Three independent bookstores are suing online bookseller behemoth Amazon and the publishers known as the Big Six, claiming that the group has created a monopoly in the sale of e-books.
Fiction Addiction, a store based in Greenville, S.C.; Posman Books, a New York City store which has three locations; and Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza of Albany, N.Y., filed the class action lawsuit.
The stores that filed the suit say that they represent “all independent brick-and-mortar bookstores who sell e-books."
The root of the complaint centers on digital rights management, which makes it difficult for a reader to switch an e-book from one e-reading device to another – for example, to move a book from a Kindle, the Amazon e-reader, to a Kobo, the one sold by indie bookstores.
The indie bookstores are saying that’s hurting their business.
"We are seeking relief for independent brick-and-mortar bookstores so that they would be able to sell open-source and DRM-free books that could be used on the Kindle or other electronic ereaders,” Alyson Decker of Blecher & Collins PC, who is serving as lead counsel for the bookstores, told the Huffington Post.
The suit claims that Amazon entered into confidential agreements with the six publishing houses. E-books sold by all six publishers come with the digital rights management lock that makes it difficult to move them to different devices.
“Currently, none of the Big Six have entered into any agreements with any independent brick-and-mortar bookstores or independent collectives to sell their e-books,” the plaintiffs write in their suit. “Consequently, the vast majority of readers who wish to read an e-book published by the Big Six will purchase the e-book from Amazon.”
In addition to damages, the three indie bookstores also want an injunction which would “prohibit ... Amazon and the Big Six from publishing and selling e-books with device and app specific DRMs and further require ... the Big Six to allow independent brick-and-mortar bookstores to directly sell open-source DRM e-books.”
Simon & Schuster representative Adam Rothberg told The New York Times, “We believe the case is without merit or any basis in the law and intend to vigorously contest it. Furthermore, we believe the plaintiff retailers will be better served by working with us to grow their business rather than litigating.”
As industry newsletter Shelf Awareness pointed out, the lawsuit is somewhat baffling because the six publishers require digital rights management on e-books no matter who’s selling them – including indie bookstores selling e-books for the Kobo device. In addition, the bookstores state that only e-books sold to users by Amazon will work on Kindle devices, which is not the case – users can read e-books from other sellers on their Kindles. (Transferring books from a Kindle to another device is tricky, though the technically savvy may be working on a solution not sanctioned by the companies.)
Another confusing point, wrote Shelf Awareness, is that while the bookstores charge that "the vast majority" of readers purchase e-books from Amazon, they fail to point out that Kobo, the company that produces the device sold by indie bookstores, also sells e-books obtained from the Big Six publishers.
In addition, Cory Doctorow, a writer for the blog Boing Boing, points out that the bookstores incorrectly used the term “open source” to describe what they want, which is e-books that would work across e-readers. “Open source” is defined as a computer program whose original code is made available to users, allowing them to change the program.
“For some reason, they're using ‘open source’ as a synonym for ‘standardized’ or ‘interoperable,’” Doctorow writes. “Which is to say, these booksellers don't really care if the books are DRM-free, they just want them locked up using a DRM that the booksellers can also use. There is no such thing as ‘open source’ DRM – in the sense of a DRM designed to run on platforms that can be freely modified by their users.... I wish they'd actually bothered to spend 15 minutes trying to understand how DRM works and what it is, and how open source works, and what it is, before they filed their lawsuit.”
The suit from the three independent bookstores follows after the Department of Justice sued several major publishers, stating they had worked with Apple to make e-books more expensive. Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Penguin, Macmillan and HarperCollins all agreed to settle, leaving Apple as ithe only defendant in the suit. The trial is scheduled for June.
It could have been a case ripped from the pages of her bestselling crime novels. Fortunately for Patricia Cornwell, a contentious dispute about mismanaged money had a happy ending when a Boston jury awarded her $51 million in damages in a suit against a Manhattan financial firm she said cost her millions of dollars in lost revenues.
The mystery writer was awarded $50.9 million in a federal lawsuit against financial firm Anchin, Block & Anchin LLP, and its former principal, Evan Snapper, for negligence. Cornwell hired the firm in 2005 to manage her accounts and claimed it mismanaged her fortune, causing her to lose $89 million, with her net worth dwindling to close to $13 million – a record low for the commercially successful author who earns an eight-figure salary most years.
“God bless justice,” Cornwell said after the verdict was announced, according to the Associated Press. “It’s a huge relief and it’s been a huge ordeal.”
The author – who, thanks to the lawsuit, is now also known for her lavish lifestyle, which includes Ferraris, helicopters, and a $40,000-a-month apartment she rented in New York City – said the firm’s mismanagement “caused her to miss a book deadline for the first time in her career when it failed to find her a suitable place to write after renovation work on her house in Concord went on much longer than expected,” according to the Associated Press.
“This was very destabilizing. I really lost my ability to focus and concentrate. I did not know what the book was about anymore,” Cornwell said, according to the AP.
That missed deadline caused her to lose at least one year’s income – about $15 million, she claimed.
The 56-year-old crime novelist is best known for her Scarpetta series starring medical examiner Kay Scarpetta. The books shine a spotlight on the field of forensic science and are even said to have influenced such popular TV series as "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and "Cold Case Files."
Cornwell’s books have sold more than 100 million copies. Perhaps, with this real-life happy ending in hand, they will climb higher yet.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Fresh off a presidential primary run and retirement from Congress, Ron Paul is hitting the books.
Actually, he’s writing them. The former Texas GOP congressman is turning his libertarian focus to education with a new book that advocates for a free-market approach to schooling and education.
“New School Manifesto” will be published by Grand Central Publishing Sept. 17, just in time for back-to-school season.
According to the publisher, the book will be “a focused guide to Dr. Paul’s position, which centers on a strong support for home schooling and free-market principles applied to education. He makes the case for individual freedoms as they pertain to educating our children, and nimbly dissects the most pressing issues that need to be addressed from the libertarian point of view.”
In “New School Manifesto,” Paul compares the education system to the postal service, arguing both would benefit from private sector competition, according to Politico. The libertarian author also examines a variety of education policy proposals, says the news site, and advocates that parents should have more leverage in choosing what schooling system is best for their children.
Some interesting context: Throughout his career, Paul has tried to get the government out of education. During the 2012 presidential campaign, then-GOP nominee contender Paul advocated closing the Department of Education as well as abolishing “No Child Left Behind.” Instead Paul was in favor of giving tax credits and vouchers to parents. That small government, free-market approach is sure to shape his latest book. He has also long opposed federal student loans and has called federal education efforts a “propaganda machine,” according to the Houston Chronicle.
“Ron Paul’s beliefs are always controversial, and even if you disagree with his principles, his arguments will make you think,” his publisher says of the forthcoming book. ”Ron Paul’s ideas and his urgent appeal to all citizens and officials will tell us what we need to do fix America’s education system for future generations.”
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Last Friday brought quite the sky show to the Ural Mountains when the apparent explosion of a meteorite spawned tremendous sonic booms, bright flashes of light and hundreds of injuries. But this wasn't the first time chaos rained down from above in the huge chunk of North Asia known as Siberia.
Back on June 30, 1908, something in the sky above Siberia exploded, stunning people who lived dozens of miles away and leaving a scar across the landscape that exists to this day.
Surendra Verma, a science journalist and author based in Melbourne, Australia, wrote about the so-called "Tunguska event" in his 2005 book "The Tunguska Fireball: Solving One of the Great Mysteries of the 20th Century."
In an interview, Verma told me about the theories regarding the Siberian explosion of 1908 (including a wacky one featuring a volcanic eruption and extraterrestrials), his thoughts on what actually happened (sorry, no aliens involved) and the reason why this all matters to us today.
Q: What exactly happened on that day in 1908 in Siberia?
A: An explosion flattened a Siberian forest bigger than metropolitan New York, stripping tens of millions of ancient trees of leaves and branches, leaving them bare like poles and scattering them like matchsticks. A dark mushroom cloud of dust rose to a height of 50 miles over the area, and a black rain of debris and dirt followed.
The explosion lasted only a few seconds, but it was so powerful that it could be compared only with an atomic bomb – 1,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs.
The explosion was even registered by an earthquake measuring station 2,485 miles away in St. Petersburg. Earthquake tremors were also recorded by more distant stations around the world. But at that time no one knew the cause of these tremors.
Q: How far did this happen from inhabited areas?
A: The explosion site was then so remote that it was not even accessible to local inhabitants, the Tungus people. The nearest witnesses to the explosion were at Vanavara, a small trading station some 40 miles from the explosion site.
Several miles north of Vanavara, dozens of nomads and herdsmen were thrown into the air and bruised. An elderly man hit a tree and broke his arm. Another elderly man died of fright. Thousands of reindeer belonging to four separate herds were killed as the pines and cedars around them blazed.
Q: How have theories about what happened evolved over time?
A: In 1908, Russia was a country caught in political unrest and social upheaval. Nothing was [studied] until 1927 when a Soviet scientist, Leonid Kulik, visited the explosion site. After three expeditions to the site, Kulik came to the conclusion that the Tunguska event was caused by a meteorite.
Since Kulik’s death in 1942, numerous scientific expeditions have been conducted to the explosion site, but no crater and no meteorite material from outer space has yet been found.
Q: What if it wasn't a meteorite?
A: The question fascinates scientists and science fiction writers. There are nearly 100 theories.
The lineup of suspects includes a comet, a mini-black hole, an asteroid, a rock of antimatter or a methane gas blast from below. More imaginative explanations include an alien spacecraft that exploded in mid-air and an experiment on a "death ray" which got out of hand.
My favorite theory is that the famous Krakatoa volcanic eruption in August 1883 generated strong radio waves, which were received 11 years later at the star 61 Cygni, 11 light-years away from us.
The Cygnian scientists misread the signal as greetings from a distant civilization and decided to send a return message by laser. Unfortunately, the well-meaning scientists misjudged the Earth’s distance and fired a powerful beam that zapped Tunguska. The "extra strong" Cygnian message was all Greek to the local Siberian people; they did not have the required technology to read their greeting card from the stars.
Q: What do you think happened?
A: I believe – and overwhelming data supports my belief – that the Tunguska explosion was caused by a asteroid that vaporized 3 to 6 miles above Tunguska. The resulting fine debris and gases then dispersed over wide areas in the atmosphere.
Q: This is the "so what" question: So what? Why does this strange event matter to us today?
The Tunguska event matters because the number of victims could have been hundreds of thousands if it had happened over Europe instead of the desolate region of Tunguksa.
Scientists expect an event of this magnitude to occur once every 100 years. And we must not forget that it was an asteroid that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
And by comparison, the Russian meteor that exploded [last week] about 15 miles above the Earth packed energy equivalent to only 30 Hiroshima atomic bombs as compared to the 1,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs of the Tunguska event.
Q: Are there possible connections between 1908 and the event last week? Or is it purely a coincidence that these things both happened in Siberia?
A: It's pure chance. Incidentally, the 2013 meteor blast was 3,000 miles west of the Tunguska blast.
Q: If all this worries me, should I go outside with an umbrella? Build a meteorite-proof building? Move to Mars? Or just stop worrying and learn to love the asteroid or meteor or whatever?
A: Don’t worry. Scientists are exploring ways of nudging, pushing, crushing, covering, nuking or burning rogue large space rocks that may threaten good readers of The Christian Science Monitor.
Until then, the best strategy is to work on early warning systems.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.
Haruki Murakami fans, rejoice – and learn Japanese, if you haven’t already.
Murakami has a new book coming out in April, according to Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. The only problem? His Japanese publisher Bungeishunju, as well as US publisher Knopf, have not indicated when the book would be translated into English.
“There is nothing in the pipeline at the moment,” said Knopf publicity director Nicholas Latimer. “We have not yet commissioned a translation.”
US readers, hang tight. Not only is it unclear when the new novel will be translated or released in the US – his previous novel “1Q84” took two years to be translated into English and released in the US – Murakami’s Japanese publisher is tight-lipped on details about the forthcoming book.
Other than the publication date, no details, not even the title, were released – all of which only drew more excitement and anticipation, of course. And speculation.
“It’s safe to bet that there will be cats (that may or may not talk) and probably some awkward sex, too,” posits the NY Daily News.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal wonders if it’s a fourth volume to Murakami’s famous “1Q84.”
The 925-page “1Q84” was released to wide acclaim in Japan before being translated to English and released in the US. It went on to be translated into more than 40 languages and sell millions of copies around the world.
This latest mystery novel can only serve to boost Murakami’s appeal and ensure he’ll land, yet again, on the favorites list for a Nobel Prize in Literature. But for now, only Japanese readers will enjoy his latest work.
Writer William Boyd will be penning a new Bond novel, which is scheduled to come out this September in the UK (published by Jonathan Cape) and early October in the US and Canada (released by HarperCollins). Boyd was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for his 1982 novel “An Ice-Cream War.”
Any other information on a title or plot details is being kept secret for now.
Taking on a Bond novel is a “fantastic, exciting challenge,” Boyd told Reuters.
The author had criticized how some adaptations had handled the spy in the past during an interview with Radio Times in December.
“In the films Bond is a cartoon character,” Boyd said. “But in the novels he is far more troubled, nuanced and interesting... Bond’s father was Scottish and his mother was Swiss so he didn’t have a drop of English blood in him. He’s not the suave Roger Moore-type English toff at all.”
Boyd, who was asked to pen his Bond novel by the Fleming estate, is only the most recent author requested to take on spy-writing duties. After Fleming died in 1964, authors including Kingsley Amis, John Gardner and Raymond Benson have written new Bond works for the Fleming estate. “Birdsong” writer Sebastian Faulks published one in 2008 titled “Devil May Care,” while writer Jeffery Deaver of the Lincoln Rhyme series wrote “Carte Blanche” in 2011.
“Skyfall,” the newest Bond movie, became the highest-grossing movie in the series last year and was also well-received critically, currently holding a grade of 81 on the review aggregate site Metacritic.
In her first two novels, Melanie Benjamin riffs on the stories of two fascinating but somewhat forgotten 19th-century women: "Alice I Have Been" (2010) follows the woman who inspired "Alice in Wonderland" while "The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb" (2011) features the wife of circus celebrity General Tom Thumb. Now, in "The Aviator's Wife," Benjamin has taken on the story of half of one of the most famous couples of the 20th century: Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of aviator Charles Lindbergh. Although today Anne Lindbergh is perhaps most often recalled as the suffering mother of a kidnapped baby (the Lindbergh's son Charles was kidnapped and killed in 1932 in an act called "the crime of the century"), she was also the daughter of an ambassador, a skilled pilot in her own right, and a critically acclaimed author.
In an interview with the Monitor, Benjamin (whose real name is Melanie Hauser) talked with me about how she picks her projects, what surprised her most about Anne Lindbergh, and what makes a great historical writer. Here are some excerpts of our conversation.
Q: What about historical figures makes you want to focus a novel around them?
A: Now that I've got three under my belt, I can sense a pattern. The first one, "Alice I Have Been," was just kind of blindly stumbling across what I thought was an interesting story. But I think I am looking for women who were well-known in their time, or for a short period of time, and have kind of fallen off the public's collective consciousness.
And I also am looking for women who I suspect are not entirely truthful with the historical record or even to themselves – not intentionally, maybe. I think I'm attracted to those stories where I suspect there are a lot of locked doors and hidden closets that we haven't explored.
Q: What have readers or people you know been most surprised by about Anne?
A: I think a lot of people were surprised primarily to hear of her aviation exploits. During the height of their fame in the early '30s, they were Lindy and Anne together, one breath, and she was certainly admired for her aviation and her exploits at that time. Though I think even at the time, everyone assumed it was Lindy doing everything and Anne was tagging along. Certainly female reporters would not ask her about her skills as a pilot, they would ask her how she was going to set up housekeeping in the plane.
I think that what happened was the kidnapping [of the Lindbergh's baby] so overshadowed and overpowered everything else she had done, I think that was when when we started forgetting that part of her life, because she became such a tragic figure. I think that was what I assumed she was, just the tragic figure.
I also think a lot of people are surprised by her passion in later life. I was pleased to discover that.
Q: One thing that seemed a little surprising was how few times Charles and Anne met before he proposed. Was that composite at all?
A: That really is kind of it. They met in Mexico [when Lindbergh stayed briefly with the Morrows] and then not for months later, until he called her out of the blue to take her up flying again. [Lindbergh proposes after the flight in Benjamin's novel.] And so it really was pretty much how I depicted it. I guess evidently he had been on this mission to find a wife to share the spotlight with, because it was so overwhelming.
Q: I was looking, thinking, "We're on page 80 and they're married?"
A: It really was like that, definitely.
Q: How do you think readers will perceive Charles's sometimes harsh treatment of his wife and family?
A: Charles is a challenging character, there's no doubt about it, a very difficult man, and I think because Anne is the heroine of my book, Charles is the conflict. You have to introduce conflict in a book and in this book, I think it is her husband.
So certainly, he's a hard man to completely admire and definitely, I intended him to be a difficult, challenging character, but that said, I did have a lot of sympathy for him. If you look at his life through the prism of the kidnapping and his inability to bring his child home, I think that ... never excuses, but it does let you look at his actions after that through a maybe more understanding light.
But still, he was a very difficult man and I'm sure readers are going to see that part of him.
Q: One thing that the novel shows is how intensely the press covered the couple – even publishing a map to their house. How do you think the Lindberghs' life, and even their marriage, would have been different without that unrelenting scrutiny?
A: Gosh, I think the kidnapping wouldn't have happened. And their marriage, you have to think it would have been smoother. That's just one of those what-ifs of history that it's so big, I can't even begin to comprehend it. Certainly their lives would have been different.
They would not have gone to Europe. And had they not gone to Europe, would Charles have been so outspoken against involvement in the war? Maybe not. There's a whole line of things that might not have happened.
Q: Was it difficult for you separating Charles' endorsement of Hitler from what you knew was ahead historically?
A: That's always a challenge of historical fiction. You have to be in the moment. Even though we can look back in hindsight, a historical novelist has to be able to ignore that and to understand the moment and to lose our modern sensibilities and knowledge and just be in the moment of that time, and I think that's what makes a successful historical novelist.
I think that's why some people cannot enjoy historical fiction.
But I definitely researched the period and discovered that there were so many people who were bamboozled by Hitler. Erik Larson's newest book, "In the Garden of Beasts," is all about that time and when you read that, you really understand the dog-and-pony show that Hitler was putting on for everybody.
If you do your research and you have an imagination and are able to totally enter into a different time, it's not as difficult. But again, I don't think it's for everyone.
Q: Do you have any upcoming projects that you're working on right now?
I do. My editor has me on tight wraps. But I am able to say it is a story of two remarkable women who did live, but this time I guarantee you have never heard of them. It's a very obscure nugget of history that is long, long lost to us, and it is set in colonial America.
That's all I can say. It's a different time for me, not one I'm very familiar with, so the research has been quite fun.
Q: Are you still in the research period right now?
I'm done with most of it, so I am in the middle of writing the book, but obviously, the research is never done. Sometimes you'll be writing away and you'll realize you need to know, "How long did it take to journey by wagon?" You can't magically make people appear. So there's always a lot of research going on.
Randi Zuckerberg was employed at Facebook as director of marketing before she left to found Zuckerberg Media, her production studio. The deal she made with publisher HarperCollins includes the memoir as well as a picture book for children which she will also be writing.
Zuckerberg worked at Facebook for six years and was among the first 25 employees to work at the company.
“I am thrilled to be working with HarperCollins to share some of my own crazy experiences on the front lines of social media and to inspire people of all ages to embrace technology, as well as the new set of social norms that come along with it,” she said in a statement.
The memoir will be titled “Dot Complicated” and will also include extras in its digital format which will be “innovative and engaging interactive components,” according to HarperCollins.
The former marketing director was also an executive producer for a 2012 series which aired on Bravo from November to December titled “Start-Ups: Silicon Valley.”
“Dot Complicated” has a planned release date of Nov. 5.
One of the most famous books about Facebook was the 2009 book by Ben Mezrich titled “The Accidental Billionaires,” which was written with the help of Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin but without the cooperation of Mark Zuckerberg. “The Accidental Billionaires” later became the basis for the Oscar-nominated movie “The Social Network,” which came out in 2010. Former Facebook worker Katherine Losse also wrote a memoir about her time at the company titled “The Boy Kings,” which came out this past June.
Just when you think you've heard it all.
A bestselling British children’s author is advocating for the closure of public libraries, saying they “have been around too long,” “are no longer relevant,” and have “had their day.”
Terry Deary, author of the bestselling children’s series “Horrible Histories,” has been raising ire in the UK – and beyond – with his controversial claim that libraries are outdated and hurtful to the publishing industry.
"I'm not attacking libraries, I'm attacking the concept behind libraries, which is no longer relevant," Deary told the Guardian. “...we've got this idea that we've got an entitlement to read books for free, at the expense of authors, publishers and council tax payers. This is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature. We pay for compulsory schooling to do that.”
Deary, who ironically is the seventh-most borrowed children’s writer from UK libraries, said libraries are hurting the industry.
“Books aren't public property, and writers aren't Enid Blyton, middle-class women indulging in a pleasant little hobby. They've got to make a living. Authors, booksellers and publishers need to eat. We don't expect to go to a food library to be fed.”
He added that bookstores are closing down "because someone is giving away the product they are trying to sell. What other industry creates a product and allows someone else to give it away, endlessly?”
Not surprisingly, Deary’s comments have riled library-lovers in the UK, many of whom are lobbying to save the country’s libraries that are threatened by budget woes.
“Some of us who have devoted enormous amounts of time and effort to the library cause, who have marched and petitioned, lobbied and demonstrated, argued with councilors and ministers, feel utterly betrayed by Terry's words,” fellow author Alan Gibbons told the Guardian.
But it was author Neil Gaiman, who delivered a knockout commencement speech earlier this year in Philadelphia, who hit the nail on the head in a recent tweet: “...libraries make readers. They don’t starve authors.”
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
“The Devil in the White City,” Erik Larson’s 2003 nonfiction bestseller, is a strange blend of true stories. The book combines two unlikely tales: the story of a notorious serial killer and the narrative of how the 1893 World’s Fair came to be.
But one of the best surprises of “The Devil in the White City" is the account of how George Ferris designed his famous wheel for the Chicago World’s Fair.
George Ferris, born George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., grew up in Galesburg, Ill., and Carson Valley, Nev.,. He started working on railroads after college and his company, G.W.G. Ferris & Co., which was based in Pennsylvania, focused on ensuring the safety of the metals used in bridges and railroad tracks.
Ferris enters Larson’s narrative when the author discusses the contest held by the organizers of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago (then known as the World’s Columbian Exposition, since it was to be the first held in America). The fair’s directors wanted one of America’s engineers to create a structure for the event that would be grander than the Eiffel Tower. (The French monument was, at that time, something of a thorn in the side of the US architectural community, which yearned to build something more remarkable.)
In response, Ferris designed what would become known as the Ferris wheel and persuaded the directors that the structure would be safe for fairgoers. The wheel underwent a test run on June 9, 1893, and successfully completed a full rotation without anything going wrong. “I could have yelled out loud for joy,” Ferris’s co-worker, W.F. Gronau, said later, according to Larson’s book.
When completed, the Ferris wheel at the Chicago exposition was able to hold 2,160 people, with 36 cars total.
The inventor’s wheel continued to offer rides to the public at the fair’s site until April 1894, months after the Exposition had closed in October 1893. The Ferris wheel was moved for a time to a neighborhood in Chicago, where it operated for the residents until it was moved to St. Louis for the World’s Fair in 1904.
Larson’s narrative combines interesting information about the first American World’s Fair (such as the fact that the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in US public schools began at that time as a way to honor the Fair) with the horrific story of the serial killer H.H. Holmes, who lived in Chicago and confessed to more than 27 murders. (Some historians believe that his death toll is actually even larger.)
"The Devil in the White City" was a bestseller in both hardcover and paperback formats. Rights to the story have been purchased by “Django Unchained” actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who is expected to star in the movie as Holmes as well as serving as its producer. No release date has yet been announced.