Publishers’ rep loses federal funding

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The sales and marketing co-operative representing 47 independent Canadian publishers has lost its federal funding, forcing it to shut down its sales force and lay off most of its staff.

Quill and Quire says the Literary Press Group has confirmed a denial of funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage, its largest single revenue source and provider of about a third of its operating budget. Last year, the department provided $235,000  through its Canada Book Fund.

The federal agency gave no explanation for its decision to deny support this year, nor why it chose to sit on the devastating news until now, two months into the fiscal year. Ironically, on the same day it notified the LPG of its decision, it announced an $80,000 Canada Book Fund grant to the Saskatchewan Publishers Group Inc. “to foster a viable Canadian book industry that publishes and markets Canadian-authored books.”

In response to the unexpected shortfall, the 37-year-old LPG plans to dismantle its sales force, with all five field reps being let go on Aug. 31. Most of the remaining head office staff will follow at the end of November.

The sales force currently represents nearly 225 fall titles, which it will continue to promote to booksellers and libraries until the layoffs occur. After that, publishers will have to decide on a new course for national representation.

Funding for the Group’s distribution arm, LitDistCo, has not been affected and its operations will continue as usual.

In a statement on its website, the LPG said:

In a body blow to Canada’s independent literary publishers, on Monday, June 4, 2012, the Literary Press Group (LPG) of Canada received word that the Department of Canadian Heritage (DCH) has ended its financial support of the LPG’s activities for the fiscal year that began on April 1, 2012. As a result, the LPG will be obliged to shut down its sales force, an essential operation that brings hundreds of new Canadian-authored books from 47 Canadian-owned publishers to bookstores and libraries every year. Without the LPG, authors and publishers lose their access to their readers, and Canadian readers lose easy and affordable access to Canada’s literary culture.

The organization is fighting to have the decision reversed.

Kobo launches self-publishing portal

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Kobo Inc. has introduced a new self-publishing portal for independent authors and publishers.

Unveiled at Book Expo America in New York today, Kobo Writing Life is designed to help writers become the best authors and publishers possible, the company said in a release. The platform is touted as quick and easy-to-use, with features that provide key reader insights and marketing tools to engage with fans on a global scale.

Currently in the beta stage, the portal uses industry standard ePub files, allowing authors to offer their self-published titles for computer, smart phone or whichever e-reader the reader may choose.

The company said authors will be able to use the self-service e-publishing portal at no cost, and will have control over all aspects of publishing, including price setting, advertising and marketing. Royalties are said to be 10 per cent higher than comparable self-publishing platforms.

“When we started working on Kobo Writing Life, the first thing we did was ask authors what they felt was most important in a self-publishing platform,” said Michael Tamblyn, EVP Content & Merchandising, Kobo. “They were incredibly clear: openness, control, great royalties, incredible reporting and global reach. It should be powerful but drop-dead simple. And there should be people running it who care about writers — not like dropping your treasured manuscript into a machine. We can’t wait to see what authors will do with this.”

Kobo Writing Life is being tested by 50 authors in its beta program. It will be available in English at the end of June for the more than 1,600 authors already signed up. Additional languages and country-specific support will be added in the coming year.

Writers who are interested in signing up for Kobo Writing Life are invited to visit www.kobo.com/writinglife.

IPG’s ebooks return to Kindle Store shelves

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Publishers Lunch reports that the Independent Publishers Group and Amazon have reached an agreement that will end a three-month standoff over sales of the distributor’s ebooks in the Kindle store.

The dispute, which began in February, saw about 5,000 IPG titles removed from the store. Although details were not made public, IPG has said it objected to proposed terms that would have substantially reduced authors’ earnings.

The standoff affected only IPG’s ebook titles. Amazon continued to sell paper versions of IPG’s books throughout the dispute.

IPG was established in 1971 to represent titles from independent presses to the book trade. It has since grown into a major distributor, providing a range of services to a variety of small and large publishers. It represents several U.K. and Australian publishers, and sells directly into the Canadian market through the Toronto-based Manda Group

Libraries fire back in ebook pricing war

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South Shore Public Libraries in Nova Scotia says it has stopped buying Random House ebooks in reaction to a steep price hike.

“The demand for ebooks is high,” said chief librarian Troy Myers. “We will continue to provide ebooks to our borrowers as quickly as possible but will not purchase from Random House until they lower their prices for ebooks.”

South Shore Public Libraries operates four town libraries and rural outreach services in the Bridewater-Lunenburg area. It spends about $300,000 each year for new books, magazines and other materials.

Under a new regime announced last month, Random House has boosted prices for books available to libraries, publishers and schools, creating challenges for cash-strapped organizations.

South Shore cites the example of Robert K. Massie’s Catherine the Great, Portrait of a Woman. In January, the book was available to libraries for $30. The price soared to $130 on March 1, then to $85 on March 20. In comparison, the retail price for an individual ordering through Random House or Google Books is $20.

“It would be great if we could just purchase ebooks through Amazon or Random House for the lower price,” said Myers.

Libraries, however, must purchase through a digital wholesaler such as OverDrive, which supplies more 15,000 libraries, schools, and colleges with books from more than 1,000 publishers, including Random House, HarperCollins and Bloomsbury.

Random House justifies its price hike by pointing out that an ebook may theoretically circulate endlessly, without requiring the purchase of replacement copies. It also notes that it makes titles available to libraries as soon as the book is released in the retail market.

Other publishers are also struggling to establish a workable digital relationship with libraries. HarperCollins, for instance, imposes a lending cap on its titles, while Penquin has stopped selling digital editions to OverDrive, effectively cutting off ebook sales to libraries.

Sounds like a golden opportunity for indie authors and small publishers!

Writers gather for Geraldton’s birthday

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Writers and readers in northwestern Ontario will help Geraldton celebrate its 75th anniversary by holding a literary festival over the Canada Day weekend.

The Squatchberry Festival will feature a dozen northwestern authors, as well as a couple of nationally known writers, participating in readings, workshops, panel discussions and social events at Geraldton’s Community Centre.

It will kick off Friday, June 29 with a presentation by award-winning Thunder Bay writer Charles Wilkins (The Circus at the Edge of the Earth; A Wilderness Called Home; Walk to New York: A Journey Out of the Wilds of Canada). Syndicated columnist Arthur Black will take the stage Saturday evening at the Squatchberry Banquet. Events then wrap up with a networking session on Sunday afternoon.

In between, writers will lead a series of workshops and discussions on novels, poetry, crime writing, magazine articles, short prose and other writerly topics.

The Canada Day festival revives an annual event that ran from 1981 to 1984 under the sponsorship of the now-defunct Squatchberry Journal, a northwestern Ontario arts and literature publication.

Further information on the program and registration for the weekend is available at the festival website.

The former Town of Geraldton is now part of the Municipality of Greenstone, formed in 2001 by the amalgamation of eight communities that stretch along Highway 11 from Lake Nipigon to Long Lac.

E-sun shines on short-form writers

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The rise of ebooks is injecting new life into a couple of story-telling formats that have been languishing on the fringes of literature for decades.

Amazon reported last month that it has sold more than two million Kindle Singles since it launched the service in January 2011.

These mini-ebooks, which typically run between 5,000 and 30,000 words, have breathed life into the kind of works that are virtually unsaleable in contemporary print markets – those that are too short to be real books and too long for a standard magazine article.

The cover prices are low – from $1 to $5 – but several writers have already managed to parlay the platform into substantial returns, a task made much easier by Amazon’s generous royalty rate.

Even established writers are being encouraged to dip their toes in the short-form waters. Right now, for instance, Ontario author Margaret Atwood is sitting at number 2 position on the Kindle Singles list with her 42-page story, I’m Starved for You.

The good news for writers is that publishers are, for the first time in years, offering these shorter works to the general public. They are putting them in their digital shop windows. People are looking. People are buying. Readers are reading.

The even better news is that Amazon is not alone in embracing the shorter form. Other publishers are starting to break into the market with their own short-form offerings.

There is Byliner, for instance, which specializes in “single sitting” stories (and also features Atwood’s I’m Starved for You). It offers curated archives for its members, in addition to a slate of original commissioned work.

And for non-fiction fans, The Atavist publishes nonfiction stories for digital devices like the iPad, iPhone, Kindle, and Nook. The Atavist’s specialty is long-form journalism, a kind of reportage that had, only recently, seemed destined for extinction.

It’s still early days, of course, but there is definitely a sense of excitement around the shorter-form digital format. The potential is there for shorter-form works to break into mainstream reading.

The day may come when short-story writers can climb out of their basements, dusty manuscripts in hand, and emerge into a sunlit landscape where they can actually sell their “cracking good yarns” to members of the general public. For real money. At last.

James Bond revived in Random ebooks

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Ebook Magazine reports that Random House will republish Ian Fleming’s original James Bond books in both paper and ebook formats this year.

Under a 10-year deal with the Fleming family, Random’s Vintage Publishing imprint – a sister imprint of original Bond publisher Jonathan Cape – will assume worldwide English publishing rights (excluding the U.S. and Canada) next month and publish the books this summer.

Bond’s digital revival under the Random banner will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the appearance of the first Bond film, Dr. No, in theatres. Jonathan Cape published  Casino Royale, the first in the series of 14 Bond books, in 1953.

The deal will bring Bond books to all major ebook outlets. Previous ebook versions were published by the estate and marketed through Waterstones and Amazon.

 

PayPal backs off ebook censorship

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PayPal, the online payment service, is apparently pulling back from its hard-line ban on processing the sales of ebooks containing themes of rape, bestiality or incest.

According to mid-week reports, PayPal’s revised ban will apply only to potentially illegal images and text-only ebooks containing child pornography themes. In addition, the focus will be on individual books rather than entire classes of books.

Earlier this year, PayPal warned some ebook publishers and distributors that it would “limit” their PayPal accounts unless they removed offerings “containing themes of rape, incest, bestiality and underage subjects.”

The policy was criticized by the Authors Guild, the National Coalition Against Censorship and others, which voiced concern that banks and payment companies may be exerting too much control over what books can be written, published and read.

PayPal had told ebook distributors earlier this year that the original policy was put in place partly because the banks and credit card companies it works with restrict such content. Major credit card companies denied, however, that they would apply such restrictions to lawful material that seeks to explore erotica in a fictional or educational manner.

Writers see danger in copyright bill

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Former Toronto Star columnist David Lewis Stein made an impassioned plea against the federal government’s new copyright act in Sunday’s edition of the paper.

As now written, he says, the new copyright act would severely harm Canadian writers, musicians and performers, while at the same time diminishing the cultural sense of ourselves that we have spent so many years building.

Stein outlines some of the potentially harmful aspects of Bill C-11, which is now undergoing clause-by-clause review from a legislative committee. He points to the digital revolution as the driving force behind those proposed changes to the act.

“Artists have good reason to love this revolution. It offers us so many new ways to get our work out to people,” he says. “The difficulty comes in getting paid for what we do. The ‘fair dealing’ section of this new copyright act will actually reduce the rights to their own work that writers now have. They ought to call it ‘unfair dealing’.”

Stein says Greg Hollingshead, chair of the Writers Union of Canada, went to Ottawa last week to warn the committee that this bill “is likely to launch an unintended assault on the intellectual property of Canadian writers.” He was part of a coalition of 68 concerned arts organizations.

Stein hopes committee members were listening to that warning, because if the bill passes as it is now written, “it could be exceedingly harmful to people who have given so much of their time and passion to furthering the arts in this country.”

The legislative committee studying C-11 is chaired by Glenn Thibeault (NDP – Sudbury). Members are Charlie Angus, Scott Armstrong, Tyrone Benskin, Peter Braid, Paul Calandra, Dean Del Mastro, Pierre Dionne Labelle, Chungsen Leung, Phil McColeman, Rob Moore, Pierre Nantel and Geoff Regan.

Comments can be directed to committee clerk Christine Holke David at CC11@parl.gc.ca or 613-947-6729.

 

Prize spotlights exemplary non-fiction work

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The 2012 winner of the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction will be announced Monday at a luncheon  in Toronto.

This year’s finalists are Wade Davis (Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest), Charlotte Gill (Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber, and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe), J.J. Lee (The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit), Madeline Sonik (Afflictions & Departures: Essays) and Andrew Westoll (The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A Canadian Story of Resilience and Recovery).

The national book award was established in 2000 to commemorate the life and work of the late Charles Taylor, one of Canada’s foremost essayists. It is awarded annually to the author whose book best combines s command of the English language, an elegance of style, and subtlety of thought and perception.

The prize consists of $25,000 for the winner and $2,000 for each of the runners-up, as well as promotional support for all short-listed books. The winner will also be invited to read at the International Festival of Authors in October at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre.