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Today in publishing in literature: Kurt Vonnegut's son says that his dad may have been a grouch, but didn't own stock in Dow Chemical, the Department of Justice confirms an investigation into e-book price-fixing, and the tricky business of picking a pen name.

  • Kurt Vonnegut's son Mark is not happy with author Charles Shields for depicting his dad as a grouchy, fame-obsessed, Dow Chemical stockholder in his new, not-so-admiring biography And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life. In an email to io9, the younger Vonnegut pushed back against Shields' claim that the peacenik author invested money in Dow Chemical, which manufactured napalm during the war in Vietnam, saying his dad had "next to no interest in investments or expensive things and never bought Dow stock." (In a follow-up interview with The Boston Globe Wednesday evening, Mark Vonnegut would call the Dow Chemical claim "pure [expletive].") Even though the son says he hasn't read the biography, he doesn't dispute Shield's depiction of his father as a tough man to live with, though he says that's attributable to his dad's combat experiences during World War II. "Not a perfect man or father," he tells i09, "and I'll grant you two failed marriages." [io9 via The Guardian]
  • Sharis Pozen, the acting antitrust chief for the Justice Department, said at a congressional hearing yesterday that the DOJ, "along with the European Commission and the states attorney generals" is investigating claims that Apple and five digital publishers --  HarperCollins, Penguin, Hachette Livre, Simon & Schuster and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck, according to the Daily Mail -- conspired to keep the price of e-books high on the iPad". The issue is with Apple's use of the "agency pricing" model for titles, whereby publishers "suggest" a price for a title, rather than the "wholesale" pricing model where retailers set what they think is a fair price. Explains PaidContent's Jeff Roberts: "Publishers watched in horror as Amazon decided to build up its market share in e-books by selling prized titles for less than $10. Amazon sometimes sold at a loss. This set a low floor for e-book prices and also threatened the sale of more expensive hard cover books. The agency model lets publishers set higher prices and ensure customers don’t become used to cheap e-books." As a result, the price of most new e-books has jumped --we paid $14.99 for Stephen King's 11/22/63 yesterday. It used to be against the law for companies to tell merchants how much to charge for their products (hence the phrase 'suggested retail price'), but the Supreme Court ruled back in 2007 that a leather goods company called Leegin could control its prices, so the companies may have a legal leg to stand on, at least in the United States. "As for Europe," writes Roberts, "all bets are off given the continent’s tougher regulatory standards and zeal for punishing US companies." [paidContent]
  • Just as thriller writer Alison Potter was about to sell her first book to a publisher at Hodder, they said they needed to talk her about something. "Don't take this the wrong way," she recalls the publisher saying, "but it's your name. It's just not right. We need to change it. Your first name and your surname, I'm afraid." That began her search for a pen name, which is much more difficult than you would think. After convincing to let her keep 'Ali' as her first name, she pitched 'Stone' as a last name, since her partner's name is Upstone. "Too heavy," the publisher replied. Her agent pitched Rock, but that was also nixed for being "too Outer Hebrides." They eventually settled on Knight, not for any sentimental reason, but because it gives her a "good position on shelves," in the same neighborhood as Stephen King and Stieg Larsson. [The Guardian]
  • Maybe it's the visual component, or general unreliability of 'Customers like you also bought' algorithms, but we've been taken lately by flowcharts showing us which books or movies we should be checking out. Galleycat brings our attention to a new one Reddit user happinessinmiles created for horror novels that manages to be both visually intoxicating and spot-on. [GalleyCat]

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