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ARE THE E-BOOK PUBLISHERS NEGLECTING LITURATURE?
In a recent article in Futurebook, the e-news by Thebookseller, writer, Philip Jones, reported an alarming state of affairs. He wrote that, “Literary fiction [is] languishing behind on the Kindle.”
Jones goes on to observe that,
The discussion [of the future of literature] appears to have come out of a general concern that literary fiction is being left behind in the e-reading gold-rush. Earlier this month Picador editor Francesca Main tweeted: “Just learnt that for literary fiction in the last year, 88% of sales were paperback vs. 5% e-book. Go print!”
The problem with her assessment is that the physical book market is not growing. As last year’s numbers from the Publishers Association Statistics Yearbook showed the bits of the book business that did best (or least worst) last year were those bits where digital filled the gap left by print’s decline.
The best performing category was fiction, but only because with sales of e-book novels up by £54m (to £70m), they almost compensated for the £57m fall in physical fiction sales. So, if literary fiction is not picking up sales in digital format, then it isn’t performing. And that’s not good news for anyone.
Print publishers have long nurtured the image as protectors of “literature.” The image of the scholarly editor, choosing, then honing a writer’s work to the point of perfection, and released to the waiting world, pervades the image-myth. Book publishers have attempted to cloak themselves in intellectual respectability as purveyors and protectors of “Literature.”
However, in another light, print publishers are viewed as the hidebound gatekeepers of the type who refused to publish the works of greats such as James Joyce, and others. Print book publishers are also viewed as woefully behind the technical revolution. They are roundly criticised for failing to come up with a rational articulation fo why e-versions of their books should cost almost as much as a printed version. Increasingly, they are seen as “waiting in the past,” waiting for something that will never return.
Publishing power has been seized by behemoths such as Amazon, and Google which promise the reader fine quality work delivered electronically, in lightning speed. Therefore, it is important to see how “Literature” has failed under these new publishers. Unfortunately, their performance has been dismal. They are no more the new protectors of literature than the old ones.
THE NEW YORK TIMES E-BOOK BEST SELLERS
1 FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
2 FIFTY SHADES DARKER
3 FIFTY SHADES FREED
4 GONE GIRL
5 WICKED BUSINESS
(As to the “Fifty Shades,” books, which are selling in humongous numbers, you can read some of the reader reviews and buy the books on Amazon Kindle.)
Anyway, back to the “literature” category. Jones suggests that “one reason could be that the major e-bookselling sites are not marketing ‘literary’ fiction as such.”
Alison Flood, in an article in the Guardian of April 27, 2012 titled, “Can literary fiction survive the ebook age?” expressed concern because “only 5% of literary fiction sales were electronic.”
WHERE IS THE E-LITURATURE?
An informal, but novel way of determining the present state of e-books and “literature,” is to look at whether e-book versions are available for the last three winners of the Pulitizer Prize, the Prix Goncourt, and the Man Booker Prize, and at what prices?
A search of the Kindle and Google Play sites show the following:
THE PULITIZER PRISE
The Pulitizer Prize for Fiction is awarded “For distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.” (In 1947, The category of the ‘Novel” was re-named “Fiction.”) The site contains a list of past winners.
The winner in 2011 was, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. (No Prize was awarded for 2012.)
A Visit from the Goon Squad can be found on Amazon under “Amazon Literary Fiction.”
The print (“p”) price is $14.95 and the e-book (“e”) The Kindle price is $9.99.
Strangely though, the book is not listed under the Google “Literary Fiction” Category.
The Prix Goncourt, awarded by Académie Goncourt is given to the author of “the best and most imaginative prose work of the year”.
The 2011 Prix was awarded to L’Art français de la guerre (The French Art of War) by Alexis Jenii
One has to go to amazon.fr.
to find it. The prices are e Euro 20, and e kindle $14.99.
The French Art of War does not come up at all on Google Play, Books, Fiction.
THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE
The Man Booker Prize “promotes the finest in fiction by rewarding the very best book of the year.” Its site contains an Archive list of past winners. The 2011 winner was The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.
The book does appear on the Kindle site. The prices are e $11.99, p, $12.99
The Sense of an Ending is also available on Google Play. The price is $11.99.
THE GREAT GATSBY
To bring the test farther down towards earth, lets look at The Great Gatsby. With the imminent release of the re-make of The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, there has been a resurgence of interest in the e-book version. The book has long been popular, and definitely qualifies as “literature.” The Kindle e-book version of is priced at $12.99.
Overall, There is a general neglect of “literature” by the commercial e-book sites, both in locating the books, and their prices There seems to be no rhyme or reason to finding “literature” on Kindle or Google. The prize-winning books, above, in e-book form are available, somewhere, but quite difficult to find. Also, The prices are high compared to the print versions, e $11.99, p $12.99. With e-book fiction sales relatively low, 5%, as compared to overall book sales, it appears that “literature” in e-book form, is an endangered genre in need of protection.