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Cameron refuses protester meeting, backs prison books delivery ban
August 12, 2014 | 10:25 am

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has thrown his weight behind the widely criticized policy introduced by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling of banning book deliveries to prisoners. After refusing to meet a delegation of writers and intellectuals at No.10 Downing Street, Cameron has replied to the protest letter they delivered, pointing out that "the Government has not banned prisoners' access to books" - something that no one accused the government of doing in the first place. In his note, here courtesy of The Guardian, Cameron points out that "there is statutory library provision for every prison", and that "should a prisoner wish...

Do UK writers have a right to protest Scottish independence?
August 8, 2014 | 6:25 pm

The Bookseller is devoting headline space to the contribution by UK authors - most of them neither Scottish nor resident in Scotland - to an open letter signed by "over 200 great names" on behalf of the Let's Stay Together campaign, which aims to give "a voice to everyone who doesn't have a vote in the decision to break up Britain," in the runup to the historic referendum on Scottish independence in September. British historian and author Tom Holland, who has also written an extensive piece in the New Statesman on the issue, is organizing the letter campaign in partnership...

Campaigners wave, mail Dostoyevsky to Grayling in UK prison books protest
July 31, 2014 | 12:25 pm

GraylingThe current UK government's thuggish vote-catching populist policy of denying prisoners books seems to be backfiring on multiple levels as the Howard League for Penal Reform, and other groups and individuals, make their own bids for media attention. In one recent incident, recorded on live TV, "supporters of the Howard League for Penal Reform’s Books For Prisoners campaign ... held up books and bore silent witness while Justice Secretary Chris Grayling faced questions from the justice select committee. Campaigners displayed copies of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime And Punishment while sitting in the public gallery." Dostoyevsky’s Crime And Punishment seems to have become...

Google uses transfer pricing to avoid paying European taxes
July 27, 2014 | 9:25 am

One of the most commonly-heard complaints about Amazon, at least in Europe, is that it sells e-books from a division based in Luxembourg so that it can charge a much lower VAT (Value-Added Tax, the European equivalent of sales tax) rate on its e-books than UK law allows. The unspoken implication is that everyone else must surely pay all the taxes they owe like good little corporate boys and girls. But Ars Technica reports that Google uses a practice called “transfer pricing” to assign most of its European revenues to an offshore subsidiary in Bermuda and avoid paying taxes...

Is Philip Jones really standing up for the book?
July 7, 2014 | 2:28 pm

In the context of Joanna Cabot's recent post asking "Would Anyone Care About the Amazon/Hachette Dispute If it Wasn’t About Books?", it's worth picking up the editorial "Disinterested? Moi?" by Philip Jones, editor of The Bookseller, about the primacy of the book. "It is the books that should do the talking, not the publisher," he declares. "Publishers may make books, but it is the books that maketh the business." Few actual authors would disagree with that. Jones follows with the creed he came into the job with: "my job was to support the book. We could be rude about publishers, booksellers,...

Books are as essential as bread. Ask the English poor.
June 27, 2014 | 2:28 pm

In these enlightened times that have brought us that wonder of 21st-century social engineering, the foodbank, it's gratifying to report that, without any conspicuous aid from the current British government, UK charities are ministering to poorer citizens' cultural and intellectual as well as culinary needs. British literacy charity Booktrust has teamed up with the Trussell Trust Foodbank network to distribute books through their network - in this case, children's picture title Super Duck by Jez Alborough. "Books and toys are low down on priorities for families," said Project Leader of West Norwood and Brixton Foodbank, Elizabeth Maytom. "Money will be spent on...

Amazon wants co-op payments, and also concessions in the UK
June 24, 2014 | 4:02 am

So, thanks to a leak, we’ve finally found out what the Amazon/Hachette spat is over. The New York Times reported a couple of days ago that an anonymous source within Hachette says that Amazon wants to extract extra fees for a number of services, including the pre-order button, placement in personalized recommendations, and so on. It looks kind of skeevy at first glance, but it’s really the same kind of “co-op” promotional payment Barnes & Noble extracts for prominent placement of books in its stores. You know how you sometimes see displays dedicated to a single book. or...

Redesigning the small bookstore
June 2, 2014 | 3:35 pm

books1What would the bookstore of the future look like? The Economist’s Intelligent Life magazine asked four Commonwealth architecture firms to come up with their futuristic vision for a small High Street bookshop with two floors of 1,000 square feet each, and a limited budget of £100,000 (about $168,000) to make all the improvements. The visions they came up with are certainly interesting. They differ in details, but they all agree that it’s not just a matter of moving furniture around to make it look nice. They need to redefine the bookstore’s business model, and then design a space to...

UK language learning hits rock bottom
April 21, 2014 | 12:25 pm

With the UK just a few miles away from la belle patrie in places, you'd think that second language acquisition would be a matter of course. A whole second literature, with the heritage of Proust and Baudelaire and a host of other luminaries, let alone the great wine and cuisine, right there on your doorstep, just waiting for you. Should be a no-brainer, right? Well, according to one highly disgruntled language teacher in England writing on Cafe Babel, it's more a matter of no brains. As much among those setting the curricula and overseeing language learning as among the students. And...

British printers struggle to cope with shift toward digital media
April 15, 2014 | 5:46 pm

printingpressMy friend Michael Brotzman pointed out this story to me from the New York Times, about how the printing industry in Britain is coping with the decreased demand for its services. Even as high technology leads to printers that can print bigger runs, faster, more efficiently, and with fewer operators, demand is dwindling and so are employees. The British printing industry is down from an estimated 200,000 workers in 2001 to fewer than 125,000 now. And for the jobs that are left, the UK is more and more often having to compete with lower labor costs of printers in continental...

Shakespeare debate moves UK identity politics up a notch
April 12, 2014 | 12:25 pm

shakespeare.jpgAnyone not just arrived from Mars is probably aware that Scotland is due to vote later this year in a referendum on whether to stay within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or resume its existence as an independent country. The UK's Conservative Party, meanwhile, under pressure from the UK Independence Party, has proposed a referendum on whether the UK will remain within the European Union, which might lead to "Brexit" - though depending on the Scottish referendum outcome, that could end up as "Engxit." Naturally, the issue of national - or trans-national - identity, and what...

Sajid Javid appointment two cheers for UK culture?
April 11, 2014 | 10:25 am

Sajid_SittingThe exit of Maria Miller, former UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, over inflated expenses claims, and her replacement by Sajiv Javid, who becomes the first "the first Asian male Conservative cabinet minister," as the BBC put it, could be seen as a positive signal for an embattled sector in British life. But both Miller and Javid's post is immediately junior to that of the widely reviled Ed Vaizey, UK Minister for Culture, who has presided over systematic yet deniable neglect of the UK public libraries, apparently on ideological grounds. Despite Javid's highly politically correct credentials on ethnic...