A Journey Into the Merriam-Webster Word Factory

24 March 2017

From The New York Times:

 Merriam-Webster, the oldest dictionary publisher in America, has turned itself into a social media powerhouse over the past few years. Its editors star in online videos on hot-button topics like the serial comma, gender pronouns and the dreaded “irregardless.” Its Twitter feed has become a viral sensation, offering witty — and sometimes pointedly political — commentary on the news of the day.

Kory Stamper, a lexicographer here, is very much part of the vanguard of word-nerd celebrities. Her witty “Ask the Editor” video contributions, like a classic on the plural of octopus, and personal blog, Harmless Drudgery, have inspired a Kory Stamper Fan Club on Facebook. One online admirer has carefully tracked minute changes in her hair (which, for one thing, is purple).

But the company remains very much a bricks-and-mortar operation, still based in this small New England city where the Merriam brothers bought the rights to Noah Webster’s dictionary in the 1840s and carried on his idea of a distinctly American language. And this month, Ms. Stamper, the author of the new book “Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries,” was more than happy to offer a tour of some of the distinctly analog oddities in the basement.

. . . .

But the real jaw-dropper was the Backward Index, which includes some 315,000 cards listing words spelled … backward.

“It was conceived of as another way of shuffling information,” Ms. Stamper said of the index, which seems to have been produced intermittently from the 1930s to the ’70s. “Basically, someone sat here and typed up all the entries backwards. And then went crazy.”

Craziness is a bit of a leitmotif in “Word by Word.” The book, published last week by Pantheon, mixes memoiristic meditations on the lexicographic life along with a detailed description of the brain-twisting work of writing dictionaries. The Atlantic called it “an erudite and loving and occasionally profane history of the English language” that’s also “a cheerful and thoughtful rebuke of the cult of the grammar scolds.”

Ms. Stamper calls it “a love letter to dictionaries in English,” if one that allows for some mixed feelings.

“People have so many fears about what their use of language says about them,” she said. “When you talk to people about dictionaries, they often start talking about other things, like which words they love, and which words they hate. And it’s perfectly fine to hate parts of the language.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Who is to say

24 March 2017

Who is to say who is the villain and who is the hero? Probably the dictionary.

Joss Whedon

Now There Is Business Income Insurance for Vendors Booted Off Amazon

24 March 2017

From Insurance Journal:

Like many people who make their living selling stuff on Amazon.com Inc., Rob Griffin is terrified of getting kicked off the site. Two years ago the Atlanta resident was suspended for selling a banned health supplement and wound up living off his credit cards for a few weeks. Amazon reinstated Griffin, but the memory lingers.

So when an insurance agent offered to sell Griffin a $1,200 policy covering up to $1 million of income lost during an Amazon suspension, he didn’t hesitate. “It was an easy decision,” says Griffin, who supports a family of five selling cats claw, garlic capsules and more. “I wanted some protection.”

In recent years, an entire cottage industry has emerged in the shadow of the world’s largest online retailer. There are consulting firms pledging to help make Amazon merchants rich. Temporary staffing agencies find workers to staff Amazon warehouses during the holiday shopping season. Now the insurance industry has found a niche, thanks to an enterprising Amazon merchant from Kentucky who sells custom bedding.

Her name is Lori Jurans, and she got the idea two years ago at an annual conference in Kentucky, where sellers like her share tips and secrets about selling goods on Amazon. During the gathering, Jurans heard one tale after another from merchants who’d been suspended.

In some cases, they’d violated Amazon’s terms by selling expired, damaged or counterfeit goods. But sellers told Jurans they were also kicked off for things beyond their control—for a late delivery from a courier, say, or because customers seeking a refund complained even if the product was fine.

. . . .

“You’re guilty until proven innocent, and that did not sit well with me,” Jurans says. So when she was renewing a general liability policy, she asked the agent if it covered income lost after getting kicked off Amazon. It didn’t.

So Jurans and two Kentucky insurance agents set up a company called Well Insurance. For advice, they turned to InsuraTech, an Indiana firm whose chief executive Tim Craig has cultivated a strong relationship with Lloyd’s of London. The storied marketplace has long underwritten unusual niches, including policies covering Bruce Springsteen’s voice, America Ferrera’s smile and alien abductions.

. . . .

He hawked the Amazon policy to Lloyd’s specialty underwriters, who agreed to take it on despite the fact that Amazon provides little visibility into suspension rates or reinstatement terms. Insurance carriers are increasingly offering niche policies that protect customers against unusual risks—including guarding against such technology threats as cyber-attacks.

. . . .

The Amazon policies were rolled out earlier this month. Craig anticipates selling at least 20,000 of them this year.

Link to the rest at Insurance Journal

These Are All the Store Formats Amazon Is Testing

24 March 2017

From The Motley Fool:

Amazon.com has spent more than two decades building out its massive online retail presence, but the company has recently begun moving in a new direction by opening up physical locations for bookstores, a convenience store, and there are also rumors that two grocery pickup locations will open soon.

Amazon is no stranger to rumors, and the company has had its fair share of disastrous new endeavors in the past, but it appears that Amazon is seriously pursuing brick-and-mortar locations.

. . . .

AmazonFresh Pickup 

Amazon entered the grocery business back in 2007 with its AmazonFresh grocery delivery service, but a new report by GeekWire shows that the company is about to add physical locations where customers can pick up online orders themselves.

. . . .

Amazon Go  

Late last year, Amazon introduced an entirely new convenience store concept, called Amazon Go. The store, which is only available to Amazon employees right now, uses technology to automatically charge customers for items as they walk out of the store.

The Amazon Go stores uses computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning algorithms to know which items a customer has picked up (and which ones have been placed back on the shelf), and then charges them for the items when they leave the store. All a customer has to do is scan their Amazon Go app when they first enter the store, and the company’s Just Walk Out Technology takes care of the rest.

. . . .

Amazon Books

The online retailer opened its first physical bookstore last year and now has a store in Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts, and California, with six more coming soon.

. . . .

Why the physical store push?

While it might seem a bit curious that Amazon would be interested in physical stores, there are several reasons why this all makes sense.

In an interview with CNBC last year Daniel Kurnos, an analyst at Benchmark, said that the company’s bookstores were about “showroom-ing” and that Amazon could use the stores to “highlight their product line-up as they continue to battle for living room share.”

Amazon uses its Kindles and Fire tablets to help bring people further into its online retail ecosystem, so having physical locations where Amazon can show off those products and explain its Prime Membership services would clearly be beneficial.

. . . .

Online purchases make up just 1% of the grocery market right now and Amazon views its Amazon Go and AmazonFresh Pickup stores as possible ways to disrupt the grocery market.

 

Link to the rest at The Motley Fool

Amazon Author Insights

24 March 2017

PG says you need to check out Amazon Author Insights if you haven’t done so already.

From Elizabeth Spann Craig via  Amazon Author Insights:

I used to feel like the sole, income-focused writer in any group I was in. I was the one on any panel hesitantly bringing up ways that writers could make money with their writing.

I’ve noticed now that there are more writers like me out there and I’m more relaxed about being a commercial fiction writer.

I’ve been asked by parents, college students, and high school students about what degree is needed for becoming a writer.

But that’s one of the wonderful things about being a writer. You don’t have to have a degree in anything.  I was an English major, but that’s as far as I went with it.  When asked for my advice, I ask what type of writing they’re wanting to do and what their end-goal/their child’s end-goal is.  If the goal is “a career in writing,” then I’ll go as far as to suggest that they don’t go the MFA (Master in Fine Arts) route. They should instead read as much and as widely as they can and start writing.

. . . .

Writers at the start of their careers should ask themselves: am I writing to please myself or am I writing to appeal to a broader market? My kids are older and if I didn’t make a living at this, I’d be getting a day-job.  Writing is my full-time job.  I’m not making a ton, but I’m making more than if I taught school and more than I’d make at any other job; I’ve been out of the traditional workforce since my first child was born in 1997.

. . . .

It’s better, in the current environment, to self-pub instead of trad-pub (most of the time).  I experienced first-hand cutbacks that publishers are employing to save costs.  When I started out, 3-book deals were the norm at Penguin.  That unfortunately changed.  The merger between Penguin and Random House meant a layoff for my editor. Now there are many stories about how difficult it is getting to break into the industry and the market. It’s obviously still possible to do so…but at what cost?  I made and make a good deal more from my self-published books than my traditionally published books.

. . . .

Write series.  Series are currently more popular with readers.  I’m wondering if it’s because readers, once they’ve spent the time investing in the story world and characters, want to read more in that same story world.  Lucky for us–because series are easier and quicker to write for the same reasons: the story world is established, as well as the story’s recurring characters (descriptions, traits).  Most of the work is already done.

Link to the rest at Amazon Author Insights

Data Diving

24 March 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Once a month (more or less), we host a gathering of professional writers on a Friday night. The gathering is open to writers from our writers network, and other professionals we know. Most are from the Pacific Northwest, although folks who are traveling through often stop as well.

We have only one criteria: The writers have to be working hard at the business of writing. You’d be surprised at how many professional writers are ineligible just from that criteria. You’d also be surprised at how many writers who absent themselves from the gathering after attending once. We’re too intimidating, I think.

I mean that sincerely. I don’t think it’s because of the accolades in the room (multiple award-winners, New York Times and USA Today bestsellers, multi-published fiction and nonfiction writers). I think it’s because we’re all working hard at our indie publishing businesses, and we don’t dumb down the meeting.

One extremely prolific traditionally published writer showed up last year, and started asking basic questions (how do you format books?) and everyone shut him down before the meeting even started.

If you don’t know something basic, you can ask someone on a break, and more often than not, you’ll get weird look and a series of links. This is a serious meeting of hardworking, serious professionals who are bootstrapping each other into the ever-evolving new world of publishing.

. . . .

In the middle hour of our three-hour talk, the conversation went something like this:

my click-through rate is…

…I received 96,000 impressions…

…at least thirty-percent downloaded my…

Numbers, data, and more numbers. Writer after writer recited facts about their newsletters, their ad campaigns, their book sales, and all of those facts had data to back them up. These writers were often looking at phone screen or their laptop to give accurate information (as if the rest of us would shoot them if they reported wrong), and we were comparing performance, subscribers, money earned, and books sold.

I don’t think anyone mentioned craft except to acknowledge that a certain level of craft is necessary to get readers to return to the fold.

I sat back and absorbed this conversation, letting the words run over me a little, because I was surprised by it. Not by the conversation itself—we’ve had a variation of that conversation off and on for a year now—but by the complete acceptance of it. I was surprised by the way that no one, not even the newcomers to the meeting, seemed to think the conversation was out of the ordinary. We were comparing results of various marketing techniques, trying to figure out our way through the morass of data that’s being flung at us, and—most importantly—sharing what we had learned, what worked for us, and what didn’t.

. . . .

[In years past] At conventions, we writers discussed a variation of the same topics—agents, editors, marketing to the increasingly smaller and smaller subset of publishers, and the best way to handle the problems that came up in our various careers.

Not once did we mention data. We did discuss how to goose book sales, but based on the royalty reports. We tried to figure out how to get rid of our reserves against returns. We often argued about the value of book signings and book tours, but we never had data.

Because our publishers didn’t have data either.

Data is becoming the new religion at traditional publishers, but they’re the proverbial first-year English majors trying to understand an advanced-level Physics course. They don’t have the math skills, mostly, to understand, for example, why Author Earnings really is a good way to look at the entire industry.

(The responses to Data Guy’s presentation at Digital Book World, both live tweeted [live social media-ed?] from the conference and in private, were disbelieving. I’ve heard industry professionals say that the only accurate reports came from Nielsen later in the day. (I searched for someone courageous enough to write that in their blog about the event, and couldn’t find it. I don’t want to out folks who wrote me emails, so I’m afraid I can’t link here.)]

. . . .

But the one thing we didn’t discuss, something I hadn’t even thought of until Saturday morning, was how to manage all the data we were receiving. We joked about it a bit, about a writer we had been watching—a high-end marketer who reported that his well-known marketing practices were finally failing him, until he realized (hello!) that he needed to produce more product. Everyone he had reached had bought his five or six books. He needed to write another one.

That got a great laugh from the group, because the one thing we do, we all do is write the next book. We’re constantly trying to figure out how to write as much as we can, with this fire hose of information streaming our way.

And it’s not just the new programs, the new way to market, the new opportunities opening up each and every moment of each and every day. It’s also the changes in the data we receive.

. . . .

However, we are rapidly getting to the place, as writers, where we need to figure out how much of this data is relevant or useful. Just because I can find out that more people in Hong Kong open my newsletter at 10 in the morning on weekdays than on weekends doesn’t necessarily mean that I need to know that information. I might, if I’m looking for the best time to send a newsletter. But the service I use for my newsletter will aggregate that data for me, and tell me the optimum time to send a newsletter to that subset on my mailing list.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

PG says anybody who doesn’t understand why Data Guy’s information is extremely useful shouldn’t be trying to run a business in 2017. With every passing month, the business practices and business savvy of traditional publishing are falling farther and farther behind both indie authors and the rest of the world.

When PG is negotiating agreements with traditional publishers, it’s an entirely different experience than negotiating IP rights agreements with tech companies or investment bankers. The publishers are so far behind and so unaware of things that are taken for granted in today’s business world, it’s almost laugh-inducing.

Just as one example, royalty statements every six months give rise to visions of row after row of ink-stained bookkeepers laboriously adding up long columns of numbers by hand.

Of course, Amazon pays every month and so does the rest of American business. The same people who don’t understand Author Earnings are the ones saying it’s impossible to calculate and pay royalties more than twice per year.

And this is a business which is heavily dependent on Barnes & Noble and similar organizations that are stumbling towards bankruptcy court.

In a near-future United States where 80-90% of all books are sold through Amazon, what, exactly will publishers have to offer authors?

 

eBook Pirates Are Relatively Old and Wealthy, Study Finds

24 March 2017

From TorrentFreak:

A new study has found that people who illegally download eBooks are older and wealthier than most people’s perception of the average pirate. Commissioned by anti-piracy company Digimarc, the study suggests that people aged between 30 and 44 years old with a household income of between $60k and $99k are most likely to grab a book without paying for it.

In 2017, people can download any digital content they like from the Internet, but that’s still most likely to be movies, TV shows and music. Bubbling underneath, however, is a steady demand for pirated eBooks.

Ebooks are relatively cheap when compared to other digital content, but their handy file size and ubiquity ensures that millions of titles are just a few convenient clicks away.

A new study, commissioned by anti-piracy company Digimarc and conducted by Nielsen, aims to shine light on eBook piracy. It was presented yesterday at The London Book Fair and aims to better understand how eBook piracy affects revenue and how publishers can prevent it.

In previous studies, it has been younger downloaders that have grabbed much of the attention, and this one is no different. Digimarc reveals that 41% of all adult pirates are aged between 18 and 29 but perhaps surprisingly, 47% fall into the 30 to 44-year-old bracket. At this point, things tail off very quickly, as the remaining ~13% are aged 45 or up.

There are also some surprises when it comes to pirates’ income. Cost is often cited as a factor when justifying downloading for free, and this study has similar findings. In this case, however, richer persons are generally more likely they are to download.

Around 13% of pirates have an annual household income of under $30k, with those earning between $30k and $59k making up 19% of the total. At this point there is a sizeable leap, with 36% of pirates claiming to earn between $60k and $99k per annum. Around 29% make more than $100k a year.

Overall, the majority of illegal downloaders are relatively well-educated, with more than 70% having either graduated from college or in possession of a post graduate degree.

. . . .

Also of interest are the methods used by pirates to obtain their eBook fix. Sharing joint top position with 31% are public torrent sites (such as The Pirate Bay) and cyberlocker sources such as 4shared or Uploaded.

Link to the rest at TorrentFreak and thanks to M. for the tip.

Friendships That Saved the World

23 March 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

The “special relationship”: Ever since Winston Churchill coined the phrase to describe the alliance between the United States and Great Britain during World War II—an alliance that later became instrumental to founding NATO and sustaining peace during the Cold War—historians, diplomats and politicians have waxed eloquent (and sometimes indignant) about it. The alliance became increasingly asymmetrical as America’s power grew and Britain’s empire declined, and yet—even to this day—it has remained impressively, sometimes movingly, reciprocal.

Lewis Lehrman’s “Churchill, Roosevelt & Company” offers a detailed look at the special relationship, especially during World War II, when Anglo-American cooperation achieved its most impressive results and faced its most formidable challenges. The book is packed with fascinating detail and illuminates not only the past but the challenges of the present day. The subtitle is “Studies in Character and Statecraft”: Mr. Lehrman makes it clear that, in geopolitics, the two go together.

The origins of the special relationship actually go back to World War I, when the Royal Navy and U.S. Navy joined forces to beat the German U-boat menace. Although British statesmen had wanted the U.S. to join the Allied cause early in the war, they felt that, if need be, Britain could sustain itself against Germany without the help of the Americans.

By 1940, however, such strategic independence was no longer possible. When Churchill reached out to FDR that May as Nazi tanks were pouring across France, he knew that Britain couldn’t survive without American help. Even after Hitler invaded Russia in June 1941 and Stalin became Churchill’s unexpected ally, the British prime minister always knew that victory over Hitler depended on the full engagement of the United States.

Churchill found a willing partner in Franklin Roosevelt. As Mr. Lehrman reminds us, Churchill and FDR saw the world in much the same way—believing that whoever controlled the Atlantic controlled the fate of the U.S. as well as Europe—and both grasped the global stakes if Hitler prevailed. Even so, it took a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Hitler’s declaration of war four days later to turn America’s material support of the British under Lend-Lease into what Britain desperately needed: an all-out U.S. military commitment.

. . . .

[Wall Street lawyer William] Donovan turned out to be one of a series of envoys that FDR sent to London to manage policy. None were trained diplomats; all were men who combined high intellectual caliber and strong wills with an unswerving loyalty to their commander in chief. They included the banker Averell Harriman; the Republican politician John Gilbert Winant, who replaced defeatist Joe Kennedy at the Court of St. James’s; and FDR’s most trusted aide, Harry Hopkins. Mr. Lehrman quotes British Gen. Hastings Ismay saying that Hopkins “won the hearts of us all, from the highest to the lowest; he had seen everything. We felt sure that he would report to his chief that we were worth backing to the limit.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

I am not afraid

23 March 2017

I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

How celebrity deals are shutting children’s authors out of their own trade

23 March 2017

From The Guardian:

Another day, another celebrity announces they are to “pen” a children’s book. Already this week, Jamie Lee Curtis has announced a “selfie-themed” tome, Chelsea Clinton a picture book about inspirational women and the Black Eyed Peas a graphic novel featuring zombies.

They join a slew of celebs cashing in on a burgeoning market. In the past month, model-turned-actor Cara Delevingne, TV presenter Dermot O’Leary and even politician and professional motormouth George Galloway have joined Frank Lampard, Danny Baker, Julian Clary and Fearne Cotton in vying to be the next JK Rowling.

Though publishers are notoriously cagey about money, industry sources say the advances paid to celebrities are considerably higher than the amounts usually doled out to children’s writers, whose contracts are won on talent rather than fame. Which explains the resentment many authors feel towards these incomers.

One prize-winning writer, who didn’t want to be named, left her last publisher after a new media star received a huge advance for a ghostwritten novel that consequently bombed. “The massive advances mean publishers put all their marketing into making these books work in order to earn back the investment,” she says. “So when they fail, not only have they taken money for publicity that could have helped the rest of us, but there is no money left.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

But, but, curators of culture!

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