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Archives: March 2006

Wottakar’s: The Competition Commission says yes

After a four-month investigation, the Office of Fair Trading (which, for the uninitiated, is the UK’s antitrust-type office) has issued its preliminary findings about the proposed merger between HMV and Ottakar’s, which would unite two big-chain bookshops together in hardly-universal harmony.

The full text of the ruling can be found here, but the bottom line is that the Competition Commission says “the proposed acquisition of Ottakar’s by HMV through Waterstone’s may not be expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition in the market for the retail sale of new books (best-sellers or deep-range titles) at a national, regional or local level in the UK.” The Independent further reports that “competitive threat from supermarkets and online retailers such as Amazon would ensure that book prices would remain low.”

Diana Guy, chairman of the inquiry group, had further comment: “In the few locations where Waterstone’s and Ottakar’s stores are close together, we found the range of books and quality of service were similar to their stores located in other areas.So the effect of competition between Waterstone’s and Ottakar’s at the local level seems limited.

“Although the merger may reduce the number of central buying decision-makers, we do not believe this will have a significant impact on the range and variety of titles available to readers,” she further added.

The publication of the Commission’s final report is expected on May 22.

Oh, the People You’ll Meet!

Natalie R. Colins blogs about her signing at a Utah B&N to promote Wives and Sisters, a suspense novel set in a repressive Mormon community, describing the various people who come by her table. Including a type all of us in the writing game will immediately recognize:

“Middle-aged slightly nerdy but nice man comes to table… Next twenty minutes pass by while he explains how he has written a science fiction book and everyone who reads it loves it and asks for more. He also asks many questions about publishing and getting published. He wants to know why he can’t self publish. He finally leaves WITHOUT buying book, and with letting me know he just doesn’t understand why that pesky switching tenses is so wrong. He just writes ‘what feels right.’”

Preachers get multimillion dollar book deals, too

And if you’re Joel Osteen, who the NYT describes as “the ever-smiling preacher, best-selling author and religious broadcaster,” you’re getting a hell of a lot of dought from the Free Press – something to the tune of $13 million:

“I believe God wants us to prosper” is the gospel according to Mr. Osteen, 43, who offers no apologies for his wealth.

“You know what, I’ve never done it for the money,” he said in an interview after Sunday’s service at Lakewood Church, which he led with his glamorous wife and co-pastor, Victoria. “I’ve never asked for money on television.” But opening oneself to God’s favors was a blessing, he said. “I believe it’s God rewarding you.”

Especially interesting are the rumored terms of the deal (Osteen wouldn’t comment directly) that essentially it’s a co-publishing venture giving Osteen a smaller advance, but a 50-50 split on profits from the book. So how is it that he can command such lucre — and such adoration from his fan base? A mixture of evangelism and entertainment, according to James B. Twitchell. “There’s breadth but not too much depth, but the breadth is quite spangly, exciting to look at — that’s his power,” said Dr. Twitchell who called Lakewood “the steroid extreme” of megachurches.

Late Reports from Charlottesville

digbybella.jpgSome of the other participants in last weekend’s Virginia Festival of the Book are weighing in with their reports. Mystery writer Susan McBride offers up all sorts of details—you could plan a dining tour of Charlottesville off her recap—while N.M. Kelby meets all sorts of nice people and Bella Stander’s “Reading Under the Covers” has a bunch of photos, including this pic of her with Digby Diehl (left). Digby did a great job of moderating the panel I took part in Friday on Hollywood, especially when co-panelist David Kipen got stuck in traffic on the way from his office at the National Endowment for the Arts up in D.C. and the two of us had to wing it on our own for a while. (David was in great form once he made it to the venue, though, and did an equally great job Saturday afternoon when we talked about how to connect with readers alongside David J. Montgomery and Gene Schwartz of ForeWord.) Digby also had some great stories to tell late Saturday night, after we persuaded the hotel’s bartender to extend last call, about working out the plot of Soapsuds with co-author Finola Hughes.

The only real regret I have from the weekend is that one of my panels was scheduled opposite a panel I really wanted to attend, where Tim Flannery (The Weather Makers), Elizabeth Kolbert (Field Notes from a Catastrophe), and William Ruddiman (Plows, Plagues and Petroleum) talked about climate change and its consequences. Fortunately, Wired just posted interviews with Flannery and Kolbert that lay the problem out in stark terms:

Flannery: When we say the world will be worse off, what aspects of it do you want to know? We can take a few if you want. Let’s take species diversity, which is one of the greatest stabilizing influences on our planet. A diverse ecosystem is a stable ecosystem. There is not a single computer prediction that is suggesting anything less than monumental species loss. Some projections are up to 60 percent (of all species alive today will be extinct or committed to extinction) by the end of this century. That is massively destabilizing.

Kolbert: People think, “I won’t have to go to Florida anymore. Florida will come to me.” People should realize that warmth doesn’t mean Florida. It means New York is underwater. It may be that certain places like Siberia are more comfy, but it also means that they have no water. If people say, “Why should I be worried about global warming?” I think the answer is, “Do you like to eat?”

And heeere’s the Nibbies

The British Book Awards have announced the winners of various categories after a televised awards ceremony held last night. They are:

Richard & Judy Best Read of the Year: LABYRINTH by Kate Mosse

WHSmith Book of the Year: HARRY POTTER & THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE by JK Rowling

Amazon UK Biography of the Year: EXTREME by Sharon Osbourne

Red House Children’s Book of the Year: ARK HOUSE by Anthony Horowitz

Sainsbury’s Popular Fiction Award: THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger

Worldbooks’ Crime Thriller of the Year: THE TAKE by Martina Cole

Decibel Writer of the Year: 26A by Diana Evans

Reader’s Digest Author of the Year: Alan Bennett

Waterstone’s Newcomer of the Year: A SHORT HISTORY OF TRACTORS IN UKRANIAN by Marina Lewycka

Tesco Sports Book of the Year: BEING FREDDIE by Andrew Flintoff TV & Film Book of the Year: THE CONSTANT GARDENER by John Le Carre

As you can see, these aren’t exactly literary-based awards for the most part. But still, congrats to all the winners.

Clash of the Titans in Connecticut

The Stamford Advocate takes an advance look at one of this summer’s major comic book plotlines? And why, you ask, would Marvel’s Civil War series be of interest to the suburban enclave’s 117,000 residents? Because to kick off the story, in May’s debut issue the city blows up real good.

“Although [Marvel editor-in-chief Joe] Quesada could not say whether the series’ artists will render any Stamford landmarks, one scene shows apartment buildings that resemble the downtown, and one editorial description refers to the epicenter of the blast as ‘the Riverbank Massacre.’ Riverbank is a road in Stamford where the Mead School, formerly Riverbank Elementary, is located.”

Turns out Marvel scripter Jeph Loeb (who isn’t the actual writer on Civil War, but was consulted during the story development process) used to go to that school when he was a wee lad.

Wednesday Link Litterbox

    And Soft Skull, demonstrating its ability to think differently from larger publishers, is going ahead with a subscription model where for a mere $50, you can have access to their entire poetry catalog of 2006.

Hugo Noms Embrace Academy Screener Model

Science fiction writer John Scalzi, whose Old Man’s War is one of this year’s finalists for the Hugo prize for best novel, wants to get his book in front of as many voters as possible. So he’s giving it away online to anyone eligible to cast a ballot—along with electronic copies of another shortlisted novel, Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin. The RTF files became available after Tor, the publisher of both Scalzi and Wilson, agreed to revert some of its electronic rights. “There is no DRM applied to the text files,” Scalzi adds, apart from a polite request that recipients don’t pass their copies around. “The authors prefer to trust the voters.”

BoingBloing blogger Cory Doctorow isn’t sure they’ve gone far enough. He points out that another of the finalists, Accelerando by Charlie Stross, has been available for free download thanks to a Creative Commons license for months. “Recommendations from trusted friends are the best sales-tool an author has,” Doctorow observes. “So it follows that the more hands these books find their way into, the higher the likelihood that they’ll get forwarded to a Hugo voter.” Not only that, he’s convinced that giving away books online actually increases hardcopy sales. (By the way, his novelette “I, Robot,” nominated in the “best novelette” category, is already online, published in The Infinite Matrix webzine.)

UPDATE: Shortly after this report was published, Stross agreed to let Scalzi include Acclerando in the electronic packet.

This is one predictable success story

And by that, I mean predictable in a paranormal fashion, if you take Sylvia Browne’s psychic claims as gospel, or at least as a money making machine (which is how over 7 million copies of her books are in print as of this writing.) So the WSJ’s Jeff Trachtenberg tried to find out the secret of Browne’s success, and it turns out to be more about human connections.

Jules Herbert of Barnes & Noble says that some people are simply intrigued by psychic phenomena. “They’re fascinated by life’s mysteries and feel that organized religion doesn’t offer all the answers,” he says. But Ray Hyman, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Oregon who has researched psychics, labels Ms. Browne “a fraud.” The secret to being a good psychic, he says, is to tell people what they want to hear. “She charges so much that they are going to make her right no matter what,” says Professor Hyman. “They want her to look like a guru. Otherwise they’re fools.”

Of course, Browne doesn’t care what her critics say, and when she can charge $700 a reading (one phone call only — don’t bother to come back) she doesn’t really have to. And as long as the books, like this year’s IF YOU COULD SEE WHAT I SEE, continue to sell, it doesn’t really matter now, does it?

French publishers to wannabe writers: stop sending us your stuff

Whereas most big-name US publishers and imprints stopped accepting unsolicited submissions eons ago, the French are a little slower on the uptake — and finding that there are a record number of unsolicited submissions coming in:

“My secretary says to me: ‘If you only knew how many upset phone calls I get or how many insults.’ We are in touch with the whole of humanity,” said Francis Esmenard, director of the Albin Michel publishing house, on the sidelines of the Paris Book Fair. He further adds that it doesn’t take very long to distinguish the good from the bad. “You don’t need to eat a whole side of beef to know if it is good quality meat,” said Esmenard. “You just need to read four or five pages to know whether a manuscript is worthy of being published.”

So what’s causing the increased workload for readers and mailmen? Blame the 35-hour workweek, an uptick in retirees and a general desire by French women and men to write “their book”, which is almost always based in autobiography. And even though publishers still claim to look for talent, it’s defintely getting a lot more difficult to separate wheat from chaff…