'How Dead Is the Book Business?'; Bring Out Your Best Books Lists

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Today in books: Publishing is sort of kind of dead?; the best books of 2012 are already being crowned; Amazon somehow forgot to pay European taxes; Herman Wouk is still at it.

Publishing hovers between life and death. "How Dead Is the Book Business?" reads the querying headline on Adam Davidson's New York Times Magazine article about the health of today's publishing industry. Which makes us wonder whether death is a matter of degree. Aren't you either dead or not dead (i.e. alive)? Can an organism be, say, 36 percent dead? Anyways, the answer to this specific question is obviously "not dead" (last we checked books are still being bought and sold with legal tender). But Davidson points to many causes for concern, such as the consolidation brought on by Penguin Random House's merger, Amazon's continuing dominance, and uphill struggles to adapt to an increasingly digital future. He predicts that if publishing has any life left, it won't be turning into a monolithic industry dominated by a small number of major plays, but nor will it become a fragmented free-for-all. "Eventually, it’s likely that book publishing will embody both conflicting visions of digital-age commerce," Davidson argues, "lots of small businesses and a few massive ones that handle big-ticket items." [The New York Times Magazine]

Amazon just plumb forgot to pay taxes in Europe. U.K. tax investigators are currently looking into Amazon's books, and aren't happy about what they're finding. Ever since the online retail giant transferred its U.K.-based operations to its Luxembourg outpost in 2006, it has used loopholes to skirt paying U.K. taxes, according to an investigation by The Bookseller's Ian Griffiths. "With such a complex structure it is not surprising that Amazon (and this is according to its own SEC filings) has been under investigation by tax authorities in Germany, France and even Luxembourg as well as the UK," he notes. Indeed, Reuters reported yesterday that France is demanding Amazon pay $252 million in back taxes. [The Bookseller]

Recommended Reading

Speaking of Amazon... Their editorial team has released its year-end list of best books, placing Louise Erdich's The Round House at No. 1. Kevin Powers' The Yellow Birds is at No. 2, Ben Fountain's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk pops up at No. 5, Dave Eggar's A Hologram for the King comes in at No. 7, and Junot Diaz's This Is How You Lose Her doesn't show up until the 19th spot. Could this be a sign of how the fiction category will be decided at Wednesday's National Book Awards ceremony? [Amazon]

Kansas gets tough on e-book lending. The Kansas State Library system isn't tiptoeing around the issue. Publishers aren't letting their patrons get ahold of popular e-book titles, so they've launched a social media campaign to raise awareness about the withholding. And they're not afraid to name names. Check out their Facebook page and the first thing you'll see is a cover photo calling out the Big Six. [The Kansas City Star]

God bless Herman Wouk. The 97-year-old novelist of such books as The Caine Mutiny has been around long enough to have met Simon and Schuster ("they were as different as chalk and cheese," he recalls). Yet his interests aren't trapped in amber, and he's still tackling modern life in his fiction. His latest offering, The Lawgiver, incorporates texts, e-mails, transcripts from Skype sessions into the narrative. When asked if he plans to keeping writing, Wouk says, "What am I going to do? Sit around and wait a year? ... Sometimes, when I’m down, I feel like I’ve shot my bolt. But it passes, and I go back to the computer." You listening, Philip Roth?  [The New York Times]

This charming book. Morrissey lyrics just seem to belong on Penguin paperbacks. [Buzzfeed]

Do John Fogerty's words belong on (or in) books, though? Little, Brown think so. They've given the former Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman a memoir deal. [USA Today]

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.