Smithsonian Releases 2.8 Million Images Into Public Domain

Culture connoisseurs, rejoice: The Smithsonian Institution is inviting the world to engage with its vast repository of resources like never before.

For the first time in its 174-year history, the Smithsonian has released 2.8 million high-resolution two- and three-dimensional images from across its collections onto an open access online platform for patrons to peruse and download free of charge. Featuring data and material from all 19 Smithsonian museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives and the National Zoo, the new digital depot encourages the public to not just view its contents, but use, reuse and transform them into just about anything they choose—be it a postcard, a beer koozie or a pair of bootie shorts.

And this gargantuan data dump is just the beginning. Throughout the rest of 2020, the Smithsonian will be rolling out another 200,000 or so images, with more to come as the Institution continues to digitize its collection of 155 million items and counting.

“Being a relevant source for people who are learning around the world is key to our mission,” says Effie Kapsalis, who is heading up the effort as the Smithsonian’s senior digital program officer. “We can’t imagine what people are going to do with the collections. We’re prepared to be surprised.

Link to the rest at The Smithsonian

As PG has said before, cultural and scientific archives providing open access online with rights to do just about anything with the contents of the collection is a wonderful modern trend that has taken wing within the last several months.

Ralph Cross Johnson
The Girl I Left Behind Me
ca. 1872
The Girl I Left Behind Me, invoking an Irish ballad that was popular with both the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War.
Frederick Douglass
From The National Portrait Gallery
The Death of Cleopatra
by Edmonia Lewis
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Historical Society of Forest Park, Illinois
carved 1876

Publisher Bob Dees on selling books in foreign market

From The Globe and Mail:

Selling the rights to publish books in other countries is one of the great subterranean aspects of the Canadian publishing business, adding as much to bottom lines as it does to international reputations. There’s a whole government agency devoted to giving publishers a leg up, and international book fairs happen every month, from New Delhi to London to Beijing to the biggest of them all each October in Frankfurt. We asked Bob Dees, the publisher of Toronto’s Robert Rose Books, about his experience getting one of his books into the German market. Do you try to sell foreign language rights for all your books? No. There are certain titles that are clearly North American.

. . . .

You Are What Your Grandparents Ate [by former Globe and Mail columnist Judith Finlayson] had not just an international market opportunity, but it had a market opportunity in Europe that was larger than in North America because of a greater awareness of the subject matter of epigenetics [the study of biological mechanisms that turn genes on or off]. We came across a recent German edition of National Geographic devoted to the anniversary of the Dutch Hunger Winter and how it was still influencing the descendants of those who lived through it, subjects that are integral to You Are What Your Grandparents Ate . Our foreign language rights manager at the time, Nina McCreath, went online to find German publishers who specialized in this intersection of health and science and found four, and based on their responses, she booked appointments for Frankfurt 2018. Then what happened? We had sales materials prepared, about eight or 10 pages to give an indication of the design, which in this case is unique, and its capacity to attract a readership to the subject. And we had one edited chapter that we were able to share with them both in hard copy and electronic copy. We’re fortunate that English tends to be the language business is done in, even in Frankfurt. Even so, not everyone comes with an equal level of English, and we were even more fortunate there because Nina speaks fluent German. We were able to use that as a tool to create a more successful relationship with these potential publishers. Many publishers may use an agent who speaks the language in question. Having a foreign sales agent with at least a couple of extra languages is incredibly valuable.

. . . .

How did this one get done so quickly? We try to be an easy publisher to deal with for foreign language agreements. Big name publishers have a reputation for being difficult to deal with. It doesn’t mean we don’t try to get the best deal, but sometimes the legal departments can be problematic, some will take three or four months to do an agreement, and some publishers don’t want to wait that long. It took us probably about two or three weeks.

Link to the rest at The Globe and Mail

https://amzn.to/2wOQBpd

You Are What Your Grandparents Ate takes conventional wisdom about the origins of chronic disease and turns it upside down. Rooted in the work of the late epidemiologist Dr. David Barker, it highlights the exciting research showing that heredity involves much more than the genes your parents passed on to you. Thanks to the relatively new science of epigenetics, we now know that the experiences of previous generations may show up in your health and well-being.

Many of the risks for chronic diseases — including obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and dementia — can be traced back to your first 1,000 days of existence, from the moment you were conceived. The roots of these vulnerabilities may extend back even further, to experiences your parents and grandparents had — and perhaps even beyond.

Yet Another Mysterious Murder

Mrs. PG has released the second book in her series featuring an Oxford professor (she is probably too young to be a Don or a Donna) named Catherine who seems to be involved in more murders than one might expect from someone teaching proper young women (mostly) at Somerville College in the mid-1930s.

Despite the regular occurrence of deadly crimes wherever she goes, Catherine is still popular with a variety of local males who are not policemen. This is occasionally helpful because the Oxford constabulary is still mired in the traditional habit of thinking that the only proper role for a woman is as a murder victim, not as a murder detective regardless of the gender of the suddenly deceased.

In this particular book, Murder in the Jazz Band, Catherine displays a heretofore-undiscovered talent (at least among the Dons and Donnas) by singing with a jazz band that is performing in Oxford. Of course, somebody gets murdered and the constabulary goes down the wrong path, so Catherine has to intervene.

Mrs. PG’s first book in this series, An Oxford Murder, has sold very nicely and she has high hopes for its sequel.

Worried a Robot Apocalypse Is Imminent?

From The Wall Street Journal:

You Look Like a Thing and I Love You

Elevator Pitch: Ideal for those intrigued and/or mildly unnerved by the increasing role A.I. plays in modern life (and our future), this book is accessible enough to educate you while easing anxieties about the coming robot apocalypse. A surprisingly hilarious read, it presents a view of A.I. that is more “Office Space” than “The Terminator.” Typical insight: A.I. that can’t write a coherent cake recipe is probably not going to take over the world.

Very Brief Excerpt: “For the foreseeable future, the danger will not be that A.I. is too smart but that it’s not smart enough.”

Surprising Factoid: A lot of what we think are social-media bots are almost definitely humans being (poorly) paid to act as a bot. People stealing the jobs of robots: How meta.

. . . .

The Creativity Code

By Marcus du Sautoy

Elevator Pitch: What starts as an exploration of the many strides—and failures—A.I. has made in the realm of artistic expression turns out to be an ambitious meditation on the meaning of creativity and consciousness. It shines in finding humanlike traits in algorithms; one chapter breathlessly documents the matches between Mr. Hassabis’s algorithm and a world champion of Go, a game many scientists said a computer could never win.

Very Brief Excerpt: “Machines might ultimately help us…become less like machines.”

Surprising Factoid: As an example of “overfitting,” the book includes a mathematical model that accidentally predicts the human population will drop to zero by 2028. Probably an error, but better live it up now—just in case.

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

Coronavirus: China’s private bookstores struggling to survive as sales drop 90 per cent, stores remain closed

From The South China Morning Post:

During a one-hour live stream, two members of staff circled around the children’s section of an empty bookstore in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, flipping through illustrated books for dozens of online viewers.

At one point, the female member of staff who was holding the camera picked up Forever Young, a picture book by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, and said: “I love this book, and I highly recommend it. Fellow watchers, if you are interested, I can add you to our readers’ group on WeChat.”

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, many of China’s 70,000 bricks-and-mortar bookstores are among numerous small and medium-sized enterprises who have taken a hit from a lack of customers as many cities have closed shops and public facilities.

The virus is a further blow to physical book shops who were already under pressure from online rivals, as well as a growing trend of reading books on electronic devices, such as Amazon’s Kindle.

. . . .

Owspace, originally from Beijing, operates four stores in China, but only one store in a shopping centre on the eastern side of the capital city has opened for business, although daily traffic is down to around 10 per cent, with sales dropping 90 per cent accordingly.

“Even if all of our bookstores reopen, and our business is like what it is now, then we won’t be able to stay in business after two to three months,” said Wu Yanping, a manager at Owspace, who added that around 40 per cent of Owspace’s revenue comes from book sales.

. . . .

A recent survey covering more than 1,000 physical bookstores across China in early February revealed that more than 90 per cent had no revenues.

Link to the rest at The South China Morning Post

Tennessee Becomes Next State Seeking Public Library Oversight, Censorship

From BookRiot:

Following in the footsteps of Republican lawmakers in Missouri, a pair of bills aimed at public libraries are making their way through both the House and the Senate of Tennessee. Senate Bill 2896, sponsored by Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta), and House Bill 2721, sponsored by Representative Andy Holt (R-Dresden) seek to create parental oversight boards for public libraries. Those boards, one for each library, would make final determinations on whether or not sexual materials are age-appropriate.

. . . .

The boards would be made of five individuals, each appointed by the county for two-year terms. Members would be elected by local government officials, though onus falls upon library boards to notify their communities of said election.

. . . .

In other words, the parental oversight board would be appointed by local government, not anyone related to the library, though it’s the library’s responsibility to notify their patronage of said election.

Determination of sexual content inappropriate for minors is, according to the House Bill: “any description or representation, in any form, of nudity, sexuality, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse, that: (A) Taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest of minors; (B) Is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community with respect to what is appropriate material for minors; and (C) Taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.”

When material is brought to the board for determination of appropriateness, “[T]he board shall convene public hearings at which members of the community may present concerns to the board. After receiving comments from the public, the board shall examine individual instances of the questioned sexual material to determine whether it is age-inappropriate sexual material under this section.”

Once a hearing convenes, the board can choose to remote the material, and their decision is final. It’s not subject to review from any library governing body, the state itself, or any division within the state government.

. . . .

Like the bill in Missouri, librarians would be subject to misdemeanor violations and fines in instances where they do not comply with board decisions. The state can also revoke funding for libraries not found in compliance.

Many believe this bill specifically targets Drag Queen Storytime events at libraries, though according to quotes from Representative Bailey for the Herald-Citizen, the decision to bring simultaneous bills came from concerns “to certain groups using public buildings for things that some may find age inappropriate.” He admits it “could” mean Drag Queen Storytime or other groups. A Drag Queen Storytime in 2019 in Putnam County, Tennessee, drew protests and criticism, and bills like these would empower communities to disallow such events. The Putnam County event did not violate any of the library’s policies, and the event itself was not sponsored by the library.

Vague language at this stage would allow for parental oversight of not just events, but also books available in public libraries. What that board determines as inappropriate would be moved or removed, and librarians would bear the brunt of legal repercussions for not uniformly following that directive.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

PG is inclined to regard local libraries as entities that should be governed by local boards drawn from the community as a whole. PG has no problem with the local boards reviewing the policies the librarians apply with respect to activities taking place in the libraries, books acquired and books placed in areas where they are not available to children and younger teenagers.

A local library remains a valuable community cultural asset even in an era in which access to the internet is widely available to individuals of most ages. It is a place where members of the community gather for face-to-face educational, conversational and community purposes. As such, it should represent and embody the sorts of compromises communities have been making for a very long time. Based in part upon PG’s personal experiences with libraries and the experiences of PG offspring with libraries, PG thinks the environment should reflect the cooperative consensus of those members of the community as to activities, acquisitions, etc., rather than battlegrounds for Social Justice Warriors, other sorts of would-be social and behavioral dictators, etc., to attempt to impose their standards on people who have beliefs unlike their own.

Compromise and consensus are, in general, positive values in any community that is functioning in an effective manner.

The Best Fonts for Books

From Ingram Spark:

Believe it or not, there is a science behind choosing the best fonts for books. Think about all the places you see type today. Whether it’s a phone, a computer screen, a book, an ad, a magazine or a menu, almost every minute of the day is spent reading something. And—other than the menu at your favorite restaurant perhaps—much thought has gone into which font to use.

Generally speaking, there are two main reasons for caring about the best fonts for books, or for anything that will be read. They are:

  • Readability
  • Being “on message.”

In the following paragraphs, we’ll explore each of these reasons, plus the best fonts for books, both for body text and headings. Then we’ll talk about where to buy fonts if you are formatting the book yourself.

. . . .

Factors that determine the readability of a typeface include the spacing between letters, the height and thickness of letters, and the size of the serifs.

Serif fonts help with readability, and are therefore preferable in the body of a book. The “serif” is the decorative stroke that finishes each end of a letter (think Times Roman). Serif fonts are easier on the reader’s eye than sans-serif fonts; the stroke leads the reader’s eye from one letter to the next. Serifs help pull the text together, making it easier for the eye to move and recognize one letter to another, helping the eye to speed through long passages of text.

As the name “sans serif” indicates, these are fonts without the decorative flourish (think Helvetica or Arial). Reading a line of text printed in sans serif is more tiring. For this reason, sans-serif fonts should be reserved for headings or other limited uses. Yet, how many books have you seen with a sans-serif font in the main body because the author preferred it that way?

. . . .

What message is your book trying to send? What do you want the reader to feel?

In addition to being readable, the author wants the text to look inviting and welcoming. Depending on the book’s genre and topic, there may be other messages, such as mysterious, romantic, cheerful, transformative, business-like and more.

For both print and digital books, the typeface is part of the message. Book designers will study a manuscript to get a feel for the tone of the writing before choosing a text font. The right text font for a book can complement the author’s message. If it’s a good fit, the reader probably won’t even notice; the reading will feel easy and just “flow.” In contrast, the wrong choice of typeface can feel jarring.

Imagine a book meant to evoke the reader’s emotions, and the body text is Helvetica! Talk about cold! The reader will sense that the message is wrong, and probably won’t even know why. These are the reasons why companies spend so much money on getting print ads “just right,” ensuring that they are sending the message that will encourage consumers to buy.

. . . .

We polled our book designers, and one of the top choices for the body of a book is the friendly and warm “Caslon.”

Screen Shot 2019-12-02 at 11.16.44 AM

Caslon refers to a family of fonts first designed in 1722 by William Caslon I, an English type engraver. It was used extensively by the British Empire and throughout the American colonies, and was in fact used to set the Declaration of Independence! Caslon continues to be one of the most popular fonts today, with multiple offshoots, versions and interpretations. When used in body text, this font conveys an inviting and readable feeling. It gives a feeling of a human touch, with warmth and familiarity. Caslon is a good choice not just for historical novels, but also anytime a solid and dependable feeling is desired.

Link to the rest at Ingram Spark

8 Social Media Scheduling Apps for Writers

From Social Media Just for Writers:

If you don’t want to be online all day posting your tweets and images, you need to check out this list of eight social media scheduling apps.

The beauty of scheduling apps is that you can spend a few minutes each day or a week uploading your images, messages, captions, hashtags, and status updates.

Once you schedule your posts, all you have to do is check your social media accounts a few minutes a day to engage with your readers.

These apps help you stay regular with your posts and also improve your account growth. If you are starting with social media, apps on the lower end of the price range are an excellent option for you. 

. . . .

The Social Media Scheduling App I Use

#1 SocialOomph

SocialOomph is a social media scheduling app that lets users plan their posts on various social networking platforms. Use it with Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Reddit, Discord, and others. 

However, the free services are only active on Twitter and are very limited. The subscriptions start at $15 a month, and the app also features annual subscription options.

Pros: It’s easy to use and set up with Twitter. You can use this app to schedule recurring tweets. For example, if you create an image with a quote, you can set up the tweet to repeat every 24 weeks, once a year, or every 12 weeks or even more frequently. It is a useful feature that other apps don’t offer. I also set up recurring tweets for specific blog posts.

Cons: You can only use certain features on twitter for free. It isn’t straightforward to connect the app to LinkedIn. Also, the recurring post feature is available at an additional cost. Although I use and like this scheduling app, most writers will want an use one that is easier to set up.

Link to the rest at Social Media Just for Writers

I Went to Hogwarts for Seven Years and Did Not Learn Math or Spelling, and Now I Can’t Get a Job

From The New Yorker:

Dear Headmaster McGonagall:

I am a recent Hogwarts graduate, and, although my time with you was a literal fantasy, I unfortunately did not learn a lot of basic skills, like math or spelling, at your skool.

You may say, “Why do you need arithmetic? You’re a wizard. You can do magic!” To which I reply, sure, for some wizard careers that’s great, but other wizards work in middle management and just want a normal nine-to-five gig. When I graduated, I thought that all I would need was my wand and a couple of choice incantations, but these days, without at least a little algebra, you’re not even qualified to work in Bertie Bott’s retail department.

It’s hard out here for a poorly rounded wizard. Recently, I went on magical LinkedIn and saw almost none of my Hogwarts class of 2007 represented at top-tier wizarding companies. It’s not difficult to speculate why—without the assistance of Hermione Granger, half of my fellow-Gryffindors couldn’t even conjugating most verbs, and I am not sure that the instruction we received from Hagrid the giant is technically certifiable. Additionally, I cannot sit still for more than four hours a day without embarking on spontaneous adventures, and my vocabulary is poop.

Thanks to the Hogwarts curriculum, I can withstand mind control and even limited torture, but I cannot write a compelling cover letter without humiliating grammatical error’s. Why is literature not a course at your skool? I can enchant my quill to write my thoughts, but I never learned how to make my thoughts enchanting. I heard that Durmstrang students have a skool newspaper. You know what Hogwarts has? A three-headed dog lurking in the castle, with permission to kill whoever it finds. Indeedly, my life was constantly endangered while at Hogwarts, which was an academic distracshun.

. . . .

Realistically, here is what I am qualified to be:

  • A troll hunter
  • An auror
  • An eccentric teacher at Hogwarts

As you can imagine, this does not make me an appealing prospect for interview season.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

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

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