Rupert Murdoch urges media firms to unite to fight Amazon and Netflix

30 October 2014

From The Guardian:

The media industry needs its own competitor to online streaming giants Amazon and Netflix, Rupert Murdoch told a technology conference on Wednesday.

“As an industry, we need a competitor – a serious competitor – to Netflix and Amazon,” Murdoch told the Wall Street Journal’s WSJ.D conference in Laguna Beach, California.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

A raw blog post

30 October 2014

From author Colleen Hoover:

Three years ago this week…

I lived in a mobile home. A very small, 1,000 square foot trailer house. With black linoleum, horrendous gold trim, an air conditioner that didn’t work, a patio door that didn’t open because the floor was rotted through and appliances that would only run one at a time or the breaker would trip. We had a huge pile of trash in a backyard pen because for an entire year, we couldn’t even afford the $25 a month trash service.

I drove a minivan that had no heater, and every winter I would have to leave for work at 6:30 in the morning and pull over every few miles just to wipe and defrost the windows so I could see out it.

Our kids were on free lunches, and for a while, we qualified for food stamps.

All of this, and I had a college degree, which I was utilizing. But working as a social worker wasn’t paying all of the bills, and I was still having to borrow money from my mother and fatger to make ends meet. When my older sister would come visit, she would bring me groceries. My aunt would send my kids shoes for Christmas, because we could hardly afford them. We dreamed of living like kings on payday, but in reality we were paupers, digging in the couch cushions during the week to afford the banquet TV dinners we lived on most of the time.

Sounds terrible, doesn’t it?

It wasn’t.

It was wonderful.

I loved my life. I loved my crappy house. I loved that my children were growing up in the town I grew up in, and going to the same school I attended. I loved living half a mile from my mother, and taking the boys for walks every night. I loved paydays, when we would splurge and take the boys to Wal-Mart to buy them a toy. I loved when my mother would show up at my house after everyone went to bed and she’d give me twenty dollars and we would drive to the casino and play penny slots for five hours straight. My favorite present was when my little sister gave me twenty dollars in quarters for Christmas a few years ago because we love arcades, and we spent the entire twenty bucks on claw machines. I loved the days my older sister would come visit and bring me her old clothes and old makeup and groceries and it would feel like I hit the lottery. And I especially loved it when my husband and I would dream about one day building our own house. Of course we never believed it would actually happen, but dreaming was free and it was fun. So we dreamed a lot.

I worked eleven hour days, but I loved my job and I loved the women I worked with. In October of 2011, my son told me he wanted to audition for a play and I knew the hours would kill me, but I loved that he was brave enough to audition in front of a crowd at the age of eight. When he got the part, I was both ecstatic and pissed off. Of course I wanted him to get the part, but my husband was working over the road and was only home a couple of days a month. That meant every weekday, I’d be leaving my house at 6:30 am and wouldn’t get home until 9:30 every night, after rehearsals. But I made it work, with the help of a lot of people.

A friend of mine, and sometimes a few of the teachers at my children’s school, would drop my son, Cale, off at my work every afternoon. My other two children would go to my mother’s house every night. When work ended at 6pm, we would head straight to rehearsals. This went on for a couple of months, and sitting in the auditorium sometimes got boring. I would borrow my mother’s laptop, which honestly couldn’t even be considered a laptop. It was one of those mini laptops that was so tiny, it was hard to type on. Not to mention it was missing a few keys. It was really sad looking, but I didn’t own a computer, so I made it work.

I would play around on youtube, read a book or two on Amazon, anything to pass the time. But one night after watching a lot of slam poetry on youtube, I decided I wanted to read a book about a slam poet. When I couldn’t find one, I started writing one.

I wrote the first few paragraphs on that tiny laptop in the auditorium of the Sulphur Springs community theater. All I could think about while I was driving home was how much I wanted to write another paragraph. And another. I would take my mom’s laptop home with me at night and stay up writing until about 2am. Then I would drop it off in her car at 6:30 every morning so she would have it when she worked all day. Then on my way home every night, I’d borrow it again and use it until 2am. The cycle continued for a week or two, until I had about four solid chapters. I still didn’t know what I was writing. I had no idea that I would eventually let people read it. I just knew that it was fun and I was sacrificing sleep and sanity to do it. It felt so good to be excited about a hobby. I was falling in love with Lake and Will’s story and it consumed me night and day. I would write at work on breaks and lunch and between clients. After a couple of weeks, I printed the first few chapters and gave them to my mother to see if it was something she liked. I also gave them to my boss, who honestly didn’t think anything of it when I said I was writing a book. She was used to my crazy ideas. I think the month before, I wanted to open a pottery story. The month before that I wanted to major in business. The month before that, I wanted to go back into teaching. It was always something new, so she wasn’t expecting this to stick, and honestly, neither was I.

After they read the first few chapters, they didn’t come to me with praise or criticism. They didn’t say how good they thought it was, or how crappy they thought it was. Both of them just basically said, “Where’s the next chapter?” And when I said, “I haven’t written it yet,” it was as if I slapped them in the face. Their reaction was by far better than any compliment they could have given me.

It was my inspiration.

. . . .

My older sister is a different story. She had huge dreams for this book and she’s a very big believer in positive thinking. She makes vision boards every January, and the week before I self-published SLAMMED, she wrote on her vision board that she hoped I would make $100,000 that year from the book. When I saw it, I got so mad at her. I knew that was ridiculous and she was just setting herself and everyone else up for failure. I thought that if she had that expectation of me, she would be disappointed in me. I made her take it down. I didn’t even want my book mentioned on there, because to me, it was just a silly story and no one other than my friends and family would ever care to read it.

When I self-published it to Amazon, I think I sold 30 copies the first week or month. I can’t even remember. I just know it was enough to pay not only my water bill, but my electric bill. And most of those sales were from the first day when all my friends downloaded the book out of curiosity, so I knew the next month wouldn’t really see any sales and things would slow down. But that didn’t matter to me, because I wrote the book simply because it was fun, not because I wanted to make it a career. The thought of actually writing full-time was a crazy notion and I wouldn’t even allow myself to entertain it.

I started on the sequel, Point of Retreat, shortly thereafter.

. . . .

I remember calling my mother one day saying, “SIX people bought my book today and I don’t even know them!” It was insane.

. . . .

Then came the big day. The day every writer dreams of.

The day I was notified that I had hit The New York Times.

Link to the rest at Colleen Hoover and thanks to Randall for the tip.

Here’s a link to Colleen Hoover’s books

Being an author

30 October 2014

Being an author is being in charge of your own personal insane asylum.

Terri Guillemets

Political Partisans Agree on One Thing: They Like Amazon

30 October 2014

From Advertising Age:

Democrats and Republicans might not agree on much, especially in a particularly bitter midterm election cycle. But a 2014 YouGov BrandIndex ranking of favorite brands finds some agreement among political partisans. Amazon, for one, comes in No. 1 among Democrats and Independents and No. 2 among Republicans.

Craftsman, Johnson & Johnson, Clorox and Dawn were the four other brands that landed in the Top 10 lists of people of all political stripes. Samsung made its debut; Home Depot fell off.

. . . .

Not surprisingly, Fox News (with a -28) came in last with Democrats and MSNBC (-31) last with Republicans. Perhaps a little surprising: Red Bull and 5-Hour Energy tied for last spot with Independents with a -17.

. . . .

There were a handful of brands that occurred on only one list. Dove, PBS and Barnes & Noble showed up only on the Democratic list. Quaker showed up only on the Independent one. And History Channel, Fox News and M&Ms showed up only on the Republican list.

Link to the rest at Advertising Age and thanks to Dominick for the tip.

For visitors to The Passive Voice from overseas, elections will occur in the United States next Tuesday.

Value in the media industry is moving to the edges, and publishers are in the middle

30 October 2014

From GigaOm:

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about Facebook’s increasing role in how people get their news, and whether or not that is a good thing and/or what to do about it. But one of the smartest things I’ve read on the topic comes from freelance tech analyst Ben Thompson, who writes a blog called Stratechery — and who put Facebook’s dominance into context with a post about how value in the media industry is moving to the edges, and publishers are stuck in the middle.

. . . .

Thompson explains how companies like Largan have gained power, just as chip makers and software providers like Microsoft and Intel did during the rise of the personal computer — leaving the companies who actually assembled and sold computers in the middle, their profit margins dwindling as value moved to the ends: specialized manufacturers on one side, and services on the other.

. . . .

So for example, in the analog world in which newspapers, magazines and other forms of publishing controlled the distribution platform and therefore the channels through which content flowed, they also controlled much of the value. But new platforms have emerged — such as Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and dozens of others — and they have accumulated much of the value and market power that used to accrue to publishers and media companies. As Thompson puts it:

When people follow a link on Facebook (or Google or Twitter or even in an email), the page view that results is not generated because the viewer has any particular affinity for the publication that is hosting the link… if anything, the reader is likely to ascribe any positive feelings to the author. Over time, as this cycle repeats itself… value moves to the ends, just like it did in the IT manufacturing industry or smartphone industry.”

. . . .

In other words, Thompson believes that because of the disintermediating effect that the internet has on content, value is moving towards the individual creators of that content — writers, editors, artists, etc. — and towards the platforms that allow for discovery and/or distribution of that content (Facebook, etc.) and away from publishers and media companies of various kinds.

. . . .

So what does the future look like for those media companies in the middle of the “smiling curve?” Thompson doesn’t say, but it probably isn’t going to involve a lot of smiling — instead, it presumably involves trying to squeeze less and less revenue out of a market where they are rapidly losing control, and trying to form relationships with platforms like Facebook without losing even more.

Link to the rest at GigaOm and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

PG says this is one of the principal results of the disruption that ebooks and ecommerce have visited on traditional publishing.

In the old days, the author created the manuscript, the agent sold the manuscript to the publisher, the publisher took the manuscript and, with the help of a printer, turned it into a book, the distributor took a bunch of the books and put them in a warehouse from which smaller bunches were sent to bookstores/other retailers and the bookstores sold the book to readers.

Under this model, the manuscript was of no value to the bookstores and a lot of intermediate steps were necessary before the manuscript became salable to readers. Without the internet and in an era of mass broadcast and print media, an individual author had very few ways of affecting discovery of the book, which, for most books, happened primarily in bookstores and other B&M retailers.

Today, the author creates the manuscript and either converts it to an ebook or pays somebody to do so, Amazon takes the ebook and sells it to readers. Those are the only necessary parts of the ebook/ecommerce supply chain. Discovery of ebooks takes place online at Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, etc. The rest of the old supply chain is obsolete and an unnecessary expense.

The author and Amazon are the only places where significant value is created in the new supply chain.

The fight between Amazon and Hachette is about the dominant players in the middle of the obsolete supply chain trying to remain relevant and capture more of the value that they used to take for granted.

How To Create A Killer Opening For Your Science Fiction Short Story

30 October 2014

From io9:

A short story is like a chess game: The opening is a huge part of whether you win or lose. The first sentence of a short story doesn’t just “hook” readers, it also sets the tone and launches the plot. So here are the seven major types of short story openings, and how to pick one.

Sure, the opening sentences are important in novels, too. A strong beginning, in a novel, can help provide momentum that will carry the reader all the way to the last page, sometimes in one sitting. But short stories are different: the first sentence, or the first paragraph, often hangs over the whole rest of the story. Many short stories are really about one idea, or one situation, and that’s what the opening sentences establish.

. . . .

 2) The conflict establisher.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with an opening sentence that shows the exact moment when your characters knew they were in trouble. The classic “we were halfway to Mars when our fuel tank blew up” beginning. It creates a nice sense of urgency, and then you can go back and fill in the details once people are on board with the fact that exciting stuff is happening.

Why you might use this one: If you want to start your story with a bang.

Why you might not: If your bang falls flat, then your story is lost. This is actually a high-risk opening. It’s also easy to overuse the “starting with a bang” style. Sometimes you want to be a bit more subtle, and draw your readers in slowly before dropping the boom on them. Your readers may expect the rest of your story to keep that propulsive feeling, and to revolve around the incident you describe at the start, so you have a lot to live up to.

Examples:

“When it starts we’re in a hotel room, the two of us curled up on a double bed. It’s a two-star kind of place: cracks in the walls, curtains covered in faded daisies, the clinging smell of camphor attaching itself after the first few minutes of your stay. The television stutters as we flick through the channels, colours blending together and rendering the devastation a fuzzy blue or green. Still, we see it happen: the great machines of the merfolk coming up over the shore, rampaging through the city with devastating effect.” — Peter M. Ball, “On the Destruction of Copenhagen by the War-Machines of the Merfolk.”

“Hala is running for class when her cell phone rings. She slows to take it from her pocket, glances at the screen: UNKNOWN CALLER.” — Kij Johnson, “Names for Water”

“They left Abal in a hurry, after Ozma’s mother killed the constable.” — Kelly Link, “The Constable of Abal”

“I slammed the door in the child’s face, a horrific scream trapped in my throat.” — Nnedi Okorafor, “On the Road”

“When Denis died, he found himself in another place. Dead people came at him with party hats and presents.” — Rachel Swirsky, “Fields of Gold”

3) The mystifier

At first, it doesn’t entirely make sense, because it refers to stuff we don’t know about yet. Or it throws us into a situation without giving us all the pieces right away.

Why you might use this one: There’s nothing more intriguing than a mysterious situation, where you’re thrown in the deep end. People are willing to hang with you for quite a while to find out what this is all about.

Why you might not: The mystery has to be really cool, for this to work. Also, you’re asking your readers to work pretty hard — they have to ponder the clues you’re throwing at them, but then they also have to get into your world and your characters. I feel like the “thrown in the deep end” opening is the riskiest type, because it’s the kind that asks the most of the reader. You have to be pretty skillful, to unravel your cryptic opening at the same time as you’re introducing the world and the characters, and it’s a bit of a high-wire act.

Examples::

“I still have the dollar bill. It’s in my box at the bank, and I think that’s where it will stay. I simply won’t destroy it, but I can think of nobody to whom I’d be willing to show it — certainly nobody at the college, my History Department colleagues least of all. Merely to tell the story would brand me irredeemably as a crackpot, but crackpots are tolerated, even on college faculties. It’s only when they begin producing physical evidence that they get themselves actively resented.” — H. Beam Piper, “Crossroads of Destiny”.

“‘They don’t look very dangerous,’ Xiao Ling Yun said to the aide. Ling Yun wished she understood what Phoenix Command wanted from her. Not that she minded the excuse to take a break from the composition for two flutes and hammered dulcimer that had been stymieing her for the past two weeks.” — Yoon Ha Lee, “The Unstrung Zither.”

“Mariska shivered when she realized that her room had been tapping at the dreamfeed for several minutes. ‘The Earth is up,’ it murmured in its gentle singing accent. ‘Daddy Al is up, and I am always up. Now Mariska gets up.'” — James Patrick Kelly, “Going Deep”

“I remember the night I became a goddess.” — Ian McDonald, “The Little Goddess”

“Memory is a strange thing. I haven’t changed my sex in eighty three years.” — Vandana Singh, “Oblivion: A Journey”

“There is a magic shore where children used to beach their coracles every night.” — Sarah Rees Brennan, “The Spy Who Never Grew Up”

Link to the rest at io9

Not Reading

30 October 2014

From GEIST:

Reading a book is an act of concentration that abolishes the world. As the type on the page dissolves before the reader’s private re-creation of the people, images or ideas that the ink evokes, reality is enhanced by insights, emotions or perceptions that were not there before. This compensatory quality is the product of concentration; it arises because reading is linear, reeling us along sentence by sentence toward a series of revelations. Reading a book remakes the temporality of the physical world. The shapelessness of experience yields to a chronology whose internal symmetry feels superior to the disorder of life. Book-based transcendence fuelled the three ancient Middle Eastern monotheisms that became the core religions of the early modern period in the West and on its fringes, and which were exported to other continents; all were “religions of the book.”

The book’s sacred status survived the secularization of society. The words of the imaginative writer, particularly the novelist, invested specific social configurations with mythic resonance: Thomas Hardy’s Wessex, Dostoevsky’s St. Petersburg, Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, García Márquez’s Macondo, Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo.

. . . .

More than a decade ago, when I moved to the university town where I teach, it was common to see students reading books on municipal buses. Now, with the exception of the occasional nerd stuck into a fantasy novel, or a diligent student poring over a diagram-filled textbook on her lap, this sight has disappeared. The students travel in stooped postures, jabbing their cellphones with their thumbs. Most of this jabbing is texting, or playing solitaire; but even when the students are browsing online course readings, what they are doing is not reading, because they are not performing an act of concentration, but rather one of perpetual distraction. As Marshall McLuhan perceived, the medium is the message. Reading is an act confined to books and magazines, and, in somewhat more scattered form, newspapers; what we do when we absorb words from a screen—and we haven’t yet evolved a verb for it—is not reading.

. . . .

The term ebook, more than a misnomer, is an oxymoron: we may read a text on a screen, in between anxious jumps to other windows, but we do not read a book because we do not achieve the level of concentration necessary to experience the spiritual or artistic affects that books provide. Some software even invites the user to read the book and watch the movie at the same time. A tweet is a perfect match with the medium of the screen; approaching a book in this way is like trying to view the rings of Saturn with cheap binoculars.

Link to the rest at GEIST and thanks to Timothy for the tip.

Andrew Wylie talks about the state of the publishing industry

30 October 2014

From Quill & Quire:

Andrew Wylie has much to say about the book business, but it’s not for the faint of heart. In his keynote address at the International Festival of Authors (and in the Q&A with CBC’s Carol Off that followed), the internationally renowned agent of Martin Amis and Salman Rushie offered up his characteristic zingers, calling Amazon “the equivalent of ISIS,” 50 Shades of Grey “one of the most embarrassing moments in Western culture,” and self-publishing “the aesthetic equivalent of telling everyone who sings in the shower they deserve to be in La Scala.”

. . . .

On the future of Amazon

In fact what’s happening is a continuation of what used to go on with the chains. It is a set of terms dictated by a digital trucking company, and the publishing industry, up until now, has cowered and whined and moaned and groaned and given Amazon pretty much everything they want. Now I think that’s going to stop. I think Hachette, to their great credit, drew a line in the sand and didn’t fold…. The deal that Simon & Schuster cut with Amazon – and no one is allowed to know anything about the deal, and nobody has any idea what it is – but basically, it’s back to the agency model. And, it’s pretty good for authors. And there is a good chance, in my view, that Amazon will be told, “You either do business on our terms, or we’re going to develop other channels of distribution.”

. . . .

On publishing books that matter

You can buy your clothing at K-Mart, or you can buy your clothing at Hermès. You have to decide what you want in life. If you want disposable razors, that’s one way to approach it, or you could buy a razor that might last a little longer. I think what a culture depends on is what is best about a culture. And what a book depends on is what’s best about books. Those are the books that last, those are the books that sustain the industry. Not the sort of high-level bets that are placed on short-term profitability, and is all led by shareholder interest and pressure.

Link to the rest at Quill & Quire and thanks to Michael for the tip.

The Percy Jackson Problem

29 October 2014

From The New Yorker:

About a year ago, the novelist Neil Gaiman delivered a lecture at the Barbican, in London, on behalf of the Reading Agency, a not-for-profit organization that promotes literacy and reading for pleasure among children and adults. In the lecture, which was reprinted in the Guardian, Gaiman came out in favor of what might be called the “just so long as they’re reading” camp.

“I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children,” he argued, adding that it was “snobbery and … foolishness” to suggest that a certain author or particular genre might be a baleful influence upon young reading minds—be it comic books or the works of R. L. Stine. Fiction is a “gateway drug” to reading, Gaiman said. “Every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn’t hackneyed and worn out to them.” Well-meaning adults, he continued, can easily kill a child’s love of reading: “Stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian ‘improving’ literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.”

The opposite argument—that the kind of book a child has his or her nose buried in does make a difference—has been mounted elsewhere, notably by Tim Parks, in an essay that appeared on the blog of the New York Review of Books. “If the ‘I-don’t-mind-people-reading-Twilight-because-it-could-lead-to-higher-things’ platitude continues to be trotted out, it is because despite all the blurring that has occurred over recent years, we still have no trouble recognizing the difference between the repetitive formula offering easy pleasure and the more strenuous attempt to engage with the world in new ways,” Parks wrote. He enlisted the example of his own children’s reading habits, and those of his young students, to argue that there is little evidence to suggest that readers will make progress “upward from pulp to Proust.” “I seriously doubt if E.L. James is the first step toward Shakespeare,” he concluded. “Better to start with Romeo and Juliet.”

This debate came to mind earlier this month at the New York Public Library, when Rick Riordan, the author of the best-selling Percy Jackson series, was in town to promote “The Blood of Olympus,” the latest and final volume in his second cycle of novels drawing upon Greek mythology. The first, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” has sold upwards of twenty million copies worldwide.

. . . .

For those unfamiliar with the Riordan’s Olympian fictions—which is to say, people without children between the ages of seven and seventeen—their hero, Percy Jackson, thinks he is just a kid with a learning disability and a troublesome tendency to get kicked out of school, until he learns that his difficulties can be explained by the fact that he is a demigod, the offspring of Poseidon and a mortal woman. In the first book of the series, “The Lightning Thief,” Percy gets shipped off, at the age of twelve, to Camp Half Blood, a refuge on Long Island populated by his demigod peers. There he learns the skills becoming of his lineage—sword fighting looms large—and discovers his own peculiar gifts: even when injured, he is miraculously healed and empowered by water.

. . . .

That slangy, casual style is a hallmark of the Percy Jackson books, which often read like a faithful transcription of teen uptalk. At the level of language, Riordan’s books make J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series seem as if it were written by Samuel Johnson. Unlike the Harry Potter books, which, notoriously, have been embraced by adult readers as well as juvenile ones, the Percy Jackson books seem positively contrived to repel adult readers, so thoroughgoing is their affectation of teen goofiness.

. . . .

Riordan’s books prompt an uneasy interrogation of the premise underlying the “so long as they’re reading” side of the debate—at least among those of us who want to share Neil Gaiman’s optimistic view that all reading is good reading, and yet find ourselves by disposition closer to the Tim Parks end of the spectrum, worried that those books on our children’s shelves that offer easy gratification are crowding out the different pleasures that may be offered by less grabby volumes.

. . . .

What if the strenuous accessibility of “Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods” proves so alluring to young readers that it seduces them in the opposite direction from that which Gaiman’s words presuppose—away from an engagement with more immediately difficult incarnations of the classics, Greek and otherwise? What if instead of urging them on to more challenging adventures on other, potentially perilous literary shores, it makes young readers hungry only for more of the palatable same?

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

It is impossible to discourage the real writers

29 October 2014

It is impossible to discourage the real writers — they don’t give a damn what you say, they’re going to write.

Sinclair Lewis

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