Tuesday, June 16, 2009

End of the Malaysian book industry as we know it?

There was an interesting SMS from a reader in an English daily recently. Referring to a recent warehouse sale, she said that she bought a (presumably brand new) book for RM8.00 that would normally cost RM40 in regular bookshops, and suggested that if book prices came down and bookshops reduced their profits, perhaps more people would read in this country. The implication here was that a retailer's profit on a book amounts to some 400%! How we wish that were true. Unfortunately, is quite far off the mark; the retailer's profit barely covers his overheads, but we don't expect customers to understand that. When a book sells for RM8 in one place and RM40 in another, what else would a customer think?

The warehouse sale in question was the recent Big Bad Wolf sale by BookXcess. Unverified sources have informed us that this was, in fact, a Pansing sale in disguise. And judging from the imprints on offer at the sale (and the observed appearance of Pansing staff at the warehouse over the period), it does appear to give that report some traction. Market talk appears to suggest it, anyway. (Established in 1974, Pansing is now a member of the Times Publishing Group. They are the sole distributors in Malaysia of several 'literary' imprints like Vintage, Picador, Harvill and so on.)

Here is a book industry primer for the uninitiated. The distributor is the wholesaler who acts between the publisher (the manufacturer) and the bookseller (the retailer). The publisher determines the recommended retail price, and the distributor buys the books at a discount from the publisher and then sells it to the retailer, who deals with the public. The publisher does not undercut the distributor and the retailer by selling the books directly to the public at ridiculously low prices, and the distributor does not, likewise, undercut the retailer to ensure a healthy industry and fair competition.

If a wholesaler does indeed sell his books to the public directly (or through an agent) at a ridiculously low prices it would be a serious breach of ethics, and probably be in violation of a whole host of anti-competition laws in quite a few countries in the world including, possibly, even Singapore. (Ask Microsoft about it.)

According to the same source, Pansing supplied more than 100,000 books for the warehouse sale, with the unsold books designated to Carrefour hypermart. (We have been wondering about the appearance of several 'Pansing' imprints, selling for RM5 each, in the hypermarket bins for some time now.) Where did all these books come from? Some, seen from their condition, are evidently returns from bookshops. But, quite a large number were in 'mint' condition. Why Pansing has chosen to dispose of its books in this manner is, currently, a matter of conjecture and some fanciful speculation. But, it has generated a quite a bit of unhappiness in the industry at the moment, with words like 'boycott' being bandied about. Perhaps, there is a need for all parties to clear the air including publishers like Pan MacMillan and Random House (UK) whose books Pansing distributes here and Singapore.

In the meantime, we have reduced our order of books from Pansing (unless absolutely necessary). American editions are nicer, anyway. Some major chains might even consider returning all books, and look for alternatives sources for the same titles. Or, maybe, even buy them back at their next warehouse sale at a fraction of the cost! That would be a good way of reducing prices!

And, to answer the SMS lady who complained about book prices: the reason imported books cost so much in Malaysia is due to our lousy exchange rate. Simple. And, the reason local books are not cheaper is because of our extremely small market size. But right now, the entire book industry in Malaysia has been put in jeopardy. We have had warehouse sales before, but not like this, where such a large quantity of books in very good condition have been dumped at between 10 and 20 percent of the RRP. The Malaysian book market is too small to absorb too many shocks of this nature. We don't have the diversity.

JD Salinger's legal battle against Catcher in the Rye 'sequel'

The book is entitled 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, and it features a character, Mr C, similar to Holden Caulfield, the mixed-up adolescent in Catcher in the Rye. Mr Salinger, 90, has filed a lawsuit to prevent the publication of the book in the US. (The book is already available in the UK.)

In the sequel, a 76-year-old man wakes up in a nursing home in New York. This seemingly normal day brings with it an unnerving compulsion to flee his present situation and embark on a curious journey through the streets of New York City. The original was written in 1951. The 'sequel' is written by a writer going by the name John David California.

The lawsuit says the right to create a sequel to Catcher in the Rye or use the character Holden Caulfield, belongs only to Salinger who has "decidedly chosen not to exercise that right". Salinger has never allowed his novel to be filmed, staged or adapted in any other way. The author stopped the BBC from filming a television production of his novel in 2003, and has reportedly also turned down requests from Steven Spielberg to acquire the film rights.

The lawsuit, according to the Associated Press, says "The sequel is not a parody and it does not comment upon or criticise the original ... It is a ripoff, pure and simple."

Fredrik Colting, founder of Nicotext Publishing says, "We think it's completely ludicrous."

Shell pays out-of-court over Ken Saro-Wiwa killing

Ken and Amir It has been in all the newspapers and most people would have already read the story that Shell has agreed to pay US$15.5m in an out-of-court settlement of a legal action in which it was accused of having collaborated in the execution of the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other leaders of the Ogoni tribe in Nigeria in 1995. This is one of the largest payouts agreed by a multinational corporation charged with human rights violations.

Kenule "Ken" Beeson Saro-Wiwa (October 10, 1941 -- November 10, 1995) was a Nigerian author, television producer, environmental activist and a member of the Ogoni people, an ethnic Nigerian minority whose homeland, Ogoniland, in the Niger has suffered extensive environmental damage from decades of indiscriminate oil waste dumping. Saro-Wiwa led a non-violent campaign against the operations of multinational oil companies, especially Shell. He was also an outspoken critic of the Nigerian government, which refused to enforce proper environmental regulations on the foreign oil companies. Saro-Wiwa was arrested, tried by a special military tribunal, and hanged in 1995 by the military government of General Sani Abacha.

But many would recall that Saro-Wiwa's son, Ken Wiwa, was at the first Kuala Lumpur International Literary Festival in 2004 and was interviewed by Amir Muhammad on how he handled his father's legacy. In his very personal memoir, In the Shadow of a Saint, Ken Wiwa examines his (often troubled) relationship with his father, and describes his personal search for answers.

The Guardian

Monday, June 01, 2009

Apple rejects, then accepts 'porn' e-book reader

E-bookCharlie Sorrel writes in wired.com that apple has relented and "finally approved the gorgeous-looking e-book reader, Eucalyptus, for the iTunes App Store." I have seen the visuals and I had to agree that it is gorgeous, and that I am finally beginning to buy into the e-book mania. It is so cool, you simply have
to have it, even if you never actually read a book on the iPhone or the iPod Touch.

The application was initially banned from the iTunes store by Apple because it could be used to download pornographic material, like the Kama Sutra, into the iPhone. Err ... I don't get it. Can one not do that with any e-book? Charlie Sorrel says, "Whoever was on Approval Duty at Apple that day obviously saw the name Kama Sutra in the list of downloadable books and had such a knee-jerk reaction ... that the book is some kind of sex manual." Oh my God, Apple is behaving like KDN, or KDN has infiltrated the company. Run for cover, the world is not safe anymore!

He continues, "... it isn't (a sex manual), although it does contain some sex advice -- take a look at an issue of Cosmopolitan if you want some real, juicy sex talk." KDN, listening? Probably wouldn't understand, too many words.

Eucalyptus costs US$10 and has access to around 20,000 Project Gutenberg texts. Pros: proper hyphenation, a hand-rolled typesetting algorithm and lovely page-turning animation (video on website). Cons: currently, can’t add own books, only public domain.

Wired Magazine

World's youngest author, again

Manuel DiazManuel Alguacil, 9, who has published his first book Thok, the Vain Dragon, has had to take a day off school to sign copies of his book at the Madrid Book Fair.

According to the story, or the spin, Manuel Alguacil could barely hold his copy of The Lord of the Rings when he was 6, but he got hooked on writing after reading it. Three years later, he has become one of the youngest authors in the world. His modest 38-page fantasy tale is inspired by (surprise) J R R Tolkien’s book and J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Manuel learnt to read when he was 3, but became bored by children’s books. By the age of 6 he had read The Lord of the Rings in two weeks. He wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. The boy is all right.

Other young talent

Britain’s youngest published author is Libby Reese, whose 60-page self-help book, Help, Hope and Happiness, was published when she was 9. Her book is based on her experiences when her parents separate. Her second book, about moving from primary to secondary school, came out in 2007.

United States' Amelia Atwater-Rhodes had her first fantasy novel, In the Forests of the Night, published in 1999 when she was 13. Now 23, she has published nine subsequent novels.

India's Ankit Fadia became an author at 15 with his book, The Unofficial Guide to Ethical Hacking, published in 2001. He now blogs for CNN, runs training courses, and is employed by the Singaporean Government to defend against hackers.


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born 150 years ago

Conan DoyleSir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the world's most famous fictional detective, was born in 1859 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Conan Doyle became a doctor and practised medicine while creating this archetypal protagonist of crime fiction other writers still struggle to match, even today. I read them as a boy, and I still read them to relax. Sherlock Holmes combines his skills of observation with science.

Sherlock Holmes is said to be a homage to one of Conan Doyle's teachers in medical school. "Elementary, my dear Watson" is one of the most memorable lines in modern literature, although that line does not appear in any of his books. It could have originated from the 1929 movie The Return of Sherlock Holmes. (Holmes says "My dear Watson" and "Elementary" on different occasions in The Crooked Man published in 1893.)

Holmes might have been fictional, but legend remains powerful. Tourists still flock to 221B, Baker Street in London to the museum dedicated to him.

The joke, voted as the funniest in the world, also features Holmes and Watson (though I do not recall reading it in any of the SH books.)

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson go on a camping trip, set up their tent, and fall asleep.
Some hours later, Holmes wakes his faithful friend.
'Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.'
Watson replies, 'I see millions of stars.'
'What does that tell you?'
Watson ponders for a minute. 'Astronomically speaking, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Time wise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, it's evident the Lord is all-powerful and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you?'
Holmes is silent for a moment, then speaks, 'Watson, you idiot, someone has stolen our tent.'

Conan Doyle died on July 7, 1930. He wrote 56 short stories and four novels.