There was considerable excitement at the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival this week where the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA) – the body that runs the emirate’s book fairs and which is busy establishing a free zone for international publishers – launched what it describes as ‘the world’s first virtual reality’ book.
The squeals of excitement from children who tried on the headsets were the best marketing tool the SBA could hope for. Entitled Baba Zayed, in honour of the founder of the UAE Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (who declared 2016 ‘the year of reading’), it is published by Sharjah’s renowned Kalimat house and gives children a 360-degree ‘interaction’ with the life of the UAE’s founder and president. With VR increasingly being hailed as ‘the next thing’, Sharjah has acted quickly and those who have ‘experienced’ the book have been impressed.
Another president visited the UK earlier this week with much talk of special relationships. And in the book business there has been talk of a special relationship too, only this one is between tech companies and content. It’s a relationship in which some people feel one side is taking too much. The issue came to the fore this week following the Supreme Court’s decision not to uphold the appeal by the Authors Guild in the US in its battle with Google. The Supreme Court backed the ruling by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals that Google’s scanning and indexing of out-of-print books from libraries was fair use under copyright law. The industry is now pondering the implications.
Those opposed to any meddling with copyright point to the Canadian experience. In 2012, education was added to the list of exceptions that allow the use of material without seeking permission from, or paying, the copyright owner. Before 2012, educational institutions in Canada paid royalties to creators and publishers for copying content either directly, or through a collecting society called Access Copyright. The latter now estimates that $50m a year in royalty payments to content producers has been lost as a result of this change.
This is an issue that is sure to see more skirmishes ahead as the European Commission presses ahead with its plans to modernise copyright for the digital age. Hachette Chairman and CEO Arnaud Nourry has described Google as a “clear and present danger” to the publishing industry in this new world. “What’s to stop them from defining themselves as a library and making all those [scanned] books available for free?” he said at the International Publishers Association Congress earlier this month.
India’s Juggernaut Books – billed by some as a Netflix for ebooks – has just launched on Android, with IoS about to follow. Nielsen estimates India’s domestic book market to be the sixth largest in the world, worth around £2.5bn. Juggernaut’s-founder Chiki Sarkar, former Penguin Random House India editor-in-chief, is hoping to lure some of this revenue its way with an initial list of 100 cheaply priced titles, adapted for reading on smart phones, with a particular focus on short reads and serialised stories. It also has plans to build a community of readers and writers – back to those ‘special relationships’ again – letting users ask writers questions and eventually allowing writers to publish their ebooks with a possibility of a contract if they get enough downloads. “Amazon has everything, but it’s not a phone experience and it’s not social,” Sarkar said. “It doesn’t allow readers to talk to writers. Its design isn’t conducive to browsing, to enjoying jackets, and it’s not a publisher,” – though some may dispute the latter assertion.
Finally, two US anniversaries to note. The Hachette Book Group is ten and Henry Holt is a magnificent 150. Among the latter’s roster of authors during its long history is Robert Frost, who read at President Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961 and whose famous The Road Not Taken provides the name for Hachette UK’s imprint Two Roads. Many happy returns to them both (though not of that variety, obviously).
Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.