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April 24, 2014
Sunday, December 22, 2013

Lawsuits, mergers and, yes, books

Google continued to scan books to build a digital library.
The biggest news? The merger of Random House and Penguin Group

NEW YORK — In 2013, everything and nothing happened in the publishing industry.

It was a blockbuster year for the legal profession. A federal judge ruled that Apple had conspired with five publishers to fix e-book prices, while another federal judge allowed Google to continue scanning books — without the permission of authors or publishers — for a digital library.

The market used to be defined by six major New York publishers. But government lawyers cleared the merger of Random House Inc. and Penguin Group (US), creating the world’s largest producer of books, and according to industry consultant Mike Shatzkin, a “new top tier.”

“No longer do the ‘Big Six’ define scale,” Shatzkin says. “Now there is the Big One and the Following Four.‘

But with e-book sales levelling off, and independent stores relatively stable after a long era of decline, little changed for the vast majority of people who buy or borrow books, beyond, of course, the books themselves.

No mega-sellers cane out in 2013, nothing that compared with E L James’ Fifty Shades of Gray or Stieg Larsson’s crime novels. Adult readers turned to dependable favourites such as Dan Brown and Khaled Hosseini, while teens and grade-schoolers stuck with Rick Riordan, Jeff Kinney and Veronica Roth, whose Divergent series is set to début on the big screen in 2014.

Several books managed to get people not just reading, but talking.

The title of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In became a catchphrase and the Facebook executive’s manifesto for working women inspired thousands of discussion groups worldwide.

Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling was just another début thriller until Galbraith was unmasked as J.K. Rowling, a delight for readers and booksellers and a puzzler for critics who wondered why they didn’t catch on.

Baz Luhrmann’s booming adaptation of The Great Gatsby made F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel a top seller and intensified a decades-long discussion about his Jazz Age classic of status and reinvention.

Two gossipy political best sellers, Mark Leibovich’s This Town and Mark Halperin’s and John Heilemann’s Double Down, showed that disapproval of Washington has much in common with scorn for Hollywood or the rich folks of Fitzgerald’s fiction: readers like to know how the misbehavers misbehave, the closer to home the better.

“People inside the beltway are always interested in what’s going with people inside the beltway,” says Mark LaFramboise, a buyer for the Washington-based Politics & Prose Bookstore.

Some books are so wished for that just the idea of them starts conversations. A biography and film about J.D. Salinger included the most specific details yet for rumoured posthumous releases by the secretive author of The Catcher in the Rye.

At least five books are planned, according to Shane Salerno and David Shields, with new works possibly coming as soon as 2015.

Neither Salinger’s literary estate nor his longtime publisher, Little Brown and Company, have commented on the news.

They also haven’t denied it.

“People would be fascinated by anything from Salinger,” says Stephanie Hochschild, owner of The Book Stall in Winnetka, Illinois.

In 2013, customers at the Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona, sought out a history of the only Native American to defeat the US military, The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend, by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin.

In Manhattan, a reissue of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Woman Destroyed was purchased by hundreds of people at the McNally Jackson Books, a choice “based on its excellent new package,” according to store owner Sarah McNally.

One of the year’s biggest “word of mouth” hits has been Jo Jo Moyes’ novel Me Before You, which has sold more than 100,000 copies just for its e-book edition, according to Penguin. Hochschild said local reading groups love Moyes’ story of a quadriplegic and his caregiver. Another hit at the Book Stall has been The Boys In the Boat, Daniel James Brown’s biography of the US rowing team at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany.

“We can’t keep it on the shelf,” Hochschild says. “It’s a book about history and a book about human drama. It has something for everybody.”

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