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Book News: Amazon Reports Big Quarterly Loss

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • Amazon reported big second quarter losses Thursday and said the current period may be even worse. The company posted a quarter net loss of $126 million, or 27 cents a share, even though sales rose 23 percent. After Thursday's news, shares fell more than 10 percent in after-hours trading. As The Wall Street Journal points out, "The losses reflect Amazon's heavy investments in new businesses and services that some investors worry are stretching the Seattle company too thin. This year it has released an array of new offerings including a hand-held grocery-ordering device, unlimited e-book rental and streaming services, and its first set-top boxand smartphone." Amazon's chief financial executive seemed to shrug off those concerns. "We're ramping up the spend," Tom Szkutak said in a conference call Thursday, pointing to new warehouses and investments in original content for Amazon Prime. He added: "We're not trying to optimize for short-term profit." Szkutak also suggested that some of the losses could be blamed on price-cutting wars with its competitors. Meanwhile, Amazon is engaged in a very public dispute with the publisher Hachette, and had a brief (now resolved) fight with Warner Bros. over DVD prices.
  • Brian McGreevy explains why "a British woman who looked like a benign but mildly dotty Hogwarts teacher" is the greatest 20th century horror writer you've never heard of. "[D]o not miss the occult mischief behind those 1980s mom-glasses; in a fairly standard Angela Carter story, Harry Potter would be mauled to death by a werewolf before a pan-species initiation of Hermione's pubescent sexual power. She made things weird like that, which is why she was great."
  • "The first Man Booker prize longlist to include American authors has divided headline writers into those who prefer 'Commonwealth writers edged out' and those who have chosen 'Donna Tartt snubbed.' " — The Economist breaks down coverage of the Booker longlist.
  • The poet TJ Jarrett — who is also a computer engineer — talks to Win Bassett about the ways her two worlds connect: "I tend to break things up into functions. If I were building a cash register, I'd build the "add" and "subtract" and "running total" functions. If I were building a book about lynching, I build "how the crowd gathers" function; "how fear works" function; the "grieving" function; the "questioning if this is the best way" function. If a poem is a tiny machine, then a volume of poetry is a car or a plane — a bunch of parts that come together to perform a larger action."
  • Tom Bissell profiles William T. Vollmann: "His books are too long in the way the Petronas Towers are too tall, the way foie gras is too rich: the manner of their excess is central to their essence. Vollmann is neither a readers' writer nor a writers' writer but a writer's writer, which is to say William T. Vollmann's writer."
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