Books are very cultural, localised things. In Japan, they have smooth thin milk tea pages. Thin card covers, perfect binding, and glossy dustcovers over all that. Large stylised images. Some are hardcovers, usually also glossy. On the back are barcodes and prices. On the dust covers there will sometimes be short summaries, but you're more likely to find a photograph of the author and illustrator and a list of their most recent works and a lot of white space. Often there will be a wraparound in bright yellow or red, announcing in thick black calligraphy that there is now a TV series screening.
These books are made to fit into pockets on trains. They are made to be thumbed often. They are consumable goods that are sold for 100 yen secondhand in fluorescent lit chain stores. More bookish stores will wrap their covers in brown paper and it is never really clear whether this is to protect the dustcover from the journey home, or the people on the journey home from the dazzling colours of the dustcover.
In England they are larger, generally. Though some will have new hardcover releases, most come in smaller formats. Paperback, but with thicker paper than Japan's. Slightly less perfectly bound, with the shiny plastic protection slapped right onto the cheaper and thicker cardboard covers. All over, they glisten with large author's names and titles. On the back, are a few quotes and summaries. Inside the front page is a heirarchy of bibliographical information and title pages. Sometimes tables of contents. Either at the front or the back, there will be a list of other novels the author has written. Children's books will often have paragraph-long samples or summaries of plot. If it's been published recently, there will be polite notes about the sustainable forests and recycled pulp used to print the book (and on the cover a quote from Neil Gaiman or Diana Wynne Jones).
In Australia, various taxes are applied to sales, and nobody can afford new books. People argue about whether or not to relax parallel import laws, because books in the countries without VAT and GST are cheaper, completely bypassing the cause of the problem. When an Australian book is published, it tends to look like like a book that has been hastily imported from England, with a new flyleaf.
In America, people wonder why you are reading. Despite this, they are the country that consumes the largest amount of poorly edited pulp fiction. Books written in other countries, or that deal with complex words like philosophy, and alien objects like garbage, are censored to include simpler and more appropriate language. Some books when translated have chapters removed and re-organised to suit the "target market", and sometimes these books end up with better continuity and are sold as revised editions back home. The books have special covers made for each target sub-market, for hardcover and paperback editions. NEIL GAIMAN! They cry out, in bright purple and pink and red. Oh, and by the way, this one's called American Gods. But don't let that get in the way of the Name, the publisher's logo, and the newspaper tag-line reviews on the back page. New York Times says this book is worth at least three platitudinous remarks! Best book I've read in the last three minutes!
There are flavours, that affect how we perceive books. In Japan, books are like water, and everyone consumes some. In England, they are enjoyed and then returned to the library. In Australia, they are hoarded jealously and scrounged from charity stores. In America, the concept of the book as a historical and beautiful artefact is emphasised and romanticised, in contrast to the flashier aspects of the publishing industry.
So it is understandable that when Dokusensha and then The British Library's L.L.L.U. Departments were shut down due to unforeseen megalomaniac conspiracies, it took a while for the rest of the globe to fill the void. Time was needed not only for the information to get out, but for the smaller powers in literary global politics to adapt to the new situation. Different concepts, different cultural needs, and most importantly of all, different books affected them all.
Some of the early signs were noticeable; franchise bookstores in Australia demanding more money from small local publishers, controversies over distribution contracts and exploitation of authors with an online sales network in the UK... but these were all meaningless in comparison to the larger problem that began – as the way things in the US are wont – with a team of hired lawyers and an argument over intellectual property.
Notes – since this is set immediately following the TV series, Diana Wynne Jones is not dead. In every story I write that is set in our universe, before that sad day, I smile because it's a world that still has DWJ in it. I began writing this in 2009, long before the 2011 closures of Angus and Robertson and Borders bookstores in Australia and worldwide. My thanks to Beatrice for proofreading these first sections for me.
Disclaimer: There are things about the Google Books project that I appreciate, things about the Google Books Settlement that I dislike. This is a work of fiction, and it is not portraying my personal feelings on the matter. I also do not think that The British Library ever had a secret agent department... though if they do have one, I am currently unemployed and can be recruited.