The Story Behind the Most Haunting Book Cover on the Shelves

6 October 2017


From Electric Lit:

Carmen Maria Machado’s debut collection Her Body and Other Parties has been shortlisted for the National Book Award, and readers everywhere are talking about her intricate stories. Machado’s collection is dark, disturbing, sensual and sexy. Her work refuses to fit neatly into a category, and includes elements of psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. In these eight stories, fables and classic fairy tales mix with a meditations on Law and Order: SVU, Girl Scouts lost in the woods, and a liposuction procedure.

The cover for Her Body and Other Parties picks up and intensifies the ambiance of the book. Kimberly Glyder, who has created numerous covers for Graywolf, Scribner, Little Brown, and more, captures Machado’s unique voice with a striking and sinuous image.

. . . .

Liz von Klemperer: What, if any, were your expectations for the cover?

Carmen Maria Machado: I had a Tumblr that I put together of visual inspiration, so when the time came I sent it to Kimberly. I also filled out a questionnaire my publisher gave me that included key words, images, and things I absolutely didn’t want on the cover. I suggested the colors black, white, grey and green because of the green ribbon in the first story, “The Husband Stitch.” In terms of themes, I just wrote “women” and “queer women,” and then I suggested the image be mid-century to modern, but the book isn’t really time period–dependent.

LVK: What were the things you absolutely didn’t want on your cover?

CMM: I said “no dudes!” for obvious reasons. Nothing pink or girly either. I just don’t think it would be appropriate for the tone of the book. I also wanted to avoid women with Spanish fans, or salsa dancers. Nothing like that. I’ve noticed this happens a lot with women of color, and it just wasn’t what the book was about.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Some publishers give Facebook and Google visitors a worse user experience

6 October 2017

From Digiday:

Publishers like to talk about their commitment to user experience. But not all users are alike. Like any consumer business, publishers have their high-value customers. They’re the people who visit the site regularly, are registered users and receive email newsletters. They might even be paying subscribers or members. Their reward is a clean, user-friendly site.

People who come through search or social typically pay little or nothing, either in the form of direct revenue, attention or information about themselves, and their experience may be riddled with come-ons to subscribe, more spammy ads and more intrusive ads, including autoplay video. Even the hallowed New York Times serves autoplay ads to some readers who come in through search and occasionally others.

“Everybody does it,” one publishing exec quipped.

One product exec at a publisher described how the publisher grouped readers into four tiers based on their value to the company. At the top of the food chain are people who pay directly. At the bottom are readers who come through social media links the publisher paid for. The exec (who asked to be anonymous because some of these decisions haven’t been made) said non-paying readers are shown in-stream ads that paying readers don’t see and that the publisher was considering cramming more ads and intrusive newsletter sign-up messages on pages seen by readers who come through paid social.

“There are lines you won’t cross with your loyal audience that you’ll cross with your fly-by-night audience,’’ the exec said. “We’re less concerned with ruining the user relationship because we don’t have a user relationship. We’re going to be as aggressive as we can about turning that into a longer relationship.’’

Link to the rest at Digiday and thanks to Nate at The Digital Reader for the tip.

As PG read the OP, he was reminded how stupid some decision-making management can be.

How do you obtain new customers? By giving them a poor experience when they first arrive at your website/store/office?

When someone arrives at a website they haven’t visited before (often via Google), he/she will form an opinion about that website, including whether they want to visit again, within a few seconds. If those few seconds are a bad experience, they’re gone. If they remember the website at all, it will be cast in a negative light. “I don’t know why Janice likes that site. It’s a mess.”

PG understands his reactions to websites he hasn’t seen before are not the same as everyone’s reactions, but when he is hit by a barrage of popups, ads, etc., he almost immediately leaves and whatever prompted him to visit in the first place goes into the huge internet bucket of broken promises (in part because he uses an ad-blocker and any site that engineers ads to avoid his ad-blocker is not a site he wants to visit for a lot of reasons having nothing to do with its unique content).

“There are lines you won’t cross with your loyal audience that you’ll cross with your fly-by-night audience” assumes your loyal audience is pretty much maxed out, so you need to get a fraction of a cent from everybody else via an ad impression, etc., because they’re all fly-by-night.

But in the standard course of operations for most commercial web sites, you’re leaking customers, high-value visitors, etc., on a regular basis but not working on replacing them in an intelligent manner.

Author Website Checklist

5 October 2017

From Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader:

No two author websites look the same, but they all share a few common characteristics. Generally, author websites have to fill four needs.

I would describe author sites as a type of business websites (you do want visitors to buy your books, after all). As such, an author site needs to tell visitors:

  • what an author has written,
  • who the author is,
  • how to contact the author, and
  • what the author is writing next.

Before you launch your author site, here’s a quick checklist to make sure you have all the parts you need.

  1. Author bio – Have you posted a bio on your site, and does it include a photo?
  2. Books – Have you set up a listing page for each of your books? With cover images? And do you have a directory page for your books? What about a series summary?
  3. Mailing list – Do you have a sign up form for your mailing list? Do you offer a freebie to anyone who signs up?

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG says the rest of Nate’s suggestions for an author’s website are well worth applying if you don’t include those features on your website.

One item he mentioned – search engine optimization (SEO) – woke PG’s little gray cells from their morning somnolence.

PG has been using Google since the site first opened. He remembers when it looked like this:

PG continues to use Google, almost daily, to find all manner of important and inconsequential information.

Not long after Google began to overtake Yahoo (remember them?) as the go-to place to find things on the internet, people started trying to show up higher in Google’s search results and SEO was born. PG was having fun with Google SEO 15 years ago when he was running marketing and sales for a start-up tech company.

However, re: SEO, PG doesn’t remember the last time he searched for a book using Google. His first, second and third impulse in such situations is to use Amazon to find books. For PG, the Zon is a much richer and more informative place to locate reading material plus there’s not a lot of extraneous information when he’s in the books section.

PG decided to find out a little about Amazon SEO and discovered, yes, it’s a thing.

Amazon has a page talking about how sellers (not just indie authors) can optimize their listings for searching and browsing. KDP listings are somewhat different than Amazon’s general product listings. However, here are a few things they mention:

Search is the primary way that customers use to locate products on Amazon. Customers search by entering keywords, which are matched against the information (title, description, etc.) you provide for a product. Factors such as degree of text match, price, availability, selection, and sales history help determine where your product appears in a customer’s search results. By providing relevant and complete information for your product, you can increase your product’s visibility and sales.

. . . .

Information provided in the product description and bullet points is searchable by customers. The product description and bullet points help customers learn key details about your product. These sections should include product-related information in a clear and concise manner. Amazon will remove your page/listings with long product descriptions.

. . . .

Amazon provides sellers with an opportunity to add hidden keywords for a product. These keywords should only include generic words that enhance the discoverability of your product. For example, if you are selling headphones, your hidden keywords may contain synonyms such as “earphones” and “earbuds.” Hidden keywords are not required fields.

Here are some best practices for providing hidden keywords:

  • Don’t include product identifiers such as brand names, product names, compatible product names, ASINs, UPC codes, etc.
  • Don’t provide inaccurate, misleading, or irrelevant information such as the wrong product category, the wrong gender, out-of-context words, etc.
  • Don’t provide excessively long content. Respect the limits that are set for different fields.
  • When entering several words as a search term, put them in the most logical order. A customer is more likely to search for big stuffed teddy bears than for teddy stuffed bears.
  • Use a single space to separate keywords. No commas, semicolons, carets are required.
  • Don’t include statements that are only temporarily true, e.g., “new,” “on sale,” “available now.”
  • Don’t include subjective claims such as amazing, good quality. etc., as most customers don’t use subjective terms in their queries.
  • Don’t include common misspellings of the product name. Amazon’s search engine compensates for common customer misspellings and also offers corrective suggestions.
  • Don’t provide variants of spacing, punctuation, capitalization, and pluralization (“80GB” and “80 GB,” “computer” and “computers,” etc.). Our search engine automatically includes different case forms, word forms, and spelling variants for searching.
  • Don’t include terms that are abusive or offensive in nature.
  • Abbreviations, alternate names, topic (for books, etc.), and key character (for books, movies, etc.) could be included as keywords.

Link to the rest at  Optimizing Listings for Search and Browse.

If you search for Amazon SEO on Amazon, you’ll find books on the subject.

PG would be interested in hearing about/receiving links for authors who have tried SEO techniques for their book listings on Amazon.


The Instagram Poet Outselling Homer Ten to One

4 October 2017

From The Cut:

Walking the Manhattan blocks near NYU, the poet Rupi Kaur wears a loose cream-colored suit and an air of easy self-assurance. Her hands rest in her pockets, her kimono-shaped jacket hangs open over a cropped black turtleneck, and she comfortably strides her realm: the realm of college freshwomen who have recently been or may soon go through breakups. She looks like someone prepared to tell you convincingly that “you / are your own / soul mate,” to quote one of her poems in its entirety.

Most professional poets cannot expect to be approached by fans. But Milk and Honey, the 25-year-old Punjabi-Canadian’s first collection of poetry, is the best-selling adult book in the U.S. so far this year. According to BookScan totals taken near the end of September, the nearly 700,000 copies Kaur has sold put her ahead of runners-up like John Grisham, J.D. Vance, and Margaret Atwood by a margin of more than 100,000. (In 2016, Milk and Honey beat out the next-best-selling work of poetry — The Odyssey­ — by a factor of ten.) And because Kaur’s robust social-media following (1.6 million followers on Instagram, 154,000 on Twitter) has been the engine of her success, she is accustomed to direct contact with her public. So, when a young woman stops her on the way out of Think Coffee — “I love your work!” — Kaur greets her with a hug, poses for a selfie, then turns and calls back to her publicist. “She preordered the second book!”

. . . .

 Kaur’s father, as it happens, was a truck driver: The family came to Canada from India when she was 4, and moved around in pursuit of his work before settling in Toronto’s Brampton neighborhood for her adolescence. In classic immigrant-parent fashion, they encouraged her to study science. But she resisted, and although parental disapproval precluded her original goal of fashion school, when the time came for university, she applied to business programs. “Publishing a book was never really the intention,” she says. Still, she’d been putting her writing on blogs for years, and kept a Tumblr before switching over primarily to Instagram. She released Milk and Honey through Amazon’s CreateSpace platform in 2014, and it was rereleased the following year by the publisher Andrews McMeel. Best known for collections of comic strips like “Calvin and Hobbes,” Andrews McMeel has lately become home to a number of poets who first established themselves online, like Kaur and Lang Leav. Leav’s collection Love and Misadventure was a self-published hit before AMP picked it up in 2013; they’ve since released four more of her books. Khloe Kardashian once posted a Lang Leav poem on her estranged husband Lamar Odom’s birthday.

Link to the rest at The Cut and here’s a link to Rupi Kaur’s Instagram feed

Kelp Jerky Is Your Next Delicious Meat-Alternative Snack

3 October 2017

PG admits this has nothing do do with books or authors, but he doubts he’s the only one who may think “Kelp Jerky” is not the best product name he has heard lately.

From Fast Company:

Raising cattle takes a lot of land and feed–plus there’s all that cow flatuence, which contribute heavily to global warming. So a new food production company has created an alternative, a faux meat snack that’s animal-free and environmentally friendly: sustainably farmed kelp jerky.

The product, created by a food startup called Beyond The Shoreline, is available three flavors: Sea Salt, BBQ, and “High Thai’d,” with coconut and turmeric.

. . . .

The company expects to sell the first 1.5 ounce bags, retailing at $3.99 each, direct to consumers through its website this January

. . . .

It’s already earned one solid celebrity endorsement. “I was prepared to come up with a nice response after eating this, but actually, it’s really rather delightful,” says early taste-tester Richard Branson in a review that’s posted to their website.

. . . .

Traditionally kelp has been used for beauty products, fertilizer, and animal feed.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

Here’s a free PG tip to authors who write stories about intelligence agencies and their undercover agents – Operation Kelp Jerky is far more memorable than something like Operation Grand Slam.

Marcel Proust paid for reviews praising his work to go into newspapers

2 October 2017

From The Guardian:

The French writer Marcel Proust paid for glowing reviews of the first volume of his Remembrance of Things Past to be put into newspapers, letters by the author reveal.

The novelist wrote the notices himself and sent them to be typed up by his publisher “so there is no trace of my handwriting” to distance himself “absolutely from the money that will change hands”.

The letters have come to light with an extremely rare copy of Swann’s Way, which is expected to go for around half a million euros (£438,000) when it goes under the hammer at Sotheby’s in Paris next month.

They make it clear that Proust orchestrated the operation himself from his bed, promising his editor at the publisher Grasset that he would “of course, pay him back in full”.

The wealthy writer paid 300 francs – around £900 today – for a flattering reference to Swann’s Way to appear on the front page of Le Figaro, then – as now – one of France’s leading dailies. He paid a further 660 francs for another much larger summary of a glowing review by a friend of his to similarly appear on the front page of the Journal des Debats.

. . . .

Proust’s desperation for publicity was partly because he was having to pay for the book’s publication himself, experts said. A string of publishing houses had turned it down before Brun persuaded his boss Bernard Grasset to take it in 1913 – but only if the author paid all the costs.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Facebook Is Still In Denial About Its Biggest Problem

1 October 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

It’s a good time to re-examine our relationship with Facebook Inc.

In the past month, it has been revealed that Facebook hosted a Russian influence operation which may have reached between 3 million and 20 million people on the social network, and that Facebook could be used to micro-target users with hate speech. It took the company more than two weeks to agree to share what it knows with Congress.

Increased scrutiny of Facebook is healthy. What went mainstream as a friendly place for loved ones to swap baby pictures and cat videos has morphed into an opaque and poorly understood metropolis rife with influence peddlers determined to manipulate what we know and how we think. We have barely begun to understand how the massive social network shapes our world.

Unfortunately, Facebook itself seems just as mystified, providing a response to all of this that has left many unsatisfied.

What the company’s leaders seem unable to reckon with is that its troubles are inherent in the design of its flagship social network, which prioritizes thrilling posts and ads over dull ones, and rewards cunning provocateurs over hapless users. No tweak to algorithms or processes can hope to fix a problem that seems enmeshed in the very fabric of Facebook.

. . . .

On a network where article and video posts can be sponsored and distributed like ads, and ads themselves can go as viral as a wedding-fail video, there is hardly a difference between the two. And we now know that if an ad from one of Facebook’s more than five million advertisersgoes viral—by making us feel something, not just joy but also fear or outrage—it will cost less per impression to spread across Facebook.

In one example, described in a recent Wall Street Journal article, a “controversial” ad went viral, leading to a 30% drop in the cost to reach each user. Joe Yakuel, founder and chief executive of Agency Within, which manages $100 million in digital ad purchases, told our reporter, “Even inadvertent controversy can cause a lot of engagement.”

Keeping people sharing and clicking is essential to Facebook’s all-important metric, engagement, which is closely linked to how many ads the network can show us and how many of them we will interact with. Left unchecked, algorithms like Facebook’s News Feed tend toward content that is intended to arouse our passions, regardless of source—or even veracity.

An old newspaper catchphrase was, “If it bleeds, it leads”—that is, if someone got hurt or killed, that’s the top story. In the age when Facebook supplies us with a disproportionate amount of our daily news, a more-appropriate catchphrase would be, “If it’s outrageous, it’s contagious.”

. . . .

“Facebook has become so central to how people communicate, and it has so much market power, that it’s essentially immune to market signals,” Dr. Benkler says. The only thing that will force the company to change, he adds, is the brewing threat to its reputation.

. . . .

Mr. Zuckerberg acknowledged in a recent Facebook post that the majority of advertising purchased on Facebook will continue to be bought “without the advertiser ever speaking to anyone at Facebook.” His argument for this policy: “We don’t check what people say before they say it, and frankly, I don’t think our society should want us to.”

This is false equivalence. Society may not want Facebook to read over everything typed by our friends and family before they share it. But many people would feel it’s reasonable for Facebook to review all of the content it gets paid (tens of billions of dollars) to publish and promote.

“Facebook has embraced the healthy gross margins and influence of a media firm but is allergic to the responsibilities of a media firm,” Mr. Galloway says.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG understands the controversy, but disagrees with conventional wisdom about its seriousness.

Complaints about Facebook are similar to earlier complaints about the internet – anybody can say anything they want to say.

Do Facebook users really compare a paid advertisement to a posting and give more credence to an advertisement because someone paid Facebook to distribute it? PG doesn’t think so.

If anything, PG tends to be a bit more suspicious of advertisements in any medium because the ideas contained in the advertisement were presumably not able to rise to a higher level of visibility without someone paying money to cause the publication to give them more visibility.

The idea that people are so stupid that large organizations, whether governments or private companies, are obligated to protect them from bad ideas (whatever that means) is pretty much the ultimate in slippery slopes.

If people don’t like what they see on Facebook, they’ll stop visiting Facebook and go elsewhere. Alternatives are a click away.

If advertisers think their reputations are harmed by their advertisements appearing on Facebook, they will pull the ads. At present, a large number of advertisers think their reputations are just fine on Facebook and are willing to continue to pay Facebook for visibility.

If the experts are correct that Facebook’s reputation is being commercially tarnished by what is appearing on its site, advertising or something else, we’ll see it in the number of visitors and the number of advertisers on Facebook. If visitors and advertisers continue to appear, we’ll know the experts are wrong. Again.


Authors Use Multi-tiered Strategies To Gain Max Exposure In Book Price Promotions

29 September 2017

From Digital Book World:

Book price promotions are one of the most useful strategies independent authors have for finding new readers and shifting units. Price promotions are like sales: authors lower their price of their book to encourage new people to try it. However, temporarily reducing your book to 99 cents (or free) won’t matter unless the right readers know about your price promotion.

That’s where online book promotion services step into the picture. If you’re not familiar with sites like BookBub, they’re places where readers can find discounted and free books — and sign up for newsletters to notify them of the latest deals within their genres of interest. Getting your book featured by the most popular services is incredibly valuable, will almost guarantee a bump in sales and downloads. However, these placements are not guaranteed, and your promotion can always benefit from being featured elsewhere. In these situations, smaller promo services are worth considering.

Reedsy has released an evolving directory of Book Promotion Services. Authors can use it to search for prospective book promotion services, sorting by genre, advertising costs, and mailing list size.

. . . .

Rhetorical question: when you’re planning your price promotions, would you rather put all your eggs in one basket or try to get every last bit of exposure possible?

Let’s say you’re planning a week free promotion with the aim of getting 50 reviews for your self-published book. You want to ensure that you’re getting a steady flow of downloads, as it will improve your rank in Amazon’s Free store much more than a one-day spike.

To “trickle-in” these new readers, you will arrange for your “Tier I” promotions (the ones with the greatest track record, with whom it is commonly more expensive to work) to run on different days, supported by promotions on Tier II, Tier III (and maybe Tier IV) sites. For example, the first three days of your Amazon Free Promotion might be supported by paid promotional placements as follows:


  • BookBub (Tier I) – from $55
  • Book Gorilla (Tier II) – from $5
  • Book Runes (Tier III) – from $25
  • Book Praiser (Tier IV) – free to list


  • Free Booksy (Tier I) – from $40
  • The Fussy Librarian (Tier II) – from $40
  • Just Kindle Books (Tier III) – from $15
  • Feed Your Reader (Tier IV) – free to list


  • Book Sends (Tier I) – from $10
  • BKnights (Tier II) – from $5
  • My Book Place (Tier III) – from $25
  • New Free Kindle Books (Tier IV) – free to list

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

PG says to feel free to share your experiences with these promotional sites in the comments.

The Relaxed Release

18 September 2017

From Elizabeth S. Craig:

I remember how stressed I was whenever I had a book launch for Penguin Random House.

For one thing, the launches were happening pretty regularly, since I was writing two series for them.

But mostly, I was stressed because their expectations were high.  Any marketing related emails or calls were more centered on what were my plans for the release and less on what they were doing to promote it. (Let this be a heads-up for anyone thinking of pursuing traditional publishing for marketing support.)

Oh, the publisher’s publicity person did usually do one thing: set me up on a book blogger tour.  But who was doing all the work? I was–I was writing the posts, sending them over to the bloggers, and answering comments.

. . . .

Once I went on a book tour in NC with a group of other cozy authors. We had someone help us set up events: signings, panels, etc.  I think that was a pretty successful effort, but I did find it very stressful.

But this was traditional publishing. The publisher’s focus was on the first month of the book’s release. They wanted to see strong pre-orders and sales.  That’s because, if the book hung out on the bookseller’s shelves for too long, the bookseller sent the books back as returns…a costly process for them. And a problematic one for me.

The stress is likely the reason why I’ve skipped any fanfare over my releases as a self-published author.  Well that, plus the fact that I have releases often enough to feel announcements over them would be obnoxious.

Instead, I’m looking at each book as part of a whole. As part of a series, instead of a single book that I’ve got to invest my time in.  Instead, I invest my time into starting on the next book.

No blog tour. No signings or launch parties. Very little stress.

. . . .

You can find my full book release checklist here. 

Link to the rest at Elizabeth S. Craig

Here’s a link to Elizabeth Craig’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

You Are the Product

13 September 2017

From The London Review of Books:

At the end of June, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook had hit a new level: two billion monthly active users. That number, the company’s preferred ‘metric’ when measuring its own size, means two billion different people used Facebook in the preceding month. It is hard to grasp just how extraordinary that is. Bear in mind that thefacebook – its original name – was launched exclusively for Harvard students in 2004. No human enterprise, no new technology or utility or service, has ever been adopted so widely so quickly. The speed of uptake far exceeds that of the internet itself, let alone ancient technologies such as television or cinema or radio.

Also amazing: as Facebook has grown, its users’ reliance on it has also grown. The increase in numbers is not, as one might expect, accompanied by a lower level of engagement. More does not mean worse – or worse, at least, from Facebook’s point of view. On the contrary. In the far distant days of October 2012, when Facebook hit one billion users, 55 per cent of them were using it every day. At two billion, 66 per cent are. Its user base is growing at 18 per cent a year – which you’d have thought impossible for a business already so enormous. Facebook’s biggest rival for logged-in users is YouTube, owned by its deadly rival Alphabet (the company formerly known as Google), in second place with 1.5 billion monthly users. Three of the next four biggest apps, or services, or whatever one wants to call them, are WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram, with 1.2 billion, 1.2 billion, and 700 million users respectively (the Chinese app WeChat is the other one, with 889 million). Those three entities have something in common: they are all owned by Facebook. No wonder the company is the fifth most valuable in the world, with a market capitalisation of $445 billion.

Zuckerberg’s news about Facebook’s size came with an announcement which may or may not prove to be significant. He said that the company was changing its ‘mission statement’, its version of the canting pieties beloved of corporate America. Facebook’s mission used to be ‘making the world more open and connected’. A non-Facebooker reading that is likely to ask: why? Connection is presented as an end in itself, an inherently and automatically good thing. Is it, though? Flaubert was sceptical about trains because he thought (in Julian Barnes’s paraphrase) that ‘the railway would merely permit more people to move about, meet and be stupid.’ You don’t have to be as misanthropic as Flaubert to wonder if something similar isn’t true about connecting people on Facebook. For instance, Facebook is generally agreed to have played a big, perhaps even a crucial, role in the election of Donald Trump. The benefit to humanity is not clear. This thought, or something like it, seems to have occurred to Zuckerberg, because the new mission statement spells out a reason for all this connectedness. It says that the new mission is to ‘give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together’.

Hmm. Alphabet’s mission statement, ‘to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’, came accompanied by the maxim ‘Don’t be evil,’ which has been the source of a lot of ridicule.

. . . .

Internet companies are working in a field that is poorly understood (if understood at all) by customers and regulators. The stuff they’re doing, if they’re any good at all, is by definition new. In that overlapping area of novelty and ignorance and unregulation, it’s well worth reminding employees not to be evil, because if the company succeeds and grows, plenty of chances to be evil are going to come along.

Google and Facebook have both been walking this line from the beginning. Their styles of doing so are different. An internet entrepreneur I know has had dealings with both companies. ‘YouTube knows they have lots of dirty things going on and are keen to try and do some good to alleviate it,’ he told me. I asked what he meant by ‘dirty’. ‘Terrorist and extremist content, stolen content, copyright violations. That kind of thing. But Google in my experience knows that there are ambiguities, moral doubts, around some of what they do, and at least they try to think about it. Facebook just doesn’t care. When you’re in a room with them you can tell. They’re’ – he took a moment to find the right word – ‘scuzzy’.

. . . .

As Tim Wu explains in his energetic and original new book The Attention Merchants, a ‘facebook’ in the sense Zuckerberg uses it here ‘traditionally referred to a physical booklet produced at American universities to promote socialisation in the way that “Hi, My Name Is” stickers do at events; the pages consisted of rows upon rows of head shots with the corresponding name’. Harvard was already working on an electronic version of its various dormitory facebooks. The leading social network, Friendster, already had three million users. The idea of putting these two things together was not entirely novel, but as Zuckerberg said at the time, ‘I think it’s kind of silly that it would take the University a couple of years to get around to it. I can do it better than they can, and I can do it in a week.’

Wu argues that capturing and reselling attention has been the basic model for a large number of modern businesses, from posters in late 19th-century Paris, through the invention of mass-market newspapers that made their money not through circulation but through ad sales, to the modern industries of advertising and ad-funded TV. Facebook is in a long line of such enterprises, though it might be the purest ever example of a company whose business is the capture and sale of attention. Very little new thinking was involved in its creation. As Wu observes, Facebook is ‘a business with an exceedingly low ratio of invention to success’.

. . . .

The fact is that fraudulent content, and stolen content, are rife on Facebook, and the company doesn’t really mind, because it isn’t in its interest to mind. Much of the video content on the site is stolen from the people who created it. An illuminating YouTube video from Kurzgesagt, a German outfit that makes high-quality short explanatory films, notes that in 2015, 725 of Facebook’s top one thousand most viewed videos were stolen. This is another area where Facebook’s interests contradict society’s. We may collectively have an interest in sustaining creative and imaginative work in many different forms and on many platforms. Facebook doesn’t. It has two priorities, as Martínez explains in Chaos Monkeys: growth and monetisation. It simply doesn’t care where the content comes from. It is only now starting to care about the perception that much of the content is fraudulent, because if that perception were to become general, it might affect the amount of trust and therefore the amount of time people give to the site.

Link to the rest at The London Review of Books

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