Monthly Archives: April 2017

Changes

29 April 2017

Our son died last night and it will be a few days before I get back to posting anything here.

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Writers, Scam Artists, Agents, And More (Sigh)

29 April 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Just when I thought it was safe to get back into the water…

I’m editing a lot these days. I only edit short fiction projects. Anthologies, anthology series (Fiction River), the occasional nonfiction book, and some magazines. I’m also consulting with the fine folks at WMG Publishing, because they’ll be handling the contracts for the revival of Pulphouse next year. Dean’s vision for Pulphouse includes reprinting some of the older stories, which means we have to deal with estates.

Too often, estates mean agents.

But even some lazy-ass living writers give their agents control of everything. It took me one year—one year—to get my hands on a non-fiction reprint that I wanted for a project of mine. The centerpiece for that project was an editorial written more than 20 years ago by a writer who had forgotten they had even written it. This writer, a friend of mine, doesn’t do email, and mostly stays off-line. (I know, I know.) I didn’t know about their tech phobia when I started into this, and had sent five different emails before I asked another editor friend how to reach this writer.

The editor advised snail mail.

Before I resorted to that, though, I called. The author and I are friends, after all. On the phone, the author told me that their agent handles everything. I do mean everything. The author—one smart cookie otherwise—can’t be bothered to concern themselves with touching anything to do with business. I had no idea this author was an Artiste, but I guess I know that now.

I also know why most anthologists refuse to reprint this author’s work.

I was pretty excited about this non-fiction project when I started it. I missed the publication window because of this agent and this writer. Fortunately, my publisher pushed the deadline back. We’ve pushed it back again, and again, and again. And frankly, I’m not feeling it any more. I have completely soured on the project.

The big bad agent, by the way, negotiated a horseshit deal for the writer that essentially gave me more rights than I would ever need. I offered the usual fee, which the agent did not negotiate up (although he could have). By that point, I was too pissed to give a break to these people. The amount of money—on publication, if there’s a publication—to the agent and the author will be negligible.

. . . .

Who the hell gives over control of everything, I mean everything, to an agent?

Oh, most writers. Never mind.

Still, I expect better. And if a writer is going to give control of the business side of her work to an “expert” then the expert better be damn good at negotiating and taking care of the writer’s interests.

So far, all of the agents I’ve encountered who handle everything are the worst negotiators in the business. They let things slide, they don’t care about being paid, they don’t ask for the right kind of language in a contract, they license the wrong rights or sell those rights outright.

. . . .

On one of the many projects I worked on recently, I contacted a writer to reprint one of their stories. I wrote a standard email letter, requesting permission to reprint, and the writer wrote back that they had no idea if the rights were available. The writer said I should contact the editor who originally published the story and ask.

I was taken aback. I had never had a writer say such a thing before in all of my years of editing. I knew the editor in question, and had worked with him many times. Never once did that editor, in all his various projects, try to control all the rights to a project. It wasn’t in his standard contract, the one he used for his anthology projects. It wasn’t in his special contracts, for other projects. It hadn’t ever happened, not in years of dealing with this man.

Honestly, this is where Writer Me and Editor Me had a conflict. Writer Me decided that Editor Me should get clarification from that writer before going to the writer’s editor. You see, Writer Me figured the editor in question would be confused at best or insulted at worst by the suggestion that he controlled the rights.

I did not want to offend him—as a person, not as an editor I might work with.

So I asked for clarification from the writer on the problem and added, as I do with many writers—bestsellers and nonbestsellers alike—that I would be happy to look at the clauses or contract in question (with the pertinent information like SSN and payment blacked out) to see what rights the author had actually sold. After all, the author clearly had no idea. Frankly, I figured the author didn’t know how to read a contract, and certainly didn’t know copyright law. I’ve seen that dozens of times before.

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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In solidarity with those who understand what is happening with eBook sales

28 April 2017

From Talking New Media:

This post is about blogger solidarity… that is, it is response to the frustration expressed by Nate Hoffelder over at The Digital Reader concerning the ongoing debate about eBook sales. He was reacting the recurring misreporting that eBook sales are down, when actually they are only down for the major publishers represented by the various trade associations.

Nate points to articles in some of the The Guardian, and The Telegraph, in particular, that can’t seem to get it through their heads that not all eBook sales are represented by the publishers that are members of these associations. There are other publishers, and self-publishers, that sell through other channels, and these sales won’t be included in the reports put out by the associations.

But there is another problem, that some media reporters are invested in believing that print is having a resurgence. There is, of course, no evidence for this, but faith is a powerful thing.

Now Nate covers the digital book field, but what is happening on that side of the business is happening on the magazine and newspaper side, as well. Despite falling print circulation and print advertising levels, there are those who simply want to believe that digital media may not be all its cracked up to be.

Link to the rest at Talking New Media and thanks to The Digital Reader for the tip.

PG wonders if the reporters and publications disseminating the ebooks are dead/print is back meme believe they can actually change the behavior of their readers. Or if the authors first developed sentience 15 minutes ago.

“Printed books are the new black.”

“All the right people will be carrying hardcovers this summer.”

“Look for more beautiful covers on Kim Kardashian’s Instagram account.”

“Headless body in topless bar . . . with a book!!!”

.

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There’s many a bestseller

28 April 2017

There’s many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.

Flannery O’Connor

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The Bestseller List Box Set Gig

28 April 2017

From InsideIndie.weebly.com:

Why does it seem like lately the heavens are raining down hundreds of brand spanking new bestselling authors? They’re everywhere, man, like, it’s contagious and we need a vaccine.  New York Times, USA Today, heck, it’s no big deal anymore, thanks to a handful of individuals who have figured out how to make a ton of cash and inflate sales numbers to shoot 20+ author box sets onto the lists. (Yes, you read that correctly; 20 books from 20 authors in one massive box set). Has anyone ever heard of the authors in these mega-sets? Do they ever go on to sell any other books after “getting letters”? A few shining stars have emerged, but for the most past, the answer is no.

According to one box set Organizer, Amazon assures her that everyone at Amazon is perfectly fine with her methods, and the way she tells it, Amazon’s in her pocket with this gig, and Amazon has no problem with authors gifting thousands of copies of books to readers who then use those gift book credits to purchase the box set, making it look like a legitimate sale. We’re not talking about chump change here, either, folks. The “buy-in” for these box sets is anywhere from $500 -$2000 per author. At 20+ authors per sets, the Organizer is collecting between $10,000 – $40,000 per set, and self-reports 8 sets have made the lists (out of dozens of sets managed). Not counting the sets that did not make lists, 8 box sets have raked in $80,000 – $320,000.  Even more disturbing, the same Organizer says that she spoke with PayPal and PayPal is fine with her methods of asking authors to pay her thousands of dollars of business transactions via “friends & family” transfers (which PayPal does not report to the IRS as taxable income and are not covered by PayPal Buyer Protection), or even worse, Amazon Gift Cards so that customers can not get a refund via PayPal dispute, which has happened multiple times to the Organizer.

Link to the rest at InsideIndie.weebly.com

PG doesn’t know any of the backstory on this and he hasn’t consulted any of the relevant terms of service, but he will point out that, when everybody is a bestselling author, the marketing benefits from such claims decline substantially in value.

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The Power of the Indie Bookstore

28 April 2017

From Literary Hub:

Book browsers and community-seekers rejoice: this Saturday, April 29, is Independent Bookstore Day. 470 indie bookstores across the country will be participating.

. . . .

Emily Temple: What are your first bookstore memories? Do you have a favorite bookstore from childhood?

Emma Straub: There were several great bookstores on the Upper West Side when I was a kid—there was Endicott, Eeyore’s, Shakespeare and Company. We went to all of them all the time, though in truth, Channel Video, the local video store, was the only place in the neighborhood that had a thing that I could crawl inside, and so that sort of won. Mostly when I think about Endicott, I think about one of the booksellers, who my father was friendly with, who was apparently covering his entire body in tattoos in hopes of becoming a human lampshade someday. Funny what sticks.

ET: What has been the best part about starting a bookstore—and what has been the hardest part?

ES: The most fun part has been ordering books. That has also been the hardest part. I so badly want the store to have a personality, but I also want to be mindful that my taste is not everyone’s. It’s a tricky thing! We shall see.

ET: Why do you think independent bookstores are still thriving in the era of Amazon? What makes them so special?

ES: I was thinking about this today, especially in regards to Independent Bookstore Day. What makes indie bookstores so special is that each one is totally unique. Even though we’re all ordering from the same publishers for the most part, each space is totally its own, and each point of view, as well. I could go to a dozen indie bookstores in a day. They are each a total kingdom. That’s why they’re thriving—they’re living, breathing creatures. You wouldn’t swap your cat for a robot, even though the cat sometimes eats your hair and then barfs on the rug. It’s the same thing. I would rather have an eccentric, fallible thing with a soul. Wouldn’t you?

Link to the rest at Literary Hub and thanks to Dave for the tip.

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How Online Shopping Makes Suckers of Us All

28 April 2017

From The Atlantic:

As christmas approached in 2015, the price of pumpkin-pie spice went wild. It didn’t soar, as an economics textbook might suggest. Nor did it crash. It just started vibrating between two quantum states. Amazon’s price for a one-ounce jar was either $4.49 or $8.99, depending on when you looked. Nearly a year later, as Thanksgiving 2016 approached, the price again began whipsawing between two different points, this time $3.36 and $4.69.

We live in the age of the variable airfare, the surge-priced ride, the pay-what-you-want Radiohead album, and other novel price developments. But what was this? Some weird computer glitch? More like a deliberate glitch, it seems. “It’s most likely a strategy to get more data and test the right price,” Guru Hariharan explained, after I had sketched the pattern on a whiteboard.

. . . .

The right price—the one that will extract the most profit from consumers’ wallets—has become the fixation of a large and growing number of quantitative types, many of them economists who have left academia for Silicon Valley. It’s also the preoccupation of Boomerang Commerce, a five-year-old start-up founded by Hariharan, an Amazon alum. He says these sorts of price experiments have become a routine part of finding that right price—and refinding it, because the right price can change by the day or even by the hour. (Amazon says its price changes are not attempts to gather data on customers’ spending habits, but rather to give shoppers the lowest price out there.)

. . . .

It may come as a surprise that, in buying a seasonal pie ingredient, you might be participating in a carefully designed social-science experiment. But this is what online comparison shopping hath wrought. Simply put: Our ability to know the price of anything, anytime, anywhere, has given us, the consumers, so much power that retailers—in a desperate effort to regain the upper hand, or at least avoid extinction—are now staring back through the screen. They are comparison shopping us.

. . . .

“I don’t think anyone could have predicted how sophisticated these algorithms have become,” says Robert Dolan, a marketing professor at Harvard. “I certainly didn’t.” The price of a can of soda in a vending machine can now vary with the temperature outside. The price of the headphones Google recommends may depend on how budget-conscious your web history shows you to be, one study found. For shoppers, that means price—not the one offered to you right now, but the one offered to you 20 minutes from now, or the one offered to me, or to your neighbor—may become an increasingly unknowable thing. “Many moons ago, there used to be one price for something,” Dolan notes. Now the simplest of questions—what’s the true price of pumpkin-pie spice?—is subject to a Heisenberg level of uncertainty.

. . . .

The Quakers—including a New York merchant named Rowland H. Macy—had never believed in setting different prices for different people. Wanamaker, a Presbyterian operating in Quaker Philadelphia, opened his Grand Depot under the principle of “One price to all; no favoritism.” Other merchants saw the practical benefits of Macy’s and Wanamaker’s prix fixe policies. As they staffed up their new department stores, it was expensive to train hundreds of clerks in the art of haggling. Fixed prices offered a measure of predictability to bookkeeping, sped up the sales process, and made possible the proliferation of printed retail ads highlighting a given price for a given good.

Companies like General Motors found an up-front way of recovering some of the lost profit. In the 1920s, GM aligned its various car brands into a finely graduated price hierarchy: “Chevrolet for the hoi polloi,” Fortune magazine put it, “Pontiac … for the poor but proud, Oldsmobile for the comfortable but discreet, Buick for the striving, Cadillac for the rich.” The policy—“a car for every purse and purpose,” GM called it—was a means of customer sorting, but the customers did the sorting themselves.

. . . .

Thomas Nagle was teaching economics at the University of Chicago in the early 1980s when, he recalls, the university acquired the data from the grocery chain Jewel’s newly installed checkout scanners. “Everyone was thrilled,” says Nagle, now a senior adviser specializing in pricing at Deloitte. “We’d been relying on all these contrived surveys: ‘Given these options at these prices, what would you do?’ But the real world is not a controlled experiment.”

The Jewel data overturned a lot of what he’d been teaching. For instance, he’d professed that ending prices with .99 or .98, instead of just rounding up to the next dollar, did not boost sales. The practice was merely an artifact, the existing literature said, of an age when owners wanted to force cashiers to open the register to make change, in order to prevent them from pocketing the money from a sale. “It turned out,” Nagle recollects, “that ending prices in .99 wasn’t big for cars and other big-ticket items where you pay a lot of attention. But in the grocery store, the effect was huge!”

The effect, now known as “left-digit bias,” had not shown up in lab experiments, because participants, presented with a limited number of decisions, were able to approach every hypothetical purchase like a math problem. But of course in real life, Nagle admits, “if you did that, it would take you all day to go to the grocery store.” Disregarding the digits to the right side of the decimal point lets you get home and make dinner.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic and thanks to Nirmala for the tip.

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Amazon is worth so much because AWS is tech’s true unicorn

28 April 2017

From MarketWatch:

Amazon.com Inc. is thought of by most consumers as the Wal-Mart of the web, a dominant retailer with convenience and pricing advantages that will be hard to beat.

But that business is not the sole reason Amazon was headed for fresh record highs and a market capitalization of more than $450 billion after Thursday’s earnings report. In fact, the e-commerce business may not even be the main reason why Amazon is worth so much right now, just as it definitely is not the main reason for Amazon’s recent journey into solid profitability.

Amazon Web Services, which sells remote computing power to businesses, was again the star of Amazon’s earnings report, despite being a major concern for investors heading into the report thanks to a decelerating growth rate and rumors that a price war with cloud rivals would shrink profits.

However, on the same day that two of those rivals also released earnings, Amazon showed why AWS is the most valuable startup in tech. The company reported quarterly AWS revenue of $3.66 billion, slightly topping estimates and reflecting 42.6% growth, and operating income of $890 million. That net profit margin of more than 24% was actually higher than the year-ago quarter, wiping away more fears.

Amazon’s total operating income for the quarter was $1.01 billion. While it doesn’t take a math wizard to see that Amazon would not be anywhere near as profitable without AWS, here is the figure: AWS accounted for about 89% of Amazon’s total operating income for the quarter, with the rest attributable to e-commerce.

. . . .

When Amazon stock hits new records Friday, internet commenters and television pundits will rant about the high price-to-earnings ratio and unsustainable valuation. But when you add a company that could be considered the most valuable technology startup in a world full of valuable tech startups, to a web retailer with the scale and reach of Amazon, it shouldn’t be that hard to figure out why this company is worth so much.

Link to the rest at MarketWatch

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Amazon five-minute share surge worth $4.4 billion for Jeff Bezos

28 April 2017

From The Sydney Morning-Herald:

A surge in after hours trading for Amazon.com added $US3.3 billion ($4.4 billion) to the fortune of Jeff Bezos, putting him less than $US5 billion ($6.7 billion) away from becoming the world’s richest person.

Bezos saw his fortune surpass $US80 billion for the first time, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The 53-year old has added $US65.2 billion to his net worth since the index debuted in March 2012 and ended on Thursday (US time) with a net worth of $US79 billion. His net worth will surpass $US80 billion on the index for the first time if the gains hold on Friday.

. . . .

Amazon shares added almost $US50 in around five minutes after the company projected sales that may beat estimates in the current quarter, furthering an unbroken 20-year streak of double-digit revenue growth.

. . . .

The stock has jumped over 20 per cent this year.

Link to the rest at The Sydney Morning-Herald

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How eBooks lost their shine: ‘Kindles now look clunky and unhip’

27 April 2017

From The Guardian:

Here are some things that you can’t do with a Kindle. You can’t turn down a corner, tuck a flap in a chapter, crack a spine (brutal, but sometimes pleasurable) or flick the pages to see how far you have come and how far you have to go. You can’t remember something potent and find it again with reference to where it appeared on a right- or left-hand page. You often can’t remember much at all. You can’t tell whether the end is really the end, or whether the end equals 93% followed by 7% of index and/or questions for book clubs. You can’t pass it on to a friend or post it through your neighbour’s door.

A few years ago, I was given a Kindle. I had become a student again. I was reading lots of books and I needed them cheap and light. But now the Kindle has slipped to the back of the desk drawer behind the Blu-Tack that comes out only at Christmas. Meanwhile, the stack of hardbacks and paperbacks on the bedside table has grown so tall it has spawned sub-stacks on the floor; when I get into bed at night, it is like looking down on a miniature book city. I don’t want to speculate about what goes on in other people’s bedrooms but I suspect it might be something similar, because figures published today by the Publishing Association show that sales of consumer ebooks have dropped by 17%, while sales of physical books are up 8%. Consumer spending on books was up £89m across the board last year, compared with 2015. So why is the physical book winning through?

Ten years ago, when the Kindle launched, the idea was miraculous. Here was the ability to carry hundreds of books enfolded in a tiny slip of plastic, countless stories in a few hundred grams. It seems hard to believe when you look at the thick, black plastic surround – stylistically it bears more resemblance to a cathode ray tube TV than a tablet – that it predated the iPad by two years. Within five hours, it had sold out, despite a price tag of $399 (then £195). A decade on, lay a Kindle next to a smartphone or tablet and it looks so much older, while the reading experience it delivers has scarcely progressed.

“It was new and exciting,” says Cathryn Summerhayes, a literary agent at Curtis Brown. “But now they look so clunky and unhip, don’t they? I guess everyone wants a piece of trendy tech and, unfortunately, there aren’t trendy tech reading devices and I don’t think people are reading long-form fiction on their phones. I think your average reader would say that one of the great pleasures of reading is the physical turning of the page. It slows you down and makes you think.”

. . . .

“The physical book had become quite a cheap and tacky thing at the turn of the millennium,” Daunt says. Publishers “cut back on the quality of the paper, so if you left a book in the sun it went yellow. They were gluing, not sewing. They would put a cover on a hardback but not do anything with the hard case underneath. Nowadays, if you take a cover off, there is likely to be something interesting underneath it.”

. . . .

Once upon a time, people bought books because they liked reading. Now they buy books because they like books. “All these people are really thinking about how the books are – not just what’s in them, but what they’re like as objects,” says Jennifer Cownie, who runs the beautiful Bookifer website and the Cownifer Instagram, which match books to decorative papers, and who bought a Kindle but hated it. Summerhayes thinks that “people have books in their house as pieces of art”.

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

PG says this is a big day for Amazon Derangement Syndrome at The Guardian. The books department must be cutting their pills in half again.

As for the Bookifer crowd, here’s a better alternative.

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