Saturday, April 30, 2011

Author of Memoir About Harper Lee Insists She Had Lee’s Cooperation

By JULIE BOSMAN 04/30/11 New York Times

The writer of a coming book about the ever-private Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” insisted on Friday that she had the cooperation of Ms. Lee, two days after Ms. Lee released a statement through her lawyer, sharply denying it.

Marja Mills, a former reporter for The Chicago Tribune who sold the book to the Penguin Press, said in an e-mail sent by her publisher that “Harper Lee, known as Nelle to many of her friends, and her sister, Alice Lee, were wonderfully generous with their time and insights over the years as I researched my book.”

“Alice Lee signed this statement,” the e-mail continued, “affirming she and her sister, Nelle Harper Lee, cooperated with the project.”

Tracy Locke, vice president and associate publisher at the Penguin Press, also forwarded a letter, dated March 20 and signed by Alice Lee, confirming that she and her sister had participated in, and cooperated with, the project.

The statement did little to clear up the confusion surrounding the book, “The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee.” It was announced on Tuesday as “the story of Mills’s friendship with the two women, recounting all the Lee sisters have to say about their life in Alabama, their upbringing, how ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ impacted their lives, and why Harper Lee chose to never write another novel.” Penguin Press promised that the book was written with “direct access to Harper and Alice Lee.”

Ms. Mills lived next door to the sisters in Monroeville, Ala., for at least one year, her publisher said, and traveled frequently to the town for more than a decade. She wrote a 6,000-word article for The Tribune in 2002 that chronicled Harper Lee’s life in Alabama, with interviews from family members and friends. (Harper Lee had declined to comment for that article.)

One day after Ms. Mills’s book deal was announced, Harper Lee issued a curt response through her lawyer, saying that she had not “willingly participated in any book written or to be written by Marja Mills.”

She continued: “Neither have I authorized such a book. Any claims otherwise are false.”

Ms. Lee, who typically makes no public comments about anything that is written about her, has said nothing publicly since Wednesday, and there was no response to a message left at her lawyer’s office on Friday.

Ms. Locke of Penguin said she could not “speak directly” to Harper Lee’s statement, “as it was not sent to us, and we’re unfamiliar with the circumstances under which it was released.”

“But we do not feel that it trumps the letter we have in our possession,” she said, “which is signed by Alice Lee.” That letter “clearly confirms her and her sister Harper Lee’s support of Marja Mills’s memoir.”

In the 108-page book proposal written by Ms. Mills, she recounts her time living next door to the Lee sisters: “Over coffee at McDonald’s, on long twisting drives through the Alabama countryside, at barbecue dinners with her and her friends and during low-kicking mornings in exercise class, I got a long, slow, steady look at the world’s most famous literary recluse, a woman whose mysterious renunciation of fame perversely brought more of it down on her head than she ever dreamed of, or certainly ever wanted.”

Harper Lee, who has not granted a public interview in 45 years, turned 85 on Thursday. Her sister is 99.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dreaming of a Virtual Library: Authors Guild v. Google

Dreaming of a Virtual Library: Authors Guild v. Google
Published: April 6, 2011

Your March 31 editorial “Google’s Book Deal” correctly points out that the landmark settlement between the company and authors and publishers would have “given new life to millions of half-forgotten titles collecting dust in out-of-the-way libraries.” But your discussion omitted several crucial aspects of the case.

We have a fundamental disagreement with Google: we believe that without first obtaining permission, Google is prohibited from copying books for commercial purposes. That’s why we sued. Judge Denny Chin, who faulted Google for “wholesale, blatant copying” without permission, seems to agree.

The settlement was crafted to bridge the broad divides among the stakeholders in the negotiations — authors, publishers, research libraries and Google. It would have provided financial benefits to authors of out-of-print books and made available a vast virtual library of those books.

Critically, when it came to “orphan works,” it would have collected and escrowed funds for authors (or their successors or estates). And it would have empowered any copyright holder to compel Google to remove or never scan his or her works without having to go to court.

We could have simply refused to recommend settlement and pressed our original demand that Google withdraw all its copyrighted material. Instead, we chose to propose an agreement that would benefit authors, publishers and readers.

The dream of a virtual library of out-of-print books is dead, for now. Perhaps a legislative route may be found instead; we hope that the settlement shows how it can be done.

President, Authors Guild
Chicago, April 4, 2011

A version of this letter appeared in print on April 7, 2011, on page A26 of the New York edition.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

As Library E-Books Live Long, Publisher Sets Expiration Date

As Library E-Books Live Long, Publisher Sets Expiration Date
By JULIE BOSMAN New York Times

Imagine the perfect library book. Its pages don’t tear. Its spine is unbreakable. It can be checked out from home. And it can never get lost.

The value of this magically convenient library book — otherwise known as an e-book — is the subject of a fresh and furious debate in the publishing world. For years, public libraries building their e-book collections have typically done so with the agreement from publishers that once a library buys an e-book, it can lend it out, one reader at a time, an unlimited number of times.

Last week, that agreement was upended by HarperCollins Publishers when it began enforcing new restrictions on its e-books, requiring that books be checked out only 26 times before they expire. Assuming a two-week checkout period, that is long enough for a book to last at least one year.

What could have been a simple, barely noticed change in policy has galvanized librarians across the country, many of whom called the new rule unfair and vowed to boycott e-books from HarperCollins, the publisher of Doris Lessing, Sarah Palin and Joyce Carol Oates.

“People just felt gobsmacked,” said Anne Silvers Lee, the chief of the materials management division of the Free Library of Philadelphia, which has temporarily stopped buying HarperCollins e-books. “We want e-books in our collections, our customers are telling us they want e-books, so I want to be able to get e-books from all the publishers. I also need to do it in a way that is not going to be exorbitantly expensive.”

But some librarians said the change, however unwelcome, had ignited a public conversation about e-books in libraries that was long overdue. While librarians are pushing for more e-books to satisfy demand from patrons, publishers, with an eye to their bottom lines, are reconsidering how much the access to their e-books should be worth.

“People are agitated for very good reasons,” said Roberta Stevens, the president of the American Library Association. “Library budgets are, at best, stagnant. E-book usage has been surging. And the other part of it is that there is grave concern that this model would be used by other publishers.”

Even in the retail marketplace, the question of how much an e-book can cost is far from settled. Publishers resisted the standard $9.99 price that Amazon once set on many e-books, and last spring, several major publishers moved to a model that allows them set their own prices.

This month, Random House, the lone holdout among the six biggest trade publishers, finally joined in switching to the agency model. Now many newly released books are priced from $12.99 to $14.99, while discounted titles are regularly as low as $2.99.

HarperCollins, in its defense, pointed out that its policy for libraries was a decade old, made long before e-books were as popular as they are today. The new policy applies to newly acquired books. “We have serious concerns that our previous e-book policy, selling e-books to libraries in perpetuity, if left unchanged, would undermine the emerging e-book ecosystem, hurt the growing e-book channel, place additional pressure on physical bookstores, and in the end lead to a decrease in book sales and royalties paid to authors,” the company said in a statement.

It is still a surprise to many consumers that e-books are available in libraries at all. Particularly in the last several years, libraries have been expanding their e-book collections, often through OverDrive, a large provider of e-books to public libraries and schools. Nationwide, some 66 percent of public libraries offer free e-books to their patrons, according to the American Library Association.

For many libraries, interest from patrons who want to check out e-books has been skyrocketing. At the New York Public Library, e-book use is 36 percent higher than it was only one year ago. Demand has been especially strong since December, several librarians said, because e-readers were popular holiday gifts.

“As our readership goes online, our materials dollars are going online,” said Christopher Platt, the director of collections and circulating operations for the New York Public Library.

In borrowing terms, e-books have been treated much like print books. They are typically available to one user at a time, often for a seven- or 14-day period. But unlike print books, library users don’t have to show up at the library to pick them up — e-books can be downloaded from home, onto mobile devices, personal computers and e-readers, including Nooks, Sony Readers, laptops and smartphones. (Library e-books cannot be read on Amazon’s Kindle e-reader.) After the designated checkout period, the e-book automatically expires from the borrower’s account.

The ease with which e-books can be borrowed from libraries — potentially turning e-book buyers into e-book borrowers — makes some publishers uncomfortable. Simon & Schuster and Macmillan, two of the largest trade publishers in the United States, do not make their e-books available to libraries at all.

“We are working diligently to try to find terms that satisfy the needs of the libraries and protect the value of our intellectual property,” John Sargent, the chief executive of Macmillan, said in an e-mail. “When we determine those terms, we will sell e-books to libraries. At present we do not.”

And those publishers that do make their e-books available in libraries said that the current pricing agreements might need to be updated.

Random House, for example, has no immediate plans to change the terms of its agreements with libraries, said Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for the publisher, but has not ruled it out in the future.

“Anything we institute ahead we’d really want to talk through with the community and together understand what makes sense for us both,” Mr. Applebaum said. “We’re open to changes in the future which are in reasonable step with the expectations and realities of the overall library communities.”

Publishers are nervous that e-book borrowing in libraries will cannibalize e-book retail sales. They also lose out on revenue realized as libraries replace tattered print books or supplement hardcover editions with paperbacks, a common practice. Sales to libraries can account for 7 to 9 percent of a publisher’s overall revenue, two major publishers said.

But e-books have downsides for libraries, too. Many libraries dispose of their unread books through used-book sales, a source of revenue that unread e-books can’t provide.

The American Library Association has assembled two task forces to study the issue.

Even among the librarians who have stopped buying HarperCollins e-books, many said that there might have to be a compromise.

“I can see their side of it,” said Lisa Sampley, the collection services manager in the Springfield-Greene County Library District in Springfield, Mo. “I’m hoping that if other publishers try to change the model, they think about the libraries and how it will affect us. But I’m sure there is some kind of model that could work for us both.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Book Lovers Fear Dim Future for Notes in the Margins

Book Lovers Fear Dim Future for Notes in the Margins
By DIRK JOHNSON New York Times
CHICAGO — Locked in a climate-controlled vault at the Newberry Library here, a volume titled “The Pen and the Book” can be studied only under the watch of security cameras.

The book, about making a profit in publishing, scarcely qualifies as a literary masterpiece. It is highly valuable, instead, because a reader has scribbled in the margins of its pages.

The scribbler was Mark Twain, who had penciled, among other observations, a one-way argument with the author, Walter Besant, that “nothing could be stupider” than using advertising to sell books as if they were “essential goods” like “salt” or “tobacco.” On another page, Twain made some snide remarks about the big sums being paid to another author of his era, Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science.

Like many readers, Twain was engaging in marginalia, writing comments alongside passages and sometimes giving an author a piece of his mind. It is a rich literary pastime, sometimes regarded as a tool of literary archaeology, but it has an uncertain fate in a digitalized world.

“People will always find a way to annotate electronically,” said G. Thomas Tanselle, a former vice president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and an adjunct professor of English at Columbia University. “But there is the question of how it is going to be preserved. And that is a problem now facing collections libraries.”

These are the sorts of matters pondered by the Caxton Club, a literary group founded in 1895 by 15 Chicago bibliophiles. With the Newberry, it is sponsoring a symposium in March titled “Other People’s Books: Association Copies and the Stories They Tell.”

The symposium will feature a new volume of 52 essays about association copies — books once owned or annotated by the authors — and ruminations about how they enhance the reading experience. The essays touch on works that connect President Lincoln and Alexander Pope; Jane Austen and William Cooper; Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau.

Marginalia was more common in the 1800s. Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a prolific margin writer, as were William Blake and Charles Darwin. In the 20th century it mostly came to be regarded like graffiti: something polite and respectful people did not do.

Paul F. Gehl, a curator at the Newberry, blamed generations of librarians and teachers for “inflicting us with the idea” that writing in books makes them “spoiled or damaged.”

But marginalia never vanished. When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in South Africa in 1977, a copy of Shakespeare was circulated among the inmates. Mandela wrote his name next to the passage from “Julius Caesar” that reads, “Cowards die many times before their deaths.”

Studs Terkel, the oral historian, was known to admonish friends who would read his books but leave them free of markings. He told them that reading a book should not be a passive exercise, but rather a raucous conversation.

Books with markings are increasingly seen these days as more valuable, not just for a celebrity connection but also for what they reveal about the community of people associated with a work, according to Heather Jackson, a professor of English at the University of Toronto.

Professor Jackson, who will speak at the symposium, said examining marginalia reveals a pattern of emotional reactions among everyday readers that might otherwise be missed, even by literary professionals.

“It might be a shepherd writing in the margins about what a book means to him as he’s out tending his flock,” Professor Jackson said. “It might be a schoolgirl telling us how she feels. Or maybe it’s lovers who are exchanging their thoughts about what a book means to them.”

Just about anyone who has paged through a used college textbook has seen marginalia, and often added comments of their own.

Not everyone values marginalia, said Paul Ruxin, a member of the Caxton Club. “If you think about the traditional view that the book is only about the text,” he said, “then this is kind of foolish, I suppose.”

David Spadafora, president of the Newberry, said marginalia enriched a book, as readers infer other meanings, and lends it historical context. “The digital revolution is a good thing for the physical object,” he said. As more people see historical artifacts in electronic form, “the more they’re going to want to encounter the real object.”

The collection at the Newberry includes a bound copy of “The Federalist” once owned by Thomas Jefferson. Besides penciling his initials in the book, Jefferson wrote those of the founding fathers alongside their essays, which had originally been published anonymously.

“It’s pretty interesting to hold a book that Jefferson held,” Mr. Spadafora said. “Besides that, if we know what books were in his library in the years leading to the writing of the Declaration of Independence, it tells us something about what might have inspired his intellect.”

In her markings, Rose Caylor gave us a sense of her husband, the playwright Ben Hecht. In her copy of “A Child of the Century,” which Mr. Hecht wrote, she had drawn an arrow pointing to burns on a page. “Strikes matches on books,” she noted about her husband, who was a smoker.

Some lovers of literature even conjure dreamy notions about those who have left marginalia for them to find. In his poem “Marginalia,” Billy Collins, the former American poet laureate, wrote about how a previous reader had stirred the passions of a boy just beginning high school and reading “The Catcher in the Rye.”

As the poem describes it, he noticed “a few greasy smears in the margin” and a message that was written “in soft pencil — by a beautiful girl, I could tell.” It read, “Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”