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Publishing News: Betting on the Nobel Prize

Putting odds on the Nobel Prize, Jobs' biography to release early, and what a free Kindle could do.

Here’s what caught my attention in this week’s publishing news.

Insults aside, the Nobel Prize for Literature kept the bookies busy

Alfred_Nobel_Icon.pngThere was much ado running up to the announcement of who would win the Nobel Prize for Literature this week. The American literature community lost a bit of hope that an American author would win the prize — which hasn’t happened since 1993 — when Horace Engdahl, the Nobel Academy permanent secretary, said “[t]he US is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining.”

Engdahl’s comment didn’t seem to affect the betting line, though. On Wednesday, Time reported Philip Roth’s odds at 16/1 and Bob Dylan at “the astounding odds of 5/1.” Bob Dylan? In an interview for the Time report, Alex Donohue of Ladbrokes, a British-based gambling company, explained the Dylan phenomenon:

So we introduced Bob Dylan at 100/1. We put him in because we thought that maybe he’d have a chance and a few dedicated Bob Dylan fans might want to bet, but [we assumed] that no one would take him seriously. But now, obviously there’s been a massive gamble and we’ve taken bets from all over the world — Sweden, Japan, Canada, all of Europe — on Bob Dylan. People out there betting just can’t get enough and they keep backing him.

How did gamblers make out on the winner, Tomas Tranströmer? The 80-year-old Swedish poet came in on Wednesday with 7-to-1 odds.

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Steve Jobs bio to hit shelves ahead of schedule

The biggest news in any industry this week was the death of Steve Jobs. In response, Simon & Schuster moved up the release date of Jobs’ authorized biography to October 24. Pre-sales of the book increased 42,000% upon his death. The biography’s author Walter Isaacson said Jobs, during the final interview for the book, told him he authorized the book because of his kids:

I wanted my kids to know me. I wasn’t always there for them and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did.

Additionally, ShelfAwareness pulled together a nice list of recent titles on Jobs and noted the upcoming “I, Steve: Steve Jobs in His Own Words,” due out November 15.

The potential power of free Kindles

Amazon lit up the digital publishing world last week with its launch of a $79 Kindle. Breaking the two-digit entry barrier is a big deal and will arguably be the turning point for the ereader. Mathew Ingram over at GigaOM took it a step further and asked what will happen when the Kindle is free. He said a free ereader might open the door much wider for content like the Kindle Singles, and it will be lucrative for authors:

These not-quite-books can be written and uploaded by anyone, and offered at whatever price point an author decides: as little as 99 cents, or even free. Offering a free — or ad-supported — Kindle would presumably just provide even more of an avenue for these kinds of books to reach readers, and that in turn could (theoretically at least) make it possible for more writers to make a living from their writing.

Ingram followed with a nice argument in favor of the less-expensive-book model and made some interesting suggestions, such as “[offering] a subscription to an author, so I can automatically get whatever he or she writes.” That’s one of those ideas that seems so obvious, you wonder why it hasn’t happened yet.

Photo: Alfred Nobel by Zero grey, on Wikimedia Commons

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