took over all responsibility for publicizing and marketing their titles. They also moved fulfillment to their office in Indiana. In addition to depriving Fenn of one of its major revenue sources, commentators at the time suggested that Hachette’s move contravened Canadian foreign-ownership laws, but the Department of Canadian Heritage never investigated the matter. For those who insist that a certain amount of cultural protectionism is necessary to keep our indigenous book industry alive, allowing a major multinational to ship directly to Canadian bookstores was an ill omen, and it may get worse.

Fenn handled distribution for approximately 90 clients, by far the largest of which was the publishing behemoth Macmillan, which is now effectively without representation in Canada. Should Macmillan decide to follow Hachette’s route, it would mean yet another major multinational will have co-opted distribution and marketing responsibilities for its titles in Canada. This is dangerous, because it removes a significant revenue stream from Canadian distributors on the one hand, and on the other, cements the idea that multinational publishers should be allowed access to the Canadian market without providing a net benefit to Canada.

Quoted in Quill & Quire, publisher Kim McArthur questions the rationale for the government’s non-intervention:

“The Canadian publishing industry operates on razor thin margins at the best of times, and these are not the best of times,” McArthur said on Thursday. “Perhaps the Canadian government, the Minister of Heritage, and the Foreign Investment Review Agency will wake up to the fact that – by not saying a word as Hachette U.K. and U.S. quietly decamped and removed all of their sales and distribution to the U.S., and by not demanding that Hachette provide any net benefit to Canada at all – they have endangered the entire Canadian-owned industry.”

Carolyn Wood, president of the Association of Canadian Publishers, disagrees. Speaking about Fenn’s announcement yesterday, Wood told the Toronto Star, “This is an extreme example of what can happen with some of the challenges that the industry is facing right now, but I don’t think it’s the tip of the iceberg or the first domino or anything like that.” Wood takes the long view, which tends to see industry fluctuations as peaks and valleys over the course of decades, not months or even years. Indeed, we may be on the cusp of a renaissance in Canadian publishing: the accelerating encroachment of multinationals into the Canadian market could be the spur required for talented entrepreneurs to revivify domestic independent publishing.

Personally, I’d rather side with Wood than with McArthur. Yes, we are facing a time of narrow margins and scanty readership, but it was always thus. As Roy MacSkimming points out in his book on the domestic publishing industry, The Perilous Trade, in Canada “the margin of error is narrow.” However, he asserts, “A harsh environment breeds resourcefulness and cunning.” The difficulties faced by H.B. Fenn are not pleasant, but they need not signal the incipient downfall of the industry.

Compare and contrast

January 19, 2011 by · 4 Comments 

Key Porter’s communication breakdown

January 8, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

For the last few years, January has been a bleak month for Canadian publishing. In January 2008, the Vancouver-based company Raincoast announced that it was dismantling its publishing program to focus on its wholesale and distribution business. In January 2010, the Canadian-owned publisher McArthur and Company lost a major source of revenue when Hachette Book Group took over distribution of its own titles in Canada. And January 2011 heralds the announcement that Key Porter Books, one of the country’s largest Canadian-owned publishers, is suspending its operations while it explores restructuring options. The company, which began as a partnership between Key Publishers and Anna Porter in 1979, was bought by H.B. Fenn and Company in 2004.

Responding to press reports that the company was being shuttered, Key Porter issued a statement yesterday that read, in part:

Key Porter Books is considering a number of restructuring options, including the sale of certain titles in its valuable catalogue of Canadian works, all with a view to continuing as a leader in the Canadian publishing industry. In the meantime, Key Porter Books is supporting its authors through the continued marketing and sale of previously published works and distribution through H.B. Fenn and Company Ltd.

The restructuring follows the abrupt lay offs of 11 staff members last September. At that time, the downtown Toronto offices of Key Porter were closed and the remaining staff relocated to Fenn’s head offices in Bolton, Ontario. In the wake of the company’s latest setback this week, Key Porter publisher Jordan Fenn said that Key Porter’s books have “played a leading role in giving a voice to the Canadian story” and pledged to “do everything possible to ensure that voice continues to be heard.”

Rebecca Eckler’s debut novel for adults, The Lucky Sperm Club, which was originally slated for publication last fall, will be released by Key Porter this month. Other Key Porter authors are not so lucky. Mark Bourrie, whose non-fiction book The Fog of War was scheduled for release on January 25, found out that publication was suspended only on Wednesday, when he received an e-mail from Jordan Fenn. The e-mail, which Bourrie posted to his blog, cites “current market conditions” that forced the company to undergo “drastic changes … to adjust and strengthen [its] position.” As for why Bourrie, who as recently as this past week had been setting up media appearances in advance of the publication of his book, was only alerted to the situation on Wednesday, Fenn blames “a significant breakdown in communication”:

It would seem that several members of our team were all thinking that the other had spoken with you, while in reality none of us had. This is regrettable. This is embarrassing and I suspect this is incredibly upsetting, frustrating, angering, and disappointing for you.

In fact, it is more than regrettable. The fact that an author who was expecting the imminent release of his book – to the extent that he secured an excerpt on his own in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald – should not be made aware of the publication’s suspension until two weeks before the book is due out is unconscionable. And despite protestations to the contrary, when a publishing house suspends its operations, it is incumbent upon the publisher to alert the affected authors. No buck passing is allowed in this situation.

Although it probably will come as cold comfort to Bourrie, it appears he was not the only person affected by Key Porter’s communication breakdown. The Globe and Mail quotes agent Rick Broadhead, who has several authors signed to the house, as saying that of late he has not “received any official communication from [Key Porter] at all.” The same article quotes Julie Devaney, whose book My Leaky Body was scheduled for release in April:

So to not be in contact with us through that process … to let people go through the whole process of finishing our books, finishing our edits, talking about marketing, talking to people outside of the publisher about ways that we might be cross-promoting our books, things like that – and then letting us find out from the media … I think it’s totally inappropriate and disrespectful.

Indeed. Alternatively, it could just be January in Canadian publishing.

Who knows what (and how and where) you’re reading?

December 16, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Back in July 2009, readers found that digital editions of two books they’d purchased from Amazon – George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farmhad mysteriously vanished from their Kindle e-readers. Although it turned out that Amazon removed the books (and credited the affected accounts) because the editions were unauthorized, this episode stands as a cautionary tale about the power e-book retailers have over e-book readers.

That power could be about to expand exponentially. Today, NPR published an article outlining the data that various manufacturers of e-reading devices collect about their users. If the irony of having Orwell’s books erased from Kindle readers is thick, imagine what the author would think of the following:

  • According to Cindy Cohn of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Amazon can track how fast a person reads by the number of page clicks, and can tell where the reader stopped reading.
  • Bestselling author and president of the Authors Guild Scott Turow says of Amazon’s Kindle: “They could tell you with precision the age, the zip codes, gender, and other interests of the people who bought my books.”
  • Google stores pages from books a reader purchases through its eBooks store to keep track of where the buyer finished reading, but also for “security monitoring” and to police “abusive sharing” of titles.
  • Apple’s iBookstore sends “functional data” back to the company so that Apple can better “understand customers and customer behavior.”
  • Kindles and iPads are equipped with GPS software that allows their manufacturers to track not just what you’re reading, but where you’re reading it.

If all of this Big Brotherish activity strikes a cold note of fear in your heart, you’re not alone. Author Stephen King, who knows something about fear, told NPR, “Ultimately, this sort of thing scares the hell out of me.” And it should. The more society hands over its privacy and information to the digital machine – which increasingly means big corporations trying to sell people stuff – the closer we edge toward a precipice beyond which everything we do is monitored, crosschecked, analyzed, and monetized. Orwell feared that Big Brother would take the form of a totalitarian government; the truth is it may take the form of rapacious corporations collecting minute amounts of data on us to better understand how to enrich themselves at our expense.

Of course, it’s foolish to blame corporations and product manufacturers alone for the current state of affairs. The public at large seems all too eager to allow anyone and everyone access to every corner of their lives. Social media like Facebook and Twitter, and geolocation sites like Foursquare, provide constant updates about a person’s whereabouts, activities, and interests.

This has not gone unnoticed by the folks at Kobo, who are in the process of rolling out a Facebook-linked app called Reading Life, which will allow users to post reading lists to their Facebook pages, along with favourite passages, comments, and reading histories. What caught my eye, though, was a paragraph in Quill & Quire‘s report on the Kobo initiative:

The app isn’t just about cultural sharing, however – it also provides Kobo and other companies with new marketing opportunities. [Michael Serbinis, CEO of Kobo] gave this example: Kobo will be able, via the app, to detect if a particular user reads frequently at Starbucks. If that reader logs a certain number of reading hours at Starbucks, they could be offered a coupon on their next latte. If Kobo users don’t want Facebook to know what they’re reading or where they’re reading it, the app can be temporarily deactivated.

Kobo is quick to point out that Reading Life is an opt-in service – in other words, users have to consciously turn it on for it to work. This would likely be small comfort to the author of Nineteen Eighty-Four, or to the novelist Auldous Huxley, who, in Brave New World, predicted that humans would be all too willing to assist the forces desiring to subjugate them. The uncritical enthusiasm with which users have embraced Facebook, Foursquare, and other social media indicates that Huxley was right. Who can blame Kobo, Apple, and Amazon for wanting to profit off such consumer indifference? The problem is that by the time we realize we’ve relinquished our lives to the machine, it will be too late.

Consider this: in the movie Seven, detectives Somerset and Mills track down the serial killer John Doe by accessing his library records. In that movie, what the detectives do is clearly meant to appear unethical and underhanded. In today’s wireless world, it’s just business as usual.

Penguin and Indigo see (RED)

December 1, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

December 1 is World AIDS Day, and to mark the occasion, the country’s largest bookseller has teamed up with one of the world’s most recognizable publishers to promote a new line of classic novels that will help battle HIV/AIDS in Africa. Indigo Books and Music has signed on to sell special (RED) editions of 16 Penguin Classics titles. Fifty percent of profits from the (RED) editions will go directly to the Global Fund to eliminate AIDS in Africa.

The special (RED) editions have been repackaged with newly commissioned cover art. The traditional black has been replaced with red, and the covers employ words and phrases taken from the books.

Indigo CEO Heather Reisman is quoted in a press release from Penguin Canada:

Penguin Classics have captured the imagination of millions of readers around the world for generations, transforming the way people think, feel, and read forever. The message of this campaign is that these great books still have power to change lives – and, literally, to save lives.

The sixteen titles in the campaign are:

  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  • Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The Lady with a Little Dog and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
  • Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert
  • Silas Marner by George Eliot
  • Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
  • Thérèse Raquin by Emile Zola
  • The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
  • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackerey
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Indigo has an exclusive licence to sell these titles until January 31, 2011. After that, the special editions will be rolled out to the trade, according to Yvonne Hunter, vice president, publicity and marketing at Penguin Canada.

Meet the new boss …

October 3, 2010 by · 4 Comments 

There is a story about Mordecai Richler that goes something like this: when he was young, Richler was asked what he wanted to do with his life, and replied that he wanted to be a novelist. His bewildered interlocutor reportedly responded by saying, “Yes, but how are you going to make money?”

It’s a good thing Richler didn’t start writing in the digital age. According to a Wall Street Journal article by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, reprinted in yesterday’s Globe and Mail, the advent of e-books is making it harder for untested writers to earn even a modest income from their writing:

It has always been tough for literary fiction writers to get their work published by the top publishing houses. But the digital revolution that is disrupting the economic model of the book industry is having an outsize impact on the careers of literary writers.

Priced much lower than hardcovers, many e-books generate less income for publishers. As a result, the publishers who nurtured generations of America’s top literary-fiction writers are approving fewer book deals and signing fewer new writers. Most of those getting published are receiving smaller advances.

In one sense, this is not news. It has always been necessary for novelists who don’t exist in the top tier alongside figures like Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, and J.K. Rowling to augment their incomes by taking other work. This is not a recent phenomenon: Chekhov was a doctor. Wallace Stevens was a lawyer for an insurance company. Anthony Trollope worked for the Royal Mail. And so on.

What is dispiriting, however, is the notion that the e-book format, currently the only publishing format that is experiencing growth rather than flatlining or declining, seems to privilege established writers over new voices, and populist genres over literary writing. Trachtenberg admits that Jonathan Franzen’s book Freedom has done well in electronic format, selling “well over 35,000” copies in its first two weeks of publication. Franzen is a literary writer, but one with definite populist instincts. Twice anointed by Oprah Winfrey, reigning queen of American popular culture (her endorsements of Leo Tolstoy and William Faulkner notwithstanding), Franzen has written about his own ambivalence toward the literary and popular divide (which he refers to as Status writing and Contract writing, respectively) in his essay on William Gaddis, entitled “Mr. Difficult.”

Regardless, Franzen is not in a position to need sales, digital or otherwise. His popularity and reputation are already well established. It is newer authors without proven track records who will suffer from digital books cutting into publishers’ bottom lines. Trachtenberg acknowledges this discontinuity when he writes:

The e-book is good news for some. Big-name authors and novels that are considered commercial are increasingly in demand as e-book readers gravitate toward bestsellers with big plots. Unlike traditional bookstores, where a browsing customer might discover an unknown book set out on a table, e-bookstores generally aren’t set up to allow readers to discover unknown authors, agents say. Brand-name authors with big marketing budgets behind them are having the greatest success thus far in the digital marketplace.

In other words, e-books encourage readers to seek out familiar names and traditional approaches, and discourage exploration and experimentation. They are another step along the pernicious road to the kind of blockbuster mentality that has infected Hollywood for years. Which is undoubtedly good for Jonathan Franzen. It’s not so good for literature in general.

I want to be on a train somewhere, going to meet a lover, reading a paperback copy of Winterson and crying

September 1, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Jaime Woo had an idea to get a group of people with similar interests together over drinks and record their conversation. The project, called “Overheard,” is meant to capture unedited, unscripted ideas and passionate engagement around a specific topic. For his first podcast, he recorded novelist Stacey May Fowles, blogger and author Julie Wilson, and yr. humble correspondent talking about publishing, CanLit, the influence of new media, and Seth Godin’s disavowal of traditional books. The results are online, for anyone who is interested.

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