Monday News: Rare book heist, African American SF, digital v(?) print, and Fifty Shades Darker adaptation
Mission: Impossible-style raiders ‘cut through skylights and abseiled into warehouse to steal antique books worth £2m’ – Dropping into a Heathrow warehouse, thieves stole books so rare that they are “impossible to fence” and therefore likely targeted by at least one collector. A theft of this scope and style is apparently unprecedented in the world of antiquarian and rare books, but with this weekend’s California International Antiquarian Book Fair, books belonging to numerous dealers were sitting together in a centralized location, waiting for transport to the Book Fair.
The gang targeted the warehouse in Heathrow, London, and used “commando-style” techniques to evade motion sensors, it has been claimed.
They ignored other stock, including electrical items and cheaper books, and instead made off in an escape van with more than 160 of the world’s most valuable publications, the Mail on Sunday reported.
One dealer lost £680,000 of books in the heist, which happened in the early hours of Jan 30, while experts said the “jewel” in the haul was a 1566 copy of Nicolaus Copernicus‘s De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestiumworth around £215,000. – Telegraph
A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction – Nisi Shawl’s 2016 post is making the rounds again, in case you missed it last year. From Martin Delany and Charles Chestnutt to Pauline Hopkins, Lorraine Hansberry, and Octavia Butler (and more!), there’s a lot on this list to sample, although be warned that not all the links work and some of the earlier works can be found free online, because they are in the public domain.
In 1909 Harvard’s president, Charles W. Eliot, issued a 51-volume anthology he claimed could provide its owners with a complete liberal arts education. In the same vein, I’ve pulled together an annotated list of 42 black science fiction works that are important to your understanding of its history. You’ve got the rest of 2016 to read them. That’s doable, isn’t it? Tackle them one per week…. Sure, some of the older titles are going to be full of archaic and unfamiliar turns of phrase; some of the anthologies are thick, and a couple of the novels I recommend are fairly long. But a few of my suggestions are short stories, a few are children’s books, and all of them are things I’ve enjoyed. And if you start now, you should have at least one week you can use to catch up if you fall behind, or to explore any titles find yourself distracted by as you make your way through this crash course. Plus, you may well have read some items on my list beforehand.
Just one caveat before you start ordering and downloading and diving into things: some of these works could be construed as fantasy rather than science fiction. The distinction between these two imaginative genres is often blurred, and it’s especially hard to make out their boundaries when exploring the writing of African-descended authors. Why? Because access to the scientific knowledge from which SF often derives has been denied to people of the African diaspora for much of history. And the classification of what is and is not scientific knowledge hasn’t been under our control — it’s frequently a matter of dispute. Also, it’s sometimes difficult to understand the history of black science fiction without reference to the history of black fantasy. – Fantastic Stories of the Imagination
Agency pricing didn’t restrain Amazon; it strengthened them – So as I was scanning for any additional news on the imminent Samhain closure (is it just me, or is it eerily quiet around such a significant event?), I ran across a mention of this Mike Shatzkin post at The Digital Reader. Relying as it does on Hugh Howey’s “The Data Guy,” the post is not of much interest to me, although it might be to you. I really decided to link to it because of the comments, especially those from Kensington CEO Steve Zacharius, who discusses the digital v print situation, including the interesting phenomenon of indie authors like Marie Force signing traditional print contracts. He also addresses the issue of higher-priced ebooks:
[H]igher ebook pricing is not a function of publishers just wanting to keep the price high; it’s a function of the ebook market being a big percentage of the overall revenue of any given title and the publisher having to earn back advances as well. If print sales are considerably less than they were five years ago, and advances haven’t decreased substantially; then you have to make back that advance from the ebook sales as well. If you lower the price of the ebook it doesn’t necessarily equate to selling more units to compensate for the drop in revenue. . . .
Fiction is not mostly digital by any means. Even romance fiction is still heavily geared towards print. But certainly thrillers are still in print quite heavily. It’s just that mass market is less of a category for Amazon. – The Shatzkin Files
Fifty Shades Darker: 28 Big Differences Between the Book and the Film – If you thought the first Fifty Shades film was a clunker, at least its director actually brought some artistic independence to the project. It sounds like the new film is all E.L. James, all the time. Which I guess would include the “big differences” between the book and the movie listed in this post. I actually enjoyed the first movie (especially the cinematography and Dakota Johnson’s performance), but I’m scared to see this one. Has anyone taken the plunge, and what did you think?
Fortunately for fans, the film sticks closely to the plot of the book, featuring a luxurious lifestyle and elaborate gifts, witty banter and demanding behavior (on Christian’s end anyway), and, of course, lots and lots of sex. However, it does stray from the books in a few ways. Some small differences include less domineering and possessive behavior from Christian (yes, that’s actually possible), the absence of email and text exchanges (which were frequent in the first film, Fifty Shades of Grey), and fewer sex scenes — they have to keep the movie under six hours somehow! To learn of some of the bigger changes, including the absence of major new characters, as well as key plot points, read our list below. WARNING: Major spoilers ahead! – POPSUGAR
The African-American author you referred to is SAMUEL R Delany, not Martin. Known affectionately to his friends and fans as Chip.
If I’m reading the Pew surveys correctly, the book-reading population is divided into two groups: a lot of people who read a few books and a few people who read a lot of books. The traditional Big 5 publishing market is interested in both groups, but the small-press and indie markets are primarily aimed at the latter, the super-readers. Super-readers are much more price-sensitive than occasional readers, but there are a lot of occasional readers who will buy a $10 ebook once in a while because they’re going on a trip, or they don’t want to carry around a doorstop book, and they are less likely to use the library. They read The Girl on the Train because everyone else they know is reading it, and paying even $12 or $14 isn’t that different from seeing a movie in the theater. As long as ebook prices are comparable to trade prices rather than hardback, they’ll grit their teeth and buy the ebook.
The bookternet is made up primarily of industry people, indie or hybrid authors, and super-readers, so our conversations revolve around somewhat different issues. We care a lot about price and read a lot of self-published stuff, and we read a lot of ebooks. We love daily deals (which many, many review sites now feature). We can’t imagine regularly paying $12 for an ebook we don’t have full ownership rights over.
BUT. We are not numerically the larger group of readers. We buy way more books, so we dominate the unit sales, but not the readership. All this is a long way of saying that unless occasional readers turn into high-volume readers they’re probably going to be fine with print, because of print’s various advantages (lending, first-sale rights, reading experience, etc.). Obviously there are exceptions (ebooks let you enlarge the font, for example, so older readers and other sight-impaired people benefit disproportionately), but for the most part it does seem that occasional readers are either neutral between formats or prefer print for most circumstances. So print isn’t going anywhere, and Big 5 publishers can mark up ebooks to occasional-reader prices and do OK with it.
I could be totally wrong about this reason for the higher prices, but I think the distinction between the two reading groups doesn’t get acknowledged enough in bookternet discussions of print v. e- and What Publishers Are Up To Now.
And this goes double for audiobooks: the readership is growing rapidly, sure, but from a very small base, and it will plateau at a much lower level than ebook sales. Because for many, many people, audiobooks compete with talk radio (and now podcasts) and music. In that competition, music will win for a lot of listeners.
tl;dr: The bookternet’s interests don’t reflect the full reading/buying market, and Big 5 publishers may not be shooting themselves in the foot with high ebook prices.
@hng23: Samuel also appears on the list, about a century after Martin:
1859 Martin R. Delany:
Blake, or the Huts of America — This is often cited as the first African American science fiction novel, though the author lived in England at the time it was published. It’s about a slave revolt, with hints at the Utopia that may follow.~
I imagine that the rare book dealers are able to compile a list of collectors as a starting point for recovery of the books.
Which brings to mind a question. Are there museums which display open books from the 1400 and 1500s for anyone to walk in and view? Not, obviously, to touch and turn pages but to view under glass.
@Sunita: I think your analysis is correct, and I also think it comes down to what kind of books do better in print than digital. Cookbooks, for example, and adult coloring books, both of which appear to be selling robustly.
What I’d love to understand better is the current state of mass market, which Zacharius implies is still dominating over digital in Romance, but we know that outlets like Target and Walmart are not the blockbuster sales centers they once were, and SZ claims that Amazon is not a major mass market retailer. Are thrillers keeping the format alive? My sense of the mass market book is that it is in decline, but perhaps not?
@Sunita: You’ve explained so much, thank you. We may be super-readers, but we are not enough. I watched my sister buy multiple trade paperback best sellers for our trip together and realized what an outlier I am.
@cleo: You’re welcome!
@Janet: I agree with you that ebook increases have probably come at the expense of mass-market paperbacks, and the fact that Amazon is not selling a lot of them reinforces that. I’m not sure what to make of SZ’s claims, although I don’t assume (like the guy arguing with him in the comments) that he’s not telling the truth about Kensington. I suppose it depends on what your list looks like; I remember that when I looked a couple of years ago, mysteries, including cozy mysteries, were one area where print dominated ebooks even though the readers overlap w/romance a fair amount. For whatever reason, readers want their knitting and cat mysteries in print.
2014 seems to be the most recent RWA survey, and their statistics say that print dominates ebook as the format most often read, by quite a bit (67.5% for print, 29.5% for ebook). That surprised me. When you look at subgenres, the only ones that have substantial differences between print and e- are Romantic Suspense (print is favored) and Erotic Romance (e- is favored). The rest are within a couple of percentage points of each other. The report is here.
Basically, lots of romance readers read ebooks, but nearly 9 in 10 read print. Now that’s 2014, and there might be more readers who read self-published today than then. But that was near the crest of the ebook increase, too. I admit, I’m surprised.
@Darlynne: Yes, exactly! I know plenty of people who read, but the people who read a LOT are almost all online friends (one of the reasons I sought out the book blogosphere in the first place).
Also, if I am correct, you are the person who has talked over the years about Linux Mint. Thank you a thousand times. I installed the latest Mint XFCE distro on a couple of old, old netbooks this weekend and they are running beautifully. It is so much easier than the distros I worked with a few years ago, I don’t even have to remember apt-get commands. :)
Thanks for that analysis, Sunita!
I also think the ability to display a physical copy is important for a lot of readers. Looking at a full bookshelf is pleasurable for both occasional and super readers, but whereas occasional readers might be able to proudly display the majority of their collections, many/most super readers are trying to corral their collections down reasonable proportions. For the latter, that’s where ebooks are important, with physical copies being reserved for special books.
@Susan: You’re welcome, and I agree totally about the bookshelf aspect. For occasional readers, books are part of the furniture, but for super-readers they’re constantly in danger of taking over the entire house + garage + shed + whatever else you might have. Ebooks save us from at least some of that.
@hng23: Samuel R. Delaney is also on the list but Martin Delaney is another African-American author of SF who preceded him by about a century!
@Sunita: So glad Linux is working for you. I’m still dismayed at what I don’t know, but am grateful for these friendlier distros, which got me out of XP and into something that runs well on older equipment.