I’ve decided to start giving a damn again

17 November 2018

From The Digital Reader

I’ve never been one to mark the anniversary of this blog. I started it in January 2010 on the spur of the moment, and generally maintained that attitude of “hey, now that’s a cool idea – let’s do it”. This tended to get in the way planning things like anniversary celebrations (and back when I attended CES in the first week of January every year I didn’t really have the energy for a celebration, anyway).

But as I sit here today, it is two months and eight days until this blog’s ninth anniversary, and I have decided I am going to do something different.

This time around I am going to celebrate the anniversary of the blog, and also its relaunch.

I don’t know if you noticed, but for the past year and a half or so I have regarded this blog as a failed project. I looked at the falling weekly traffic reports, and counted the ever-declining number of comments, and grew depressed about the inevitability of site traffic eventually dwindling away to nothing. This belief came to be reflected in the care (or rather, the lack of care) I was putting into things like proofing blog posts. (After all, why bother investing in something that is going to die anyway?)

. . . .

I now see this blog as being the metaphorical glass half-full rather than half-empty. (As I said, I have started to give a damn about the blog again.)

So, the anniversary.

I’m going to spend the next couple months thinking about what should be done with this blog. I’m also going to be thinking of how I can thank readers, commenters, and contributors, including those who have been here since the beginning and those who read the blog now.

To put it another way, I have started to give a damn about the blog again.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG is not certain whether he first picked up on The Digital Reader when Nate first started it or not.

Regardless, PG has appreciated Nate’s ongoing efforts and found a lot of good information at TDR.

If you follow the link, Nate is asking for ideas on how he should improve the blog.

Food writers can be divided into two branches: sensualists and moralists

17 November 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

You can tell a lot about a person by how they order at Waffle House, but I would suggest that the thing that separates the sheep from the goats isn’t what they regularly order, but rather that they have an order at all.

I don’t think it matters, in other words, if you like your hash browns the way I do—scattered (on the grill), peppered (with jalapenos), smothered (with onions) and covered (with melted cheese). But you should like them some particular way, and you should know how you like them. In the midst of his criss-crossing of culinary America in “Buttermilk Graffiti,” chef Edward Lee stops into a Waffle House and orders “a bowl of chili and hash browns, smothered and covered.” He’s in Prattville, Ala., where “Valerie works the griddle station and belts out rock-and-roll classics all the while, changing the lyrics to make waffle and egg references.”

In these passages Mr. Lee, who runs acclaimed restaurants in Louisville, Ky., National Harbor, Md., and Washington, D.C., is reflecting on the intimacy and social comfort he’s found in this Southern chain restaurant. He contrasts it to a rather awkward series of adventures in Korean restaurants in Montgomery, Ala., of which there are surprisingly many. Oddly, he found, not many of the Koreans running these restaurants wanted to talk to him about the food they were cooking, and though the food was familiar—Mr. Lee’s parents immigrated from Korea—he didn’t feel quite at home. These sorts of questions are the crux of “Buttermilk Graffiti”: Where are we comfortable? How can assimilation and tradition coexist? Why is there such excellent Cambodian food in Lowell, Mass.? How can it be that there are more Korean restaurants per capita in Montgomery than in Manhattan?

. . . .

By that time Jane and Michael Stern’s “Roadfood” had been out a few years; Calvin Trillin had published “American Fried” a few years before that. Those books laid out the pattern for future American food travelogues. What Mr. Trillin did was to insist that good-old down-home stuff was where the fun was. He was thumbing his nose at the fancy-schmancy, insisting that we all avoid “Le Maison de la Casa House” and any place of which the chamber of commerce is proud. In a culinary world that was, by all reports, drenched in thick continental sauces, this was a good message and needed to be spread. But what I experienced in Carlisle, Pa.—and what Edward Lee tracks intrepidly throughout the country—is something different. It’s fresh, comfortable excellence—sometimes a frisson that the newly arrived bring to the table, sometimes a tradition that is just one step outside of the mainstream. In Miami, it is the flavors of Cuban exiles, and in Dearborn, Mich., it is the mint tea with which Mr. Lee breaks his fast at sundown during Ramadan.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal




Which books best examine the nature of loneliness?

17 November 2018

From The Guardian:

Q: Which books best examine the nature of loneliness?
Thomas Edwards, 21, third year student of international relations at Exeter University

Alex Clark, critic, writer and broadcaster, writes:
You might argue that the vast majority of novels study loneliness in one form or another, given that they spring from an attempt to explore an individual consciousness and its relation with the outside world.

Perhaps the most celebrated is Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, which, although it frequently portrays its narrator’s interactions with family, friends and lovers, is essentially concerned with the complexities of managing the unruly desires and pains of selfhood. And isolation, too, haunts such classic novels as Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, in the person of the shellshocked first world war veteran Septimus Smith, and the existential agonies of Albert Camus’s antiheroes.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Jeff Bezos Says ‘Amazon Is Not Too Big To Fail.’ He’s Right

17 November 2018

From Forbes:

Yesterday, CNBC reported that Jeff Bezos, in an all-hands meeting earlier this month, said: “Amazon is not too big to fail…In fact, I predict one day Amazon will fail. Amazon will go bankrupt. If you look at large companies, their lifespans tend to be 30-plus years, not a hundred-plus years.” He was responding to an employee asking if the CEO had learned any lessons after Sears and other big retailers recently filed for bankruptcy.

There are a few reasons why Bezos right. As one retail investor said to me, “the nature of all retailers is to eventually go bankrupt.” It’s a cynical point of view but it reflects reality: Retail goes through cycles. Certain kinds of retailers become popular, but then they fail to adapt and their businesses decline and eventually vanish. We see that over and over again. The retailers who can change are the exceptions, not the rule.

But Amazon is now the second-largest retailer in the United States. How is it possible that a thing that big could vanish?

It’s possible that the company could lose touch with its customer, but that seems highly unlikely for Amazon. That’s the one thing it’s known for being hyperfocused on.

. . . .

It’s well known that Amazon is not judged on its profitability. If it were, its stock price would be a small fraction of what it is now. Amazon has done an incredible job at many different things, and one of them is getting the financial markets to value the company based on its revenue growth, with the assumption that profitability will come later. Amazon explains away its low profits by saying that it uses what profit it makes to invest in new ideas and experimentation to stay ahead. So far, the market has accepted Amazon’s explanation. People I talk to say that as long as Amazon keeps growing its revenue by 20-25% per year, the market will impute future profitability to the company and the stock price will continue to rise.

For over 100 years before it went bankrupt, Sears had everything for everybody and successfully adapted to what its customers wanted.

. . . .

But as Amazon blows past the $200 billion revenue threshold, it gets harder to find sources of revenue that will have the impact it needs on revenue growth. You can’t, for example, double the number of Prime subscribers in the country; there aren’t enough households left to do that and the saturation is already too high. It needs to find new sectors to bring online, like it first did with books. It needs new industries, like grocery, health care, banking or automobiles, that have relatively low online penetration and the potential for conversion to online sales to sustain its revenue growth. But the thing about that is, it’s hard and it’s uncertain. Amazon has owned Whole Foods for well over a year and the conversion to online doesn’t appear to be happening, at least so far.

If Amazon doesn’t find new sources of revenue growth in other industries, its expansion will slow. And because its stock price has been so influenced by revenue growth, it won’t continue to rise. That’s key for Amazon more than for most companies because so many of its middle- and upper-level employees are incentivized by company stock. An important part of their compensation, more than for most other companies, is based on the stock price continuing to rise. If that stops happening, Amazon employees, who are already very sought after by other companies, will be more susceptible to other offers than ever before. When they start to leave, the stock price stagnation will make it hard for Amazon to replace them and the whole wheel can stop spinning in a hurry.

You may say that Amazon is too much a part of people’s daily habits for it to vanish. That’s true for a while, but when a company loses its best people, the ability to innovate goes away, too. It isn’t long before it’s overtaken.

Link to the rest at Forbes

PG suggests that one of the characteristics of business organizations in a capitalist economy is a very high likelihood they will not last forever.

That’s a feature, not a bug.

If a business organization fails, quickly or slowly, to be responsive to customer’s needs, whatever they may be, it will start to decline. If the organization doesn’t turn its focus back to what its customers and prospective customers want and will pay for, that organization will decline and eventually disappear.

Unlike other organizations (dictatorships, for example, or government-owned businesses), business organizations in free economies must continue to please their customers upon pain of corporate death. The opportunity for new companies to start and grow into competitors to established businesses (see, for example, as Exhibit A: Amazon) is an important part of this model.

Without the threat of failure tied to customer dissatisfaction, organizations will almost inevitably turn inward and focus on internal organizational issues as key players compete to succeed under the rules that evolve for internal organizational standards and practices. That can and has happened even in the face of failure.

I specialize

17 November 2018

I specialize in murders of quiet, domestic interest.

~ Agatha Christie

The Radicalization of Bedtime Stories

16 November 2018

From The Atlantic:

More than 200 years ago, when books for children first became common, they delivered simple moral lessons about, for instance, cleanliness and the importance of prayer. Today, story time is still propelled by moral forces, but the issues have gotten a good deal more sophisticated.

In recent years, publishers have put out children’s books with political undertones and activist calls to action on topics ranging from Islamophobia to race to gender identity to feminism. “The trend has definitely exploded in recent years with the social-justice books and the activism books,” says Claire Kirch, a senior correspondent at Publishers Weekly who has been covering the book industry for 15 years.

. . . .

For children of all ages, books about such charged topics are, in the words of one publishing executive, coming to be seen as more “retail-friendly.” This development applies all the way down to picture books—a category for which the intended audience and the buyers are two very different groups. In this sense, “woke” picture books can be thought of as products for parents, helping them distill some of the day’s most fraught cultural issues into little narrative lessons for their kids.

. . . .

The wave of politicized children’s books has come more from the left than from the right. Kirch told me that “of the three publishers that are the most well known for publishing conservative books”—Center Street, Sentinel, and Regnery Publishing—“only one really has a kids’-book line.” That one is Regnery, which has put out titles such as Donald Drains the Swamp!, Land of the Pilgrims’ Pride (by Newt Gingrich’s wife, Callista), The Remarkable Ronald Reagan, and The Night Santa Got Lost: How NORAD Saved Christmas.

It seems there is more of an appetite for liberal-minded kids’ books: Kirch noted that another Regnery title—Marlon Bundo’s A Day in the Life of the Vice President, by Mike Pence’s daughter Charlotte and told from the perspective of the family’s pet rabbit—was far outsold by a parody of the book overseen by John Oliver’s HBO show that imagined the titular bunny to be gay.

. . . .

Since then, the number of books featuring marginalized identities has increased. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin at Madison examines thousands of books for kids and teens published each year, and in 2015, it found that about 14 percent of American kids’ titles were about people who weren’t white. In 2017, this figure rose to 25 percent. “We have found, however, that the increase in the number of books about people of color is due to an increase in white authors writing about diverse characters,” the Center’s director, KT Horning, told me. “It does not mean that we are seeing more books by people of color.” Even so, diversity—in children’s books and in so many other parts of society—is these days a politicized issue, and an increasing focus on it in children’s books is a development that scans to some as liberal.

. . . .

Laura Stoker, a political scientist at UC Berkeley, put it to me this way: “Kids know that they’re Democrats before they have any clue what a Democrat is.” Stoker thinks it’s possible that children’s books touching on politicized issues are representative of broader political polarization. “Parents who feel very strongly want to produce children who feel the way they feel and adopt their values,” she says.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

While reading the OP, PG was inspired to create a new advertising slogan for Big Publishing – “By New Yorkers, For New Yorkers”.

Do Horror and Crime Go Together?

16 November 2018

From Crime Reads:

Only a couple of decades ago, American crime author Bill Crider, writing in the Mystery Readers’ Journal, described cross-genre writing as “something it’s OK to do in the privacy of your own home, but you wouldn’t want the neighbors to know about it.” He meant it as a joke, acknowledging a prejudice that was already dying, but he was old enough to have lived through an era when straddling genres was a risky strategy—something that made it harder to market a writer’s work, and therefore justified leaving said writer in the desolate limbo of the slush pile.

Today, all genres are promiscuous, and none more so than the mystery thriller. Crider himself wrote a number of mysteries set in the old west, which is how we know he was joking with that comment. Elsewhere, historical mysteries (Roman, medieval, ancient Egyptian, Byzantine, Regency, Victorian et al.) have become an industry in themselves. Mysteries have happily swapped DNA with science fiction, horror, comedy, romance and (of course) literary fiction. And the Harry Potter novels, which rank very high among the bestselling fiction titles of all time, are mystery novels every bit as much as they are fantasies.

But some crossovers are an easier fit than others. There’s a good reason why historical mysteries have been so very successful and so very ubiquitous. The historical setting provides a whole range of real-world events to be used as enthralling backdrop. It allows writers to re-invent the role of detective, giving their protagonists a background in surgery, herbalism, psychology, the priesthood or the civil service that turns out to be unexpectedly useful in solving crimes. And by rolling back technology it makes room for mysteries that would be solved in a second if the detective had access to modern methods. So the historical detective very quickly became a genre staple. William of Baskerville led the charge, in Umberto Eco’s wonderful The Name of the Rose, but he was soon joined by Marcus Didius Falco, Judge Dee, Brother Cadfael and a small army of lesser luminaries.

. . . .

And when horror is paired with mystery, it sometimes seems as though the two genre strands are pulling in precisely opposite directions.

For readers of mystery, a large part of the pleasure they derive from a story comes from the moment or moments when the mystery is explained and a solution presents itself. This means there’s an implicit bargain between writer and reader: the reader suspends disbelief and engages with the story, while the writer guarantees that an explanation will eventually be given, using information already made available and staying within the rules that have been established.

Link to the rest a Crime Reads

Voice-first ups the volume on podcasts, audiobooks

16 November 2018

From Publishing Trends:

Are you a good listener?  More and more people consider themselves to be, and the evidence is impressive: according to NPD Group, audiobook sales grew 22.7% with over 46,000 audiobooks published in 2017, and podcasts now total more than 500,000, up from 150,000 last year. According to eMarketer, 73 million people in the US will tune in at least monthly, and 52% listen to four or more podcasts a week.

But we only have two ears and a limited amount of time to juggle our TV-watching, social media posting, and reading – so what wins in the aural battle?

Audiobook publishers interviewed for this article agree that, if a battle is brewing, it’s not between podcasts and audiobooks. Macmillan Audio President and Publisher Mary Beth Roche believes podcasts have helped develop the audiobook audience, especially among younger readers, as listeners are “reintroduced to the spoken word.” And though they have separate business models, the formats overlap – e.g. Courtney Summers’ Sadie, which integrates a character’s podcast into the audiobook, or Welcome to Night Vale, which started as a podcast and became a book – and are often complementary, as when Macmillan released the Time To Parent audiobook and podcast show in the same week. Increasingly, publishers use podcasts to promote an author’s audiobook and audiobooks advertise on popular podcasts, with Audible in the top ten list of advertisers.

. . . .

Usually, comparisons between audiobooks and podcasts focus on whether fans of one are likely to be fans of – or converts to – the other. But, as smart speakers like Alexa, Google Home, and Apple Homepod become more ubiquitous, listeners of either will have more options to hear both: two of the top three daily smart speaker requests from nine pm to midnight are short stories or audiobooks, and 49% of podcasts are listened to at home. Also, a whopping 74% of the smart speaker owners who listen to podcasts do so directly from the device, not through their mobile apps.

Smart speakers, also referred to as voice-first devices, are seen by many as a boon to the audiobook industry. “Everyone who has a smart speaker has an audiobookstore in their home,” says Penguin Random House Audio President Amanda D’Acierno.

. . . .

Libraries still remain major drivers for audiobook consumption as well. According to the Audio Publishers Association (APA), 52% of listeners said borrowing from a library or library website was instrumental to their listening habit, 43% said they downloaded an audiobook from a library, and 14% said they most often use the library for their digital listening. Fiction, specifically genres like mystery and thrillers, are top categories.

. . . .

The lines are already blurring: while podcasts take advertising and audiobooks don’t, on-demand internet radio platforms like Stitcher Premium offer podcasts either as ad-free paid subscriptions or as ad-supported exclusive podcasts available only to Stitcher Premium subscribers. Case Closed, a true crime podcast which will be published as an audiobook after its run, is exclusive with Stitcher for six months. Meanwhile, Podglomerate CEO Jeff Umbro, who also hosts a podcast called Writers Who Don’t Write, believes advertising may become more common in audiobooks –  though an ad-supported platform with free audiobooks is a possible scenario as well.

Link to the rest a Publishing Trends

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