Between The Covers: 20/02/2011

Your weekly guide to what's really going on inside the world of books

Ever wondered what it feels like to be a best-selling, international, literary superstar? Well, it's a lot like being a dead moose, according to Margaret Atwood.

That's when it's not like being an anchovy. Speaking at the Tools for Change for Publishing conference in New York last week, Atwood warned publishers that although digital innovations in ebook publishing are on the whole a good thing (she owns two ereaders and reads ebooks on planes and in hotel rooms), they must not be used as an excuse not to pay authors properly. Comparing an author to a dead moose, which feeds an ecosystem of more than three dozen animals, she advised: "Never eliminate your primary source." She added that, like anchovies, authors are small in size but large in number and "on the point of revolting". She's right – you should see what a mess a few dozen slightly elderly novelists can make of a nice pizza.

***

Authorial opinions are divided about World Book Night – between those who are thrilled by free books and those who would rather people not get the idea that literature can be had for nothing. Launched by the Canongate publisher Jamie Byng, World Book Night on Saturday 5 March will see bookshops and libraries around the country stay open late as one million books are given away free by 20,000 members of the public. Some commentators fear that the market will be flooded and book sales will drop, while others hope that anyone in a bookshop to pick up a free book will hang around and buy another. Fortunately for the event's good image, Atwood herself is on board. "The love of writing, the love of reading – these are huge gifts," she says. "To be able to give someone else a book you treasure widens the gift circle. I was thrilled to be asked to support World Book Night, and doubly thrilled that The Blind Assassin was chosen to help launch it. Long may its voyage be!"

***

Atwood is right about one thing: ebook technology is a mixed blessing. Last week, two new advances in the market were announced: the first an innovative and thoughtful addition to the old-fashioned "codex" book; the other ... well. The good news is that judges have just been announced for The Book Drum Tournament 2011. Writers Naomi Alderman, B R Collins and S J Parris (the pseudonym of Stephanie Merritt) will award a total prize pot of over £2,000 to the best "profiles" of existing books created by members of the public on the Wiki-style site between now and 30 April. A profile consists of a summary and review (of any published book), an author biography, a glossary of difficult, historical or foreign words, and a "setting" category of maps and historical context – all beautifully illustrated, with bookmarks. Enter at www.bookdrum.com/tournament.html. The other idea is called the "byook", for iphone. "Using codes and rules defined by movies, this ebook is enriched with pictures, animations and sounds that strengthen the reader's immersion", apparently. This means that when you read the Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Speckled Band", you can: "Be startled as the victim's scream resonate [sic] ... Shudder as the blood spread out [sic] on your pages ... Shiver as the rain falls into the palm of your hand." Or, you could just read a real book and use your imagination.

***

On the plus side, though, hats off to the geeks who have devised a way for Kindle users to lend ebooks to each other. It's called "Lendle", apparently. That's more like it.

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