Carnegie medal winner slams children’s book publishers for ‘accessible’ prose

18 June 2018

From The Guardian:

Carnegie medal winner Geraldine McCaughrean has castigated the books industry for dumbing down language in children’s literature, warning that a new focus on “accessible” prose for younger readers will lead to “an underclass of citizens with a small but functional vocabulary: easy to manipulate and lacking in the means to reason their way out of subjugation”.

McCaughrean was named winner on Monday of this year’s CILIP Carnegie medal for her historical adventure novel Where the World Ends, 30 years after she first took the prize, the UK’s most esteemed children’s literature award. She used her winner’s speech to attack publishers’ fixation on accessible language, which she called “a euphemism for something desperate”.

“Most of its tyrannies are brought to bear on younger books right now. But blink twice and today’s junior school readers will be in secondary school, armed only with a pocketful of single-syllable words, and with brains far less receptive to the acquisition of vocabulary than when they were three or seven or nine,” she said. “Since when has one generation ever doubted and pitied the next so much that it decides not to burden them with the full package of the English language but to feed them only a restricted diet, like poorly patients, of simple words?”

Words are mastered, said McCaughrean, by meeting them, not by avoiding them, and young readers “should be bombarded with words like gamma rays, steeped in words like pot plants stood in water, pelted with them like confetti, fed on them like Alphabetti spaghetti, given Hamlet’s last resort: ‘Words. Words. Words.’”

Otherwise, she warned, publishers would “deliberately and wantonly create an underclass of citizens with a small but functional vocabulary: easy to manipulate and lacking in the means to reason their way out of subjugation, because you need words to be able to think for yourself.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Amazon KDP Print or CreateSpace for Paperbacks? 2018 Update

18 June 2018

From Author Imprints:

The convenience of managing your Kindle eBook and paperback in a single account is undeniable. Using a single login, you can upload book files, access sales reports, create and manage AMS ads (Amazon Marketing Services) and manage book metadata using KDP Print.

But is using KDP Print better than using Amazon’s CreateSpace to produce your paperback? What do you give up, or gain, using one vs. the other?

. . . .

Here are the key differences between CreateSpace and KDP Print. If something like royalties isn’t mentioned, it means it is a wash—it is the same for both so it doesn’t matter which you use.

  • Selling books in other Amazon country-specific stores. Both get your book on (US) and Amazon’s European stores. However, only CreateSpace will get your paperback into Amazon’s stores for Canada and Mexico. On the other hand, you must use KDP Print to make your paperback available in Amazon’s store for Japan.
  • Distribution of your paperback to non-Amazon stores. This is accomplished on CreateSpace by using Expanded Distribution. It is not currently available with KDP Print. That means your paperback will not appear in the Barnes & Noble online store, for example. Nor can someone walk into the store and order it.
  • Using CreateSpace files with KDP Print. Newer CreateSpace files for standard book sizes will work for KDP Print. Contact CreateSpace if they created your original files.

. . . .

A final note is that you cannot return your book to CreateSpace once you’ve moved it to KDP Print. Nor can you move a book to CreateSpace from KDP Print.

Link to the rest at Author Imprints


17 June 2018

Fame is an undertaker, that pays but little attention to the living, but bedizens the dead, furnishes out their funerals, and follows them to the grave.

Charles Caleb Colton

How Dead Artists Continue Producing Work

17 June 2018


If Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. can release posthumous albums and Mark Morris can choreograph posthumous dances, then surely the estates of Constantin Brancusi and Dan Flavin can issue work long after the artists have passed away?

The estates themselves have already answered that question in the affirmative, but the making of work following an artist’s death is not without controversy. The question of whether and how to produce posthumous work is becoming increasingly salient as a cohort of esteemed artists reach their seventies, eighties, and even hundreds, and they and those around them look ahead for how best to preserve and enhance their legacies.

Loretta Wurtenberger, founding director of the Institute for Artists’ Estates and co-author of The Artist’s Estate: A Handbook for Artists, Executors, and Heirs, said the question of whether to produce work after the artist is gone is “one of the main topics” she discusses with living artists as they plan their estate and legacy. But for artists who have already passed away, she said, the decision should be made “not on copyright issues, not on market issues—it should only be based on what the artist wanted,” she said.

Sometimes, the artist has not specified. American conceptual artist Dan Flavin’s will, for example, said nothing about the hundreds of unfinished editions of his fluorescent light “propositions,” commercially available bulbs arranged according to a specific plan and accompanied by a signed certificate. By contrast, even if subsequent disputes have emerged about his plasters and bronzes, French sculptor

Auguste Rodin  was at least clear in his intentions, authorizing the executors of his estate to cast work from his molds both for public purchase and for the Musée Rodin in Paris.

. . . .

The reappearance of Flavin’s work on the market surprised New York dealer Paula Cooper (of her eponymous gallery) and Douglas Baxter, president of Pace Gallery. Both gallerists had worked with the artist in his lifetime, and regularly served on a panel convened by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service that values artwork in collections or held by an artist’s heirs to determine the amount of estate tax the government will levy. In separate interviews, each recalled a determination by the IRS that no further editions of Flavin’s work would be fabricated after his death. Stephen said there was no discussion of that in his negotiations with the IRS.

In any case, the unfinished editions—which a 2005 story in the New York Times estimated were worth as much as $70 million—were not included as part of the estate at the time of Flavin’s death, Stephen said. This meant he did not have to pay the 55 percent estate tax on whatever their value would have been at the time (it could have been much less than the Times’s estimate, given that flooding the market in order to pay a hefty tax bill would have lowered the value of each work). There have been about 30 works with estate certificates sold since Dan’s passing, he estimates.

. . . .

Wurtenberger notes that, for artists who produced very little work while they were alive, the difference between lifetime and posthumous works can far exceed the 30 percent average. Lifetime works by photographer Diane Arbus, for example, begin at $25,000 and can reach over $1 million, Wurtenberger writes, citing Frish Brandt, executive director of the San Francisco-based Fraenkel Gallery, which has long represented Arbus. By contrast, Arbus works printed after her death by photographer Neil Selkirk range from $5,000 to $100,000.

Link to the rest at

Rediscovering Lost Literary Treasures of the American Midwest

17 June 2018

From Atlas Obscura:

Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio is  a classic of American literature for its evocation of small-town life. But few people have heard of Anderson’s Poor White, published just a year later.

The release of Winesburg, Ohio’s spare short stories in 1919 made Anderson famous, while the sprawling novel Poor White has been mostly overlooked. Now, though, it’s coming back into print, as one of the first books in a new series, Belt Revivals, that aims to resurrect “classic, unjustly forgotten Midwestern titles” and introduce them to new readers.

Anderson’s novel is an “odd book but a great one,” says writer John Lingan in the new edition’s introduction. Reading Poor White after Winesburg, Ohio “feels like leaving a one-room log cabin for a taxidermy-festooned hunting lodge; there’s a shared sensibility, a familiar woodsy style, but the scope and intention aren’t even comparable.”

Poor White follows Hugh McVey, who begins life as an oafish layabout, to the industrializing Midwest of the late 19th century. He’s a country boy in search of a tidy town to host his growing ambitions, and he’s the sort who takes notice of the roar of the Mississippi River and the rolling landscape. “One of the greatest pleasures of Poor White is Anderson’s crystallization of his native Midwest at the very moment of its romantic enshrining,” Lingan writes.

. . . .

Ultimately, though, the main reason to republish these books is that they’re worth reading. Poor White might be thought of as a “flawed masterpiece,” Trubek says—the plot gets weird—but the writing is vivid, compelling, and revealing. “We are really interested in fabulous writing,” Trubek says. “People think a regional press has to be booster-ish or sentimental or not that sophisticated. There’s no reason for that to be the case.”

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura

How Lizzie Bennet Got Her Books

17 June 2018


There are plenty of mentions of novels and popular literature in Jane Austen’s books. But books were expensive in the early nineteenth century, and women weren’t necessarily encouraged to read them. How, then, did her heroines get their book fix?

. . . .

[C]irculating libraries didn’t really resemble modern libraries. You had to pay to be a member, and if you patronized one you were likely of the leisured classes. And while modern libraries are predicated on a demand for books . . . circulating libraries created that demand.

The libraries, which were found in fashionable watering holes like Jane Austen’s fabled Bath, began as offshoots of bookselling. They became social gathering places that people subscribed to as soon as they got to their vacation destination. They weren’t just for books, either—they held raffles and social events, and the subscription record books were a good place to figure out who was in town. If you lived in a rural area, though, you were probably out of luck. No businessman would set one up in an area that couldn’t sustain it.

At the time, industrialization hadn’t yet made printing affordable, so only the richest could afford books. . . . [T]he average three-volume novel cost the equivalent of $100 at the time, which makes Darcy’s extensive library even sexier. And since anyone with enough money for a subscription could use a circulating library, it became a way for women to gain knowledge without asking a man for permission to use his library or borrow his books.

. . . .

Not everything in a circulating library was intellectually uplifting, though: They were repositories for the Regency version of beach reads. The hottest novel might be available for several months, then be replaced by the new big thing. This led to big demand for new books, and that demand drove bigger print runs. Authors also started writing with the libraries in mind, which led to the rise of genres like the gothic novel.

Link to the rest at JSTOR

Could AI Help Reform Academic Publishing?

16 June 2018

From Forbes Blogs:

As someone whose work crosses so many disciplines, I spend a fair bit of my days skimming new developments across not only computer science, but the humanities, social sciences, arts and many other fields, looking for connections and unexpected new approaches that might benefit my own work. The intensely siloed nature of academia is well known, but equally striking is just how rapidly citation standards are falling in a Google Scholar world filled with explosive growth in available knowledge, in which scholars seem genuinely unaware of developments across the rest of their own field, not to mention the rest of academia. Could machine learning approaches dramatically reform the “related work” and citation review component of peer review and academic publishing?

Perhaps the most striking element of modern scholarship is that in an era when much of our modern scholarship is available through web and academic database searches, it takes only a few mouse clicks to compile a cross-section of the recent developments in a given space. Yet, peruse the “related work” or “background” section of a typical academic paper and it is amazing just how discipline-specific and artificially circumscribed the set of references are. While scholars have always cherry picked their references to argue for why their work is novel or an advance over previous work (and thus worthy of publication), the comprehensiveness of citations even in top journals appears to be in marked decline.

Not a day goes by that I don’t see a paper in a top ranked journal make a claim about being the first to use a particular method or dataset or perform an analysis at a particular scale that I can’t point to dozens of other papers across other fields that reached that milestone long ago. Those same papers often use methods or datasets in ways that violate the assumptions that governed their creation and thus render any results immediately suspect.

. . . .

At the same time, the exponentially growing body of research relevant to new studies has grown far beyond the ability of even a small team of humans to monitor and digest. Even coauthored studies with authors spanning both the problem domain and computational and statistical experts may lack deep experience with a specific method or dataset being used and make assumptions that end up undermining the study’s conclusions.

Peer reviewers tend to do little better when it comes to evaluating specialty methods and datasets outside the traditional scope of the discipline, as they too typically lack the expertise to catch errors or raise concerns with those datasets and methods. Given that most are academics themselves, they too are frequently unaware of work happening outside their discipline and especially work published outside of academic venues, such as the blogs and social media outlets favored by startups, major companies and even independent open data researchers.

This raises the question – can machine learning and even simple automated statistical analyses help academia take a first step towards reforming the peer review process by augmenting the skills and experience of human reviewers and pointing them to things they may otherwise have missed?

. . . .

At the most basic, such tools could help verify citations, flagging that a quote or data point attributed to an article was not found in that publication. This could help immensely with the flood of incorrect citations that plague the Google Scholar copy-paste era of scholarship. An automatic review that flags every miscited quote and data point would go a long way towards cleaning up citation practices.

Moving up a level, imagine automated filtering that checks for odd statistical characteristics of each submission. Some statistical checks require deeper understanding of the paper and its methods than can be reliably parsed by current fully automated techniques, but even a semi-automated process where human reviewers parse out certain details and use automated tools to evaluate the numbers for oddities, or where reviewers enter a simple summary of the statistical workflow and the tool flags any potential methodological concerns, could go a long ways towards assisting reviewers even beyond increasing their statistical training and adding additional statistical reviewers to non-traditional journals. Similarly, image assessment algorithms could flag obvious signs of image manipulation in biomedical journals.

Link to the rest at Forbes Blogs

Morality clauses: are publishers right to police writers?

16 June 2018

From The Guardian:

When the American Libraries Association awards its Andrew Carnegie medals in New Orleans later this month, there will be no winner for excellence in non-fiction. Sherman Alexie, the poet and novelist who was due to receive it for a memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, has declined the award following allegations of sexual harassment.

Last month, the novelist Junot Díaz withdrew from the Sydney writers’ festival and from chairing the Pulitzer prize board after being confronted by his own accusers. As the allegations swept through social media, another writer, Mary Karr, joined the fray, tweeting of her distress that her testimony to DT Max, the biographer of her one-time partner David Foster Wallace, about Foster Wallace’s abusive behaviour had been marginalised. “Deeply saddened by the allegations against #JunotDiaz & I support every woman brave enough to speak. The violence #DavidFosterWallace inflicted on me as a single mom was ignored by his biographer & @NewYorker as ‘alleged’ despite my having letters in his hand,” she wrote.

Such high profile cases are far from rare as the #MeToo movement spreads across the creative industries. They come at a time when writers are facing increasingly draconian attempts by publishers to police their behaviour, calling into question centuries old assumptions about the desirability – or even the possibility in today’s networked world – of separating writers’ lives from their work.

. . . .

Morality, or morals, contracts have existed in the film industry since 1921, when Universal Pictures introduced them in response to Fatty Arbuckle’s trial for manslaughter, but they are relatively new in the publishing industry. One such clause, introduced by HarperCollins in the US, stipulated that the publisher could terminate a contract in cases of “conduct [that] evidences a lack of due regard for public conventions and morals”, or in the case of a “crime or any other act that will tend to bring the Author into serious contempt, and such behaviour would materially damage the Work’s reputation or sales”. Caroline Michel, a leading literary agent, said this week that the use of morality clauses had doubled in the US over the past year. In a recent speech, Royal Society of Literature president Marina Warner warned that “being good” should not be conflated with “good writing”. But where is that line drawn?

Clearly, reputation doesn’t matter to a controversialist in the way it does to literary authors such as Alexie or Díaz, who are facing serious damage to their careers. In the weeks since 10 women came forward with accusations against Alexie, the Native American author has been subjected to a cascade of punitive measures. His name has been stripped from a scholarship awarded by the Institute of American Indian Arts, all references to him have been “deleted or modified” in the blog Native Americans in Children’s Literature, bookshops and libraries are destocking his books and his US publisher has said that it will be postponing the paperback of his memoir (though his UK publisher, Penguin Random House, says it will continue to reprint his work as required).

. . . .

The high emotions surrounding the behaviour of writers are starkly exemplified by the case of Foster Wallace. Though Karr feels understandably aggrieved that her experience wasn’t taken more seriously by his biographer, she would be wrong to think it wasn’t noted. In a blog written at the time, Kristen Roupenian – who went on to write the New Yorker short story sensation “Cat Person” – described her dismay at discovering in Max’s book that the literary hero she worshipped as a student would probably have dismissed her as “audience pussy”.

She wasn’t looking for a boycott of his work, she wrote. “All I expect is a quiet, un-showy disqualification for the role of hero, mentor or saint. I would like the ‘statue’ (Wallace’s word) of his public image to be carefully dismantled, for the overblown ideas we have of him and what his life meant to slowly begin to deflate. I would like him to become just another writer, imbued with no moral authority beyond what is contained in his words on the page.”

. . . .

As the pressure has mounted, London-based authors’ agent Lizzy Kremer has taken pre-emptive action – drawing up a new, industry-wide code of conduct on behalf of a coalition of authors, booksellers, agents and publishers. The voluntary code was partly inspired by London’s Royal Court theatre, which constructed one in reaction to its own sexual misconduct scandal involving a former artistic director. Among the theatre’s first responses was a call out for testimony about sexual harassment to help it to identify “patterns and scenarios”. In a detail that chimes strongly with the publishing industry, the report drew attention to the dangers of a “blurred social context”: “13.3% of reported incidents happened at work parties … with alcohol.”

“Publishers feel an obligation to use their personal social media accounts to publicise books and to go out for drinks,” says Kremer. “People forget that these are not friendships, they are friendly business relationships. You have to understand what’s off limits.”

In a personal blog, she recalled meeting up with a younger woman who told her of several “small yet frightening liberties” that men in publishing had taken at parties and in offices over the years. “One of the things that interested me about the [Royal Court] report was its emphasis on the vulnerability of the creative person,” says Kremer. “Obviously it’s not the same in publishing – you don’t have to get changed in communal dressing-rooms – but it’s another industry with a culture of asking employees to give something personal of themselves.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

The first principle

16 June 2018

How to Fight Amazon (before you turn 29)

16 June 2018

From The Atlantic:

Shortly after I met Lina Khan, her cellphone rang. The call was from a representative of a national organization, regarding a speech it had asked her to give. Khan was courteous on the phone, but she winced momentarily after hanging up. “That was the American Bar Association,” she confessed. “I don’t know if I’ve passed the bar yet.”

This feeling—that Khan’s ideas are in high demand slightly before her time—has characterized much of her life lately. In the past year, the 29-year-old legal scholar’s work has been cited approvingly by the lefty, rabble-rousing congressman Keith Ellison and by a Trump-appointed assistant attorney general, Makan Delrahim. She has been interviewed by NPR and written op-eds for The New York Times.

She has done it neither by focusing on a hot-button issue nor by cultivating a telegenic demeanor. She is just a young adult—one of many, I would learn—interested in an old topic: antitrust law, that musty corner of American jurisprudence aimed at curtailing monopoly power.

. . . .

For the past few decades of American life, the specter of monopoly was generally raised only regarding companies that seemed custom-designed to rip off consumers—airlines, cable providers, Big Pharma. These were businesses that pulled from the long-standing monopolist’s bag of tricks: They seemed to keep prices artificially high, or they formed an unspoken cartel with other industry titans. Typically, consumers worried most about how monopolies would pinch their wallet.
For Khan and her colleagues at the Open Markets Institute, an anti-monopoly think tank based in Washington, D.C., monopoly power includes all of that. But it goes further. Even when monopolies appear to benefit consumers by offering free services or low prices, Khan contends that they can still be deeply harmful. Among the group’s frequent targets are some of the most popular companies in America: Google, Facebook, and the one to which Khan has committed much of her published work, Amazon. She tells a comprehensive story about how these companies make Americans less free.. . . .“There’s a whole line of critique about Amazon that’s culture-based, about how they’re wrecking the experience of bookstores,” Khan told me as we surveyed Neil deGrasse Tyson’s latest tome. “I personally am less focused on that element.”

Instead, she argues that Amazon has denuded America’s book-buying landscape in other ways. “Amazon has massively—and I’m trying not to use this particular word, but I can’t not use it here—disrupted the business model in publishing,” she told me. “Publishers used to be able to take risks with heavier books that might not be as popular, and they used to be able to subsidize them with best sellers.” But Amazon’s demand for discounts has made it harder to cross-subsidize this way, leading to consolidation among book publishers and reduced diversity.

This is a typically Khanian analysis. In her telling, monopolies don’t just exploit consumers and workers in their part of the economy. Even when they offer low prices to consumers, their influence propagates through the entire system. If one part of an industry consolidates, then all the other parts of the industry will feel pressure to consolidate too.

. . . .

[I]n January 2017, she published the result of that study, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” in the Yale Law Journal. It went viral—or at least as viral as dense legal scholarship can go. Its driving question is simple: How did Amazon get so big?

The answers are nearly as straightforward. First, Khan says, Amazon has been willing “to sustain losses and invest aggressively at the expense of profits.” This isn’t a controversial assertion: Amazon has posted an annual profit for only 13 of the past 21 years, according to The New York Times. Historically, it has plowed any profits right back into cheaper prices and R&D into everything from robotics to image recognition. Second, Amazon is integrated vertically, across business lines. In addition to selling stuff online, Amazon now publishes books, extends credit, sells online ads, designs clothes, and produces movies and TV shows. It is also one of the world’s largest providers of cloud storage and computing power, renting server space to Netflix, Adobe, Airbnb, and NASA.

. . . .

[Judge Robert] Bork’s views become interesting in light of Amazon. Bork thought vertical integration was fine: Since he believed markets were perfectly efficient, he assumed that a lower-cost competitor would always butt in and fight off a would-be monopolist. And predatory pricing? It is “a phenomenon that probably does not exist,” he wrote. The Chicago school, he said, had proved that companies would always pursue short-term profits over long-term growth.

Amazon’s history seems to belie this claim. For more than a decade, Wall Street allowed the company to plow any profits into price discounts. Partly as a result, Amazon has grown so large that it can undercut other companies just by announcing that it will soon compete with them. When Amazon purchased Whole Foods, its market cap rose by $15.6 billion—some $2 billion more than it paid for the chain. Meanwhile, the rest of the grocery industry immediately lost $37 billion in market value. (Amazon protests that it has no control over how investors value its competitors.)
When a company has such power, Khan believes, it will almost inevitably wield that power far and wide, distorting not just the market itself, but the whole of American life. With sufficient power, companies can commission studies, rewrite regulations, bulldoze neighborhoods, and impoverish education and welfare systems by securing billions in sweetheart tax cuts. When a company comes to monopolize a market—when it grows so big that it can threaten other industries just by entering them—it ceases to be merely a company. It becomes an institution so powerful that it can rule over people like a government.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

PG suggests Ms. Kahn, as an “expert” in antitrust law, is remarkably ignorant about American publishers. Publishers are a classic example of a shared monopoly, offering identical royalty rates and nearly identical contract terms to authors and attacking competitors who don’t join the cartel.

Additionally, there is the inconvenient fact that most of the largest American publishers have already plead guilty to conspiring to fix book prices, a classic antitrust violation, in order to keep Amazon from lowering book prices for consumers. Publishers are, by their own admissions, violators of antitrust laws.

It is possible for an organization to violate antitrust laws by lowering prices to drive competitors out of business, then raising prices once it obtains the monopoly power to do so.

However, lowering prices by itself is a benefit to consumers, not a detriment, and speculation that, at some time in the future, Amazon is going to use monopoly power to raise prices is just that, speculation, without any facts to back it up.

“Predatory pricing” is a characteristic of this type of monopoly activity – cutting prices to drive competitors out of business, then raising prices to capture monopoly profits.

When Amazon starts taking advantage of its market position to force unconscionable price increases on consumers, PG will be happy to condemn the company, but amateur mind-readers who claim this is Amazon’s business plan are simply speculating for purposes that likely aren’t connected to the welfare of consumers at all.

Looking into a crystal ball and perceiving an evil Amazon that will be going into the price-gouging business is a bizarre practice that is often funded by Amazon’s competitors who find Amazon’s consistent price-cutting business strategy offensive because Amazon takes sales away from them or disturbs their way of doing business in their particular fiefdoms.

If we are to speculate, let us speculate about the state of the book business had Jeff Bezos started the company selling something other than books online and stayed out of the book business because he didn’t ever want to upset people like the author of the OP. For the purposes of our speculation, we’ll assume no Bezos clone stepped in to do what Bezos has done.

Would readers be purchasing more or fewer books today? Would the price of books be higher or lower today? (remember that Steve Jobs wanted publishers to fix the retail price of ebooks so there would be no price competition) Would authors be earning more or less than they do today? Would there be a wider or a narrower selection of books offered to readers today? Would more or fewer authors be publishing their own books than do that today?

For any Amazonians who happen to stumble across this post, PG suggests that it might be a good idea for Amazon to consider publicizing how much money they pay directly to individual indie authors each year through KDP and similar programs, bypassing the Big Publishing and small publishing middlemen and middlewomen.

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