One Direction, Lena Dunham, Bill O’Reilly and others that made big book news in 2014

From One Direction to Lena Dunham, a round-up of the biggest book news of 2014.
Stephen Colbert used his television show to express his displeasure with Amazon. Comedy Central / AP Photo
Stephen Colbert used his television show to express his displeasure with Amazon. Comedy Central / AP Photo

The big dispute

A battle over e-book revenues between Amazon and Hachette Book Group led to the online seller removing the “buy” buttons, cutting discounts and reducing orders for books ranging from The Silkworm, J K Rowling’s second detective thriller published under the name Robert Galbraith, to J D Salinger’s Nine Stories.

The battle over who controls the prices of books lasted for months. Hachette author Stephen Colbert flipped the bird to Amazon, right on camera. Amazon suggested that frustrated customers might try buying books elsewhere.

You could call the resolution happy and open-ended. The two sides agreed to a multi-year deal last month and Hachette books were back in time for the holiday season. Amazon and Hachette declared that they were satisfied with the deal.

But it’s hard to say what has changed. Douglas Preston, a Hachette author who became a leading Amazon critic, expressed a common view among writers when he said recently that the standoff demonstrated that the online retailer was “ruthless and willing to sanction books and hurt authors”.

Amazon’s image may have suffered, but it still controls about 40 per cent of the market, according to estimates by major New York publishers, and still has a hold on those who say they fear its influence.

James Patterson, a Hachette author who has donated more than US$1 million (Dh3.67m) to independent sellers, worries that Amazon might put them out of business. He said that he likes to shop at the Classic Bookshop near his home in Palm Beach, Florida. “And I do a little bit [of shopping] online,” he admitted. On Amazon? “I do a little bit online,” he repeated, then said of Amazon: “I do understand where they’re coming from.”

Yesterday’s news

Many of this year’s big sellers in fiction were not actually published in 2014. These include Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Goldfinch (2013) – a Hachette release so in demand that even Amazon left it alone and a handful of novels helped by movie adaptations: Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (2012), John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (2012) and Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken (2010).

Of the ones that came out this year, Phil Klay’s book of contemporary war stories, Redeployment, won the National Book Award, but the people’s choice of top literary hardcover of 2014 would likely go to a novel about the Second World War, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, which has sold more than 180,000 copies, according to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 80 per cent of sales.

Rock-star writers

Readers have been treating young-adult writers like rock stars, which is better than how they’ve been treating rock stars – at least those of a certain age.

At 48,000 copies, One Direction: Who We Are: Our Official Autobiography proved more popular than the combined Nielsen sales for books by Carlos Santana, Joe Perry and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Diversity

BookCon, a self-styled “pop culture” version of BookExpo America, was launched this year and immediately stumbled by only inviting white authors to speak. In response, a social media campaign was born, and a grassroots movement, We Need Diverse Books, soon followed.

One of the advisers to WNDB is Jacqueline Woodson, who won the National Book Award for her young-adult book Brown Girl Dreaming. She also, quite unintentionally, helped raise a substantial amount of money for the organisation. After she won her prize, the awards emcee Daniel Handler, also known as the author Lemony Snicket, made an awkward joke about watermelon that even Handler later acknowledged was racist. He apologised and eventually donated $110,000 to WNDB. Woodson, who has been publishing books for nearly 25 years, sees the industry alternating between cycles of recognition and neglect.

Now, she believes, recognition is under way, citing Jason Reynolds and Aisha Saeed as among the promising young-adult writers. Meanwhile, Woodson wants to get around to an adult book she’s been meaning to write. “My plan for January is to get quiet again, and write.”

Getting personal (and political)

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham, the creator and star of the HBO drama Girls, is only the start of the story. It was a good year for personal essays, including those that are more than personal, with acclaimed collections from Roxane Gay, Charles D’Ambrosio and Meghan Daum among others.

Leslie Jamison, the author of the best-selling The Empathy Exams: Essays, wrote in a recent email that “readers are becoming increasingly drawn to forms of personal writing that also look outward at the world: that blend the revelations of memoir with the inquiries of journalism and criticism.”

The facts

With nonfiction still essentially a print market and with bookshop space far smaller than a decade ago, it’s hard these days to be a historian – unless you’re Bill O’Reilly.

The Fox News host’s book recounting a famous death, Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General, has sold more than 700,000 copies, according to Nielsen.

That’s far more than the combined Nielsen sales for the most recent books (both published before 2014) by two of the world’s most famous historians: Robert Caro’s The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, and Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism.

O’Reilly’s book, co-written by Martin Dugard, also easily surpassed the combined sales of two of the biggest political books of this year: Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Hard Choices, and George W Bush’s biography of his father, the former president, 41.

The cloud

Trip Adler is the chief executive of Scribd, a leading e-book subscription service, which is an emerging part of the digital market. Adler believes e-books are the future, but admits that he is surprised print is holding up so well.

Asked why he thinks print has endured, he pauses before saying: “I don’t know. I can brainstorm a bunch of reasons. Book technology has kind of lagged behind video and music. Even subscription services came to books last. Why weren’t the book services first? I can’t say why.”

For himself, Adler likes e-books and relies on Scribd for suggestions.

“I open the Scribd app and whatever books are recommended to me I read,” he says. “I have not read a print book in a long time. I’m kind of the Silicon Valley type.”

Published: December 24, 2014 04:00 AM

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