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Category: ebooks

Curating short fiction: Recommended Reading

This post has been updated. See below.

Electric Literature, which started out publishing a quarterly journal simultaneously in print, ebook, iPhone and Kindle form, is always up for trying something new. It regularly invites animators to create short videos of single sentences from its stories, like the one above. And way back in 2009, it published a short story in tweets by Rick Moody on Twitter, an experiment that was only partially creatively successful but that earned it an important literary place in the Twittersphere. What does a quarterly do with 150,000 followers in the long months between publication? Editor Benjamin Samuel decided curation is the thing.

Hence, Recommended Reading. It's a project that will publish one fiction story per week, with selections being made by a variety of readers who are in the know: an independent press, a writer, the kind folks at Electric Literature, and another literary journal. That's one month, then the cycle starts again.

The project went up on Kickstarter in April and swiftly reached its $10,000 goal (aided in part by a donor perk of a really cool flask). The organizers now hope to raise double that goal, and have about $3,500 and less than a week to go. Samuel explained what to expect from Recommended Reading, via email.

Jacket Copy: How many recommends will Recommended Reading make each week?

Benjamin Samuel: We'll publish one piece of fiction each week. It’s an ideal rate for readers who are already overwhelmed with options, and will help them focus on fiction that's worth spending time with.

The magazine runs on a four-week cycle of curators: the first week is a story chosen by Electric Literature, then an indie press like New Directions excerpts a collection or novel, then a guest editor like Jim Shepard picks a story, and then another journal like A Public Space re-releases work from their archives.

JC: Is Recommended Reading sort of like Longreads for fiction?

BS: I love Longreads and appreciate the comparison. While we have curation in common, the nature of Recommended Reading's model makes us somewhere between a salon, magazine and a digest. We want Recommended Reading to be a true community that’s passionate about literature, and we’ll do this in part by introducing readers to independent publishers as well as new and emerging writers. Each issue will feature a note from the editor, written by that week's partner, i.e., when we publish fiction from Melville House, Dennis Johnson will introduce that week's issue. We hope that this will increase awareness of the diversity of the indie publishing community, and hopefully translate into sales and subscriptions for our partners.

JC: Is there a pool of literary magazines and journals from which you'll be pulling stories?

BS: The first pool was Brooklyn based: A Public Space, Armchair/Shotgun, The Coffin Factory, and One Story. But we're not a Brooklyn-centric publication. My co-editor, Halimah Marcus, and I  spent most of the mayhem of this year's AWP meeting other editors and learning about the great magazines they’re creating. The indie publishing is diverse and flourishing, and we want to share our discoveries with our audience.

JC: Do you have plans to expand that pool?

BS: Absolutely. We're on the lookout for indie publishers with strong mission statements and who are committed to keeping literature a vibrant part of our culture. We’re also looking overseas to bring in international partners, as well as work in translation.

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Barnes & Noble spins off Nook e-reader with $300M from Microsoft

Nooktablet

Microsoft will provide $300 million to a new Nook-led unit of Barnes & Noble, the companies announced Monday. Microsoft will get a 17.6 share in the new subsidiary, which has the temporary placeholder name of Newco.

Part of the announcement -- spinning the Nook off into a subsidiary -- did not come as a complete surprise. In January, Barnes & Noble Chief Executive William Lynch hinted that it was in the works, saying, "We see substantial value in what we've built with our Nook business in only two years, and we believe it's the right time to investigate our options to unlock that value." 

Microsoft's investment was, at least by most in publishing, unexpected. Last we heard, Microsoft was suing Barnes & Noble over alleged patent infringements related to the Nook, which could have blocked importation to the U.S. after its offshore manufacture. As part of the new Nook deal, Microsoft and Barnes & Noble announced settlement of the patent suit.

Another part of the deal: The new subsidiary will include Barnes & Noble's college textbook business.

Until now, Microsoft has stayed out of the e-reader wars, allowing Amazon and Apple to lead the device evolution. Amazon brought e-readers into the mainstream when it debuted its Kindle in 2007; Apple's iPad changed the landscape when it introduced its tablet in 2010.

For its part, Barnes & Noble's e-reader had a bumpy start: When it launched in late 2009, it didn't reach some customers, as promised, for the holidays. Since then, it's pulled on track and up to speed, launching its own tablet. Its competitively affordable Nook line gets consistently good reviews, and sales during the 2011 holidays were up 70%.

In Monday's announcement, Barnes & Noble's Lynch said, "Microsoft's investment in Newco, and our exciting collaboration to bring world-class digital reading technologies and content to the Windows platform and its hundreds of millions of users, will allow us to significantly expand the business."

Microsoft President Andy Lees agreed. "Our complementary assets will accelerate e-reading innovation across a broad range of Windows devices, enabling people to not just read stories, but to be part of them," he said. "We’re on the cusp of a revolution in reading."

The cusp? That sounds strangely out of date -- aren't we well into a revolution in reading? Or does Microsoft have something entirely new in store for its Newco Nook?

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

 

Tor drops DRM from e-books, unlocking digital controls

EndersgamecoverOn Tuesday, Tom Doherty Associates, the science-fiction focused division of Macmillan that publishes Tor, Forge, Orb, Starscape and Tor Teen books, announced plans to drop DRM from all of its e-books by July of 2012. That means its e-books no longer will contain the digital controls that limit sharing and distribution. It was big, surprising news: DRM is the way publishers prevent piracy.

Or at least, that's how it's supposed to work.

But DRM doesn't necessarily prevent piracy, while it does create obstacles to sharing legitimately purchased e-books among devices.

“Our authors and readers have been asking for this for a long time,” president and publisher Tom Doherty said in the announcement. “They’re a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance to them. It prevents them from using legitimately-purchased e-books in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another.”

We're not just talking about crazed teenage book pirates -- even publishing executives have broken the DRM on their e-books for the convenience of reading them via multiple devices.

John Scalzi, who is published by Tor, supported his publisher's action on his blog:

As an author, I haven’t seen any particular advantage to DRM-laden eBooks; DRM hasn’t stopped my books from being out there on the dark side of the Internet. Meanwhile, the people who do spend money to support me and my writing have been penalized for playing by the rules. The books of mine they have bought have been chained to a single eReader, which means if that eReader becomes obsolete or the retailer goes under (or otherwise arbitrarily changes their user agreement), my readers risk losing the works of mine they’ve bought. I don’t like that. So the idea that my readers will, after July, “buy once, keep anywhere,” makes me happy.

He's further reassured that Patrick Nielsen Hayden, senior editor of Tor Books, has promised Tor will continue to use other means to fight piracy -- tracking down those who seek to illegitimately share copies of e-books by uploading them to shared servers and other means.

At BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow sees Tor's DRM-free move as a watershed moment for moving publishing away from DRM. He might be right, but then he proposes this scenario: "I'd expect someone to make a browser plugin that draws a 'Buy this book at BN.com' button on Amazon pages (and vice-versa), which then facilitates auto-conversion between the formats." Sounds to me like futurism turned utopianism -- not that there's anything wrong with that, but just because we can dream it doesn't mean we will see it.

Most industry observers agree that Tor's move might mark a turning point in how major publishers deal with DRM, and expect other divisions to follow Tor's lead. Exactly what that will mean -- for e-book readers, publishers, and booksellers large and small -- remains uncertain.

RELATED:

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Publisher Macmillan says "We did not collude" over e-books

Free science fiction for the iPad from Tor.com

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Kobo talks self-publishing at the London Book Fair

Coloredkobos
Kobo is planning to make a major move into self-publishing, the Bookseller reports. In a conversation at this week's London Book Fair, chief executive Mike Serbinis told the British publishing industry magazine that Kobo will open its self-publishing arm this quarter.

In October, Michael Tamblyn, executive vice president of sales and merchandising at Kobo, told the Quill & Quire that Kobo's publishing focus "will be on building out an improved self-publishing offering to bring us in line with our competitors in that fast-growing category."

Last year, the Canadian-based e-reading company was purchased by Rakuten, Japan's largest e-commerce website. As that deal is finalized, the company is planning expansion into a dozen new countries. It points to France, where it is beating rival Amazon, as proof that the international e-reader marketplace is open to competition.

In America, Amazon dominates the e-reader marketplace. But Kobo seems determined to take the company on.  Serbinis told the Bookseller, “We have a nuclear deterrent by having a strong balance sheet.”

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Colored 2011 Kobo e-readers. Credit: Kobo

Amazon buys rights to Ian Fleming's James Bond novels

Ianflemingjamesbond
Hold the phone! Amazon announced Tuesday that it has purchased the North American rights to Ian Fleming's James Bond books. James Bond, of course, is the debonair British superspy 007, whose bestselling books have become an iconic big-screen movie franchise. Under the agreement, Amazon will retain republication rights for 10 years,  to both the print books, which have sold 100 million copies worldwide, and the e-books, which have not. Yet.

The 14 Bond books that fall under the agreement are, in chronological order (American publication dates): "Casino Royale" (1953), "Live and Let Die" (1954), "Moonraker" (1955), "Diamonds Are Forever" (1956), "From Russia with Love" (1957), "Dr. No" (1958), "Goldfinger" (1959), "For your Eyes Only" (1960), "Thunderball" (1961), "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1962), "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1963), "You Only Live Twice" (1964), "The Man With The Golden Gun" (1965), and "Octopussy and the Living Daylights" (1966).

The films made from most of those titles have kept the James Bond tradition alive for new generations. After Fleming's death in 1964, his estate hired a number of other authors to write new Bond books. John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Sebastian Faulks, Jeffery Deaver and Kingsley Amis (writing as Robert Markham) wrote additional books, which do not fall under the Amazon licensing agreement.

What Amazon will pick up, in addition to the 14 original Bond books, are two nonfiction books by Ian Fleming: travel essays collected in 1963's "Thrilling Cities and "The Diamond Smugglers" (1957), about, not surprisingly, diamond smugglers.

In the news release, Corinne Turner, managing director of Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., said, "We are excited to be using the opportunity of this re-license to introduce Ian Fleming's books to a broader audience in the USA, and we believe that Amazon Publishing has the ability to place the books back at the heart of the Bond brand, balancing traditional publishing routes with new technologies and new ways of reaching our readers."

Amazon will be at the center of the introduction of these Bond ebooks. The Wall Street Journal reports that to start, James Bond e-books will be exclusively available in Amazon's Kindle store. 

RELATED:

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More on mystery books at Jacket Copy

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photos: Left, Ian Fleming in 1962. Credit: Associated Press. Right, Sean Connery as James Bond in the film version of "From Russia With Love." Credit: MGM Home Entertainment

 

Publisher Macmillan says 'We did not collude' over e-books

Photo: A digital book is displayed on an Apple Inc. iPad. Credit: Scott Eells / Bloomberg

This post has been corrected. See note below.

Even before the Department of Justice officially announced its e-book pricing suit against Apple and five publishers, the chief executive of Macmillan, John Sargent, responded to it. "We did not collude," he writes in an open letter posted at Tor.com, one of the publisher's imprints. It begins:

Today the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Macmillan’s U.S. trade publishing operation, charging us with collusion in the implementation of the agency model for e-book pricing. The charge is civil, not criminal. Let me start by saying that Macmillan did not act illegally. Macmillan did not collude.

We have been in discussions with the Department of Justice for months. It is always better if possible to settle these matters before a case is brought. The costs of continuing — in time, distraction, and expense — are truly daunting.

But the terms the DOJ demanded were too onerous. After careful consideration, we came to the conclusion that the terms could have allowed Amazon to recover the monopoly position it had been building before our switch to the agency model. We also felt the settlement the DOJ wanted to impose would have a very negative and long term impact on those who sell books for a living, from the largest chain stores to the smallest independents.

When Macmillan changed to the agency model we did so knowing we would make less money on our e book business. We made the change to support an open and competitive market for the future, and it worked. We still believe in that future and we still believe the agency model is the only way to get there.

It is also hard to settle a lawsuit when you know you have done no wrong. The government’s charge is that Macmillan’s CEO colluded with other CEOs in changing to the agency model. I am Macmillan’s CEO and I made the decision to move Macmillan to the agency model. After days of thought and worry, I made the decision on January 22nd, 2010 a little after 4:00 AM, on an exercise bike in my basement. It remains the loneliest decision I have ever made, and I see no reason to go back on it now.

Macmillan, which is the smallest of the five publishers named in the DOJ's suit, has long been on the front lines of e-book pricing. When it was in a disagreement with Amazon, the online retailer pulled the "buy" buttons from Macmillan's books on its site. During the dispute, readers who wanted to purchase Hilary Mantel's bestselling, Booker Prize-winning novel "Wolf Hall" could see the book on Amazon's site, but not buy it, not as an e-book nor in print. The dispute was later resolved and the "buy" buttons were restored.

Interestingly, Sargent continues by saying that other publishers have chosen to settle. Have they? Bloomberg reports that Apple has refused to engage in settlement talks and that Penguin may also be poised to fight in court. Sargent's letter continues after the jump.

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Department of Justice sues Apple and 5 major publishers over e-books

Ipad_ibookstore_apr2012

The Department of Justice has filed suit against Apple and five of the six major publishers over colluding on the price of e-books. The Wall Street Journal, which has obtained copies of the documents filed in federal court in Manhattan, reports that the lawsuit '"alleges Apple and the publishers reached an agreement where retail price competition would cease, retail e-books prices would increase significantly and Apple would be guaranteed a 30% 'commission' on each e-book sold."

Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette, Penguin and Macmillan are the five publishers that teamed up with Apple when it launched the iBookstore with the iPad in 2010. The partnership included a shift in pricing from publishing classic wholesale/retail model to the agency model, which Apple uses in iTunes, its music store.

At the time, Random House, the world's largest publisher, did not participate, and its books were not available in the iBookstore -- it joined a year later. Random House is not expected to be named in the suit.

Atty. Gen. Eric Holder and the head of the Justice Department's antitrust division, Sharis Pozen, are expected at a news conference in Washington for 9 a.m. PDT that will announce "a significant antitrust matter."

RELATED:

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: An iPad displays the Apple iBookstore. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg

This Sunday: Figment, Charles Dickens, Etgar Keret and more

FigmentIt’s been a busy week around The Times' book department as we get ready for the Festival of Books in just two weeks (April 21 and 22) at USC. We’ve been planning coverage leading up to the festival and thinking about the great writers, editors and publishing figures coming to town to talk about our favorite subject: books. If you haven’t had time to check the lineup of outstanding panels, conversations and other presentations, please check it here.

   Meanwhile, a relatively new communication platform and a decidedly old one highlight our book coverage on Sunday. The new one is Figment, the social networking site primarily for teens, where budding writers can critique their work and the work of others. The site’s slogan is “Write Yourself In,” and in just 15 months, more than 200,000 young people have done so and more than 350,000 individual pieces have been posted. According to Jacob Lewis, a former managing editor at the New Yorker and Portfolio who is in charge of the site’s day-to-day operation, they add 1,000 new pieces a day.

"It’s essential that our users feel a sense of ownership," Lewis told Times book critic David Ulin, who writes about Figment’s rapid rise for this Sunday's Arts & Book section. Currently on Figment, according to Ulin, is a mix that includes the first chapter of Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” as well as Rachel Hawkins’ third “Hex Hall” novel, “Spell Bound.”  “You’re as likely to find a reference to Tom Waits or William S. Burroughs as to ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘The Hunger Games,' ” Ulin writes.  “Its success, then, simply reaffirms what readers everywhere have always known: that literature and reading aren’t going anywhere.” The site’s founders, Lewis and New Yorker writer Dana Goodyear, will be honored on April 20 at the L.A. Times Book Prizes with the Innovator’s Award. 

The decidedly old platform is letter-writing, and this Sunday we look at 450 examples of Charles Dickens' masterful epistolary prose that have been gathered for “The Selected Letters of Charles Dickens,” edited by Jenny Hartley. Our reviewer novelist Nicholas Delbanco notes that “By the time he died, at 58, he was world-famous and besieged with mail; he answered correspondence promptly and received by his own attestation 'three or four score letters every day.' ”  That’s a lot of mail to keep up with. No wonder he died at 58. Think not? Try sitting down and writing a letter — snail mail, that is — to your Aunt Bruce in Cincinnati.  One of our favorite examples from Dickens, which Delbanco notes with pleasure, is this snippet he wrote, when 21, to Maria Beadnell, who had rejected his advances: “I have often said before and I say again I have borne more from you than I do believe any creature breathing ever bore from a woman before.”

More after the jump

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What public domain ebooks have you downloaded?

When original works go into the public domain, they can be shared free of copyright restrictions. That means that hundreds of classic novels -- and thousands and thousands of books -- are available online now. Project Gutenberg was the earliest website to make Web versions of public domain books available -- now, many of its books come in EPUB and other ebook formats. Google Books, now part of Google Play, also has a library stocked full of free books published long ago.

We asked on Twitter what ebooks you've downloaded to read on your favorite electronic device. These were your answers.

It's interesting that there's a wide variety of books represented -- but there are probably some more obscure authors people have downloaded too. You don't have to use Twitter -- tell us what public domain ebooks you've got on your ebookshelf.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

When moon rocks were swag

Astronauteugenecernan_moon
From July 1969 to September 1972, American astronauts regularly traveled between the Earth and the moon. In those three years, a dozen men were able to climb out of the lunar module and set foot on the moon. And while it was initially astonishing -- humans had never gotten so far into space before -- something about their presence there became expected, routine. The moon wasn't all that exciting, really. The astronauts scooped up rocks and dirt. Some clowned around to fill the television time: Alan Shepard golfed.

By the time those manned moon missions were complete, the astronauts had gathered 842 pounds of lunar samples. Nearly a half-ton of rocks and dirt. Rocks and dirt from our boring old moon.

And one particular piece of rock, after it had given up all the laboratory secrets we'd hoped it might, was broken up and turned into presidential swag. Hey, we had hundreds of pounds of it -- why not give it away?

In 1973, the bits of moon rock were encased in lucite and distributed to every U.S. state and to the heads of state in each of the world's countries. Then President Nixon, who'd left his name on the moon rock gifts, resigned in shame, and that era of the space age receded.

The lucite relics on wooden plaques almost faded into obscurity, removed from leaders' halls, relegated to museum storerooms, and, as the story of one goes, landed on a literal ash heap.

Almost, but not quite. Thank Joseph Gutheinz, NASA investigator, now retired. His obsession, from earliest little tickle to daily duty, is outlined in latest original from The Atavist, "The Case of the Missing Moon Rocks" by Joe Kloc. Gutheinz started out trying to stop con men from claiming to have moon rocks -- he was very successful -- but that led to another quest, the quest for the rocks themselves.

I'm a sucker for a quest story and, apparently, true stories about astronauts and space. Including this one.

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