March 24, 2023

A Pearl Buck Novel, New After 4 Decades

The manuscript was stumbled upon in a storage unit in Texas and returned to the Buck family in December in exchange for a small fee, said Jane Friedman, the chief executive of Open Road Integrated Media, the publisher.

Buck, the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, is believed to have completed the manuscript for the book, “The Eternal Wonder,” shortly before she died of cancer in 1973, said her son Edgar S. Walsh, who manages her literary estate.

The novel is one of dozens that the prolific Buck completed during her lifetime, a tumultuous eight decades that took her as a young child from her birthplace, Hillsboro, W.Va., to China, where her father worked as a Presbyterian missionary. While in her late 30s, she wrote “The Good Earth,” her second and most famous novel, a compassionate portrait of Chinese farmers that was published in 1931 and became the biggest-selling novel in the United States for two successive years.

After Buck returned to the United States, she continued to write both fiction and nonfiction until the end of her life, churning out material at a pace that prompted the writer John Hersey to remark that she had produced “probably 70 too many” books. (Open Road estimates that she wrote about 100 books, including fiction, nonfiction and commentary.)

Oprah Winfrey revived the Buck canon by choosing “The Good Earth” as one of her book club selections in 2004. Now the publisher of Buck’s digital backlist, Open Road is trying to move her work into wider circulation again. Last year it announced that 13 of Buck’s novels, including “The Good Earth,” “The Promise” and “A House Divided,” would be released as e-books for the first time in an effort to reach an audience beyond print readers.

The recently discovered book was described by the publisher as “the coming-of-age story of Randolph Colfax, an extraordinarily gifted young man whose search for meaning and purpose leads him to New York, England, Paris and on a mission patrolling the DMZ in Korea that will change his life forever — and, ultimately, to love.”

Ms. Friedman, a former chief executive of HarperCollins, founded Open Road in 2009. “All of the themes that were important to Pearl Buck are in this book,” she said. “The main character, the love, the attention to detail of the Chinese artifacts, the relationship this young man has. She writes in a way that is absolutely hypnotic.”

Mr. Walsh said that his mother spent her last four years in Vermont, and when she died, her estate was in disarray.

How two copies of the book, a typed version and a photocopied manuscript in Buck’s handwriting, made it to Texas, he said, remains a mystery to the family.

“After my mother died in Vermont, her personal possessions were not carefully controlled,” he said. “The family didn’t have access. Various things were stolen. Somebody in Vermont ran off with this thing, and it eventually ended up in Texas.”

Peter Conn, a professor of English and education at the University of Pennsylvania who wrote “Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography,” said that of Buck’s contributions, she most notably commanded the imagination of American readers with her descriptions of China.

“Pearl Buck strongly shaped Western and specifically American perceptions of China to an extent that had not been seen in the past,” he said. “She actually can make claim to a unique kind of cultural achievement, which is to prepare Americans for the increasingly tangled relationship we were going to have with China for the next 70 or 80 years.”

Mr. Conn said that Buck’s work began to drop off in quality during the 1940s, and that the books that came afterward were not “consistently as interesting, with a few exceptions.”

The Nobel Prize in Literature, which is awarded for a body of work, cited Buck’s “rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China” and her “biographical masterpieces.” She wrote two biographies of her parents, members of the Southern Presbyterian Mission who were ardently devoted to their work.

Although Mr. Conn has not yet read “The Eternal Wonder,” being released on Oct. 22 in paperback and e-book formats, he said he was intrigued to hear that it was set partly in Korea, where Buck did much of her work.

“There are probably passages of interest,” he said. “She’s an extraordinary woman who led an incomparably fascinating life.”

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E-Book Price War Has Yet to Arrive

Last spring, the Justice Department sued five major publishers and Apple on e-book price-fixing charges. The case was a major victory for Amazon, and afterward there were widespread expectations — fueled by Amazon — that the price of e-books would plunge.

The most extreme outcome went like this: Digital versions of big books selling for $9.99 or less would give Amazon complete domination over the e-book market. As sales zoomed upward, even greater numbers of consumers would abandon physical books. The major publishers and traditional bookstores were contemplating a future that would pass them by.

But doomsday has not arrived, at least not yet. As four of the publishers have entered into settlements with regulators and revised the way they sell e-books, prices have selectively fallen but not as broadly or drastically as anticipated.

The $10 floor that publishers fought so hard to maintain for popular new novels is largely intact. Amazon, for instance, is selling Michael Connelly’s new mystery, “The Black Box,” for $12.74. New best sellers by David Baldacci and James Patterson cost just over $11.

One big reason for the lack of fireworks is that the triumph of e-books over their physical brethren is not happening quite as fast as forecast.

“The e-book market isn’t growing at the caffeinated level it was,” said Michael Norris, a Simba Information analyst who follows the publishing industry. “Even retailers like Amazon have to be wondering, how far can we go — or should we go — to make our prices lower than the other guys if it’s not helping us with market share?”

Adult e-book sales through August were up 34 percent from 2011, an impressive rate of growth if you forget that sales have doubled every year for the last four years. And there have been more recent signs of a market pausing for breath.

Macmillan, the only publisher that has not settled with the Justice Department, said last week as part of a statement from John Sargent, its chief executive, that “our e-book business has been softer of late, particularly for the last few weeks, even as the number of reading devices continues to grow.” His laconic conclusion: “Interesting.”

Mr. Norris said Simba, which regularly surveys e-book buyers, has been noticing what it calls “commitment to content” issues.

“A lot of these e-book consumers aren’t behaving like lab rats at a feeder bar,” the analyst said. “We have found that at any given time about a third of e-book users haven’t bought a single title in the last 12 months. I have a feeling it is the digital equivalent of the ‘overloaded night stand’ effect; someone isn’t going to buy any more books until they make a dent in reading the ones they have already acquired.”

Another, more counterintuitive possibility is that the 2011 demise of Borders, the second-biggest chain, dealt a surprising blow to the e-book industry. Readers could no longer see what they wanted to go home and order. “The print industry has been aiding and assisting the e-book industry since the beginning,” Mr. Norris said.

It is possible that Amazon, which controls about 60 percent of the e-book market, is merely holding back with price cuts for the right moment. The next few weeks are when e-book sales traditionally take a big jump, as all those newly received devices are loaded up with content.

Amazon declined to comment beyond saying, “We have lowered prices for customers from the prices publishers set on a broad assortment of Kindle books.” Barnes Noble declined to comment on its pricing strategy.

The question of the proper price for e-books has shadowed the industry ever since Amazon introduced the Kindle in late 2007 and created the first truly popular portable reading device. Amazon had a natural impulse to build a market and was an aggressive retailer in any case, so it took best sellers that cost $25 in independent bookstores and sold them for $9.99 as e-books. Consumers liked that. E-book adoption soared.

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Bits Blog: Publishers Back African Literacy Effort With E-Books

Courtesy of Jon McCormack and Worldreader

Years ago, David Risher, a former Amazon executive, came up with the unlikely plan of distributing Kindles to children in the developing world to help increase literacy.

Why take a fragile piece of technology that requires charging and Internet connections to places where infrastructure can be sparse, especially when there’s an inexpensive, low-tech alternative in print books?

But Mr. Risher has gradually found acceptance for the nonprofit he founded to take e-books to Africa, Worldreader. Now he’s getting a significant boost from book publishers that could help expand its reach. Simon Schuster, HarperCollins, Egmont UK, Rosetta Books, Hardie Grant Egmont and Ripley Publishing have all agreed to donate e-books to Worldreader, allowing the nonprofit to triple the size of its digital library to more than 900 books.

About 500 of those titles are African textbooks and storybooks, while another 425 originate from publishers in the United States, Britain and elsewhere. All of them are free for the roughly 1,000 children in Ghana and Kenya to whom Worldreader has handed out Kindles. Worldreader says it has distributed more than 200,000 e-books into the hands of children in its program.

In a recent interview, Mr. Risher said he came up with the concept for Worldreader while visiting an orphanage for girls in Ecuador, where the library had fallen into disuse because of a lack of printed books. The few titles that remained in the library were largely the castoffs of backpackers that the children had long since read. “This was one of those moments where I said, ‘This is crazy,’” Mr. Risher said.

Mr. Risher — who retired from Amazon in 2002 and was honored with a permanent tribute on Amazon’s site from the company’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos — called up his old pals at Amazon and eventually persuaded them to donate some Kindles. Worldreader also purchases e-readers itself using donations.

Mr. Risher said keeping the devices charged has not been a serious problem. The Kindles can run for nearly a month on a charge. Many of the students charge their Kindles at school, where power is often available intermittently in the villages where Worldreader has distributed devices. Wireless Internet access is also becoming more common in those areas, Mr. Risher said.

There have been problems with the technology. Mr. Risher said about 40 percent of the first 400 or so e-readers that Worldreader distributed broke, mostly because the students didn’t know how to take care of them properly. To keep the devices safe during class, students often placed their Kindles beneath their legs, which caused screens to crack.

Mr. Risher said the breakage rate for Kindles has dropped sharply since Worldreader stepped up its efforts to educate students about how to care for the devices. Better Kindle cases helped as well.

Mr. Risher said Worldreader expects to distribute 3,500 e-readers by the end of the year, with a goal of reaching 10,000 by the end of 2013. Worldreader is expanding to Rwanda next.

Mary Pope Osborne, author of the best-selling “Magic Tree House” series of children’s books, said one of her first questions for Worldreader after learning about the program was how well its e-readers held up. “I have trouble keeping my own devices alive,” Ms. Osborne said.

But Ms. Osborne said she warmed to the idea as an efficient way to put books quickly into the hands of children. Her publisher, Random House, donated the entire “Magic Tree House” series to the Worldreader program. “I think what they’re doing is beyond words, really,” she said.

Carolyn Reidy, president and chief executive of Simon Schuster, said donating printed books to Africa was easy, but getting them to their destinations was expensive. Once Worldreader deals with the problem of getting e-readers into the hands of children, it is painless getting more books to them, she said.

“Once they’re there, there’s no hurdle,” Ms. Reidy said. “That one reader can open a whole world.”

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Novelties: Online Textbooks Aim to Make Science Leap From the Page

That’s because the book was designed to be digital-only. Students will pay not for a printed edition at a bookstore, but for permanent access on the Internet ($49).

And when they open the book on their laptops, tablets and smartphones, they will find other differences, too. True, the text is packed densely with definitions and diagrams — it is meant to teach college-level science, after all, and is from the publishers of the august journal Nature.

Still, this isn’t your usual technical tome. The pages have some pizazz: they are replete with punchy, interactive electronic features — from dynamic illustrations to short quizzes meant to involve students rather than letting them plod, glassy-eyed, from one section to the next. Audio and video clips are woven into the text.

“We want to take advantage of the things only digital media can do, and that are superior to print, to broaden the ways students learn science,” said Vikram Savkar, senior vice president and publishing director at Nature Publishing. “We want students to measure a chapter not by how much they read, but by how much they learn.”

The book offers many dynamic, interactive illustrations. As students learn about the genetic code, for example, they can match amino acids to corresponding sequences on the double helix to understand how an entire protein emerges from genetic sequences.

Midway through a chapter, some interactive elements will quiz students on what they have just read — and provide hints and pointers when their answers are incorrect.

“Principles of Biology,” Mr. Savkar’s brainchild, was two years in the making. A Harvard graduate with degrees in physics and classics, he wanted to move beyond early e-textbooks that were essentially static electronic reprises of the print versions.

Most science e-books “are still PDFs of print books that are scanned and put online,” he said. (A PDF format preserves the original appearance of a page when it is viewed electronically.)

“But if the best way to learn is to see something moving, we teach that through a piece of interactive media, integrated right into the text,” he said. “If a quiz is the best way, we do that.”

Nature Publishing, a division of Macmillan Publishers, chose to make the browser central to the textbook, rather than creating individual apps for students to use on electronic devices — an expensive procedure that might require as many as 20 versions, Mr. Savkar said. Instead, the Web site senses which device a student is using, say a laptop or a tablet, and delivers the appropriate format to the browser.

“This is a world where students have many devices, and they expect to have whatever they need when they need it,” he said. “But no matter what device they go to, the browser is there, and therefore our textbook is there, too.” For offline use, students can download a digital edition to read on a desktop. They can also print copies if they prefer a paper version.

The biology text, tested this past year at some campuses of California State University, is the first of a series of digital textbooks planned by the company.

OTHER publishers are also experimenting with technologies that enliven the static pages of electronic technical textbooks and documents. This summer, Wolfram Research, known for its computing software Mathematica and its Web search tool Wolfram Alpha, introduced a new format as well as a free player with a built-in math engine. (The player can be downloaded at

The format allows for routine use of interactive illustrations. With them, readers can change a problem’s parameters and watch as the illustration recomputes and re-forms accordingly. On an image of an oil slick, for example, you might move the contour outline to a point where the slick has a given thickness, or superimpose a photographic view over a computed one.

At Walla Walla Community College in Washington, Eric Schulz, who teaches mathematics, used Wolfram’s tools to create an interactive, digital version of the textbook “Calculus,” written by William Briggs and Lyle Cochran and published by Pearson. Students can manipulate 650 interactive figures, including graphs of functions, derivatives, and integrals, as they learn the basics of calculus.

Conrad Wolfram, strategic director and European co-founder at Wolfram, says he hopes the company’s technology will be used not only in textbooks, but also in business reports and journal papers. “You can add this dynamic content without hiring a host of programmers to create interactivity,” he said.

The interactive tools can already be seen in some entries at Wolfram Alpha, the search site. For example, after downloading the player, enter “double pendulum” in the search bar or “binarize Lady Gaga photo with threshold x” and watch as live calculations change the double pendulum’s movement when the string is shorter or the load heavier, or change the image of Lady Gaga as it is binarized — or changed from an analog to a digital image with two choices of pixels.

If such illustrations provide a better understanding of terms like “binarize” or “double pendulum,” they’ve done their work — and maybe we’ll soon see more of them in electronic textbooks, papers and company reports.


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Publishers Gild Books With ‘Special Effects’ to Compete With E-Books

Many new releases have design elements usually reserved for special occasions — deckle edges, colored endpapers, high-quality paper and exquisite jackets that push the creative boundaries of bookmaking. If e-books are about ease and expedience, the publishers reason, then print books need to be about physical beauty and the pleasures of owning, not just reading.

“When people do beautiful books, they’re noticed more,” said Robert S. Miller, the publisher of Workman Publishing. “It’s like sending a thank-you note written on nice paper when we’re in an era of e-mail correspondence.”

The eagerly anticipated 925-page novel by Haruki Murakami, “1Q84,” arrived in bookstores in October wrapped in a translucent jacket with the arresting gaze of a young woman peering through. A new novel by Stephen King about the Kennedy assassination, “11/22/63,” has an intricate book jacket and, unusual for fiction, photographs inside. The paperback edition of Jay-Z’s memoir “Decoded” features a shiny gold Rorschach on the cover, and in March the front of “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller will bear an embossed helmet sculpted with punctures, cracks and texture, giving the image a 3-D effect.

Publishers in recent years have had a frugal attitude about so-called special effects, but that attitude has begun to shift, said Julie Grau, senior vice president and publisher of Spiegel Grau, part of Random House.

“We’re rethinking the value in certain cases of special effects and higher production standards,” Ms. Grau said, citing “Decoded.”

“Now in some cases, creating a more beautiful hardcover or paperback object is warranted.”

For publishers, the strategy has a clear payoff: to increase the value of print books and build a healthy, diverse marketplace that includes brick-and-mortar bookstores and is not dominated by Amazon and e-books.

Their efforts will be especially tested this holiday season, when e-readers from Barnes Noble (priced as low as $99) and Amazon, (as low as $79), are expected to be popular gifts.

Booksellers, worried that e-readers could displace paper books under the Christmas tree, say that a striking cover can lure buyers who might not have noticed the book otherwise.

“These extra fancy covers, if tastefully done, cause customers to notice the book, pick it up and look it over,” Paul Ingram, a book buyer at the Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City, Iowa, said in an e-mail.

“It works the other way too. A dull uninteresting cover can make people pass over the title.”

To showcase books with special design elements, booksellers at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Ariz., created a display of lushly embroidered Penguin classics with a sign reading, “Give classical beauty this holiday season.”

There are indications that an exquisitely designed hardcover book can keep print sales high and cut into e-book sales. For instance, “1Q84” has sold 95,000 copies in hardcover and 28,000 in e-book — an inversion of the typical sales pattern of new fiction at Knopf. Scribner, an imprint of Simon Schuster, published “11/22/63.”

“We hoped that a handsome object would slow the migration to e-book for King and, in fact, we are now in our fourth printing,” said Nan Graham, the senior vice president and editor in chief at Scribner.

Bloomsbury, which released the Harry Potter series in Britain, has been using a strategy to increase the premium design flourishes on its print books.

“How to Avoid Being Killed in a War Zone” by Rosie Garthwaite, a survival guide for traversing the world’s most dangerous places, was released in June by Bloomsbury USA with a sturdy paperback cover designed to appear tough enough to be carried into battle.

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European E-Book Sales Hampered by Tax Structure

BERLIN — Damien Seaman, whose e-book was published in November in Britain, knows well the ups and downs of the creative process, from the high of landing on a narrative idea to the rigors of editing through to the final, satisfying moment of publication.

What Mr. Seaman, who lives in Birmingham, England, did not anticipate when writing his crime novel, “The Killing of Emma Gross,” a murder mystery set in Weimar-era Germany, was that his readers would have to pay a hefty tax that was not levied on any printed book.

Across most of Europe, e-books are taxed at full national value-added rates, which reach 25 percent in Sweden, Denmark, Hungary and other countries. Printed books, benefiting from an industry lobby, are taxed at a fraction of the full rates — and not at all in Britain.

It seems, Mr. Seaman said, that the value-added tax gap “discourages traditional publishers from innovating by effectively subsidizing them not to.”

Nevertheless, electronic book sales are growing quickly. The European Federation of Publishers, an industry group based in Brussels, estimated that e-book sales would rise 20 percent or more this year from an estimated €350 million, or $462 million, in 2010.

Sales of printed books, which account for more than 98 percent of all book purchases, are stagnating. Sales of all books reached €23.5 billion last year, down 2 percent after adjusting for currency fluctuations, from their level in 2007.

In the United States, e-books are subject to state sales taxes if the retailer has a physical presence in the state. They range from under 1 percent to 10 percent. Some states, like New York and, until next September, California, exempt e-books from the levy. Print books are subject to state sales taxes.

In 2010, U.S. e-book sales rose to $878 million, or 6.4 percent of the trade book market, according to BookStats, an annual survey of the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group. In adult fiction, e-books accounted for 13.6 percent of all revenue in 2010, the group said.

In Germany, consumers pay 19 percent in VAT for e-book downloads and 7 percent on printed books. In France, the difference is 19.6 percent and 5.5 percent. Printed book taxes are 4 percent in Italy and Spain instead of 20 percent and 18 percent for e-books. In Britain and Ireland, the gap is widest: 20 percent on e-books, but no tax at all on printed books.

On Jan. 1, France will become the first E.U. member state to defy Brussels, lowering its taxes on e-books to 5.5 percent, the same rate as printed books. It had originally planned to reduce the rate in January 2011 but deferred the move, partly because of the poor state of its finances.

Spain has considered lowering its e-book VAT to 4 percent, and a petition is circulating in an effort to lower the levy in Britain.

The French and any who follow could be challenged by European regulators. European law prohibits the 27 E.U. member states from applying reduced VAT rates on e-books, which are, in legal terms, considered a service. Publishers have been unable to convince lawmakers to eliminate the discrepancy.

“For our customers and for the development of the e-book market in Germany, this would be an important step,” said Frank Sambeth, the chief operating officer of Verlagsgruppe Random House, the German publishing unit of the Bertelsmann media group. The company, which sells more than 5,000 German-language e-books, expects digital downloads to triple in Germany this year from 2010, Mr. Sambeth said.

The ongoing economic downturn is an obstacle. Some countries, like Germany and Britain, are reluctant to cut taxes during the downturn. VATs generate about 22 percent of an E.U. country’s total tax revenue, according to European Commission statistics.

The other hurdle is Europe’s convention of taxing online book sales at the rate imposed by the country of the seller, not the buyer. E.U. countries have agreed to change the calculation to the country of the buyer in 2015. Until then, countries with big publishing operations, like Luxembourg, where Amazon has its European headquarters, are reluctant to allow neighbors lower VAT rates and perhaps lure away business.

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Bucks Blog: Thursday Reading: Kindle Connects to Library E-Books

September 22

Thursday Reading: Kindle Connects to Library E-Books

Kindle connects to library e-books, Facebook updates get mixed reviews, the importance of pet collars and tags and other consumer-focused news from The New York Times.

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Bucks Blog: Wednesday Reading: Some E-Books To Get Soundtracks

August 24

Wednesday Reading: Some E-Books To Get Soundtracks

Some e-books will get soundtracks, gaps seen in cellphone service after east coast earthquake, non-alcoholic beer aids in marathon recovery and other consumer-focused news from The New York Times.

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Bucks: Hotelier Offers New Options to Rewards Program

Anyone who is a member of a loyalty rewards program has been in this frustrating situation: You have a small number of points left over after a big redemption, but the rewards available for low balances aren’t very enticing. (How many cheap steak knives do you really need?)

Officials at the InterContinental Hotels Group are tweaking the chain’s “Priority Club Rewards” program over the next two to three months with an eye, in part, to addressing that situation. They’re making the program more flexible and adding lower-point reward options, like downloads of songs, mobile apps and e-books, for members earning points by staying at IHG hotels, including Holiday Inns and Crowne Plazas.

Offering downloads in exchange for reward points is a first for travel loyalty programs, according to Don Berg, vice president of loyalty programs and partnerships at IHG. He told me the exact number of points required for downloads will be no more than “a few hundred.” IHG will also offer a points “sweepstakes,” in which members can spend, say, 100 or 200 points to earn the chance to win a higher-stakes reward, like an iPad or four nights at the InterContinental Hotel in Times Square. (A four-night stay at one of the company’s luxury hotels can require up to 120,000 points, although periodic promotions can sometimes drop the needed total to 20,000).

IHG also says it will allow members to use a combination of points and cash to get brand-name merchandise. Some frequent travelers are loath to redeem points for more hotel nights, Mr. Berg said. They’d rather use the points for other items, like electronics or sports equipment — often as gifts for others.

Yet another new option will be an offer of 50 percent discounts on “last-minute” rooms booked using points. Members will get an e-mail on Mondays, telling them what properties will offer discounted rooms the following weekend. (If a room typically required 10,000 points a night, it would require just 5,000.)

IHG seeks an edge in the competition for business travelers, who make up the vast majority of reward program members. The average loyalty club member, IHG research shows, belongs to an average of three programs. Hotel loyalty programs have gained in appeal, as airlines have made their frequent-flier programs more restrictive and added more fees.

IHG’s research over the last three years suggests that loyalty program members want to use their points like cash. By offering a variety of redemption options, “you’ll get more of their wallet on the paid end,” Mr. Berg said. IHG has 4,400 hotel rooms under six brands in addition to its flagship InterContinental properties, including Holiday Inn Express and Staybridge Suites.

Would you use points to redeem low-cost items like downloads? Or do you prefer to accumulate them for bigger rewards?

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