Book News: Petitions, Orwell And The Amazon-Hachette Fight
The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.
The dispute between publisher Hachette and online retailer Amazon has escalated yet again, with dueling petitions and a debate over the interpretation of a George Orwell quote. On Sunday, the group Authors United ran a full-page ad in The New York Times with a petition signed by some 900 authors accusing Amazon of "singl[ing] out a group of authors for retaliation" because the online retailer has removed preorder buttons for many Hachette titles as a negotiating tactic. In response, Amazon created a group called Readers United and urged its own supporters to email Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch (one of Amazon's suggested talking points: "We have noted your illegal collusion."). In the post about Readers United, Amazon compared reservations about e-books to the literary establishment's initial reluctance about paperbacks, writing, "The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if 'publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.' Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion." Amazon has been roundly mocked for taking the quote out of context: In fact, Orwell said, "The Penguin Books are splendid value for sixpence, so splendid that if the other publishers had any sense they would combine against them and suppress them." He did go on to suggest that it was "a great mistake to imagine that cheap books are good for the book trade," adding, "The cheaper books become, the less money is spent on books." Hachette's Pietsch responded to Amazon supporters who wrote to him with an email (printed in full at Digital Book World) arguing, "This dispute started because Amazon is seeking a lot more profit and even more market share, at the expense of authors, bricks and mortar bookstores, and ourselves. Both Hachette and Amazon are big businesses and neither should claim a monopoly on enlightenment, but we do believe in a book industry where talent is respected and choice continues to be offered to the reading public."
Andy Thomason creates a classification of bad plagiarism excuses at The Chronicle of Higher Education, including the "It Was My Research Assistant" defense and the "How Do You Define Plagiarism?" defense.
At Electric Literature, Ursula Le Guin is interviewed by Michael Cunningham about genre and science fiction: "Realism is of course a tremendous and wonderfully capacious literary genre, and it has dominated fiction since 1800 or before. But dominance isn't the same thing as superiority," she says. "Fantasy is at least as immense as realism and much older — essentially coeval with literature itself. Yet fantasy was relegated for fifty years or sixty years to the nursery."
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