Monthly Archives: December 2017

The Story Behind China’s Online Literature Boom

31 December 2017

From the Hong Kong Free Press:

The e-book market is exploding on mainland China. According to official estimates, there were 353 million online literature readers by June 2017 and more than 90 percent of them — nearly 327 million — access literature through their mobile phones.

Although the popularity of online literature means emerging authors have an opportunity to showcase their work to a growing audience, for some writers and readers alike, this new publishing model is creating some unforeseen negative effects.

. . . .

One big indicator of this explosion in online readership has been the market value surge of China Literature, China’s biggest online literature platform and a subsidiary of IT giant Tencent. The company’s value skyrocketed in the Hong Kong stock market after its initial public offering in November.

The company has a 70 percent share in China’s online literature market, with 9.6 million online works — primarily in the fantasy, palace-fighting, tomb-raiding, conspiracy, romance genres — created by 6.4 million writers to serve an average of 192 million monthly users.

Its income not only comes from readers’ content payment, but also from copyrights on the website’s most popular works, such as “Legend of Concubine Zhen Huan”, “The Secret of the Grave Robber” and “The Journey of Flower”, which have been adapted into TV dramas.

. . . .

In China, the copyright of a hot online novel can be sold for millions of yuan because a large fiction fan base can guarantee the popularity of an adapted TV series or a movie. In fact, in recent years, China’s TV and video market have increasingly been dominated by from online novels adaptations.

. . . .

Popular writers who release their works on the China Literature platform must sign contracts with the company, stipulating copyright ownership in China Literature’s favor and listing a set of “self-censorship” guidelines that must be followed.

The contract writers are paid through a pyramid pay-for-words model which is highly exploitative as the algorithm allocates a higher pay rate per word and varies based on the popularity of the writer. In 2016, China Literature paid nearly RMB 1 billion yuan — approximately US$150 million — for 5.3 million writers in which just over one hundred top authors gained more than 1 million yuan. The average payment was less than two hundred.

At the same time, the payment system does not encourage good quality work because writers tend to churn out large number of words in order to increase their income under the pay-for-words model.

. . . .

Moreover, writing has become an interactive process with pressure from reader feedback dictating the creative writing process. To woo readers, many writers have to invent bizarre plots as well as update a few thousand characters every day, or readers cancel subscriptions. Many writers have to suspend their publications because they are unable to fulfil their former plot designs or because they can’t stand the pressure of updates.

. . . .

“As a online literature writer, I am not as capable as others. They could write up to 10,000 or even 20,000 words per day while I can only write up to 4,000 to 5,000 words. How should I punish myself.”

An industry report conducted by Hu Run Net on top 85 online literature writers summed up a number of characteristics that these Chinese online writers seem to share:

1. Average age is 37-year old;
2. The youngest writer in the top 50 is just 26-year old;
3. 65 percent of the top 85 writers are male and 35 percent female;
4. On average each writer produces 5000 words daily, although that number can reach nearly 20,000 words per day. Most of them spent over 8 hours on their work.

Link to the rest at the Hong Kong Free Press and thanks to Gina for the tip.

Those who believe

31 December 2017

Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand.

Kurt Vonnegut

How I Learned the Secret to a Successful Literary Pilgrimage

31 December 2017

From Book Riot:

Last July I set out on a literary pilgrimage across England, coast to coast, along Hadrian’s Wall.

. . . .

Quick refresher: Roman Emperor Hadrian started building his wall back in 220 BCE, to keep out the pesky Picts. They stayed several hundred years, and then hit the high road in about the 5th century CE.

Frankly, when you’re out there in the hinterlands, gazing across the sweeping landscape dotted with sheep and cows, often for hours not seeing another human, you begin to wonder why they even stayed that long. What the Hell was Hadrian thinking?

. . . .

So I was curious about the whole wall concept, historically. You know, like, How’d that work out for you, Hadrian?

Hint: Roman mass exodus plus ruins.

Also! There’s something satisfying about traveling on foot across a whole country. I mean, one of my friends is walking across North America, and, wow, that’s super cool. But I only had time for a tiny country, and just the skinny part.

But mostly I did it for Rosemary.

I had learned about Hadrian and his wall in college courses, but that chunk of history didn’t come alive for me until I read aloud Sutcliff’s Roman Britain novels with my boys, The Eagle of the Ninth and the companion volumes, The Silver Branch and The Lantern Bearers.

. . . .

I thought for sure I’d happen across a beautiful edition of one of her books. Nope. I mean, I saw her books at every trinket shop in every wall town and village, but none of them were lovely.

. . . .

To see a country at a walking pace means there is plenty of quiet time to reflect on the march of civilization, the changing of the landscape, the evolving relationship of peoples with the land over generations, centuries.

Walking, I thought about the lives of Roman soldiers, especially, the legions and their marches, beautifully evoked in Sutcliff’s novels. And slaves, too, how many individuals, each an essential part of a constellation of relationships, who were sacrificed for the ambitions of a few powerful men.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG had forgotten about Rosemary Sutcliff and her many books which he read as a boy just as fast as trips to the library could provide them (as he recalls, a patron was permitted to borrow a maximum of 2-3 books at a time and PG never lived very close to a library until he went to college).

A comprehensive website, created and maintained by Sutcliff’s “godson, cousin & literary executor,” includes the following about The Eagle of the Ninth, first published in 1954, which PG remembers reading a very long time ago:

One Alan Myers once compiled an ‘A to Z of the many writers of the past who had a significant connection’ with the North-East of England. It seems now to have disappeared from the web . He writes of Rosemary Sutcliff:

“One of the most distinguished children’s writers of our times, Rosemary Sutcliff wrote over thirty books , some of them now considered classics. She sets several of her best-known works in Roman and Dark Age Britain, giving her the opportunity to write about divided loyalties, a recurring theme. The Capricorn Bracelet comprises six linked short stories spanning the years AD 61 to AD 383, and Hadrian’s Wall features in the narrative.

The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) is perhaps her finest work and exemplifies the psychological dilemmas that Rosemary Sutcliffbrought to her novels. It is a quest story involving a journey north to the land of the Picts to recover the lost standard of the Roman Ninth Legion. A good part of the book is set in the North East around Hadrian’s Wall (a powerful symbol) and a map is provided. The book has been televised, and its sequels are The Silver Branch (1957) and The Lantern Bearers (1959), which won the Carnegie medal. Sutcliff returned to the Romano-British frontier in The Mark of the Horse Lord (1965) and Frontier Wolf (1980).
Northern Britain in the sixth century AD is the setting of The Shining Company (1990), a retelling of The Goddodin (v. Aneirin) a tragedy of epic proportions. The story, however, is seen from the point of view of the shield-bearers, not the lords eulogised in The Goddodin, and treats themes of loyalty, courage and indeed political fantasy.”

And here’s a description of the book from the same website:

The ninth legion marched into the mists of northern Britain and they never came back. Four thousand men disappeared and the Eagle standard was lost. Marcus Flavius Aquila, following in the steps of his father (supposed dead when the legion disappeared ten years earlier) has joined the Roman army, given his oath to Mithras and taken command of his first cohort in the southern part of Britain. He dreams of commanding a legion of his own and of an early retirement to a farm in the Etruscan hills that once belonged to his family. But in his first battle he is seriously injured and forced to leave the army.

During his long and painful recovery, Marcus hears rumours that the Roman eagle from his father’s lost legion is being worshipped by one of the pagan tribes up in the north. Eager to to discover what happened to his father and the Ninth Legion, restore his reputation, and recover the eagle that could be used as a rallying symbol against the hated Roman invaders should a revolt ever break out again among the barbarians, Marcus and his British slave, Esca, travel north. All through the summer, they criss-cross the unknown wild regions beyond Hadrian’s wall that keeps the untamed tribes from the Roman world – in search of the eagle. The quest is so hazardous no-one expects them to return. But he is successful, but not before battling with the Seal people and a desperate chase South to Hadrian’s Wall to safety with the eagle.

Comforted by Little Women

31 December 2017

From Nerdy Book Club:

Last spring I was feeling melancholy, to use an old fashioned word. Our little cat Nellie had died after living with us for 14 years. Cats always choose us, not the other way around, and he had been a big part of the family. I missed his presence on the bed at night, his little mews of hello when I came home, his companionship while I pulled weeds in the garden. I was sad and needed comfort.

I wanted to read Little Women.

. . . .

So I went to my library and brought home the 1980 edition with its soft worn cover and well loved pages and settled into the 1860’s for a week. Going back to a childhood favorite as an adult is a wonderful experience, and I found myself reading now as Marme, seeing the girls from the mother’s point of view. As I relived their trials and joys, I felt better.

Books have been my friends, counselors, and comforters all my life. If I am going through a difficult time, I read.

. . . .

Sometimes, as when reading Little Women, I feel like I am sitting down with a good friend who says, “Yes, I’ve been through that myself.”

Link to the rest at Nerdy Book Club

Music Modernization Act Proposes Single Solution to Mechanical Licensing Problem

31 December 2017

From Copyright and Technology:

The music industry’s licensing problems just got another proposed governmental solution, with last week’s introduction in Congress of the Music Modernization Act (MMA). The MMA is a bipartisan bill that would provide a blanket mechanical license and set up a collecting society to manage payments to composers and publishers. It aims to solve a particular set of large and growing problems around mechanical licensing for streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, both of which have been sued over allegedly unpaid mechanical royalties.

The problem the MMA aims to solve has to do with the current state of mechanical licenses and streaming music services. Whenever a user plays a track on a streaming service, the service has to determine which composition underlies the sound recording and pay mechanical (reproduction) royalties to songwriters and music publishers for that composition. Because record labels typically don’t supply information about underlying compositions, music services typically engage outside agencies — such as the Harry Fox Agency (HFA) and Music Reports Inc. (MRI) — to match recordings to compositions and manage royalty payments.

The recording-composition matching process is ultimately the streaming music services’ responsibility, and it’s prone to errors arising from bad or incomplete data.

. . . .

It also doesn’t help that there is no blanket license for mechanicals. For each sound recording that a music service wants to play, it must send a form called a Notice of Intention (NOI) to the composition rights holders, or if they aren’t known, to the U.S. Copyright Office. They must also account for mechanical royalties from each of billions of transactions every year. The result is a massive administrative headache and potential legal liability for the music services. (In contrast, broadcast radio stations get blanket licenses that allow them to play whatever music they want, secure in the knowledge that they won’t get sued and that performance rights collecting societies like ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC will do all the paperwork and pass payments on to rights holders.)

In its current form, the MMA provides a blanket license for mechanicals, meaning that streaming services would no longer have to identify rights holders or send NOIs. It also calls for a mechanical licensing agency to be established, to receive payments from music services according to transaction volume, match recordings to compositions, and disburse royalties to songwriters and music publishers.

Link to the rest at Copyright and Technology

As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words

30 December 2017

As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time — and whenever we do it, we’re not poets.

If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed.

And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world — unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.

Does that sound dismal? It isn’t.

It’s the most wonderful life on earth.

Or so I feel.

e.e. cummings

Silicon Valley Won’t Save Books

30 December 2017

From The New Republic:

The Kindle might be the most important publishing object since the printing press, but its ten year anniversary passed with little fanfare two months ago. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who in 2008 mused that the e-reader could be the key to rebuilding our shrinking attention spans, marked the event with a tweet noting the device’s modest design change, rather than its cultural impact.

. . . .

But last week brought the first real consideration of the Kindle’s legacy. “The Kindle Changed the Publishing Industry. Can It Change Books?” asked Wired’s David Pierce. As he noted, the introduction of e-books transformed the publishing industry in a matter of only a few years, solidifying Amazon’s dominance over publishers. Technologically speaking, the initially clunky device was rapidly perfected, mimicking and sometimes improving an analog experience that had existed for centuries. Having achieved these goals, though, the Kindle has stopped evolving in substantial ways.

. . . .

“The next phase for the digital book seems likely to not resemble print at all,” he wrote. “Instead, the next step is for authors, publishers, and readers to take advantage of all the tools now at their disposal and figure out how to reinvent longform reading.” It’s high time, Pierce argued, for a new kind of book to emerge, one that accurately embodies the complex audio and visual possibilities technology offers. That’s an exciting possibility: the book, after hundreds of years, is finally on the verge of entering the twenty-first century. But it’s not going to happen.

Pierce’s argument should be familiar to anyone who has talked to someone who works on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley about book publishing, or who has had a conversation about the future of books with an uncle at Thanksgiving. “As platforms change, books haven’t,” Pierce argues.

. . . .

Electronic books, meanwhile, still look more or less the same as they did in 2007 because books are fundamentally out of step with the digital era.

. . . .

Writing two years after the first Kindle was produced, Slate’s Jacob Weisberg shrugged at the possibility that e-books could destroy the publishing industry, arguing that “reading without paper might make literature more urgent and accessible than it was before the technological revolution, just like [printing press inventor Johann] Gutenberg did.” Author Steven Johnson argued that the Kindle would make books populist again: “Expect ideas to proliferate—and innovation to bloom—just as it did in the centuries after Gutenberg.”

Publishers, authors, and agents, were similarly obsessed, but took on a more millenarian spirit. The rapid rise of e-book sales after the Kindle’s introduction caused panic in America’s most anxious, hidebound industry.

. . . .

Others have tried to push the book into the twenty-first century. Pierce proposed that readers be able to “participate in the book by texting with characters, going to important locations, and even helping write the narrative.” Sony’s Wonderbook“turned a hardback book into an augmented-reality surface,” while Google’s Visual Editions has explored the possibility of “unprintable books.” But only Amazon, with its practically unlimited resources and deep experience in publishing—it is both the largest retailer and, if you count its gigantic self-publishing operation, the largest publisher in the country—can accomplish the goal. By focusing its energies on experimenting with literary production, Pierce wrote, Amazon can inaugurate a new literary era. “Only Amazon has the clout to really drive what could and should come next,” Pierce concludes. “Not by making pixels just like paper, but by embracing the difference.”

The problem with this analysis, which Pierce never really seems to consider, is that this book of the future—a participatory, augmented-reality experience that blends a number of different kinds of media—is not a book.

Link to the rest at The New Republic

Random responsive thoughts bubbled up through the primordial ooze that is PG’s mind this morning, but the ooze seems incapable of turning them into any cohesive narrative regarding the OP, so here are some oozy bits and pieces.

Hidebound is a lovely word PG hadn’t  thought about for awhile and it is the perfect adjective to describe traditional publishing.

The original meaning was based upon having skin so tight it was incapable of extension. It applied to animals, e.g. an emaciated cow with hide stretched tight over the animal’s bones, implying inflexibility, the opposite of young supple skin.

Metaphorically applied to people, hidebound describes inflexibility, rigidity, parochialism, obstinacy, lack of imagination, pigheadedness, narrow mindedness, intransigence, obduracy.

PG could go on, but he won’t right now. However, keep a watch for future appearances of hidebound.

– Big thinkers always want to add video, sound, music, interactivity, etc., to improve ebooks and bring them into “the modern era”. (Note: “The modern era” always sounds like the 1950’s to PG.)

The OP argues this blend of media is not a book. PG agrees.

It is not a book because it is a video game. While PG does not play, he is occasionally interested by what he reads about video games. One of the latest interesting developments in videogames is professional e-sports.

In e-sports, skilled participants in online videogames are recognized as athletes and spectators will pay money to watch teams of e-sports stars compete against each other on a screen, ranging from small to theater-sized (but mostly the bigger, the better).

Appropriate sound effects, music, etc., will accompany the action to keep the audience riveted to the screen. (Commercial e-sports theaters will include gangs of the largest sub-woofers on the planet and cause lights to dim in the neighborhood during competitions.)

E-sports athletes and teams and leagues and theaters will make lots of money.

In PG’s mind, any sort of interactive max-action super ebook does not seem likely to arise from a hidebound industry like traditional publishing.

Obduracy is not your friend in the e-sports world.



What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Books Of The Year

30 December 2017
Comments Off on What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Books Of The Year

From The Cardiff Review:

When we talk about “Books of the Year”, what we most often mean is, “Of the few books I read this year, I enjoyed the following…”

Or: when a writer is doing the choosing, I assume they mean, “Here are the books which I enjoyed and were written by people I know—and it would be awkward/rude of me not to mention them.”

Having benefited from having my book on these end-of-year lists in 2015 and ’16, I feel compelled to state that—in the majority of cases—I happened to know the writers who put me on these lists. In the past, when asked for my Books of the Year, I’ve likewise listed some books written by people that I know. In other cases, I’ve omitted books that I liked because of the very fact I knew the author and felt that if I mentioned their book, it would seem like a direct slight to other authors whom I knew but whose books I hadn’t yet read, or whose books I had read but didn’t want to recommend. 

. . . .

I am under-read, and my reading is very rarely up-to-date. So when I’ve been asked to choose Books of the Year in the past, I’ve done so with a heavy dose of guilt—namely because in the rare instances I have a read a book in its year of publication (which always feels too soon, really) it’s more often than not because I now know the author, or because I’ve been put on a panel with them, or because I’ve been a judge on a prize.

. . . .

I think the context of my recommending is further misleading, because:

a) it suggests that I think these books are the best books of the past year; and

b) by extension, it suggests that I have read many, many books published this year, and am thus in a position to make this kind of judgment; and

c) by further extension, it assumes that such a judgement is even possible or helpful—and, indeed, that I believe I’m rightly qualified to make such assertions

I am not naive enough to think that the writing industry can exist outside of the machinations of capitalism, but I do think these kind of lists are in a ragged service to a skewed, misguided market-logic whereby literary “product” values are something measurable and commensurable—and inherently related to newness.

. . . .

And once the year passes, the media—more or less—tells us that a book has had its time (unless it happens to win an award the following year) and so onwards we go to the next year, onwards we go to the next pile of books. Onwards! The march of progress waits for no one! 

But outside of the book industry itself, who gives a crap when a book was published?

Link to the rest at The Cardiff Review

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