Monthly Archives: July 2015

City partners with Amazon for $30 M. e-book contract

30 July 2015

From Capital New York:

The Department of Education is about to approve a $30 million contract with Amazon to create an e-book marketplace for New York City’s 1,800 public schools.

The Amazon deal will be one of the D.O.E.’s most expensive contracts and one of the city’s few significant deals with a leading technology company. The contract will also create the department’s first unified e-book marketplace.

Schools chancellor Carmen Fariña has said she wants to boost the department’s technology credentials.

. . . .

Amazon will provide contracted content, such as widely used textbooks, along with non-contracted content, largely books and texts that individual schools select. Non-contracted content will be purchased directly from Amazon, and the D.O.E. is expecting both types of content to be provided at low prices via Amazon.

All the content can be used on a variety of devices, including smartphones, tablets, PCs and Macs.

. . . .

“We’ve listened closely to educators and this new marketplace will address many of the major current concerns of our schools relating to school texts: not having enough space for textbooks and primary resources, the physical decay and loss of books, not being able to easily compare options and prices, and not being able to exchange book licenses with other classrooms and schools,” Devora Kaye, a D.O.E. spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Link to the rest at Capital New York

Samuel Delany and the Past and Future of Science Fiction

30 July 2015

From The New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog:

1968, Samuel Delany attended the third annual Nebula Awards, presented by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). At the ceremony that night, “an eminent member of the SFWA,” as Delany later put it, gave a speech about changes in science fiction, a supposed shift away from old-fashioned storytelling to “pretentious literary nonsense,” or something along those lines. At the previous Nebula Awards, the year before, Delany had won best novel for “Babel-17,” in which an invented language has the power to destroy (his book shared the award with Daniel Keyes’s “Flowers for Algernon”), and earlier on that evening in 1968, Delany had again won best novel, for “The Einstein Intersection,” which tells of an abandoned Earth colonized by aliens, who elevate the popular culture of their new planet into divine myths. Sitting at his table, listening to the speech, Delany realized that he was one of its principle targets. Minutes later, he won another award, this time in the short-story category, for “Aye, and Gomorrah . . . ,” a tale of neutered space explorers who are fetishized back on Earth. As he made his way back to his seat after accepting the award, Isaac Asimov took Delany by the arm, pulled him close, and, as Delany (who goes by the nickname Chip) recalled in his essay “Racism and Science Fiction,” said: “You know, Chip, we only voted you those awards because you’re Negro . . . !”

It was meant to be a joke, Delany immediately recognized; Asimov was trying, Delany later wrote, “to cut through the evening’s many tensions” with “a self-evidently tasteless absurdity.” The award wasn’t meant to decide what science fiction should be, conventional or experimental, pulpy or avant garde. After all, where else but science fiction should experiments take place? It must be—wink, wink—that Delany’s being black is the reason he won.

. . . .

Delany came of age at a time when the genre was indeed characterized by gee-whiz futurism, machismo adventuring, and white, heterosexual heroes. From the beginning, Delany, in his fiction, pushed across those boundaries, embraced the other, and questioned received ideas about sex and intimacy. And, within a few years of publishing his first stories, he won some of the field’s biggest awards. Delany’s career now spans more than half a century, and comprises dozens of novels and short stories, many of which have challenged every notion of what science fiction could or should be. Even now, when graphic sex and challenging themes are hardly unusual, Delany’s rapturous sexuality and his explorations of race within the trappings of science fiction have the power to startle.

. . . .

Delany’s novels and stories have taken place in outer space and the future and other alien worlds. His plots are speculative: the race to harvest an energy source from the sun, the struggles of a libertarian society on one of Neptune’s moons, the plight of slaves in a pre-industrial world of magic and barbarism. But he does not believe that science fiction is the right genre for his concerns any more or less than another genre would be. “Nothing about the sonnet is perfect for the love poem, either,” he said. “Genre simply provides a way for the reader to look for things that have been done. A form is a useful thing to use. It has history and resonance. It informs you as to the way things have been done in the past.” In the preface to “A, B, C,” Delany writes that, “though the genre can suggest what you might need, it can never do the work for you.”

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Amazon suggests a separate airspace for delivery drones

30 July 2015

From the BBC News:

US online retailer Amazon has called for a separate airspace zone for commercial drone flights that could deliver goods to customers.

The zone would have the unmanned vehicles flying below normal planes at a height of 200 to 400ft (61 to 122m).

Air traffic control for the suggested drone space would be handled by an automated computer system.

. . . .

Amazon, Google and other mail services see drones as future delivery vehicles, but still face regulatory hurdles.

“Drones have been around for a long time when it comes to non-commercial sectors,” Andrew Milroy, technology analyst with consultancy Frost & Sullivan, told the BBC.

“But there are in fact all kinds of commercial uses for drones with parcel deliveries being just one of them. Just think of building maintenance, architects, real estate agents, etc.”

. . . .

Laying out its suggestions at a NASA convention in California, Amazon says that clarifying the use of airspace was essential for harnessing the potential of small unmanned aircraft systems in civil airspace.

“So the commercial pressure in the US to enable that technology is becoming stronger and stronger,” Mr Milroy explained.

According to the Amazon draft, a segregated civil airspace would be carved out below 500ft to enable drones to fly unhindered and without endangering civilian or military planes.

The proposal suggests airspace below 200ft for low-speed localised drone traffic such as surveying, filming and private hobby drones.

The next level between 200ft and 400ft would become a “high-speed transit space”, for drones like the ones Amazon is aiming for with its future drone delivery plans.

. . . .

According to [an Amazon] patent, the drones would be able to track the location of the person it is delivering to by pulling data from their smartphone.

“So the technology is there, the issue they are facing is the regulators – and regulators always take some time to catch up with new technology,” said Mr Milroy.

Link to the rest at BBC News and thanks to Jan for the tip.

Taxes on Digital Books Are Called Unfair

30 July 2015

From The New York Times:

E-books, which according to PricewaterhouseCoopers represent a quarter to a third of consumer book sales in the United States and Britain, have largely failed to catch on outside English-language markets.

The reasons for this failure are complicated, rooted in cultural resistance from readers and economic policies that protect traditional publishers. Rules in countries like Germany and France prohibit the kind of deep discounts on digital books relative to print that have lifted e-book sales in English-language markets. But another, less publicized factor is taxation, which in the case of e-books is all over the map.

This month, the International Publishers Association released a survey of how digital and printed books are taxed in 79 countries, showing that e-books are on average taxed twice as highly as printed books, 12.25 percent to 5.75 percent. In many European countries, including Sweden, Ireland and Hungary, the value-added tax on a printed book is negligible or waived, while the same book’s digital version is taxed at more than 20 percent.

In its report, produced with the Federation of European Publishers, the association called this practice “unwarranted discrimination,” saying that it contributes to the anemic growth of e-books in small publishing markets.

. . . .

 Only four countries in Europe — France, Italy, Iceland and Turkey — have reduced their tax rates for e-books. Outside Europe, taxes on e-books are more aligned with taxes on printed books, especially in Latin America, where most countries, including Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, apply no taxes on books, regardless of format.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Kindle Unlimited Thoughts

29 July 2015

From Joe Konrath:

Like everyone else in KDP Select, I’ve been paying attention to my Kindle Unlimited page reads.

When the new accounting began at the beginning of this month, I had 33,000 daily page reads. I had no idea if this was good, or bad. It was what it was.

But I was intrigued to see my Amazon Author Rank go up. My best rank was #1, but for the past two years I’ve been hovering around #1000. On June 30 I was #854.

Now I hover around #400. I got to #267 last week, and now I’m at #441.

Since I haven’t released any new solo novels in two years (I have three coming out by fall, two Jack Daniels thrillers and a Jack Kilborn horror), the only explanation I have for this jump up was the new KU rules.

By the end of the first week, my daily reads were up to 60,000. By the end of this month, they’re at 85,000.

Now, this all could mean absolutely nothing. Maybe my page reads have remained static, and Amazon’s new accounting system is simply finding its groove.

Maybe people are finishing my books, and the more they read the more they want to read. Or maybe a lot of people are starting them and not finishing them. The likeliest answer is some readers finish, some don’t. Page reads, by themselves, don’t give us enough information.

. . . .

Now, I became a writer via the legacy publishing industry. I collected 500 rejections before I sold a word. For roughly a decade I worked and worked and worked to improve my craft, and when I finally got a pub deal I worked even harder. My publishers gave me feedback. I got better. I attended conferences, and made friends with peers, and we traded WIPs. I got better. By the time this Kindle thing happened, I had a pretty good idea of how to tell an engaging story.

But I never had the opportunity crowdsourcing presents.

While I’ve worked with professional editors and writers, the only true reader feedback I got was from friends and family, and they’re biased. Reviews are feedback after publication, but rarely are they specific enough to help authors (unless the author has really screwed up.)

But if I knew 1000 readers stopped on page 156 of one of my books, and never returned to it, that information would be worth a lot to me.

One of the big advantages to ebooks, which doesn’t get mentioned often, is their fluidity. A paper book pubbed by the Big 5 is static. Once it’s released, that is pretty much the version that exists forever. But ebooks have the ability to update. Change. Improve. Evolve.

We’re on the cusp of an unprecedented level of feedback. These are exciting times. What other medium can tailor its IP to its audience to this degree? Readers don’t like it? Fix it!

. . . .

Now, I invite you to share your KU data. Post anonymously if you feel uncomfortable going public with your numbers. But I’d like to know what your daily page read count was on July 1, and on July 28, and if you notice any upward/downward movement. Also, share your author ranks from those dates, and mention if you’ve released anything new this month.

Link to the rest at Joe Konrath

Here’s a link to Joe Konrath’s books. If you like his posts, you can show your appreciation by buying his books.

Since when do we have to agree with people

29 July 2015

Since when do we have to agree with people to defend them from injustice?

Lillian Hellman

Uncle Sam wants YOU to read ‘popular’ scholarly books

29 July 2015

From The Washington Post:

If all goes as planned, there’s a fascinating book about Diderot in your future — and one about the history of photographic detection and another one about the economics of addiction.

Think that’s too heady for you? Think again.

The Public Scholar program, a major new initiative from the National Endowment for the Humanities, is designed to promote the publication of scholarly nonfiction books for a general audience, and the first round of grants has just been announced: a total of $1.7 million to 36 writers across a broad collection of disciplines. The grants range from $25,200 to $50,400. (Full list at bottom.)

The winners include Pulitzer Prize-winner Diane McWhorter, who’s working on a book about the Moon landing and the civil rights era in Huntsville, Ala.,; National Book Award-winner Kevin Boyle, who’s writing about an early 20th-century anarchist; and National Book Award-winner Edward Ball, who will return to the territory of his bestselling “Slaves in the Family” to write a biography of his great-great grandfather.

. . . .

This program is a priority for NEH Chairman William D. Adams, who has just completed his first year in office. He’s determined to push back against the forces that make academic writing and research inaccessible to lay readers. Applicants for Public Scholar grants were told that they must aim “to engage broad audiences in exploring subjects of general interest . . . in a readily accessible style.” At $1.7 million, the Public Scholar program represents about 20 percent of the NEH budget for fellowships and other scholarship.

“Over the years,” Adams said, “some of the humanities disciplines became much more technical and much more professionally oriented. Their audience became much more internal to the profession. With this program, we’re trying to send a message that would legitimate scholarship that aims outside the profession with topics that have resonance more broadly.”

Link to the rest at The Washington Post and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Man Booker prize 2015: US literary agent among 13 writers on longlist

29 July 2015

From The Guardian:

An American literary agent known for his ruthless negotiating and memoirs recounting his struggles with crack-cocaine and alcohol, has made it on to the 2015 Man Booker longlist with his debut novel.

Bill Clegg is one of 13 writers who will compete for the £50,000 prize which, for the second year, allows in writers of all nationalities writing in English.

Previously restricted to Commonwealth and Irish writers, the rule change allowed American novelists in for the first time last year.

. . . .

The academic Michael Wood, who chaired the judging panel, said the judges had a great time choosing the list from the 156 books in contention. “Discussions weren’t always peaceful, but they were always very friendly,” he said. “We were lucky in our companions and the submissions were extraordinary. The longlist could have been twice as long, but we’re more than happy with our final choice.

“The range of different performances and forms of these novels is amazing. All of them do something exciting with the language they have chosen to use.”

There are five US writers, the biggest contingent on the longlist. Clegg is interesting because he is best known for pushing other writers and for securing million-dollar deals in his role as an agent.

His yet-to-be-published Did You Ever Have a Family tells the story of a middle-aged woman struggling to recover after an explosion kills her family.

The book was so coveted by publishers that the winning bidder, Gallery Books, even set up a new imprint for literary fiction, Scout, with the Clegg novel as its opener.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Dave for the tip.

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