Tagholm's Take - the news in books at 25 January 2019

Roger Tagholm
News - Books Friday, 25 January 2019

Roger Tagholm, in association with the London Book Fair, on the Open Library row and other recent news

The first row of the new year has emerged. It's always upsetting when there is broad agreement on the aim of something, but disagreement on the how. Authors around the world would broadly agree with the mission of San Francisco's Internet Archive "to provide Universal Access to All Knowledge", just as they surely support public libraries in their similar aims.

The difficulty comes with the how. Put simply, unless authors - and publishers - are recompensed, there will be no knowledge in the form of books to be accessed in the first place.

The Authors Guild in the US, the Society of Authors in the UK and now the Australian Society of Authors are all challenging the "unlawful" lending of scanned copies of physical books through the Internet Archive's Open Library platform and from a number of libraries in the US. It is a complicated story involving a practice called Controlled Digital Lending, a system by which a library scans a copy of a legally acquired print book, removes that print copy from circulation, and then lends the PDF copy on a one copy/one user model - as it would a print book.

The Authors Guild says that, "authors lose potential income from every authorised loan made under CDL. The digital reproductions and loans merely supplant the legitimate sale of ebooks, whether library editions that the library would otherwise license, or ebooks that the author or publisher would sell directly to consumers".

An interesting aside - and one that some in the UK book industry may not know - is that there is no Public Lending Right (PLR) in the US. James Gleick, president of the Authors Guild, has announced that the Guild will campaign for its introduction. "PLR recognizes two fundamental principles," he says, "the need for society to provide free access to books, and the right of authors to be remunerated for their work. These principles should not be in conflict. The Authors Guild believes in both. We plan to work with the nation's libraries to create a system that will benefit authors and libraries alike. The Authors Guild council considered the issue at our meeting in December and voted unanimously in favour."


Positive reports from independent bookshops continue. In the UK, many reported an excellent Christmas, with similar news from the US, where the American Booksellers Association (ABA) reported average sales at indies during the holiday period nearly 5% above 2017. Both the UK's BA and the ABA reported increases in membership too, a trend echoed in New Zealand, where Lincoln Gould, ceo of Booksellers NZ, said: "We have seen a decided increase in the number of new bookshops over the past year. We are also seeing greater confidence in independent bookshop ownership particularly, with several of our members moving and expanding their shops over the past year."


Publishers Weekly explored the effect of the US government shutdown on bookstores in Washington DC. Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café noted that sales traffic was down because of a drop in tourism as a result of the closure of museums, as well as of a shortage of government contractors in the city, and cautious spending by government workers while they are not being paid.


There is widespread sadness at the sudden death at the age of 59 of the hugely respected Spanish editor Claudio Lopez. He was the publisher of both Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial and its Literatura Random House imprint in Barcelona, and was respected for his championing of new voices from Spain throughout his career. The scout Catherine Eccles was among some 800 who attended his funeral in the city. She said: "Everyone who knew Claudio felt special to be in his orbit with his quiet charisma, enormous appetite for literature and fun, and absolute integrity."


Dick Robinson, ceo and chairman of Scholastic, will be one of two "defenders of truth" recognised at this year's PEN America Literary Gala in May. Robinson will be this year's Publishing Honoree, while Bob Woodward, author Fear: Trump in the White House, will receive the PEN America Literary Service Award in recognition of a lifetime of investigative reporting going right back to the Watergate years. Robinson's accolade will sit alongside the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community that he received at the National Book Awards last year.

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