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?
Dear Internet: please recommend an online service that can help me automatically distribute computer files via e-mail.
At English PEN, we have begun to produce e-Books as part of our literary campaigning. Our recent Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot is a good example of this – It puts more literature and creativity into the world, in response to an act of censorship.
In that project, the e-Book was available free with a voluntary donation. But we wanted to capture the e-mail addresses of everyone who downloaded it. I used a tweaked version of a WordPress contact form plug-in to ‘reveal’ the download links after a person entered their e-mail address, but this was an inelegant method. If downloaders wanted to revist the page, they had to enter their address again. And there was no validation of e-mail addresses.
Are there any online tools that manage the distribution of documents or computer files? I need a simple system that will take a person’s e-mail address, log it for me, and then either send them a unique download link, or simply e-mail them a file.
I imagine that the Shareware Developer community must have some kind of solution in place for this task? Can anyone recommend such services? Or is there a WordPress plug-in I have missed. Obviously I have a preference for free services, as the projects I run are all not-for-profit.
More on the trend towards the digitisation of books and what that means for culture, politics and society… this time, from George Orwell.
Given a good pitch and the right amount of capital, any educated person ought to be able to make a small secure living out of a bookshop…. Also it is a humane trade which is not capable of being vulgarized beyond a certain point. The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman.
Orwell did not forsee the rise of the Amazon behemoth! Nevertheless, his 1936 essay ‘Bookshop Memories’ is still relevant today (indeed, one might argue that Orwell’s nack for remaining relevant is the source of his greatness). Our current appeals to tactility-as-a-virtue are there, alongside concerns that the public generally has a taste for low-brow thriillers and romances, rather than classics from the canon.
Elsewhere, he mentions the fact that bookshops were also lending libraries. In this, I wonder if there is a parallel with Amazon? Since the early days of the Kindle, we have known that books one ‘buys’ for the machine are actually just licenced. Three years ago, Amazon remotely deleted all copies of Nineteen Eighty-Four from Kindle devices, a manoever that was at once horrifying and hilarious. Last month, a Norwegian woman was declared a persona non grata by the company, and all her purchases were deleted from her device without warning. Continue reading
I couple of few weeks ago, I pasted into my Commonplace Book this delightful take on eBooks from China Miéville:
We are, at last, leaving phase one of the ebook discussion, during which people could ritually invoke the ‘smell of paper’ as a call to cultural barricades. Some anxieties are tenacious: how will people know what a splendid person I am without a pelt of the right visible books on my walls, without the pretty qlippoth husks? A hopeful future: that our grandchildren will consider our hankering for erudition-décor a little needy
This point clearly touched a nerve. It went semi-viral with 104 people reblogging it.
I confess to being precisely the kind of chauvinist for the physicality of books that Miéville mocks, though his framing makes me think I am being unnecessarily sentimental.
One argument in favour of physical books: they demand to be read. Sitting on the shelf, they are a Constant reminder of their unreadness. A physical book may inspire or guilt-trip its owner into picking it up, merely by virtue of its existence.
This is not the case with virtual books. Last week, I downloaded free e-book versions many of the classics featured on this Observer list of essential novels. However, the electronic files sit hidden away, in a virtual folder, within an app, concealed on the third screen of programmes on my device. Out of sight, out of mind. They cannot command my attention like tangible objects.