PG’s Thoughts (such as they are)

Taking Photographs in Instanbul

14 November 2017

From The Literary Hub:

In 1962, my father bought me a camera. My brother had been given one already, two years before. His was like a camera obscura, a black, metallic, perfectly square box, with a lens on one side and a glass screen on the other, on which you could see projected the image inside. When my brother was ready to transfer that murky image onto the film inside the box, he would push on the lever—click!—and as if by magic, a photograph would be taken.

Taking a photograph was always a special occasion. It called for preparation and ceremony. In the first place, film was expensive. It was important to know how many exposures would fit on a roll, and the camera kept a running tally of photographs taken. We spoke of rolls and exposure counts as if we were soldiers in some ragtag army running out of ammunition; we chose our shots carefully, and still wondered whether our photos were any good. Every photograph required a degree of thought and deliberation: “Does this look right?” It was around this time that I began to think about the significance of the photographs I took—and why I took them at all.

We took photographs so as to have something to remember the moment by. As subjects, we faced the camera and posed for others—mostly our friends and families but also our future selves—who would be looking back at this image months and years later. So really, we were having our photographs taken in anticipation of our own gaze back. When we faced the camera, we were “posing” for the future.

. . . .

In 1949, my father returned from a trip to America with a camera. On this trip, he’d also acquired a fervent belief in the importance of smiling for photographs. If we didn’t feel like smiling, all we had to do was say “cheese” (which we pronounced çiyz and which, we learned, was the English equivalent of what we called peynir), and it would look close enough to genuine smiling. It must have been then that I first began to reflect on the relationship between photography and reality, between representation and authenticity. A photograph supposedly taken to record the truth was in fact no more than a device with which to deceive a pair of eyes in the future.

. . . .

“Smile, Orhan; move to the right, Şevket; now all of you, stop fidgeting!” and I’d begin to despair of the photograph’s ever being taken. Sometimes, when we could no longer stand all the contrived solemnity, one of us would stick his fingers up behind his neighbor’s head to furnish him with horns, and soon, despite my father’s admonitions, we would all start prodding and poking one another. Much like the rest of Turkish society, which was self-consciously striving to become more westernized, our family found that our every effort to appear modern and happy seemed to end in frustrating affectedness and hollow ritual. The camera was both a symptom of this problem and one of its triggers.

. . . .

Even after all this hard work, we still had to get our photographs developed at a photo studio before we could actually see them. This too could take quite some time: Once the current roll of film was used up, someone had to drop it off at the studio, and return a week later to collect the prints.

. . . .

Every time I picked up a new batch of photos, I would feel momentarily disoriented. There were often long intervals between visits to the studio, and to be confronted all at once with memories of Bosphorus cruises, birthday parties, and holiday get-togethers that had actually taken place weeks or months apart, always left me with an eerie sense of recurrence. The clothes we wore and the places we posed in may have differed slightly, but the beaming optimism on our faces was always the same. When I compared the prints to the negatives, I discovered that some frames had been left out, perhaps because the image was deemed too blurry, too dark, or too faint. Thus I came to see that the joy of taking photographs must always be at odds with our yearning for authenticity.

. . . .

All those trips, weddings, parties, and gatherings we had so looked forward to and then relished had already come and gone, belonging now to the past. We were left with our memories, and the erratic record of these photographs. Like our other memories, everything we had experienced, seen, and felt would one day be forgotten.

. . . .

By the time I had turned 20, no one in my family was taking souvenir photos anymore. Perhaps this was because the family—no longer a happy one—had long since disbanded; gone were those childhood days when we would pile into the car for a drive along the Bosphorus, and neither did we have much happiness or familial joy left to display.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub which includes several interesting photos of Istanbul a half-century ago. The author is Orhan Pamuk and you can find his books here.

What a change from film to digital photos.

PG remembers the first time he saw a professional photographer using a 35 mm camera with a motor drive.

In contrast with PG’s childhood experience with photography, which was similar to that of the author of the OP, the studio photographer with the motor drive was taking photo after photo very rapidly while giving the model instructions on how to move.

When the camera ran out of film, an assistant handed the photographer a new camera, fully loaded and ready to shoot and the photographer continued his work while the assistant reloaded the original camera with film so he could hand it back to the photographer a couple of minutes later.

In addition to the 35mm cameras, a couple of expensive Hasselblad cameras sat on a table, loaded with larger format film so they would be instantly available if needed.

PG was working in a large advertising agency during this time and examined the contact sheets from the photography session a few hours later. Unlike the photos from PG’s childhood, each of which was distinctly different, the many of the photos on the contact sheet were very similar, sometimes appearing identical. The photographer had circled the photos he recommended with a black grease pencil, but there were sometimes (for PG) no discernible differences between the selected photo and the ones before and after it.

PG can’t remember the specific number, but he remembers reading that, thanks to ubiquitous cell phones,  more photos are taken in a single day than were taken during multiple decades in earlier times. Instead of the small slices of earlier lives, this generation and those that follow will experience fully-documented lives.

PG admits to being very happy that many parts of his college life and a few years that followed were not recorded in any way. He thinks it makes reform and repentance easier.

Here’s a mundane photo PG took with his phone a few days ago. He’s post-processed it a little to reflect . . . something deep and meaningful. Or not. Perhaps it should be titled, The Fully-Documented Life – With Cinnamon Roll.

.

The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens

13 November 2017

Note: PG mentioned this article when it first appeared in 2013, but thought it worthy for a revisit.

From Scientific American:

In a viral YouTube video from October 2011 a one-year-old girl sweeps her fingers across an iPad’s touchscreen, shuffling groups of icons. In the following scenes she appears to pinch, swipe and prod the pages of paper magazines as though they too were screens. When nothing happens, she pushes against her leg, confirming that her finger works just fine—or so a title card would have us believe.

The girl’s father, Jean-Louis Constanza, presents “A Magazine Is an iPad That Does Not Work” as naturalistic observation—a Jane Goodall among the chimps moment—that reveals a generational transition. “Technology codes our minds,” he writes in the video’s description. “Magazines are now useless and impossible to understand, for digital natives”—that is, for people who have been interacting with digital technologies from a very early age.

. . . .

How exactly does the technology we use to read change the way we read? How reading on screens differs from reading on paper is relevant not just to the youngest among us, but to just about everyone who reads—to anyone who routinely switches between working long hours in front of a computer at the office and leisurely reading paper magazines and books at home; to people who have embraced e-readers for their convenience and portability, but admit that for some reason they still prefer reading on paper; and to those who have already vowed to forgo tree pulp entirely. As digital texts and technologies become more prevalent, we gain new and more mobile ways of reading—but are we still reading as attentively and thoroughly? How do our brains respond differently to onscreen text than to words on paper? Should we be worried about dividing our attention between pixels and ink or is the validity of such concerns paper-thin?

. . . .

Before 1992 most studies concluded that people read slower, less accurately and less comprehensively on screens than on paper. Studies published since the early 1990s, however, have produced more inconsistent results: a slight majority has confirmed earlier conclusions, but almost as many have found few significant differences in reading speed or comprehension between paper and screens. And recent surveys suggest that although most people still prefer paper—especially when reading intensively—attitudes are changing as tablets and e-reading technology improve and reading digital books for facts and fun becomes more common. In the U.S., e-books currently make up between 15 and 20 percent of all trade book sales.

Even so, evidence from laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports indicates that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way. In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension. Compared with paper, screens may also drain more of our mental resources while we are reading and make it a little harder to remember what we read when we are done. A parallel line of research focuses on people’s attitudes toward different kinds of media. Whether they realize it or not, many people approach computers and tablets with a state of mind less conducive to learning than the one they bring to paper.

“There is physicality in reading,” says developmental psychologist and cognitive scientist Maryanne Wolf of Tufts University, “maybe even more than we want to think about as we lurch into digital reading—as we move forward perhaps with too little reflection. I would like to preserve the absolute best of older forms, but know when to use the new.”

Link to the rest at Scientific American

Speaking of lurching into digital reading and preserving the “absolute best of older forms,” if you were to enter TPV Central, you would see a great deal of paper (assuming Mrs. PG didn’t demand a preparatory cleanup).

Despite Mrs. PG’s contentions, PG has a mental map of the various stacks and bits of paper, USB cords, dead mice (of the computer variety), backup hard drives, rechargeable batteries, etc., that cover his rather large corner desk. While PG admits to certain areas of terra incognita, generally speaking, he can lay a hand on what he is seeking with a surprising degree of accuracy.

That said, he conducts the vast majority of his reading via computer screens (three on his desk plus tablets, Kindles, iPhones, etc.). If PG read the equivalent amount of material on paper, his lair would be filled with file cabinets (if Mrs. PG had her way), Casa PG would require multiple weekly visits from one or more garbage trucks and Washington/Oregon would be devoid of forests.

While PG doesn’t have a mental map of his digital reading, he does have a search function on each of his devices. While mental maps of long-form paper publications can be useful, how many of such maps can a person retain in their memories for any length of time?

Casa PG still contains quite a number of bookshelves filled with paper books. While PG (mostly) recognizes titles he has read, his mental maps of the contents of those titles have disappeared into the mists of time.

PG is reminded of an old lawyer from a long time ago. (He was a real lawyer, not a player in a parable.) This lawyer was well-known for the huge piles of paper on his desk, on the floor of his office, etc., and also for his astounding ability to reach into the correct pile and the correct location in each pile to retrieve a needed document. While PG never witnessed the lawyer performing this feat, those who had pronounced themselves highly impressed by the lawyer’s organizational abilities.

A few years after this old lawyer met his reward, PG was talking with one of the lawyer’s partners. For some reason, the conversation turned to the old lawyer’s desk and his supernatural ability to remember where everything was.

The lawyer’s partner spoke of the arduous job of clearing the old lawyer’s desk. In the process, the partners discovered many thousands of dollars in uncashed client checks, some years old, that the lawyer had placed into his desktop filing system and forgotten about. If properly deposited, those checks would have substantially increased the firm’s income.

PG suggests that, like many other things residing in the human mind, mental maps have their drawbacks as information retrieval systems.

Taylor Swift is Threatening to Sue a Blog for Calling Her a White Supremacist

9 November 2017

From Newsweek:

Taylor Swift’s lawyers threatened to sue a blog if it didn’t take down an article that refers to the pop superstar as a white supremacist sympathizer.

In a letter dated October 25, William J. Briggs, II, an attorney at Venable LLP, a firm based in Los Angeles, demanded Meghan Herning, editor of PopFront, retract and take down her article titled, “Swiftly to the alt-right: Taylor subtly gets the lower case kkk in formation.” Otherwise, Briggs said, “Ms. Swift is prepared to proceed with litigation.”

Herning’s 2,200-word article, posted on September 5, centers around Swift’s support among figures of the alt-right and neo-Nazi groups.

. . . .

Swift’s attorney charges Herning with malice and reckless disregard for the truth, claiming that “even a small amount of research shows that the notion that Ms. Swift either belong to or silently supports such an infamous and reprehensible group is a fabrication.”

The letter ends with a warning for Herning not to publish its contents.

“Any publication, dissemination, or broadcast of any of the letter will constitute a breah of confidence and a violation of the Copyright Act,” it states.

On Monday, the ACLU of Northern California came to Herning’s defense. In a letter addressed to Briggs, the group argues that the article is protected under the First Amendment.

“Criticism is never pleasant, but a celebrity has to shake it off, even if the critique may damager her reputation,” the letter reads.

The ACLU also contends that the copyright claims made in Briggs’ letter are “total nonsense” and malicious.

Link to the rest at Newsweek

The ACLU of Northern California released a statement about this matter. PG particularly liked the following bits:

“Intimidation tactics like these are unacceptable,” said ACLU attorney Matt Cagle. “Not in her wildest dreams can Ms. Swift use copyright law to suppress this exposure of a threat to constitutionally protected speech.”

. . . .

“The press should not be bullied by high-paid lawyers or frightened into submission by legal jargon,” said Herning. “These scare tactics may have worked for Taylor in the past, but I am not backing down.”

PG had never heard of PopFront prior to reading the OP and suspects a great many of the visitors to TPV and internet denizens in general had not either.

The attorney’s letter is a classic example of how to transform a complaint from a client from a minor, relatively private matter to a giant public fiasco.

PG has no doubt that Ms. Swift was quite upset when she contacted her attorney and further suspects that Ms. Swift is the source of much profitable legal business for the law firm. However, one of the responsibilities of experienced attorneys is to cool a client down and help the client avoid the consequences of turning a molehill into a mountain.

Counsel could followed his client’s wishes by sending out something that was obviously a boring form letter containing nary a quotable sentence to PopFront. He could have larded the letter with case citations guaranteed put any reasonable reader to sleep.

Instead, in PG’s litigiously humble opinion, the attorney’s letter poured a truckload of fuel onto a tiny little fire that would have otherwise burned itself out in a couple of days.

Here’s the letter from ACLU of Northern California to Swift’s attorney (and a lovely letter it is in PG’s musically humble opinion):

Download (PDF, Unknown)

 

Macmillan’s Pronoun Self-Publishing Platform Signs Off

7 November 2017

From Publishing Perspectives:

Some eyebrows were raised in the spring of 2016 when Macmillan bought Pronoun. And today (November 6), the trade publisher has announced that it’s closing the self-publishing platform.

“We are proud of the product we built,” the publishing house says in an “Epilogue” posted on the home page of the Pronoun.com site, “but even more so, we’re grateful for the community of authors that made it grow. Your feedback shaped Pronoun’s development, and together we changed the way authors connect with readers.”

The statement doesn’t elaborate on how Pronoun is deemed to have “changed the way authors connect with readers.” And its message is sobering: “Unfortunately, Pronoun’s story ends here.”

The statement avoids any clear explanation of why the Pronoun is being shut down.

. . . .

Pronoun was assessed by many in the self-publishing community (as by Doppler in an earlier ALLi review) as a fairly simple interface for ebook creation by comparison to the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) system.

And yet, there was at times a community-wide hesitation around the platform because it charged nothing. Authors retained their rights and 100 percent of a retailer’s net payment–no cut to Pronoun. Doppler wrote in that earlier review that Pronoun’s services were free to authors because the company had $3.5 million in venture capital funding from Avalon Ventures and revenue from “its not-insubstantial legacy business.” Future revenue, he wrote, would come from “voluntary partnerships with high-performing authors. These authors may be invited to publish through Pronoun’s traditional imprints, giving up a share of royalties for enhanced services.”

. . . .

Pronoun spokeswoman Allison Horton was quoted by Doppler last year saying an ambitious thing for a company about to be bought by a Big Five trade publisher: “Pronoun’s goal is to make indie publishing so successful that it becomes the predominant way great books are published.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives and thanks to Andrew for the tip.

PG says large and established corporations sometimes purchase tech startups to move into new markets and inject new thinking and dynamism into the parent organization.

It never works.

The employees in the mothership sense an alien presence and organizational antibodies attack. Various and sundry corporate practices are imposed on the acquisition and its people. The startup (now a “division” or “department”) must adopt corporate budgeting processes and conduct quarterly performance reviews for all its employees. Company-wide “best practices” will, of course, be best practices for the new acquisition.

Within a couple of months, the most talented of the startup employees who have not been required to sign employment agreements start thinking about new jobs.

Headhunters swarm to any new source for good tech/internet marketing/programming/etc. talent. People who are valuable to the acquired startup are also valuable to other innovative companies who aren’t under attack from corporate antibodies and where nobody has to sit through mandatory lectures from HR.

The people who have signed employment agreements suffer from constantly declining morale as the most talented members of their team leave for greener pastures. They discover that attracting equivalent talent from outside the mothership is almost impossible and have no choice but to use not-so-talented tech people from elsewhere in the larger organization.

Development of the product slows down, then it slows down some more. Product release schedules are revised. Planned new features are dropped because they’re taking too long to develop. Upper management requires much more frequent updates on progress and hard commitments for new product releases. The new product features list is cut down even further. People start talking about how to get the minimum acceptable product out the door by the scheduled deadline. Nobody even remembers why the new product seemed like a good idea several months ago.

The during his/her regular meetings with the big boss and the quarterly meetings of the board, the CFO of the mothership brings more and more discouraging reports about the acquired company. Nobody can project when it might become profitable.

Managers in other parts of the company that are profitable increase the intensity of their criticisms of the CEO’s formerly pet project.

The OP indicates that it took about 18 months for Pronoun to morph from a sexy investment in Macmillan’s future to an unacceptable boat anchor that was never going to meet revenue and profit standards for the company.

Alex Strada Is Contractually Binding Her Collectors to Support Emerging Female Artists

3 November 2017

From Artsy.net:

New York artist Alex Strada used to not give much thought to artist contracts. She’s hardly alone. Even though large swaths of the art world—from museum exhibitions to art fairs—depend on dense legal agreements, you’re not going to find a legal class on contracts as a required course at Columbia University’s visual arts program, from which Strada received an MFA in 2016.

But what if the invisible legal documents that make the art world go round were not only more conspicuous, but were also a mechanism through which to address the art world’s gender imbalance?

That’s the question Strada is posing through her recently unveiled artist contract, which, among other provisions, requires anyone who purchases one of her works to sell it 10 years later and use the accrued proceeds to buy a piece by an emerging female artist.

“Purchasing [my] work means buying into and supporting that fairly underrepresented demographic within the art market,” said Strada, herself an emerging female artist. The contract’s 10-year resale provision aims to project that support into the future.

. . . .

Strada was inspired by the Siegelaub agreement—a contract drawn up in 1971 by gallerist (and later textile artist) Seth Siegelaub and lawyer Robert Projansky that entitles artists to certain rights over their work after it is sold. For example, by signing the Siegelaub document, collectors agreed to pay artists 15% of the appreciated value of the purchased artwork if they resell it later (what’s called an artist’s resale royalty).

Siegelaub described his original contract, which has never been tested in court, as a “practical real-life, hands-on, easy-to-use, no-bullshit solution to a series of problems concerning artists’ control over their work.” In addition to helping address the economic imbalance between artist and collector, the contract also serves as something a piece of conceptual art itself. Attaching it to a sale makes an artistic statement as the legal document becomes inseparable from the artwork.

. . . .

“I was really excited by the idea that contracts could be a place to infuse my own political beliefs, feminist beliefs, and views of how the art market could potentially work,” Strada said.

Link to the rest at Artsy.net and here’s a link to the contract

PG says this works in the “Contract as Publicity Stunt” category. The chance of PG mentioning Ms. Strada in TPV was non-existent had she not undertaken her contractual innovation.

Is her contract enforceable? Only partially enforceable? Ditto for Mr. Siegelaub’s contract.

PG doesn’t know the answers to those questions. From a quick perusal of Ms. Strada’s contract, PG easily came up with some ways of circumventing the agreement that might work.

PG suspects the contracts would have a very short lifespan should the work ever fall under the jurisdiction of a bankruptcy court. Under Chapter Two of the Uniform Commercial Code, the contracts would seem to work, but whether a security interest in the artwork arises under Chapter Nine is a bit dodgier.

Most wealthy art collectors are likely to have carefully-crafted estate plans to control the disposition of their assets after their deaths and minimize estate and inheritance taxes. PG is uncertain how these artist contracts might affect those plans and what might happen if, for example, the estate plans called for the donation of the artwork to an academic institution or non-profit organization after death. Might a discerning institution reject the gift on advice of counsel?

And what happens when the artist dies? Is the owner of the artwork dealing with Uncle Ned and Aunt Stella in Wichita? Or the artist’s child, Flaming Star, Chairman of the Communist Party USA?

PG is not familiar with the decision-making process of art collectors when considering the acquisition of a work. He suspects more potential purchasers are aware of Ms. Strada and Mr. Siegelaub because of their contracts, so that might be a plus for the artists.

However, unless completely infatuated with the artist and excited about maintaining a continuing and binding legal relationship with that artist, probably for the remainder of somebody’s life or longer, some collectors might look for somewhere else to spend their money or make an offer to acquire the work contingent upon the absence of any innovative contracts.

It’s Time to Bust the Online Trusts

1 November 2017

From The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page:

This week some of America’s most beloved internet companies will follow the footsteps of Big Tobacco and Wall Street in a dreaded rite of passage: the Capitol Hill perp walk. The top lawyers for Google, Facebook and Twitter will try their best to explain to the Senate Intelligence Committee how misinformation spread through their platforms in the months leading up to the 2016 election.

They are also likely to argue that the best response to their platforms’ negligence is not government regulation. If Google and Facebook are lucky, the result will be the passage of the bipartisan Honest Ads Act, which would merely require buyers of online political advertisements to reveal their identities. This is a necessary move to increase transparency, but it is not sufficient to protect the electorate from manipulation.

Focusing on the narrow question of online advertising will only distract lawmakers from the true problem: In the absence of rigorous antitrust enforcement, the consumer internet has become too concentrated in a few dominant companies, creating easy targets for bad actors.

There is a reason Congress did not have to investigate foreign meddling after the 2008 or 2012 elections. Back then the internet was still a diverse, decentralized network. Anyone could create a website or blog to satisfy the demand for popular or niche content. This older form of online community building has largely been supplanted by tools provided by the dominant players. Facebook Groups allows people to create communities without requiring much technical skill. It does, however, require a Facebook account, meaning participants have no choice but to share their identity and their data. Today, many internet services are inaccessible unless you have joined Facebook’s “community” of two billion users.

Google used to be the engine that drove the open web. In a 2004 interview, co-founder Larry Page denounced powerful intermediaries on the internet, saying that “we want you to come to Google and quickly find what you want. Then we’re happy to send you to the other sites. In fact, that’s the point. The portal strategy tries to own all of the information.”

Over time, Google’s philosophy shifted in the opposite direction, making the internet less open and pluralistic than even a few years ago. Now people are nudged to stay on Google.com. The company has committed to presenting a single “answer” to every inquiry, even ones that are subjective opinions based on sparse Google-owned content, like “best pediatrician NYC.” The result has been a decline of traffic to swaths of the web.

. . . .

Of every new dollar spent in online advertising last year, Google and Facebook captured 99 cents. Yet neither company has ever faced serious antitrust scrutiny in the U.S.

. . . .

The economics have also changed for internet startups hoping to reinvent the web. Early-stage capital has dried up, dropping more than 40% since 2015, as investors have become pessimistic that any new Googles and Facebooks will ever be capable of disrupting the deeply entrenched incumbents.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG will remind all that he doesn’t necessarily agree with everything he posts on TPV.

The author of the OP is vice president of public policy at Yelp, which undoubtedly views Facebook and Google as competitors.

PG thinks monopolies are a bad idea. He has also observed that government actions to resolve business problems have done more harm than good on many occasions.

Particularly when dealing with “misinformation” spreading, either through Facebook/Google or through the internet generally or through major television networks or major newspapers, PG is particularly wary of government action.

Misinformation has also been known to spread through statements and advertisements originating with politicians and major political parties.

While he’s not an expert on antitrust law, PG notes that five of the six largest publishers in the US have recently violated US antitrust laws. In concert with Apple, major publishers broke those laws by conspiring to fix prices in a manner which has been illegal in the US for over 100 years.

Big Publishing continues behavior that is similar to the behavior of other shared monopolies. For example, 99% of the publishing contracts authors sign with large publishers include exactly the same royalty rates for sales of books and licensing of ebooks. A tacit agreement exists that no major will offer to pay an author royalties of more than 25% of net income generated from the publisher’s ebook licenses through Amazon, Kobo, etc.

In this case, the violation of antitrust laws was far clearer than anything Facebook and Google have been accused of (to the best of PG’s knowledge).

However, the most significant financial punishment imposed on the Price-fix Six has been from the ebook market. Lower priced ebooks from indie authors and small publishers have taken over the ebook markets at the expense of those from major publishers.

In this case, Amazon has been a neutral market-maker, opening its digital doors to one and all, large and small, on an equal basis.

As a group, readers are voting in favor of ebooks not published by major publishers. To the best of PG’s knowledge, no government action is responsible for this consumer behavior. In fact, a very large corporation, Amazon, provided an ebook marketplace in competition with another very large corporation, Apple.

While Amazon has been very helpful in accelerating the adoption of ebooks, if Amazon hadn’t existed, PG believes one or more other market-makers would have done the same thing.

The technology for creating, selling and consuming ebooks is inherently superior to the established structure for doing the same thing with printed books. It’s an open platform that supports a far wider range of authors and satisfies a much larger population of readers at a much lower price than the paper alternatives. Bits are inherently more efficient than atoms for the distribution of information.

End of rant. PG will restrain himself for the rest of the day.

Nook Glowlight Plus Quietly Went Out of Stock on B&N’s Website

30 October 2017

From The Digital Reader

Barnes & Noble is no longer selling new Nook Glowlight Plus ereaders on their website. They’ve run out, and are now only selling refurbished units.

B&N is of course selling that malware-infested budget Android tablet and Samsung tablets under the Nook brand,  but if you click on the link for the Nook Glowlight Plus you will be sent to a page for refurbished Nooks instead of new ones.

. . . .

No one really knows what B&N is doing, and that includes B&N.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG notes that this development correlates with reports from traditional publishing that ebook sales are down. Regular visitors to TPV will understand that ebook sales are actually doing quite well because most ebook sales happen on Amazon and, thanks to Author Earnings, we know most Amazon ebook sales are from books written by indie authors.

He suggests Barnes & Noble and Big Publishing are admitting that Amazon has won the future of books. “Screen fatigue” and other imaginary sources of relief for the dead tree side of publishing will not save them.

Will Randy Penguin and its buddies disappear?

Sort of.

Big Publishing is sitting on a mother lode of intellectual property in the form of publishing contracts for a lot of evergreen books. The expensive part of its business is the people side associated with new product development and launches – people who talk to agents, read and edit manuscripts, pitch stories about books and authors to the New York Times, make sales calls on Barnes & Noble book buyers, etc.

PG suggests that a good argument can be made that spending money on this part of the business is a bad business decision. It’s also an area with a lot of risk. Offering an author an advance is rolling the dice. Most new books are money-losers and, as mentioned, most of the people expenses of a traditional publisher fall into the new book part of the business. Get rid of that function and related expenses and you’re well on your way to transforming a publisher into a lean, money-making operation.

Printing paper books happens in low-wage locations overseas. Warehousing and distribution of paper books is outsourced to Ingram and Baker & Taylor, although PG suggests there may be profit opportunities in seeking lower-cost warehousing/shipping service providers.

Is there really anything about receiving, storing and shipping a box of books that’s different from doing the same thing with a box of laundry detergent?

For paper books, Ingram is providing a service that is available elsewhere. Any number of companies offer highly-sophisticated outsourced logistics services and supply chain management, including processing orders, forecasting demand, distribution, fulfillment and returns on a far larger scale than Ingram does. There’s another solution to dealing with the whole paper book challenge that PG discusses below.

Let’s get back to the mother lode of intellectual property. The mother lode has been created by standard publishing contracts under which authors grant their publishers exclusive rights to their books, including movie, tv, etc., rights, for the full term of the author’s copyright. In most western countries, a copyright lasts for the remainder of the author’s life plus several decades more – 70 years, 50 years, etc.

PG suggests that if a traditional publisher is downsized to a handful of managers, a couple of accountants, someone to keep the accounting/royalty system running on Amazon Web Services and an outside law firm, it could be a long-term money machine.

For contractual purposes, a lite publisher would have to keep print books available for sale (to avoid the exercise of out-of-print clauses), but Amazon could handle that. If all paper books are sold via Amazon, you can eliminate the Ingram costs and the overhead associated with taking orders for books from traditional bookstores would go away. If you’re looking to maximize profits from your intellectual property, you don’t want to spend money dealing with small orders from mom and pop shops.

The real money is in sending ebook files to Amazon, etc., and specifying a direct deposit banking institution to receive the cash that comes in each month. That’s how your really run a lean publisher as a money machine.

As with all aging assets, the income from sales of existing books would decline over time, but with large catalog of books and somebody to answer phone calls for random movie and tv rights deals that come in over the transom, operating a traditional publisher in this manner could yield extremely high profit margins for a very long time.

But what does PG know?

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.

 

Back in the Saddle

28 September 2017

PG has returned after a quick trip with Mrs. PG to visit Mrs. PG’s sister, Beth, who is suffering from early-onset ‎Alzheimer’s disease.

It was a difficult trip for both of us, but we’re glad we made the visit. It is likely the last time we will see Beth alive.

PG is happy to be back at the controls of that complex and meticulously-honed system that is The Passive Voice.

Building our new house

13 September 2017

From Medium:

I was struck by Jeff Jarvis’s recent polemic, ‘If I ran a newspaper…’ published on Medium.

In it, he quoted an unnamed editor’s description of the predicament he — and many of us — find ourselves in:

“We have two houses. One is on fire and the other isn’t built yet. So our problem is that we have to fight the flames in the old house at the same time we’re trying to figure out how to build the new one.”

He was, of course, describing the rock-and-a-hard place dilemma that’s beset legacy media brands for more than a decade now: We know print is declining fast, and the future’s digital, but the problem is most of our revenues are still in the former, and the latter will never generate the money we made back in the day.

I’ve lived in this cleft stick for most of my career. The legendary ‘tipping point’ is still talked about hypothetically years after it should have become a reality for more of this country’s legacy media — particularly in the regions. The tipping point comes when your digital revenue growth offsets your print revenue decline. Rather than waiting reluctantly for it to happen — or indeed trying to postpone it — we should have been doing everything to make it happen on our terms. Unfortunately, I think the industry dragged its feet for too long.

. . . .

We announced this week that we are creating a new, standalone and sustainable digital business that could be a model for similar enterprises across the UK and beyond.

At the heart of the new operation is a digital-only newsroom forged from the team that has made BirminghamMail.co.uk the fastest-growing regional news website in the UK for much of the past year. Thanks to my team’s efforts, we reach more than 50% of Brummies every week, and now we want to reach even more with our new approach.

At the same time, we want the new model to be completely self-sustainable, achieving a profit driven by programmatic and solus digital advertising, and not over-dependent on print upsell from legacy clients. There’ll be whole new revenue streams, too.

The new newsroom will be more than digital-first; it will be digital only.

. . . .

When you lose pounds in print, you only ever get pennies back online / we’ll never make enough money to have a newsroom as big as it was ten years ago.

True(ish), and true. Sadly, we know the future requires the business to be leaner and more flexible than we are now, and despite years of seemingly endless restructures and job losses, we will have to make further reductions. We are building the new model by asking the question: “What size newsroom can we afford, given what we know about our current and future digital scale, how much programmatic revenue we get, and how much new digital revenue we think is out there in the market?”.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG says the OP describes a constructive way to deal with disruptive innovation. “What would my business look like if I was starting it from scratch today?” It’s a much better management strategy than, “How can I preserve my existing business when the economics of the market it serves have completely changed?”

The more common strategy of downsizing, then downsizing some more, then further downsizing is self-defeating in the extreme.

  1. Employee morale tanks and stays tanked with deleterious effects on the enterprise.
  2. Talented new people who might like the idea of working in a particular business stay away because of justified skepticism about the long-term future of the business and a rational desire to avoid a sinking ship.
  3. The talent level of new hires is lower than that of veteran employees.
  4. Existing employees who can leave do leave, taking their experience and abilities with them.
  5. The percentage of staff who stay with the business because they can’t get a job elsewhere skyrockets.

PG considers himself typical of many traditional readers of printed newspapers.

Growing up, he pretty much read every newspaper that arrived in his home cover to cover every day. When he commuted to work by train, he bought and read one newspaper in the morning and another in the evening.

(Yes, my young friends, in large cities, some newspapers published every morning and others published every afternoon. Chicago had four major daily papers, two morning and two afternoon, plus at least a half-dozen other dailys devoted to particular audiences, African-Americans, for one example.)

When he didn’t commute via mass transit, PG had at least one daily newspaper delivered to his home, usually two.

A couple of years ago, PG observed many issues of the two daily papers he received were piling up, largely or completely unread. He stopped The Wall Street Journal, but still pays for access to the entire digital edition.

At first, he kept his subscription to the local daily paper because he has always wanted to support local news organizations. However, when a week or two would pass without him reading any physical papers, he quit renewing that subscription as well.

Perhaps based upon years of habit, PG’s delivery person has continued to drop the local daily on his driveway, despite PG not having paid for a subscription for several months. PG has wondered if the paper’s management is trying to artificially pump up its subscription numbers.

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