Publishers, enough with vapid hype

Let's set aside the economic sound and fury and focus on the writing rather than the noise. Since the late 1990s, when computers began to enable publishers to track book sales to the copy, the industry has been numbers-dominated, less about the aesthetics of the language than of the spreadsheet. This is problematic, say, if you're a first novelist who gets a good-sized advance and a decent publicity push but only goes on to sell 1,000 copies of your book.

Open Source Text Publisher Gets More Financing

Flat World Knowledge, a year-old company that plans to publish free open source college textbooks, has received $700,000 in new financing, bringing total investment in the startup to $1.4 million. The company has also announced a number of new appointments, including that of former Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Newcomb to its board of advisors.

Flat World co-founder Jeff Shelstad said that given the current economic climate, he was “pleased” to complete the new financing deal. A larger round of investment is expected to be completed within the next six months.

Under the Flat World model, the company will publish open source textbooks that students can download for free; it hopes to make its money by selling various options to the online text, ranging from print-on-demand print versions to audio downloads. No advertising is accepted. The texts, which are written by authors signed by Flat World, can be customized by instructors.

Full article at Publisher's Weekly


TextBook Torrents Turns The Final Page and Closes Down

From relative obscurity, Textbook Torrents, the world’s largest BitTorrent index of textbooks, found itself in the world spotlight during July 2008 and was forced to close down by its host. The site returned weeks later, growing massively in the process, but now, just a couple of months on, the site has closed for good.

Full article here

Wal-Mart's DRM Nightmare Just Won't End

Wal-Mart has decided to keep the music that it sold wrapped in a layer of copyright protection playable, following a flurry of customer complaints about legally purchased music becoming unplayable. The probably wishes it had never tangled with digital rights management, because it's going to keep paying for it long after its switch to selling DRM-free MP3s.

An e-mail sent to Wal-Mart digital music store customers said the company will continue to support the DRM-ed song files sold on starting in 2003. The e-mail reversed last month's announcement that Wal-Mart would shut down the servers that authenticate the copyright protected music it no longer sells. Unfortunately, doing so would render all protected music purchased from the store in the past five years unplayable.

Full story at

This story is something to think about for libraries that collect materials that have DRM.

Publish and be wrong

One group of researchers thinks headline-grabbing scientific reports are the most likely to turn out to be wrong


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US Publisher Moves Forward With Jewel of Medina

Publishers Weekly reports: Plans for the American publication of The Jewel of Medina remain in place and retailer support remains firm, Eric Kampmann, president of Beaufort Books, Medina’s publisher, said yesterday. Over the weekend, the headquarters/residence of Martin Rynja, publisher of Medina’s U.K. house, Gibson Square, suffered some minor damage (see our earlier stories here and here).

Kampmann said the situation in the U.S. and U.K. are different, with the U.K. faced with more radical groups. Kampmann said when he first took on the book following its cancellation by Random House, he did not believe its publication would result in violence in the U.S. He still downplays the possibility of any sort of attack, but given the events in the U.K., said he is now being “super cautious.” He has been in touch with the FBI and New York City police and is considering hiring a security firm to protect Beaufort and Midpoint’s New York offices.

London Publisher's Home Firebombed, As Police Had Warned

From Guardian UK:The London home of the UK publisher of a controversial new novel "The Jewel of Medina" that gives a fictionalised account of the Prophet Muhammad's relationship with his child bride, Aisha, was firebombed yesterday, hours after police had warned the man that he could be a target for fanatics. A petrol bomb is believed to have been thrown through the door of Martin Rynja's £2.5m town house in Islington's Lonsdale Square, which also doubles as the headquarters of his publishing company, Gibson Square. Three men were arrested.

The book was originally to be published in the US by Random House, who later withdrew it's offer to author Sherry Jones. It will be published next month in the US by Beaufort Books, a small press that also published "If I Did It".

Rynja commented, :"I was completely bowled over by the novel and the moving love story it portrays,' he said earlier this month. 'I was struck by the careful research of Sherry Jones, who is a journalist with almost 30 years of experience, and her passion for the novel's characters. I immediately felt that it was imperative to publish it. In an open society there has to be open access to literary works, regardless of fear."

Law school profs ponder printed books ( no show)

Law professors from around the country gathered in Seattle on Saturday to put the printed textbook on trial.

And because those professors and their universities influence the buying decisions of thousand of law students each year, traditional book publishers as well as representatives from Adobe, Sony and Microsoft participated. A representative from did not attend as expected.

The daylong discussion educed topics ranging from cerebral musings – could information proliferation make lawyers obsolete? – to technical nuance – what's the difference between open source and open access?

At least one conclusion became clear – the fact that about 40 people gathered at Sullivan Hall at Seattle University Law School on a sunny Saturday to ponder life beyond print shows that times are changing in publishing.

Blog entry at

Grove Press Publisher to Receive National Book Foundation Award

In its heyday during the 1960s, Grove Press was famous for publishing books nobody else would touch. The Grove list included writers like Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, William S. Burroughs, Che Guevara and Malcolm X, and the books, with their distinctive black-and-white covers, were reliably ahead of their time and often fascinated by sex.

The same was, and is, true of Grove’s maverick publisher, Barney Rosset, who loved highbrow literature but also brought out a very profitable line of Victorian spanking porn.

On Nov. 19 Mr. Rosset will receive a lifetime achievement award from the National Book Foundation in honor of his many contributions to American publishing, especially his groundbreaking legal battles to print uncensored versions of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer.” New York Times reports.


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