Authors Guild Demands South Carolina Police Cease Pressure on School About Reading List

14 July 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

In a strongly worded letter to the Fraternal Order of Police Tri-County Lodge #3 in South Carolina, the Authors Guild today (July 13) is demanding that the organizing stop “interfering in the reading selections of a high school in suburban Charleston.”

Publishing Perspectives readers are familiar with this case from our reporting earlier this month on how the police organization president, John Blackmon is calling for an English-class summer reading list to drop The Hate U Give (HarperCollins, 2017) by Angie Thomas and All American Boys (Simon & Schuster, 2015) by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.

Both books have stories that include police brutality and racism as themes, and both are among the most highly acclaimed bestsellers in their sector of recent years. Blackmon’s complaint about the books–two of four titles from which students of Wando High Schoo’s English 1 class in Mount Pleasant are to choose and read one.

In the guild’s open letter to the police group, executive director Mary Rasenberger writes, “Attempts at censorship by law enforcement organizations cannot be tolerated in a democracy. Educators must be free to choose books on any and all subjects for their students’ reading.”

. . . .

Rasenberger writes to Blackmon, “This interference–which is clearly based on the content of the books in question–must stop.

“It is a blatant violation of students’ first amendment rights and an improper attempt at censorship by law-enforcement officials.

“It is a fundamental principle of democracy that police have no proper role in deciding what books should or should not be read. We have already co-signed a letter to the principal of Wando High School to urge the school to abide by its own internal processes, and we ask the Fraternal Order of Police to cease its efforts to influence that process.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

While PG has an instinctive response to oppose actions by government entities to restrict the availability or use of nearly any book, he must note here that this is an argument between two different entities comprised of government employees.

Arguably, the Fraternal Order of Police is a private membership organization (assuming police officers are not required to be members) and can say what it wants about any subject. In their private capacity, police officers are permitted to create associations to further their personal goals and exercise their first amendment rights individually and as a group to support or oppose just about anything they desire just like any other group does in the United States.

Assuming, for argument’s sake that the police department, rather than a private association is trying to forcibly limit books read by teenagers, that’s a bad idea because there’s an express or implied government backing for the limitation.

However, the summer reading list was clearly created by government employees acting in direct connection with their employment, so a clearer First Amendment infringement argument could be made by or on behalf of the students who are apparently required to read one of four books on a list provided by the school as a summer assignment. If these are suggestions by the high school and the students are free to read whatever they want, there shouldn’t be a problem, but if all the books were about police brutality and racism and included strong anti-police themes, PG thinks a student might object.

If all four books on the summer mailing list were written by white supremacist or antisemitic authors (or even – gasp – by Republicans), one might expect a lot of protests against the list, including by the Fraternal Order of Police.

PG will note that the two books mentioned in the OP are published by huge corporations – HarperCollins is owned by News Corp. was an American multinational mass media corporation headquartered in New York City and controlled by Rupert Murdoch and Simon & Schuster, Inc., is a subsidiary of CBS Corporation.

PG was also reminded of the increasing popularity of home schooling, at least in some areas of the country, which involves no government action. PG was further reminded of friends who are home schooling their children. Their two oldest children started college at age 16 and 14 after each attained a perfect score on the ACT.

Graffiti targeting Amazon and Jeff Bezos illustrates animosity toward tech giant in Seattle

14 July 2018

From GeekWire:

With everything from spray paint to stencils to stickers, the Amazon and Jeff Bezos detractors are making a statement in Seattle.

From Capitol Hill to Crown Hill, graffiti targeting the tech giant and the CEO is showing up on sidewalks, the sides of buildings, light poles, bike racks, bridges and even Amazon delivery lockers.

A particularly large set of “F*** Bezos” tags were visible this week on SR 99 — one on the Aurora Bridge that spans Lake Union and another inside the Battery Street Tunnel. Both are just blocks from Amazon’s headquarters in South Lake Union. It’s at least the second time the tunnel has been tagged during the past year with a large anti-Bezos message.

. . . .

On Capitol Hill, perched above the part of the city that Amazon has been rapidly remaking with its headquarters buildings, graffiti targeting Amazon, Bezos, techies, tech bros and brogrammers shows up on practically every corner.

. . . .

But Capitol Hill is emblematic of many of the changes occurring in Seattle as new apartments tower over or ultimately push out old haunts.

And Bezos, the world’s richest person with a net worth of $143 billion, has become the target of many in Seattle who are upset with the Amazon founder and his company’s impact on their city. For better or worse, he has become the face of a tech industry that has rapidly remade the look and feel of Seattle.

. . . .

Amazon has historically been criticized for its limited engagement in local issues and philanthropy but in recent years it has announced housing for homeless families, contributed large sums to the University of Washington’s computer science program, and supported a mass transit initiative. It now employs 45,000 in Seattle.

Link to the rest at GeekWire

PG notes the huge rush of cities both larger and smaller than Seattle that wanted to compete to be the site for Amazon’s second headquarters a few months ago.

PG also notes that in the reality-based world, Amazon is one of a handful of companies that is universally admired around the world.

Big Twitter Accounts See Follower Numbers Drop After Fake-User Purge

14 July 2018

From Variety:

As expected, Twitter’s elimination of “locked” users accounts from public follower counts has resulted in a decline for many users — including millions lost for the biggest celebs on the platform, like Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Barack Obama, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga.

One of the biggest losers seems to have been Twitter’s own primary account (@Twitter), which shed 7.5 million fake accounts to drop 12% Thursday, from 62.85 million earlier in the morning to 55.35 million as of 2:45 p.m. ET. By Friday morning, that was down to 55.1 million.

By comparison, the decline of other large accounts has been smaller. The 100 most-followed Twitter accounts saw an average drop in followers of 2% on Thursday, according to social-analytics firm Keyhole, with a median decline of 734,000 followers.

Singer Katy Perry, who has the most-followed account on Twitter, lost 2.8 million followers through Friday at 8 a.m. ET, dropping 2.6% to 106.8 million followers. Follower counts for Justin Bieber and Rihanna fell 2.5%, Ellen DeGeneres dropped 2.6%, Taylor Swift fell 2.7%, and Lady Gaga declined 3.2%.

. . . .

On Wednesday, Twitter said it was making the change in order to boost the credibility of follower-count numbers and improve transparency. The change in follower counts doesn’t affect the active user totals Twitter tracks and reports on a quarterly basis to investors, according to the company.

The majority of Twitter users will see a reduction of four followers or fewer, but those with larger follower counts will see a bigger drop, the company said. Twitter began culling locked accounts from follower figures Thursday, and as the process continues the numbers will likely decline further. All told, Twitter expects the number of followers to decline around 6% platform-wide by the time it’s completed the purge.

Link to the rest at Variety and thanks to Nate for the tip.

America’s Literary Hotshots Once Shunned TV, Now They Want to Run the Show

14 July 2018

From Vanity Fair:

At the turn of the 21st century, New York literati would often shut down attempts to discuss the latest television shows with the sniffy refrain “I don’t even own a TV.” I remember one particular book party at which a cluster of hot young novelists collectively agreed that they wouldn’t mind having their books optioned for the small screen—as long as no one ever got around to making them. TV in those days was still scorned as a distraction factory churning out bland entertainment in standardized 30- or 60-minute chunks punctuated by Pavlovian laugh lines and pre-commercial-break cliff-hangers.

That snobbery gradually turned inside out as the medium evolved from delivering conventional network fare aimed at the broadest possible audience into a vehicle for the much-hyped new golden age. Prestige dramas and idiosyncratic comedies put a premium on nuance and experimentation, on complex characterization and scintillating dialogue. In other words, all the things for which literary fiction is known. So utterly has the literati’s disdain for the small screen dissolved that nowadays novelists are lining up to have their books adapted. If you eavesdrop on any gathering of serious writers, they’re as likely to be discussing Killing Eve or Better Call Saul as they are the latest book by Zadie Smith or Rachel Kushner. Even the University of Iowa is launching TV-writing programs this fall.

“I see everybody talking about TV like they would talk about books,” says Megan Abbott, author of 10 novels (including Dare Me, which she is developing into a series) and a writer on the HBO series The Deuce. “[The writers I know] take the shows they watch very seriously.”

Link to the rest at Vanity Fair

Controversial Fair Use Copyright Ruling Faces Appeal

13 July 2018

From PDN Pulse:

Following a controversial ruling in a copyright infringement case in Virginia, attorney (and former photographer) David Deal says he is appealing the decision on behalf of photographer Russell Brammer.

Brammer sued Violent Hues Productions in 2017 for unauthorized use of a time-lapse photograph of the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC. Violent Hues, which organizes the annual Northern Virginia Film Festival, used Brammer’s photo on a website intended to provide festival attendees with information about lodging, transportation, and things to do in the northern Virginia/Washington D.C. area.

According to court documents, Violent Hues owner Fernando Mico used a cropped version of the photo after finding it online. Mico “saw no indication that the photo was copyrighted and believed he was making use of a publicly available photograph,” U.S. District Court Judge Claude M. Hilton noted in his ruling.

Judge Hilton went on to dismiss Brammer’s infringement claim on the grounds that “Violent Hues’ use of the photo was a fair use, and therefore did not constitute infringement.”

Judge Hilton based the decision on a four-pronged test for fair use, but his most controversial finding concerned the first prong: the purpose and character of the use. According to Judge Hilton’s decision, the use of Brammer’s image was “transformative”—and therefore favored a finding of fair use—because Brammer made the image for “promotional and expressive” purposes, while “Violent Hues’ purpose in using the photograph was informational.”

“Judge Hilton introduced aspects of fair use that had never been used before,” Deal said of the decision in a phone interview with PDN. He added, “The court is opening the door that any use, other than my client’s use, is a fair use…that’s not close to the scope of fair use.” Deal explains that to be considered transformative, the use of a copyrighted work must be “completely different,” such as “satire, commentary, or something that doesn’t resemble the [original] work.”

Deal says it is important to appeal the decision not only to protect Brammer’s copyrights, but to prevent the decision from being cited to fend off photographers’ copyright claims on fair use grounds in courts all over the country.

Link to the rest at PDN Pulse

The departing CEO reminds us that Barnes and Noble is of interest and a source of concern for all publishers

13 July 2018

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

When Barnes & Noble interrupted Holiday week day-dreaming to announce that recently elevated CEO Demos Parneros had been abruptly dismissed for a contract violation that also eliminated his severance, it not only ignited a minor industry of speculation about “what happened?” but it also called attention to the commercial situation at Barnes & Noble.

And that, in a couple of words, is “not good”.

There are two inexorable and unrelenting shifts taking place in the book businiess, and while neither of them are B&N’s fault, it is also true that neither work in B&N’s favor. One is that more and more book purchasing is taking place online and less and less in physical stores. And the other is that more and more books are being published and sold, or distributed, from outside the commercial realm. That is, the entities publishing books to make money on them are seeing their share being sliced away by countless cuts from independent authors and various corporate and cause organizations that want to put books into people’s hands and devices to increase their fame or promote a message, not primarily to make a profit.

Since Barnes & Noble’s great expertise centers around promoting and selling books to consumers in physical stores working with publisher trading partners who are trying to make a profit, that means that their part of the book market is just getting smaller in ways that could only be addressed by selling more online and being a more effective conduit for non-commercial distribution. They’ve failed miserably for two decades at the former and there isn’t big money in the latter.

But commercial book publishing — especially the Big Five with their high-volume flow of commercial new titles and deep backlists but also a diminishing but still long tail of university presses, smaller general trade houses, and specialty publishers — really needs B&N. They’re needed for the hundreds of bookstores they maintain and because they present the one significant alternative to the retailing giant that is growing on the back of the larger trends: Amazon.

. . . .

Just before the Parneros announcement, I had lunch with an industry expert who expressed mild surprise that “the publishers haven’t just bought B&N and fixed it”. This same seer thinks Amazon may be teetering on the edge of vulnerability because they have taken the tactic of steering customers to their own product too far for their own health in the book business.

And on the day that Parneros’s firing was announced, I had met with a publishing veteran from just-smaller-than-Big-5 publishing. He does commercial books, but the ones that don’t usually command six-figure advances. He finds it hard to imagine how publishers will navigate a world without B&N in it and is quite candid about how difficult negotiations with the already-nearly-hegemonic Amazon already are with the B&N counterweight still alive and active.

. . . .

The suggestion that publishers buy and fix B&N surprised me a bit. There was talk about publishers setting up their own online book sales competitor to Amazon 20 years ago and it is evident now why that wouldn’t have worked. Amazon’s significant competitive advantage came from the fact that making money from the book business wasn’t their primary objective: building a customer base on the back of the book business to create a bigger marketplace and ultimately a cloud computing behemoth was where they were going. No publisher or consortium of publishers was going to adopt a vision like that.

But the suggestion does have logical elements. Publishers have the most to gain from a prosperous Barnes & Noble and the most to lose if it goes away. Publishers are, along with store lease-holders, B&N’s most significant trading partners and creditors. And Amazon competes as a publisher, Barnes & Noble still owns a publisher, and major publishers owned the Brentano’s and Doubleday bookstore chains in decades past, so publishers and booksellers have owned each other over the years.

. . . .

Yes, it is a correct analysis that the super-sized bookstore is a dinosaur; massive in-store selection with many titles that hardly ever sell is a relic of the pre-Internet age. And the “curation” that makes a small selection work effectively is more easily delivered by Amazon’s massive supply chain and highly localized market knowledge, not to mention their ability to “promote” by email the existence of a store or anything in it to a large percentage of purchasers in any locale. Similarly, Amazon will find it easy to sell “home goods”, or whatever else is the right thing for any particular location because they probably already do. And while B&N is being urged to ditch the money-demanding Nook ebook line, Amazon would be using Kindle as a springboard to the extent that is relevant at all to a store-shopping audience.

And I’m going to admit to a bit of a chuckle when I read “build a community”. A community? One  community? Does that mean one community for people who read Civil War history and romance fiction? No, that’s a silly idea. A bookstore actually needs to foster many communities. You can be pretty confident that Amazon knows that.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

PG says very smart retailers are worried about competition from Amazon. The idea that some big publishers (which are not very big at all compared to Amazon) know how to sell books at retail better than Amazon does is ludicrous.

Besides, none of the large US publishers are independent entities. They are all owned by large conglomerates in Europe or the US. PG suggests that these conglomerates (which are themselves much smaller than Amazon) have no appetite to fund a bunch of retail bookstores that are very unlikely to be any more profitable than Barnes & Noble has been for several years.

On Publishing Arabic Literature in Translation: Specialists Cite Rising Interest Despite Challenges

13 July 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

Is there enough discussion in American publishing about Arabic literature in translation? At a seminar in New York, the publishing audience was eager to know more.

One of the biggest takeaways from Wednesday’s (July 11) Seminar on Arabic Literature in Translation was that the publishers, translators, agents and others in the audience are eager for more information on the subject.

. . . .

The discussion ran long as questions from the audience were put to the panelists. Moderator Chip Rossetti, editorial director for the Library of Arabic Literature, began the discussion by saying, “it is rare that Arabic literature gets this kind of venue”—too rare and much needed, it seems, judging by number of hands that went up during the question and answer session.

. . . .

First, there is a large body of Arabic work that’s still undiscovered in translation, and this isn’t necessarily due to a lack of interest. Max Weiss, a translator and associate professor of history and Near Eastern studies at Princeton University, said that interest in Arabic literature tends to follow current events like the attacks of September 11.

This cyclical interest sometimes means that published translations tend to reflect those current events, but not necessarily the broader scope of Arabic writing.

Weiss brought up an example well known in Arabic literary circles to illustrate his point. In 1980, professor and literary critic Edward Said pitched a novel by Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz (who would go on to win the Nobel Prize for literature) to a New York publisher. The publisher responded, according to Said, by saying that Arabic was a “controversial language.”

Weiss said that “Arabic literature became visible in English in ways that reproduced that very premise.”

Without “a kind of canon” of modern Arabic literature in translation, Weiss said, we don’t have a reference point for this body of work beyond this seemingly enduring perception of Arabic as a “controversial language.”

. . . .

From his seat in the audience, Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, asked the panelists about how books are distributed in the Arab world and about issues of censorship.

Alex Elinson, translator and associate professor of Arabic Language and Literature at Hunter College, said that the state of publishing varies from country to country. Based on many conversations with Moroccan writers, Elinson said, those writers feel they have to “go outside the country” in order to see success.

Rossetti agreed, relating his experiences while working as an editor at the American University of Cairo Press. As an author, he said, it’s common that “you write in one country and take [the book] to your publisher in another country.” This strategy addresses both censorship and distribution challenges in the region.

Censorship “varies from country to country,” said Weiss. Even before the revolution in Syria, he said, “writers would often self-publish or publish abroad,” primarily in Beirut, to avoid the censors.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives


How young writers are leading a poetry comeback

12 July 2018

From PBS:

Twenty-eight million American adults read poetry this year — the highest percentage of poetry readership in more than 15 years, according to a surveyof arts participation conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the U.S. Census Bureau.

“We’ve never seen an increase in poetry reading. If anything there had been a decline — a pretty sharp decline — since about 2002 at least,” said Sunil Iyengar, NEA director of research and analysis.

Iyengar, author of the blog postannouncing the poetry data, said these numbers are “quite remarkable.” And while the full arts participation report won’t be released until later this year, he said these results were too significant not to share early.

Young adults and certain racial ethnic groups account for a large portion of the increase. U.S. poetry readers aged 18 to 24 more than doubled, jumping from 8 percent in 2012 to 17 percent in 2017. Among people of color, African Americans and Asian Americans are reading poetry at the highest rates — which more than doubled in the last five years — up 15 and 12 percent, respectively.

. . . .

Other notable increased readership groups include women, rural Americans and those with only some college education.

. . . .

“Young people are taking the opportunity outside class to continue pursuing and reading and engaging poetry, whether it be in print or through YouTube videos,” Green said. “They want it and then they’re replicating it; they’re starting to write their own poems.”

Link to the rest at PBS

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