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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...

Amazon doesn’t know it’s supposed to fail
March 29, 2014 | 9:00 am

I happened upon a Bookseller piece by Agent Orange (who I’ve mentioned before) noting that UK publishers have been making a lot of noise about the putative foolishness of Amazon’s plans. It’s funny how they seem to keep doing that, and Amazon never seems to pay any attention, isn’t it? Agent Orange notes: It is depressing how often we have been here before. Publishers pour scorn and disregard on Amazon. Amazon presses on with its plans regardless (announcing it is massively expanding in the UK this coming year) and a year or two later publishers discover...

Genre lines: Why literary writers won’t self-publish
March 29, 2014 | 5:58 am

jetpackI just happened to sit down and read the Robert McCrum article on struggling literary fiction authors that Paul covered earlier this month. It was interesting enough, and I’m don’t think I have substantively anything more to say about the content of the article itself than Paul did. But I was intrigued by a couple of the comments. Paul Bowes suggests that the reason literary writers can’t or don’t want to self-publish is a genre thing. Guardian Books, and the literary world generally, have a tendency to conflate 'writing' with literary fiction: or at least, with literary fiction and the kind of...

UK Inspector of Prisons condemns political interference in book ban policy
March 28, 2014 | 12:25 pm

inspector of prisonsThe storm of criticism that greeted the UK Government's new policy of stopping anyone sending books to prisoners has gone beyond writers and left-wing politicians to professionals in the prisons system. Now, in an interview with The Independent, the UK Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, has condemned the ban as "not sensible,” with individual prison governors best placed to decide what prisoners should and shouldn't receive. "The problem in this case… is trying to micro-manage this from the centre, with the centre describing very detailed lists of what prisoners can and can't have,” he said in The Independent. “I think...

UK pursues nasty foreign words, cuts translation, foreign papers
March 24, 2014 | 2:25 pm

translation[caption id="attachment_110301" align="alignright" width="124"] New monument to UK multiculturalism.[/caption] As part of the UK government's war on all things non-British, including funny foreign lingos, Eastern European plumbers, Mudbloods, and other undesirables, the London borough of Newham, under mayor Sir Robin Wales, has instituted a policy of cutting funding for translation services within his borough (by over 72 percent), while also removing non-English newspapers and periodicals from Newham libraries.  All in a borough where the white Anglo-Saxon resident population stands at just 16.7 percent. This precedes a much-trumpeted initiative by UK Prime Minister David Cameron to "speak English or lose benefits." "We have...

UK government fosters crime, bans books for prisons
March 24, 2014 | 10:25 am

books in prisons[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="376"] Grayling says: Go to jail. Learn nothing. Come out. Commit crime. Go to jail. Repeat cycle.[/caption] It pays to be nasty. At least, so Britain's current government appears to have calculated, by deciding that there's electoral dividends in barring prisoners from receiving books sent by relatives or others. The rules imposed by UK justice secretary Chris Grayling have not exactly passed unchallenged. "This is part of an increasingly irrational punishment regime orchestrated by Chris Grayling that grabs headlines but restricts education or rehabilitation," asserts Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, the UK's longest-established...

Nielsen Books & Consumers survey shows UK ebook sales up 20 percent in 2013
March 21, 2014 | 4:38 pm

Research firm Nielsen has just released its Books & Consumers survey for the UK book market in 2013, and the data shows ebooks forging ahead against a marginal decline in overall purchases in Britain last year. According to the survey precis, last year saw "a 20% increase in e-book purchasing, with UK consumers buying an estimated 80 million e-books in 2013, with spending on this format reaching £300 million [$495 million] ... E-books accounted for one in four consumer book purchases in 2013, up from one in five in 2012, with their share of spending rising to 14%. In Adult...

Enders Analysis report reaches questionable conclusions on UK ebook growth
March 19, 2014 | 4:10 pm

A research report "Creative UK: Overview of the digital transformation of the UK creative economy," co-produced by Enders Analysis and Bain & Company, has concluded, in terms that The Bookseller has chosen to highlight, that "in volume terms, we expect e-books to become about 35% of the total market in the next two years, and then continue to rise only very slowly." Unless I'm not reading this report in enough detail, I'm not clear what data this conclusion is based on. The tone of the entire report is very anecdotal, rather than detail-driven, and there's no clear indication whether, for...

Britain’s World Book Day sees events, promotions UK-wide
March 6, 2014 | 10:25 am

The UK's World Book Day, March 6th this year, has seen promotions, participations by organizations, related articles including travel tips, and events across Britain. According to the World Book Day site, the event is "the biggest celebration of its kind, designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, and marked in over 100 countries all over the world." World Book Day is generally celebrated worldwide on April 23rd; however, in the UK, it takes place on March 6th The key offering marking the event in the UK is the World Book Day £1 Book Tokens offer courtesy of...