Saturday, May 24, 2008

Do They Think I Don't Know They're There?

A long, probably somewhat boring post could be made about the complex and ever-changing relationship of the two major English publishing countries, America and Britain. I wouldn't be particularly qualified to write it, so you don't have to read that post.

I will say this: Publishing has been frustratingly slow on the draw about the internet, but then again so have most other entertainment mediums that pre-date it (music, television, movies, etc). They don't know what people are doing on it; they are kind of afraid to look because there's so much horse porn (I hate visiting bitorrent tracker sites). There seemed to be a genuine "Holy shit!" when nearly doubled its share in the pie chart of book sales, despite its low prices, deals, enticements with other products, and fast shipping. Last year at this time someone was telling me at the publishing institute that internet sales still weren't relevant.

As the world goes global (if that makes any sense - try not to think about it too hard), so do we. Young people aren't just getting their news on the internet, they're getting it from more than one place. My favorite page to visit after Yahoo! mail is Google News, which compiles news based on my keywords (I added sections for Tibet, Israel, and my area code) from nearly every English-speaking online news source in the world. I don't just read the New York Times - I read the Times (UK), The Sunday Times (Sri Lanka), Daily Times (Pakistan), The Times of India, The Epoch Times Ireland, and the Hindustani Times. And that's just papers with the word "times" in it. There's also Xinhua, the CCP's official news service, which is an interesting read side-by-side with Western papers on the same events.

Anyway, my long-sought-after point is that I often stumble upon book reviews for books published in the UK, not the US. When Knopf published Pico Iyer's The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama this month, and Bloomsbury did the same in England (with a better cover), the reviews in the UK papers ran side-by-side with another book, Alexander Norman's Holder of the White Lotus: The Lives of the Dalai Lama. For some reason, this book is not available in America and nobody seems to have any plans to make it available anytime in the next 6 months to a year, so I had to buy it through The book was not cheap - I had to wait for it to be a used copy to even be reasonable - with the exchange rate, but it was apparent that it was the only way I was going to get the book.

This isn't the first time I've resorted to (which for some reason will not honor my Amazon gift card) to get a book that I wouldn't have known about if various internet articles hadn't led me to it. I'm not saying that this is the end of a distinction between British and American publishing as we know it, because it's not, but it's one of those posts that maybe I'll look back on someday and say "I called it" in some fashion.

I like calling things.


Elissa M said...

My husband is always annoyed at how hard it is to get British authors in the US. He's been stationed in Europe several times and often made trips to England just to buy books. We probably buy more than three quarters of our books online now.
Try these sites for British books:
They may not be any better or cheaper than Amazon, but they're worth a look.

Elissa M said...

Hmm. Can't seem to get waterstones any more, but whsmith still comes up.

Anonymous said...

Books that are published in Britain but not in the USA are often (though by no means always -- it depends on many variables, I expect) available in Canada. If you can't find something on it might be worth checking or (the online version of Canada's monolithic bookstore, Indigo).

Doubtful Muse said...

You might try

They have free shipping, worldwide.

Katherine Hajer said...

Interesting (and disheartening) post.

I'm on a "reader's editorial board" for a major local newspaper. We fill out on-line (on-line!) surveys about different editions of the paper once every few weeks. They always ask about the print edition ("did you notice the ad on page 3 of the B section?") and they always ask if we read their local competition. I've been telling them for over a year that, like you, I read papers from several different countries, and all on-line. It's hard to believe that so many intelligent people in so many related industries are just not getting it.

Maria said...

What Doubtful Muse said:

Popular site for getting books from other countries.

WordVixen said...

Sometimes, you can catch a deal at Powell's. I bought the first three Hal Spacejock books via Powell's website, and they're normally only sold in Australia.