Books News: British Book Publishers Fear Brexit Will Bring a U.S. Invasion


Much of the worry stems from a looming fight with American publishers over sales in Continental Europe. For decades, the British have had this market to themselves, selling English-language editions of books in France, Italy and every other country in the European Union.

That helped turn Britain into the largest book exporter in the world, with total sales equivalent to $6.8 billion per year, according to the Publishers Association, a British trade group. Just over half of that revenue came from exports, and the biggest export market is Europe.

Access to this market, without tariffs or serious competition, has been a financial boon. Were British publishers to lose a substantial chunk of sales on the Continent the fallout could be dire.

“Our domestic market is tiny compared to the U.S.,” said Clare Alexander, a literary agent with Aitken Alexander Associates. “So given our reliance on exports, what we’re talking about with Europe is a fight for the survival of British publishing.”

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A mobile massage service at the London Book Fair seemed especially designed for those who are worried about what Brexit will mean for the British publishing industry.

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Andrew Testa for The New York Times

United States publishers have long coveted the European market, and with Britain scheduled to formally part ways with the union by March 2019, some are gearing up for an invasion. A warning flare of sorts was fired last fall at the Frankfurt Book Festival, when Simon & Schuster’s chief executive, Carolyn Reidy, told an audience that, after Brexit, “the argument the British have used to grab Europe as an exclusive market will then be over.”

That’s about as close to a public declaration of hostilities as you can expect. The battle for Europe’s book market is already being fought quietly wherever author contracts are drafted. These contracts always include a list of territories where publishers want exclusive rights of distribution. More and more often, the list now drafted by American publishers includes the European continent.

Patrick Walsh, a literary agent based in London, has seen Europe included in early drafts of two deals with United States publishers. In both cases, the publishers argued that by the time the book was in stores, Britain and the European Union will have parted company. In both cases, Mr. Walsh pushed back, suggesting that it was too early to know how Brexit would play out, and the codicil was removed.

“It was a relatively friendly opening gambit,” he said. “But I’m absolutely certain we’re going to see more of this.”

Much of the talk here about the terms of Britain’s divorce from Europe has centered on banks, real estate and blue-collar industries like fishing and mining. But the creative sector is also bracing for change and fretting about life after Brexit. Few are as worried as the roughly 30,000 people employed by the British book business.

Part of it is a concern that Britain will cease to serve as one of the world’s great cultural hubs. London in particular has been a huge attraction for foreign artists in fields like contemporary dance and theater.

“Those people are based here because they can come and go,” said Andrew Franklin, co-founder of Profile Books, a London publishing house. “The same is true of literary culture. It’s hugely dependent on new voices coming in from other places, and I worry that as this place puts up walls, the literary culture will become more isolated, with a consequent effect on publishing.”

Mr. Franklin thinks the biggest threat posed by Brexit is the harm it may cause to the British economy, which could reduce disposable income, hurt book sales and result in the closing of both libraries and book shops. There are smaller and more practical worries, too, like the impact on British writers who lose access to Europe’s grants and literary prizes. Plus, the United Kingdom has a robust intellectual property regime that publishers are eager to sustain.

The Association of Authors’ Agents has had several engagements with politicians to convey these and other concerns. For the past two years, the group has visited Parliament with authors in tow, including Cressida Cowell, the woman behind the “How to Train Your Dragon” series, and Misha Glenny, the reporter whose book “McMafia” led to the hit TV mini-series by the same name.

Lobbyists for British publishers have conferred with key political players in Europe as well, but the future of the English-language book market there is unknown. British domination has been rooted in a combination of informal agreement (American and British publishers long ago divvied up countries, based largely on proximity and history) and trade law (as a European Union member, publishers in the United Kingdom have frictionless access to any country in what is known as the Single Market).

Many British publishers and agents believe they will continue to outperform on the Continent simply because they are physically closer to it than their rivals.

“Why would a British author want their books supplied from America to Europe, which is Britain’s nearest market, Brexit or no Brexit?” said Gordon Wise, former president of the Association of Authors’ Agents, in an email. “And why would even a U.S. author want to wait for stock to ship trans-Atlantically when it could be swiftly supplied from within the European geographical continent by their British publisher?”

In addition to speed and ease of distribution, publishers in Britain have offered a higher royalty rate to authors they sell in Europe. In return for exclusive sales rights, British houses have paid what are known as “home royalty rates” — essentially, the amount of money they pay authors distributed within Britain — as opposed to “export royalty rates.”

The difference is huge. Lorella Belli, a literary agent, said that the figures vary from publisher to publisher, but that roughly speaking authors earn one British pound (about $1.40) per hardback, when paid a home royalty. The export rate, by contrast, will yield the equivalent of about 7 cents per book.

Executives in United States publishing say they are ready to pay home royalty rates for exclusivity in Europe, too. And they doubt that Britain’s proximity argument for ascendancy in Europe has much force these days, given how swiftly products now move around the world.

“That big body of water between America and Europe is not an issue, thanks to much improved supply chain logistics,” said Carolyn Savarese of Kneerim & Williams, a literary agency with offices in Boston and New York. “The world has indeed gotten smaller. Or rather, the markets have gotten more accessible.”

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Best-selling authors like John Grisham might benefit financially if Europe becomes a place where American and British publishers compete. But new authors and those with middling sales records might wind up earning less.

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Flavio Lo Scalzo/Rex

If Europe becomes a place where American and British publishers compete, the losers might be authors, Ms. Alexander said. While best-selling authors — the Grishams and Rowlings — may well command even larger advances in possible bidding wars, new writers and ones with middling sales records might wind up earning less.

“The book industry in Europe is going to look more like Hollywood,” she said. “It’s going to push further the idea that a book needs to be a blockbuster. That will mean smaller advances for excellent books that are more niche.”

Still up in the air is whether Britain will ultimately face new hurdles in Europe, like tariffs. The full implications of Brexit will come into focus in the coming months, as the basic terms of the departure are negotiated. But among publishers, the jostling for Europe has already begun.

“Everyone wants an advantage,” Mr. Walsh said. “If they can grab it, they will.”

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Books News: When Neo-Nazis Marched Through Berlin’s Old Jewish Quarter, a Bookshop Took Notice


“We wanted to take back the public space,” Mr. Braunsdorf recalled on a recent afternoon, between answering one customer’s question about the literary structure of a young adult thriller, and warmly recommending a new novella to another. “At a certain point, you just have to do something.”

In Germany, Mr. Braunsdorf’s efforts are part of a long tradition in which bookstores play an active role in civil society, said Johanna Hahn, director of the German Association of Booksellers in Berlin and Brandenburg.

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Jörg Braunsdorf, who runs Tucholsky Bookstore in the old Jewish quarter of Berlin, checked a poster for the neighborhood rally against a neo-Nazi march.

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Gordon Welters for The New York Times

“The book industry has always reacted with great sensitivity to the political climate,” she said, “and bookstores are always a place where social change occurs.” In the 1970s at the height of the women’s liberation movement, for example, Germany had large numbers of feminist bookstores. “Now, the theme really seems to be freedom of speech, freedom of opinion. Look at America, look at Turkey — this problem is all over the world.”

In German bookstore circles, the topic of nationalism and fascism is particularly prominent now, Ms. Hahn added. This follows the rise of groups like the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West and Alternative for Germany, or AfD, which won 12.6 percent of the national vote in September, making it the first far-right party to sit in Parliament in 60 years.

“In every book there’s a new perspective,” Ms. Hahn said, “so bookstores automatically fall on the side of openness and diversity.”

But how best to serve customers is up for debate. In one of several panels dealing with the topic at the Leipzig Book Fair in mid-March, some independent sellers said they refused to order books from far-right publishers, while others argued that it is important for customers to be able to stay informed. (There are certain titles that Mr. Braunsdorf does not stock. He may order from some right-wing publishers upon request, but will give the customer a piece of his mind on the topic, first.)

Germany has a healthy number of independent bookstores, thanks largely to a German law that requires all booksellers to sell books at set prices. But Zoë Beck, co-founder of a group called Publishers Against the Right, worries that market-oriented chain stores have weakened bookstores’ role as a place of political debate. “What Jörg Braunsdorf is doing is something I find exemplary,” wrote Ms. Beck, in an email. “The need now is greater than ever.“

For Mr. Braunsdorf, 58, social engagement has always been part of running a bookstore. Originally from Weztlar, a small city in what was then West Germany, Mr. Braunsdorf started working in his 20s at a book collective there run by a group of his young left-wing friends. They did not do much business, but the shop was a meeting place for students and activists: There, they printed fliers decrying nuclear power plants or calling for affordable housing.

Today, 37 years later, Mr. Braunsdorf is still working at a bookstore, but now it’s his own shop, in Berlin, and other political issues have come to the forefront. “None of us expected that this confrontation with fascism would be so close at hand,” he said, alluding to the AfD success in entering Parliament. “I think in the next years we are going to need to not just protest ‘against,’ but really come up with a ‘for.’ What do we want, in our society?”

Mr. Braunsdorf, who has hosted German-Arabic reading events at his shop for refugee children and moderated debates about gentrification, the economy and politics, said he “can’t imagine running a bookstore just as a selling point.”

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Neighbors gather at Tucholsky Bookstore to discuss topics such as gentrification and how to respond to neo-Nazi marches.

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Gordon Welters for The New York Times

He is not alone. A similar bookstore-run political project made headlines this year, when Heinz Ostermann, who owns the bookstore Leporello in Berlin’s working-class neighborhood of Neukölln, had his car set on fire, for the second time. He had started a local group in 2016 dedicated to fighting the far right. “There’s a lot of solidarity,” said Mr. Ostermann, who added that the attacks, suspected to have been carried out by local right-wing extremists, have not dissuaded him. “I think people in the neighborhood are happy I’m here.”

The same could be said of Mr. Braunsdorf. Last month, as the crowd of protesters grew, Ralf Teepe expressed his appreciation for Mr. Braunsdorf’s bookstore, which he said he visited once a week, in lieu of church, for spiritual enrichment.

Mr. Teepe, a civil servant with the foreign service who recently moved back to Berlin after years in Africa and elsewhere, had joined Mr. Braunsdorf a few blocks from the bookstore. He too wanted to protest the neo-Nazis who were headed to the neighborhood.

“I was born in ’58, and both of my parents were marked by the Nazi period,” Mr. Teepe said. “The older I get, the more I understand how traumatized my father, in particular, was.” He paused to rub his hands together and blow on them for warmth. “Today, 70 years later, you have the feeling for the first time that history could repeat itself. That that’s not out of the question.”

After the black-clad line of right-wingers had passed behind a line of police officers — greeted by chants of “Nazis out!” — the crowds dispersed. Elnura Yivazada, who works in culture management and heard about the protest through the bookstore, took a moment to stay and listen to the last musical act, before heading home to warm up.

“It’s important to show our faces,” she said. “To say, people here won’t just accept this.”

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Canceled Deals and Pulped Books, as the Publishing Industry Confronts Sexual Harassment


Some publishing houses have reacted swiftly to sexual misconduct charges. In October, Penguin Press quickly scrapped a forthcoming book on the 2016 election by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, co-authors of the best-selling political tell-alls “Game Change” and “Double Down,” after it emerged that Mr. Halperin had sexually harassed multiple women at ABC News, where he oversaw political coverage years ago. (Mr. Heilemann has said in a radio interview that he hopes to revive the project on his own).

Other publishers have issued bland statements — or taken no action at all. Henry Holt & Company has continued to publish Bill O’Reilly following a New York Times report that Mr. O’Reilly settled claims by multiple women who accused him of sexual harassment and verbal abuse. Mr. O’Reilly was fired by Fox News, and last fall, his literary agent, William Morris Endeavor, said it would “no longer represent Bill O’Reilly for future deals.” But Holt has so far remained steadfast in its support of Mr. O’Reilly, whose best-selling “Killing” series has more than 17 million copies in circulation. Its fall 2018 catalog lists an untitled book by Mr. O’Reilly. “The corporate stance is that it’s not our job to judge our authors,” Stephen Rubin, the president and publisher of Holt, told The Times in a recent interview.

The disparate responses underscore the commercial and ethical challenges publishing houses face. Some, including Hachette Book Group, are expanding the use of morals clauses and “author conduct” clauses in book contracts, which allow publishers to cancel book deals if the author is credibly accused of unethical behavior. But some editors and publishers say privately that it’s difficult to impose a code of conduct on writers, who are not their employees.

In an industry that is overwhelmingly female — women account for around 80 percent of people who work in publishing — publishers may also face pressure from within their own ranks to take a firm stance against sexual harassment.

Last month, when the novelist Anne Ursu published an article on Medium about sexual harassment in the children’s book world, it set off a cascade of online accusations against prominent authors, many made anonymously. Ms. Ursu said she has been in touch around 100 women in the industry who have experienced some form of harassment.

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Anne Ursu, a novelist whose article on harassment launched a wave of complaints against prominent male authors.

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Jenn Ackerman for The New York Times

“I was very saddened to see how many women had left the industry or quit writing or quit illustrating because of something that had happened,” she said. “We are losing talent because of this, and we need to find a way to privilege the women who have been hurt over the men who make publishing houses a lot of money.”

After Ms. Ursu’s article sparked an outpouring of allegations, the fallout was swift for several best-selling authors.

Ballantine, a Random House imprint, canceled a contract for an adult novel by James Dashner, after multiple women accused Mr. Dashner of harassment. Mr. Dashner is one of the industry’s most successful young adult novelists: his dystopian series “The Maze Runner” has sold more than 14 million copies across all formats. Mr. Dashner, who apologized for his behavior, was also dropped by his agent.

Another blockbuster author, Jay Asher, whose young adult novel “Thirteen Reasons Why” has more than four million copies in print, was let go by his agent following a chorus of online accusations that he had harassed women and behaved in a predatory manner at an annual industry conference. (Mr. Asher has disputed the women’s claims.)

The novelist Sherman Alexie asked his publisher to delay the publication of a forthcoming paperback edition of his memoir, “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” following a recent NPR report in which three women accused him of sexual misconduct ranging from inappropriate comments to unwanted advances. The American Indian Library Association withdrew an award that it gave to Mr. Alexie in 2008 for his young adult novel “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” Mr. Alexie also declined to accept the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for nonfiction for his memoir, which was given to him last month by the American Library Association.

On his website, Mr. Alexie expressed regret for his actions but also sounded defiant, writing that he rejects “the accusations, insinuations and outright falsehoods” made by a woman he said he had a consensual affair with and who accused him online of being a serial predator.

Grove Atlantic and Hachette Book Group, which both publish Mr. Alexie’s books, issued statements saying that they were surprised and troubled by the accusations, but that they will continue to publish his earlier books.

Publishers face complex calculations as they weigh whether or not to cut ties with an author. Canceling a book can lead to lost profits, but publishing and promoting a book by an author accused of misconduct can have other negative ramifications.

After the recent rash of allegations against prominent authors, Jamie Thomas, a manager and children’s book buyer at the bookstore Women & Children First in Chicago, removed books by Mr. Asher, Mr. Dashner and Mr. Alexie from the store’s shelves. “I don’t want to have our customers having to come in here and ask why we’re supporting someone accused of sexual misconduct,” she said.

Danielle Foster, the co-owner of Bookworks in Albuquerque, said that she will not reorder books by Mr. Alexie and will instead be featuring works by up-and-coming Native American authors. Still, she is wary of limiting customers’ access to books by popular writers and said the store still has “many books on our shelves by accused authors.”

“These discussions need to happen among booksellers and publishers, and at the same time, do you censor the art?” she said. “We’re taking the stance that we don’t want to censor or ban anything.”

But at a moment of heightened scrutiny, some publishers are willing to sacrifice worthwhile books — and lose money — to signal their support for the #MeToo movement.

“Apparently no industry is exempt from the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and misogyny,” said Yolanda Scott, the associate publisher and editorial director of Charlesbridge, which destroyed finished copies of the picture book “Mario and the Hole in the Sky” after harassment allegations against its illustrator surfaced. “We want the children’s publishing world to be a safe and equitable space.”

Though finished copies had already gone out to book critics and pulling it at such a late stage was costly, Charlesbridge decided publishing the book with Mr. Diaz’s name and illustrations might dampen enthusiasm for the title from readers, reviewers, librarians and booksellers. The company, now searching for a new illustrator, has pushed the publication to 2019.

In an interview, Mr. Diaz acknowledged that he made flirtatious comments and advances at a conference hosted by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and that he had gone through harassment training after the society’s board received a complaint about his behavior in 2012. He also went through a probation period where his conduct was regularly reviewed. When a separate allegation arose in the fall of 2017 about a sexual comment that Mr. Diaz made to a woman at a conference five years earlier, before his harassment training, Mr. Diaz voluntarily resigned from the board and apologized to the woman who made the complaint.

“It stings a little bit, knowing the work that I’ve done, but I support their choice,” Mr. Diaz said about Charlesbridge’s decision to withdraw the book with his illustrations. “If I were the author, I would want my book to have every chance at success, without anything attached to it that might hinder it.”

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Wolfgang Tillmans Explores the Role of Art in a Post-Truth World


I started a project for an installation called “Truth Study Center” in 2005. I juxtaposed texts of great lucidity and awareness with absurd, humorous and also crazy false statements. All of this was, of course, at a time when no one talked about post-truth or fake news. As this became the center of all politics, I realized it is now everywhere, and I don’t need to juxtapose these different claims because they are so out in the open.

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A page from “What Is Different?,” a series of essays and interviews with activists, academics and politicians, edited by Mr. Tillmans and interspersed with his photographs.

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Sternberg Press

I wanted to go further and look at the science behind it. Around 2014, I read about the backfire effect, first described by Brendan Nyhan and his colleagues, which describes what people who believe in a falsehood do when shown a collection of facts that contradict their opinion. It doesn’t shift their opinion to the more truthful or factual, but instead it actually reinforces their belief in the falsehood.

There’s a lot of text in the book, but it’s also an art book. How do you view the relationship between art and politics?

I love that art is useless and that it has no purpose. That makes art so incredibly powerful. And so, I don’t think one should turn to artists instantly and ask, “What are they saying?” I think, really, every private person should take part in democracy, because if you don’t, others choose for you.

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Mr. Tillmans’ photographs are juxtaposed with social media posts and other material gathered from the internet.

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Sternberg Press

I think we all have to ask ourselves if there are people who have nothing else to do but push against our liberal society, who is actually defending it if we are not. If you feel an urgency and you don’t act upon it, then that is the whole problem in a nutshell.

In 2016, you produced a series of posters to campaign for Britain to remain in the European Union, ahead of the referendum here. What is your view on what has happened since?

The reason I felt such urgency to rebel against Brexit has, of course, to do with my 28 years living in England and Germany, but also because I really predicted at the time that it will be all about language. It will turn into an ugly blame game, and when the promises of a glorious post-Brexit future do not turn out right, no one will say “Well, maybe we got it wrong.”

Even though I’m not campaigning in the U.K. anymore, I really think anything that could stop Brexit is a good thing. Even though it would be seen as anti-democratic, I think the pain and the antagonism in language and the sentiments of this divorce is more harmful.

What were you most surprised by when putting together this collection?

I learned how, for the last 15 years or so in the Western world, authoritarian people have been kept widely at bay. They have had to accept feminist, nonracist and L.G.B.T. progress, social justice, international cooperation and anti-nationalism. They had to accept all of that, and things in society changed for the better so dramatically because individuals believed in it and spoke up for it. So one should see it this way around: Trump being in power and Brexit succeeding is not the reason for despair, but it is really a backlash to 50 years of civil rights and liberal progress.

What conversations do you hope the work will provoke?

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The starting point for “What Is Different?” is the theory of “the backfire effect,” which “describes what people who believe in a falsehood do when shown a collection of facts that contradict their opinion,” Mr. Tillmans said.

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Sternberg Press

An opening up to uncomfortable questions about oneself. On the second-to-last page is a collage text piece with a sentence written on it: “How likely is it that only I am right in this matter?” This sense of humility, I think, is the precondition for positive change because without humility, it’s so easy to lose perspective. The moment I say this, alarm bells go off in my head; I should not even talk about humility in a confident way because that isn’t humble.

What then is the role of art is in a post-truth world?

We call it that, “post-truth,” but we should call it “lies” — an era where some people are not ashamed to openly lie for their own ends.

I do believe that the true nature of things comes out, and that’s why intentions in art are always revealed in the work. If artists are interested in their fellow humans and in this society, that will also come out in the work. I guess this interest is also called solidarity. Again, I don’t feel like artists should particularly be singled out, but we all need to question if we show enough solidarity with our fellow humans.

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Beijing Journal: A Beijing Bookstore Where George Washington Is on the Shelves


A large image of Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher and freethinker, stands out among a galaxy of literary posters lining the wall of the entry staircase, a taste of what’s to come.

“China is not a liberal society, it’s not a free country,” Mr. Liu said, sitting in a quiet corner of the Thinkers Cafe, a mellow hangout within the store that meanders along a side corridor to a small back room furnished with antique Chinese furniture.

“But the bookstore is a way to express our longing for freedom and our hope for the establishment of a free society,” he said.

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The Thinkers Cafe, a mellow hangout within the store.

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Bryan Denton for The New York Times

A new patron would be forgiven for believing the owner had a lively sense of irony. One of the first books to catch the eye on the front table is an 11th edition of “Robert’s Rules of Order.”

The book is a recent hot seller. That is not because members of the Communist Party want to introduce parliamentary procedures written by a 19th-century American Army major to their gatherings. Chinese executives and entrepreneurs buy the volume for business reasons: to learn how to conduct a product conference, or manage a sales convention, Mr. Liu said.

A guide to running a democratic legislature, “How Parliament Works,” by an early 20th-century Canadian politician, Robert Rogers, is also on the front table.

“This is more politically sensitive,” Mr. Liu said. “Unfortunately, it is not as popular as Roberts.”

All Sages has the feel of a well-ordered, smaller version of the Strand Bookstore in Manhattan, though judging from the photos on the walls, Mr. Liu prefers comparisons with the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco and Shakespeare & Company in Paris. Three cats — sometimes tiptoeing over the books on the tables — add some charm.

A People’s Liberation Army veteran is in charge of the floor; he keeps displays in meticulous order and the wood floor noticeably clean. A few canvas bags and T-shirts with snappy slogans are for sale near the front desk, but the focus is on the books. The coffee in the cafe is not for lingering over.

A banner in English under the cash register reads, “I cannot live without books.” A copy of the Declaration of Independence hangs by the front door.

The clientele seems to be as varied as the books. The store is strategically located, within walking distance of China’s premier university campus, but people from all over the country drop by.

On a recent weekend, a manager of a chemical company in the southern city of Shenzhen pushed a trolley full of books to the cashier for dispatch home by air courier. High-ranking military officers, party officials, rich society figures and celebrity entrepreneurs are all customers.

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The books in All Sages are all in Chinese. That makes the selection dependent not only on the owner’s broad-ranging tastes, but on the Chinese publishing houses.

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Bryan Denton for The New York Times

“It’s a secret what they buy,” Mr. Liu said. “But take a look at the books, and you will see.”

The books in All Sages are all in Chinese. That makes the selection dependent not only on Mr. Liu’s broad-ranging tastes, but on the Chinese publishing houses.

They, in turn, are subject to the Communist Party censors who control what is published by Chinese authors and foreign writers translated into Chinese.

The censorship is not a precise art, but it is a constant presence. Internal party guidelines on what is prohibited are passed from the propaganda apparatus to the bosses of the publishing houses, sometimes on a daily basis. They are never made public. Nor is any list of banned books.

Some basic rules prevail, Mr. Liu said. The first motivation of the censors is protection of the Communist Party. “Anything that explains the Communist Party as a threat is a red line,” he said.

This leads to some striking choices. Books about the Soviet Union’s labor camps are banned, but accounts of the Nazi concentration camps are tolerated. Histories of Castro’s rule in Cuba are not translated much; Cuba’s medical system compared too favorably with China’s overcrowded hospitals.

With about 600 large, state-run publishing houses and 3,000 smaller publishers attached to government agencies, some titles that annoy the government sometimes slip through the net. Publishers tend to be liberals and lovers of literature, and some of them want to publish good books. Some push the parameters.

So in an exception to the rule against maligning a Communist Party, one of Mr. Liu’s favorites, Arthur Koestler’s novel “Darkness at Noon,” about the Soviet gulag, was available in China for many years.

It was last published in 2006, however, and now appears to be banned. Secondhand editions of Koestler’s classic are available online for $50. The original price: $1.50.

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A copy of the Declaration of Independence hangs by the front door.

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Bryan Denton for The New York Times

Among the steady sellers at All Sages are books on American history and biographies of the early presidents — Washington and Jefferson in particular — and of Benjamin Franklin. The interest in America’s founding fathers is tied up with a thirst to know how America became a democratic and global power, Mr. Liu said.

Recent political books about presidential election campaigns do not appeal much to his clientele, Mr. Liu said. He said he would read Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury,” due out in Chinese soon, before stocking it.

Two standbys for Western liberals — Hannah Arendt’s “The Origins of Totalitarianism” and George Washington’s Farewell Address, which outlines his argument for term limits — have always sold well.

In the last several weeks, both works circulated on the Chinese internet, in a quiet protest against Mr. Xi’s decision to scrap the Chinese Constitution’s two-term limit for presidents. Most likely, the censors never read what Washington had to say, Mr. Liu said.

Weekends are the busiest time at the store, and on a recent Saturday the narrow aisles were packed, especially around the nonfiction shelves. Fiction is not the store’s strength.

There is plenty of Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro but no Joan Didion. Books on feminism merit only two shelves, a function of slow demand.

In the philosophy section, Sue Ping, 29, a Tsinghua University M.B.A. student dressed in a white sweater, jeans and a black beret, was searching for Plato’s “The Republic.” “For me, it’s paradise,” Ms. Ping said of the store. “I buy online but I come because I like the atmosphere. It’s very open, you feel welcome.”

A few shelves away, Daisy Fu, 45, a primary school science teacher, who came with her husband on their motorbike, was deciding whether to buy a book about North Korea. “A bookstore is a symbol of culture; we need it,” she said. “Even though I don’t come often, it’s important to know I can come and walk among the books.”

One book that Mr. Liu knows he will never be able to stock stands out. Works critical of Mao Zedong are automatically banned, and a sensational memoir, “A Life of Chairman Mao” by Li Zhisui, Mao’s personal doctor of many years, is considered a particular abomination. The book describes Mao as a tyrannical personality with a fiendish sexual appetite and appalling personal hygiene who suffered from a motor neuron disease in his last years.

“There is literally no way to get this book in China,” Mr. Liu said. “Just imagine if I put two copies on the shelves. The minimum punishment would be a fine of $3,000. The medium-level punishment would be shutting down the bookstore. And the most extreme would be the bookstore owner jailed for three to five years.”

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Daily Report: The Mystery of Amazon’s Bookstores


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Amazon is poised to expand its one Seattle bookstore into a chain of such stores. Or is it?

The rumor mill went into overdrive earlier this week when Sandeep Mathrani, chief executive of the mall properties company General Growth Properties, said on a conference call that Amazon was planning to open 300 to 400 physical bookstores. After his comments went viral — many people are eager to believe that Amazon is stretching its tentacles into all sorts of areas — Mr. Mathrani’s company issued a one-sentence statement late Wednesday afternoon to amend what he had said, noting his remarks were “not intended to represent Amazon’s plans.”

The backtracking immediately became the butt of jokes on social media, with numerous quips circulating on Twitter about the trustworthiness of mall company C.E.O.s. “I can’t believe a mall C.E.O. lied to us,” went one tweet. “What next, we find out they don’t have the real Santa?”

So what’s the truth of the matter?

While the scale of Amazon’s store expansion plans may not be as broad as Mr. Mathrani described, the Internet retailer is planning at least some modest growth in its number of bookstores, wrote Nick Wingfield. And according to Recode, that may just be the beginning of potential plans for other types of stores, too.

Amazon has not commented on any store plans. And if its unveiling of the Seattle bookstore last year is any guide to future behavior — the company said nothing about the retail space until the store was essentially open for business — the odds of Amazon disclosing its plans are slim.