Publishing’s Problem with Plastic

22 September 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

I write environmental nonfiction books that call kids to action. I want children to feel empowered to save our planet from past generations’ hubris. Endangered species, trophic cascades, and marine debris are just a few of the topics I’ve tackled. Now, I’d like to motivate a different audience to act: the publishing industry.

I attended the American Library Association’s annual conference in June to receive a Robert F. Sibert Honor for Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem. In my free time, I explored the exhibit hall for books. I returned home with some amazing finds, but also a feeling of unease due to the inclusion of plastic marketing materials in many giveaways.

Ever since Annie Crawley and I collaborated on Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, my plastic radar operates on overdrive. In the ALA exhibit hall, more than 900 exhibitors offered a dizzying array of gifts—magnets, bags, headphones, microfiber cloths, postcards with kites attached, beaded necklaces, water bottles—all in the name of selling books.

On behalf of my fellow authors, we thank you for these efforts. But the gifts are often made of unrecyclable plastic encased in single-use plastic bags. With over eight million metric tons of plastic thrown into the ocean annually, I believe an industry that generates almost $30 billion in revenue can do better in limiting the use of throwaway plastics.

. . . .

I know many publishers use recycled paper; it’s an admirable step that doesn’t go far enough. Annie and I regularly receive notes from kids making a difference in the fight against plastic. We’ve educated friends and colleagues about the evils of marine debris. As a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators regional advisor, I asked conference attendees to bring reusable water bottles, and I provided an urn of water for fill-ups. That practice is still in effect today, even though I’ve retired as RA.

. . . .

1. Those free tote bags are appreciated, but consider ones made from natural fibers rather than plastic (which can’t be recycled when they wear out).

2. Rethink giveaways. Consider candy wrapped in foil or paper rather than plastic. Ditch plastic items such as necklaces and microfiber cloths (which, when washed, release tiny plastic fibers into our watersheds). Instead, consider beeswax wraps or bamboo cloths sans plastic packaging.

3. Send review copies of books in cardboard mailers rather than plastic-lined envelopes.

4. Use paper packing tape for mailings and shipments. Replace polystyrene peanuts or plastic air-filled bags with biodegradable corn starch peanuts or shredded newspaper.

5. Consider using paper straps instead of sending sets of books shrink-wrapped in plastic.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The OP failed to mention the environmental benefits of ebooks.

Can traditional publishers do anything right?

Was This Homage to Bratwurst Really Designed by Robert Indiana?

22 September 2018

From The New York Times:

Just how much control did the artist Robert Indiana have over his work during the last years of his life?

A lot, according to two of the artist’s associates: his caretaker in Maine, Jamie L. Thomas, and a New York art publisher, Michael McKenzie, who worked closely with the artist.

Very little, according to a lawsuit filed this spring that accused both men of exploiting Mr. Indiana’s advanced age to sell bogus artworks that they attributed to him.

One focal point of the debate has been “BRAT,” a huge sculpture said to have been Indiana’s last monumental work, designed not as a homage to an ethereal concept like Mr. Indiana’s “LOVE” or “HOPE,” but to the humble bratwurst. Skeptics said they were dubious that Mr. Indiana, who died in May at 89, actually signed off on the work commissioned last year by Johnsonville Sausage in Wisconsin.

. . . .

But the company embraced the authenticity of the sculpture, which it installed this month outside its main office in Sheboygan County. Among other things, the company said, Mr. McKenzie, acting as Mr. Indiana’s representative, had sent through a photo of the artist that depicted him as fully involved in the project.

Though the company’s owners have said they never spoke directly to Mr. Indiana, the image showed the artist sitting in a chair with a “BRAT” print in front of him.

“We’re confident in the provenance of the sculpture,” Stephanie Dlugopolski, a spokeswoman for Johnsonville, said on Monday.

Now, however, a publicist who worked for Mr. Indiana, Kathleen Rogers, has come forward with a near identical photograph that she says she received from the Indiana camp a year before the “BRAT” sculpture was commissioned. It too shows Mr. Indiana sitting at a white table with six pens and pencils arrayed to his right.

But unlike Johnsonville’s image, there is no “BRAT” print in the photo. The table is bare.

. . . .


“I knew I had seen that picture of Bob somewhere,” said Ms. Rogers. “I zeroed right in on it. It resonated with me. I knew it was not right.”

Shelly Stayer, who owns the sausage company with her husband, Ralph, said the dispute over the image did not diminish her confidence that Mr. Indiana had designed the sculpture. She said she had exchanged multiple emails with Mr. McKenzie and others as part of a lengthy and rigorous process that resulted in a design that she believes Mr. Indiana approved.

“We have a signed sculpture by Robert Indiana and we absolutely love it,” Ms. Stayer said. “Nothing else matters.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

For visitors to TPV who live outside of the United States, in the upper Midwest, the home of many descendants of German immigrants, bratwurst replaces a great many other sausages (including weiners or hot dogs) as a preferred accompaniment to fairs, sporting events and other public gatherings.

However, the term, bratwurst, is almost never used. “Brat” is the universal term, as in, “a brat and a beer” or “we’ll put some brats on the grill.”

Brat is pronounced like brought and not like the term used to describe a nasty child.

So, of course, a wealthy sausage manufacturer would be willing to pay for a Robert Indiana sculpture based on the word, brat.

“When I am holding a brat, my mouth gets jealous of my hand.”

The Shopping Malls and Big Box Stores Gutted by E-Commerce

22 September 2018

From Wired:

Jesse Reiser’s memories of growing up in Springfield, Missouri in the 1990s unfold against a familiar retail backdrop: storming the aisles of Toys R Us with his brother; meeting friends at the mall to flirt with girls and play videogames; hunting new bands in the CD racks of Best Buy.

Now the era of retail that defined Rieser’s youth is waning. He documents the death spiral in Retail Apocalypse, capturing the ruins of big box stores and gutted malls where the scent of pretzels and perfumes has vanished along with the logos.

. . . .

“When you think of architectural ruins, you think of a civilization or a time that has passed,” Rieser says, “but this wasn’t a previous civilization. It was just a few years ago.”

Shopping malls, discount retailers and big box stores emerged after World War II as middle class folks flocked to freshly built suburbs. The warmth of Main Street, where store clerks knew customers by name, gave way to uninspired strip plazas that delivered bang for buck. Now many are casualties of the same demand for comfort and affordability that spawned them, and that now lets you browse everything from stilettos to cat food in your PJs.

. . . .

Meanwhile, e-commerce shipping and distribution warehouses are going up faster than you can click “buy,” with 243 million square feet of industrial real estate erected last year alone. Each of these massive rectangles can gobble up more than a million square feet, their windowless concrete walls towering up to four stories high. “When you’re driving around these business parks, there’s almost a level of mystery,” Rieser says. “It’s like, ‘What’s in here?’ It’s so faceless.”

Rieser began photographing them in 2015 and soon followed the story backwards, to the brick-and-mortars collapsing in their wake. Cruising the suburbs of Arizona, New Mexico, and southern California, he stopped at more than 150 malls and big box stores that had either closed or were about to. He photographed with a Canon 5DS R, capturing entrances boarded with plywood, parking lots overtaken by weeds, and facades bearing the stubborn traces of removed signage. It’s dreary stuff, but the way Rieser shoots it—playing up pastels and sunshine—lightens the mood. “It’s finding this balance between beauty and despair—that dance,” he says.

It’s hard to mourn landscapes that were eyesores to begin with. But Rieser’s project goes deeper, making you ponder how the internet has impacted public space and what society looks like when physical transactions become unnecessary. “I’m not saying that it’s all going away,” Rieser says, “but you can’t help but wonder if things could get so easy that we limit our interactions and place in a community, or what that community even looks like when we’re so autonomous and isolated.”

Link to the rest at Wired

PG humbly suggest that human interactions that do not involve commerce in some form may, at least for some, be more desirable than those that do.

I think a common misconception

21 September 2018

I think a common misconception about a small town in rural America is that everyone believes the same way, and nothing could be further from the truth.

~ Ree Drummond

The Great American Read

21 September 2018

PG just discovered this series and it looks interesting to him.

After you hit the play icon, you can click on the icon in the lower right corner to increase the dimensions of the video.

There are several additional episodes available online.


Cheap Grace

21 September 2018

From Books & Such Literary Management:

I’ve been back and forth more times than the airport shuttle on whether I should comment on this topic. We, as Christians and especially as women, are taught to forgive and smooth things over, especially things that make us deeply uncomfortable. I’ve come to the conclusion that to keep quiet is akin to being complicit. So here goes. . . hopefully short and anything but sweet.

What am I talking about? Christian publishing’s own version of Me Too. #metoo.

. . . .

You may have seen the article in Publishers Weekly or the one in World magazine. The articles were carefully written, uncovering a troubling situation that had been going on for years in our writers conferences. Ever since word came out, naming four serial offenders, there’s been silence among industry professionals. I spoke to one person involved in a large writers conference, and she said they had known for a long time and handled the situation quietly but swiftly.

. . . .

There are women, mostly very young women, who have largely been ignored in this frenzy of forgiveness. I know for a fact there are those who felt called to a writing career who have left, feeling disillusioned and defeated. Others are still moving forward, but it has been years since they felt comfortable gathering with other writers. One of those men accused of multiple inappropriate acts said he “took the high road” and quit before being fired from his position. The high road? That is cheap grace. Women have had their lives changed forever. That is not hyperbole.

. . . .

Some of those named were johnny-on-the-spot to come out and ask forgiveness as soon as they heard that articles were in the works. Many of these men had been quietly banned from writers conferences for years– why didn’t they come out then and confess and ask forgiveness? Or even before? One wise commenter hit the nail on the head when he called it “preemptive confession.” Writers by the hundreds came gushing onto those blogs posted on Facebook to tell the abuser how much they admired him for his courage. Seriously? All the while the victims are being traumatized over and over by those very comments. I cringe to read them.

Link to the rest at Books & Such Literary Management and thanks to David for the tip.

Big Publishing and Its Small-Town Syndrome

21 September 2018

Urban Dictionary has this to say about Small-Town Syndrome:

When someone has lived for so long in a small town that they form a sense of entitlement to themselves and act as if there isn’t a relevant world outside of their town.

Someone with small-town syndrome usually is majorly concerned with gossip and events only happening with people in their town and let their life revolve around such meaningless rumors. They act as if life is high school. Parents/Adults and children all engage in cliquey behavior.

People with small-town syndrome usually don’t realise they act this way, and may be insulted if pointed out.

People with small-town syndrome may have lots of trouble adjusting to life in the real world (wherever they move to out of the comfort of their family/friends also from same town)

Link to the rest at Urban Dictionary

While PG was reading yet another author account about being mistreated by a major publisher in a way that was likely to harm the author’s writing career, if not destroy it, he started thinking about all the self-destructive idiocy in Big Publishing he has observed. He’s observed some of the stupidity directly while working for author-clients and has seen some imbecility through the eyes of authors who have experienced it.

In the United States, Big Publishing effectively means publishers that are headquartered in New York City.

As a prelude to his thoughts, PG has lived in Chicago and Los Angeles and, at one time, almost all his friends lived in New York City. At another time, he spent several days each month in New York City on business. Each of these large cities included groups of individuals that manifested symptoms of Small-Town Syndrome. No location were exempt from this social/psychological phenomenon. Someone once said a city is really an amalgamation of a lot of small towns.

For many people, one of the pleasures of living in a large and active city is a feeling of shared cosmopolitan sophistication and a sense of a higher status than people who live in places without such advantages. If many people around you are considered sophisticated (or consider themselves sophisticated), you might feel like you’ve grown sophisticated yourself.

The mirror of this is sometimes found among those who live in much smaller places, where the perceived differences between their environment and the environment in which they imagine big-city residents live are stark. PG graduated from high school in a town with 636 inhabitants. One of the common phrases shared by his classmates was, “Good enough for a town this size” meaning not very good at all. Anyplace bigger had to be better.

Back to Big Publishing and Small-Town Syndrome.

Publishing employees and managers work in a sophisticated city and are part of an industry with an elevated cultural status in New York. Along with music, art, museums and the theater, books are very much a part of the New York media and arts environment. New York is like no place else when it comes to commercial publishing. This confers a higher social status on publishing, its managers and employees than would be the case if they worked for an insurance company.

Absent substantial family wealth, however, there is more than a little status anxiety associated with the low pay that predominates at all levels of publishing. College classmates and friends of publishing’s employees who work in New York’s large financial sector enjoy enormously higher incomes.

According to Glassdoor, an editorial assistant at Penguin Random House earns about $37,000 per year. An associate editor earns about $48,000 per year. A senior editor will earn about $84,000 per year. A vice-president earns $168,266-$182,180 per year. A substantial piece of each of those salaries will go to pay New York City taxes (6.45% city income tax, 8.875% city and state sales tax), state and federal taxes.

In contrast, at a Manhattan investment bank, a first-year analyst straight out of business school will earn a base salary of $85,000-$90,000 per year plus a bonus of about $60,000. Third year analysts who perform well can expect total compensation of $200,000 or more. A summer intern will earn $5,000-$6,000 per month, a higher monthly salary than an associate editor at PRH.

The overall cost of living in New York City is almost 70% higher than elsewhere in the US. The cost of living in Manhattan is more than twice the cost of living anywhere else.

Back to Big Publishing. We have employees who have some social status but, by New York City standards, are scraping by financially. They can get good seats at book signings, but the doorman in their apartment building may earn more than the publisher pays them. Their financial limitations are a little easier to live with if they spend a lot of time with other people in the publishing business. Agents are great because they’ll buy lunch and understand the stresses and unfairness of the business.

There is one part of the life of a Big Publishing employee where she/he is close to an absolute ruler and commands obeisance – dealing with would-be and non-bestselling authors. Finally, people who are desperate to impress someone who works in publishing and will do anything to gain favor.

Emails and phone calls from aspiring authors don’t need to be returned. In the case of an already-published author, sales figures determine how easily an editorial assistant can ignore questions or concerns. Some authors can be so annoying with their Wichita concerns. They’re just so needy.

Unless an author has demonstrated substantial best-seller potential, nobody higher in the publisher’s hierarchy cares how an underling treats the author. Whether the author sends in another manuscript or not won’t move the publisher’s financial needle in a meaningful fashion. The employee knows hordes of authors will always be knocking on the door no matter how she responds to one author’s concerns.

No promotions will result from an employee treating all authors courteously and with respect. Impressing the people higher in the corporate hierarchy is what will lead to raises and promotions. No one need ever know if the employee alienated an author who later hits the New York Times bestseller list. Indeed, amid all the rejection slips, the employee himself will probably not remember any author who was rejected.

Back to the Small-Town Syndrome as potentially applicable to Big Publishing:

  • People with small-town syndrome form a sense of entitlement to themselves and act as if there isn’t a relevant world outside of their town
  • People with small-town syndrome are majorly concerned with gossip and events only happening with people in their town
  • People with small-town syndrome usually don’t realise they act this way, and may be insulted if pointed out
  • People with small-town syndrome may have lots of trouble adjusting to life in the real world

PG has worked in a lot of different types of businesses, either directly or as a legal representative of clients in those businesses. In his experience, he has never seen another industry that treats its suppliers and would-be suppliers worse than traditional publishing does.

UPDATE: PG’s thoughts about this subject originated as he read the latest post from Kris Rusch.

Surviving The Stupid

21 September 2018

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Imagine my surprise, as I scanned through Twitter a few weeks ago, to see a writer I follow go after Tor for its library policies. Um…what?

Turns out that Tor, through its parent company Macmillan has started a program in which libraries cannot get ebooks of the latest Tor releases until four months after the book is released.

Remember this is traditional publishing, so velocity is important. How fast a book sells has an impact on whether or not that writer’s next book will even get an offer from the publisher. And here—stupidly—is a publisher that has decided that library ebook sales aren’t worthwhile.

Tor/Macmillan’s reasoning? To see if library ebook sales are the reason that the company’s ebook sales are so low. That thinking is so damn stupid that I can barely type the words.

Rather than go into the reasons Macmillan’s ebook sales are low which I can digress on for hours, let me share what Nate Hoffelder said on The Digital Reader in July, when this news initially broke:

Macmillan  has poor ebook sales because they have adopted a policy of discouraging ebook sales in favor of print sales. Macmillan adopted this policy in late 2009 when they conspired with Apple and 4 other publishers to violate antitrust law by forcing Amazon to accept what is called agency pricing, a system where the publishers set the price and retailers are prohibited from deep discounts and sales.

That is established historical fact, and so is the antitrust suit brought by the DOJ, Macmillan settling the lawsuit,  its punishment, and Macmillan’s return to agency in 2014.

Apparently, corporate think has decided that it’s better to decrease sales to increase sales. (How Orwellian.) They’ve also got on the bandwagon of punishing people with budgets and limited income. The enthusiastic readers on a book budget—folks who provide great word of mouth during that crucial velocity period—are not worth Macmillan’s time.

The problem is that these enthusiastic readers aren’t going to be able to purchase the books themselves. Many library users are unable to make regular ebook purchases, especially if the ebooks are priced at $9.99 and up, like the Tor books. I’ve seen arguments that the libraries will still get the paper books, but that doesn’t mean that these readers want paper books.

Tor/Macmillan believes that these readers can and should wait. Which is risky on the one hand—there are always new books to read—and idiotic on the other. The readers who want a book now are the book’s most dedicated consumers. Word of mouth has become even more important in 2018 than it was ten years ago, thanks to the advent of social media, online book sites, and all kinds of blogging.

. . . .

Let me tell you, as someone whose novels were traditionally published for decades, it sucks when your publisher makes a totally stupid decision that’s going to have a negative impact on your career.

If you’re a smart author, you’ll know what the impact will be. Most traditionally published writers happily know nothing about the business of publishing, so when they get their royalty statements and their sales are down yet again, or when they are unable to sell the next book in the series, or when their publisher cancels their fat multi-book contract because sales are down, those writers are surprised. (See my blog post on “Learned Helplessness”  to understand some of this.)

. . . .

This comes at a perilous time for Tor. Their founder, Tom Doherty, moved upstairs into an honorary position in March, and was replaced as President and Publisher by a long-time corporate middle management guy who might or might not do a good job. If this library thing is any indication… well, you already know how I feel.

I feel somewhat bad for the writers stuck in this library situation. Not entirely bad, mind you, because if they had learned business, they would know that their publisher has a habit of chewing up and spitting out writers like crazy, and has for decades. Three books and out, usually, unless something takes off. And it used to be that awards and award-nominations were enough to save a writer at that company. That changed as the bean counters rose to the top of the business, and will probably get worse now that Tom is gone. He loves science fiction, and would occasionally swoop in to save a great voice that wasn’t selling well.

I doubt that will happen anymore.

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.

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