Agency pricing didn’t restrain Amazon; it strengthened them

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

Many, if not most, of the people in publishing houses I know have what they feel is a pretty clear picture of the changes we’re seeing in the business. There seems to be a strong consensus that the ebook share is leveling off or diminishing as opposed to print. And there is an enthusiasm about what is characterized as a vibrant and growing independent sector. And stronger print, too many (if not most) people (even inside the industry) figure, means stronger brick-and-mortar and a lessening of the power of Amazon.

But data is really elusive and confusing in our business. Nobody really counts everything in the same way with the same time periods and methodology.

. . . .

The challenge of aggregating that data and making sense of it has been tackled by Data Guy, the anonymous quant who put together the Author Earnings website with indie author star Hugh Howey. The original mission of Author Earnings was to get a handle on how much money indie authors earned in relation to conventionally-published ones. Indie authors often sell ebooks, particularly, at much lower prices than established publishers do, with the author getting a much larger share of the consumer dollar from those sales. But indie authors don’t get the same level of print sales (almost none in stores) and often don’t produce audiobooks, which require a separate creative effort.

So indie authors often make more per copy on ebooks, even when they are priced very low, than published authors do, ignoring, for the moment, that so many published books don’t earn out their advance so the effective royalty rate is higher than the contractual royalty rate. The indies also usually give up a big share of the potential market because many of them only get ebook sales through Amazon.

. . . .

So it requires a certain amount of faith to accept Data Guy’s analysis. It is almost certainly not 100% correct. But Bookscan doesn’t capture all the cash registers and PubTrack doesn’t get reports from all the publishers either. (Welcome to the world of publishing data!)

. . . .

That’s analysis each publisher needs for each book they do, and should perhaps engage Data Guy to help them with. There are some stunning revelations even within his DBW slides but, as he spells out, he can get exceedingly granular with that analysis. If my commercial success depended on knowing the landscape, I’d want him to inform me about the market for each book I published.

The other set of insights provided blows away the picture of reality painted here in the opening graf. (Admittedly, the sophisticated quants inside the biggest publishers must know this picture isn’t accurate about their own books.) It documents that the strategy of the biggest publishers, going to agency pricing so it was harder for Amazon to discount ebooks, is not solving their “Amazon problem”. It is exacerbating it!

Data Guy delivers a much clearer picture of the real market by including and integrating data for what Bookscan and PubTrack leave uncounted: the indie-published books (and even some from publishers) that don’t carry ISBNs and Amazon-published books that aren’t reported. He estimates the total “non-traditional” market at $1.25 billion consumer dollars, almost 300 million units across formats, with the lion’s share — 263 million of the 297 million units — being ebooks. The ebooks are on the cheaper side (he says an average of $2.92 per unit for the self-published and $4.38 per unit for Amazon-published). The ninety-nine cent price is pretty much a relic, except for windowed promotions. Amazon made that happen with their royalty structure, encouraging authors to price at $2.99 or above.

This shadow market constitutes 43% of the units purchased on Amazon and 24% of the dollars spent.

Those 263 million ebooks that Data Guy counts and Bookscan doesn’t are the difference between the flat or shrinking ebook market that publishers see and the perhaps-still-growing ebook market that Amazon sales suggest.

. . . .

No, the strategy of forcing Amazon to eschew discounting of ebooks — the agency pricing publishers have fought for and accomplished over the past several years — is not fostering an ecosystem more hospitable to the publishers.

In fact, it is making it more difficult for them.

This is clearly revealed through Data Guy’s consolidated picture of print book sales (only) in 2015 and 2016. In fact, the year-to-year change over those two years showed that the percentage of sales delivered through B&N, Walmart/Target, and “other” (smaller chains, airport stores, non-bookstores) all fell. The celebrated independent bookstores held their own, at a pretty paltry 6 percent of the sales.

But Amazon increased its share substantially, from 38 percent of the print units to 42 percent.

So if the original point to the agency strategy was to reduce the power of Amazon, it isn’t working.

. . . .

It is an incredible irony that the publishers had a strategy to hobble Amazon: stop ebook discounting. The courts found that unpalatable, so the publishers were forced to relent a bit. But, Amazon effectively said “no, thank you, we’re okay with what you did originally” and changed tactics to create a different pressure point.

We now live in a world where 69 percent (shout it out: SIXTY-NINE PERCENT) of book sales — print, digital, and audio — are online and only 31% in brick-and-mortar stores. For kids books, fiction and non-fiction, that’s a bit under half. For adult books, fiction and non-fiction, that’s about three-quarters!

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files and thanks to Jan and others for the tip.

PG suspects “sophisticated quants inside the biggest publishers” don’t exist. If PG is wrong about the nonexistence of quants, the only explanation for Big Publishing’s strategy during the last 5-8 years is that management never listens to anyone with the tiniest bit of quantitative ability.

At every major fork in the disruptive road, publishers have made the wrong decision. Fighting Amazon when they should have embraced Amazon. Mispricing ebooks to support print sales. Chasing talented authors away when they should have been treating them like queens. (Yes, publishers are sexist, particularly in their attitude towards “women’s” genres and the authors who write in those genres. Anybody with a single quant cell in their brains would have gone all-in for ebook romances and their voracious readers.)

Amazon.com Plans First Air Cargo Hub

 

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon.com Inc. said Tuesday it plans to build its first air cargo hub to accommodate its growing fleet of planes, signaling the company is ramping up its expansion into transporting, sorting and delivering its own packages.

The Seattle-based retailer said it expects the new air hub, located at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport in Hebron, Ky., to create more than 2,000 jobs. The move will lessen its dependence on traditional carriers, including United Parcel Service Inc. and FedEx Corp., both of whose largest hubs are nearby, in Louisville, Ky., and Memphis, Tenn., respectively.

Last year, Amazon said it was planning to lease 40 cargo planes, 16 of which are currently in its fleet. It also brought on a dedicated network of 4,000 semi trailers to increase trucking capacity and has a fleet of citizen courier Flex drivers making deliveries in major metro areas.
Amazon’s goal is to eventually haul and deliver packages for itself as well as other retailers and consumers—making it a direct competitor with UPS and FedEx, according to people familiar with the matter. The air cargo hub follows Amazon’s recent ocean debut, handling shipment of goods by ocean to its U.S. warehouses from Chinese merchants selling on its site, taking on a role it previously left to global freight-transportation companies.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Oculus lawsuit ends with half billion dollar judgment awarded to ZeniMax

From Polygon:

A Dallas, Texas jury today awarded half a billion dollars to ZeniMax after finding that Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey, and by extension Oculus [a company now owned by Facebook], failed to comply with a non-disclosure agreement he signed.

In awarding ZeniMax $500 million, the jury also said that Oculus did not misappropriate trade secrets as contended by ZeniMax.

. . . .

It remains unclear what sort of impact this will have on the daily retail sale of the Oculus Rift headsets. Facebook is expected to announced its fourth-quarter earnings after the market closes today.

. . . .

The Zenimax versus Facebook trial kicked off in January with testimony from a number of experts and those involved directly in the case including id Software co-founder John Carmack, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Oculus co-founders Iribe and Palmer Luckey.

. . . .

During his day in court, Zuckerberg was grilled about his company’s seemingly rushed acquisition of Oculus for $2 billion. And during the first week of the trial, Carmack was questioned about his decision to copy some code from id Software computers before leaving the company to work at Facebook with Luckey.

. . . .

According to ZeniMax’s complaint, Oculus co-founder and Rift inventor Palmer Luckey — along with a half a dozen ex-ZeniMax employees who are now working at Oculus — are building the Rift based on years and millions of dollars’ worth of ZeniMax’s research and copyrighted code.

Link to the rest at Polygon

Tradition

Tradition wears a snowy beard, romance is always young.

John Greenleaf Whittier

San Antonio Rekindles that Loving Feeling

From the Amazon Press Room:

Love reigns at Amazon.com as the company today released its annual list of Top 20 Most Romantic Cities.

The list is determined by a compilation of sales data from cities with more than 100,000 residents on a per capita basis and includes purchases of romance novels and relationship books (both Kindle and print); romantic comedy movies (DVDs and digital); a curated list of romantic music, including artists like Adele, John Legend, Ed Sheeran, Drake, Brad Paisley and Barry White (CDs and MP3 format); as well as the sales of sexual wellness products.

The Top 20 Most Romantic Cities in the U.S. are:

1. San Antonio, Texas 11. Columbia, S.C.
2. Miami, Fla. 12. Vancouver, Wash.
3. Alexandria, Va. 13. Gainesville, Fla.
4. Orlando, Fla. 14. Seattle, Wash.
5. Salt Lake City, Utah 15. Scottsdale, Ariz.
6. Knoxville, Tenn. 16. Tampa, Fla.
7. Cincinnati, Ohio 17. Las Vegas, Nev.
8. Pittsburgh, Pa. 18. Portland, Ore.
9. Atlanta, Ga. 19. Round Rock, Texas
10. Ann Arbor, Mich. 20. Rochester, N.Y.

Some of the interesting findings in Amazon’s romantic data revealed that:

  • Lovers in Seattle and Atlanta set the mood without delay, ordering more Romance novels using Prime FREE Same-Day Delivery than any other city on the list. Top Romance titles included “First Comes Love” by Emily Giffin, “The Rosie Project” by Graeme Simsion and “Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes.
  • Kindle Unlimited members fell in love with love, reading tens of millions of romance books in the last year, including “Everything We Keep” by Kerry Lonsdale, “Worth the Wait” by Jamie Beck and “Doing It Over” by Catherine Bybee.
  • Customers enjoyed binge-watching romantic films and TV series on Prime Video last year. The Amazon Original series “Catastrophe,” “Mozart in the Jungle” and “Doctor Thorne,” as well as movies like “Age of Adaline” and “Equals” were among the most streamed romantic titles.
  • Chicago, Houston, New York, San Diego and Seattle stoked the fire of love all year long by streaming the most love songs from Amazon Music.

Link to the rest at Amazon Press Room

Being Part of Kindle in Motion

From author Sariah Wilson:

“I have this project, but I can’t give you any details yet. Do you think you might be interested?”

Um, yes. If Amazon asks, my answer is most likely always going to be yes (I think they are the best people to be in a partnership with). Over a year ago this was how my editor at Montlake approached me. He said he would tell me more when he could and that period of time kept stretching and stretching until he finally sort of told me what it was about. It would be a new type of technology. It would be like having movie clips or GIFs inside my story.

. . . .

My editor wanted me to write a novella about a heroine who goes out with different men but is falling in love with one in particular. We batted some ideas around and I settled on the story that is currently the basis for ROYAL DESIGN.

I actually wrote this book pretty quickly. In about four days. I thought about it for a long time, outlined it, and then it all came together. Brevity is not my strong point, but I’d written a novella just prior to this (my very first time), which made it easier the second time (although it was a stretch to stay under the word limit).

Then the really fun part of this project started. I got on the phone with the director/producer, and this was her first time getting to film something like this for Amazon and to say we were both like giddy fangirls is underselling our level of excitement. She loved my characters the same way that I did. She asked how involved I wanted to be, and my answer was a lot, and so it began. (I actually got teased when they would send me something, because I would immediately go over it and read every part of it so that when we got on a conference call I had already practically memorized it).

I wrote up a character list, describing all of the characters physically. My favorite part was the celebrity comparisons (I imagined Enzo as a young Joe Manganiello crossed with Ryan Guzman and Bellamy as a Kristin Kreuk type, and Gray Porter as a lost Hemsworth brother). These bios were sent over to an agency, and we were sent back a massive document with all these different shots of various candidates (we were choosing one girl and four guys). Lots of expressions and poses for us to look over.

Link to the rest at Sariah Wilson

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

Major Record Labels Under The Gun In Sales v. Licensing, Carpenters Case

From Forbes blogs:

The dispute between artists and labels over the income earned from digital downloads continues to rage.

Traditionally, record labels sold physical copies of music mediums, like CDs, and then would pay a royalty to the artist for each record sold. When iTunes came on the scene in 2001, the labels treated the sales of digital downloads the same as sales of physical CDs, and ever since have paid the artist a royalty on sales of those digital downloads. However, labels actually license the master recordings to digital distributors like iTunes and after a while artists began to make the argument that the income earned from digital downloads should be treated as licensing income and not sales income. The reason why artists want downloads to be treated as licensing income is because instead of getting a small percentage for a sales royalty (most commonly ranging from 11-20%, with an average of about 15% of the wholesale purchase price), licensing income is usually split 50-50 between the label and the artist. Therefore, artists stand to make a lot more money in royalties if a digital download is treated as a license rather than a sale.

This issue came to court starting in 2007 with the case FBT Productions v. Aftermath Records, a case involving royalties paid on Eminem recordings at the “sales” rate rather than the “licensing” rate. FBT won the lawsuit, establishing that income from digital downloads should be treated as licensing income rather than sales income, but Universal Music Group (owner of Aftermath Records) argued that this case should not set a precedent for all artist or record deals.

. . . .

The Carpenters. Surviving member Richard Carpenter (fighting on behalf of his sister Karen Carpenter’s estate, as well) audited the band’s label, A&M Records/Universal Music. Artists often audit record label books to make sure that they are getting paid the proper royalties. Richard Carpenter’s audit showed that the label was under-reporting the number of downloads sold, was calculating the royalty on those downloads at a lower base price than they were supposed to, and that the label was paying a royalty on digital downloads at the sales rate instead of the licensing rate. Apparently, attempts to resolve the issue amicably were unsuccessful, and thus Richard Carpenter sued.

The Carpenters’ suit cites the FBT case as a precedent, and if the court follows FBT’s ruling then Carpenter has a good chance of success.

Link to the rest at Forbes blogs

PG has written about the sales vs. licensing royalties issue several times. If you search TPV using the key word, Eminem, you’ll find several posts.

 

When your agent wants to charge you a fee

From QueryTracker Blog:

There are two kinds of lousy agents. The first is the scammer, the kind who wants to get money from authors without in any way performing the services an actual agent ought to perform. When you know the basics about the business, you’ll recognize those. They ask you for money just to read your manuscript and refer you for “necessary” editing services to their friends, many of whom are actually themselves operating under a different business name.

The second kind of lousy agent is just…slippery. That agent is harder to recognize from the outside. While you know to run from agents who charge reading fees, for example, what do you do about one who brings up “administrative charges” after the contract is signed?

Today a writer sent me a copy of an email his agent had sent him. This agent is a legit agent at a legit agency. It’s just that….well, you’ll see.

The agent sent the writer an email about changes to their literary agency agreement, with the expectation that the writer would sign it and be thrilled. (Note: I’ve removed all references to The agency and rephrased in order to clarify in parts. The content is the same, and I verified on the agency’s website.)

In the current contract, the only charges are for any extraoridinary expenses that may occur (courier services, foreign exchange, etc.), $250.00 per year, and a $500.00 cancellation fee should the author wish to terminate the contract.

Please note: don’t sign a contract with that stipulation. Why should the author be charged a fee to break the contract? There’s no matching fee for the agent if the agent decides to fire the writer, after all. Usually an agented writer is pleased to stay onboard. When the writer wants to leave, often it’s because the writer has issues with the way the agent is representing the manuscript. By charging this ridiculous contract-breaking fee, the agent has stated that s/he would rather have a bitter, angry client than just part ways amicably.

. . . .

Then we get to the fun part, where the agency describes their new contract, introducing an administrative fee structure:

The first year we represent a manuscript we charge five hundred dollars ($500.00), then an additional two hundred fifty dollars $250.00 each year until we place it with a publisher. Upon securing a publishing contract, the agency receives 15% of net revenues.

On their website, they try to sweeten the deal: they explain that this fee helps them partner with writers who are serious and willing to invest in their careers.

. . . .

This agent seriously wants you to fork over five hundred bucks before even starting the job, and that $500 won’t come out of the advance when the book sells. Then, if the agent fails to sell your book in one year, the agent gets rewarded with an additional $250.

Link to the rest at QueryTracker Blog and thanks to Deb for the tip.

Audiobook and e-book bundling App Shelfie is closing

From GoodEreader:

Shelfie is a digital bundling platform that allows you to scan your physical bookshelf and it will produce a list of audiobooks and e-books that are eligible to receive discounts. The company has relationships with hundreds of publishers and they all bought into the fact that if you own the print version, you should receive some sort of discount when investing in digital.

You might have heard that e-book sales have been falling on a quarterly basis for the past two years. This is primarily due to the fact that people are losing trust in the format. Companies have been closing at an accelerated rate and people who made a ton of purchases lose access to their e-bookr or are forced to do business with Kobo.

Shelfie formally known as Bit.lit launched in 2013 and the company is based in Vancouver, British Columbia. They have just announced that they are shutting down their servers on January 31st 2017 and gave their users less than 24 hours notice. The vast majority of e-books that customers had purchased had DRM, which means everything will be lost and there is no way to back them up.

Link to the rest at GoodEreader

Fresh fears for libraries as councils face £5.8bn funding gap

From The Bookseller:

Fresh fears for the future of libraries have emerged with the revelation that local councils are facing a £5.8bn spending gap by 2020.

The concerns have surfaced on the eve of the relaunch of the all party parliamentary group tonight (31st January), which campaigners hope will work to put pressure on government to affect real change in the public library service.

According to the Local Government Association (LGA), the long-term funding crisis means local government will continue to face an overall funding gap of £5.8bn by 2020 and that more than two thirds of the 375 councils in England and Wales will be forced to find millions in savings to plug the funding gaps in 2017/18.

Lord Porter, LGA chairman, said: “No new money from central government is being provided to councils in 2017/18. In fact, more than two thirds of councils will actually be worse off next year than they were expecting. [Even] if councils stopped filling in potholes, maintaining parks and open spaces, closed all children’s centres, libraries, museums, leisure centres, turned off every street light and shut all discretionary bus routes they would not have saved enough money to plug this gap by the end of the decade.”

. . . .

“We obviously think public libraries are amongst the most loved and widely used public services in the country and councils have a legal duty to ensure provision,” he said. “If these figures are even close to true then it’s very hard to see how [councils will be able to] fulfil the legal requirement [to deliver a comprehensive and efficient library service as defined by the 1964 Public Libraries Act].

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Social media is a giant distraction

Social media is a giant distraction to the ultimate aim, which is honing your craft as a songwriter. There are people who are exceptional at it, however, and if you can do both things, then that’s fantastic, but if you are a writer, the time is better spent on a clever lyric than a clever tweet.

Bryan Adams

Facebook Is Trying Everything to Re-Enter China—and It’s Not Working

From The Wall Street Journal:

Facebook Inc.’s chances of getting back into China appeared to take a rare turn for the better when an employee noticed an official posting online: Beijing authorities had granted it a license to open a representative office in two office-tower suites in the capital.

Such permits typically give Western firms an initial China beachhead. This one, which Facebook won in late 2015, could have been a sign Beijing was ready to give the company another chance to connect with China’s roughly 700 million internet users, reopening the market as the social-media giant’s U.S.-growth prospects dimmed.

There was a catch. Facebook’s license was for three months, unusually short. Facebook executives found the limitation unexpected and frustrating, people familiar with the episode said.

Facebook never opened the office. The official posting disappeared and now exists as a ghost in cached versions of the government website. “We did, at one point in time, plan to have an office,” said Facebook spokeswoman Charlene Chian, “but we don’t today.”

The episode is part of Facebook’s running tale of woe in China, where it has been trying to set the stage for a return. Blocked on China’s internet since 2009, Facebook has courted Chinese officials, made Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg more visible in China, hired a well-connected China-policy chief and begun developing technology that could cull content the Communist Party deems unacceptable.

. . . .

It has made no visible headway. And as time passes, Facebook is watching from the outside as Chinese social-media giants mop up the market that might have been its own. Weibo, along with Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat and QQ, are now dominant in China, and it may be too late for Facebook, said industry executives including Kai-Fu Lee, Google’s former China head and now CEO of Innovation Works, a Chinese incubator.

“At this stage and time with WeChat, Weibo and other products, it’s hopeless,” Mr. Lee said.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Industry, ISPs End Controversial “Six Strikes” Copyright Alert System

From Consumerist:

Since the Napster era began in 1999, content creators and distributors have really, really hated it when you share their stuff online without paying up. Industry groups have tried many ways to stem the tide but one, a four-year-old cooperative alert system, is being scrapped after basically proving not to work.

Variety reports that the pact among internet service providers, movie and TV studios, and record labels that created the Copyright Alert System is being allowed to expire, and will not be renewed and the end of this particular system has come.

The Copyright Alert System (CAS) is also known as the “Six Strikes” program, because that’s how many warnings suspected infringers get.

If your ISP participates in Six Strikes, it first gives you two “educational” alerts when you are suspected of unlawfully sharing copyrighted material. After that come two “acknowledgement” alerts, that require you in some way to indicate you received and read them, and after that come two “mitigation” alerts, that can include throttling your connection speed, redirecting all of your browsing to a landing page that makes you acknowledge the warning on it, or other “minor consequences.”

. . . .

By Feb. 2014, one year later, Comcast was reportedly sending out 1,800 CAS notices per day to some of its millions of broadband subscribers. At most, if every single alert Comcast ever sent in the first year went to a different account-holder, roughly 3% of Comcast subscribers would have received one.

. . . .

Meanwhile, a court ruled in 2015 that an IP address is not enough information to identify someone as an actual file pirate: anyone using the network can show as coming from the same IP address.

Link to the rest at Consumerist

Walmart Reduces Free 2-Day Shipping Requirements

From PC Magazine:

Starting today, Walmart customers can get free two-day shipping with a minimum purchase of $35 from today.

The new offer covers popular merchandise like baby necessities, pet items, personal care, electronics, food, household essentials, health, and beauty products.
It also reduces the minimum purchase requirement from $50 to $35, ensuring more people can take advantage of the promotion. Shoppers, meanwhile, do not need a ShippingPass membership—the company’s $49-per-year Amazon Prime-like service that promises free, unlimited two-day shipping on all Walmart.com orders.

“In today’s world of e-commerce, two-day free shipping is table stakes. It no longer makes sense to charge for it,” Marc Lore, president and CEO of Walmart US eCommerce, said in a statement. “Two-day free shipping is the first of many moves we will be making to enhance the customer experience and accelerate growth.”

. . . .

The world’s largest retailer, meanwhile, in August announced its acquisition of e-commerce company Jet.com for $3 billion—an effort it hopes will improve its website and woo millennials.

Link to the rest at PC Magazine and thanks to Felix for the tip.

Why There’s No Perfect Time to Post on Facebook

From Buffer:

There probably isn’t a single best time to share to social media.

There’s a long tradition of studies that have attempted to uncover a ‘best time’ to post to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and almost every other social media marketing channel, with each study finding a wide range of results (we’ve even created our own studies here at Buffer).

Here are just some recommendations on the best time to post to Facebook to get you started:

  • Thursdays and Fridays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. [Hubspot]
  • Thursday at 8 p.m.  [TrackMaven]
  • 1–4 p.m. late into the week and on weekends [CoSchedule]
  • Early afternoon during the week and Saturdays [Buffer]
  • Off-peak times are best [Buzzsum0]

All of these studies are based on sound logic and can potentially be helpful to point marketers in the right direction. But almost every study reveals a different ‘best time to post’ and I believe there’s no perfect time to post to Facebook (or any social channel for that matter). 

The best time to post depends on a number of factors that are specific to every business: What’s your industry? What location is audience based? When are they online? Are you sponsoring your post?

I’d love to flip the conversation and say that instead of looking for a universal ‘best time to post’, maybe we should be focusing specifically on when is the best time for your brand to post.

Link to the rest at Buffer

NY Times Removes Comics Bestseller Lists: Why This is a Problem

From BookRiot:

When the New York Times bestseller lists for the week of February 5 went out this week, literary agent Charlie Olson noticed something odd: several of the usual categories of bestsellers were curiously absent. The only explanation was a brief message which noted that the Times had chosen to “eliminate a number of print but mostly online-only bestseller lists. In recent years, we introduced a number of new lists as an experiment, many of which are being discontinued.” Although the Times has not released an official list of the categories being cut, those on the chopping block so far appear to include middle grade ebooks, young adult ebooks, mass market paperbacks, and all three of the “Graphic Books” lists: graphic hardcover, graphic paperback, and manga. That’s right: in the eyes of the New York Times, graphic novels, comics, and manga no longer qualify as mainstream literary genres. (Let’s put aside for now the fact that comics are a storytelling medium, not a genre.)

Look, it’s literary gatekeeping. Let’s call it what it is.

. . . .

Shuffling categories around to manipulate what does or doesn’t make the bestseller lists isn’t exactly a new trick for the Times. Back in the simpler, more innocent days of July 2000, the Times did something it hadn’t done in 15 years: it added a new category to its bestseller lists. The reason? Some upstart of a children’s book series was hogging three of the ten coveted spaces on the Fiction bestseller list. With a fourth book in this outrageously popular fantasy series about to be released, and preorder numbers indicating that a fourth slot on the Fiction list was about to be stolen, the Children’s Bestseller list was created. The series in question? Harry Potter. That’s right: J.K. Rowling posed so much of a literary threat to the Fiction Bestseller list that her bestselling series was relegated to its own special category before Goblet of Fire even hit shelves. (The story doesn’t even stop there – Harry Potter’s perpetual squatting on the Children’s Bestseller list eventually led the Times to shunt it off even further to the new Children’s Series list, because even in its own genre Harry Potter can’t catch a literary break.)

. . . .

The Times’ decision to cut the comics lists has already been questioned on social media by a number of comics creators, librarians, publishers, and other industry professionals. Reigning Graphic Paperback bestseller queen Raina Telgemeier exchanged concerned tweets with Pamela Paul about the decision, citing the list as a powerful tool for librarians looking for graphic novels and for creators, both new and established, seeking recognition and validation. Publisher’s Weekly indicated that the decision has caused a stir among comics publishers as well, who rely on the Times‘ bestseller list as a key benchmark of a comic’s success, both in-house and in their marketing process.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

In high school

In high school, I had to hide my comic book side, my nerd side from the civilian world so they wouldn’t categorize me. They would try to marginalize me for what I like. I tried to give it up, believe me. I tried to kick the habit. But there’s too much I liked about it to give it up completely.

Mark Hamill

A Bounty Hunting Service for E-Book Piracy

From Copyright and Technology:

We’ve been talking a lot here about blockchain applications for transaction processing in the music industry; in fact we had a panel on it at last week’s conference in NYC.  Yet the latest application of blockchain technology to the media industry, from Custos Media Technologies, has nothing to do with music or royalty transaction processing.  It has to do with e-books, and the application is copyright monitoring.  What does this have to do with blockchain?  It enables users to collect bounties for finding potentially infringing files, and the bounties are paid in Bitcoin.

Custos’s technology, which spun out of the MIH Media Lab at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, embeds unique watermarks in EPUB-formatted e-books.  It runs a watermark detection service that bounty hunters (yes, the company uses that term) can use to find watermarked files and report them, in return for a private key to a Bitcoin wallet.  When a file is reported, Custos returns the identity of the original purchaser to the e-book distributor, which can take legal action or whatever other steps it sees fit.

Custos’s COO Fred Lutz says that the solution is targeted “through online forums such as Reddit and Twitter” to “college-age users who are short on cash and long on time, and who are typically already involved in piracy communities.”

. . . .

Techniques used to embed invisible watermarks in e-books include things like embedding hidden data in illustrations, algorithmically altering content other than the actual substance of the book (such as text on a copyright page, index, or page header/footer), inserting non-printing characters, and using identifiers as input to kerning algorithms (for computing the spacing of characters in a line of text).  A worst-case solution to any of these techniques is to strip out everything except the actual text and basic markup (paragraph, chapter, bold, italic, etc.).

Custos addresses this by embedding multiple redundant watermarks in each e-book file using different types of techniques.  This way, though it’s possible for a hacker to strip out a watermark, the hacker can’t be confident that all of the watermarks have been removed.

Link to the rest at Copyright and Technology

College Accused of Monopolizing Textbook Market

From Courthouse News:

The local, off-campus competitor of an Illinois community college bookstore claims in court that the school is trying to put it out of business by selling textbooks below cost and withholding course book information.

Joliet Textbooks, which owns a store selling textbooks and related items across from the entrance of Joliet Junior College’s campus in Joliet, Ill., filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Will County accusing JJC of violating the Illinois Antitrust Act.

The off-campus store claims that JJC “engaged in a concerted scheme to thwart competition in the market for the sale of used and new textbooks and to destroy competition in the marketplace by undermining plaintiff’s business through anti-competitive pricing strategies.”

The school’s official bookstore, a half-mile from Joliet Textbooks, “enjoys certain institutional advantages over a private sector competitor like plaintiff,” such as not paying rent and not needing to generate a profit to stay open, the complaint states.

Both stores purchase their new and used textbooks from the same sources, says Joliet Textbooks, and the standard practice is to charge 20 to 30 percent above cost.

However, JJC has allegedly been selling textbooks to its students below cost and is giving out rebates and calculating sales taxes on the artificially lower price.

Link to the rest at Courthouse News and thanks to Nate for the tip.

PG is not familiar with the Illinois Antitrust Act, so he can’t opine about the plaintiff’s chances in court.

He was, however, reminded, of an antitrust suit by the American Booksellers Association and a number of independent bookstores against Barnes & Noble and Borders in 2001. The principal claim was that the big bookstores received secret discounts from big publishers and distributors. The case was ultimately settled before a final verdict.

The Life Cycle of the Book

From Shelf Awareness:

A story titled “The Life Cycle of the Book,” even if it is set at a Wi12 panel, should have a great opening line, and Elizabeth Strout provided a fine one when she remarked at the start of Saturday’s session: “I’m the one who writes the book.”

Moderated by Betsy Burton of the King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, Utah, the panel explored the life cycle of Strout’s bestseller My Name Is Lucy Barton from the perspectives of the author, her agent Molly Friedrich, her Random House editor Susan Kamil, Ruth Liebmann (v-p & director, account marketing, PRH) and bookseller Pete Mulvihill of Green Apple Books in San Francisco, Calif.

“I think that a lot of what an agent does is try to help the author manage expectations, focus on the work, the work; stay honest to the work,” Friedrich said, adding that with Strout’s manuscripts, “she’s been over that work so many times and with such lapidary attention that there’s very, very little to say except to be in a kind of swoon of admiration…. And with Lucy Barton in particular, it was kind of perfect.”

Kamil observed that “editors are like literary shape shifters. We become exactly what our authors need us to become,” and recalled that after reading the Lucy Barton manuscript for the first time, “I can’t quite describe the feeling to you, though as book lovers I’m sure you know what I mean when I say I was stunned and I was speechless…. I also knew it was a masterwork. It’s all about the book. And in this particular case, what a book! I had to get it into the hands of our publishing team.”

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

Authors fear accusations of cultural appropriation

From The Bookseller:

Cries of cultural appropriation could be dissuading authors from publishing books that reflect black, Asian, ethnic minority (BAME) audiences, the Westminster Media Forum has heard.

The issue, which emerged at the discussion forum yesterday, (24th January), was raised by Nicola Solomon, chief executive for the Society of Authors, who pleaded with publishers “please don’t troll our authors for cultural appropriation”.

“We need to have as many diverse voices as we can,” she said. “This is often hard to hear for publishers and others, but for our authors who maybe are trying to include other voices in their books – because after all, writing fiction is about imagination, and you ought to be able to imagine other worlds to your own and other faces than your own – please don’t troll writers for cultural appropriation every time they put a black face in their book if they are not black. We absolutely need as many authors as possible but we also need authors to write about a range of people and to imagine people they are not.

“It’s a terribly important thing and our authors are finding they are very, very caught between two stalls here,” she said.

Author and illustrator Shoo Raynor, who is on the committee of the writers and illustrators’ group at the SoA, said the issue of cultural appropriation was coming up in “every meeting”.

“Certainly at the moment, the thing that comes up every meeting is cultural appropriation and how we are often stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Raynor said. “Publishers will often ask to have ethnic characters removed from stories. I’ve not had that problem myself but various people have, purely because they’re not going to sell the book. We hear lots and lots of stories, horror stories.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Self-Publishing in 2017: The Year in Preview

From Publishers Weekly:

As 2017 begins, indie authors and publishers are having to navigate a fast-growing industry filled with new opportunities, but one that also presents challenges related to that expansion. To find continued success in self-publishing, it has become more important to expand the definition of “self-published author” to encompass new roles and new formats.

. . . .

“We can expect 2017 is going to continue to be a challenging market for all authors and publishers,” says Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords. He attributes this to the flood of titles that have entered the e-book space.

The growing supply is creating one set of difficulties for authors who are trying to get their titles discovered, and Coker says Amazon has not made anything easier for indie authors’ bottom lines with KDP Select, which requires participating authors to publish e-books exclusively with Amazon and allows titles to be eligible for Kindle Unlimited—a program that provides unlimited books for readers who pay a monthly subscription fee. He is critical of the online retail giant’s shift from compensating authors per books sold to a system based on the number of pages read.

Robin Cutler, director of IngramSpark, says that as a result of this drop in revenue from e-book content, indie authors who had previously focused on digital are looking to publish in print and other formats. “Getting their titles into brick-and-mortar bookstores as well as into libraries continues as a goal for many indie authors this year and into next year,” says Cutler.

Joel Friedlander, book designer and publishing consultant, seconds that, emphasizing that while getting print books into stores is not always easy, successful indie authors will be those who think outside traditional formats. “Authors are starting to understand that the world of book publishing is much bigger than e-books and print on demand,” he says.

. . . .

Just as 2017 will likely see self-publishing expand into different formats, it may also be a time when authors have to find ways to expand their own roles. They are adding such words as consultant, publisher, and marketer to their business cards and passing on lessons for success to other authors.

“They typically begin publishing their own work and through that experience learn how to establish a publishing business or service to help other authors,” says IngramSpark’s Cutler.

Friedlander predicts that more indie authors will become indie publishers by assisting other writers in bringing their books to market in 2017. “They figure out book publishing on a small scale with their own books, and then they say, ‘I could help Jane out with her books,’ and it’s a natural evolution,” he says.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

I am not

I am not a speed reader. I am a speed understander.

Isaac Asimov

If you want to get smarter, speed-reading is worse than not reading at all

From Quartz:

We all know that reading is important. But we’re also busy. So we try to optimize by reading more quickly. And in this way, we miss the point of reading entirely.

I’ve noticed this tendency since I began posting about what I learn from reading over 100 books a year. One of the most frequent questions I get is about how to read faster. Inevitably this request includes a link to a book, “scientific article,” or random blog post declaring that there’s a way to read 10 times faster. But if you care about more than bragging rights, the point of books isn’t how fast you read, or even how much you read. It’s reading for deep understanding.

. . . .

Moreover, while reading is the key to getting smarter, speed-reading is really just a fancy way of fooling yourself into thinking you’re learning something. In reality, you’re just turning pages quickly. A May 2016 review of studies on speed-reading, published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, reported, “there is a trade-off between speed and accuracy. It is unlikely that readers will be able to double or triple their reading speeds (e.g., from around 250 to 500–750 words per minute) while still being able to understand the text as well as if they read at normal speed.”

Link to the rest at Quartz

These Buses Have Bookshelves With Free Books

From BuzzFeed Books:

VHH, a bus company in Hamburg, Germany, decided to install shelves in some of their buses so that passengers can easily borrow books during their ride.

. . . .

All passengers have to do is pick a book they like, and start reading. If they don’t finish their book during their bus ride, they can take it home and either bring it back to the bus or mail it to the store that provides the books.

VHH started “Buchhaltestellen,” which means “book stop” in 2010 as a collaboration with second-hand department store Stilbruch. Over the past seven years, Stilbruch has provided almost one million books for the 150 buses that feature the shelves.

Link to the rest at BuzzFeed

Confessions of a Book Adopter

From BookRiot:

I need to make a confession.

I have an acute addiction, and it’s one that I’m sure afflicts many of you as well. I’m reaching out for help because I need to know I’m not alone in this.

Okay, here it is: I can’t stop adopting books. Dog-eared, mint condition, sample publications or Advance Reading Copies, it doesn’t matter. I bring them all home, often with a guilty look on my face as my wife asks what I’m hiding behind my back.

All people with addictions have triggers, and mine is my Brooklyn neighborhood. Brooklyn is full of similar literary types who would rather give up their rent-controlled apartments than throw a good book in the trash. Stoops and steps are often filled with gently used copies of books that I never knew existed but now desperately need to read.

Often, on the way home from doing the laundry or visiting friends, I’ll intentionally make detours down side streets, especially if I know I’ve scored there before. It may add an extra few minutes to my commute, but I know it will be worth it if I hit the jackpot. The excitement I get when I see a brown paper Trader Joe’s bag, and the disappointment I feel if it’s empty or filled with dishes, makes the hunt that much more intoxicating.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Why are schools in China looking west for lessons in creativity?

From The Financial Times:

In the auditorium of Beijing Bayi School, on a cold morning thick with smog, props are broken, lines unlearnt and the mechanical curtain has blown a fuse. In four hours, my cast of 22 Chinese 14-year-olds, who have never acted before, will perform Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to an audience of 1,500 — in English. All their education has told them that drama is an irrelevance. As I race around the theatre, trying to track down an absent Grandpa Joe and a missing Golden Ticket I ask myself, not for the first time: what am I doing here?

Chinese education has increasingly been hailed as “superior” to the way we teach in the west in recent years. Its success in global tests for 15-year-olds reinforced this sense of a world tilting to the east: in the 2012 round of the Programme for International Student Assessment tests (Pisa), Shanghai, representing China, came first in science, reading and mathematics. Fretful western governments took note, amid mounting concern that China’s educational success would inevitably pave the way for economic and cultural dominance. Or, as the former UK government minister Michael Gove baldly stated when he was secretary of state for education, the UK can either “start working as hard as the Chinese, or we’ll all soon be working for the Chinese”.

. . . .

As I can confirm from my five weeks at Bayi School last year, school days are definitely a lot longer than in the west. Older pupils started at about 7.30am and continued until 6pm, usually backed up by evening self-study classes. Most schools have classes on Saturdays, too. If they don’t, middle-class parents will arrange private lessons with tutors. Asia is the fastest-growing market in the global private tuition industry, which is forecast by Global Industry Analysts to be worth nearly $200bn by 2020. Students in Shanghai also spend almost 14 hours a week on homework, close to three times the average given by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

. . . .

To China’s educationalists the timing of the western love affair with their system is striking. For the past decade or so wealthy Chinese parents, keen to avoid the test-dominated regime of their own educations, have been sending their teenage offspring to study in America in dramatically increasing numbers: 46,000 Chinese students attended American high schools in 2015, up from just 637 in 2005. In the UK, Chinese are also “by far” the largest group of international students according to the 2016 Independent Schools Council census.

Now these parents are also demanding a more “western” option at home. Wealthier parents have flocked to enrol their children at the newly opened Chinese arms of traditional British private schools such as Wycombe Abbey and Harrow. UK state schools are beginning to get in on the action too; Bohunt, the school from the BBC programme, is opening a private school in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, next year. And it’s not just parents who have an appetite for something different.

More than a decade ago, the Chinese Ministry of Education issued a statement denouncing the “exam-oriented education” of China. In the past few years, the ministry has introduced a policy calling for the formal encouragement of “creativity” and “innovation” in schools. The school where I taught has clearly taken heed. Among sections about a “military training that builds spirit” and “an education in Communism”, its prospectus boasts of Bayi’s commitment to “encourage creative awareness and creative acts”.

Link to the rest at The Financial Times (if you hit a paywall, you may want to cut and paste “Why are schools in China looking west for lessons in creativity?” and see what happens)

According to Research, Procrastinating Can Boost Your Creativity

From Medium:

Procrastination has a bad reputation. It’s very familiar to all of us. More often than not, it leads to nothing but anxiety, disappointment, and shame.

Almost everyone thinks it’s entirely negative, but there are times when procrastination can work in your favour. You don’t have to be anxious, disappointed and stressed all the time when you put things off, especially when you are a creative professional or need time to think through your work and generate better ideas.

When you have urgent things to take care of, you are more likely to push other tasks down the list of things to do in the day or week. Procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things. You are not necessarily being lazy or careless if you want to complete your work sometime later.

. . . .

Active procrastinators who postpone work for later are mostly in control of their time, are better managers of their time and use it purposefully without worrying too much about missing deadlines. They deliberately delay tasks and feel challenged by approaching deadlines. They comfortable with fear. And a little bit of panic or threat is not an issue.

Active procrastinators will always deliver. They are better at planning but not so good at getting stuff done early when they have lots of time. They work better under pressure though. You could argue that, it’s their way of justifying putting things off.

This doesn’t apply to to passive procrastinators who easily get anxious and can’t master the courage to concentrate and get stuff done because they are constantly thinking of running out of time.

Link to the rest at Medium

A reminder that PG doesn’t necessarily agree with everything he posts to TPV.

He was going to wait to comment until later, but decided not to do so.

The Great Amazon Battle of ’17

From author J.M. Poole:

In this corner, one of the largest companies that currently exists:  Amazon.  In the opposite corner?  Me.

For those of you who may not know, I had to do battle with Amazon since they yanked my books and cancelled my author account.  If you’re curious enough to be here ’cause you’re wondering just what the hell happened, let me sum it up, in case you don’t want to read the War & Peace novel that ensues.  Then, if you’re still interested, read on, as I go into specifics.

The summary:  Amazon sent me an email Tuesday of this week at 5pm, only it landed in my Junk mail folder.  I didn’t see it until around 10pm that night.  They (Amazon) accused me of creating bogus accounts to boost page reads of Case of the One-Eyed Tiger (CCF#1).  They say it’s against their rules.  As a result, my KDP account was officially terminated and they inform me that all my books will be removed, which they were the following day by 5pm.   Now, bear in mind that I don’t know a damn thing about any “bogus accounts”.  I’m completely in the dark.  In a panic, I start writing emails, including sending one to Amazon’s bigwigs, and essentially prove to them that I have no knowledge of any bogus accounts and certainly didn’t create any.  Today (Thursday), I get the email from Amazon stating my account is reinstated.  My books reappear by 5pm.

. . . .

1/24/17.  10pm.  I’m skimming through my Junk emails and notice a message from “title-submissions@amazon.com”, specifically from a “Katy C.” and is dated from earlier in the day, from around 5pm.  The actual email is here.  They (Amazon) accused me of creating “systematic accounts” and using them to boost the page reads to manipulate the Kindle Unlimited platform.

1/24/17.  10:01pm.  Hoping this is just a phishing email, I immediately head to kdp.amazon.com to log into my account.  Unable to do so.  Have minor cardiac episode.  Am desperately hoping this is some type of sick joke.

. . . .

Katy C. – I’m at a loss as to what you’re referring to.  Are you insinuating that someone has hacked my KDP account?  I’ve been a self-published indie author since 2010.  I published my first novel with Amazon on that year and have since released a total of 12 novels.  I have never had a problem with anything there.  I can only assume someone is trying to hack my account.  I have since called Amazon Customer Service and they walked me through changing my password.  However, I am still unable to log into my KDP account. Could I get someone to call me at (***) ***-**** to discuss this?  I’m in the dark as much as you are with regards to this situation.  Thank you. Jeffrey M. Poole www.AuthorJMPoole.com

. . . .

1/25/17.  2:39pm.  First followup email from Amazon, specifically from “John M”.  It’s a shorter message and there’s no need to turn it into a PDF, either.  He writes:

Hello,

Thank you for your email concerning the status of your account.

Systematic accounts are those that facilitate illegitimate reading 
or borrow activity. You're welcome to promote your book through 
third-party websites and other services, but you are also responsible 
for ensuring that no tactics used to promote your book manipulate 
the Kindle platform and/or Kindle programs.

In order to help us evaluate your appeal, please provide any 
information about promotional or marketing service you might have used.

Best Regards,

John M

1/25/17.  4:45pm.  I noticed that every title I had released in the Kindle store was missing.  The only thing I had on Amazon was my paperbacks, and I wasn’t convinced they’d try to pull my Createspace account, either.  My day seriously started spiraling straight back to UberPissedVille, with a layover at DepressedTowne.

. . . .

1/25/17.  10:05pm.  I get another response back from Amazon, only this is from another new person.  This time, I get “Luca F”, and he writes:

Hello,

Thank you for your email concerning the status of your account.

Unfortunately, we need some more time to look into the matter. We are sorry for the delay and for any inconvenience it may cause you. We will be in touch within five business days.

Thank you for your patience.

Best Regards,

Luca F
Amazon.com

. . . .

1/25/17.  10:06pm.  Now I’m freaking out.  Why would a billionaire read/respond to my email?  Amazon just wants to sweep me under a rug somewhere and be done with me.  5 business days for some type of resolution?  Surely someone else must have gone through this hell.  I’m now researching this situation on Google.  I couldn’t be the only person that has ever fallen on the wrong side of ye almighty Amazon.  What I find, however, isn’t promising.  Those that have had their KDP accounts terminated don’t get them back.  Or, the very select few that I found that did, have said that it takes weeks, even months, to get the account back in good standing.  Everyone says the same thing.  Lack of a customer service number is disparaging as hell.   The only communication is through email.  In the pit of my stomach, I knew Amazon wasn’t going to reinstate my account.  Not without a fight.

Link to the rest at J.M. Poole and thanks to Bill and others for the tip.

PG says this is becoming a serious customer service problem for Amazon.

While no legitimate author would ever object to Amazon shutting down any of the various con artists that sometimes plague KDP, Amazon needs to get much smarter about the process of identifying and responding to bogus activities.

Amazon is one of the most sophisticated technical organizations on the planet. Surely they can assign someone with sufficient brainpower and technology chops to build a better fraud detection system.

Amazon knows an immense amount of information about its customers and their buying/reading habits. Amazon runs the largest and most-sophisticated cloud computing environment on the planet. Surely there are patterns of behavior that distinguish fraudsters from real book purchasers.

Is there any reason that Amazon could not temporarily suspend payments for page-based reading bonuses for specific books while still permitting authors to sell their other books as a more detailed investigation moves forward?

Amazon delivers dream trip to boy who battled cancer

From USA Today:

Ben Bicknese is a tinkerer, the kind of kid who loves to take things apart and build new things with the parts.

“I like to be science-y. I like the process of making,” he said, detailing his plans to build a hologram light saber.

After he was diagnosed with kidney cancer at age 6, chemotherapy and treatment weakened his immune system, keeping him stuck at home or in the hospital in Tucson, where he was “really bored,” he said.

“He couldn’t go anywhere. He couldn’t go out to the grocery store because we couldn’t risk him getting sick,” said his mother, Cecilia Bicknese.

His only source of excitement became online shopping, where he could order robots and fountain pens to take apart.

Beyond the joy of toys, he often wondered about the processes behind it all — what happens between clicking “buy” and seeing the package at the door.

“He was telling me every day that I need this or that, even the littlest thing. Just the joy of knowing that something was coming became, like, out of control,” Cecilia said. That’s when she decided to contact his favorite retailer, Amazon.

So when Ben woke up Tuesday, the day after this 8th birthday, instead of heading to school, he found out he was going to one of the four Amazon fulfillment centers in Phoenix.

Ben, his family and some of the hospital staff who have cared for him at Banner Children’s at Diamond Children’s Medical Center traveled from Tucson on Tuesday to tour the center.

As he walked around the center, which is more than 1 million square feet and has more than 2,000 employees, he smiled, laughed, made faces and craned his neck to see the labyrinthine 8 miles of conveyor belts. To explain his excitement he used a metaphor.

“This is the earth,” he said, mimicking its explosion with his hands. “Mind blown. It turned my life — I was upside down — back up.”

Amazon staff organized a scavenger hunt for him in one of the endless aisles of merchandise. Following their directions, he found and pulled 10 items from the shelves and dropped them into one of the signature yellow bins used to fulfill orders.

Then, upstairs, he helped package them. He and his sister, Madison, carefully placed a Star Wars Lego kit, board games, bracelet-making kit, two Amazon Fire tablets and more into boxes.

When it was time to put the shipping labels on the boxes, the staff revealed a surprise: The packages were for Ben and his family. He grinned.

“My favorite one is Alexa,” he said, referencing the Alexa Voice Service on his new Amazon Echo speaker. “Now I can ask Alexa, ‘What’s the weather, Alexa? How old is my grandpa? When’s my dad’s birthday?’ “

Link to the rest at USA Today and thanks to DM for the tip.

Untidy desk, untidy mind? Time to call in a professional declutterer

From The Guardian:

Receipts hidden in bags, a desk overspilling with stacks of dusty books, boxes full of random paperwork and an inbox with more than 1,000 unread emails. A busy entrepreneur knows better than most that clutter can quickly build up. Ronit Knoble’s home office was all over the place until she hired professional declutterer Juliet Landau-Pope last year.

“There was paper everywhere, I was drowning in admin,” Knoble says. “I work from home and there was too much of everyone else’s admin around – I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. I needed someone to help me organise the films I was making.” Landau-Pope helped her categorise the paperwork in her office, get rid of clutter she doesn’t need (such as receipts), and make time every week for filing.

The founder of Fantastic Films says her appointments with Landau-Pope are “almost like a therapy session”. She adds: “[Now] there’s a clear divide between my children, me, the house and my company. I often think, why did I used to keep all of this crap?”

Knoble is part of a growing wave of small business owners enlisting the help of a professional declutterer. The president of the Association of Declutterers and Organisers (APDO), Ingrid Jansen, says the success of New York Times bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo, has raised awareness of the sector as a whole. APDO’s membership numbers have almost doubled in the past three years to 200 coaches.

. . . .

“I see clutter as a habit and it’s a habit that can be shifted. It’s not about having a perfect space or being minimalist. It’s about doing the best you can within the space you have, and making the most of your work and your environment.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

World’s main list of science ‘predators’ vanishes with no warning

From The Ottawa Citizen:

In 2012, a librarian from the University of Colorado presented research in a field so new he had to name it himself: predatory publishing.

Jeffrey Beall discovered thousands of online science journals that were either willing to publish fake research for cash, or just so inept that they couldn’t tell the good from the bad and published it all.

Beall, who became an assistant professor, drew up a list of the known and suspected bad apples, known simply as Beall’s List. Since 2012, this list has been world’s main source of information on journals that publish conspiracy theories and incompetent research, making them appear real.

But on Sunday, his website went blank. Only the headline, Scholarly Open Access, remains.

Beall is a regular on Twitter, but he hasn’t posted anything there in days. He isn’t answering email (including a message from the Citizen) or telling anyone what happened. Beall’s List had just been updated for 2017.

A Texas firm called Cabell’s, which also works with academic publishers, hinted that Beall was threatened somehow.

Its Twitter account said on Tuesday: “@CabellsPublish stands behind close personal friend @Jeffrey_Beall who was forced to shut down blog due to threats & politics #academicmafia.”

. . . .

In his 2017 update, Beall had identified 1,155 suspicious or fake publishers, most of them putting out dozens or even hundreds of online journals.

Link to the rest at The Ottawa Citizen and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

New York Times Cuts a Range of Bestseller Lists

From Publishers Weekly:

The New York Times has eliminated a number of bestsellers lists, although the exact number could not be confirmed Thursday morning. Cutting the various lists is part of an overall plan by the paper to revamp its coverage of publishing.

A note sent on Wednesday to subscribers to the advance bestsellers lists said, “Beginning with the Advance BSL edition that will be delivered today for Feb. 5, 2017, there will be revisions to multiple categories in the publication. These changes will span weekly and monthly lists.”

. . . .

“Beginning February 5, the New York Times will eliminate a number of print but mostly online-only bestseller lists.

In recent years, we introduced a number of new lists as an experiment, many of which are being discontinued. We will continue to cover all of these genres of books in our news coverage (in print and online). The change allows us to devote more space and resources to our coverage beyond the bestseller lists.

Our major lists will remain, including: Top 15 Hardcover Fiction, Top 15 Hardcover Nonfiction, Top 15 Combined Print and E Fiction, Top 15 Combined Print and E Nonfiction, Top 10 Children’s Hardcover Picture Books, Top 10 Children’s Middle Grade Hardcover Chapter Books, Top 10 Children’s Young Adult Hardcover Chapter Books, and Top 10 Children’s Series. Several more including Paperback Trade Fiction, Paperback Nonfiction, Business, Sports, Science, and Advice Miscellaneous will remain online. Readers will be notified that individual lists will no longer be compiled and updated by the New York Times on the relevant article pages.”

Among the lists that appear to have disappeared are the graphic novel/manga and the mass market paperback lists as well as the middle grade e-book and young adult e-book lists.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Cassandra for the tip.

Bibliomania: the strange history of compulsive book buying

From The Guardian:

When I was a young woman, I drew a sort of perverse pride from my willingness to skip a meal or two in order to afford books. Soon enough, with the ubiquity of credit card touts on campus, I could buy both books and meals. I justified my increasing debt as necessary for my education, and joked with friends that while others spent their money on cars and expensive clothes, anything of value that I owned was on my bookcases.

I realise now that my “jokes” were, in fact, humblebrags. I did love books, always had, but I also took a certain arrogant pleasure from owning so many. It was also when my first “To Be Read” (TBR) pile started – all those volumes I had bought with the intention of reading them. And while years later, adult economics has forced me to stop shopping every time I step into a bookstore, my work as a reviewer now means that an average of five new titles arrive on my doorstep each week. My TBR pile is ceiling-high, and while I’m not going into debt, the visceral pleasure that I get from being surrounded by books remains the same.

In the 19th century, book collecting became common among gentlemen, mostly in Britain, and grew into an obsession that one of its participants called “bibliomania”. Thomas Frognall Dibdin, an English cleric and bibliographer, wrote Bibliomania, or Book Madness: A Bibliographical Romance, which was a gentle satire of those he saw as afflicted with this “neurosis”. Dibdin medicalised the condition, going so far as to provide a list of symptoms manifested in the particular types of books that they obsessively sought: “First editions, true editions, black letter-printed books, large paper copies; uncut books with edges that are not sheared by binder’s tools; illustrated copies; unique copies with morocco binding or silk lining; and copies printed on vellum.”

. . . .

One of the concerns in the early 19th century regarding book collecting was the fear that by hoarding books, buyers were denying their fellow countrymen their patrimony. The image of the rich dilettante was one of the conspicuous consumer of books that would never be read – the old TBR pile – therefore keeping books out of an intellectual commons. The collector was often portrayed as having a kind of antisocial disease that kept him from contributing to the greater good by sharing his printed riches. But the origin for many literary anthologies lay in the libraries of these private collectors – who were, in their own way, establishing a national literary inheritance.

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

How Alexa Fits Into Amazon’s Prime Directive

From The New York Times:

When “Star Trek: The Next Generation” first aired in the 1980s, it envisioned a number of technological advances for humankind’s future. Set in the 24th century, the show featured 3-D printers, visors that could provide artificial sight and a virtual reality simulator called the holodeck. But perhaps its most prescient creation was the supercomputer onboard the ship. The software — usually referred to only as “Computer” — could locate people, open doors and retrieve answers to complicated questions. Crew members spoke their requests, and an always-present helper responded within seconds.

Amazon brought a version of that computer to life recently — albeit a few centuries earlier than “Star Trek” predicted. Last July, David Limp, a company executive who works on the product, said in an interview with Fortune that the idea of an all-knowing machine, with access to all the world’s information, had captured his imagination since the first time he saw it on television. It took, he said, a team of 1,000 engineers to write its code, and when the device was finished, Amazon decided to call it Alexa, shorthand for Alexandria, as in the ancient Library of Alexandria in Egypt. It is designed to work primarily with a suite of wireless speakers, also made by Amazon, called Echo, Echo Dot and Tap.

. . . .

At the beginning of 2016, there were 135 skills designed to work with Alexa, but this year that number increased to more than 7,000. Alexa can now order you an Uber or a pizza, check your bank balance, control your TV, turn your lights on and off and even measure your car’s carbon-dioxide emissions. “ ‘Alexa, buy me coffee’ is just a fraction of what it’s going to be over time,” said Ben Schachter, an internet analyst who covers Amazon for the equities firm Macquarie Securities. “What can they improve with the voice activation? Some of that has yet to be seen.”

Alexa has already evolved from an experimental device to an irresistible household fixture — perhaps surprisingly, given Amazon’s spotty track record with hardware.

. . . .

The fact that I live in New York, a city that thrives on accessibility, might explain why I was slow to grasp the appeal of Alexa. Here we have bodegas on every corner, most open 24 hours, in case you need to pick up a roll of toilet paper or a bottle of hot sauce in the middle of the night. But most Americans don’t live with the luxury of that immediacy. I didn’t really understand this until the holidays, when I went home to visit my mom in Virginia and we ran out of seltzer. Carbonated water is not an essential item. But in that moment, it would have been easier to quickly tell Alexa to place an order for us and forget about it until it arrived two or three days later, rather than try to remember to pick up a case of Poland Spring the next time someone made the 20-minute drive to the store.

. . . .

Anand Sanwal, the chief executive of CB Insights, a trend-forecasting start-up in New York, told me that Amazon has something that its competitors only dream of — consumer attention and trust. “In the last few years, Amazon has become the search engine for consumer products, instead of Google,” he said. “If you’re going to buy something, and you already have an Amazon account, you’re probably going to just buy it there. With Google, you still have to go to Amazon or Walmart.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Jan for the tip.

What readers want (and what we are not giving them)

From No Shelf Required:

For the past many months, I’ve had the privilege of stepping outside the confines of the publishing and library industries (as well as the borders of the United States) to engage in non-profit projects and initiatives that bring books and knowledge to people. There comes a point in every person’s career when we crave to turn our professional jobs into missions, and it simply isn’t enough to earn a paycheck, even amidst the most challenging circumstances. We take a leap of faith and jump.

And jump I did, from New York all the way to Croatia, where I would (not immediately upon arrival but soon thereafter) embark on the project of my life and turn an entire country into an open virtual library (available to all its people without a card and access code and regardless of status, geography, background, citizenship, etc). In early December 2016, Croatia (the country of my birth) became the world’s first Free Reading Zone for one entire month.

During that time, anyone in Croatia, including residents and tourists, could read (online and offline) freely over 100,000 books from well-known publishers (some old, most brand new releases), in several languages, via a free reading app, called Croatia Reads. While I plan to share the full story of how we pulled it off (I managed the project in cooperation with Total Boox and a few local enthusiasts), and what we hope to accomplish next in another article on NSR, here, however, I want to briefly shed light on the most prominent lessons learned from this transforming experience (there have been many). And it has to do with understanding what readers really want from ebooks and digital content.

The pilot wasn’t just a passionate attempt to ‘free’ books from the confines of library walls and expensive ebook platforms and bring them to people in rural areas and places with no bookstores or libraries. It was an attempt to prove to the book and library industry on both sides of the Atlantic that there is genuine interest among consumers to read ebooks when the right conditions are created for them, just as there is genuine interest in engaging with all sorts of information in digital format. With all due respect for all our arguments about the emotional attachment to paper, ebooks hold the promise of a future in which paper books do not perish but knowledge flows freely to all who want it, while publishers and content creators get their fair share.

Long story short: readers will read books in digital format enthusiastically when they are offered to them for free. Does this mean that publishers will not get paid? Of course not. The whole concept of the Croatia Reads project was designed around the idea that publishers always get paid for everything read (that’s why we opted for the Total Boox model, which pays publishers only for the content read). But more importantly, the reading is always sponsored by a third-party, in this case it was No Shelf Required. In other words, the burden of paying for the reading is transferred from the reader onto the sponsor.

Link to the rest at No Shelf Required and thanks to SFR for the tip.

Nimble-chops

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

nimble-chops, n.

. . . .

A talkative person. Used chiefly as a form of address.

. . . .

1763 I. Bickerstaff Love in Village ii. ii. 30 Who bid you speak Mrs. Nimble Chops, I suppose the man has a tongue in his head to answer for himself.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

Eason opens two new stores ‘despite fragile economy’

From The Bookseller:

Eason plans to continue to open new stores “despite the fragile economic recovery,” its m.d Conor Whelan has revealed, beginning with a store in Limerick and another in Dublin.

The 4,000 sq ft Limerick store opened in the Crescent Shopping Centre in November and the new Dublin store located at Clare Hall Shopping Centre on the Malahide Road also nearly 4,000 sq ft, will open in March.

The two stores combined will create 30 new jobs, the company said, and is part of the retailer’s €2million investment its store estate in 2016.

The two new openings when complete will bring its number of company stores to 65 in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Whelan said: “Despite a fragile economic recovery and ongoing challenges in the retail market, our ambition is to continue growing and developing the Eason business and we’re very pleased to add these two highly sought after locations in Limerick and Dublin to our store estate.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

How Being Bored Out of Your Mind Makes You More Creative

From Wired:

“I’m dying of boredom,” complains the young wife, Yelena, in Chekhov’s 1897 play Uncle Vanya. “I don’t know what to do.” Of course, if Yelena were around today, we know how she’d alleviate her boredom: She’d pull out her smartphone and find something diverting, like BuzzFeed or Twitter or Clash of Clans. If you have a planet’s worth of entertainment in your pocket, it’s easy to stave off ennui.

Unless it turns out ennui is good for us. What if boredom is a meaningful experience—one that propels us to states of deeper thoughtfulness or creativity?

That’s the conclusion of two fascinating recent studies. In one, researchers asked a group of subjects to do something boring, like copying out numbers from a phone book, and then take tests of creative thinking, such as devising uses for a pair of cups. The result? Bored subjects came up with more ideas than a nonbored control group, and their ideas were often more creative. In a second study, subjects who took an “associative thought” word test came up with more answers when they’d been forced to watch a dull screensaver.

Boredom might spark creativity because a restless mind hungers for stimulation. Maybe traversing an expanse of tedium creates a sort of cognitive forward motion. “Boredom becomes a seeking state,” says Texas A&M University psychologist Heather Lench. “What you’re doing now is not satisfying. So you’re seeking, you’re engaged.”

Link to the rest at Wired

Amazon Expands Into Ocean Freight

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon.com Inc. is taking to the high seas.

The online retail giant has begun handling shipment of goods by ocean to its U.S. warehouses from Chinese merchants selling on its site—taking on a role it previously left to global freight-transportation companies.

The move marks Amazon’s latest step in a multiyear effort to build out its delivery business. The company doesn’t own or operate ships, but is openly acting as a global freight forwarder and third-party logistics provider, categories of companies that book space on ocean vessels and truck goods between ports and warehouses.

Amazon has helped ship at least 150 containers of goods from China since October, according to shipping documents collected at ports of entry that were compiled by Ocean Audit, a company specializing in ocean-freight refund recovery for shippers.

This month, Amazon started posting rates for new services such as sorting, labeling, and trucking shipments that traditionally are handled by global freight companies. The services and rates were posted under the name of its Chinese subsidiary, Beijing Century Joyo Courier Service Co., with Distribution-Publications Inc., a widely used platform for such information.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

PG can visualize large ships with the Amazon smile painted on the side cruising up and down the Hudson and East Rivers in New York, perhaps firing an occasional cannon salute.

That will give Authors United something else to FedEx the government about.

In the Face of Constant Censorship, Bulgakov Kept Writing

From The Literary Hub:

Before his death at a Siberian transit camp in 1938, Osip Mandelstam famously uttered, “Only in Russia is poetry respected—it gets people killed.” Today, Mikhail Bulgakov is one of the most iconic Russian authors. But his life as a writer in Moscow from the early 1920s until 1940 was replete with informants and searches, censorship and secrecy, until it ended suddenly and tragically at the age of 49. He’d spent his last 12 years working on a novel in secret—The Master and Margarita. He considered it his masterpiece. His widow, who was the inspiration for his Margarita, recognized the inherent danger of his satirical portrayal of Soviet bureaucracy and hid the manuscript until after the death of Stalin. Heavily censored, The Master and Margarita first appeared in serialized form in 1966 and 1967. Only in 1973 was it published in its entirety. It has been translated into every major world language and rendered in countless film and television and stage productions. It has been cited as the inspiration for The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.”

And while many focus on Bulgakov’s posthumous triumph, the examination of his entire career raises another pressing question: Faced with constant censorship and artistic oppression, why did he continue to write? Over the span of two decades, he wrote dozens of short stories, four novels, and ten plays. Yet after his first success, the play The Day of the Turbins, he published or produced little else, and from his letters, his notes, and his wife’s diary, we can witness the heartbreak this silence engendered. He received commissions for and wrote plays—and directors like Konstantin Stanislawski and Vsevolod Meyerhold begged to work on them—only to be barred from performance. Some of his work was smuggled abroad and gained popularity, but Bulgakov was repeatedly denied permission to emigrate. In a letter to the Soviet government, he wrote, “not being allowed to write is tantamount to being buried alive.” Perhaps the government thought they could silence him. Perhaps they thought they’d succeeded.

. . . .

In a letter to the Soviet government in 1930, Bulgakov described Crimson Island as a call for creative freedom. “I am a passionate supporter of that freedom, and I consider that if any writer were to imagine that he could prove he didn’t need that freedom, then he would be like a fish affirming in public that it didn’t need water.” He further pointed out that of the 301 references to him in the Soviet press, 298 of them were “hostile and abusive.” He quotes the Komsomol Pravda in particular, “Bulgakov, ONE OF THE NOUVEAU BOURGEOIS BREED, spraying vitriolic but impotent spittle over the working class and its Communist ideals.” Bulgakov himself had typed the clause in all capitals.

Like any modern political group, Stalin’s regime was predominantly interested in propagating their own version of truth. It’s unclear if it was Gorky or Stalin himself who coined the term Socialist Realism, but they called upon writers to craft stories imbued with it, portraying the heroism and splendor of the proletariat. The artist should depict Soviet life not realistically but aspirationally, with the larger goal of engineering a new culture. Stalin recognized the power of ideas—to influence and to promulgate lies, to maintain one’s power and to topple others.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Here’s a link to The Master and Margarita and to Amazon’s Mikhail Bulgakov page.

It’s going to be interesting

It’s going to be interesting to watch presidential elections in around 2040, when voters can dig up candidates’ teenage angst pics and posts from old social media and discussion forum archives.

Mikko Hypponen

Amazon Launches STEM Toy Subscription for Kids

From PC Magazine:

Subscription boxes have been landing on the doorsteps of geeks, fashionistas, foodies, and bookworms for nearly a decade. And now, kids aged 3 to 13 years old can receive recurring deliveries of niche products, too.

First spotted by Engadget, Amazon this week introduced the STEM Club Toy Subscription—a monthly program that delivers “hand-picked, high-quality” science, technology, engineering, and math knickknacks once a month.

The box costs $19.99 per month (plus tax), and promises a mix of age-appropriate STEM products “from robotics to natural sciences” that aim to encourage kids to learn through play. Available in three age ranges, folks can expect “engaging toys” like a math playbox (3-4), scientific explorer kit (5-7), or chemistry set (8-13).

“Amazon editors work closely with smart and trusted brands we love to handpick the best STEM toys,” the company website said. “From programmable robots to rockin’ crystal kits … to cool arithmetic toys, STEM Club will challenge and inspire while expanding young minds through play.”

Link to the rest at PC Magazine

Here’s a link to the STEM subscription page

Husband of best-selling Benton City author dies

From the Tri-City Herald:

The husband of best-selling author Patricia Briggs died unexpectedly early Monday morning, according to posts to her website and Facebook page.

The couple lived in Benton City, and Mike Briggs acted as a research assistant for his wife’s books. Patricia Briggs writes the Mercy Thompson urban fantasy series.

“It is with a very heavy heart that I write of the passing of one of the finest men I have ever known,” Patricia Briggs’ assistant posted to Facebook Monday.

Mike Briggs ran the couple’s horse farm and kept the Patricia Briggs website up to date, in addition to acting as a research assistant. He previously worked as a chemist, biologist and “computer nerd,” according to the Patricia Briggs website.

Link to the rest at Tri-City Herald and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Matthew writes:

I met Mike Briggs at one of his wife’s readings/book events a few years ago. He struck up a conversation with me before it started and after a little while he mentioned casually he was her husband. We probably chatted almost an hour. A truly interesting guy with many great life experiences and a funny storyteller in his own right. He did most of the blog posts on Patricia Briggs’s website as well.

Why Local Brick-and-Mortar Retailers Need to Rethink Everything They Know

From Fortune:

I own two comic book stores in San Francisco. Despite being in retail for over 30 years now, I have to admit I’m worried the future of businesses like mine.

As Americans continue to do more of their shopping online, local brick-and-mortar retailers are suffering. I can already see the impact in my neighborhood, where there are fewer businesses that sell goods, and more that sell services. The four-block commercial corridor near my home is packed with restaurants, cafes, nail salons, and businesses offering financial services. Many of these spaces used to be retail stores.

If there’s any solution to reverse the trend, crowdfunding efforts and patronage programs may be it. In my immediate vicinity, a number of bookstores are already doing this, giving away benefits such as priority seating at author events and dedicated Wi-Fi to customers who participate. Beyond ongoing patronage, there are a tremendous number of “one-time” crowdfunded cash infusions, like this campaign to raise money for Video Wave, a local video store in one of San Francisco’s wealthier neighborhoods; this one to save G&O Family Cyclery, a bike shop in Seattle; and this one for Ray’s Ragtime, a used-clothing store in Portland.

. . . .

Despite the ease of online shopping, I believe many people still prefer shopping for physical goods in physical stores. In many cases, they’re even willing to pay a premium for the experience (I don’t sell a single product that can’t be found for a less expensive price online, and yet our customers and gross sales have strongly increased over the last 10 years). Still, none of that is enough to cover our rising costs. In San Francisco, where the already notoriously expensive rents continue to climb, the minimum wage will soon be increased to $15, a one-two punch for stores like mine.

Link to the rest at Fortune

Mall Owners Rush to Get Out of the Mall Business

From The Wall Street Journal:

Mall landlords are increasingly walking away from struggling properties, leaving creditors in the lurch and posing a threat to the values of nearby real estate.

As competition from online retailers batters store owners, some of the largest U.S. landlords are calculating it is more advantageous to hand over ownership to lenders than to attempt to restructure debts on properties with darkening outlooks.

That, in turn, leaves lenders with little choice but to unload the distressed properties at fire-sale prices.

. . . .

“We’re seeing a boatload of these kinds of properties coming to market,” said James Hull, managing principal of Augusta, Ga.-based Hull Property Group, which bought five malls from foreclosure sales in 2016. “There have been some draconian losses for the enclosed-mall business.”

. . . .

As mall property values sink below their loan balances, “some mall owners are more aggressively taking the step to walk away,” said Morningstar Credit Ratings Vice President Edward Dittmer.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Barnes & Noble: Read ’em And Weep

From Seeking Alpha:

For some unfathomable reason, shares of Barnes and Noble rose 32% over the past twelve months. In my view, the party is very much over, as the financial performance of this company has absolutely fallen off a cliff.

Perhaps this is the state of retail in the Amazon world, but it’s best for investors to avoid this name, as the party is soon over in my view. It’s not a controversial statement to say that this company is in the midst of an existential crisis because of Amazon. The competition from Amazon shows up in the poor financial showing here.

. . . .

Since 2012, retained earnings have dropped from about $586 million to $-81 million. When I input these variables in my online financial calculator, the software returned an error message that read “please use reasonable numbers.” Apparently the rate of decline that retained earnings have shown has been “unreasonable.” The revenue decline is more “reasonable” (at least from the calculator’s perspective). Sales have declined at a CAGR of -5% since 2012. In any event, equity is evaporating here at an alarming rate. The cause of this is obviously a decline in the company’s net income. Net income has been consistently negative since 2012, with the exception of 2015.

. . . .

Since the beginning of fiscal 2016, the company has paid about $68 million in dividends on common shares and approximately $4 million of dividends on preferred shares. I usually like dividends, but in the case of a company that is losing money, it strikes me as irresponsible. In my view, every dividend paid simply hastens this company’s fall.

. . . .

While the company was spending approximately $90 million giving money to shareholders (while destroying their retained earnings), it also took on approximately $191 million of additional debt. This is troublesome for two reasons. First, the weighted average of interest rates on this debt is approximately 8.21%, which is quite high. Second, the company is losing money, and at some point the intersection of declining revenues and net income on the one hand and increased leverage on the other will lead to a critical event that will be bad for shareholders.

Link to the rest at Seeking Alpha and thanks to Dave for the tip.