Two pretty easy ways to add revenue that most publishers are missing

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

The biggest publishers today are regularly delivering improved profit performance on a flat or declining sales base. This masks a troubling truth about today’s book business. The core asset base of a book publisher is “performing titles”: the books that are delivering measurable revenues. The more of them there are the healthier the business is.

Thirty years ago, big publishers were adding to that core title base and, in fact, it was the effort and investment required to deliver new titles into the marketplace that made short-term profits harder to earn. Today’s reality is that new titles are much harder to introduce successfully and publishers have responded to that by flattening and even reducing new title production.

But another twist of the past 30 years is that there are more ways to get profits out of the backlist. Ebooks and digital delivery of audio, along with the online print book marketplace, have made it possible to generate revenue from books that might have been declared “out of print” with rights cheerfully reverted in the 20th century. So far, the additional sales from digital renditions and online sales, combined with the reduced costs associated with digital delivery and reduced returns associated with the shift from stores to online sales, have enabled profit growth without topline sales increases.

Of course, the fact that nothing ever goes out of print is part of what contributes to the title glut that has made launching new titles successfully so much more difficult.

There are two new opportunities to deliver profitable topline sales growth that publishers can’t get at without making some adjustments to their standard thinking about their business. It would seem inevitable that they will turn to them, even though both opportunities have been in place for a while and uptake has not been very rapid or widespread. I had to resist being sensational and titling this post “free money for publishers that they just aren’t putting in their pockets”, but that’s actually what it is about.

One of these opportunities is to set up all titles with Ingram Lightning Source for what their Chairman John Ingram calls “just in case, rather than just in time” use of print-on-demand. The other is to put some of the thousands of titles every big publisher has that are virtually non-performing into Open Road’s “Ignition” program for ebooks. (Yes, both of these companies are my clients, but they have built these capabilities to help the publishers without any direction from me.)

The Ingram opportunity is really easy to understand. Books that are in Ingram’s digital database can be delivered by their wholesale arm to every account in the world tomorrow, whether or not there is presently any stock. This matters every time there is a significant publicity break that generates demand that wipes out Ingram’s stock and they have to wait for the publisher to provide replenishment.

. . . .

The most recent eye-opening example of this was the recent death of basketball star Kobe Bryant. Apparently there were half-a-dozen Bryant books, none of which had stock to meet demand and none of which were set up for print-on-demand. When I asked a friend at Ingram how often he sees books where substantial sales are lost because they aren’t set up for immediate POD, he said “every day”.

Publishers probably need to sharpen their pencils and re-do their math. Although it is true that delivering a POD book is a great sacrifice of margin for a publisher compared to one from their own warehouse, it is both not as great a sacrifice as they think and, really, no sacrifice at all if a sale that would otherwise be lost is captured. Lower print unit costs for pressruns can be misleading if the publisher doesn’t consider the costs of multiple handlings, delivery, returns, and books printed but never used.

. . . .

The Ignition opportunity is almost as obvious a winner. Open Road started its life as an ebook publisher with a list built on the industry’s failure to see ebooks coming. Former Harper CEO Jane Friedman saw the ubiquitous contractual ambiguity around ebook rights as an opportunity and corralled a large number of titles before the publishers plugged the holes in their contracts. That left Open Road with a big list of ebooks but no real mechanism to grow their list.

So they started working on doing ebook marketing in a more focused and determined way than other publishers with big backlists. Open Road developed an understanding that the top 100,000 ranked ebook titles got boosts from industry algorithms (largely Amazon’s), but, of course, every publisher’s list (including their own) had thousands of titles that ranked well below that, in the millions and nowhere near the top 100,000.

So Open Road developed tools to move titles from virtually zero sales to really measurable ones, building mailing lists of identified customers through use of verticals (subject-specific targeting) and bargains (price-shopping consumers can really boost a title.) Doing this not only required cash and focused effort, it also required time. They’ve been at this for a few years and anybody starting now will not be able to do it much faster. In fact, there are almost certainly early mover advantages that benefited Open Road and will no longer apply.

Their results are consistently dramatic. On one representative group of 5000 titles, Ignition was able to move more than 6% of the bottom 3500 titles from ranks in the millions to a performance that would have put them in the top 10 percent of the total group. The total revenue of the 5000 titles in the year before Open Road had them was $2.4 million. It should have declined by 20-40 percent. Instead, they almost tripled the take to $6.8 million. The 500 bottom titles rose from 0 sales to $108,000; the next 500 moved up from a total of $3500 to $226,000.

. . . .

The Open Road opportunity rescues titles from total oblivion and, in addition to the ebook sales Open Road builds and shares in, grows their print sales as well. This presents publishers with the ability to create performing titles out of “dead” backlist using ebook sales and marketing to power the growth.

. . . .

Publishers in bygone days licensed mass-market paperback rights to other publishers because they didn’t have the capability to sell to the rack jobbers and the title was no longer performing in their conventional channels. Licenses were for a term, and then they reverted. This situation seems really analogous to me.

Any publisher that has thousands of titles listed in their catalogs as still “in print” but which they know are producing nearly zero sales has little to lose and a lot to gain by putting those titles into Open Road’s Ignition System.

And any publisher who sets up all their titles with Lightning and their most comatose backlist with Open Road will have sales growth they couldn’t have gotten any other way.

Link to the rest at Mike Shatzkin

PG notes that if the publishers are missing ways of adding revenue per the OP, their authors are receiving smaller royalty payments and are not in a position to do anything meaningful to increase them.

All your yesteryears

I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.

~ Beryl Markham

The Authors Guild Rehashes Bogus Author Income Survey as a “New” Report

From The Digital Reader:

Earlier this week The Publishers Authors Guild released a report that “explores the factors leading to the decline in the writing profession. Alas, this report is based on the flawed survey that I debunked last January, making it the epitome of the “garbage in, garbage out” error.

As I reported last year:

The Authors Guild report in particular is flawed because it is based on a self-selected survey group where self-published authors are under-represented and retirement age traditionally authors are over-represented.

And as Len Epps pointed out in the comment of that post, 18% of the survey respondents didn’t make any income from their writing in the previous year. This would arguably disqualify them from being “full-time authors” (I would call them retired, actually).

. . . .

If nothing else, its very mindset is flawed. Like we’ve seen in other The Authors Guild statements on this topic, this report focused on the income of published authors and conveniently overlooks the fact that before the internet, 99% of authors made nothing from the sale of their books because they could not get published in the first place.

Of the remaining 1%, maybe one in a hundred could make a living at it.

What The Authors Guild wants you to do is focus on the 0.01% so they can wring their hands over the poor, beleaguered authors. I am not sure what The Authors Guild gains by pushing this narrative, but it is as false as TAG’s claim that piracy is a major problem (when in fact their data shows the opposite is true).

What I do know was that author income as an aggregate is up. The 99.99% are making more than ever before by bypassing publishers entirely and going directly to market. Thanks to Amazon setting the standard, most ebook retailers pay better royalties than publishers ever did (another detail that The Authors Guild hoped you would overlook).

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

As usual, Nate is on target. Amazon permanently upset the publishing applecart when it treated self-published books in the same way it treated books from traditional publishers. Amazon also recognized the superior profit potential for ebooks over their printed ancestors.

Big Publishing made precisely the wrong decisions at every stage of the upheaval in the book business. It sacrificed billions of dollars trying to prop up the ancient way of doing things – printed books to wholesalers to bookstores then back to wholesalers if they didn’t sell then to the pulp mills to be recycled (maybe), costing money, burning carbon and polluting the atmosphere at every step.

When faced with a choice between Jeff Bezos (one of the most brilliant merchandising and sales minds of the last 30 years) and Amazon or Leonard Riggio (a very long distance from being in the Bezos class) and Barnes & Noble, Big Publishing chose the old guys and the old ways. The Manhattan geniuses then proceeded to break the law in a way that any law student could tell them was obviously illegal to force Amazon to sell books for higher prices (so people would buy fewer books, which any economics or MBA student could tell them would happen).

And now Big Publishing and its wheezing enablers have staked their futures on promulgating the idea that, in 2020 and moving forward, talented authors can build better careers and make more money by signing terrible life-long publishing agreements which give the same publishers who have made so many stupid decisions the right to control everything about how the author’s books are produced, promoted, priced and sold.

This strategy requires that nobody in the Manhattan mafia ever (no never) acknowledge that more and more indie authors, including authors who used to be traditionally-published, are making more and more money self-publishing their books than they ever could while giving most of the money people pay for their books to those who didn’t write them.

Simply put, every year, more and more talented writers are enjoying monthly checks from Amazon and have either avoided working with traditional publishers entirely or regard their experience in doing so as their single worst business decision.

My favourite Mantel

From The Guardian:

From Wolf Hall to Beyond Black and Giving Up The Ghost, cultural figures pick their highlights from a remarkable career

Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies

Margaret Atwood
The Tudors! Who can resist them? Gossip! Rumour! Scandal! Ruffs! Backstabbing! Madrigals! Farthingales! Witchcraft! Lace-on velvet sleeves! Cut-off body parts! More!

We know the plot, or at least its bare outlines, but we seem compelled to relive it in books, films, plays, operas, and television series: and all the more so when viewed through the shrewd, calculating, vengeful, cautious, Machiavellian eyes of master game-player Thomas Cromwell, fixer and hitman to Henry VIII, as rendered in sumptuous, riveting detail by Hilary Mantel in Wolf Hall. If Cromwell had had a phone Mantel could hack, you’d scarcely be brought closer to the inner wheels and cogs of his bloody-minded and bloody-handed machinations.

Bring Up the Bodies picks up from Wolf Hall. Things are not going well for Anne Boleyn, who has beguiled her way into the queendom over the cast-off though not yet dead body of Katherine of Aragon, but has failed to produce a male heir. Nor is she playing her cards adroitly: she’s too smart, too argumentative, too intent on influencing policy, too secretly Protestant, and too prone to miscarriages. It’s clear that Henry now wants to be rid of her, having spotted a more docile girl in Jane Seymour; and once he’s made this wish explicit, Cromwell goes to work. It’s always a dicey job, being henchman to an absolutist tyrant, especially one who’s becoming increasingly paranoid and petulant. There was that fall from the horse and the concussion, and then the weeping sore on his leg: what exactly was wrong with Henry? Doctors are still pondering; but whatever it was, it did not improve his temper.

We’re the silent sharers of Cromwell’s deliberations as he weaves his way to his goal – the removal of Anne, and, not incidentally, payback for the courtiers who had humiliated his old master, Cardinal Wolsey – through secret dealing, blackmailing, hectoring, torturing, and the stage-managing of a bogus show trial worthy of Stalin. We know the story won’t end well for him – henchmen often capsize – but we watch with horror and admiration as he achieves his gruesome ends.

Mantel’s triumph is to make us understand – and even like, in a grudging sort of way – this historically unattractive figure. Her meticulous research is lightly worn, unlike the carefully considered fabrics and textures of the courtiers, and her depiction of the many flawed human instruments on which Cromwell plays is sadly convincing.

I await the forthcoming third volume, The Mirror & the Light, with great anticipation. There’s an axe in it somewhere, I’m guessing. No spoilers though.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Fort McMurray is the Land of Lovers as Amazon Canada

PG missed this on Valentine’s Day.

From Amazon Media Relations:

Fort McMurray, Alberta – technically the largest unincorporated “city” in the province – has plenty to brag about heading into Valentine’s Day, because it snagged the top spot on Amazon Canada’s list of Most Romantic Cities. For the last seven years, Victoria, British Columbia held the top spot, but this year that all changed. Fort McMurray climbs to No. 1 from its previous No.3 standing to show that there’s some competition for its western neighbour.

The eleventh annual ranking was compiled by comparing sales data from January 1, 2019 to January 1, 2020 on a per capita basis in cities with more than 20,000 residents. The data looks at purchases of romance novels (both print and Kindle editions), romantic comedies, relationship books, jewellery and sexual wellness products.

This year, the Top 20 Most Romantic Cities in Canada are:  

  1. Fort McMurray, Alberta
  2. Toronto, Ontario (new)
  3. Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (new)
  4. Bonnyville, Alberta (new)
  5. North York, Ontario (new)
  6. Ottawa, Ontario (new)
  7. Grande Prairie, Alberta
  8. Burlington, Ontario
  9. Kelowna, British Columbia 
  10. Victoria, British Columbia
  11. Whitehorse, Yukon
  12. Calgary, Alberta (new)
  13. Quesnel, British Columbia (new)
  14. Cranbrook, British Columbia (new)
  15. Edmonton, Alberta (new)
  16. Pembroke, Ontario (new)
  17. Campbell River, British Columbia (new)
  18. Prince George, British Columbia (new)
  19. Kingston, Ontario (new)
  20. Revelstoke, British Columbia (new)

Link to the rest at Amazon Media Relations

One of the many things for which PG is not qualified to opine is Romantic Cities in Canada or almost anywhere else.

Legal Decision Just Upheld a $6.75 Million Victory for the Street Artists Whose Works Were Destroyed at the 5Pointz Graffiti Mecca

From Artnet News:

In a sweeping 32-page decision eviscerating the legal arguments of a disgruntled Queens real estate developer, a US Appeals Court affirmed the rights and monetary damages awarded to a group of graffiti artists whose works were destroyed without warning or consent in 2013.

The artists sued the developer, Gerald Wolkoff, in 2013 for violating their rights after he whitewashed their work at the famous 5Pointz graffiti art mecca in New York to make way for condos. A jury ruled in favor of the artists in November 2017, but it was up to a judge to determine the extent of the damages.

In February 2018, Brooklyn Supreme Court judge Frederick Block awarded the artists a total $6.75 million in a landmark decision. The sum included $150,000—the maximum legal penalty—for each of the 45 destroyed works at the center of the case.

The trial was a key test of the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), which grants visual artists certain “moral rights” for their work. Previous VARA cases rarely made it to trial, and were instead settled privately.

But the act, which was added to copyright laws in 1990, disallows the modification of works in ways that could be considered harmful to artists’ reputations, and grants protections to artworks deemed to be of “recognized stature.”

Link to the rest at Artnet News

Photos of the art prior to destruction are at the OP.

Serfs of Academe

From The New York Review of Books:

Adjunct, a novel by Geoff Cebula, is a love letter to academia, a self-help book, a learned disquisition on an obscure genre of Italian film, and a surprisingly affecting satire-cum-horror-comedy. In other words, exactly the kind of strange, unlucrative, interdisciplinary work that university presses, if they take any risks at all, should exist to print. Given the parlous state of academic publishing—with Stanford University Press nearly shutting down and all but a few presses ordered to turn profits or else—it should perhaps come as no surprise that one of the best recent books on the contemporary university was instead self-published on Amazon. Cebula, a scholar of Slavic literature who finished his Ph.D. in 2016 and then taught in a variety of contingent positions, learned his lesson. Adjunct became the leading entry in the rapidly expanding genre of academic “quit-lit,” the lovelorn farewell letters from those who’ve broken up with the university for good. Rather than continue to try for a tenure-track teaching gig, Cebula’s moved on and is now studying law.

The novel’s heroine, Elena Malatesta, is an instructor of Italian at Bellwether College, an academically nondescript institution located somewhere in the northeast. Her teaching load—the number of officially designated “credit hours” per semester—has been reduced to just barely over half-time, allowing the college to offer minimum benefits even though her work seems to take up all of her day. Recently, the college has been advised to make still deeper cuts to the language departments, which are said to not only distract students but to actively harm them by inducing an interest in anything other than lucre. Elena responds with a mixture of paranoia and dark comedy: after the cuts there will be only so many jobs in languages left—maybe the Hindi teacher, anxious about her own position, is conspiring to bump her off? Then Elena had better launch a preemptive strike: this could be a “kill or be killed” situation.

Like a good slasher flick, Adjunct proceeds through misdirection and red herrings, pointing to one potential perp after another—does the department chair have a knife?—to keep the reader as anxious as Elena, while her colleagues, first to her delight and then alarm, begin disappearing. Conveniently, Elena’s own research centers on Italian giallo films, which combine elements of suspense and horror and are one of the cinematic sources for American classics like Halloween (1978), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and Scream (1996). As she flees into the safe confines of her office hours—the attackers’ only fear seems to be endangering the college’s primary profit source, the students—she thinks of the films she has assigned to her class and the ways they mirror her own predicament. A giallo, Elena thinks, depicts a world where the “circumstances determining who would live or die were completely ridiculous,” a life of “pervasive contingency”—“contingent” being the most common term for part-time and contract-based academic labor. This is why horror, for Cebula, becomes the natural genre through which to depict the life of the contemporary adjunct, which is to say, the majority of academic workers today.

One suspects that Cebula’s inspiration for this lark came directly from genuine academic horror stories. Among the best known involves an adjunct at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh who taught French for twenty-five years, her salary never rising above $20,000, before dying nearly homeless in 2013 at the age of eighty-three, her classes cut, with no retirement benefits or health insurance. At San José State University in Silicon Valley, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, one English teacher lives out of her car, grading papers after dark by headlamp and keeping things neat so as to “avoid suspicion.” Another adjunct in an unidentified “large US city,” reports The Guardian, turned to sex work rather than lose her apartment.

Though these stories are extreme, they are illustrative of the current academic workplace. According to the UC Berkeley Labor Center, 25 percent of part-time faculty nationally rely on public assistance programs. In 1969, 78 percent of instructional staff at US institutions of higher education were tenured or on the tenure track; today, after decades of institutional expansion amid stagnant or dwindling budgets, the figure is 33 percent. More than one million workers now serve as nonpermanent faculty in the US, constituting 50 percent of the instructional workforce at public Ph.D.-granting institutions, 56 percent at public masters degree–granting institutions, 62 percent at public bachelors degree–granting institutions, 83 percent at public community colleges, and 93 percent at for-profit institutions.

To account for these developments, some may look to the increasing age of retirement of tenure-track faculty, which now stands at well over seventy. But, anecdotally at least, the reason many tenured faculty wait so long to retire may be the knowledge that they will not be replaced—when a Victorian poetry professor calls it quits, so, at many institutions, does her entire subfield. Who wants to know they will be the last person to teach a seminar on Tennyson? Others will blame the explosion of nonacademic staff: between 1975 and 2005, the number of full-time faculty in US higher education increased by 51 percent, while the number of administrators increased by 85 percent and the number of nonmanagerial professional staff increased by 240 percent. Such criticism can easily become unfair, as when teachers resent other workers who have taken over some of their old tasks—in fact sparing them chores like advising or curricula development—or when they act as though the university could do without programs that have made possible greater openness (such as Title IX officers and support for first-generation students).

. . . .

Just as business managers in private industry squeezed workers to satisfy ever more demanding shareholders, taking home a cut for themselves in the process, so university administrators have reduced teacher pay and increased job insecurity in an effort to make possible expansions in operations that typically resulted in yet more administrative and professional staff, and higher salaries for those who directed them. In this process, teachers, because of their commitment to their jobs and the relative nontransferability of their skills, were simply more exploitable than, say, financial compliance officers. Notably, between 1975 and 2005, the proportion of part-time administrators in higher education decreased from 4 percent to 3 percent, even as the proportion of part-time adjuncts exploded. As one college vice-president advised a group of adjuncts at a large community college in the 2000s (the specific details are left vague for fear of retaliation), “You should realize that you are not considered faculty, or even people. You are units of flexibility.”

Link to the rest at The New York Review of Books.

If PG were King for a day, he would require that colleges and universities publish annual statistics disclosing what percentage of their courses are taught by adjunct faculty and the names of the classes and departments in which those classes reside. He has little doubt that someone will collect such data and publish comparisons between various institutions.

PG suspects that English Literature and Creative Writing are the professional homes for an outsized portion of adjuncts.

Given the sky-high cost of most colleges in the US these days and the massive debt many students and their families incur to pay those costs, prospective students may wish to know how many classes they will be taking that are taught by part-time or poorly-paid adjunct faculty.

How We Bury the War Dead

A comment about a touching story concerning the service of a soldier in World War II that PG posted a couple of days ago sent him on a short online research project.

From The Wall Street Journal ( May 29, 2010 ):

The U.S. military didn’t always bring home its dead. In the Seminole Indian Wars in the early 1800s, most of the troops were buried near where they fell. The remains of some dead officers were collected and sent back to their families, but only if the men’s relatives paid all of the costs. Families had to buy and ship a leaded coffin to a designated military quartermaster, and after the body had been disinterred, they had to cover the costs of bringing the coffin home.

Today, air crews have flown the remains of more than 5,000 dead troops back to the U.S. since the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan began.

For those charged with bringing out the dead, it is one of the military’s most emotionally taxing missions. The men and women of the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command function as the nation’s pallbearers, ferrying flag-draped remains to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware from battlefields half a world away.

The missions take a heavy toll on the air crews, but many of the pilots and loadmasters say their work is part of a sacred military obligation to fallen troops and their families. Air Force Capt. Tenaya Humphrey was a young girl when her father, Maj. Zenon Goc, died in a military plane crash in Texas in 1992. She remembers his body being flown to Dover before his burial in Colorado.

Capt. Humphrey and her husband, Matthew, are now C-17 pilots who regularly fly dead troops back to the U.S. and then on to their home states for final burial. “It’s emotional for everyone who’s involved,” she says. “But it’s important for the family to know that at every step along the way their loved one is watched over and cared for.”

Bringing fallen troops home is a relatively modern idea. Until the late 19th century, military authorities did little to differentiate and identify dead troops. Roughly 14,000 soldiers died from combat and disease during the Mexican-American War of 1846, but only 750 sets of remains were recovered and brought back, by covered wagon, to the U.S. for burial. None of the fallen soldiers were ever personally identified.

The modern system for cataloguing and burying military dead effectively began during the Civil War, when the enormity of the carnage triggered a wholesale revolution in how the U.S. treated fallen troops. Congress decided that the defenders of the Union were worthy of special burial sites for their sacrifices, and set up a program of national cemeteries.

During the war, more than 300,000 dead Union soldiers were buried in small cemeteries scattered across broad swaths of the U.S. When the fighting stopped, military authorities launched an ambitious effort to collect the remains and rebury them in the handful of national cemeteries.

The move “established the precedent that would be followed in future wars, even when American casualties lay in foreign soil,” Michael Sledge writes in “Soldier Dead,” a history of how the U.S. has handled its battlefield fatalities.

. . . .

The relatives of fallen troops in both world wars were given the choice of having their loved ones permanently interred in large overseas cemeteries or brought back to the U.S. for reburial.

Those who wanted their sons or husbands returned to them were in for a long wait. Fallen troops had been buried in hundreds of temporary cemeteries near the sites of major battles throughout Europe. When World War I ended, the families of 43,909 dead troops asked for their remains to be brought back to the U.S. by boat, while roughly 20,000 chose to have the bodies remain in Europe. The war ended in 1918, but the first bodies of troops killed in the conflict weren’t sent back to the U.S. until 1921.

World War II posed a bigger logistical challenge, since American war dead were scattered around the globe. Nearly 80,000 U.S. troops died in the Pacific, for example, and 65,000 of their bodies were first buried in almost 200 battlefield cemeteries there.

Once the fighting ended, the bodies were dug up and consolidated into larger regional graveyards. The first returns of World War II dead took place in the fall of 1947, six years after the attack at Pearl Harbor. Eventually, 171,000 of the roughly 280,000 identified remains were brought back to the U.S.

Today, the remains of 124,909 fallen American troops from conflicts dating back to the Mexican-American war are buried at a network of 24 permanent cemeteries in Europe, Panama, Tunisia, the Philippines and Mexico.

. . . .

The military now goes to tremendous lengths to recover the remains of fallen troops. In March 2002, a Navy Seal named Neil Roberts fell out of the back of a Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan and was cornered and killed by militants on the ground. The U.S. sent in a second helicopter to attempt a rescue, but six members of its crew were killed in the ensuing firefight.

Then-Brig. Gen. John Rosa, the deputy director of operations for the Joint Staff, told reporters that U.S. commanders ordered the high-risk recovery mission to ensure that Petty Officer Roberts’ body didn’t fall into enemy hands.

“There was an American, for whatever reason, [who] was left behind,” Gen. Rosa said at the time. “And we don’t leave Americans behind.”

The military’s system of concurrent return is basically still in use today, with modern technology cutting the lag time between when troops die in the field and when they are returned to their families down to as little as one day.

On May 16, Navy Petty Officer Zarian Wood, a 29-year-old medic who had deployed overseas less than a month earlier, died from wounds suffered in a bomb blast in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. Marine Cpl. Nicolas Parada-Rodriguez, the son of immigrants who moved to the U.S. two decades ago, was killed in Helmand that same day.

The following evening, the remains of both men were slowly lowered from the cargo deck of a civilian 747 that the military had chartered to fly their bodies back to Dover. Cpl. Parada-Rodriguez’s relatives could be heard weeping as the transfer case carrying his body was taken off the plane.

. . . .

The military doesn’t have air crews who are assigned specifically to the mission of bringing out the nation’s war dead. Instead, the work is assigned to crews depending on their locations and the speed with which they can stop at bases in Afghanistan and Iraq to pick up fallen troops and their military escorts.

Air crews are tight-knit groups of men and women who typically pass the long hours in the air and on the ground telling jokes and needling each other. But veterans of the repatriation missions say the mood among the flight crew changes immediately after they get orders to pick up fallen troops.

“You can sense it in the crew,” says Maj. Brian O’Connell, a C-17 pilot who has flown the remains of a half-dozen soldiers and Marines. “As soon as everybody knows about it, the attitude changes, a lot.”

The long flights from the war zones mean that the air crews spend hours with the flag-covered remains. Air Force Tech Sgt. Donny Maheux, a C-17 loadmaster, says he often finds himself staring at the metallic transfer cases holding the bodies of the dead soldiers and wondering what kind of people they were. “I’m looking at [the remains] the whole flight,” he says. “Sometimes I wonder, ‘What if it was my family on the receiving end?'”

When they land at Dover, the crews often choose to remain with their plane until the families of the dead troops arrive to see the bodies of their loved ones taken off of the plane. Since the planes land late at night and early in the morning, it can sometimes be hours before the families arrive for the transfer ceremonies.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

PG has previously posted about a beautiful US Military Cemetery outside of Florence, Italy.

The Legend of Limberlost

From Smithsonian Magazine:

My dear Girl:
In the first place will you allow me to suggest that you forget
hereafter to tack the “ess” on to “author”, because one who writes
a book or poem is an author and literature has no sex.
–Gene Stratton-Porter, letter to Miss Mabel Anderson, March 9, 1923

. . . .

Yellow sprays of prairie dock bob overhead in the September morning light. More than ten feet tall, with a central taproot reaching even deeper underground, this plant, with its elephant-ear leaves the texture of sandpaper, makes me feel tipsy and small, like Alice in Wonderland.

I am walking on a trail in a part of northeast Indiana that in the 19th century was impenetrable swamp and forest, a wilderness of some 13,000 acres called the Limberlost. Nobody knows the true origin of the name. Some say an agile man known as “Limber” Jim Corbus once got lost there. He either returned alive or died in the quicksand and quagmires, depending which version you hear.

Today, a piece of the old Limberlost survives in the Loblolly Marsh Nature Preserve, 465 acres of restored swampland in the midst of Indiana’s endless industrial corn and soybean fields. It’s not obvious to the naked eye, but life here is imitating art imitating life. The artist was Gene Stratton-Porter, an intrepid naturalist, novelist, photographer and movie producer who described and dramatized the Limberlost over and over, and so, even a century after her death, served as a catalyst for saving this portion of it.

As famous in the early 1900s as J.K. Rowling is now, Stratton-Porter published 26 books: novels, nature studies, poetry collections and children’s books. Only 55 books published between 1895 and 1945 sold upwards of one million copies. Gene Stratton-Porter wrote five of those books—far more than any other author of her time. Nine of her novels were made into films, five by Gene Stratton-Porter Productions, one of the first movie and production companies owned by a woman. “She did things wives of wealthy bankers just did not do,” says Katherine Gould, curator of cultural history at the Indiana State Museum.

Her natural settings, wholesome themes and strong lead characters fulfilled the public’s desires to connect with nature and give children positive role models. She wrote at a pivotal point in American history. The frontier was fading. Small agrarian communities were turning into industrial centers connected by railroads. By the time she moved to the area, in 1888, this unique watery wilderness was disappearing because of the Swamp Act of 1850, which had granted “worthless” government-owned wetlands to those who drained them. Settlers took the land for timber, farming and the rich deposits of oil and natural gas. Stratton-Porter spent her life capturing the landscape before, in her words, it was “shorn, branded and tamed.” Her impact on conservation was later compared to President Theodore Roosevelt’s.

. . . .

One of the movement’s leaders, Ken Brunswick, remembered reading Stratton-Porter’s What I Have Done With Birds when he was young—a vibrant 1907 nature study that reads like an adventure novel. At a time when most bird studies and illustrations were based on dead, stuffed specimens, Stratton-Porter mucked through the Limberlost in her swamp outfit in search of birds and nests to photograph:

A picture of a Dove that does not make that bird appear tender and loving, is a false reproduction. If a study of a Jay does not prove the fact that it is quarrelsome and obtrusive it is useless, no matter how fine the pose or portrayal of markings….A Dusky Falcon is beautiful and most intelligent, but who is going to believe it if you illustrate the statement with a sullen, sleepy bird?

Link to the rest at Smithsonian Magazine

We’re Multi-Platform Beings

From Publishing Perspectives:

Saying that the book is no longer a business model in itself, Roger Casas-Alatriste insists on a transmedial approach for publishers.

. . . .

In a keynote address at Tuesday’s (February 18) annual CONTEC México conference in Mexico city, issues of transmedia have been described as “the capacity to think how our stories can be transmitted through different platforms.”

. . . .

Casas-Alatriste told his audience at Centro Cultural de España, “We’re multi-platform beings, and our multiple devices are our platforms. We’re full of stories, and we’re what we tell and how we tell it.

“Technology empowers our narrative potential.”

El Cañonazo–as a phrase, it translates to a cannon blast–is a digital content strategy agency with clients that include airlines, insurance companies, media outlets, telecommunications companies and retail chains. As the pitch has it, the company helps them “make a bang.”

. . . .

“We have a diversified business model with audiovisual production, an agency for branded content, and a creative studio for transmedia. That allows us to focus on different sectors.”

. . . .

“The media have now realized that they can use creativity from other sources,” Casas-Alatriste says. “We can contribute with our content to all kinds of businesses and departments, because all companies need stories to connect to their customers, and those companies don’t always have the team to attend to their narrative needs.

. . . .

“Advertising is based on repetition that interrupts the content you’re trying to consume,” Casas-Alatriste says, “and that interruption is increasingly less effective because we’re using media such as Spotify and Netflix–impervious to such ads.

“We believe that branded content should be complementary to publicity. In order to sell you a product I have to make friends with you. As consumers, we need to like a brand in order to consume its products.”

Thanks to the Internet and smartphones, Casas-Alatriste says, we’re all compulsive consumers of content–as well as content creators.

“But we can no longer think of ourselves as just being creators of content,” he says, “we have to see content as liquid for use on multiple platforms. And if we don’t think like that, then our days are numbered.”

Casas-Alatriste says the book by itself should no longer be seen as a business model. And that, he says, is a “pain point” for publishing. New models–modes, formats, and iterations–must be found for publishing’s content, and adaptations to film, television, audiobooks, and more are part of that.

To illustrate his point, Casas-Alatriste highlights how many films and television series are adapted from books, rather than arriving as original content. This, he says, is definitional to transmedia.

. . . .

“It’s a question,” he says, “of producing more stories from the same story.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Copyright and Collective Authorship: Locating the Authors of Collaborative Works

From IPKat:

[Author Dr. Daniela] Simone assesses how UK law defines shared authorship and how authorship is then allocated among creative collaborators. The book confirms copyright’s reputation as a legal framework ill-suited for collaborative creative processes, arguing that it prefers single authorship (and ownership). As a result, rights tend to be concentrated in singular, rather than, multiple, hands.
Simone explains the ‘why’ for copyright’s bias for single authorship and where such bias might come from. Simone then challenges this bias by offering an alternative read on copyright and collective authorship.
The book opens with a description of sole versus joint-authorship under UK law (Chapter 2). Simone’s analysis of case law on joint authorship sheds light on the oddities and incoherencies of the doctrine.

. . . .

(1) Joint-authors are held to a higher standard. In comparing the tests of single authorship with that of joint-authorship, Simone reveals that UK courts hold parties to a higher standard when they seek ‘joint-authorship’, because they must demonstrate a more ‘significant’ or ‘substantial’ contribution to the work. This difference in threshold has no statutory basis, as the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA) is neutral on this question (as was the text of the previous statutory formulations, e.g. here).
(2) The test for joint-authorship is built upon a small number of highly fact-sensitive cases. There is scant precedent on joint-authorship to turn to for guidance. The few case law authorities that we do have are difficult to apply because each case involves different types of creative work, creative processes and collaboration patterns.
(3) The joint-authorship doctrine is ‘polluted’ by concerns about shared ownership. Judicial discussion on the attribution of joint authorship often address whether it would be practical for the ownership of the work to be shared between multiple parties. This approach, Simone argues, conflates two different concepts of copyright (authorship and ownership), which copyright law takes such care to distinguish.
(4) The test for joint-authorship breaches the principle of aesthetic neutrality. It is a well-established principle of copyright law that copyright should apply regardless of the work’s aesthetics, artistic quality or genre. Judges keeping to this principle in the context of joint-authorship claims have complicated this jurisprudence. This principle has courts avoiding language that might refer to the aesthetics, genre or quality of the work. This is especially true when judges assess the evidence submitted by the parties on the creative process and their relative contribution to the work. But courts end up producing open-ended, vague, abstract, and inconsistent language by being overly cautious on this point. 

. . . .

Simone’s chief recommendation is to close this gap between the law and social norms on authorship and credits so that collective authorship enjoys its proper place within the framework of copyright. The author proposes to do so by importing into copyright law some of the more nuanced field-specific practices according to which collaborators negotiate authorship. Simone suggests that this should bring copyright into line with the expectations of creators on authorship and credits.

. . . .

These conclusions come after road-testing the joint-authorship doctrine on three types of collective authorship: Wikipedia entries (Chapter 4), Australian Indigenous Art (Chapter 5) and films (Chapter 6). The use of these three case studies in this way keeps Simone’s critique of the joint authorship doctrine rooted in concrete examples. 

Link to the rest at IPKat

PG suggests that a takeaway for authors is that, if you are writing a book with a co-author, you should have a signed contract that, among other things, specifies how authorship will be handled for copyright and book credit purposes.

As with a great many things legal, problems rear their ugly heads in this area of human relationships when money (often, but not always, significant amounts of money) is involved. On occasion, pride works almost as well as money.

Why Web Scraping/Spinning is Back

From Plagiarism Today:

February 23, 2011, was a banner day for plagiarism and copyright infringement of blog/news content. It was the day that Google launched a major Panda/Farmer update that sought to reduce the presence of “low quality” content in search results.

Though the change was aimed at so-called “content farms”, sites that would pay human authors small amounts to churn out countless articles of questionable quality, it ultimately hit a variety of other unwanted content types including article spinning, article marketing and web scraping.

Prior to this update, many spammers found a great deal of success by simply taking content they found on other sites and simply uploading it elsewhere. This was done with or without attribution, with or without modification and almost always without permission.

However, after the update, there was a scramble to get away from all forms of questionable content marketing. Other equally questionable tactics rose up from the ashes, but the plague of web scraping was seemingly done as a major concern for sites.

Unfortunately, nine years later (almost to the day), that is seemingly much less true. Now it’s easy to find scraped, plagiarized and otherwise copied articles in search results. To make matters worse, they often rank higher than the original.

So what happened? There doesn’t appear to be a clear answer. What is obvious is that Google (and other search engines) have a serious problem in front of them and the time to address it is now.

. . . .

In August, Jesselyn Cook at HuffPost wrote an article about “Bizarre Ripoff ‘News’ Sites” that were ripping off her work. There she provided several examples of her articles appearing on spammy sites with strange alterations to the text.

The alterations often made no sense. For example, “Bill Nye the Science Guy Goes OFF About Climate Change” became “Invoice Nye the Science Man goes OFF About Local Weather Change.”

To those familiar with article spinning, this is a very familiar tale. These sites are clearly using an automated tool to replace words with synonyms. The goal is to create content that appears, to Google at least, to be unique. Whether it’s human-readable is none of the site’s concern as long as they get those Google clicks (and some ad revenue). It’s a tactic that’s been around since at least 2004 and had a heyday during the late 2000s.

. . . .

The big question is “What changed?” Why is it that, after nearly a decade, these antiquated approaches to web spamming are back?

The real answer is that web scraping never really went away. The nature of spamming is that, even after a technique is defeated, people will continue to try it. The reason is fairly simple: Spam is a numbers game and, if you stop a technique 99.9% of the time, a spammer just has to try 1,000 times to have one success (on average).

But that doesn’t explain why many people are noticing more of these sites in their search results, especially when looking for certain kinds of news.

Part of the answer may come from a September announcement by Richard Gingras, Google’s VP for News. There, he talked about efforts they were making to elevate “original reporting” in search results. According to the announcement, Google strongly favored the latest or most comprehensive reporting on a topic. They were going to try and change that algorithm to show more preference to original reporting, keeping those stories toward the top for longer.

Whether that change has materialized is up for debate. I, personally, regularly see duplicative articles rank well both in Google and Google News even today. That said, some of the sites I was monitoring last month when I started researching this topic have disappeared from Google News.

But, whether there’s been a significant change or not, it illustrates the problem. By increasingly favoring “new” content, Google opened a door for these spammers. After all, any scraped, copied or spun version of an original article will appear to be “new” when compared to the original.

Link to the rest at Plagiarism Today

Olive Trees, Corfu

Olive Trees, Corfu
Date: 1909
Artist: John Singer Sargent
American, 1856-1925
The Art Institute of Chicago
CC0 Public Domain Designation

PG thinks the practice of an increasing number of museums in the United States, Europe and elsewhere to formally designate some pieces in their collections in the public domain under the Creative Commons CC0 Public Domain Designation copyright license is an excellent idea that will increase the public’s awareness of some wonderful pieces of art. Of course, no reproduction will have the same impact as the original has, so an anticipated by-product of these policy decisions is to draw more patrons to the various museums and galleries where these objects may be viewed.

From time to time, PG will post additional copies of various works that have been so designated.

PG enjoyed the Sargent painting in part because it reminded him of a lovely trip he took with Mrs. PG several years ago during which they visited the lovely island of Corfu, off the Northwest coast of Greece in the Ionian Sea.

Following are a couple of photos PG took on Corfu. The first is in an ancient Greek Orthodox monastery and the second is laundry day on a narrow little path between two buildings in the old town of Corfu.

Don’t Get Your Tax Refund on an Amazon Gift Card

From Lifehacker:

If your tax provider offers to put your tax refund on an Amazon gift card—or any other kind of gift card—say no.

Why? Because putting your tax refund on a gift card means that you’ll spend it on new purchases instead of using the money to pay down debt, build up your emergency fund, or save for the future.

And yes, gift card tax refunds have been a thing for a few years now. As Money.com reports, H&R Block is currently offering a bonus to any taxpayer willing to put their refund towards their next Amazon cart:

As Americans get ready do their taxes ahead of the April 15 deadline, the tax preparer that handles more than 20 million returns each year has a special offer for the do-it-yourself filers who use its software: Opt to get all or part (anywhere from $100 to $9,000) of your federal refund in the form of an Amazon gift card instead of cash, and you’ll receive an additional 4% on the amount you’re due.

In other words, H&R Block will turn that $2,800 into $2,912, as long as you agree to spend the money on…stuff.

Getting an extra 4% added to your tax refund might sound tempting, but remember that you don’t really get to keep the money—you have to give it to Amazon. 

Link to the rest at Lifehacker

PG had no idea this was a thing. Of course, with the help of his accountant, he has not qualified for a refund for several years.

Tariffs On Most Books from China Now 7.5%

From Publishers Weekly:

Tariffs on books manufactured in China continued to be slowly relaxed.

Following an agreement between China and the U.S. to a phase one trade deal in December, the U.S. Trade Representative indefinitely suspended an additional 15% duty on children’s picture, drawing, and coloring books. The duty had been slated to begin on December 15, 2019.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Should the Harvey Weinstein jury really be forbidden to review books?

From The Guardian:

As the jury in Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial begin their deliberations, his defence lawyers launched a last-minute bid to to get one juror discharged – by turning their attention to her reading material.

On Tuesday, Weinstein’s lawyer Damon Cheronis complained that juror No 11 was reading “books on predatory older men” and reviewing them online on Goodreads during the proceedings, reports Vulture. Cheronis argued that this was in violation of the court order not to consume media related to the trial, and sought to have her replaced on the jury.

. . . .

The allegations against Weinstein and the #MeToo movement they triggered did create a sensation in publishing, from the behind-the-scenes stories of reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey (She Said) and Ronan Farrow (Catch and Kill), to fictional interpretations such as This Is Pleasure by Mary Gaitskill and Kirsten Roupenian’s You Know You Want This.

In the case of Juror No 11, the book was My Dark Vanessa, the controversial debut by Kate Elizabeth Russell in which an adult woman reevaluates the sexual relationship she had with her teacher as a teenager. The Observer called it “an inversion of Lolita for the #MeToo generation … a book that asks what we have lost and gained in an era that has revolutionised the way we think about sex and power”. Juror No 11 wrote that she “liked a lot about this novel”, praising Russell’s handling of the difficult subject, but found flaws with characterisation in terms of how it related to the central theme.

In response to questioning from Justice James Burke, the juror confirmed she was currently reading Vanessa Springora’s memoir Le Consentement, about being preyed on by the writer Gabriel Matzneff at the age of 13 – but, she said, she had not reviewed it yet.

Justice Burke denied the motion to have the juror discharged, saying “she apparently is simply reading the book”. The same juror is an author herself, and had at the selection stage been questioned over a book she had written that Cheronis argued was about “predatory older men”. (It has elsewhere been praised as a striking debut.)

Link to the rest at The Guardian

DMCA Review Begins. Watch the Red Flag.

Note from PG: The reason that the following item and the congressional hearings it describes is important for indie authors is that §512 impacts the least-expensive way of dealing with online piracy of an author’s work – DMCA Takedown Notices (go here and here for an overview if you don’t know what those are).

From The Illusion of More:

Early last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee held the first in what will be a year-long series of hearings (roughly one per month) to review the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Almost as old as the publicly-available internet itself, the 1998 DMCA expressed the best efforts of Congress to predict how the digital market might evolve and to, therefore, strike a balance between the interests of internet service providers (ISPs) and copyright owners.

Over the intervening twenty-two years, much—MUCH—has been written, debated, shouted, flung wailed, opined, and scorned about the DMCA, specifically Titles I and II of the five-title statute.  If we ask the tech-centric/copyright-skeptics, they are likely to say that Title I (§1201) is a disaster and that Title II (§512) is working just fine; while the creator/copyright proponent will tell us exactly the opposite.

. . . .

What I will reiterate in this post is that the greatest concern to creators of every size is the conditional liability shield (“safe harbor”) provided to web platforms by §512.  It is the foundation of the oft-described “whack-a-mole” problem whereby the independent author attempts to remove infringing uses of her works one-by-one, only to have them reappear on the same platform(s) faster than she can prepare new notices.  (And “whack-a-mole” can be just as big a problem for a small business like an apparel maker as it is for a traditional artist like a musician.)  

In response to this futile battle with online infringement, authors often give up enforcement via the DMCA takedown process (resigned to donating even more revenue to billion-dollar corporations) while they ask as a community why the major platforms in particular cannot do a better job of preventing protected works from being chronically re-uploaded without license.

. . . .

What is “Red Flag” Knowledge?

Unfortunately, you will get different answers depending on whom you ask, including a court split on the matter if you ask either the Second or the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  But in everyday life, “red flag” knowledge is a reasonable, common-sense inference that one can draw from a modest amount of empirical evidence and experience.  If you enter the house to find trash strewn across the floor and a chagrined puppy in the corner, you will not need training in forensic science to have “red flag” knowledge that either the dog has committed a misdemeanor, or he has been artfully framed by the cat.  

That roughly describes the degree of analysis Congress intended ISPs to perform when encountering evidence of copyright infringement on their platforms.  As Professor Aistars noted, “Although Congress did not obligate service providers to actively seek out infringements, it did require them to act expeditiously to remove infringing materials once they have knowledge or awareness of infringing activity on their networks.”

. . . .

For example, let us imagine that the users of a web platform we’ll call Vimeo are making videos using some famous music we’ll call Beatles songs.  Any ordinary observer can reasonably assume that these users probably did not license these sound recordings; yet in the case Capitol Records v. Vimeo, the Second Circuit held, on the issue of “red flag” knowledge, that the platform’s operators would have needed either legal or music-industry expertise in order to discover infringement.

Keeping in mind that voluntary removal of material based on “red flag” knowledge of infringement is a condition of an ISP’s “safe harbor,” decisions like Vimeo do more than erase this part of the statute—they exacerbate a culture of infringement through court-sanctioned willful blindness.  And as Aistars added in her testimony, “Pointedly, this occurred in a case where discovery had revealed emails from managers to employees winkingly encouraging infringement.”  Thus, Aistars is among those who would advocate clarifying the meaning of “red flag” to restore the intent of §512.

The Vimeo emails Aistars mentions are typical of the shoulder shrugs and middle fingers creators are used to receiving from many platform operators, and application of the DMCA to date has unquestionably fostered cultural attitudes anathema to the kind of cooperation between ISPs and rightsholders Congress specifically intended to promote two decades ago.  Further, unintended endorsement of this culture among site operators may be exacerbating a persistent misunderstanding among individual and commercial users that the internet is a realm of automatic immunity.

. . . .

Anticipating the likelihood that, if there is to be any revision to §512 at all, “red flag” will be a major point of debate, Professor Tushnet warned against what she and others see as throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.  “If there is one message I would ask the members of the Committee to take away today,” she stated in her opening testimony, “it is that most beneficiaries of §512 are not Google or Facebook.”  Tushnet cautions that if we were to amend §512 solely as a response to the challenges creators face on very large, commercial platforms like YouTube, we risk simultaneously putting compliant, smaller platforms out of operation and facilitating even greater monopolization by the largest entities.

As a statistical matter, Tushnet is making a “few bad apples” argument, except for the fact that some of the baddest apples in the bunch happen to be the most powerful, wealthiest internet companies in the world.  So, even if we take her premise and data at face value (i.e. that millions of compliant sites rely on §512 to exist), this does not recommend ignoring the catalog of evidence that application of the DMCA has promoted willful blindness among the operators of major ISPs.  Simply put, if twenty-million sites operate without harm while one site does harm to twenty-million creators, we still have a problem if the law shields that one site from liability.  So, the status quo cannot be the final answer.  

As a practical consideration, Tushnet’s argument is based on the assumption that a more clearly defined restoration of the intent of “red flag” knowledge can only be implemented by technological measures, which only the largest ISPs can afford.  

. . . .

As Tushnet testified, her own Organization for Transformative Works site hosts over “four-million works” yielding 1.2 billion page views per month, while the site receives takedown notices at a rate of less than one per month, most of which are invalid.  Assuming these data are correct, the site to which she refers seems barely relevant as an example. It is a large fanfic platform with what appears to be a vast amount of material—mainly short works of written text—that is highly unlikely to infringe.  No sound recordings.  No photographs.  No film clips.  At most, some fanfic writer could maybe—and I mean maybe—run afoul of a derivative works right. 

From a cursory review of OTW, it is not at all evident that adopting a clearer, statutory definition of “red flag” (in order to hold the majors accountable) would force a site like this one to invest in prohibitively expensive technology in order to remain complaint.  If the platform is indeed receiving takedown notices at a rate of less than one valid notice per month, this is most likely evidence that the site hosts little to no infringing material—and that when notices are received, human review is sufficient to the task.  Further, the fact that the site hosts “fandoms” for a long list of works owned by major motion picture studios indicates that infringement must be very low to near zero if it has not invited the attention of an industry with the resources to send notices in volume.  

Link to the rest at The Illusion of More

Love Ray and Daddy: The Toohey Family Letter Collection

From The National World War II Museum:

When I read a collection of personal correspondence, I sometimes take for granted that I’m reading someone else’s mail. Maybe it’s because I know most of the people in those letters have passed on. Or maybe subconsciously, I tell myself that placing them into a shoebox for 75 years makes them less like someone else’s mail and more like research material that simply exists to further complete the historical record of World War II. Whatever the case maybe, every once in a while, I come across a collection of correspondence that totally absorbs me and I’m reminded that I really am reading someone else’s mail.

Slowly, their names begin to take on personalities, lives come into focus, and stories unfold that feel more like current events rather than history. These are letters that make you feel like you’ve dropped in on lives in progress. Some of the letters make you smile while you’re reading them, and then there are others that just make you want to hug your wife and kids a little tighter when you get home at night.

Those are the kinds of letters Virginia Toohey saved. Most of them are from her husband, PFC Raymond Toohey, who affectionately signed all of his letters, “Love Ray and Daddy.” Others are from Ray’s friends and brother. Some are from the War Department; typed form letters that all close with, “My deepest sympathies.” The correspondence is all one-sided, so we really can only imagine Virginia’s thoughts, or what her letters to Ray must have been like.

. . . .

Virginia’s old letters offer a candid look into the lives of everyday, ordinary Americans living during terribly difficult times. When I read them, I share in their hopes and dreams, grieve in their loss, and I’m completely awestruck by their courage. Not the kind that’s measured in medals, but the quiet kind of courage it takes to watch your husband go off to war, or to leave your wife and children behind to go fight. The type of courage it takes to sit down and write a letter to your buddy’s widow so she knows what really happened to her husband. Their family’s story begs to be told.

When Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, Virginia and Ray lived in Long Beach, California. Ray was working as a ship-fitter and Virginia was home taking care of their baby, with another on the way. Ray’s shipyard job was good money, and it was classified as essential to the war effort, so for the time being it kept him out of the army. It’s not to say that the Toohey’s were unpatriotic; they were no different than any American family at that time. No one wanted to see their father, sons, or brothers go off to war. Virginia was hopeful that Ray would be able to do his part for the war effort at the shipyard.

Millions volunteered, but not nearly enough to field a military large enough to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, so the draft was expanded to include men ages 18-45. Ten million would be conscripted into service before it was over. Women were entering the workforce to free up more manpower for the military and the draft board began scrutinizing the merits of the dependency hardship deferments that excused many young fathers like Ray from military service.

By December 1943, Ray’s job could be filled by a woman and his dependent deferments had been eliminated, it was just a matter of time before he was called up. In June 1944, Ray received his induction notice from the Los Angeles County Draft Board and two weeks later he was in the army. If life wasn’t hard enough already with Ray gone, Virginia and the boys had to make do with less money, a lot less. In the army, Ray earned just about half of his ship-fitter’s salary. In adjusted 2018 dollars, Ray’s army salary, including compensation for dependents, was about $25,000 per year.

Ray completed infantry basic training at Camp Howze, Texas in January 1945. In spite of the difficulty and great expense of civilian travel in war time America, Virginia made the trip out for Ray’s graduation; she didn’t want to miss her last chance to see Ray before he shipped out to Europe. On January 27, 1945, Ray’s graduation day, the War Department was busy tabulating casualty figures in Europe for the month. January 1945 was the bloodiest month of the war to date; 70,568 G.I.s were killed or wounded. After a short furlough with Virginia, Ray was on his way to the most dangerous place in the world.

. . . .

When Ray arrived in Europe, he was filtered through a replacement system that can only be described as cold and cruel. Soldiers who trained together in the States were assigned piecemeal to battered combat units in need of personnel, the same way you would order replacement parts for a broken piece of equipment. The system was designed to keep combat units on the line and the brass didn’t take into account or care that it split up buddies. In 1945, many replacements arrived at the front feeling alone and friendless because they were going into combat with complete strangers.

Luckily for Ray, he wasn’t sent downrange alone. He and a buddy from Camp Howze, TX, named Homer Warren were assigned to the same rifle squad in the 9th Infantry Division. In fact, they were literally attached together at the hip as Ray was designated squad automatic rifleman and Homer his assistant. Ray had to lug around the 18-pound Browning Automatic Rifle, or B-A-R as the G.I.s called it, and Homer helped with the ammo. It was a heavy load for Ray’s wiry frame and a lot of responsibility, the B-A-R gunner packed a large portion of the squad’s firepower. One big downside to the job was that the Germans absolutely hated the B-A-R. Firing the weapon in combat was like painting a bull’s eye on your helmet.

. . . .

Back home in Long Beach, Virginia received a steady stream of correspondence from Ray. He tried to write every day. The letters he wrote were mostly about the weather, the current chow situation, or how he saw something that day that reminded him of how much he missed her and the boys. Ray reported from the front that the weather was always pleasant, there was plenty of good chow, and that German children loved gum and candy, just like little American boys and girls. If Ray was having a bad day, he certainly didn’t write Virginia and tell her about it. There’s no question about it though, an infantryman fighting in Germany in March 1945 surely would have had some bad days.

The only thing in Ray’s day-to-day life he really complained about in his letters was how slow the mail was. He told Virginia about losing his pack too. It’s obvious he was feeling pretty low that day; not because all of his dry socks were gone, but stashed away in the pack, were all of Virginia’s letters and the hand-made Valentines from his little boys. Other than that, Ray wasn’t much on complaining.

The mail was slow; Ray’s letters kept coming even after the telegram: the notification from the War Department informing Virginia that Ray had been killed in action came on May 2, 1945. If she was holding on to hope that the telegram was a mistake, Virginia’s worst fears were confirmed by the official War Department letter that arrived two days later. The letter was vague; there were no details to speak of, no answers to all the questions racing through her head.

A few weeks later, Virginia received a piece of mail from Homer Warren. In a letter dated May 29th, Homer explained who he was and reminded her that they met during Ray’s furlough at Camp Howze, TX. He further explained that he was with Ray when he was hit, and about the promise they made beforehand that if anything happened, the survivor would make sure the other’s wedding band was returned. Also, if she really needed to know how it happened, he was willing to tell her everything.

Virginia needed to know. She wrote back immediately. When Homer received her letter, he likewise, responded immediately. It still took over a month before Virginia had his letter in hand though. The envelope is thick; Homer’s letter to Virginia is nine pages long.

It was about 4am on April 19th when L Company moved out to capture the next town up the road. The company marched for about five miles and then halted about a mile outside of Fredrichsbrunn, Germany. A resort and spa town before the war, Fredrichsbrunn’s facilities were now in use as military hospitals. Ray and Homer were part of an 18-man element that was sent out ahead to protect the company’s right flank. They moved through the woods and up to the edge of town. At about 7am, Ray and Homer took up a good position near the edge of the woods; between them and the town was about 500 yards of freshly plowed field. The plan was to sit tight and wait for armor support and the rest of L Company to arrive.

Around noon, they heard L Company make contact with the enemy, and it sounded like they were still pretty far away. It wasn’t long before a German squad was sent out from the town to investigate the gunfire. Ray, Homer, and the rest of squad held their fire as long as they could. They hoped the Germans would go around their position but it looked like they were going to walk right through it. When the lead German was 50 yards away, Ray and Homer’s squad opened up and quickly killed them all.

At that point, their position was compromised and every gun in town started firing on them. According to Homer, the Germans had tanks, half-tracks, armored cars, and what seemed like a thousand machine guns. The woods around them were full of flying lead, but they were taking a toll on the Germans. The firing slacked up for a bit and it got quiet. At that point Homer and Ray realized they were in trouble, both squad leaders were dead and another boy was shot through the right lung. They didn’t have medics, and they had no way to get the wounded back to the company.

At about 1:15pm, the Germans continued their advance across the field, one of them found cover in a hole that Homer and Ray hadn’t noticed before the firefight. The German soldier in the hole had a clear line of sight on Homer and Ray. Homer didn’t even know he was there until the German shot at him, Ray never knew what hit him.

Homer heard the crack of the German bullet as it passed him and slammed into the side of Ray’s head. Homer pulled Ray to cover and tried to stop the bleeding. He stopped the flow of blood but the massive internal injuries were another matter. Ray continued to breathe for another 10 minutes, and then he was gone.

When the tanks and the rest of L Company arrived, the Germans in the hole surrendered. Homer was put in charge of what remained of the squad. In his first act as squad leader, Homer marched the German soldier from the hole over to Ray’s body, then leveled his weapon at the German and pulled the trigger at point blank range.

Homer took the wedding ring from the dog tag chain Ray wore around his neck. He told Virginia that he had the shakes for a week after killing the German, and that aside from a few patrols afterwards, Friedrichsbrunn was the last firefight of the war for L Company.

He also told Virginia some things she already knew. He told her how much the boys in the squad liked Ray, and how Ray loved to show them the Valentines Michael and Billy made for him. Yeah, Ray really loved talking about those two little boys of his.

. . . .

Photograph of Virginia and Ray Toohey from the collection of The National WWII Museum.

Link to the rest at The National World War II Museum

The OP doesn’t provide details on some dates, but it appears that Ray was killed in his second month of combat in Europe, on April 18 or 19, 1945.

On April 18, 1945, German field marshal Walter Model surrendered with 225,000 troops, in Germany’s Ruhr.

On May 7, 1945, 18 days after Ray was killed, Nazi Germany surrendered.

PG did a little research and located the grave of Ray Toohey in the Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, California. It appears his body had been repatriated from a cemetery in Holland in 1949.

The Web of Writing

From Writer Unboxed:

Two months ago, in the article on expanding your world beyond the confines of your story, a commenter asked how much backstory she should include.  I pointed out that your readers will assume that the history you’re giving them will play some role in the plot.  The questioner had never thought about the link between backstory and readers’ expectations before.  Now she is a little more aware of the web of connections between different parts of her writing.

I’ve written about this web in passing, while talking about genre, but it’s critical enough that it deserves a column of its own.  Quite simply, you cannot write well if you’re not aware of how every aspect of your writing affects every other aspect of your writing.

This awareness doesn’t develop overnight.  Most writers get into writing because they fall in love with one particular element of storytelling – getting to know an intriguing character, the joy of creating dialogue, the thrill of the slow ramp up to the denouement.  When you start out, you aren’t yet aware of all the different moving parts that make up a novel – how you need to use beats to anchor characters in a physical location, say, or make sure each character’s dialogue has a distinctive vocabulary and cadence.

. . . .

Those of us who write about writing tend to delve deep into one aspect of writing at a time.  If you read enough advice like this, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking a novel is made up of discrete parts that you can just fasten together, tab A into slot B.  If what you’re learning is something you’ve never thought of before, it’s easy to get so excited about it that it becomes the solution to all of your writing problems.  

. . . .

This lack of awareness of how everything works together leads many writers to try to write by the rules.  After all, if you see your story as a machine with discrete parts, all of which perform a limited function, then it’s easy to think you can just follow the instruction manual when you put it all together.  The truth is a lot sloppier.  A novel is an ecosystem, where every living thing in it connects to every other one with feedback loops that we might not fully understand.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

The biology of love

Perhaps an aid for character development. Or not.

In any case, PG found this fascinating.

From Aeon:

An infant is born. The radiant mother holds the baby in her arms and immediately begins to scan the infant’s face, softly caressing the little fingers while uttering repetitive sing-song vocalisations, her face lighting up in an affectionate smile. She has never had a baby before but intuitively knows what to do. Proud and oblivious, she feels no one has ever cared for such a gorgeous child; yet she stands along a great line of mammalian mothers who lick, groom, sniff, smell, touch, poke, nurse and handle. Rats do it, sheep do it, even educated chimps do it … let’s fall in love.

Behind our loving mother, evolution works with its quick-and-dirty tools to ensure the bond is cemented, the infant finds the nipple, the mother engages; brain meets the world. The synchronous dance of mother and child begins and, upon its unique rhythms, a relationship is formed. This relationship will incorporate, like expanding ripples, the child’s emerging abilities across development and into dialogue: babbling, creating imaginary scenarios, the capacity to collaborate, feel the pain of others, comprehend emotions, discuss conflicting positions, argue convictions, until the child grows and can meet the mother in a full adult-to-adult relationship of empathy, intimacy and perspective-taking. Like the 12-bar-blues, synchrony gains in range, repertoire, complexity and timbre, but its basic rhythms stay safe and secure.

The synchronous mother-infant dance will set the stage for the child’s affiliative bonds throughout life: with father and siblings at home, with close friends in school, through adolescence and first love and, finally, as parents to children of their own. Those affiliations, and the terms of endearment they set, will guide the child’s conduct within society-at-large, shaping the empathy, responsibility, collaboration and self-restraint by which he or she will meet fellow-humans: co-workers, neighbours and strangers.

Evolution is thrifty, and once a trick works, it will be repurposed endlessly. A new mother and infant enter the world tapping the social patterns, habits, beliefs, customs, fears, hopes, joys and rituals of the old ones. The family, the group, the tribe lives on from one generation to the next. Resilience, endurance and the durability of the group can be achieved only by coordinating action among kin, first genetically and then symbolically. Infants acquire the capacity for coordinated action in the context of the mother’s body and its unique provisions: a mother’s smell, touch, heart rhythms, eye-gaze, smile. Then it expands across time, place and person. But such massive expansion does not come without its risks.

What tricks of the trade does evolution utilise to ensure that bonding, so critical for survival and continuity of life on Earth, happens as planned and all pieces of the puzzle fall safely into their place? After decades following thousands of mother-infant dyads, hundreds from birth to young adulthood, my lab has mapped the ‘neurobiology of affiliation’ – the emerging scientific field that describes the neural, endocrine and behavioural systems sustaining our capacity to love. The foci of our research – the oxytocin system (based on the neurohormone of bonding); the affiliative, or social, brain; and biological synchrony between mother and child – are all marked by great plasticity, and sculpted throughout animal evolution to reach their exquisite complexity in humans. And they all lean on automatic and ancient machinery that runs the risk of turning love on its head into fear.

. . . .

Oxytocin, the first element in the neurobiology of bonding, is an important driver of both care and prejudice. A large molecule produced mainly by neurons in a small region of the brain called the hypothalamus, oxytocin is known for coordinating bonding, sociality, and group living. From the hypothalamus, oxytocin targets receptors in the body and the brain, primarily the amygdala, a centre for fear and vigilance; the hippocampus, where memory resides; and the striatum, a locus of motivation and reward. Through these pathways, the bonding hormone, oxytocin, functions with the precision of a neurotransmitter and the longevity of a hormone, reaching faraway locations and broadly influencing behaviour. Importantly, oxytocin is released not only through the central part of the neuron, but also its extensions, called dendrites. The dendrites are primed to increase oxytocin release whenever attachment memories are invoked.

. . . .

Memory of these early attachments helps us re-enact the unique state that Sue Carter, a neurobiologist at the University of Indiana, calls ‘immobility without fear’. These same memories enable what the English psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott in 1958 described as ‘the capacity to be alone’ in the presence of someone in a state of peace, serenity and transcendence, where aloneness is not loneliness. In our studies, we found that, throughout life, during periods of bond-formation – for instance, when we fall in love or form a close friendship – oxytocin production increases to cement the new bond, as it does at birth. During birth, a surge of oxytocin triggers uterine contractions, and oxytocin release initiates milk letdown. Maternal oxytocin is then transferred to the infant through the mother’s milk, touch and caregiving behaviour. It bonds mother and child forever but it also reorganises the infant’s brain to what it means to be in love and what it takes to feel safe.

. . . .

Still, oxytocin is an ancient system that functions in a quick-and-dirty way; no time for complexities when the lion is at your door. The oxytocin molecule presumably evolved approximately 600 million years ago, and is found in all vertebrate and some invertebrate species. Its role across animal evolution was to help organisms manage life in harsh ecologies. Hence the system supports regulation of basic life-sustaining functions: water conservation, thermoregulation or energy balance in species such as nematodes, frogs or reptiles.

With the evolution of mammals, oxytocin became integrally involved in controlling birth and lactation; as a result, the young acquired life sustaining functions and skills not in the context of the group but within the intimacy of the mother-infant bond. This created the main schism I wish to underline, the core conflict of the human condition: mammals learn to manage hardship through relationships, and bonding is their key mechanism for stress reduction. Being born a mammal, then, implies that oxytocin, the very system that sustains parental care, pair-bonds, group sharing, and consoling behaviour, also became intensely sensitive to danger. Oxytocin protects against danger by immediately differentiating “friend” from “foe” based on nuances of social behaviour.

When mammals perceive slight alterations in social behaviour, they identify the approach of ‘others’, activating the alarm systems of the fight-or-flight response and their bodies prepare to attack. Those ‘others’ may indeed intend to eat us up for supper, or they could just as readily be going about their daily social life in ways that seem to us odd, unfamiliar, or even disrespectful. 

. . . .

The second element in the neurobiology of bonding is the affiliative brain. Research into its role in maternal care began in the 1950s with the work of Jay Rosenblatt at Rutgers University-Newark in New Jersey and colleagues, who wished to chart the brain structures that enable rodent mothers to care for their offspring. Following decades of careful work by several research groups, the scientists were able to describe the ‘mammalian maternal brain’ both in terms of its neural networks and, more recently, their molecular composition. Primed by oxytocin’s increase during pregnancy, the hypothalamus (specifically, the medial preoptic area of the hypothalamus) sends projections to the amygdala, and this sensitises an oxytocin-amygdala ‘line’ that makes mothers extremely attuned to signs of infant safety and danger. This line of constant vigilance and worry is implanted into the maternal brain as soon as an infant is born and, without it, our fragile offspring might not survive.

In human mothers, the amygdala activates four times more than in fathers: from the moment of birth and, I believe, forever thereafter, mothers sleep with their amygdala open. Imagine this: a 15-year-old goes to a party. You trust her, have arranged for your best friend to pick her up, and know who she’s with. You go to sleep, but your amygdala is open. It is 3am and you hear the door open and her footsteps tiptoeing in. You turn to the other side and finally sleep in earnest. The ‘care’ and the ‘scare’ become inseparable the minute you love someone for real. It is precisely this entanglement that defines, in my mind, the ancient curse: ‘In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children’ – not the birth itself, which we soon forget due to the analgesic properties of oxytocin.

. . . .

The evolutionary role of the oxytocin-dopamine line is to ‘glue’ the mother to her baby so she can tolerate the sleepless nights, physical pain and endless mess. This oxytocin-dopamine line is even engraved into the neurons. The nucleus accumbens, a node in the striatum, contains neurons that encode both oxytocin and dopamine, enabling the brain to combine the motivation and vigour of dopamine with the social focus of oxytocin in order to set the parent’s – and, via the cross-generational cycle, the infant’s – reward system for a lifetime of longterm attachments. When the connection between oxytocin and dopamine breaks, results are devastating. When dopamine is directed to neural targets unrelated to sociality, a risk is addiction; when dopamine and oxytocin are produced out of synch, depression can result.

Link to the rest at Aeon

You Think We’re Self-Obsessed Now? The 19th Century Would Like A Word

From FiveThirtyEight:

As an old man, former president John Adams loved to describe the ways history had mistreated him — to detail the “perpetual volcano of slander, pouring on my flesh all my life time.” This habit eventually led to a manuscript of 440 pages and America’s first presidential memoir. Today, there’d be a bidding war to publish Adams’s tell-all. But in the early 1800s, Adams knew his book could not appear until after his death. Too many Americans saw publishing an autobiography, or even writing an autobiography, as a strange and arrogant act.

I’ve spent the last 10 years studying the history of presidential books for my own book, “Author in Chief.” But along the way, I discovered a strange little data set that helps explain how we went from an age when writing your autobiography was seen as risky and vain, to one when we’re constantly updating our autobiographies — one Instagram story at a time.

It all starts with a reference librarian named Louis Kaplan. In 1946, Kaplan began working on a deceptively ambitious project — a bibliography that would list every autobiography that had been published in America to that point. Kaplan studied old periodicals. He spent months on the road, visiting rare book libraries around the country. He befriended private collectors. And he got lots of help, especially when it came time to review the Library of Congress’s massive catalog.

After 14 years, Kaplan and his colleagues finally had their “Bibliography of American Autobiographies.” They ended up identifying 6,377 autobiographies published in the U.S. between 1675 and the 1940s, and their data shows the genre’s notable growth. Between 1800 and 1809, Americans published a total of just 27 autobiographies. One century later, during the decade between 1900 and 1909, that number had exploded to 569, easily outpacing population growth.

. . . .

Some of the best analysis of Kaplan’s data set has come from Diane Bjorklund, a sociologist at Illinois State University who coded Kaplan’s entries for her own book, “Interpreting the Self.” Bjorklund spent about a month sorting Kaplan’s thousands of autobiographies by their authors’ professions — soldier, farmer, scientist, and so on. This sorting was both blunt and subjective; two farmers could write two very different books. “My coding can only provide a rough guide,” Bjorklund said in an email.

Still, that rough guide contains some fascinating hints about the historical anxieties surrounding autobiography. This anxiety has always shown up in anecdotes. One early American reader, for example, dismissed Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s classic “Confessions” as “an unnatural compound of vanity, meanness, and contemptible self-love.” It shows up in the data, too. According to Bjorklund’s coding, in the first half of the 19th century, more than half of all autobiographies published in U.S. came from one of two professions: religious figures and criminals. The explanation seems simple: One group had divine authority to tell their life stories. The other had nothing left to lose.

Slowly, the stigma against publishing autobiographies dissipated. “I’d point to Benjamin Franklin and his autobiography as the turning point,” said Susan Clair Imbarrato, an English professor at Minnesota State University-Moorhead who’s written extensively about the genre.

Bjorklund and Kaplan’s data reveals that as autobiography became more popular, it became more diverse. New varieties could rise and fall. During the 1840s and 1850s, there was a 600-percent increase in slave narratives, or autobiographies written by fugitive slaves that captured the brutality of life in the South. The nation’s real-time obsession with the Civil War also made it easier for generals and politicians to do what John Adams could not: publish their memoirs during their own lifetimes. In the 1860s, 50 military figures published their autobiographies — more than in the previous six decades combined. And during the Gilded Age, there was a boom in business autobiographies, with 48 appearing between 1880 and 1899 — more than had appeared in the previous eight decades combined.

. . . .

That’s one of the most striking things about this data: The autobiographies that thrived during any particular moment said something about the desires of America and its readers. By the Roaring Twenties, the clergy-and-criminal bookshelf had dropped to less than a combined 20 percent of all autobiographies — the same era that saw a spike in memoirs written by a new kind of celebrity, the entertainer.2
In the 1940s, the last decade covered by Kaplan’s “Bibliography,” memoirs by entertainers proved one of the most popular categories. And yet, even those accounted for only 5.6 percent of the 1,043 memoirs that appeared in America during that span. That’s the other striking thing about these autobiographical numbers: Once autobiography truly caught on, no one category could dominate because readers had a huge variety of authors and styles to choose from.

Link to the rest at FiveThirtyEight

New Tools are Leveling the Playing Field for Booksellers

From Publishers Weekly:

As far as I’m concerned, 2020 is the dawn of a new era in independent bookselling thanks to Bookshop and Edelweiss360 from Above the Treeline. I believe that with their healthy adoption, the most common observation from consumers will not be “bookstores are dying because of Amazon” but “I can’t imagine shopping anywhere but my local indie.”

When my business partner and I opened our bookstore, I was constantly frustrated about our lack of access to e-commerce functionality and the ability to act on sales insights. We both came from publishing, and I had worked for a marketing analytics firm, so we came with an understanding of the depth of data available from the books themselves and the potential of organized transaction data. But there wasn’t a single service made with booksellers (or our budgets) in mind. We couldn’t gamble on a platform and wait months to see ROI; the margin just doesn’t allow for that (a conversation for a different day).

Now, with the launch of Bookshop and the beta testing of E360, all of a sudden there are solutions and options. The functions differ, but the goal is the same: increase revenue, reach, and profitability quickly and measurably.

Let’s start with E360. The premise is simple: a customer has bought something, and you, the bookseller, want to be able to regularly show (and sell) them similar somethings in a user-friendly way, via any e-commerce of your choosing. E360 does this with a POS-integrated email marketing platform that provides intelligent subscriber segmentation based on your own sales. Though still in beta, it promises to be a way to leverage and amplify those proprietary bookselling qualities that create loyal customers: experience, curation, and handselling.

. . . .

What about Bookshop? When I first heard about it, it sounded like a much prettier, more user-friendly version of Baker & Taylor’s My Books and More. Fine, but not great—though admittedly with better terms: ABA member stores can create their own Bookshop page that earns 25% on direct transactions, with all fulfillment handled by Ingram and all processing by Bookshop. It’s free, so we decided to sign up and see what might happen.

As I heard more, I got downright giddy. The driving force of this entire model is affiliate linking: the “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” of e-commerce. Whenever the New York Times or other sources link to a retailer, it’s usually because that retailer has an affiliate program. Why wouldn’t they? It’s basically free money. And that free money can amount to millions of dollars a year.

How it works: a retailer sets up a trackable product link for a partner business. The partner business displays the link and gets a percent of revenue from every transaction resulting from it. It’s kind of like a co-op but far less complicated.

The coup is that Bookshop’s affiliate program pays more than Amazon’s, and for every affiliate transaction, 10% goes to the source and 10% goes to a pool of member ABA bookstores. 

. . . .

We still have to educate readers about the impact of buying directly from us and provide viable options for when that’s not possible, and we must be adamant that publishers are doing the same and not simply defaulting to Amazon. It’s in publishers’ best interests to expand our market share as much as possible. Diversified revenue is key to economic health; any industry where a single retailer owns over 70% of the market is not just sickly but is turning into an oligarchy with an ever-dwindling number of stakeholders. Who do they think will be left standing if the current model persists?

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Perhaps PG has not been focusing properly, but he can’t remember any news story structured around the plucky traditional book stores vs. evil Amazon trope that has included any indication that authors and their wellbeing, financial or otherwise crosses anyone’s mind.

Other than the occasional mention of author signings (which PG has been told often don’t result in very many book sales unless the author is one of a handful of superstars), the bookstore owners appear to be acting on the premise that there will always be plenty of authors writing books to put on bookstore shelves.

On occasion, PG also smells a whiff of entitlement that’s framed around an unspoken assumption that readers don’t really understand that they are much better off buying physical books from physical booksellers.

If readers would just start thinking straight, they would stop buying books from Amazon because everyone agrees that hopping into a car or onto a bus or light-rail system, then burning carbon-derived energy to transport oneself to buy a book at the price the publisher sets for it in a local bookstore that pays the hired help sub-market salaries with zero benefits is, as (again) everyone knows, much better for community well-being, social stability and local tax revenues than using a few cents worth of electricity to download a much lower-priced ebook from Amazon (and that doesn’t even count the ongoing employment at union wage rates for those who operate the landfills where most printed books will almost certainly end their lives even if you donate them to the library).

(PG wondered if he was still capable of diagramming the preceding sentence and decided he was not. No fault for such shortcomings should be attributed to Mrs. Edna Lascelles. She did an excellent job of teaching PG English grammar and he remembered and applied her lessons for many years. PG blames Grammarly for his decline.)

Ultimately, in a capitalist society, the reader votes with her/his money and that vote decides who prospers and who does not (although most readers are not inclined to macroeconomic analysis, they just want the next book in the How to Lose Weight by Changing Your Own Sparkplugs in Space series for a good price right now).

Regarding Readership—My New Take

From Writer Unboxed:

I suppose I’d better start with a confession. It’s a big one.  Ready? Here goes…

Until fairly recently, I didn’t care about readers.

Wait, did I really say that? Reading it back, I can hardly believe it myself. My position was never really that straightforward. Or imprudent (impudent?). The more nuanced version might be something like:

When I began writing, I wrote only to please myself. I never wanted to compromise the passion I put into my stories by pandering to the marketplace.

. . . .

In my defense, I came upon my… shall we call it an attitude?, early in my writing journey. And coming to it was indeed defensive. How could I take on a project so ambitious and actually think that anyone would ever want to read what was fast becoming a massive first story? It seemed like hubris. My solution? I was writing it just for me!

Looking back, I feel compelled to add another element to my defense. When I started (‘04-‘05), epic fantasy seemed to me to be the opposite of marketable. I didn’t know anyone then who read it, the LOTR and Harry Potter movies were recent phenomena (and were considered “for the kids” by most folks in my orbit), and we were still years from the coming juggernaut of HBO’s Game of Thrones.

How could I justify spending hours that turned to days that turned to months and years laboring at something in which no one seemed interested, within a genre that many in my life considered a juvenile diversion?

Even years later, as the genre began to grow, and I began to interface with it online, I kept encountering reasons my work wouldn’t sell. I kept hearing things like, “You’ve got to have a really good system of magic,” and “Old tropes like ‘The Chosen One’ or ‘The Boy Who Becomes a King’ are passé,” or “The hottest books in adult fantasy deconstruct the old genre of high fantasy.” How was I supposed to try to sell a book with no real system of magic; one that largely embraced the old tropes?

My answer: The marketplace doesn’t matter. It can’t, because I can’t see my place in it.

. . . .

As much as I was loving the storytelling process—the discovery, the magic of immersion—I knew through rereading it that my writing stank. I was frustrated by my inability to deftly capture the story I was imagining so clearly.

Which led to my earliest forays into seeking feedback, at first only from those extremely close to me, like my sister and my wife. Then a few close friends. This tightknit group gave me the perfect combination of encouragement and criticism. Through these early-reading dear people, I first gleaned that I was onto something. They fed my suspicions not just that my storytelling could engage another human, but that—if I could just hold onto them long enough—I could even move them. That sort of human connection is an intoxicating drug.

. . . .

For a long time, the readership of my own genre seemed to me an impenetrable monolith. For years I had the vague but dread-inducing feeling that fantasy fandom would, as one, recognize me as an outsider, a pretender.  Here I was, an aspiring epic fantasist who’s not even a gamer. (In fact, I’ve never once completed an on-screen game of any sort—not even solitaire.) As a reader, I skipped right over YA fantasy. It didn’t seem to exist when I was “of the age.” Heck, I’m as old as many of the hottest SFF novelists’ dads.

. . . .

So I basically ignored the issue. And I kept going. But all the while I was getting closer and closer to that final hurdle of seeking publication. And, let’s face it, publishers are seeking sales—ergo readers.

Which brought me to the culmination of the dilemma. If I acknowledged that I crave the unique communion that occurs between storytellers and readers—and honestly, I’ve come to long for it—I was going to need readers. I could ignore it no longer.

. . . .

I first came across BookTube the way I imagine most people do: as a reader, looking for books to read. It didn’t take me long to find a few favorite vloggers. Or to recognize the value and breadth of what was being offered. Of course there are book reviews and new book previews, but there’s oh-so-much more. There are deep dives into genre, and series, and characters. And author interviews, and emotional reactions, and viewer prompts, and on and on.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

In PG’s experience, most successful authors have a strong connection with and a deep, nuanced understanding of their readers.

In some cases, the author is quite similar to her/his typical reader, in other cases, the author may be dissimilar, but possesses a nuanced grasp of the reader and what he/she is interested in.

That said, PG hasn’t met every successful author (yet) and he could be missing something.

Vanity and Pride

Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves; vanity, to what we would have others think of us.

~ Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice