This is the eighth part of a presentation I gave to the German Book Office directors a couple weeks ago. Earlier sections of the speech can be found here. There are still a number of parts left to post, but these should all be up before the end of the month.
The most frightening news of recent times involves the Borders chain. In March, Borders put itself up for sale and had to borrow $42.5 million Pershing Square Capital Management. Borders couldn’t find a buyer, and as a result, had to issue warrants to its largest shareholder, giving Pershing Square even more control of the company. And if that wasn’t bad enough, along comes the financial collapse, and Borders Group Stock falls from $7.80 to $2.44.
A couple weeks ago, Borders issued a memo to Independent Publishers Group, stating that Borders would “not be paying [IPG] for two months due to anticipated excessive returns.” Borders claims to have cash on hand and access to credit, but this is a very frightening message for the entire book world, sending a message about Borders long-term stability. And of course, the independent presses are the first to have to deal with this non-payment . . .
If Borders were to go bankrupt—and this is still an if—it would be one of the greatest catastrophes to hit the publishing world in decades. Even after liquidating as much stock as possible, publishers would receive massive returns, millions of dollars would be lost, and going forward, publishers would have 1,100 fewer stores to sell to.
Even worse, without a Borders store next door, a lot of B&N outlets would become superfluous. B&N could easily close down a number of stores to improve their financial standing, reducing sales outlets even further.
A lot will depend on the upcoming holiday sales season, about which there have been mixed predictions. To some, books are the perfect gift. Lasting, thoughtful, and most important in our economic crisis, relatively cheap. Random House recently launched a campaign to promote just this idea. Books=Gifts started last week and in the near future the New Yorker will do an e-mail blast to 25 million newsletter recipients pushing this message.
Meanwhile, Motoko Rich of the New York Times wrote an article for the November 11th paper about the market’s nervousness. Barnes & Noble chairman Len Riggio already sent a memo predicting a horrible shopping season, and HarperCollins just reported that first-quarter operating income plummeted from $36 million last year to $3 million in 2008. And a lot of people are expecting a serious downturn in January, regardless of what happens in the next six weeks. Bookstores are already cutting orders, and presses are trimming print runs.
Borders closing and a downturn in sales adds up to a doomsday scenario in which commercial houses are buried in inventory and bad debt, and have to cut costs severely (including personnel) to try and rebuild. A lot of independent presses could just go away overnight. And Barnes & Noble and Amazon would have a lot of power over publishing houses, allowing them to essentially set whatever terms of sale they desire.
Pascal Quignard’s __The Hatred of Music_ is the densest, most arcane, most complex book I’ve read in ages. It’s also a book that covers a topic so basic, so universal—almost primordial—that just about any reader will be perversely thrilled by. . .
In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Flaubert attempted to highlight the ordinary, tired, and often crass nature of common expressions by italicising them within the text. When Charles, Emma Bovary’s mediocre husband, expresses himself in a manner akin to that of. . .
Eliot Weinberger takes big strides across literary history in his genuinely breathtaking short work, 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, tracking translations of a short ancient Chinese poem from the publication of Ezra Pound’s Cathay in 1915 to Gary. . .
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .