An Open Letter to Barnes & Noble

From RobEager, Marketing Consultant:

On behalf of all authors, we want to see your company grow and succeed. Amazon needs a legitimate competitor in order to limit their dominance and create a healthier publishing ecosystem. It is important for your bookstores to thrive and expand.

Your organization’s new CEO, James Daunt, made headlines by turning around the Waterstones bookstore chain in England. Now, he wants to apply a similar strategy in America by redecorating every store, reducing the amount of returns, and giving each store manager greater power over their local inventory.

However, I recently visited a Barnes & Noble location near Atlanta, Georgia. What I saw didn’t give me much optimism about the future.

The store layout looked no different than before. The same bestseller displays were in the same place. The green carpet appeared worn and dirty. A skeleton crew was manning the room. There was too much space dedicated to music, movies, toys, and dumb knick-knacks.

In addition, the BN.com website doesn’t look much different than before. It still seems light years behind Amazon’s website experience.

In other words, where is the dramatic transformation that was promised? During the coronavirus shutdown, CEO Daunt reported that the downtime was used to reface the company. I don’t see any improvements, which gives me and other authors concern about your viability.

. . . .

1. Improve your website

B&N.com is at a distinct disadvantage to Amazon primarily due to a lackluster website. More books are purchased online than in stores. So, if you want to grow, you’ve got to capture more online sales.

Frankly, B&N’s website feels like walking into a boring library. Compared to Amazon, there is a tiny fraction of customer reviews to read. Most of a book’s marketing text is hidden or pushed down the page. Worst of all, B&N charges different prices for the same book.

On a recent B&N visit to purchase a business-genre book, the on-shelf price was $7 higher than your website price. That’s a ridiculous disconnect and creates skepticism among savvy consumers. Charge the same price for books, whether purchased online or in-store.

2. Offer marketing partnerships for authors

Want to know a hidden reason why Amazon is crushing B&N? Author favoritism. Every day, authors directly send millions of their fans to Amazon, instead of you. Consider how many authors only mention Amazon on their websites, e-newsletters, blogs, and social media pages. B&N is never mentioned. When you consider the millions of links that authors create for their fans to buy books, it represents millions of dollars in lost sales for B&N.

Why are authors partial to Amazon? For several reasons, such as Amazon offers a robust advertising platform just for authors. Amazon gives self-published authors the best royalty rates and provides extra income for writers who make their e-books exclusive to KDP Select. Amazon even lets authors adjust their book detail page whenever they want for free. B&N doesn’t offer authors any of these features.

Convince authors to stop showing favoritism by developing innovative marketing opportunities. For example, create an affiliate program with generous commission rates and hassle-free technical support. Build an online advertising system that any author can afford. Make it easier for authors to host in-store events that you help promote to the community. Authors will become part of your sales force – if you start meeting our needs.

. . . .

4. Cut the cafe crap and just sell books

Let’s be honest. Please stop trying to add wine bars, coffee shops, or taverns inside your stores. Those ideas failed along with the disastrous Nook e-reader device. All you’re doing is distracting people from your core concept.

Just focus on selling books. Get rid of the music, cafe, and DVD sections. Use that square footage to increase more space for books. It’s hard to call yourself a bookstore when half of the room seems devoted to non-reading activities. People would rather go somewhere else to get coffee, somewhere else to buy music, and somewhere else to drink wine. Become a great bookstore experience that readers cannot resist.

Link to the rest at RobEager, Marketing Consultant

PG didn’t know that Barnes & Noble sells DVDs.

PG doesn’t recall seeing a retail location that offered DVDs for sale for decades, generations, maybe centuries.

Marketing

The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.

Peter Drucker

Listen to your customers, not your competitors.

Joel Spolsky

Book Marketing Services/Agencies/Consultants

PG is interested in knowing whether any visitors to TPV have had good experience with a third-party marketing person/agency with respect to their indie book sales.

If you qualify, if you could explain a bit about what the marketing activities consisted of and what you think the marketing person/service did that you could not have done yourself or did better than you could have done yourself.

PG is not inviting a flood of canned pitches from people who work in the book marketing business, but will welcome an intelligent explanation of what a book marketing expert can deliver that most authors could not or could not do as well.

PG understands that many authors treasure their time and would rather write than market. However, many indies who want to earn a living, earn enough to pay the house payment, etc., don’t have excess funds sitting around to spend on some individual or group that doesn’t deliver real value, so PG is looking about information concerning profitable expenditures on marketing services that clearly earn more than they cost.

PG thinks there’s a good financial case for most indie authors to hire a good cover designer or collect a favor from a friend who knows what she’s doing in cover design. Good covers sell books. They won’t make a bestseller out of a mediocre book, but they can catch the favorable attention of people looking for books on Amazon or elsewhere.

He’d be interested in hearing what type of marketing services, if any, provide a similarly reliable return on investment.

Surviving—and Thriving—In The Brave New World Of Publishing

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Publishing used to be a leisurely enterprise.  Authors could submit their work directly to the “slush” pile. Editorial assistants would carefully sift through the submissions looking for books that could be turned into solid commercial properties.  Submissions were sent in hard copy, and editors’ offices were piled high with manuscripts.  We had to lug three or four submissions home to read on our spare time. Editing was done in right on the manuscript, usually in red pencil. Time consuming but effective.

In years past, agents would take on projects because they loved them and would work with authors until they were ready for submission to publishers. Editors would often send an editorial letter to authors before they actually acquired their books, making suggestions how to make them acceptable. Publishers supported new writers with publicity, author tours, sometimes even advertising. The rule was that it was only on their third or fourth book that their fortunes would hit their stride.

. . . .

The current state of publishing.

The advent of mega corporate publishing conglomerates, computer sales tracking, and the consolidation of the bookstores and distributors changed everything.  There used to be dozens of publishers, large and small, where an author might find a home. Now there are basically four or five publishers that control the market.

. . . .

Bottom line concerns have all but decimated the publishers’ promotional efforts and have left it up to the authors for the most part. Computer sales tracking  allows publishers, agents and distributors daily performance reports. While it used to take six months to figure out if a book was successful, now it takes less than month.

. . . .

 Since there are fewer bookstores, large and small, to showcase the thousands of new and old titles that are still published each month, it’s tough get an traction with readers. The vast majority of books are bought from online like vendors like Amazon or in big box stores like Walmart or Costco.

As of result all these new market forces, the submission and acquisition process is more competitive than ever.  Physical slush piles are now the email inboxes of agents and editors. The pressure is on to find “big” books that will become bestsellers upon publication. Agents are more selective than ever.

One agent I know reads only the first line of a manuscript. If she doesn’t like it, she rejects it.

Another won’t accept authors who don’t have well established social media platforms.

Editors spend their days at corporate meetings and don’t have as much time to edit or work with an author to strengthen work. The consequence is that both agents and editors require manuscripts to be as close to final as possible before taking them on.

. . . .

Authors need to be prepared to meet these challenges, but they are often subject to the old problem of not being able to see “the forest for the trees.”  Immersed in their craft, they lose perspective, and find it hard to see the larger picture of how their work will be received by agents or editors. In most instances, a new project has one shot at being accepted when it is submitted to an editor. If it rejected by multiple editors, agents will deem it a losing proposition and cease to represent it.  So authors need to make sure their work is as strong as it can be before the submission process begins.  

Hence the need for experienced freelance editors, whose familiarity with the business can give authors an advantage. In this new world of publishing, they have taken the place of the traditional in-house editor or hands-on agent. Qualified freelance editors have become a vital part of the submission process and can make difference between rejection and acceptance.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

PG is a big fan of quality freelance editors. He thinks they can improve most manuscripts substantially.

However, if, as the OP implies, hiring an experienced freelance editor to help you get an agent who then gets you a publishing contract with a traditional publisher is adding one more person for a traditionally-published author to pay, further reducing the net income the author will receive for a book.

In ancient times, an author could submit a book to one or more publishers directly with some reasonable assurance that a qualified individual who was on the publisher’s payroll and had been for more than three weeks would give it a serious read, at least through several pages, then send the author some meaningful feedback if the publisher’s employee thought the manuscript showed promise.

Today, PG thinks quite a few authors could benefit from a quality freelance editor before self-publishing their book.

There are quality freelance editors in New York City. There are also quality freelance editors in places other than New York City, including places where the cost of living is much lower than it is in New York City. On a regular basis, the cost of living affects the fees a quality freelance editor (or anyone else providing services) charges for her/his services.

Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise

From The Wall Street Journal:

H.L. Mencken was doubtful that Shakespeare wrote the plays assigned to him because there is substantial evidence that he acted in them, which is an amusing way of saying that actors are not notable for searing intelligence. Their intelligence and much else about famous movie actors was nicely kept under cover during the years, from the 1930s through the early 1960s, of the studio system in Hollywood. The men who ran the great studios—MGM, Fox, Warner Bros., Paramount—knew that the people went to the movies above all to see their favorite actors, and so the actors had to be protected from showing themselves the coarse, ignorant, foolish beings they often were. The studio bosses did this by controlling the interviews their actors gave, restraining them from making political statements, hiding anything peculiar about their sex lives. Actors were where the money was, the vehicles in which the movie business drove all the way to the bank.

One reads about the off-screen lives of actors at the peril of never again being able to enjoy in quite the same innocent way the movies they made.

. . . .

I began Scott Eyman’s biography of Cary Grant with some trepidation. In his movies Cary Grant was the embodiment of suavity, the master of savoir faire, elegant, witty, in every way winning. He was dazzlingly but somehow inoffensively (to men) handsome, for in most of his movies he won over women not by his good looks but by his bumbling yet invincible charm. Would Cary Grant, too, in so-called real life, turn out to be a jerk, a creep, a monster, another disappointment? I, for one, distinctly preferred not.

Cary Grant was born Archibald Alexander Leach in 1904 in Bristol, England, to an alcoholic working-class father (he was a tailor’s presser) and a mother who spent more than 20 years in a mental institution. In Mr. Eyman’s account, Grant, an only child largely ignored by his parents, “would spend the rest of his life coping with the damage inflicted on him during these years,” harassed all his days by unreasonable fear and uncertainty.

The young Archie Leach left school at 14—actually, he was kicked out—and found succor in Bristol’s music halls, the English version of our vaudeville, with a touch of bawdiness added. He soon acquired low-level work among some of the performers and not long after joined a troupe of tumblers, with whom he did acrobatics, stilts-walking and pantomime. The troupe traveled to America, where it played second- and third-line theaters, and when it returned to England the young Archie Leach chose not to return with it.

He found a place acting in B-minus movies in New York, then traveled out to Hollywood, where he gradually found parts in better movies. In 1931 he had his name changed to Cary Grant—or, as Mr. Eyman puts it, “the matchless specimen of masculine charm known as Cary Grant.” A friend of Grant’s once told him, “I always wanted to be Cary Grant,” to which he replied, “So did I.” The subtitle of “Cary Grant” is “A Brilliant Disguise.”

. . . .

What was disguised underneath Grant’s nonchalant aristocratic facade, according to Mr. Eyman, “was a personality of nearly perpetual anxiety.” Grant was a man who had no fewer than five marriages (he remarked late in life that he was a better judge of scripts than wives), spent much of his life in therapy, once attempted suicide, and claimed LSD (which he had taken under supervision more than 100 times) to be a wonder drug that quieted the rumblings in his soul and becalmed him by revealing his true self to him.

Whatever the rich complications in his personal life, Cary Grant was never less than keen about cultivating his professional life. He was sedulous about his personal appearance. He worked daily on his perfect tan. His clothes were, beyond impeccable, perfection. Never rumpled, even when chased by an airplane through a farm field or climbing Mount Rushmore, he was often on Ten Best-Dressed Men lists, and the other nine men, whoever they were, must all have felt themselves more than a touch shabby compared with him. “I consider him not only the most beautiful but the most beautifully dressed man in the world,” said Edith Head, the fabled Hollywood costume designer.

Over his 40-year career, Grant made 73 movies. 

. . . .

Romantic comedy was Cary Grant’s specialty. “Grant was to romantic comedy,” Mr. Eyman writes, “what Fred Astaire was to dance—he made something extremely difficult look easy.” Grant recognized that the key to comedy was in timing, and his own timing, first learned on the English music-hall stage, was consummate. He knew his strengths and limitations and kept his ambition in bounds. William Wilkerson III, son of the founder of the Hollywood Reporter, noted that Grant “was one of the few English actors who had no desire to play Shakespeare.” He avoided glum parts generally, sensing, correctly, that movie audiences had no interest in seeing him, in a wife-beater undershirt, screaming “Stella!”

Grant understood that a key to success for an actor in Hollywood was to work with the best directors. For the most part, he was able to arrange to do so. He worked in films directed by Leo McCarey, Howard Hawks, George Stevens, George Cukor and Alfred Hitchcock. Given his popularity at the box office, he had, as Mr. Eyman writes, “first crack at nearly every script that didn’t involve a cattle drive or space aliens.”

Equally careful about female co-stars, Grant played in movies with Katharine Hepburn, Irene Dunne, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and Ingrid Bergman. He especially admired Bergman. “Grant found that he liked Ingrid Bergman a great deal,” Mr. Eyman notes. “She was beautiful, but lots of actresses are beautiful. What made Bergman special was her indifference to her looks, her clothes, to everything except her art.” With Bergman he made “Notorious,” “the high-water mark,” according to Mr. Eyman, “of the Hitchcock-Grant collaborations.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

The Reading Habits Of Five Generations

From the BookBaby Blog:

I’ll admit, I’m not great at remembering which generation is which, and I do get a kick out of how people like to pit one against another. I guess that’s just the way we do everything these days. OK Boomers vs. Millennials. Gen Z vs. Gen X. And is it wrong that I didn’t even know there was such a thing as the Silent Generation? That doesn’t sound very supportive, especially as they were preceded by the Greatest Generation. Who gets to name these groups, anyway?

. . . .

  • Gen Z prefers fantasy to other genres.
  • Millennials read more books than other generations.
  • Gen X reads more online news than other generations.
  • Baby Boomers rely on best-seller lists to find their books.
  • The Silent Generation spends the most time reading each day.
  • A preference for physical books spans all generations.

Link to the rest at the BookBaby Blog and thanks to Elaine for the tip.

PG will note there is an excellent and extensive infographic included in the OP (1-2 screens down from the top, depending upon your monitor), so you may have more reason than usual to click through.

A Former Paid Reviewer Shares:

PG received the following from an individual who he won’t identify. PG has removed one sentence that might allow someone to identify the sender, but the remainder of the message is as PG received it:

I can address some of the questions you posted about reviewing for Kirkus and PW.

I have freelance-reviewed for years through various organizations, including Kirkus Indie and PW’s equivalent. For these plus Chanticleer Reviews and Dark Diva/Readers Roundtable all titles were indie published.

. . . .

Pay has ranged from $0 to $75 per review. Kirkus and PW were $25-50 at the time I wrote for them; Chanticleer started at $50 then raised to $75/per after three reviews that passed muster. NYJB has never paid, but by far has been the most satisfying opportunity. I consider my pay from them to be the excellent books that have come to me for free, whether they be advance reader copies or beautiful finished hardcovers.

In all instances there’s been someone at the organization to edit and approve my review. All except NYJB edited my reviews heavily; NYJB barely changes a comma. All but NYJB have had strict guidelines for length, format, and content. But all have been firm about us writing honest reviews, and handling negative aspects of a title tactfully. Absolutely no nastiness allowed.

I’ve never had a contract with any review orgnization, just an agreement reached via email conversations, which basically amounted to my agreeing to their procedures.

Since there’s only ever been one person between me and the organization (the review editor, who may or may not have been staff vs. freelance), I assume the bulk of what Kirkus, PW, and Chanticleer charge authors goes to the organization, presumably as profit after they pay their reviewer and review editor. I have no idea what the editor receives.

A personal note: I agree with 99% of your posted commentary about traditional vs. self/indie publishing regarding the latter being a better deal for authors. I must say, though, that the trad-pub books I’ve had available for review have been orders of magnitude better than the indies. Yes, there have been good ones, but to date, in general, on the reviewer end, through the channels I’ve experienced, indie books remain subpar to the ones that go through the gatekeeping and corporate production process.

I would go so far as to say it’s an inverse proportion, i.e., 1 or 2 out of 10 indies are worth reading and reviewing, whereas 8 or 9 out of 10 trad-pubs are worth it.

As an author myself, I’ve abandoned traditional publishing. But as a reader, I prefer its products. Not sure what that means beyond affirmation that the publishing world is changing!

Provincialism

In the last analysis, provincialism is your belief in yourself, in your neighborhood, in your reality. It is patriotism without belligerence. Convincing cases have been made to show that all great art is provincial in the sense of reflecting a place, a time, and a Zeitgeist.

Richard M. Weaver

Is American Fiction Too Provincial?

From Public Books:

Autumn brings the peak of the literary prize season: winners of the Booker, the National Book Award, the Women’s Prize, the Prix Goncourt, and the Nobel will all be announced by mid-November. American authors and books will be contenders for almost every award, large and small, for which they are eligible. That makes this an auspicious moment to revisit two persistent questions about American literature: Is it really a key part of the global literary system? And is the answer to that question the same for its “serious” and its mainstream forms? We can see the doubts behind those questions most clearly in a recent literary controversy, one that seems to have grown at once more and less relevant in the 12 years since it took place.

Autumn brings the peak of the literary prize season: winners of the Booker, the National Book Award, the Women’s Prize, the Prix Goncourt, and the Nobel will all be announced by mid-November. American authors and books will be contenders for almost every award, large and small, for which they are eligible. That makes this an auspicious moment to revisit two persistent questions about American literature: Is it really a key part of the global literary system? And is the answer to that question the same for its “serious” and its mainstream forms? We can see the doubts behind those questions most clearly in a recent literary controversy, one that seems to have grown at once more and less relevant in the 12 years since it took place.

Readers with longish memories and a taste for the absurd will recall the 2008 incident with Horace Engdahl, who was then the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy and is now a central figure in the Academy’s recent #MeToo and corruption scandals that canceled the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature. In the run-up to the 2008 award announcement, Engdahl explained that American authors were not competitive for the prize, because they were “too isolated, too insular” and didn’t “participate in the big dialogue of literature.”

The results of this claim were a good deal of hand-wringing among American authors and readers, some sympathetic head-nodding both here and abroad, and no noticeable change in the prize’s national distribution. (There have been two American laureates since 1978: Toni Morrison in 1993 and Bob Dylan in 2016.)1 On its own, the incident isn’t worth much attention today; it represented a passing amalgam of ignorance, publicity seeking, and the combination of arrogance and fallibility that James English diagnosed in these pages in his coverage of the Academy’s recent (and more serious) woes.

But the idea that American literature could be or should be (or perhaps already was) more deeply intertwined with the world outside the United States wasn’t unique to Engdahl. Scholars have repeatedly argued that what we call American literature has been bound up with other literary traditions (and markets) for centuries, and that contemporary US fiction has been especially explicit in its treatment of the world.

Domestic readers, meanwhile, have always made successes of at least some American-authored books set outside the US, of novels by writers who immigrated to the States, and of imported fiction largely divorced from American culture. Yet the nagging sense that American literature is at least a little provincial, a little self-absorbed in comparison to other nations—that Engdahl was a broken clock enjoying one of its twice-daily minutes of accuracy—has remained hard to escape.

Part of the problem is that it is difficult to say what is the normal or correct amount of national introspection. Danish authors, one presumes, write about Denmark more often and more deeply than do others. We don’t generally consider this a problem. And the United States naturally looms large in the imagination of writers around the globe, as do other wealthy, influential nations. So, we should expect differences from country to country and probably some overrepresentation of the United States across the board, especially in recent decades.

Link to the rest at Public Books

The short answer to the question in the title is “No”.

American fiction is American fiction. Swedish fiction is Swedish fiction.

Most purchasers of American fiction are Americans. Most purchases of Swedish fiction are Swedes. Swedes think Americans are weird. Those Americans who think of Sweden (a small minority) think Swedes are probably OK, particularly the blonde ones, but may not like that pickled herring stuff so much.

Nobel prizes are distributed according to the opinions of a small group of Scandinavians appointed by their nation’s parliaments (Norway) or elected by a self-perpetuating board that tends fill vacancies with other people just like themselves (Sweden).

The Nobel Peace Prize winner is selected by five Norwegians appointed by the Storting AKA the Norwegian parliament. The winner receives the prize each year in Oslo.

Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded by the Nobel Academy, established in 1786 by Swedish King Gustav III.

Visitors to TPV will all remember that Gustav III was a strong proponent of enlightened despotism. (PG note: Is that an oxymoron?)

Gustav III, the enlightened despot, came into power in 1772 via a coup d’état which ended Swedish parliamentary rule (generally referred to as “The Age of Liberty”). Thereafter, Good King Gustav spent a lot of public money money trying to forcibly annex Norway with Russian help.

In 1789, Gustav III helped organize a bunch of other kings who sent soldiers to to Paris to put down a popular uprising against the French monarchy and return his buddy, King Louis XVI, back to his rightful place on the throne.

In 1792, while Gustav III was attending a masquerade ball, he was shot and killed by someone who didn’t like him.

Wouldn’t anyone want their child to grow up to be just like Gustav III, the creator of the Nobel Prize for Literature?

But PG digresses.

The Swedish Academy, AKA Svenska Akademien, is composed of 18 members whose tenure is for life. (Gustave III thought the Swedish expression De Aderton – ‘The Eighteen’ – had a fine solemn ring to it. (Say it slowly, De . . . . . . Aderton . . . . and you’ll understand what GIII was talking about.))

The Swedish Academy publishes two Swedish dictionaries. The Swedish Academy meets for a ritual dinner every Thursday evening at a restaurant they own in the heart of the old town in Stockholm. (PG doesn’t know if pickled herring is a regular part of the festivities or not.)

The current Academy consists of 18 writers, linguists, literary scholars, historians and a prominent jurist. PG couldn’t find out how old the members are. Since they are appointed for life and get a free dinner every Thursday, PG suspects there is a high proportion of geezers and geezerettes.

Speaking of which, The Academy didn’t include any women until in the early 2010’s, but reports that, as of today, 1/3 of its current members are women. (A sexual harassment and rape scandal and ensuing cover-up attempts involving Academy members and at least one of their spouses in 2018 created a lot of openings).

(PG is of mixed blood, but the largest percentage of his blood is Swedish, so he’ll leave off with the anti-Swedish scorn in this post now.)

So, if American Fiction were not so provincial, more American authors would be selected as prize winners by 18 Swedish members-for-life who run The Swedish Academy?

And, if American Fiction were not so provincial, more American authors would be selected for the Man Booker Prize, awarded by five British Judges?

And, if American Fiction were not so provincial, more American authors would be selected for the Le prix Goncourt (self-explanatory)?

PG will end with three final questions:

  • What percentage of the American public worries about whether American Fiction is provincial or not?
  • What percentage of the American reading public worries about whether American Fiction is provincial or not?
  • What percentage of the American reading public cares about who wins any prize at all, foreign or domestic?
  • (Bonus Sub-question – What percentage of the American reading public who don’t live within 50 miles of an ocean cares about . . . .?)

Sargent Leaving Macmillan

From Publishers Weekly:

In a surprise announcement this morning, Holtzbrinck announced that John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan, will leave Macmillan and its parent, Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, on January 1. Don Weisberg, president of Macmillan US Trade, has been named to succeed Sargent as CEO of Macmillan Publishers, while Susan Winslow, general manager of Macmillan Learning, will head that division as president. In addition to overseeing all of Macmillan, Sargent was an executive v-p of Holtzbrinck.

In making the announcement, Holtzbrinck said Sargent’s departure is due to “disagreements regarding the direction of Macmillan.”

The family shareholders, the supervisory board, my colleagues and I thank John Sargent deeply for making Macmillan a strong and highly successful publishing house and for his most helpful advice,” Stefan von Holtzbrinck, CEO of the Holtizbrinck Publishing Group, said in a statement. “John’s principles and exemplary leadership have always been grounded in worthy, essential causes, be it freedom of speech, the environment, or support for the most vulnerable. Since Holtzbrinck shares these ideals, they will live on.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

In case anyone harbored any misconceptions about who the real bosses of Macmillan are.

As PG has said before, the CEOs of Big Publishing are nicely-tailored middle managers. “The family shareholders” and similar groups and entities are the real bosses.

PG suspects “disagreements regarding the direction of Macmillan” translates from the original German as “Mr. Sargent didn’t make his numbers. We want to see more sales and much higher profits.”

However, since PG doesn’t speak German and his last name is not von Holtzbrinck, all this is idle speculation.

However, in the midst of this little dust-up, you must never forget that, first and foremost, traditional publishers are Curators of Our Culture or, more specifically, Kuratoren unserer Kultur.

Update Your Barnes & Noble Password Right Now

From Lifehacker:

In a recent email, Barnes & Noble informed its customers of a security breach on October 12 that may have exposed email addresses and other account information.

The hack affected store systems, reportedly rendering cash registers unusable for a time, and also affected Nook apps and devices. Users were unable to view their collections, load past purchases, or buy new books, and Nook-related web pages were temporarily inaccessible for a few days this week. Most Nook functionality seems to be restored by now, but the full severity of the leak is unclear.

. . . .

In the email, Barnes & Noble confirms user email addresses, shipping and billing addresses, and phone numbers were vulnerable, but found no evidence any of this information was stolen. The email also says financial data is encrypted and safe—or at least, that’s how it looks for now.

. . . .

The company says the worst users should expect is that they may receive unwanted spam emails or phone calls. However, some users have reported unauthorized account access and purchases in the days since B&N systems were compromised.

While it’s possible hackers stole and decrypted password and payment data, it’s equally likely the affected users had poorly secured bank accounts that use the same email address as their Barnes & Noble profile. It’s not hard to break into an account using credential stuffing, especially if users re-use a password that’s been compromised in other leaks and they don’t have extra account security enabled, such as two-factor authentication (2FA).

Either way, there’s more risk than just the spam emails and calls Barnes & Noble suggests. Even if the hack exposed only email and phone numbers, these can be used to phish passwords and other security information from unsuspecting victims—that’s why your bank says it “never asks you for your password.”

So if you get an email asking for your account number, credit card info, or password, don’t provide it. And don’t click on any links or email attachments, either.

Link to the rest at Lifehacker

Typically, PG doesn’t include links in the excerpts from items he posts.

The original of this Lifehacker article includes links to lots of information that may be of help to Barnes & Noble online customers.

These links provide detailed information concerning what Barnes & Noble customers should be doing with their Barnes & Noble account information, sign-on credentials, etc., to avoid problems that may be caused if those who attacked the Barnes & Noble computer system were able to access credit card or other personal information.

At a higher level and for any website that asks for credit card numbers, personal information, etc., it is a good idea to use a unique and complex password.

Of course, if you have id/pw credentials for more than a half-dozen websites, you may have difficulty remembering if your bank password is )NpZLfmY’?6m'{:\ or @X(wfS6f;m-.+wEJd”Gc

There are computer programs to help you with that and make it as easy to insert NFsEu9GDLn8W3hhd3rUK into the password blank as it is to type mydogisrover.

PG uses LastPass and has done so for a long time with zero problems.

PG knows others who use 1password and are quite happy with it as well.

PC Magazine has a review of The Best Password Managers for 2020 which provides details on a whole bunch of password managers.

If you don’t like spending money, PC Magazine also has a review of The Best Free Password Managers for 2020 as well.

James Daunt, Fearless Leader, a Continuing Saga

PG just learned that James Daunt had a video interview with an editor at Publishing Perspectives on October 14, four days after the first announcement PG saw of the Barnes & Noble Crash of 2020, in connection with the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Due to firewalls for publications PG doesn’t necessarily want to pay to read, PG hasn’t been able to access any details of what Daunt may or may not have said about the Barnes & Noble computer crash. He hasn’t seen any third-party reports based on the interview that provide much detail.

However, PG speculates that, had Daunt been asked about the Barnes & Noble computer crash that, among other things, took down BN’s Nook business and reportedly locked up Nook readers in many places, Daunt’s response would have been newsworthy enough to show up somewhere PG can access.

PG speculates that, perhaps, the interviewer didn’t know about the BN crash, the interviewer was told before the interview that the crash was a no-go zone, Daunt’s comments about the crash were off the record, the interviewer asked Daunt about the crash and Daunt replied with the British equivalent of “No Comment” or something else entirely.

PG continues to be puzzled by the apparent lack of any public comment by Daunt about a major problem Barnes & Noble experienced.

Barnes & Noble is no longer a public company, having been acquired and taken private by an investment group, so it doesn’t have the legal obligation to disclose information about a problem that would have sent the public company’s stock into a steep decline.

Here’s some pure speculation on PG’s part.

Repeat – Pure speculation with no secret factual basis:

Perhaps Daunt is in hot water with the current owners of Barnes & Noble or was in hot water even before the crash due to Barnes & Noble’s performance, and has decided to keep silent or had been ordered to keep silent by his bosses.

End of pure speculation.

PG is a lawyer, not a reporter. He usually waits for news to come to him via various email subscriptions, persistent Google searches, tips, etc.

If any visitors to TPV see anything online, have any reliable information, etc., about what has, at least for PG, has become a more and more puzzling response by Barnes & Noble to a really big problem, he would appreciate hearing about them in the comments to this post or via the Contact link up toward the top of the blog.

Paid Reviews – Good? Bad? Meh?

More than a few indie authors use paid reviews as a promotion tool.

The big dogs in this business are Publishers Weekly and Kirkus.

PG understands that both PW and Kirkus use a lot of freelancers for their reviews. PG is not aware that either company publicizes the amount it pays freelancers for a review, but people who claim to be doing this work now or claiming to have done this work in the past few years report a range of fees earned. PG has not seen/heard of any number above $100 as the amount the freelancer receives. Other numbers bandied about include $50 or $25 per review.

Of course, PW and Kirkus charge indie authors much more for a paid review.

According to its website, Kirkus charges $425 for a “Traditional Review”.

Publishers Weekly says “BookLife Reviews will be written by Publishers Weekly reviewers.” On the Booklife.com website, one learns that the cost is “$399 for a complete review with takeaway, comp titles, and design and production grades, written by an expert Publishers Weekly reviewer, with a six-week turnaround time.” Four-week turnaround costs $100 more.

Seems like a reasonable deal. Including reviews in promotions, advertisements, KDP descriptions, etc., seems to help sell books for indie authors. Basically, the calculation goes something like this: “If I spend $425 on Kirkus, will placing an excerpt from a “Kirkus Reviews” reviewer in my book description sell enough additional books to earn back $425 in increased royalties?

Since both companies are continuing to offer this paid review service, PG concludes that a lot of indie authors are happy with the results they see from their investments.

So, beyond the blurb-quote, what does a PW or Kirkus individual (likely freelance) reviewer deliver for the $50 or so she/he receives?

PG understands that some reviews that indie authors have received have included factually-inaccurate statements about the book’s content. Something the reviewer said was in the book was not, in fact, in the book or other errors of a similar nature.

In other cases, some indie authors have wondered whether the reviewer read the book at all.

Perhaps most troubling, some indie authors have reported that the reviewer included some nasty criticisms about the book that have not seemed justified. The blurb was OK, but the remainder of the review was extremely disrespectful toward the author and his/her book.

According to what people in a position to know have told PG, even indie authors who have sold and continue to sell a great many books and earn very respectable royalties have received this treatment.

On a few occasions, the indie author has suspected that the only one-star review a book received on Amazon (accompanied by a nasty, sometimes factually incorrect description of the book) had been written by the same person hired by PW or Kirkus to write the paid review.

If these sorts of activities are taking place, a few questions arise in PG’s mind:

  1. Does anyone who is employed by Kirkus or PW on a full-time basis actually read the reviews that authors pay for to determine if they have any basis in fact?
  2. Is there any quality control built into the indie author review program?
  3. Is the difference between the $400+ the author pays PW or Kirkus and the $50 or so that the freelancer receives pure profit for PW or Kirkus?
  4. Does PW really use an “an expert Publishers Weekly reviewer” for its paid reviews?
  5. Do Kirkus and PW use the same reviewers for the paid indie reviews that they use for the reviews of traditionally-published authors that appear in the Kirkus (“Trusted since 1933”) and PW printed reviews and reviews that appear on the kirkusreviews.com and https://www.publishersweekly.com websites?
  6. Do Kirkus and PW have any written contracts with the freelance reviewers who write paid reviews of books by indie authors?
  7. If there are written contracts, is there any agreement by the freelance reviewer that she/he will write an accurate review after reading the entire book and not take any actions elsewhere that may reasonably be expected to diminish sales of the indie author’s book?
  8. Are any Kirkus or PW reviewers would-be traditionally-published authors who have drunk the NYC Kool-Aid that says all indie authors are trash?

A couple of additional questions arise in PG’s mind. He suspects he knows the answer, but he’ll ask them anyway.

  1. Do traditional publishers directly or indirectly pay for reviews of their books in PW and/or Kirkus?
  2. If so, how much do such Kirkus and/or PW reviews cost traditional publishers?
  3. Are reviews created for traditional publishers written by the same “expert Publishers Weekly reviewers” that write paid reviews for indie authors or is there a much different group of reviewers that write the TradPub reviews?

End of rhetorical questions.

PG doesn’t know if the descriptions of poor behavior he has heard about are isolated slipups in an otherwise honorable, fair, valuable and well-functioning service operated by PW and Kirkus or not.

He would be happy to hear about good or bad results from these programs from indie authors.

PG will note that some indie authors who are upset by one or more of the questionable activities described above say they will continue to use the Kirkus and PW services because they believe the blurbs still help sell enough books to more than justify the costs.

Feel free to share experiences, reactions, criticisms of PG or anyone else, etc., in the comments.

If you would prefer that such matters not show up in the Comments section of TPV, feel free to send a private message to PG via the Contact link towards the top of the blog. He not post any of the contents of those private messages without the express consent of the person who sent them.

While PG was obviously disturbed by what he heard about the Kirkus and PW programs, he hopes to hear that these are rare aberrations in a couple of publicity services that help indie authors sell more books.

Depending upon the response he receives from this post, PG may make further posts to correct, clarify or confirm what he’s described above.

Is the Publishing Trade Press Dead?

PG would appreciate it if visitors to The Passive Voice would forward links to anything they see in the Trade Press for Traditional Publishing that mentions the Barnes & Noble computer fiasco.

Barnes & Noble cyberattack exposed customers’ personal information

From CNN:

A day after Barnes & Noble solved its Nook outage, the bookstore revealed a far more serious problem: A massive cybersecurity attack breached the company’s data, exposing information about customers, including email addresses and other personal information.On Monday, Barnes & Noble sent customers an email to notify them about the cyberattack. The company made clear that customers’ financial information had not been exposed. Their transaction history, however, was potentially exposed. The company said “transaction history, meaning purchase information related to the books and other products that you have bought from us” were retained in the systems that were impacted by the cybersecurity attack.

Customer’s email addresses, were also potentially leaked in the cybersecurity attack, according to the company.
“It is possible that your email address was exposed and, as a result, you may receive unsolicited emails,” Barnes & Noble said.
While the bookstore chain doesn’t know if other personal information was exposed during the attack, Barnes & Noble acknowledged that customers’ billing and shipping addresses as well as their phone numbers stored in the systems were included in the attack.
Although not worth much to hackers on their own, personally identifying data like addresses, phone numbers, names and email addresses are valuable on the black market. It can be combined with other information, including credit card information and Social Security numbers, to create full profiles of people. Hackers can use that information to steal people’s identities and money.

Link to the rest at CNN

PG notes that the drip-drip-drip method of revealing information after a company disaster is something many public relations professionals regard as a classic example of the wrong way for a company to handle such an event.

The recommended strategy is to tell everything you know right away, upfront and to be very transparent about what you are doing to resolve the problem and protect your customers from harm. Quite often, a consumer-facing company will offer a credit-protection program at no cost to its customers.

As mentioned before, you can send any other information you think might be of interest to TPV visitors via the Contact link.

PG is particularly interested in hearing about any indications of intelligent life inside Barnes & Noble’s management ranks.

Barnes & Noble hit by cyberattack that exposed customer data

From Bleeping Computer:

U.S. Bookstore giant Barnes & Noble has disclosed that they were victims of a cyberattack that may have exposed customers’ data.

Barnes & Noble is the largest brick-and-mortar bookseller in the United States, with over 600 bookstores in fifty states. The bookseller also operated the Nook Digital, which is their eBook and e-Reader platform.

. . . .

Since October 10th, users have been complaining on Nook’s Facebook page and Twitter that they could no longer access their library of purchased eBooks and magazine subscriptions. When attempting to do so online or on their Nook, the library was coming up blank or could not log into bn.com.

. . . .

In a statement given to FastCompany earlier today, Barnes & Noble said that they suffered a severe network issue and were in the process of restoring their server backups.

“We have a serious network issue and are in the process of restoring our server backups,” Barnes & Noble told Fast Company in a statement. “Our systems are back online in our stores and on BN.com, and we are investigating the cause. Please be assured that there is no compromise of customer payment details, which are encrypted and tokenized.”

. . . .

In an email sent to customers late Wednesday night and seen by BleepingComputer, Barnes & Noble has disclosed that they suffered a cyberattack on October 10th, 2020.

As part of this attack, threat actors gained access to corporate systems utilized by the company.

“It is with the greatest regret we inform you that we were made aware on October 10, 2020 that Barnes & Noble had been the victim of a cybersecurity attack, which resulted in unauthorized and unlawful access to certain Barnes & Noble corporate systems.”

“We write now out of the greatest caution to let you know how this may have exposed some of the information we hold of your personal details,” Barnes & Noble stated in their email.

. . . .

In a list of frequently asked questions, Barnes & Noble states that no payment details have been exposed but are unsure at this time if the hackers accessed other personal information.

They do admit that email addresses, billing addresses, shipping addresses, and purchase history were exposed on the hacked systems.

. . . .

While it has not been confirmed, Barnes & Noble’s cyberattack has all characteristics of a ransomware attack.

Ransomware operators commonly conduct their attacks on the weekend, when there is less staff present who could detect the attack — Barnes & Noble were attacked on a Saturday.

The bookseller also stated that they had to restore server backups, which is another indicator of a ransomware attack.

Finally, cybersecurity intelligence firm Bad Packets told BleepingComputer that Barnes & Noble perviously had multiple Pulse VPN servers that were vulnerable to the CVE-2019-11510 vulnerability.

This vulnerability is popular among ransomware threat actors as it allows them to gain access to user credentials stored on the VPN device.

A recent leak of Pulse VPN credentials gathered using this vulnerability contained accounts belonging to Barnes & Noble.

. . . .

Unfortunately, if they did suffer a ransomware attack, it is likely that much more data was exposed than Barnes & Noble is disclosing.

When ransomware operators attack a network, they first steal unencrypted files to use as leverage to get a victim to pay the ransom. If the victim refuses to pay, the ransomware gang leaks the unencrypted data on data leak sites.

Link to the rest at Bleeping Computer and thanks to DM for the tip.

When anyone hears of the first class-action suit filed against Barnes & Noble on behalf of its online customers based upon the leak of personal information and damages arising therefrom, you can let PG know via the Contact Link at the top of the blog.

To be fair to Barnes & Noble, there may be a non-negligent explanation for all of this, but the Barnes & Noble CEO has been surprisingly silent about this matter, particularly in comparison to his ready availability to any journalist likely to produce yet another puff piece about him.

The Death of Max Jacob

From The Paris Review:

In late December of 1943, Max Jacob went to Orléans and Montargis to buy Christmas gifts for the children of the village of Saint-Benoît. He stayed for five days as a guest in the house of one of his doctor friends in Montargis, where he enjoyed the warmth of a cheerful family. He returned to Saint-Benoît for Christmas—the Mass celebrated in the basilica, the crèche with its plaster figures brought out year after year—followed by days of writing letters of New Year’s greetings and making ceremonial visits in the village. When he reported all this to Jacques Mezure on January 5, 1944, he didn’t yet know that his sister, Mirté-Léa, had been arrested.

Mirté-Léa was seized on January 4 and taken to the internment camp at Drancy. Jacob was beside himself. He threw himself into a campaign to save her, writing to everyone he imagined might have influence with the Germans: Cocteau, Marie Laurencin, Misia Sert, Sacha Guitry, the Bishop of Orléans, the Archbishop of Sens. He consulted his friend Julien Lanoë about whether or not to ask Coco Chanel, who had a German lover. His letters were heart-wrenching. He described his little sister, the “companion of his childhood,” her suffering as a widow, her devotion to her mentally handicapped son. “Dear friend, permit me to kiss your hands, the hem of your dress … I beg you, do something,” he implored Misia. Sacha Guitry replied that he couldn’t help “some unknown Jew.” If it were Max, he said, “he could do something.”

Drancy now contained men, women, and children. Transports to Auschwitz were leaving almost every week. Even as her brother sent his desperate appeals, Mirté-Léa was shoved into a train car on January 20; she went immediately to the gas chamber on her arrival. Max Jacob never knew what became of her.

. . . .

When he wasn’t writing letters to save his sister, Jacob was reading Gongora. Better than Mallarmé, he told Marcel Béalu. On the freezing Sunday morning of February 20, Dr. Castelbon, one of the Montargis doctors, drove the Béalus to Saint-Benoît to visit Jacob. They clustered in his room at Madame Persillard’s house, warming themselves at his stove, and admired the drawings he was working on. They had lunch together in the restaurant of the little hotel. “At least they can’t take this away from me: I’ve loved,” said Jacob. He confessed to Dr. Castelbon: “You know, you can’t always believe me: I make things up. I know it’s wicked and I confess it every morning to the priest—and then start up again.” They visited the basilica as they had done so many times before. Jacob, who hadn’t signed his name in the visitors’ book for years, added his signature, and the dates 1921–1944.

The next morning Jacob rose early in the brutal cold to help the vicar, the Abbé Hatton, serve Mass in the chapel in the Hospice; then he returned to his room, lit his fire, and wrote his daily meditation. When he rejoined his friends, he was in a jolly mood, trilling a verse. After lunch, the doctor drove them to Sully—still half in ruins from German bombs—where the Béalus would catch the bus to Montargis. They planned a visit for the following Sunday. “Au revoir, les enfants!” called Max, waving at them as the bus pulled out.

On Tuesday, Jacob dined with his friends, Dr. Georges Durand and his wife, in the village; he left early to attend a parish meeting. The next day was Ash Wednesday: Jacob received the mark of death on his forehead that morning at the rite in the crypt of the basilica. On Thursday, February 24, he rose at dawn to write his meditation and to help the Abbé Hatton serve Mass. He was back in his room, writing letters, when a gray car from Orléans drove up and three Germans in trench coats got out. They rang the bell, climbed the stairs to his room, and arrested him. Madame Persillard dashed over to the parsonage to rally the priest and the vicar, but they were busy. (“They could have come!” she protested later. “It was a little funeral of no importance whatsoever!”) One of the monks from the basilica hurried to the scene, as did Dr. Castelbon, still at the hotel: he had time to thrust a flask of alcohol and a pair of his own woolen long johns into Jacob’s hands. “Keep his things here for when he returns,” ordered the Germans. Madame Persillard made him take a quilt: “A shame,” said Jacob. “You’ll never get it back.” She erupted, “You see! Fat lot of good it did you to pray so much!” Jacob stayed calm; before stepping into the car, he shook hands with the small group of villagers who had gathered. At the bistro next door, when the car had driven off, Dr. Castelbon heard a neighbor say, “That man, he couldn’t do no harm: he wasn’t writing anymore.” “He wrote with his paintings,” said his companion.

In Orléans, Jacob was incarcerated with sixty-five other Jews, men, women, and children, in a filthy, freezing military cell, ten by ten meters large. They had straw mats to sleep on, already soaked in urine. They were given soup at noon, a little Camembert at night. Jacob managed to dispatch a message to Jean Rousselot, the poet and police commissioner: “Perhaps your title will permit you to bring me some tobacco and matches. Let Cocteau know. In friendship, Max Jacob. Man of Letters, Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur.” But Rousselot didn’t receive the message in time.

In the prison in Orléans, Jacob exercised his famous gifts: perhaps they had never been so useful. He told jokes, sang, recited verses, cast horoscopes; he tended the sick, applying cupping glasses (from two jars) on a woman suffering from pneumonia; he soothed the desperate. On February 26 the wretched group was trucked to the station, packed into a train, and hauled to the Gare d’Austerlitz in Paris. From the train, Jacob was able to send a few appeals for help. To Cocteau he wrote, “Dear Jean. I write you in a train car, courtesy of the gendarmes who guard us. We’ll soon be at Drancy. That’s all I have to say. Sacha [Guitry], when asked to help my sister, said, ‘If it was Max, I could do something.’ Well, it’s me. Kisses, Max.” To the Chanoine Fleureau at Saint-Benoît he wrote, “Dear M. the curé, Please excuse this letter from a drowning man, written courtesy of the gendarmes. I would like to tell you that I’ll soon be at Drancy. I have some conversions in progress. I trust in God and in my friends. I thank Him for the martyrdom that has begun. Max Jacob. I forget no one in my continual prayers.”

. . . .

Outside of Drancy, Jacob’s friends bestirred themselves. Cocteau pulled every string he could reach, scheming with Georges Prade, a wealthy businessman who ran the collaborationist newspaper Les Nouveaux Temps: Prade owned a gouache of Jacob’s and had already been called on to help Mirté-Léa. Cocteau composed a letter of appeal for Jacob’s release, which Prade took to the counselor Hans-Henning von Bose at the German embassy.

By some mystic coincidence, Jacob’s old friend the composer Henri Sauguet had begun to tinker with some poems from Jacob’s Pénitents en maillots roses in February when Pierre Colle called with news of the poet’s arrest. He and Colle went to find Picasso at lunch at his customary bistro, Le Catalan, near his studio on the rue des Grands Augustins. Picasso was in a lousy mood, Sauguet recalled. Whether or not he already knew of Jacob’s arrest was unclear. He did say, “Max is an angel. He can fly over the wall by himself.”

This incident is perhaps the most widely known story about Max Jacob, and is the one thing many people think they know about him. It provides several satisfactions: that of showing a famous artist to be a monster, and his lost friend as a victim. But the situation was far more complex. Picasso, it’s true, was no hero; he betrayed Apollinaire back in 1911 when they were interrogated about the theft of the Mona Lisa. But though German authorities did visit Picasso’s studio during the Occupation, the painter was vulnerable: he was a resident alien in Vichy France, and to be deported to Franco’s Spain would have been catastrophic. When he heard about Cocteau’s appeal, Picasso went to Prade and offered to sign it. Prade dissuaded him, arguing that the signature would carry no weight with the gestapo and would only make Picasso’s position in Paris more delicate than ever. The wisecrack itself was in the cruel lingua franca of the Bateau-Lavoir.

. . . .

Jacob hallucinated, he cried out. He saw trees marching and tried to seize them. The cold was crawling up his legs, he groaned. But his last words seem to have been peaceful: “You have the face of an angel,” he told the doctor leaning over him. He died at 9 P.M., March 5. 

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Max Jacob, photographed by Carl van Vechten, Library of Congress via Wikipedia
Portrait of Max Jacob by Amedeo Modigliani, 1911/1922, Cincinnati Art Museum via Wikimedia Commons
L’église De Locmaria [à Quimper, Max Jacob, 1927, via WikiArt, Public Domain
La Visitation, Max Jacob, 1938, via WikiArt, Public Domain

Eric Satie composed Furniture Music, or in French musique d’ameublement (sometimes more literally translated as furnishing music) in 1917. The piece premiered premiered in Paris the year it was composed, as intermission music to a lost comedy by Max Jacob. Source: Wikipedia

.

The following is not in France, but is a photo of The Holocaust Memorial in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. PG found it affecting.

.

The Holocaust Memorial, Bratislava’s Old Town, on the site of the former Neolog Synagogue demolished in 1969 original photo by Daniel Dimitrov / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) via Wikimedia Commons/ Small modifications for clarity and appearance

China’s Good War

From The Wall Street Journal:

When I arrived in Tokyo in the late 1990s for a five-year stint as a correspondent, one of my biggest surprises was the near total absence in Northeast Asia of international organizations that could foster and channel cooperation in the area.

I had come to Japan from West Africa, a region then widely known for political instability and poverty. Northeast Asia, by contrast, boasted some of the world’s largest and most dynamic economies. When I mentioned to Asian politicians and scholars how, for all of its weakness, West Africa had a dense network of cooperative bodies that mostly functioned well, and I asked them why their region remained so divided and mutually distrustful, I drew uncomprehending stares and even anger. Didn’t I know that Japan had sought to colonize China and Korea in living memory and had committed countless atrocities in the process?

This sort of response would follow me when I took a later assignment in China, leading me to point out that, in Europe, former Axis powers were now joined in a tight-knit community with their erstwhile Allied enemies. What was it about Northeast Asia that prevented it from coming together more closely and overcoming its bitter recent past?

This question runs as a major subtext throughout Rana Mitter’s “China’s Good War: How World War II Is Shaping a New Nationalism.” Mr. Mitter, one of Britain’s foremost historians of modern China, examines how Beijing has exploited memories of World War II and explores its recent efforts to win global recognition for itself as a principal architect and leading upholder of the international order. The results are probing, but covering so much ground in one slim volume probably makes the text somewhat inaccessible for a general audience, especially for those unfamiliar with Chinese politics and Communist Party historiography. Mr. Mitter notes how the country’s civil war between 1945 and 1949, which followed Japan’s defeat in World War II and ended in victory for Mao Zedong’s Communists over Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists, coincided with the period when most of the postwar arrangements were made.

In the aftermath of World War II, the U.S. had expected a Nationalist-led China to emerge as Asia’s leading power and even helped usher it onto the United Nations Security Council. But the civil war and Mao’s victory in 1949, and Beijing’s support for North Korea’s invasion of American-allied South Korea, led to a rupture in relations with the U.S. that would last into the 1970s. It also meant that the dismantlement of the Japanese empire took place without Chinese participation. Today, with Japan and South Korea firmly allied with Washington, and North Korea a client of Beijing, there has been little opportunity for unifying narratives to emerge, as happened in Western Europe.

China has cycled through political radicalism and economic autarky under Mao, canny and opportunistic cooperation with the U.S. guided by Deng Xiaoping, and increasingly ambitious international activism, beginning in Africa in the 1990s and, more recently, throughout the world via its Belt and Road Initiative. The one constant has been a desire to return to regional leadership and indeed global pre-eminence. Mr. Mitter’s book offers a detailed and fascinating account of how the Chinese leadership’s strategy has evolved across eras—and how its recent overtures to regional and international audiences have corresponded to shifts in domestic education and internal propaganda about World War II.

From the Communist victory in 1949 until the 1980s, war narratives in China heavily exaggerated the role of Mao’s forces in defeating the Japanese, thereby playing down the efforts of the Nationalists, whose armies in fact accounted for the brunt of the fighting, including almost all of the major battles in China’s resistance to the invaders.

China’s goal of gaining broader acceptance of its leadership in the world has come to involve recasting World War II altogether. The priority of lionizing Mao and his comrades in founding Communist China has given way to a desire for international legitimacy and admiration. Mr. Mitter shows how this has meant repurposing World War II as China’s “good war,” a conflict in which the enormous sacrifices made resisting the Japanese after the 1931 invasion of Manchuria bought crucial time for Western powers to gather their strength to confront and defeat Japan in the Pacific. Making such arguments has required China to gradually rehabilitate the long-reviled Nationalists, if not as a political movement at least as combatants.

This Chinese revisionism, expressed not just in textbooks, but increasingly in film and television and proliferating museums, now posits China as the most important Asian battleground of World War II and accords China a decisive role in defeating the Japanese. China, in other words, was “present at the creation” of the current international order and so deserves greater recognition for its past sacrifices and acceptance of its future leadership.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

PG notes that Marxist regimes in the 20th century and moving into the 21st have always included an evil enemy. It’s a requirement for distracting the citizens from the disagreeable parts of their lives and their thuggish leaders.

Much of the fighting in many parts of China, particularly early in WWII, was between the armed forces loyal to Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek and the Communist insurgents following Mao. Regardless of one’s opinion concerning which side of that fight was worse, there is no doubt that the Chinese-on-Chinese fighting weakened both sides and reduced China’s ability to repulse or eject the Japanese invaders.

Indie bookstores launch anti-Amazon ‘Boxed Out’ campaign

From the Associated Press via ABC News Wire Services :

With many independent bookstore owners facing the most dire financial crisis in their lifetimes, the American Booksellers Association has teamed with an award-winning advertising agency known for “culture hacking” to dramatize the threats of the pandemic and the growing dominance of Amazon.com.

On Tuesday, the trade group launched the “Boxed Out” campaign, for which a handful of bookstores around the country will have windows boarded up and boxes piled up out front that resemble Amazon delivery containers, with one label reading “Don’t Accept Amazon’s Brave New World.” The beginning of what the booksellers association hopes will be a conversation in stores and online, “Boxed Out” was designed by DCX Growth Accelerator, a Brooklyn-based firm which attracted national attention in 2018 when it set up a fake “Palessi” luxury shoe store and stocked it with items from the Payless discount chain.

“Boxed Out” coincides with Amazon Prime Day, when the online giant offers special deals to its members.

“We’re hoping that people will understand the juxtaposition and support their local stores,” says booksellers association CEO Allison Hill.

Independent booksellers had enjoyed a resurgence over the past decade after being devastated in the 20 previous years by the rise of the superstore chains Barnes & Noble and Borders, and then the emergence of Amazon. ABA membership, once more than 5,000, was down to just 1,401 in 2009 during the height of the Great Recession and was apparently set to keep declining as e-books began to catch on.

But the digital revolution stalled, Borders went out of business and Barnes & Noble retreated after a long era of expansion. In 2019, the last time the ABA released yearly numbers, membership was up to 1,887, with some sellers even opening additional outlets. Hill’s predecessor, Oren Teicher, who retired at the end of 2019, received an honorary National Book Award earlier that year for his success in “working to strengthen and expand independent bookstores nationwide.”

But the pandemic could wipe out all the gains since 2009. An ABA survey from this summer found that some 20 percent of members could go out of business, meaning hundreds of stores face closure, especially as government aid runs out. Meanwhile, the number of new independent stores opening has dropped sharply, according to the ABA, just 30 this year compared to 104 in 2019.

While the overall market for books has been surprisingly solid in 2020, Amazon.com has apparently fared best as the public increasingly makes purchases online. According to a report issued last week by the antitrust subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, “Amazon accounts for over half of all print book sales and over 80% of e-book sales” in the U.S. market.

Link to the rest at ABC News and thanks to DM and others for the tip.

Somehow, PG missed the news about the “fake ‘Palessi’ luxury shoe store” publicity event.

He also has doubts about the efficacy of a promotional campaign featuring “a handful of bookstores around the country [with] windows boarded up and boxes piled up out front that resemble Amazon delivery containers, with one label reading “Don’t Accept Amazon’s Brave New World.””

Apparently the CEO of the sponsor of this campaign, the American Booksellers Association may also have at least some misgivings, “We’re hoping that people will understand the juxtaposition and support their local stores.”

PG hopes the American Booksellers Association hasn’t paid DCX Growth Accelerator much money for this promotion.

Potential problems that immediately float into PG’s mind include:

  • At least some people will conclude the participating bookstore has gone out of business, another victim of Covid and mentally mark it off their list of places to go shopping.
  • Amazon will be the one thing that 90% of those who see this display remember, not the name or anything else about the bookstore.
  • PG isn’t certain how a pile of empty Amazon boxes connects with dystopian science fiction.
  • Depending upon the neighborhood in New York City and other cities around the country, upwards of half of the people who pass by won’t know what “Brave New World” means and won’t get the slogan.
  • Somewhere in the installation, it would be a good idea for the promotion agency to place a notice that all the Amazon boxes will be taken to a recycling center instead of being dumped into the closest collection of trash cans or some passersby will be very upset and, perhaps, organize a boycott of the bookstore.

Somehow, PG doesn’t think anyone at Amazon will feel the least bit frightened by this publicity campaign. But photos of it will undoubtedly be a big hit in the obscure nooks and crannies of social media inhabited by Amazon haters and other losers. And somebody will put up a copy of the photo up on the bulletin board in at lease one Amazon break room.

Further on Barnes & Noble’s Secret Computer Crash

Yesterday, PG posted about a severe computer outage at Barnes & Noble that reportedly took down the system Barnes & Noble’s physical stores use for orders, inventory control, etc., as well as the Nook store and the ability of Nook users to synchronize their devices, access ebooks not already stored on their Nooks, etc.

This problem took Barnes & Noble about three days from the first report PG read to fix the problem.

To the best of PG’s current knowledge, only two websites, GoodEreader (October 10) and The Digital Reader (October 13), reported on the outage.

Ergo, the entire Nook system went down and nobody noticed.

PG suspects if Amazon’s ebook store went offline went offline for an hour or two, let alone for three days, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and major US television networks would all cover the story.

PG suggests that this is perhaps the best evidence yet that the Nook ereader and Nook’s ebookstore don’t matter any more. Perhaps they’re not dead (at least today), but are semi-comatose.

At least in North America, it appears that Kobo may be #2 behind the Zon.

Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt, the hope for traditional publishing’s future in the US, has, to the best of PG’s knowledge, had nothing to say about the ebook disaster (and physical bookstore ordering, etc., disaster) that appears to have been occurring in the US company for which he is the CEO.

If PG has missed something that Daunt or Barnes & Noble PR department has said about this matter, he would be happy to hear about it via the Contact link for The Passive Voice.

Publishers worry as ebooks fly off libraries’ virtual shelves

From Ars Technica:

Before Sarah Adler moved to Maryland last week, she used library cards from her Washington, DC, home and neighboring counties in Virginia and Maryland to read books online. The Libby app, a slick and easy-to-use service from the company OverDrive, gave her access to millions of titles. When she moved, she picked up another card, and access to another library’s e-collection, as well as a larger consortium that the library belongs to. She does almost all of her reading on her phone, through the app, catching a page or two between working on her novels and caring for her 2-year-old. With her husband also at home, she’s been reading more books, mostly historical romance and literature, during the pandemic. In 2020, she estimates, she has read 150 books.

Adler buys books “rarely,” she says, “which I feel bad about. As someone who hopes to be published one day, I feel bad not giving money to authors.”

Borrowers like Adler are driving publishers crazy. After the pandemic closed many libraries’ physical branches this spring, checkouts of ebooks are up 52 percent from the same period last year, according to OverDrive, which partners with 50,000 libraries worldwide. Hoopla, another service that connects libraries to publishers, says 439 library systems in the US and Canada have joined since March, boosting its membership by 20 percent.

Some public libraries, new to digital collections, delight in exposing their readers to a new kind of reading. The library in Archer City, Texas, population 9,000, received a grant to join OverDrive this summer. The new ebook collection “has really been wonderful,” says library director Gretchen Abernathy-Kuck. “So much of the last few months has been stressful and negative.” The ebooks are “something positive. It was something new.”

. . . .

But the surging popularity of library ebooks also has heightened longstanding tensions between publishers, who fear that digital borrowing eats into their sales, and public librarians, who are trying to serve their communities during a once-in-a-generation crisis. Since 2011, the industry’s big-five publishers—Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, and Macmillan—have limited library lending of ebooks, either by time—two years, for example—or number of checkouts—most often, 26 or 52 times. Readers can browse, download, join waiting lists for, and return digital library books from the comfort of their home, and the books are automatically removed from their devices at the end of the lending period.

The result: Libraries typically pay between $20 and $65 per copy—an industry average of $40, according to one recent survey—compared with the $15 an individual might pay to buy the same ebook online. Instead of owning an ebook copy forever, librarians must decide at the end of the licensing term whether to renew.

. . . .

Last year, Macmillan took an additional step, limiting each library system to only a single digital copy of a new title—at half its usual price—until it had been on the market for two months. Macmillan CEO John Sargent said he worried there was too little friction in library ebook lending. “To borrow a book in [the pre-digital days] days required transportation, returning the book, and paying those pesky fines when you forgot to get them back on time,” he wrote in a letter announcing the policy. “In today’s digital world there is no such friction in the market.” Many librarians, arguing the Macmillan policy hurt large urban systems that already struggle to keep up with demand for new and noteworthy books, organized to boycott the publisher.

. . . .

The House Antitrust Subcommittee last year launched an investigation of competition in the digital marketplace, and subcommittee chair Representative David Cicilline (D–Rhode Island) has met with library advocates. “The whole issue of this negotiation [between libraries and publishers] over the last decade derives from a place where libraries have almost no rights in the digital age,” says Alan Inouye, the senior director of public policy and government relations at the American Library Association. “In the longer run, there needs to be a change in the environment or in the game. That means legislation or regulation.”

Link to the rest at Ars Technica

PG thought the question of whether libraries were good or bad for publishers had been resolved a long time ago.

The resolution goes something like this:

  1. Libraries allow people to read books at no cost.
  2. A meaningful portion of people who read books they check out from libraries will find they enjoy reading and will continue to read books on a regular basis.
  3. Once a person becomes an avid reader, they are quite likely to continue this habit for a long time.
  4. Some avid readers will become wealthy enough so they’ll just buy a copy of a book they think they will like rather than wait until the library has a copy available to loan.
  5. Some avid readers will always be willing to wait to read a book they think they will really like until it becomes available at their library.
  6. Some avid readers won’t want to wait for several weeks until a book is available at the library and will decide to buy it instead, even if they’re not particularly wealthy.
  7. Avid readers are among the most effective advocates for books and authors they like. Unlike advertising and promotion activities, avid readers don’t cost publishers a cent.
  8. At least some avid readers will flock together in what are called book clubs.
  9. When a book club decides to read a book, it is likely that all copies available at the local library that aren’t already checked out will quickly disappear from the library shelves.
  10. Avid readers in book clubs, avid readers who are friends of other avid readers, etc., etc., tend to buy many more books than people who never caught the reading bug at no cost via their local library.

Ergo, libraries promote more reading, which creates more readers, which creates more book purchasers, which means publishers make more money.

People borrowing books from libraries in any form are likely the best way that publishers can ensure the creation of more and more long-term customers.

But acting on that understanding would require long-term thinking on the part of traditional publishers.

Among many other things that traditional publishers are not good at doing, engaging in long-term thinking may be the most damaging. In the long run.

All of Barnes & Noble’s Computer Systems Are Down, and I do Mean All of Them

From The Digital Reader:

Barnes & Noble is going through the mother of all system crashes right now.

Some time late Friday night or early Saturday morning the retailer’s entire IT backbone crashed, and it took almost all of the company’s functionality with it. Everything from the cash registers to the catalog lookup is down. Even the Nook platform is down.

What’s even worse is that it’s Tuesday morning, and everything is still borked. I just checked the B&N website, and while I can see the site I cannot log in, much less buy anything. I also cannot access any of the Nook features.

UPDATE: B&N’s systems are mostly back up around 3 pm eastern.

There are unconfirmed reports on Reddit that B&N has been attacked by a virus or other malware. Given that we are now on day four of this situation, it is more than likely that they are correct.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

When PG just checked the Barnes & Noble website, he found the following at the B&N Help Center:

We apologize for a system failure which is interrupting access to NOOK content for some users. We are working urgently now to get all NOOK Services back to full operation as soon as possible. We apologize once again and will post an update once systems are restored.

PG couldn’t find any reference to the systems problem on the BN home page.

PG first saw a mention of a huge Barnes & Noble system failure on October 10 on Good EReader. He held up on any post because he couldn’t find anything on the Barnes & Noble website or elsewhere online via Google search about any problems.

PG would love to know if Barnes & Noble sent out a notice to its Nook customers or otherwise notified readers about the problem.

For those unfamiliar with US business computing standards, a three-day outage of a company’s entire computer system (including the one used at all US Barnes & Noble retail stores) almost certainly qualifies as technology malpractice of a high order.

If it failed to do so, then, in PG’s electronically-humble opinion, Barnes & Noble has displayed total and complete ham-handedness, not only in failing to protect its entire IT infrastructure from a single-point-of-failure disaster, but also failing to take the most fundamental step toward handling an outage that interfered with the end-user experience of its Nook users.

Where was super-hero Barnes & Noble British CEO during all of this? PG searched for James Daunt’s name on Google for the last week and found lots of mentions, but nothing that Daunt had said about the Barnes & Noble disaster.

Not exactly an example of good crisis management.

During the process of looking for evidence Daunt had any idea what to do (or even knew) about the Barnes & Noble systems failure, PG learned that Barnes & Noble closed down a large bookstore in Evanston, Illinois, a few months ago.

PG has a lot of knowledge about Evanston, having lived there for several years, and he was more than a little surprised at this closure.

A few details:

  • Evanston is an upscale suburb north of Chicago that is full of wealthy people, many of which are well-educated and who have plenty of money to spend on books and other consumer goods.
  • Evanston is the home of Northwestern University, a highly-rated educational institution where a lot of wealthy people from all over the world send their children to be educated. Many of these students might be expected to have both the time and inclination to buy books.
  • Northwestern faculty are more highly-paid than your typical college professors and teachers and one would expect that they would also be regular patrons of a local bookstore.

In sort, if Barnes & Noble isn’t able to succeed in Evanston, PG doesn’t know exactly where in the United States very many Barnes & Noble stores will be able to succeed.

Barnes & Noble’s former landlord was Northwestern Medicine, a large medical services provider that is associated with the Northwestern University Medical School.

PG couldn’t find any indication that the landlord was trying to push Barnes & Noble out, but the space formerly occupied by Barnes & Noble was reportedly going to be used for additional Northwestern Medicine facilities.

PG wonders if Barnes & Noble is able to afford to have bookstores closed to its best customers any more.

Children’s Books Never Go Out of Style

From The Independent Publishing Magazine:

Fifteen years ago, I wrote a children’s book to teach the seven continents to my second-grade students who could not imagine a world outside of their own community. Amy’s Travels became the first children’s picture book to teach all seven continents. Based on the true story of my college suitemate Amy, the example of Latina children’s literature has been used in homes, schools, and events in over twenty-six countries on six continents. The book has even been turned into a musical by the Latin Ballet of Virginia. This November, Amy’s Travels will celebrate her quinceanera-just another milestone that shows how children’s books never go out of style.

Think about your favorite children’s book. Is it a new title or a classic? When this question is asked to adults today, common answers include titles by Dr. Seuss, the Berenstain Bears series, or another classic book like Charlotte’s Web or The Giving Tree. Children’s books are a sense of comfort that provide us with feelings of happiness and joy. I often call our favorite children’s books “comfort books” because like comfort food, we often have a positive memory associated with the title.

Children’s books are often written to teach a life lesson and are a powerful learning tool. When we can read books about characters that look or act like us and have life experiences similar to us, we are learning something. It could be problem solving, perspective, or possibility. As a literacy specialist, I encourage teachers to implement children’s books and stories to teach content, social issues, and character development. As a publisher, I publish engaging and educational children’s books that can easily support an educational curriculum and fill a need. Therefore, I have published books about teaching reading for parents and teachers as well as a children’s book about recycling and more recently a children’s travel series. While I originally chose to publish the children’s book series to promote travel and global awareness, it is now appropriate to provide children with the ability to travel through the pages of the book while the travel industry around the world has changed dramatically since the pandemic.  Thanks to these books, families can visit London, Paris, and New York City during the holiday season from the comfort of their home.

I believe the best children’s books are titles that meet the needs of many people and scenarios. For example, while Amy’s Travels clearly teaches geography, it also happens to be one of the few children’s books representing the LatinX community, since the main character and protagonist is a Peruvian girl.  Our book Turtle About a Home is used to teach recycling as well as conservation, litter prevention, and animal ecosystems. When a book can serve a dual purpose, its value significantly increases, and there is always a new audience to enjoy the story. About 140 million babies are born every single year; these babies become our newest and youngest readers as they enter kindergarten. This means we automatically have 140 children that haven’t heard about the children’s books we have written and published. Do you want to write a children’s book? Through creative storytelling and marketing, your children’s book will never go out of style. Here are five tips to ensure your book remains relevant.

1. Fill a need in the children’s book industry

Everyone has a story to tell. The key is to find a story that is missing in the children’s book industry. When I was teaching, I went to the library searching for a fictional story about the seven continents and could only find nonfiction books for each continent. I ended up checking out seven books instead of one. That prompted me to write Amy’s Travels. My children’s book became the first picture book to teach the seven continents. What is a topic you believe we need to talk more about? How many books currently exist on the subject matter? Filling a need or gap in any book industry is impactful. In the children’s book industry, a book that becomes a necessity may also become a classic as the titles outlive the authors who wrote them.

. . . .

3. Determine how your book best supports the educational sector

The educational market is a wonderful place for your children’s book to make a difference. Every classroom and every elementary school library across the country can benefit from a book. Teachers and librarians are always on the lookout for a new title to share with children. Does your book match an element of academic curriculum? Does your book teach character traits, character development or match social emotional learning? When you learn the current trends in education, you can produce a book that supports what is already in place. My company creates book guides and lesson plans for every book we publish or consult on. This makes your book stand out as a must-have resource for the classroom. I am always looking for academic focused titles to add to my professional development session entitled Teaching with Trade Books.

Link to the rest at The Independent Publishing Magazine

Nuance matters

From The Bookseller:

It’s not often that a book is simultaneously described as a ‘madcap adventure’ and an exploration of race in the countryside, but Wanderland: A Search for Magic in the Landscape, my first non-fiction narrative published in April managed the feat. I don’t think either description is accurate but what do I know? I’m just the author. ‘Cross-genre’, and ‘cross-cultural anomaly’ – these are phrases that have begun to trip off my tongue. The book straddles nature writing, memoir, travel and spirituality, and I was born in London, raised in Montreal, Canada to Indian parents who themselves were born and grew up in South Africa. Neither I nor my book fit into any neat boxes.

This has proved to be both a blessing and, if not a curse, then at times, a cause of frustration. In the months before publication I worked with my tireless book publicist at Bloomsbury on the campaign. I was keen to reach readers who might be a fan of any one of the above genres, and equally those who, like myself, come from multi-cultural backgrounds, and are Black, Asian or from another under-represented group, and who have rarely seen themselves mirrored in this kind of literature (or been marketed to.) It’s been a rocky road, but since the book launched at the end of April, at the height of the Covid crisis, I think we fared brilliantly.

My launch day, happened on Twitter: an outpouring of support which I hadn’t anticipated but which kept me buoyant, and washed away the disappointment of a cancelled launch party, and the closure of bookshops. The press reviews and features generated were plentiful and generous. That a book not easy to pin down was reviewed at all felt nothing short of miraculous. In lockdown, a number of independent booksellers across the country helped to spread the word. I found their kindness and thoughtfulness at such a difficult time touching.

Like every other author, I’ve learned hard and fast that when a book leaves you and goes into the world, it becomes the property of others. How any one person might perceive my book would depend on their filter. Some authors of more traditional nature writing were keen to dispel the notion that I might be a nature writer at all. Others called it ‘new’ nature writing. Some saw it as a quirky UK travel memoir, while the more spiritually inclined seemed to enjoy the fact that such a theme had even made it into the mainstream.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG suspects that he is not alone in having experienced a substantial lack of nuance over the past months.

Three cheers for Nuance! May it survive 2020!

Crazy Time

PG had his day consumed by the routine and the crazy and the enjoyable today.

He’ll make some posts a bit later this evening.

Norway’s authors fight to be on more unlimited subscription platforms

From The New Publishing Standard:

Author Jørn Lier Horst moved to Strawberry publishing house Capitana, and went from having titles on one platform to being widely available. He experienced a huge economic upswing. ”It was like a revelation when I saw how much larger market share Storytel had, and what it meant to me.”

Rather undermining the popular myth that authors cannot make money with unlimited subscription services, seven high-profile Norwegian authors have hired a lawyer to ensure their books are on more unlimited subscription platforms to raise their earnings.

The debate strikes at the heart of the faux narrative in the Anglophone publishing arena – and especially among self-publishers – that unlimited subscription means earning less.

. . . .

[I]ndie authors [who sign} up to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited and then [complain] about low returns had only themselves to blame. Put simply, by signing up to KDP Select to be in Kindle Unlimited indie authors forego income everywhere else due to Amazon’s insistence on exclusivity. (And that’s before we even begin to think about the need to pay Amazon for visibility using Amazon Ads.)

In Norway it’s not so much a demand for exclusivity as that audiobook publishers are keeping content to their own platforms to attract consumers. For publishers the compromise is that they forego sales/downloads on other platforms, but the sheer volume of titles they field makes that worthwhile. For authors, not so much.

. . . .

Norway is in the unusual position of publishers owning unlimited distribution platforms. Authors with Aschehoug and Gyldendal which owns Cappelen Damm that runs the subscription service Fabel) are having their titles excluded from rival Storytel Norway, jointly owned by Cappelen Damm and Sweden’s Storytel. A third and much smaller player in Norway is Ebok Plus, owned by Vigmostad & Bjørke.

Author Tom Kristensen told Norway’s VG:

Here, there are two major players owned by the largest publishers, and which exclude each other’s authors. They have used us in a competition game. We lose millions of kroner on that. Now that’s enough.

While Unni Lindell said:

Publishers hold back for their authors how much they actually lose by not being on both platforms. They also hold back that they actually have a duty to deliver to all platforms – in the same way as they have a duty to deliver to all bookstores.

This a reference to the Norwegian Book Act that says a book must be available in all bookstores, regardless of ownership of the store.

But according to the Norwegian Writers’ Association only 20 titles have been exchanged between Storytel and Fabel in 2020.

. . . .

[S]everal authors have decided to call in their contracts, if of five years or older. They have had their titles re-narrated and have put them out on all platforms. Jørn Lier Horst, for example, has had 21 old book titles re-recorded.

But the original publishers are not best pleased, are disputing the contract annulations, and arguing they still have audio rights, putting Storytel Norway in an impossible situation. Now the newly re-recorded titles are in limbo.

Storytel Norway Country Manager Håkon Havik told VG that the company was not taking sides, but needed legal clarification to allow the titles on the Storytel platform.

Storytel initially wanted to include these titles – but after receiving information from the Publishers’ Association and their lawyer that this is not legitimate, we chose to wait. Storytel is not a party to the case, but perceives it as a serious dispute over publishing rights.

And in a statement to the Norwegian Publishers Association Storytel has said:

Storytel does not want to get into a situation where we are potentially left with compensation claims for having included intellectual property to which the publisher has no rights, and has chosen this line vis-à-vis both parties in this case. In other words, we do not include the titles in question from any of the affected parties until it has been clarified who the actual publisher is.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

UPDATE: PG was working fast when he wrote the following and relied on outdated information enhanced by a brain freeze. Membership in KDP Select is no longer required in order to receive 70% royalties.

Check the comments for more detail.

PG apologizes for the error.

Begin original post FWIW:

PG was puzzled about the remark concerning indie authors and Kindle Unlimited in an article that otherwise focuses on two Norwegian publishers that apparently have something like a shared monopoly on Norwegian-language audiobooks.

Kindle Unlimited is an optional program. Some indies elect to participate with some or all of their ebooks and others elect not to participate.

KDP Select is the umbrella program that determines whether a book is in Kindle Unlimited or not.

If an author enrolls a book in KDP Select, the book is automatically also included in the Kindle Unlimited program. KU is a part of the KDP Select program. If you’re not enrolled in KDP Select, you can’t participate in KU.

Looking at KU on its own merits apart from other benefits of KDP Select is not useful for indie authors. KU is part of the KDP Select bundle of services.

The principal benefit of KDP Select for most authors is ebook royalty rates that are twice as high.

(The author is dinged for delivery fees for ebooks, which strikes PG as an artifact of a much earlier age. Those will be deducted from royalties resulting in what is effectively a slightly lower actual royalty rate.)

In order for an ebook to be included in KDP Select, an author must set a price for the ebook within a pricing range determined by Amazon – currently $2.99-$9.99 in the US.

KDP Select also requires that an ebook enrolled in the program be offered exclusively on Amazon during the time period of enrollment. For competing ebook vendors, this requirement means they are not able to sell any books an author includes in KDP Select, hence at least some of the dire warnings about the dangers of KDP select that sometimes circulate online.

(PG remembers reading somewhere more than a couple of years ago that this pricing range was determined by Amazon to be the optimal range of prices for ebooks considering how many ebooks readers were likely to purchase at a given price point and the profits generated from each sale for Amazon and, presumably the author as well. But PG’s memory may be faulty about this matter.)

KDP Select enrollment for a book includes a book in the Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL) program which applies to Amazon Prime members only (PG has read that Prime customers generate significantly more money for Amazon than non-Prime customers.) KOLL pays royalties to the author based upon how many pages of an author’s ebook that Prime borrowers read. No pages read=no royalties. Some pages read=some royalties, calculated on a per-page-read royalty rate.

As mentioned, KDP Select is an optional program. An indie author can use it or not at the author’s discretion.

When an author includes a book in KDP Select, the book must remain in the KDP Select program for 90 days. At the end of the 90 day period, the book is out of KDP Select, exclusivity requirements no long apply, higher royalty rates no longer apply, KOLL inclusion ends, etc.

It is possible for an author to set KDP Select to auto-renew at the end of 90 days, thus continuing to receive the benefits from the program for consecutive 90-day periods until the author turns off auto-renew. When the author turns off auto-renew, KDP benefits and limitations continue until the end of the 90-day period applicable to the books, then stop.

Some authors have suggested that KDP Select can be gamed and the author receive more royalties if, instead of writing a single 60,000 word novel, the author break up the novel into six 10,000 page segments because KU royalties are based on pages read and, if a reader bails on a 60,000 word novel because of a slow part of the story at the 20,000 page point, the opportunity to earn money for pages beyond that is permanently lost. Writing 60,000 words in 10,000 page segments allows an author to end each segment with a cliff-hanger or some other material that will likely to propel an author to the next segment. Hugh Howey wrote a blog post about this strategy in 2015.

PG warns that he’s not certain whether Amazon has changed anything about KU or its rules since 2015 that makes Hugh’s strategy unsuccessful or unprofitable. He suggests anyone planning to use the strategy do some online research on Hugh’s blog and elsewhere to see if the strategy still works.

In PG’s grotesquely-humble opinion, the bottom line for most indie authors is that Amazon is the big dog in all the major English-speaking ebook markets and maybe in other ebook markets as well. Thus most indie authors will likely sell more ebooks on Amazon than anywhere else and maximizing their income from Amazon ebook sales by using all the bells and whistles Amazon offers is the easiest and best way to do so.

Giving up on KDP Select (which includes Kindle Unlimited) means at a most fundamental level, the indie author’s royalty rate on ebooks sold will be cut in half. And any additional income from KU, KOLL, etc., will disappear entirely.

Non-Amazon ebook vendors have their own royalty rates which authors will want to consider, but, if we’re looking at royalties at or near Amazon’s non-KDP levels (35%), an author will have to sell about as many ebooks elsewhere as the author sells on Amazon in order to break even.

PG is happy to have any errors in his perceptions explained by anyone with more knowledge of the Norwegian publishing industry than he has. He would be especially interested in any information about data-hungry authors or publishers who have figured out a way to make their Amazon activities more profitable.

Lawyer Note: PG uses the term “sold” with respect to ebooks in a generic fashion. Technically, ebook vendors license ebooks to readers under varying terms and conditions (don’t make copies and try to sell them or give them away, etc., etc.) and do not sell ebooks to readers.

The Desert

The desert surrounds your every step and you walk forever a thirsty man.

Christopher Pike

In the desert, the line between life and death is sharp and quick.

Brian Herbert

Hellacious California!

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

NINETEENTH-CENTURY AMERICAN CRITIC Hinton Rowan Helper left a lasting impression on how Californian culture is still viewed to this day through one mordant comment:

I will say, that I have seen purer liquors, better segars [cigars], finer tobacco, truer guns and pistols, larger dirks and bowie knives, and prettier courtezans here, than in any other place I have ever visited; and it is my unbiased opinion that California can and does furnish the best bad things that are obtainable in America.

Gary Noy draws on Helper’s gleeful sentiment for the title of his book Hellacious California!: Tales of Rascality! Revelry! Dissipation! and Depravity! and the Birth of the Golden State, sharing the view that California’s origin story is a combination of greatness and immorality. The book teems with bittersweet compounds of 19th-century nefariousness, including — but not limited to — gambling, knife fights, the demon drink, con artistry, and prostitution.

. . . .

Gracious dining and gluttony was also at its peak right after the Civil War, with residents binging on jackass rabbit and codfish. I respect Noy’s ability to evenly weigh the temptations of the era. There are the “bad things” that affect the self (e.g., demon drink, gambling, tobacco), and those that affect others (e.g., divorce, knife fights, sex slavery). There is heavy content on Old California’s call for political change and the depth of the unhappiness with elected leadership. Most social issues stemmed from political corruption, especially corruption brought by the railroads. Nineteenth-century state government was also not big on quality law enforcement. Instead, San Francisco local citizens formed their own vigilance committees. Miners and local townspeople created their own form of justice.

In the same way that many civilians helped one another, others tried to harm each other. Many people belonging to the lower-class scammed and tried to “eat the rich.” Wealthy individuals spent incredible amounts of money on luxurious things they did not necessarily value. Arabella Huntington, widow of Central Pacific Railroad founder Collis P. Huntington, stepped into her carriage after attending an art gallery. Soon after, a gallery employee chased the carriage to let Mrs. Huntington know she had forgotten her handbag, which contained “eleven pearl necklaces valued at more than $3.5 million, the equivalent of $108 million today.”

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

Having lived in California a long time ago and having close relatives and friends who still live there, PG can assure one and all that the California you will find today has changed from the California described in the OP.

In some respects.

And in some places.

California was and is a big place with lots of variations in climate, people and cultures.

San Francisco is not Fresno. Los Angeles is not Barstow. Quite a number of residents of each of these four cities are vociferously happy that they don’t live in one of the other three cities mentioned.

California includes both Hollywood and Death Valley (parts of which are shared with Nevada).

In the last half of the 19th century, a great portion of California qualified as nearly or completely uninhabited mountains and deserts that would have been described as useless and dangerous wastelands at the time. If California felt too settled, you could always go east to Nevada (which has places a bit more welcoming than Death Valley) or Arizona for more alone time.

The first transcontinental railroad was started in 1863, while the Civil War was still being fought, beginning in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and and ending in Oakland, California, in 1869.

Prior to that time, if you wished to travel from one coast of the United States to the other, you either took a miserable, long, dirty and dangerous horse-powered trip across the United States or, if you had more money, you took a ship that landed in either Nicaragua or Panama, crossed one of those countries on foot or by horse, hoping to avoid catching any tropical diseases, then boarded a ship on the other side and completed your journey to the opposite coast of the US.

Either the land or the sea route included significant dangers to life and/or health.

Some people became very rich in both the East and the West from their involvement in building the railroad. Others didn’t.

Some people in the East and West got very rich by financing the construction of the railroad and others lost their shirts, banks and fortunes.

Most US government politicians and employees received bribes for their services in picking the route and funding the construction of the railroad. State politicians sometimes participated in the bribing and at other times collected bribes. There were competing bribers who promoted one route over another because they owned a lot of land on one prospective route or another.

All this is to say that California, its residents and elected officials participated in the disorganized and corrupt parts of building the railroad, but residents and elected officials in other parts of the country did the same.

California residents and residents of other states also organized and performed the incredible engineering and construction feats necessary to build a railroad across vast uninhabited deserts and high, little-known mountains.

Imported Chinese laborers were also essential to the construction. During the crossing of the Sierra Nevada mountains, some parts of which were snow-covered all year and others snow-covered much of the year, some of the Chinese dug tunnels into the deep snow along the route and built snow caverns in which to eat and sleep under the snow to avoid the freezing winds that blew almost constantly. Such shelter was necessary for their survival because death by freezing was a real danger to workers of all nationalities.

For visitors to The Passive Voice from outside the United States, the transcontinental railroad was a bit over 1,900 miles (over 3,000 km), longer than the distance from London to Moscow. (Yes, the Trans-Siberian Railway is longer.)

The book that describes this great effort that PG read a few months ago and greatly enjoyed is Nothing Like It In the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 by Stephen E. Ambrose. If you’re interested in more detail, PG highly recommends this book.

Here she is mending her dress; mending her dress as usual

Here she is mending her dress; mending her dress as usual, he thought; here she’s been sitting all the time I’ve been in India; mending her dress; playing about; going to parties; running to the House and back and all that, he thought, growing more and more irritated, more and more agitated, for there’s nothing in the world so bad for some women as marriage, he thought; and politics; and having a Conservative husband, like the admirable Richard. So it is, so it is, he thought, shutting his knife with a snap.

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

They were now both ready

They were now both ready, not to begin from scratch, but to continue with a love that had survived for thirteen years in hibernation. They were no longer travellers without baggage. They were no longer twenty. They’d both been around the block a bit and had suffered without the other. They’d both lost their way without the other.
Each had tried to find love with other people.
But all that was now finished.

Guillaume Musso, Que serais-je sans toi?

Que serais-je sans toi? translates to Where Would I Be Without You?

PG admits to no prior knowledge of Guillaume Musso.

However, according to his English-language website:

From one novel to the next, Guillaume Musso has formed a unique bond with his readers. Born in 1974 in Antibes on the French Riviera, he fell in love with literature at an early age, spending all his free time devouring books at the public library where his mother worked. A short story competition organized by his French teacher led him to discover the joys of writing, and he has never stopped since then.

His studies, his extended trips to the United States, his encounters… All have contributed to enriching his imagination and his writing projects. A graduate in social economics, he became a teacher in the East and then the South of France. He published his first novel, Skidamarink, in 2001, but his next book Et Après…, is the one that truly won the public over. This story of love and suspense with supernatural undertones marked the beginning of a dazzling and unwavering success.

Translated into forty languages and adapted many times for film, each book of his is as hugely successful as the next in both France and around the world. The release of a new novel by Guillaume Musso has become, for his readers, an eagerly awaited rendezvous.

Link to the rest at Guillaum Musso

Amazon Author Insights

Some visitors to TPV will already know about this site, but for those who do not, PG thinks it may provide some useful tools for indie authors.

Amazon Author Insights includes three major sections:

  • Write
  • Publish
  • Market

The adjacent post (below this one for most of you) is an example of what PG find in Write.

Publish included articles like these when PG checked it:

  • 3 First-Time Self-Publishing Mistakes to Avoid
  • Understanding Your Audiobook Partner

Market included articles titled as follows:

  • Five Tips for Your Goodreads Giveaways
  • Five ways authors can use Facebook advertising

Amazon Author Insights is marked as Beta. PG couldn’t find any dates to give him an idea about how long Author Insights has been around, but he doesn’t recall hearing about it before. (Of course, on some days, PG can’t recall hearing something Mrs. PG said to him 30 minutes before, so this is not a polished indicator of anything.)

The content isn’t very deep yet. However, you can take a survey to tell the Author Insights team about yourself and help them understand what you might like to see in the future.

Here’s a link to Amazon Author Insights

The Secret To This Romance Author’s Success? Breaking All The Rules.

From Amazon Author Insights:

I can safely say that every time I’ve been asked to speak to aspiring writers, afterward, I’ve had not one, but several come up to me and say, “I can’t believe you did what you said you did. I was told never to do that. I was told never to break that rule.” This does not surprise me, but it saddens me. When I started writing, I too had a set of rules for writing romance (my genre) that I was under the impression were unbreakable. And I wrote within the confines of those rules.

It was only when publishing house after publishing house, agent after agent had rejected my submissions, and I’d decided that no one was ever going to read my books, that I threw the rules out the window. I then simply wrote what I wanted to write, wrote how the stories came to me, was true to them and my characters.

Then I published myself … And I’ve sold more than two and a half million books.

What are the rules I broke? First, I didn’t write what I thought people wanted to read. I didn’t research what might be popular — what might sell — and write that. I wrote stories that felt personal to me, that I enjoyed completely from writing to reading. The first book that I did this with was Rock Chick, and with it and the Rock Chick series, I broke all the rules:

I wrote in first person, and at that time, romance novels in first person were available, but not customary.

I wrote my heroine’s thoughts in a stream of consciousness. I had paragraphs — many of them — that were just one word. I put myself, and what would eventually be my readers, in the mind of my heroine, Indy. Not describing what she was thinking, but thinking what she was thinking as she was thinking it. It’s important to note that not everyone could get into that, and that’s understandable, even expected. It’s also important to note that the ones who did, really did.

I allowed my characters freedom of expression. This meant that if they cursed, if the F-word was prevalent in their vocabulary, I let them use it (and cursing was very rare in romance).

For that matter, I didn’t censor my characters or their behavior. I didn’t think, “Oh, that might make her unlikeable, I need to switch that up, make her perfect.” I didn’t water down my aggressive, but loving heroes. I let them be them — real, imperfect, sometimes annoying, more times endearing (I hoped). They were great friends and good people, but they could (and often did) do stupid things (like we all do).

And my Rock Chicks were — and still are — hugely successful.

Link to the rest at Amazon Author Insights

5 Ways Paragraphing Supports Story

From Writer Unboxed:

If the last time you thought about paragraphing was when you learned that a paragraph was comprised of a topic sentence, three supporting sentences, and a conclusion, listen up: that staid structure will not have the power to draw readers into your story.

A paragraph in fiction is rarely used to convey information, as our earliest grammar school compositions were intended to do. The reader didn’t come to your novel to find out what kind of cattle produces the juiciest steaks; she can google that. She wants to know what happens when your aging cowboy, still facing hours in the saddle, has overestimated the stability of his reconstructed knee while an unexpected winter storm is blowing in.

What readers want most of story is to be moved, quite literally—transported, from one place to another. Paragraph structure can boost that sense of story movement. These tips should help.

1. A paragraph should develop only one idea. This sounds simple in theory, but while your mind is juggling god-knows-how-many aspects of story, execution can be fraught. As an editor, it often feels like I’m bringing my pen into the midst of a cattle drive to cut out an errant all-terrain vehicle. The ATV is a distraction, obscuring the reader’s perception of where the cowboy is directing the cattle.

You might argue that the ATV is relevant because the novel is about old methods butting heads with the new. If that’s your point, great—but most readers will miss it if you bury that ATV in the middle of a paragraph. That leads me to my next point. (A paragraph should always set up your next point.)

2. A paragraph should help the reader remember important information. If a beta reader calls you out for reiteration—or worse, if she missed an important aspect of characterization or plot altogether—take a closer look at your paragraphing. A paragraph should support memorability.

My motto: Say it once, with impact, and you won’t have to repeat it.

If your beta reader missed the point of that ATV altogether, pull it from its herd of words, place it in a new paragraph, and give it an entrance to be remembered.

Have your aging cowboy swatting around his head, sure that only an insect wanting a bite out of his ear could create a buzz annoying enough to be heard above the thumping of cattle hooves. It grows louder—now the cowboy and even some of the cattle are looking over their shoulders. The herd shies away from the growing sound. The cowboy’s horse fidgets, necessitating that the cowboy apply pressure from his compromised knee. Then have the four-wheeler come over the rise in a cloud of dust, and give us our first glimpse of the damn fool who lives next door.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

On some days, PG can empathize with an aging cowboy with flies buzzing around his head.

Amazon accused of anti-competitive practices

From The Bookseller:

Amazon has been accused of anti-competitive practices in a scathing report into US tech giants by Democratic politicians. The online retailer has rebutted the claims, saying “the presumption that success can only be the result of anti-competitive behavior is simply wrong”.

The 450-page report written by Democrats on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, released on 7th October, comes after a 16-month probe into whether Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple abuse their power. Republicans on the committee have refused to sign the report and are releasing a series of their own instead.

The report, which calls for US antitrust rules to be overhauled, said the companies were running marketplaces they also competed in, allowing them to “write one set of rules for others, while they play by another”.

Book publishers told the committee Amazon uses retaliation “to coerce publishers to accept contractual terms that impose substantial penalties for promoting competition” with its rivals. One publisher claimed the platform’s retaliatory conduct shows “Amazon’s ability and willingness to leverage its market power to prevent publishers from working effectively with rival e-book retailers and, thereby, maintain and enhance its dominance in e-book distribution.”

Retaliation included Amazon removing the “buy” and “pre-order” button from products, or showing titles as out of stock or with delayed shipping times, it was claimed.

The report states: “According to credible reports, Amazon used these tactics in its public battle with Hachette Book Group in 2014 over e-book pricing, and has used them or threatened to use them in more recent negotiations. Publishers, authors, and booksellers have ‘significant fear’ because of Amazon’s dominance.”

. . . .

According to the report, Amazon hosts 2.3 million third-party sellers from around the globe, with around 37% of them, or more than 850,000, relying on the site as their sole income source.

However, the report claims Amazon uses sales and product data from its marketplace to identify and replicate popular, profitable items offered by third-party sellers. It will then create a competing product, or identify and source the product directly from the manufacturer “to free ride off the seller’s efforts, and then cut that seller out of the equation”, it is claimed. Amazon says that it has no incentive to abuse sellers’ trust because third-party sales make up nearly 60% of its sales, a claim the committee cast doubt on.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

A reminder that PG doesn’t always agree with everything he posts on The Passive Voice.

Coal

Coal is a portable climate.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The switch to coal changed everything in Britain

From The Wall Street Journal:

The grimy furnaces and coal-stained cheeks of Dickensian Britain seem like an indelible birthright, but it wasn’t always so. As Ruth Goodman writes in “The Domestic Revolution,” Britons had for ages burned wood as well as peat and other plant fuels to heat their homes and cook their food. Then, in the late 16th century, London switched to coal.

This revolutionary change was carried out by ordinary families, the “ ‘hidden people’ of history,” as Ms. Goodman calls them. They switched to coal for the most prosaic of reasons—personal comfort, convenience, a small savings.

Yet the “big switch” set in motion a series of large transformations. Thousands of Britons found new work as miners and as merchant seafarers. The island’s fabled heathland, site of all those chest-throbbing novels, faded and disappeared as woodland, no longer needed for fuel, was given over to agriculture. To vacate sulfurous coal fumes, chimneys sprouted all over London, prompting homeowners to build more spacious layouts and second and third stories.

Since coal fires required a different sort of cookware, investment poured into brass and iron, hastening the development of pig iron—hastening, that is, the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Wall tapestries came down (in a coal-fired home, they quickly stained) and were replaced by smoother, washable surfaces and paint. There was a bull market in soap.

Not least, British cooking, which Ms. Goodman stoutly defends, was forced to adapt. Stirring a pot precariously dangled over a row of coals was difficult. Thick, starchy fare gave way to boiled puddings and kidney pies, which the author forgivingly describes as “democratic.” Thanks to the pleasing effects of roasting on an open grate, Ms. Goodman maintains, coal even led to the “modern British love affair” with toast. The new energy source touched every corner of life.

. . . .

Whatever the causes, the changeover to coal happened quickly. When Elizabeth ascended the throne, in 1558, London homes burned wood. A generation later, the increasingly crowded city was importing 27,000 metric tons of coal per year. By roughly the time of Elizabeth’s death, in 1603, imports had soared to 144,000 tons.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Vietnamese Publishing House Co-Founder Arrested

From Publishing Perspectives:

Scheduled to address an October 15 discussion at Frankfurter Buchmesse on the freedom to publish, a co-founder of the 2020 Prix Voltaire-winning Liberal Publishing House has been arrested. An alert from Amnesty International issued within an hour of this writing warns that Pham Doan Trang is “at grave risk of torture.”

Amnesty’s director of campaigns, Ming Yu Hah, says that Pham Doan Trang “may face up to 20 years in prison” as “an internationally-recognized author and human rights defender who has been repeatedly targeted by the Vietnamese authorities solely for peacefully exercising her right to freedom of expression.”

. . . .

One of the participants in the upcoming event at Frankfurt, Will Nguyen, has tweeted out a letter left by Pham Doan Trang in case of her detention. In “Just in Case I Am Imprisoned,” she writes, in part, “If prison is inevitable for freedom fighters, if prison can serve a pre-determined purpose, then we should happily accept it.”

. . . .

“The men and women who work for the Liberal Publishing House every day risk their freedom and even their lives just to publish books. The award that we receive today does not just recognize our tireless efforts but it represents the bravery of tens of thousands of Vietnamese readers who have been harassed, who have been arrested, and interrogated simply for reading our books.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG suggests we all remember Pham Doan Trang in our thoughts and prayers and be thankful that many of us live in countries like the United States whose First Amendment to its Constitution reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

and the European Union, within which Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights applies. Article 11 reads as follows:

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.

This also means the freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected.

PG was going to insert similar statements concerning freedom of expression in the UK and Canada, but his research did not locate any similar statement that does not include some parliamentary or judge-made exceptions.

It appears that libel and slander laws (which are also present in the United States) have been and, apparently, continue to be usable as a bludgeon to constrain freedom of expression to a greater extent than similar laws can be applied for such purposes in the US.

PG is happy to be corrected or have his understanding clarified by those who know more about this subject in Canada and the UK.

Murders in Oxford – Making Amends

PG mentioned Mrs. PG’s latest book release about a month ago, but didn’t really carry out his obligations as the husband of an author by doing a proper job introducing it.

His earlier post celebrated the fact that the first book in Mrs. PG’s latest series of murder mysteries was ranked #1 for sales among all Kindle ebooks, at least for a few hours before dropping back to #1 in Historical Mysteries. As those authors who self-publish via KDP know, the rankings of top-selling ebooks can be quite volatile.

Since Mrs. PG has just started a one-day 99-cent ebook price promotion on her latest book today, PG is going to (finally) do his spousal duty with respect to a book about yet another murder involving usually non-violent Oxonians during the 1930’s Jazz Age.

The book is titled, Murder at Tregowyn Manor: A Golden Age Mystery.

It is the third in a series of mysteries set primarily in Oxford.

(Oxford, England, not Oxford, Mississippi, although PG has nothing against Mississippi or the University of Mississippi which is located in Oxford. Local accents do differ between the two Oxfords, however.)

Once again, the book features Miss Catherine Tregowyn, a poet who teaches at Somerville College, and Dr. Harry Bascombe, her beau, who does the same thing at Christ Church College.

Tregowyn Manor is the home place of Catherine’s family in Cornwall. As English parents were wont to do in the 1930’s, Catherine’s parents think she should get married. Catherine is not quite ready to do so and is not the sort of woman to be pressured by anyone to do anything she’s not completely ready to do.

Catherine has mixed feelings about Tregowyn Manor. Her older brother, the golden child of the family, died when he was young and her parents never invested their emotions in either Catherine or her younger brother. The financial assets of the family were greatly diminished during the Great Depression.

Usually calm and a little boring, the atmosphere around Tregowyn Manor changes when an architectural dig on the property locates a Roman settlement, earlier than any other in this part of England. Plus are some priceless Roman artifacts and the possibility of more. An international collection of archeologists are digging up the grounds and some are temporarily residing in the Manor house.

Catherine, her friend, Dot, and Harry arrive in an effort to clear Dot’s cousin, an Oxford student working at the dig, from criminal charges alleging he has stolen one of the artifacts

Of course, somebody gets murdered. Then, Catherine’s father has his first experience with the inside of a local jail cell.

As mentioned, Mrs. PG is running a one-day 99 cent promotion today on the ebook edition of her book.

UPDATE:

PG apologizes for not being more clear about the end-time of Mrs. PG’s promotion. It was one day – yesterday, October 7, and ended at midnight. He’ll be clearer about when Mrs. PG’s price drops end in the future.

Publishers in the Baltics: Differing Expectations for a Pandemic Recovery

From Publishing Perspectives:

While a Latvian publisher seems encouraged, a counterpart in Estonia is less upbeat. And Russia’s LitRes is eyeing the region for its digital-sales potential in ebooks and audio.

. . . .

[T]he Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center sees Latvia (population 1.9 million) with 2,194 cases and 40 deaths. In Estonia (population 1.4 million), there are 3,659 cases reported, with 67 fatalities. And in Lithuania (population 2.8 million), Johns Hopkins has registered 5,366 cases and 99 deaths.

. . . .

[P]ublishers in the Baltics say they feel optimistic that they’re seeing recovery from the economic impact of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. The book markets of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, they say, are seeing resumed growth of sales and levels of book production.

Olegs Mihalevics is the chair of Apgads Kontinents in Riga, one of Latvia’s publishing houses. In comments to Publishing Perspectives, Mihalevics says that most books in the region still are sold in traditional brick-and-mortar bookstores. That, of course, means that sales sharply declined during the period of March to June when the most stringent efforts were levied by the Baltic governments to contain the spread of the virus.

Recovery from the shuttering of physical points of sale began in the summer.

“Since June,” Mihalevics says, “consumer traffic in the book stores of Latvia has been steadily growing.

“In June itself, book sales increased by 10 percent compared to June 2019. One of the reasons for this was unusually cold temperatures, along with public events being restricted throughout the Baltics.

“At the moment, the market continues an active recovery, parallel to our regional economics. Doctors and teachers–who form the majority of book buyers in our region–have begun to receive increased wages, a good sign for us, with consumers showing more confidence.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

For those who are a bit hazy about the Baltic States – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – the Baltic Sea separates the southern part of Sweden (including Stockholm) from Europe. The Baltic States are lined up on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea east of Sweden and south of Finland.

Map via Wikipedia

Unfortunately for the inhabitants of the Baltic States, their eastern borders are with the former Soviet Union, now the nations of Russia and Belarus. The closest major cities not across the Baltic Sea are St. Petersburg and Minsk, now the capital of Belarus.

During the first twenty-two years of the 20th Century, the Baltic States were controlled by Russia or Germany, with control of the individual Baltic countries sometimes divided geographically between Russian and German occupation.

The Russian Revolution and the collapse of the German empire allowed the three Baltic states to find a precarious path to independence by 1922. However, life in the shadow of The Soviet Union under Stalin and his successors would not have been completely free from cares and worries.

PG concludes that the doctors and teachers in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia must really like to read books in their native languages to have allowed publishers to survive in these three nations.

Compared to what the people in these nations have already survived, COVID-19 is a walk in the park.

The Stories Michael Shellenberger Tells

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

MICHAEL SHELLENBERGER WANTS US to believe environmentalists are impeding our ability to solve environmental problems. This has long been the position of Bay Area ecomodernists, who argue that technology and growth, not limits, will save the planet. Now, in his best-selling new book Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, Shellenberger goes further, claiming that climate change and species extinction are not terribly threatening anyway. Lest we infer that this means environmentalists are off the hook, since the problems they’re preventing from being solved aren’t even that dire, Shellenberger tells us that poverty is actually our most urgent threat, and environmentalists, by blocking industry and artificial technologies, are working to keep the poor forever poor. He is contemptuous of anti-nuclear activists as well, who fight against what he claims is the only source of energy that is “abundant, reliable, and inexpensive,” and able to “power our high-energy human civilization while reducing humankind’s environmental footprint.” Along with his newest organization, Environmental Progress, he has spent the last four years trying to save nuclear power plants as if they were endangered species.

Shellenberger has a history of anti-green contrarianism.

. . . .

After their confrontational essay made waves, he and Nordhaus co-founded a think tank, the Breakthrough Institute, and another PR firm, American Environics. By 2008 they had published a book that landed them among Time’s 32 “heroes of the environment” alongside the likes of Van Jones and Alice Waters. Their position was that if environmentalists want to win politically, including with fence-sitting conservatives, they have to invent and tell better stories. The story Shellenberger has stuck with is that the things environmentalists resist — nuclear, GMOs, fracking, industrial agriculture, and so on — are actually good for the environment.

In a 2019 academic article about ecomodernism’s history, Giorgos Kallis and I wondered whether denialists might soon take up these ideas. This is exactly what has happened with the publication in June of Apocalypse Never. Climate change deniers and delayers have eagerly embraced a self-declared environmentalist who says that global warming is real but no big deal. In July, Shellenberger talked about his new book on Fox News and a Heartland Institute podcast. Right-wing newspapers and climate “truther” websites praised it. When Forbes took down Shellenberger’s provocative piece plugging Apocalypse Never — an “apology” for the “climate scare” on behalf of environmentalists (whom he’s denounced since 2004) — because it violated their policy against self-promotion, Shellenberger tweeted on June 29 that he was censored. The Daily Wire, Quillette, and Breitbart quickly published all or part of the article. Conservative media can’t get enough of this story: the born-again whistleblower bashing scientists and environmentalists who want to cancel him for it.

. . . .

The book itself is well written, with more nuance than the promo piece. This said, it is full of moral condemnations of movement leaders and generic greenies alike. It presents environmentalism as a nature-worshipping religion that has devolved into fanaticism about the apocalypse. Environmentalists find existential meaning in the idea of apocalypse, Shellenberger claims, and therefore reject obvious solutions. He writes,

When we hear activists, journalists, IPCC scientists, and others claim climate change will be apocalyptic unless we make immediate, radical changes, including massive reductions in energy consumption, we might consider whether they are motivated by love for humanity or something closer to its opposite.

His factual arguments often miss the point environmentalists are making. He argues, for instance, that humans are not causing a sixth mass extinction, and then leaps — illogically — to the conclusion that extinction is thus hardly a problem.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

Earlier this week, PG was trying to remember when he had last heard a public figure say, “I respectfully disagree.”

PG wishes he could claim to have purposely included the post that preceded this one about cognitive dissonance with this one from the LARB, which includes a feast of disparaging adjectives, but PG’s basic method of exploring for materials that might be of benefit to authors and others who visit TPV is best described as electronic stumbling-about.

Cognition and Cognitive Offshoots

From Daily Writing Tips:

Before my use of Facebook, I imagined that, apart from insignificant personal differences, most people I know agreed on matters of true and false, right and wrong, good and evil. No more. Now, I never fail to be astounded by how differently my friends and relatives and I may react to the same morning headlines.

In my search for understanding, I encountered the term cognitive dissonance. This is a feeling of psychological discomfort that triggers a reaction that can cause a person to deny reality.

Initially, I thought it was just another term for hypocrisy, but now I realize that it is a form of psychological self-defense that we all practice.

First, let’s look at the words that make up the term.

cognition (noun): the action or faculty of knowing taken in its widest sense, including sensation, perception, conception, etc., as distinguished from feeling and will.

cognitive (adjective): of or pertaining to cognition, or to the action or process of knowing.

dissonance (noun): lack of concord or harmony between things; disagreement, discord.

In the 1950s, psychologist Leon Festinger infiltrated a doomsday cult whose members believed the world was going to end by a certain date. He wanted to see how the cultists would react when the date passed and the world had not ended. As might be expected, some felt foolish, lost trust in the cult leader and moved on. Some, however, the most committed believers, the ones who had sold all their possessions and abandoned families and jobs, did not lose faith. They came up with reasons to explain why the disaster had not taken place.

Festinger’s A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (1957) suggests that we have an inner drive to hold all our attitudes and behavior in harmony and avoid disharmony. This is known as the principle of cognitive consistency. When we do something or learn something that contradicts the attitudes and beliefs we already hold, we experience psychological discomfort. We have to do something to restore equilibrium. Anastasia Belyh describes it this way:

Cognitive dissonance refers to the feelings of discomfort that arise when a person’s behavior or attitude is in conflict with the person’s values and beliefs, or when new information that is contrary to their beliefs is presented to them. People like consistency. They want the assurance that their values and beliefs have always been right. They always want to act in ways that are in line with their beliefs. When their beliefs are challenged, or when their behavior is not aligned with their beliefs, this creates a disagreement (dissonance).— “Understanding Cognitive Dissonance (and Why it Occurs in Most People).”

. . . .

An example of cognitive dissonance often cited is Aesop’s fable of the fox and the grapes. In the beginning, the fox is certain that the grapes are delicious and that he has the ability to obtain them. When he fails in his efforts, he comforts himself by declaring that the grapes are certainly sour and not worth having.

. . . .

Unlike hypocrisy, cognitive dissonance takes place mostly on an unconscious level. When confronting an important decision, one that can have wide-reaching consequences for many people, it would be wise to examine our reasoning and ascertain the validity of our evidence.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

Led Zeppelin Wins ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Copyright Battle

From Variety:

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up the long-running copyright battle over Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” leaving in place a ruling that rejected infringement allegations over the 1971 song.

The justices denied a petition aimed at reviving the case, ending six years of litigation over claims that the song’s writers, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, plagiarized the song’s iconic intro from the 1968 song “Taurus” by the group Spirit.

The decision follows a March victory for the group in which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a jury verdict finding the song did not infringe on “Taurus.”

Journalist Michael Skidmore filed the suit in 2014, on behalf of the estate of Randy Wolfe, the late Spirit frontman. After losing at trial, Skidmore appealed to the 9th Circuit.

. . . .

The appeals court’s en banc ruling marked a win for the music industry, which had felt besieged by frivolous copyright suits since the “Blurred Lines” trial in 2015. The appeals court overturned the so-called “inverse ratio rule,” a standard that set a lower bar for similarity if plaintiffs could prove a higher level of access to the infringed work.

The 9th Circuit also made it harder to claim infringement based on a “selection and arrangement” of unprotectable musical elements. Finally, the ruling expressed skepticism about claims based on just a handful of notes.

Link to the rest at Variety

PG admits that the first little bit of each song do sound quite similar.

But, as the OP describes, these are only a “handful of notes” and examining what is really going on in the two introductory portions shows that there are some significant differences. Once past the intro, the two songs are much different.

Additionally this particular pattern of descending notes also appears in more than a few other musical pieces which predate the creation of both songs. That fact alone might indicate that the plaintiff’s copyright claims lack much strength.

PG writing “It was a dark and stormy night” doesn’t provide any substantial basis for PG claiming a copyright to the phrase. “It was a dark and stormy night in Des Moines” isn’t really much different.

Specifically, the court found that eight measures of the two songs were similar. However, Stairway to Heaven is much, much longer than eight measures and the plaintiff had only registered a copyright for a single page of sheet music.

Here is what the the copyright infringement claim was based upon, taken from the copyright filing made by the Plaintiff and included in the Court’s opinion:

Here’s a comparison between the original and the Led Zeppelin version, also from the court’s opinion:

The top two lines are from Taurus, the alleged copyright-protected original, and the bottom two lines are from the introduction to Stairway to Heaven.

The court opinion included the following portion of the testimony of a music expert hired by the the defendants:

Dr. Ferrara testified that the similarities claimed by Skidmore either involve unprotectable common musical elements or are random. For example, Dr. Ferrara explained that the similarity in the three two-note sequences is not musically significant because in each song the sequences were preceded and followed by different notes to form distinct melodies. He described the purported similarity based on these note sequences as akin to arguing that “crab” and “absent” are similar words because they both have the letter pair “ab.” He also testified that the similarity in the “pitch collection” is not musically meaningful because it is akin to arguing that the presence of the same letters in “senator” and “treason” renders the words similar in meaning.

PG notes that when a judge or panel of judges quote a principal expert witness for the defendant, the plaintiff may conclude that she/he/they will not be happy with the court’s decision.

In addition to almost everyone else, judges and lawyers commonly use analogies to describe something complex that is difficult to accurately describe in words. Courts issue their decisions using words and sentences, not musical compositions.

In this respect, Dr. Ferrara, the expert testifying on behalf of the defendants in the pull-quote, earned his almost-certainly large fee by providing analogies that even a tone-deaf judge could understand.

“Crab” and “absent” both contain the letters “ab” in sequence, but the entire words are completely different.

“Senator” and “treason” each contain exactly the same letters, but the order in which the letters appear in the two words is different and the meaning of the two words are not at all the same.

Perfectly lovely analogies that are far easier for 99% of law school graduates to understand than “descending notes of a chromatic musical scale” and “a different ascending line that is played concurrently with the descending chromatic line, and a distinct sequence of pitches in the arpeggios.”

Here’s a video that includes recordings of the melodies created by the plaintiff and the allegedly infringing portion of the defendants’ song.

Since some visitors had problems with an embedded PDF PG included in a recent post, PG will link to a copy of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion which the US Supreme Court decided to let stand and decline to review.

The opinion is 73 pages long, so you will need to read it to understand the decision and the copyright principles involved. PG’s fluffy little summary is not an adequate substitute for reviewing the whole thing.

However, since you are not facing a final exam in copyright law, you can do whatever you like without receiving a bad grade.

Here’s the link to Skidmore vs. Led Zeppelin

Ideas

Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas.

Joseph Stalin (perhaps)

Resisting censorship

From The Bookseller:

Last month, 58 writers, journalists and artists signed a letter in the Sunday Times in support of JK Rowling, condemning the ‘onslaught of abuse’ she has received regarding her views on sex, gender and trans rights. Signatories included Tom Stoppard, Ian McEwan and Lionel Shriver. Three days later, more than 200 writers, agents, editors and publishers published a statement in support of trans and non-binary people and their rights in a message of ‘love and solidarity’. Signatories included Jeanette Winterson, Malorie Blackman and Nikesh Shukla. The worrying implication in the timing of their statement appears to be that any public support for JK Rowling is perceived to be an attack on the transgender community. The magazine Mslexia dropped the author Amanda Craig as a competition judge following her signing the Sunday Times letter, because of views ‘that threaten to undermine Mslexia’s climate of welcome and inclusivity’.

All writers and publishers should be speaking out in support of JK Rowling, no matter where they stand on the transgender issue: whether they believe like Jeanette Winterson and fellow signatories that ‘transwomen are women’ or, like JK Rowling, that ‘if sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased’. The treatment of Rowling is an attempt to censor, by intimidation as well as by discrediting her opinions as hate speech and discrimination. While it may not, fortunately, be possible to silence one of the most successful writers in the world, there are others whose livelihoods are at risk for daring to voice similar views. Anyone in the business of publishing or writing should defend Rowling’s right to express her opinions in support of the principle of freedom of expression. It is the principle that enables every writer and publisher who signed the statement in support of the trans and non-binary community to do their work – and also to sign such a statement.

We are currently witnessing a dangerous flight from that principle. It is group rights that now trump a precious universal right. The idea of tolerating views that you may disagree with or find offensive has been abandoned. That act of toleration, however uncomfortable, is essential for safeguarding an open society where ideas can be freely expressed, challenged and tested. Freedom of expression has always been one of the most vulnerable of all human rights, partly because it is not absolute, and it has taken decades to push the boundaries, often through the creativity and courage of writers, artists and publishers.

The current trend towards conformity risks creating a bland and fearful culture, and we can already see the damage: from the cancelling of the Philip Guston exhibition last month by four museums, including Tate Modern, to Hachette’s decision to drop Woody Allen’s memoir earlier this year. All these institutions, no doubt, will consider their decisions to be enlightened, wishing not to cause offence to vulnerable groups. But the right to freedom of expression includes the protection of speech that may offend, shock or disturb. If you close it down, then you also limit the ability of minorities to speak out.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Why Can’t Publishers Handle the Truth?

From Publishers Weekly:

When Carmen recounted waking up to the prodding batons of U.S. border guards after fainting from exhaustion during her third attempt to enter the United States from Mexico via the Rio Grande River, I remained speechless.

By 2012, I’d spent seven years and hundreds of hours interviewing women like Carmen who survived unimaginable horrors, followed by another two years helping flesh out, fact-check, and proofread their perseverance narratives for the 50 Women anthology series, two books of testimonies told by 50 women from 30 countries, who mostly survived inconceivable acts: female genital mutilation, assault, genocides, armed conflict, and fleeing dangerous regions on foot, to name a few.

Despite the series’ impressive endorsement list and the breadth of world issues it brings to life, agents and publishers repeatedly told me the books had “no market” and relegated them to “ethnic” categories.

Their responses baffled me then and they baffle me now, especially after witnessing the bidding war, film option, and Oprah Winfrey support Jeanine Cummins received for American Dirt. Her “privilege” is common in publishing. The characters of American Dirt have experiences like those of real people I have interviewed and whose stories of treacherous migrations fill the daily news cycle. Yet the story receiving accolades, money, and attention is a work of fiction, written by a woman lacking personal experience with these issues or the Latinx diaspora.

This is partially because publishing industry leaders do not reflect the people and the consumers that they serve. Earlier this year, independent children’s book publisher Lee & Low Books released its 2019 Diversity Baseline Survey, which revealed that 76% of respondent publishing staff, review journal staff, and literary agents are white.

And even with the advent of the #MeToo movement, we still focus about how women have sex, their beauty products, and their wardrobes, but we’re still not willing to listen to survivor narratives unless they’re through a polished filter. Unless women are a sellable, sensationalized package, we will still be shooed away, ridiculed, or picked apart for speaking out. It is discouraging that, as the case of American Dirt illustrates, people care more about a fictional story or a white savior narrative than about real stories of parent-child border separations and draconian orders against those attempting to migrate. No one to my knowledge offered the immigrant women I interviewed from Mexico and Central America who underwent treacherous migrations a seven-figure advance to tell their stories. As migrants, they don’t represent our familiar privileged lenses. They are an inconvenient truth.

We relate to privileged women or fictional characters more than immigrant women because survivor narratives are uncomfortable. They are more evidence that pervasive inequality persists. Their stories are not entertaining or sensual but painful and shocking, and that is why privileged narratives prevail in our culture. With fictional characters, we can similarly avoid digesting reality’s discomforts, but in doing so our perspectives of controversial issues are shaped by either privilege or fabrication, and, sadly, real women’s voices at the heart of crucial matters are extinguished.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Don’t be evil. Self-publish.

There are two kinds of truth

There are two kinds of truth: the truth that lights the way and the truth that warms the heart. The first of these is science, and the second is art. Neither is independent of the other or more important than the other. Without art, science would be as useless as a pair of high forceps in the hands of a plumber. Without science, art would become a crude mess of folklore and emotional quackery. The truth of art keeps science from becoming inhuman, and the truth of science keeps art from becoming ridiculous.

Raymond Chandler

I was never the Pretty Girl

It is clear I was never the Pretty Girl. I had my two front teeth knocked out when I was 10 and didn’t fix them until I was 19. I have a crooked smile and a nose that looks like it’s been broken 12 times but never has been. My nose was always red, so people called me Rudolph. My whole face is off-center.

Ellen Barkin