Last week The Bookseller reported on a furore in the world of e-Book publishing. Erotic self-published novels appeared next to children’s literature in the WH Smith online store, which is powered by Kobo.
This looks to me like a technical mistake, but the occurence provoked outrage. The store was taken offline for a while and many books were removed from sale. I spoke to The Bookseller about the controversy:
Robert Sharp, head of campaigns and communications at English Pen, told The Bookseller: “We need to remember that great literature is very often ‘offensive’, and that alone should never be the trigger for suppressing books. If the Kobo/W H Smith collaboration had existed in the mid-20th century, then Lady Chatterley’s Lover or Lolita would have caused similar presentational offence. Fifty Shades of Grey was originally a self-published novel, so its only by luck of recent history that E L James’ books were not removed from sale in a similar manner.”
Obviously booksellers such as WH Smith have the right to sell only the books they want. There’s no law that says they absolutely must publish erotic fiction! But this principle has prfound implications when just a few big players dominate the e-book market. Failure to get an e-book listed on platforms like Kobo and Amazon is a huge impediment to author’s ability to disseminate their work, especially when the retailers also control the devices that readers use to access the text. Are the content policies of the big retailers inadvertently impeding free expression?
The headteacher at the Harris Academy in London has banned the pupils from using slang. This is not a new thing: Earlier this year, a school in Sheffield did the same thing, the Manchester Academy in Moss Side introduced a similar policy in 2008… and its exam results increased the following year.
UCB Radio asked me on the the Paul Hammond show to discuss the issue. You can listen to my contribution by following this link, or via the SoundCloud player below. Continue reading
I’m glad that Malala Yousafzai did not win the Nobel Peace Prize.
This is not because I do not applaud her bravery and support her fantastic campaigning work. Rather, I worry about the effect of thrusting the prize onto someone so young.
Previous Nobel Laureates have reported that winning the prize is incredibly disruptive to their career. Peter Higgs, who was awarded the Chemistry prize last week, tried to escape media inquiries. But they tracked him down eventually,
Our media is full of stories of child prodigies pressurised into excellence and unhappiness. Child actors regularly seem to end up in rehab units, and the career trajectory of child pop-stars like Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus makes everyone uneasy. We angst over the plight of Royal babies, born into incredible wealth but no privacy. Continue reading
A battered side street in the old part of Buenos Aires. The tarmac seems pockmarked. Parts of the curb are missing, and the serrated edge of the paving slabs are exposed, like the diseased gums of an old Gaucho.
A modest cafe. It seems rooted to the sidewalk, like the weeds. Other shops have long since shuttered, and their proprietors have escaped to the suburbs. But this establishment persists.
I scrape back one of the metal chairs.
“Un cafe, por favor?” The young waiter rolls his eyes. Is he annoyed that I have not ordered more, or is he casting judgement on my formal, European Spanish? Whatever: He clearly understands, and he slopes inside.
To my left, a croak. “English?”
I turn my head. A man sits alone, his mouth drawn down on one side. A stroke, perhaps?
“Yes,” I reply. “London.”
“Where else!” he replies. And now a smile. So no, not a stroke, just a crooked face. But he does not look straight at me. He cannot see very well. Continue reading
A little while back, the Independent ran a feature on ‘the selfie’, that genre of modern self-portrait taken with a smart phone. Hilary and Chelsea Clinton had published a selfie, which signalled the form’s crossover from youth culture to the mainstream.
When we discuss social media, the usual insight is that it allows people (whether they are public figures like Hilary Clinton or Rhianna, or just ordinary members of the public) to communicate without having to go through the established media corporations. But I think the great significance of social media is that the traditional media outlets have completely co-opted it into their coverage. The mainstream media’s tracking of Edward Snowden’s escape from Hong Kong to Russia was powered by Twitter. Sports reporters quote Tweets from players and managers to gain insights into their state of mind or the state of their transfer deal.
And selfies are now routinely used by the newspapers to illustrate tragic young deaths. Whether it is a car accident, a drug overdose, a gang murder, or a bullying related suicide, the photo editors turn to the victim’s Facebook page or Twitter stream to harvest images. The latest example of this is Hannah Smith, who committed suicide last week. I noted a couple of years ago how they were used to report the overdose of Issy Jones-Rielly. And the reporting on the joint-suicide of Charleigh Disbrey and Mert Karaoglan in June was heavy with ‘selfies’. Continue reading
Here’s a euphemism laden sentence from a Daily Telegraph editorial:
[The research] shows a continuing pattern of “white flight” from areas where indigenous Britons find themselves surrounded by new minority communities.
Where they say ‘indigenous’ they mean ‘white’, and when they say ‘minority communities’ they mean not-white (Aisha Phoenix called this out in The LIP Magazine, a decaded ago). The posh language dresses a racial issue as a cultural one.
And the research in question is questionable. I found the Telegraph editorial via a blog post by Jonanthan Portes of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. Portes was taking on the grand claims for “white flight” by David Goodhart in his book The British Dream. If people in the ‘White British’ group are leaving London, they are doing so in relatively small numbers.
The release today of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, based on Mohsin Hamed’s brilliant novel, reminded me to post this article I wrote for InPrint, the magazine of the Society of Young Publishers. It was published last month, in the issue timed to co-incide with the London Book Fair.
Who drives our culture? Conventional wisdom says it is Hollywood. After all, it is the ﬁlm industry that produces the most highly paid artistes and the most visible ‘A listers’. Film is a visual medium and it churns out icons at a steady, lucrative rate. The four-hour Oscars telecast is beamed live around the world.
By contrast, the announcement of the Man Booker Prize does not even get its own TV slot in schedules. The announcement is allowed to interrupt the news broadcasts, but the analysis and reactions are made to wait until a scheduled bulletin and it’s never the lead story.
Film claims global relevance, whereas publishing is parochial. Film claims to be popular, whereas publishing is elitist. Continue reading
Do you remember the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony? You know, that show directed by Danny Boyle at the start of the sporting fortnight? You do? Well, in that case, you will be fascinated by this video from Fifty Nine Productions, detailing their role creating the film and video elements of that show. Continue reading
Although I support the message behind this James Bond Supports International Women’s Day video, I’m not really a fan of the video itself. I don’t really see how having Daniel Craig as James Bond just stand there for a bit, and then return in drag, adequately conveys the inequality between the way men and women are treated in society. Surely having a woman (say, Naomie Harris) perform Bond’s lines, while Daniel Craig delivers the Miss Moneypenny lines, would better convey how men and women are treated differently in all walks of life?
Could there ever be a female James Bond? This may seem like a silly question: That James Bond is a man (a womanising man, no less) seems to be a ‘defining feature’. Continue reading
Take a look at this image.
Smart Phones in St Peter’s Square
It is St Peter’s Square, Rome, on a Wednesday evening in March, as Pope Francis was introduced to the Faithful. I think perfectly captures our time and obsessions and it should be the definitive image of this particular event.
I continue to be obsessed with this sort of thing: A mass of people all taking a photograph, simultaneously, of the same historical moment. It seems people (myself included) have an obsession with recording their own version of a shared moment… Even if their version of the sight (in this case, a pope) is grainy, tiny, and out of focus… And even if we can guarantee without a shadow of doubt that a better, professionally captured image, will be available.
People would rather watch the special moment through their viewfinder, than with their own eyes.
(I said I included myself among those who indulge in this weird practice, and I meant it. My closest even encounter with the Queen, at an opening of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, was experienced entirely through the view-finder of a Super-8mm cine camera).
I think the image above (which, ironically, I had to re-photograph from the Metro free newspaper because I could not find it online) has extra resonance, however. The glowing screens look a little like candles. In years past, I’m sure the Catholic faithful would have indeed held vigil by candle-light as they waited for the ‘Habemus Papum’ announcement. So the constellation of smart-phones here provides a sort of visual pun, the twenty-first century intruding on a centuries-old ritual.