Two Words: The Blog of the Center for the Art of Translation

Used-Book Sales Are On the Rise and It's Amazon's Fault

Posted on August 10, 2010,

Publishers Weekly is reporting that sales of used books have been rising for almost a decade. And once again, it's all Amazon's fault:

During the past decade, they grew so rapidly that by April 2002 the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers attacked Amazon for placing new books at risk. "If your aggressive promotion of used book sales becomes popular among Amazon's customers, this service will cut significantly into sales of new titles, directly harming authors and publishers," they wrote in an open letter to Jeff Bezos.

I'm beginning to develop a theory that since Amazon handles so many parts of the publishing and booksale businesses, they're constantly in the headlines for evildoing because they get hammered by so many different interest groups. I don't think this is totally fair.

Publishers Weekly also reports that Amazon is not the only actor here:

In the intervening years, not just Amazon but brick-and-mortar bookstores that rely on sales through Amazon, eBay, and Alibris to bolster walk-in traffic, have benefited from the growth of used books. "We do more business online, make more money, than in the store," says Dan Moore, co-owner of 27-year-old McIntyre and Moore Booksellers, a used-book store with a scholarly bent in Cambridge, Mass.

And there's also Alibris and Half Price Books (which I love), both major forces in the secondhand book trade.

And then there are indies, which more and more are embracing used books as a way to supplement their business:

But it's not just big resellers that are benefiting from customers trying to stretch their dollars. Earlier this summer, Left Bank Books in St. Louis rearranged its flagship store in the Central West End to devote more space to used. "With the current economic climate," says manager Anna Rimel, "we noticed our used books were high on the list of what we are selling and decided to expand." Left Bank now devotes most of its downstairs to used, although it continues to shelve new and used gender studies titles together upstairs.

It's an interesting article, well worth reading in full. I happen to love buying used books, not really for the deals so much as because the used-book stores in my area tend to have much better fiction selections than the new book stores. And you also get the pleasure of the occasional dedication or newspaper clipping inserted in the book, as well as the sensation of knowing that your book has maybe been read and cherished by someone before you.

How to Triple Your Profits

Posted on August 9, 2010, by Scott Esposito

The Independent has an interesting article about what translation-phenom Stieg Larsson has done for the once-tiny UK publisher Quercus:

Fast forward to the present day and Smith's nerves have been calmed by news that the phenomenal success of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy has helped his independent publishing house, which has since moved to its own rather-more-opulent offices on Bloomsbury Square, has recorded a huge jump in profits. Revenues at Quercus almost trebled to £15m in the first six months of 2010 from a year earlier and the company's share price jumped from 12p to 74.5p.

At the article details, the benefits go beyond nicer offices and higher share prices:

"Before Larsson, we were constantly having to prove ourselves. As a new start-up we weren't high up agents' lists and had to work really hard to convince authors to sign. It was difficult," Mr Smith says. "Everyone dreams of signing the next blockbuster, the next Harry Potter – and we did. I've had colleagues who have been waiting 25 years for such a hit."

The article also has some information on how Quercus managed to land the book and make it a huge success. Part of that was recruiting "Christopher MacLehose, who had a reputation as a master at finding foreign fiction by writers such as Henning Mankell and Haruki Murakami and turning them into English language hits." But the publisher still had to overcome Larsson's "funny name":

The publisher failed to get the books into prominent positions in the shops, and some refused to stock it. One prominent retailer, who Mr Smith declined to name, said its customers "don't like authors with funny names".

Given the range of names out there, "Stieg Larsson" does not strike me as all that dramatic . . .

No Ebooks at This Cafe and A House Made of Books

Posted on August 5, 2010, by Scott Esposito

We're in the middle of summer and the translation news is a little slow, so for now a couple of articles that make us wonder where the future of books is headed.

First, Slovakian artist Matej Kren has created a house of books:



According to the Museum of Modern Art in Bologna's website:

The narrow inside space, multiplied and complicated by mirrors, evoke a sensation of sublime terror, an alteration referring to a puzzling infinity itself created to destabilize conventional spatial habits. Mirrors become an instrument to create illusion and, at the same time, to unmask it. Since the public can easily see themselves reflected in a false infinite – thus discovering the illusion – the problem becomes the latency of perception.

Perhaps some of you will have a better reaction to the installation than that.

In our other news story, The New York Times reports that at least one cafe in New York City has banned ebooks:

After placing my order I sat down at a table and pulled out my Amazon Kindle.

I barely made it a sentence into the e-book I was reading before an employee of the coffee shop came by, stood over me and said, “Excuse me sir, but we don’t allow computers in the coffee shop.”

I looked up at him with an incredulous look and replied, “This isn’t a computer, it’s an e-book reader.”

He then told me that the “device” in my hand had a screen and required batteries, so it was obviously “some variation of a computer.” The coffee shop, I was told, did not allow the use of computers.

Annoyed with this distinction, I peppered the employee with questions on why reading on paper was more acceptable than reading on a screen. Flustered and confused by the existential debate he had been dragged into, the employee resolutely said, “Look, no computers in the coffee shop.”

On second thought, this is probably more the fault of an overzealous employee than the cafe. It's understandable that cafes might not want people with laptops camping out for hours on end and hogging the WiFi, but obviously this employee wasn't using the old noodle to the fullest capacity. I would think that reading--whether in print or electronic--in cafes would still be permitted.

Argentines Do Ebooks Differently

Posted on August 3, 2010,

Ever since I spent half a year living in Argentina (and even before, in fact), I've been hugely intrigued by Argentine literature. The nation long has been, and remains, the literary powerhouse of Latin America, and the work being done there strikes me as very different from what you find elsewhere.

One of the important things about the success of Argentine lit is the national culture--in other words, even in this age of globalization and homogenization the country still has its own idiosyncratic model, and that accounts for a lot of its distinctiveness.

So I was interested to see this article about how the Argentines are moving forward with ebooks. As Octavio Kulesz notes, what has worked in the U.S. and Europe won't necessarily fit the shape of Argentine publishing:

The young digital generation of publishers will have to experiment with new formats and with new business models. From my point of view, there must be a viable and profitable pattern for digital publishing content, because of that unquenchable thirst for online texts that citizens have started to show. Certainly, we cannot expect replicas of the old commercial scheme to work as they used to. And I daresay that even some business models related to digital that may have proved successful in the U.S. or in Europe won’t work at all in our region, so the challenge will be twofold: disenthralling ourselves of old paradigms and also doing away with certain solutions imported from the North that as such may do little to improve the current situation. This is something we permanently discuss with my colleagues from the Digital Minds Network: the digital future of emerging countries won’t have quite the same shape as that of America or Europe.

I consider this good thing, and perhaps literary publishers in the U.S. will learn something from models developed elsewhere.

Win Three German Novellas From Melville House

Posted on August 2, 2010,

As Publishing Perspectives details, The German Book Office and Melville House are offering you a chance to win three excellent German books from Melville's "Art of the Novella" series. They are Michael Kohlhaas, a gem from Heinrich Von Kleist; Close to Jedenew; and A Happy Man, the story of a jazz-playing zombie.

Here's how to enter: email your name and mailing address to gregg (at) newyork (dot) gbo (dot) org. A set of all three will go out to every TENTH respondent.