Theme Experiments

18 January 2018

If you saw any strange WordPress themes earlier this afternoon, PG was trying out some alternates to the one he’s been using.

Sorry for any confusion.

How Technology Is (and Isn’t) Changing Our Reading Habits

18 January 2018

From The New York Times:

How do New York Times journalists use technology in their jobs and in their personal lives? Alexandra Alter, who covers the books industry for The Times, discussed the tech she’s using.

Given that you write about the books industry, how do you prefer to read books? On a Kindle or iPad or some other device, or printed books?

I came a little late to e-books, but I became a convert in 2010 when my older daughter was born. I needed a way to read books with one hand (and in a dark room), so I got a Kindle. The Kindle and ice cream sandwiches — also easily managed with one hand — are what got me through the brutal early weeks with a newborn, when you basically can’t put them down. Now I’m on my fifth Kindle.

I still love print books and find it to be a much more relaxing and immersive experience, but when I’m reading books for work — honestly, the bulk of my reading — the Kindle is incredibly convenient. I have all my books on a single device that I always have with me. I read advance copies of books that way: Publishers send me digital copies through NetGalley or Edelweiss, sites where book industry professionals and critics can get digital copies of books before they’re published.

. . . .

How is technology affecting the publishing industry?

About a decade ago, when Amazon introduced its first e-reader, publishers panicked that digital books would take over the industry, the way digital transformed the music industry. And for a while, that fear seemed totally justified. At one point, the growth trajectory for e-books was more than 1,200 percent. Bookstores suffered, and print sales lagged. E-books also made self-publishing easier, which threatened traditional publishers.

But in just the last couple of years, there has been a surprising reversal. Print is holding steady — even increasing — and e-book sales have slipped.

One possible reason is that e-book prices have gone up, so in some cases they’re more expensive than a paperback edition. Another possibility is digital fatigue. People spend so much time in front of screens that when they read they want to be offline. Another theory is that some e-book readers have switched to audiobooks, which are easy to play on your smartphone while you’re multitasking. And audiobooks have become the fastest-growing format in the industry.

. . . .

Many new authors are skipping traditional publishers and use tech tools to go straight to self-publishing their own e-books or print books. What will be the fate of traditional publishers in the next few years?

Self-publishing has been one of the most fascinating corners of the industry to me. There have been a handful of massively successful self-published authors who have started their own publishing companies, and they’ve started to publish other “self-published” authors. But publishers have survived so far through consolidation, and we’ll probably see more of that.

. . . .

 The future of Barnes & Noble looks uncertain, and the company has suffered setbacks after a few disastrous strategies. It made a huge and, in retrospect, unwise investment in digital hardware and its Nook device, and then tried to become more of a general-interest gift and toy and books store, which probably alienated some of its core customers. Lately, it has tried smaller concept stores, with cafes with food and wine and beer. There was some snickering online after its new chief executive announced that its latest strategy was to focus on selling … books. Snickering aside, I think it’s the smartest thing the company can do. In many parts of the country, Barnes & Noble is the only place people can buy books, and it’s still a beloved brand.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

PG wonders if anyone who doesn’t live in New York City suffers from digital fatigue. Perhaps digital fatigue is a surreptitiously funded marketing campaign.

Who’s funding it? It wouldn’t be surreptitious if we knew.

As for himself, PG often suffers from Big Publishing fatigue. Symptoms include an inexplicable desire to kneel while facing Seattle and a warm feeling whenever he passes a Starbucks even though he hasn’t drunk coffee for a long time.

PG will, however, keep his eyes open for symptoms of digital fatigue the next time he travels to the skinny island that time forgot.

Why I Still Read Junior and Young Adult Fiction

18 January 2018

From Book Riot:

I confess, I am an adult, but I still read Junior and Young Adult novels. When my daughter was around age 12, she suddenly proclaimed that she was old enough that she didn’t need a bedtime story any more. By this time, we were well beyond picture books. However, each night I would read a chapter of a Junior or Young Adult Novel to her. I enjoyed the time we spent snuggling up, reading together. It was a bedtime ritual that we had started when she was very young, as I believed in the importance of reading to your baby.

It was also a great way for me to read novels that I was interested in. Novels that were marketed to younger generations, that is. Together we read J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials seriesand Kate Forsyth’s Chain of Charms series, along with too many other books to name.

. . . .

A study published in 2012 showed that 55% of those purchasing YA fiction are over 18, with 78% of these reporting that the books are being purchased for themselves.

. . . .

The reason I read Junior and Young Adult fiction is because the plots are punchy and fast paced, keeping me turning page after page, usually well after I intend to put the book down. The characters are engaging and believable; they have to be to keep a younger audience hooked.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Can you dance?

18 January 2018

“Can you dance?” said the girl.

Lancelot gave a short, amused laugh. He was a man who never let his left hip know what his right hip was doing.

PG Wodehouse

Storage Wars

18 January 2018

From The Gray Market Weekly:

On Wednesday, Michael O’Hare, professor of public policy at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School, waded into the still-smoldering controversy over the Berkshire Museum’s deaccession plan in order to address what he sees as a much larger, more consequential problem: the behemoth number of inactive artworks shuttered away in institutional storage.

At major museums, O’Hare estimates that as much as 90 percent of holdings are effectively on ice like a severed finger at any given time. In response to SF Chronicle art critic Charles Desmarais’s recent assertion that “cultural value, as opposed to monetary value, is the only worth of the objects in museum collections,” O’Hare asked in his piece, “Aside from maybe someday appearing in a scholarly article… just how are these works creating cultural value if no one is looking at them?”

O’Hare’s argument would affect more than just the Berkshire brawl.

. . . .

MoMA director Glenn Lowry even knowingly took a step toward the killing fields when he declared on this week’s episode of In Other Words, the Art Agency, Partners podcast, that museums…

“…should deaccession rigorously in order to either acquire more important works of art or build endowments to support programming…. It doesn’t benefit anyone when there are millions of works of art that are languishing in storage…. We would be far better off, in my opinion, allowing others to have those works of art that might enjoy them, but even more importantly, converting that [resource] to… support public programs, exhibitions, publications.”

Lowry’s advance here—applauded by O’Hare in a brief blog post—is about more than just stumping for museums to edit their holdings via sales. He’s also suggesting that institutions consider sanctioning a new use for the proceeds: bolstering their endowments so that the added revenue could be funneled into museum programming and publishing.

. . . .

With only a few exceptions, art museums refuse to put monetary values on their collections in their publicly available financial disclosures. As he describes it in an earlier long read for Democracy, “When [a museum] buys a painting, there’s an expense, and then it just disappears [from the balance sheet], as though they bought lunch for everyone and ate it.”

Why is this the standard? To invoke Desmarais’s earlier contention, it’s a way of arguing via the sorcery of accounting that something worth money outside the museum magically transforms into something only worth culture thereafter.

No matter where you stand on deaccessioning policy, this practice is objectively absurd. Even for people who take the AAMD and AAM’s guidelines as sacred texts, their member institutions still have full blessing to sell works from the permanent collection, i.e. to capitalize on their monetary value. The only caveat is what can be done with the cash.

Link to the rest at The Gray Market Weekly

Amazon Announces Candidates for HQ2

18 January 2018

From the Amazon Press Room:

Amazon reviewed 238 proposals from across the U.S., Canada, and Mexicoto host HQ2, the company’s second headquarters in North America. Today, Amazon announced it has chosen the following 20 metropolitan areas to move to the next phase of the process (in alphabetical order):

– Atlanta, GA

– Austin, TX

– Boston, MA

– Chicago, IL

– Columbus, OH

– Dallas, TX

– Denver, CO

– Indianapolis, IN

– Los Angeles, CA

– Miami, FL

– Montgomery County, MD

– Nashville, TN

– Newark, NJ

– New York City, NY

– Northern Virginia, VA

– Philadelphia, PA

– Pittsburgh, PA

– Raleigh, NC

– Toronto, ON

– Washington D.C.

. . . .

Amazon HQ2 will be a complete headquarters for Amazon, not a satellite office. The company plans to invest over $5 billion and grow this second headquarters to accommodate as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs. In addition to Amazon’s direct hiring and investment, construction and ongoing operation of Amazon HQ2 is expected to create tens of thousands of additional jobs and tens of billions of dollars in additional investment in the surrounding community.

Link to the rest at Amazon Press Room

To Woo Amazon, Cities Tackle Everything From Traffic to Housing

18 January 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon.com Inc.’s contest to find a place for its second headquarters is spurring civic leaders around the country to confront municipal problems that have confounded lawmakers and local leaders for decades.

Suddenly, some cities and states are highlighting plans such as easing traffic, adding housing and investing in higher education.

Among Amazon’s considerations are proximity to a big airport, commuting time and quality of life. The prize, Amazon says, is up to 50,000 full-time jobs and $5 billion in investment over nearly 20 years.

Analysts expect Amazon to unveil a short list of leading contenders any day now from the 238 cities and regions that bid for the project. Amazon, based in Seattle, has declined to comment on which locations it is considering.

. . . .

Based on interviews with site-selection experts and Wall Street Journal analysis, here is a look at a problem each of 10 potential leading contenders could fix to try to win the beauty contest.

. . . .

 AUSTIN, Texas

Problem:
Affordable Housing

Solution:
Austin’s popularity has come with a price: rising housing costs and a housing market struggling to meet the needs of a growing city. According to the Austin Board of Realtors, the median price for single-family homes in the Austin-Round Rock area jumped 48% in the past five years to $296,500 in November 2017. Last year, the city council adopted Austin’s first Strategic Housing Blueprint, with a goal of creating 60,000 affordable housing units over the next decade for households earning $60,000 or less.

. . . .

 PHILADELPHIA

Problem:
Poor public schools

Solution:
In November, Mayor Jim Kenney said he planned to bring the Philadelphia School District back under local control, which officials said is aimed at improving outcomes and giving more confidence to potential employers.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG notes that the WSJ ignored any locations farther west than Texas. He will also note (without naming names) that the WSJ list included some cities with seemingly intractable urban problems

Don’t like the way you write? An artificial intelligence app promises to polish your prose

17 January 2018

From Quartz:

I am a professional writer, but I often hate my writing. I wish it was more concise and powerful. And it certainly doesn’t read as smoothly as the work of my literary heroes. Recently, I began to wonder: Could a software program make me better at my job?

The Hemingway App, an online writing editor created in 2013 by brothers Adam and Ben Long, promises to do just that. “Hemingway makes your writing bold and clear,” the site claims, so that “your reader will focus on your message, not your prose.” If you listen to the app’s advice, it will rid your writing of run-on sentences, needless adverbs, passive voice, and opaque words. There’s no guarantee you’ll crank out the next Farewell to Arms—but the goal is to get you closer to Ernest Hemingway’s clear, minimalist style.

The app uses a crude artificial intelligence that recognizes writing problems through natural language processing. When you copy and paste your text into the Hemingway Editor, it highlights sentences with possible issues in different colors and offers suggested changes. For example, if I write, “This Editor has been used since around 2013,” the words “been used” are highlighted green because I am using the passive voice.

Most of the recommendations offered by the Hemingway App are based on research into readability—that is, how easy it is to understand a given text.

. . . .

I also ignored some of the app’s suggestions. A few were just nonsensical. It suggested I replace the word “demonstrate” with simpler synonyms “prove” or “show,” but I was talking about people going to airports to protest. I rejected other suggestions for stylistic reasons. The app wanted me to remove “really” from the sentence “As it turns out, protest size really does matter.” But I wanted to keep the conversational tone.

In the end, I was able to bring the grade level of my story down from 13 to nine, and shed 34 words along the way. Then I gave the updated version to Kira Bindrim—a Quartz editor who’d edited the original story.

“I think my gut reaction is to prefer the original,” Bindrim wrote to me after reading the Hemingway version.

Link to the rest at Quartz

PG wonders if there’s an app that really works for professional authors.

PG also suggests that Hemingway might crash if he fed some typical legal documents into it.

Amazon laying off 58 workers at North Charleston self-publishing business

17 January 2018

From the Charleston Post & Courier:

Amazon says it’s cutting part of its office staff in North Charleston this summer, a year after the e-commerce giant moved its book-printing factory out of the city.

Amazon’s self-publishing service, Createspace, is laying off workers in its editing, marketing and design division in July because the company is getting out of the business of offering services to writers. The layoffs will mostly affect customer service positions. Createspace will continue to print books for authors with ambitions to sell their work without a publisher.

. . . .

This marks the second round of job cuts Amazon has made in the Charleston area in as many years. Last year, the company moved its on-demand book printing warehouse — and about 150 jobs — from North Charleston to West Columbia, where it runs a distribution center.

“After a thorough review of our service offerings, we’ve made the decision to discontinue Createspace’s paid professional editing, design and marketing services,” Amazon said in a statement. “We will work closely with impacted employees through this transition to help them find new roles within the company or assist them with pursuing opportunities outside the company.”

Link to the rest at Charleston Post & Courier and thanks to Elizabeth for the tip.

Blockchain for Books

17 January 2018

From ALLi:

Blockchain, the technology that underlies cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, also has enormous implications for authors and publishers.

. . . .

So far, blockchain has attracted most interest as the system that underwrites digital currencies like Bitcoin but it is also likely to underwrite the next disruption in publishing, and likely in a way that will be even more disruptive than the digital revolution.

– Copyright

Blockchain and other hypertext (software systems that allow extensive cross-referencing between related sections of text and associated graphics) supercede copyright protection. Piracy becomes more difficult as the blockchain cryptographically time- and person-stamps the act of publication (and, indeed, of creation through all the stages of the process, if we want). Ownership becomes indisputable.

Alliance of Independent Authors Pen Logo

In the same way as the blockchain records where a bitcoin is at any given moment, and who owns it, blockchain enables us to record the ownership of any asset, physical or intellectual, and trade ownership of that asset.

– Smart Contracts

Following on from clear ownership are contract rights and property rights.  Automated “smart” contracts will be able to simultaneously represent ownership of an intellectual property and the conditions that come with that ownership. They can automate rules, checking conditions and take actions with a minimum of human involvement and cost.

Alliance of Independent Authors Pen Logo

Smart contracts have the potential to seriously disrupt the legal system and make legal enforcement of copyright affordable for all.

Link to the rest at ALLi and thanks to P.D. for the tip.

 

While PG has been following blockchain with interest for 3-4 years, he hasn’t come across an online explanation which is not extremely long that introduces the concepts to those who are coming to blockchain for the first time. He did some quick Googling, but was unable to locate one.

If any visitors to TPV would like to suggest such an article, please do so in the Comments.

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