‘They Own the System’: Amazon Rewrites Book Industry by Marching into Publishing

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon.com Inc., which over more than two decades made itself the world’s largest book retailer, has created an unrivaled display window that can catapult titles from obscurity to must-reads.

More recently it has built something else: Its own line of published books.

The novel was released in 2017 and featured on Amazon First Reads. The online promotion also is emailed each month to more than 7 million U.S. subscribers and exclusively showcases titles from Amazon Publishing.

“Wham, we get 300,000 downloads,” said Mr. Sullivan, whose title has sold more than 1.5 million print books, e-books and audio books. It was ranked No. 56 on USA Today’s top 100 best-seller list for all of 2018.

The Seattle-based giant houses 15 imprints in the U.S. under the Amazon Publishing banner, turning out everything from thrillers to romance novels to books translated from other languages. Amazon published 1,231 titles in the U.S. in 2017, up from 373 in 2009, the year it entered the $16 billion-a-year consumer book publishing business.

To promote these works, it has tools other publishers can only dream about owning, including Amazon First Reads and Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s e-book subscription service. Together, they reach an estimated 10 million or more customers who can read offered titles with a few keystrokes.

“They aren’t gaming the system,” literary agent Rick Pascocello said. “They own the system.”

The promotional levers that Amazon has built to lure consumers can boost the opportunities of little-known writers and recharge the careers of experienced authors such as Mr. Sullivan. Amazon Publishing, the company’s book-publishing unit, together with its self-published authors, has made it a fierce competitor in lucrative genres including romance.

To some in the industry, it is an inherently conflicted structure, in which the most powerful retailer has a competing incentive to favor books it publishes and those from authors using its self-publishing technology.

On Wednesday, 16 of the top 20 books on Amazon’s romance best-seller list were titles from its book-publishing arm or were self-published on Amazon’s platform.

Amazon said its marketing and retail programs don’t give its books an unfair advantage, and that it offers all publishers a chance to use them.

“Our focus is on making sure that our customers get great content,” said Jeff Belle, vice president of Amazon Publishing. “The feedback from authors, customers and agents has all been positive.”

Amazon commands some 72% of adult new book sales online, and 49% of all new book sales by units, according to book-industry research firm Codex Group LLC.

. . . .

For authors, the company offers a huge potential audience, especially given the decline in large bricks-and-mortar bookstores. Amazon has more than 100 million Amazon Prime members world-wide, and its U.S. subscribers can pick one title from Amazon First Reads free each month. Non-Prime members pay $1.99.

On Jan. 2, Amazon First Reads sent an email to members about six new titles from Amazon Publishing. By early evening, those books were the top six on Amazon’s Kindle store e-book best-seller list.

. . . .

The scale of Amazon Publishing isn’t readily apparent because many rival booksellers decline to carry Amazon Publishing titles on their shelves.

“They get enough support on their own,” said Lori Fazio, chief operating officer of R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Conn., which doesn’t stock them.

. . . .

Industry trackers say Amazon is shrinking publishing revenue in adult fiction by releasing so many low-price books from Amazon imprints and its self-published authors. Publisher revenue from adult fiction fell 16% to $4.4 billion in 2017 from 2013, the Association of American Publishers said.

“My suspicion is the cumulative impact of Amazon’s highly integrated retail and content programs is cannibalizing traditional publisher fiction sales.” said Peter Hildick-Smith, chief executive of Codex Group, the research firm.

Mr. Hildick-Smith said the decline in revenue for fiction issued by traditional publishers coincided with the Kindle e-book store’s growing share of the overall adult book market—up 43% between 2013 and 2017—to a bit more than a quarter of the total market. E-books skew heavily to fiction, and much of that increase comes from books self-published on Amazon.

Publishers that specialize in genre fiction, especially romance—a fount of publishing profits—are feeling the biggest impact.

. . . .

Independent romance publisher Entangled Publishing LLC offers a small number of erotic titles on Kindle Unlimited. For many titles, the small publishing house uses the distribution arm of a larger publisher to get its books into retail stores, a distributor that doesn’t participate in Kindle Unlimited.

As a result, most Entangled books aren’t likely to reach Amazon’s list of best-selling romance titles, which favors Kindle Unlimited titles. While Amazon has opened a lot of doors for authors and publishers, said Liz Pelletier, Entangled’s chief executive, the extra boost given to Kindle Unlimited titles makes Amazon’s best-seller list less applicable for publishers that don’t participate.

. . . .

Romance writer Lisa Renee Jones pulled her titles out of Kindle Unlimited in 2018 after her income fell by about one-third over a few months.

“I jumped on the bandwagon, but I later regretted it because it devalued me as an author,” said Ms. Jones, whose books have been published by St. Martin’s Press’s Griffin imprint and others.

An Amazon spokesman said thousands of self-published authors in 2018 “earned more than $50,000, with more than a thousand surpassing $100,000 in royalties.” The spokesman declined to say how many self-published books using Amazon technology were published last year. “Hundreds of thousands of authors have self-published millions of book since 2007,” he said.

Some have hit it big. Laurie Ann Starkey, a certified public accountant, quit her job in 2014 to become a full-time writer. She now owns a small independent press and employs 10 people as editors, managers and social-media staff. She generated $1.15 million last year in gross revenue, she said, mostly from her own books. About 89% of her sales were from Kindle Unlimited.

. . . .

Romance writer Inglath Cooper’s self-published novel, “Down a Country Road,” was ranked No. 52 on Amazon’s digital romance list on Jan. 15. She said Amazon has changed publishing, much like Netflix changed the movie and TV business, by making a large inventory of books immediately available to readers.

“Rather than resent the changes,” Ms. Cooper said, “I prefer to choose the opportunities available.”

Amazon Publishing helped resurrect the career of Mr. Sullivan, whose World War II novel found little traction among New York publishers. Previously, he had written more than a dozen novels, including with author James Patterson.

“My son urged me to try Amazon,” he said.

In March 2017, the influential trade publication Publishers Weekly reviewed “Beneath a Scarlet Sky,” saying Mr. Sullivan “lays on history with a trowel in this overstuffed tale of derring-do set in Italy during WWII.”

Amazon told Mr. Sullivan not to worry. “It was such a compulsive read that I knew it had the potential to be a big book,” said Danielle Marshall, editorial director of Lake Union Publishing, the Amazon Publishing imprint.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

“My suspicion is the cumulative impact of Amazon’s highly integrated retail and content programs is cannibalizing traditional publisher fiction sales.”

Of course, in a well-ordered world, traditional publishers and guys named Leonard would have continued to own the system and handled all the cannibalizing in a far more refined fashion.

We know how Leonard has changed (or not), but PG wonders how such publishers have changed in light of the impact of Amazon.

Of course, (returning to that well-ordered world), Amazon wouldn’t impact anything and nobody who is anybody would live in Seattle.

But order is not to be found in the 21st Century. In its own untidy and ill-kempt manner, change happens.

Or does it? PG hasn’t noticed much change in the cloistered halls of New York publishers. For them, the old ways are the best ways. Are they even capable of change?

Heaven forfend that Big Publishing would ever examine its treatment of all but a tiny slice of its authors or revisit its royalty structure or (gasp!) test whether reducing prices would increase sales on a commodity that, in the case of ebooks, has absolutely no additional incremental cost of goods for each additional copy sold after the first.

In a rational world, publishers would embrace the business of selling organized groups of electrons. After all, Bill Gates got rich selling electrons.

They wouldn’t even have to gather their own electrons. Amazon would collect gobs of electrons and sell them to people who liked to read while destroying nary a tree and then large bank transfers (more electrons!) would decamp from Seattle to Manhattan.

It’s so much easier to hang out with other publishers, whine about Amazon and reassure one another that, any day now, people will come to their senses and flock back to real bookstores to buy dead-tree books from impoverished clerk/drones, just you wait and see.


Why “Self-Promotion” Is B*******

From The Millions:

The first time I ever heard the hyphenated word “self-promotion” uttered as something writers do, I was an MFA student. Seemingly every editor, author, or agent who spoke on a panel about “the publishing industry” came to tell us amateurs we had to build a platform and learn self-promotion. The work doesn’t stop when you sign your book contract, they said. The book isn’t going to sell itself; you have to.

As a debut author with an essay collection published through a small independent press, I understand how important it is for writers to participate in promoting their book. What made me wince 10 years ago, when the writing world was new to me, and what bothers me now, as a rookie author, is the continued proliferation of the word self-promotionand its associated misconceptions.

Book-tour angst is real. Maybe you saw the recent essay former Congressman Steve Israel penned for The New York Times, “Why a Book Tour Is More Brutal Than a Political Campaign,” where he wonders why “rejection in politics rolled off my back while even one person’s rejection of my book sticks in my craw?” He says, “sitting behind a pile of books at an Authors Night, watching people pick up your book as if it’s a piece of spongy fruit at the market, is sheer torture.”

What if the years we spent laboring over a manuscript in private become a product the public never finds out about, or worse, discovers and ignores? It seems most authors have a self-effacing story to share about poorly attended readings, like the one Tom McAllister opens with in  “Who Will Buy Your Book?”

It’d be disingenuous of me to pretend that rejections to requests for readings and reviews don’t sting. Of course they do. But my beef with self-promotion’s existence in publishing is the word’s power to conflate the work and the person who wrote it. Writers are not politicians whose entire curriculum vitae are to be endorsed or condemned. We’re not campaigning to sell ourselves during an election of literary minded voters. We’re selling our work.

What writers do in the necessary stage of discussing their books online and at in-person events is not an ego-driven series of acts trying to draw attention to the self, but rather an extension of the private labor that has become public.

. . . .

Maybe self-promotion is such an uncomfortable phrase for many writers because of its associations to self-absorption, self-adulation, self-righteousness, self-aggrandizement, self-congratulations, self-interests, selfishness, and so on. Self-promotion is laden with the solipsistic ugliness of narcissism, of navel-gazing.

. . . .

I’m more comfortable with the word sharing. That’s what we’re doing. We share updates about our work and where we will be physically sharing it, as well as sharing ourselves in the way we read, answer questions, and talk to book buyers when we sign their copies.

Link to the rest at The Millions

PG suggests that it’s 2019, not 1959.

For 99.5% of authors, book tours are a waste of time, an exercise that publishers suggest because they haven’t had an original thought about marketing in hundreds of years.

For the other 0.5% of authors, the ones who are already famous and have lots of readers, book tours are still a waste of time. Ten cities in ten days, 500 books sold per city, 5,000 books sold overall, three days to prepare, ten days to recover. One viral Youtube video will sell far more than 5,000 books and you don’t have to lie down for a week afterwards.

PG did a quick Google search of hand selling.

Every single result on the first page related to selling books.

Why might that be?

Perhaps because the book business is the only business that still believes hand selling is a great idea for something less expensive than a Harley Davidson.

Non Omnia Possumus Omnes

Copyrights Can Be Just About a Century Long

But now that copyrights can be just about a century long, the inability to know what is protected and what is not protected becomes a huge and obvious burden on the creative process. If the only way a library can offer an Internet exhibit about the New Deal is to hire a lawyer to clear the rights to every image and sound, then the copyright system is burdening creativity in a way that has never been seen before because there are no formalities.

~ Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture

2019 Is a Huge Year for Public Domain Art

From Art Law Journal:

On Jan 1, 2019, we not only ushered in a new year but also an unprecedented amount of creative works entering the public domain. “Public domain” refers to creative works that are not protected by copyright so anyone can use them in any way they would like, such as reselling or using the material to create new or updated versions, without having to obtain permission from the previous owners nor compensating them.

Jennifer Jenkins, director of Duke University School of Law’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain said in an interview with Smithsonian Magazine, “We haven’t had a day quite like this in decades. . . The public domain has been frozen in time for 20 years, and we’re reaching the 20-year thaw.”

How 2019 came to have such special significance for the public domain is a sordid story of congressional incompetence, international treaties, and Mickey Mouse.

. . . .

Copyright protection dates all the way back to the founding of the United States. Article I, Section 8, Clause 8. States:

 The Congress shall have Power To… promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

The United States was the second country to adopt a general copyright law passing the Copyright Act in 1790, which protected maps and books for a term of 14 years and another 14 years if renewed. Interestingly, the Copyright Act was passed with minimal discussion and was taken almost verbatim from Britain’s Copyright Act, The Statute of Anne, which passed in 1710.

. . . .

Over the next century, Congress broadened the scope of protection to include more types of creative works. At the same time, countries around the world began to embrace the idea that their countries benefited greatly from protecting intellectual property.

However, the United States became an outlier in how it defined the term for copyright, focusing on protection of the creative work over a fixed period whereas other countries gravitated toward protection based on the author’s life plus a certain number of years following it. Unfortunately, the US copyright system was incompatible with the rest of the world so when a group of sixteen countries (including France, Germany United Kingdom and Canada) convened in 1887 to sign an international copyright treaty known as the Berne Convention, the United States did not join.

. . . .

One noted difference was that for valid copyright [under US law], a work must have been registered with the US Copyright Office along with a formal copyright notice affixed to the work:

(1) The symbol © or the word “Copyright”; (2) the year of first publication; (3) the name of the copyright owner (i.e. © 2012 John Smith)

Because foreign works did not have this requirement, they automatically became part of the public domain in the United States. This created tension with other countries, including important political allies.

The US also continued to be the only country that viewed copyright terms based on publication, making several revisions to copyright duration. By1909, the copyright term had grown to 28 years with an additional 28 years if renewed but it wasn’t until 1955 that the US began to seriously consider harmonizing its copyright laws with the members of the Berne Convention.

. . . .

[I]n 1989 the United States joined the Berne Convention, which necessitated the removal of several key components of US Copyright law to comply with the treaty rules. For example, the condition of including the copyright notice and to register with the US Copyright Office was no longer applicable. As well, another condition of the treaty gave many foreign works copyright protections that were previously in the US Public Domain. Additional rules were also required to maintain copyright protection on works that would normally have entered the public domain under the previous US rules, even some that did not renew their registration or have a proper copyright notice.

Then in 1998, came a copyright power grab. Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act, which added an additional twenty years to copyright duration for individuals (life of the author plus 70 years) and for companies, the copyright term became 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever came first.

As we discussed in How Mickey Mouse Keeps Changing Copyright Law, the Sonny Bono Act has been widely viewed as a way to keep Disney’s Steamboat Willie (1928), the first appearance of Mickey Mouse in film, from slipping into the public domain. It is seen as a prime example of successful corporate lobbying, although admittedly, Disney’s intervention is more conjecture than proof.

. . . .

[M]any works received an additional 20 years of copyright protection significantly decreasing the number of works entering the public domain during those two decades.

However, as of Jan 1, 2019, the extension has expired bringing the entire 20 years’ worth of creative works into the public domain, all at once. Itis the largest collective copyright expiration in recent memory. As well, without the extension, we can expect a more normal parade of works entering the public domain works every January 1st.

. . . .

From the hundreds of thousands of works that have entered the public domain in 2019, here are a few of the most prominent:

. . . .

Link to the rest at Art Law Journal

Verbarian

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

 verbarian, adj. and n.

A. adj.

Of or relating to words.

  • 1830   S. T. Coleridge On Constit. Church & State 19 (note)    A verbarian Attorney-General, authorized to bring information..against the writer or editor of any work..who..should persevere in misusing a word.

. . . .

B. n.

1. A word game in which players compete to see who can form the most words from the letters of a given word. Obsolete.

  • 1872   Our Young Folks Mar. 191/2   There is a game we play among ourselves… It is called Verbarian, and may be played by any number. We select some long word [etc.].

. . . .

2. An inventor or coiner of words; (also) a person who is interested in words.

  • 1873   F. Hall Mod. Eng. 21   In The Doctor, Southey gives himself free scope as a verbarian.
  • 1926   Brandon (Manitoba) Daily Sun 3 Dec. 10/2   Collections of two or three hundred [words], coined by some enthusiastic verbarian for the purpose of exploiting a pet theory.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

Why 1984 Isn’t Banned in China

From The Atlantic:

Last winter, after the Chinese Communist Party announced the abolition of presidential term limits, Beijing temporarily moved to censor social-media references to George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984. The government’s concern was that activists would use these titles to charge, in not-so-subtle code, that China was moving in a decidedly authoritarian direction. But censors did not bother to ban the sale of these texts either in bookstores or online. It was—and remains—as easy to buy 1984 and Animal Farm in Shenzhen or Shanghai as it is in London or Los Angeles.

The different treatment of these texts and their titles helps illuminate the complicated reality of censorship in China. It’s less comprehensive, less boot-on-the-face—as Orwell might have put it—and quirkier than many Westerners imagine.

Censors have banned books simply for containing a positive or even neutral portrayal of the Dalai Lama. The government disallows the publication of any work by Liu Xiaobo, the determined critic of the Communist Party who in 2017 became the first Nobel Peace Prize winner since Nazi times to die in prison. Again, for a time last year Chinese citizens could not type 1980, and four in sequence—but they could, and still can, buy a copy of 1984, the most famous novel on authoritarianism ever written. Prefer Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World? They can buy that text, too, just as easily, although its title also joined the taboo list last winter.

. . . .

Here’s the rub: Monitors pay closer attention to material that might be consumed by the average person than to cultural products seen as highbrow and intended for educated groups. (An internet forum versus an old novel.) As a result, Chinese writers are watched more closely than foreign ones. (Liu Xiaobo versus Orwell.) Another rule of thumb is that more leeway is given to imaginative works about authoritarianism than ones that specifically engage with its manifestations in post-1949 China. (1984 versus a book on the Dalai Lama.)

When a book crosses some lines but not others, censors generally use a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer. That explains the status of Brave New World Revisited, Huxley’s nonfiction work in which he argued that autocrats in the Soviet Union and China were combining the rule-through-distraction techniques outlined in Brave New World and the rule-through-fear methods detailed in 1984. Chinese readers on the mainland can find copies of this highbrow book by a foreigner pretty easily—but censors have surgically excised all direct references to Mao’s China.

These patterns may suggest that censors take a rather dim view of their audiences’ abilities—that they believe Chinese citizens are unable to draw a connection between the political situation Orwell described and the nature of their government (unless prompted to do so by a rabble-rouser on the internet). More likely, they’re motivated by elitism, or classism. Analogously, in the United States the MPAA slaps movies with an R rating if they depict nudity, but there’s no warning system for museums that display nude sculptures. The assumption is not that Chinese people can’t figure out the meaning of 1984, but that the small number of people who will bother to read it won’t pose much of a threat.

. . . .

There are three basic reasons for these disparities: Elites must by definition have skin in the game in relation to the ruling party; the government knows it can’t really stop well-connected, highly educated citizens from acquiring the information they want, in part because they’re able to travel abroad and expose themselves to a variety of materials there; and the authorities are aware that a touch of liberty is often better than a boot in the face to keep people in line.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Kindle Romance

Kindle Romance Bestsellers

Can’t Remember What You Read? Blame the Font, Not Forgetfulness

From Wired:

Remember all those classics you devoured in comp-lit class? Neither do we. Research shows that we retain an embarrassingly small sliver of what we read. In an effort to help college students boost that percentage, a team made up of a designer, a psychologist, and a behavioral economist at Australia’s RMIT University recently introduced a new typeface, Sans Forgetica, that uses clever tricks to lodge information in your brain. The font-makers drew on the psychological theory of “desirable difficulty”—that is, we learn better when we actively overcome an obstruction. (It’s why flash cards create stronger neural connections in the brain and are a better method for recalling facts than passively studying notes.) Sans Forgetica is purposefully hard to decipher, forcing the reader to focus. One study found that students recalled 57 percent of what they read in Sans Forgetica, compared with 50 percent of the material in Arial, a significant difference. No word yet on the retention rate of Comic Sans.

. . . .

When presented with incomplete visual information, like the random gaps in Sans Forgetica’s characters, our brain fills in the missing bits. “They pique your attention and slow down the reading process,” says Stephen Banham, one of the font’s developers.

. . . .

Your brain isn’t used to seeing sentences tilt to the left—it’s a typographic faux pas. It takes you a split second longer to recognize words in Sans Forgetica’s 8-degree back-slant, triggering deeper cognitive processing.

Link to the rest at Wired

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Never

Never wear anything that panics the cat.

~ P. J. O’Rourke

8 Ya Authors on the Enduring Impact of Speak

From Book Riot:

 This month marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Laurie Halse Anderson’s phenomenal, groundbreaking YA book Speak.

Speak was the first YA book I ever read while I myself was a young adult. The book hit shelves when I was 14, and I vividly remember heading deep into the corner of my local library and finding it on the shelf. I flipped through, immediately captivated by Melinda’s voice on the page. Her story hooked me and stayed with me throughout my teen years and my twenties, and I revisited the book again a few years ago. It not only still resonated, but I brought new things and gleaned fresh insights into the book, too. Melinda? She’s really quite funny. Despite the tragedy she’s experienced as the victim of a sexual assault, her humor further pulls at the reader’s heart and reminds them that even those who’ve suffered something unimaginable are still three-dimensional, complex individuals.

. . . .

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Speak, seven authors from all parts of the YA world have shared how the book has impacted them in both their personal lives and their writing lives (if those things are even extricable).

. . . .

JENNIFER MATHIEU, AUTHOR OF MOXIE

It’s been my true privilege to have experienced Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK as a reader, a writer of young adult novels, and a high school English teacher. Many years ago when I was an aspiring novelist, Laurie’s SPEAK reassured me that teenagers crave honesty, complexity, nuance, and rough edges in their stories—they don’t need morality tales nor will they read them. Melinda’s journey as a survivor of sexual assault, crafted by Laurie with such authenticity and voice, served as a touchstone for me as I attempted to create my own stories about realistic teens in the world. What an honor to get to sit on a panel with Laurie at the Brooklyn Book Festival years later and have the opportunity to let her know how much her writing has meant to me. As a teacher, I have also seen how SPEAK has empowered and validated my own students; when I taught the novel last year to my tenth graders in Houston, I had three separate students share with me how Melinda’s story of survival and healing had helped them cope with their own assaults. Were it not for Laurie’s novel, I would not have been able to put one of those students in touch with our wonderful school social worker—until reading SPEAK she had not talked to anyone about what had happened to her. My love for Laurie, for Melinda, and for this new classic of young adult literature knows no bounds. May this much-needed story live on for 20, 40, 60 more years—and beyond.

. . . .

TANITA S. DAVIS, MARE’S WAR

1999: I’d just published my first (long out of print) book with a protagonist who, looking back, was Mary Sue perfect, and therefore, nothing bad happened to her. I thought YA lit was supposed to be like what I’d read growing up—cautionary tales and polite fictions which promised girls that if they behaved, All Would Be Well. When I read SPEAK it rattled my preconceptions…because it was True, a kind of true that cut to the bone. I was, frankly, a little scared that YA lit could BE like that—maybe was SUPPOSED to be like that. SPEAK challenges me as a writer to be that honest, to speak my truth, and to stand by it unflinchingly.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Clandestine

PG has discovered an enthusiasm for Field Notes.

He admits this is somewhat irrational because they are paper and PG mostly keeps note-like information in digital form.

OTOH, if you were to spend more than 4 milliseconds examining PG’s desk and its surrounding environs, you would discover that the last thing PG needs is more paper.

However, Field Notes are not normal notebooks. They have a unique persona and, although more expensive on a square-inch basis than a ream of printer paper from Costco, are less expensive than a passion for antique automobiles or a drug habit.

The latest instantiation of Field Notes is the Clandestine edition, the covers of which are “surreptitious Urban Gray” and which includes a Field Notes Cipher Wheel for coding and decoding messages.

.

Link to the rest at Field Notes

 

The UK’s Republic of Consciousness Announces Its 2019 Longlist

From Publishing Perspectives:

In its third year, the awards program in the UK called Republic of Consciousness—which awards the work of small publishers—has produced a 13-title longlist for 2019. It also says that it’s “wrong” to be held to that number.

. . . .

As the program’s messaging notes, there are several distinguishing features about this unusual award, which splits its prize money between author and publisher.

  • The long list includes short story collections and novels
  • There are longlisted novels in English, Portuguese, Croatian, French, and Latvian
  • Publishers are included, not just from the major hubs of London and Dublin but from eight towns and cities in the UK and Ireland, including Manchester, London, Edinburgh, Oxford, Norwich, Dublin, Leeds, Birmingham
  • Two relatively well-known names are on the list, Gabriel Josipovici and the late Daša Drndić
  • Four debuts are on the longlist from Sophie van Llewyn, Sue Rainsford, Nicholas John Turner, and Wendy Erskine
  • Two small presses longlisted are very new, having entered the market just last year

. . . .

The program is newly sponsored this year by the University of East Anglia and The Times Literary Supplement, with support from Arts Council England.

The effort was created by author Neil Griffiths in 2016 to honor “brave and bold literary fiction” produced by independent houses from the UK and Ireland, and in addition to splitting prize money between writers and their publishers, it also works to be publisher-friendly by “charging no entry fees, paying for travel to prize events and splitting our prize money (currently unspecified but likely to be slightly more than last year’s £12,500) between author and publisher.”

. . . .

The first line of what might have been a joyous longlist announcement criticizes the British Book Awards program, for example, for adding a small press category to its program and defining “small press” as one doing less than £1 million in annual revenue.

“By contrast,” write the Conscious ones, “we at the Republic of Consciousness go for fewer than five full-time employees, and aim for the less number-based criteria of ‘hard-core literary fiction and gorgeous prose.’”

And as goes this tradition of sharp elbows among the prize givers, the announcement also takes on the mighty Man Booker Prize for Fiction, which has a very different mandate, of course, from that of the Republic: “This year’s Man Booker Prize for Fiction didn’t longlist a single small press. Can it be that no small press published a novel good enough to make their top 13?”

With fists thus duly shaken at the mountain, the program goes on to  explain that it doesn’t even like itself very much, at least in terms of having 13 titles on its longlist.

“Below you will find our top 13. I wish it were 15, even 18, because then we would have included all the outstanding entries. And yet there is a cut-off point. It’s wrong. It doesn’t make sense. But then neither does a shortlist of six, or an overall winner. In the past two years, the overall winner has been decided unanimously, which makes it easier. That won’t be the case this year.”

We’re not told who is this Republican writing in such first-person pique. The announcement article is credited only to the Republic of Consciousness. Nor are we given to understand how the 13-title cap has been imposed on the situation, but it seems likely that the arrival of the University of East Anglia as a sponsor announced in the late summer may have come with some modest restraints that the program now pronounces “wrong.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

The Republic of PG says this sounds like a literary prize organization for people who object to literary prizes.

A Book That Captures the Singular Life of Marie Colvin

 

From The New Yorker:

In Lindsey Hilsum’s book “In Extremis: The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin,” there is a passage describing Colvin’s ordeal behind Chechen-rebel lines over Christmas of 1999. After coming under sustained Russian bombardment outside Grozny, the American-born reporter, then aged forty-four, was forced to trek out of the war zone over the snow-covered Caucasus mountain range to reach safety in neighboring Georgia. There were many bad moments, and, at one point, driven to exhaustion, Colvin considered lying down in the snow and sleeping. It was the opposite impulse of the one that drove her forward throughout her life. Colvin survived her Chechen experience and a dozen or more equally dangerous episodes during her twenty-five years as a war reporter, but, a month after her fifty-sixth birthday, in February, 2012, her luck ran out, in Syria. The Assad regime’s forces fired mortars into the house where she was staying, in the rebel-held quarter of Homs, and she was killed.

Colvin’s life has been memorably chronicled by Hilsum, a friend and colleague who lived and worked alongside Colvin in many of the same war zones, and whose home base was also London. (Full disclosure: I knew Colvin and am a friend of Hilsum’s.) At a time when the role of women is being reëxamined and has rightly galvanized public attention, Colvin’s tumultuous life has inspired a number of recent accounts, including the feature film “A Private War,” starring Rosamund Pike as Colvin. But it is Hilsum’s biography, written by a woman who both knew Colvin and had access to her unpublished reporting notes and private diaries—a trove of some three hundred notebooks—that seems to most closely capture her spirit.

As told by Hilsum, Colvin’s life was an unreconciled whirl of firsthand war experiences—many of them extremely dangerous and highly traumatic—London parties, and ultimately unhappy love affairs, laced through with a penchant for vodka martinis and struggles with P.T.S.D. Colvin was a Yank from Oyster Bay, Long Island, and Yale-educated, and she wanted to follow in the footsteps of the trailblazing war correspondent Martha Gellhorn—her Bible was Gellhorn’s “The Face of War”—but she never wrote a book herself, and was little known to her countrymen, making her name, and the bulk of her career, instead, inside the pages of Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times, a British broadsheet with a tabloid soul. From 1986 onward, when the Sunday Timeshired Colvin, the editors appear to have happily taken advantage of her lifelong hunger for professional affirmation, a chronic willingness to throw herself into danger in order to get scoops, and her considerable personal charm, which, early on, earned her the trust of roguish political players like Yasir Arafat and Muammar Qaddafi.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker




Let Me Be Frank

From The IPKat:

On Christmas Eve, US actor Kevin Spacey puzzled the whole of Hollywood by producing what may the oddest Christmas video ever released on social media.

. . . .

Spacey, in releasing the video entitled “Let Me Be Frank” on his official YouTube account, appears ‘in character’ by invoking one of his most famous roles: Francis (aka Frank) Underwood from Netflix’s series House of Cards. In this three-minute clip, Kevin Spacey is shot wearing a Christmas apron, speaking to the camera (in the iconicHouse of Cards’s style), replete with Underwood’s usual mannerisms, tone of voice and (fake) Southern American accent. The irony is that in hitting south of 10 million views on YouTube, Spacey received more views than theHouse of Cards’s final season.

. . . .

The controversy of the video lies in the ambiguity of Spacey’s lines, which can only be understood with a little bit of context. In October 2018, Spacey suddenly became persona non-grata in the entertainment industry, following the publication in the press of allegations of sexual misconduct made against him.

. . . .

Netflix dropped the actor from its award-winning ‘House of Cards’ series.

In viewing the clip, one realizes that its title (“Let Me Be Frank”) is a pun referring to both the first name of the Netflix character as well as the actor’s ongoing legal disputes (the legal proceedings against Spacey are scheduled to begin this month in the United States and in England & Wales).

. . . .

Setting aside any controversy over the video, has Spacey infringed any intellectual property rights by going ‘off script’ and impersonating Frank Underwood without (it seems) Netflix’s blessing?

It is well-nigh impossible to imagine that any Spacey’s video is made of shots or off-cuts taken from the Netflix series (the image and editing quality simply is not there). To put it simply, “Let Me Be Frank” is home-made. The text and its embodiment by Spacey are also new material. So can there be no copyright infringement for literal copying of content produced by Netflix.

Still, the reference to Frank Underwood, and to the series House of Cards more generally, is undeniable [and presumably intentional]. So what about copyright infringement for non-literal copying?  Let’s turn to what makes us think of ‘House of Cards’ or ‘Frank Underwood’ when we watch the video.

. . . .

  • Spacey appears in the same hairstyle as that of Frank Underwood in the first seasons of the Netflix series (later, Spacey’s appearance is ‘aged’ thanks to make-up) [NOT PROTECTED SO NOT INFRINGED: hairstyles do not attract copyright protection when they are as basic as this one].
  • Spacey speaks with the same accent, tone and pace as that of Frank Underwood throughout the series [NOT PROTECTED SO NOT INFRINGED: accents or styles of performance do not attract copyright protection in themselves].
  • Spacey stares back at the camera and delivers his monologues speaking directly to the viewers, an iconic technique in the series that was frequently used in House of Cards [NOT PROTECTED SO NOT INFRINGED: A directing or performing technique cannot receive copyright protection in itself].
  • Spacey’s lines convey the character’s typical ruthlessness and unapologetic sentiment towards past crimes or misbehaviour [NO PROTECTED SO NOT INFRINGED: the facts, ideas or feelings conveyed by words cannot attract copyright protection].
  • The title “Let Me Be Frank”, as in Frank Underwood [NOT PROTECTED SO NOT INFRINGED: ‘Frank’ as a word is unlikely to attract copyright protection; further ‘Frank’ here could can be the adjective for ‘honest’].
  • Spacey places a signet ring on his finger, recalling the ring with which the character was buried, which nevertheless manages to resurface mysteriously in the first season of the series [NOT PROTECTED SO NOT INFRINGED: the use of an ordinary object as a prop cannot in itself amount a type of expression protectable by copyright].

Taken individually, none of these elements that conjures up Frank Underwood in the viewer’s mind fits the definition of original expression protected by copyright.

But infringement for non-literal copying can also be assessed by taking various individual elements collectively to establish similarity between two creative works. Indeed, borrowing the  “total concept and feel” of a work may influence a court in finding for copyright infringement

. . . .

In Roth Greeting Cards, the Court decided that the defendant had infringed the copyright covering the greeting cards of the claimant because “the characters depicted in the art work, the mood they portrayed, the combination of art work conveying a particular mood with a particular message, and the arrangement of the words on the greeting card”,  were substantially similar (at 1110). Applying this to Spacey’s video, perhaps one could argue[though this Kat is not keen to do so] that Spacey’s video borrows too much of the “concept and feel” of Netflix’sHouse of Cards.

However, this Kat would counter by arguing that, except for the title, the similarities between the video and previous Netflix episodes all stem from the same source: Kevin Spacey (i.e. the actor’s performance). Spacey’s fake accent, delivery, and physical appearance are all elements of his performance that have contributed to building Frank Underwood’s character on screen and in the mind of viewers. These are elements that are unique to Kevin Spacey’s physical appearance and performing style.

These elements of performance were called the ‘embodiment’ of an actor’s performance in the “infamous” copyright decision Garcia v Google (766 F. 3d 929, 934 2014). Added to the script and director’s guidance, this ‘embodiment’ is what brought Frank Underwood to life in the series. Unfortunately for Netflix, in an en banc panel on appeal, the Ninth Circuit ruled that such an ‘embodiment’ is not subject to copyright protection, thereby overturning the 2014 judgment (see, Garcia v Google (786 F. 3d 733, 743-744, 2015)).

. . . .

However, there may be an alternative route for Netflix to claim infringement, namely that copyright exists in the character of ‘Frank Underwood’, which Spacey infringed by performing it without prior authorization. This only applies if Netflix owns the right in Frank Underwood’s character (as Kat readers may  know, Netflix’s House of Cards is a US adaptation of an earlier BBC production, which is an adaption of  a novel by Michael Dobbs).

The law on copyright in characters is still somewhat murky. In principle, characters are not granted protection, but some US courts have recently recognized certain exceptions according to which highly distinctive character, essential to the “story being told”, may be covered by copyright (See, Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. v. Columbia Broad. Sys., 216 F.2d 945 (1954) 950 ). Indeed, recent cases in the US have leaned towards conferring protection to literary and pictorial characters alike (see for example, DCComics v Towle 802 F.3d 1012 (2015) 1020).

Link to the rest at The IPKat

As a preliminary matter, PG is generally aware of the nature of the allegations against Spacey. If true, Spacey may be in serious legal trouble. That said, accusations are not proof and more than a few accusations in a variety of matters have fallen apart when subjected to legal scrutiny.

Being administered by humans, the legal system of the United States is not perfect and does not always deliver perfect results. From his long-past experience with jury trials, PG’s personal experience is that juries are quite good at discerning truths amid conflicting accounts by witnesses, but sometimes they do make mistakes.

Judges are also human (occasionally in heavy disguise) and they similarly commit errors in determining how the law should be applied to particular cases and what actually happened when witness accounts conflict.

In various fictional accounts relating to the business of making films, a character will sometimes tell another character, “You’ll never work in this town again!” Although definitely not an expert on Hollywood business practices, PG thinks it likely that Spacey will have a great deal of difficulty working in the big-time movie business in its various manifestations.

With that wordy introduction, PG notes that Spacey is a prototypical character actor, albeit in a leading role in House of Cards.

A character actor typically plays unusual, interesting or eccentric characters who may be short or tall, heavy or thin, balding, older, or simply unconventional-looking and distinctive in some physical or behavioral way. Some character actors play substantially similar roles or characters in a wide variety of films or television shows.

Thomas Mitchell played similar roles in dozens of movies, an avuncular and slightly scruffy sidekick.

As Maggie Smith aged, she transitioned into proper and feisty English characters.

 

Back to the OP, PG can’t imagine a situation in which an actor who played a distinctive type of character would be prevented by copyright law from playing the same or similar type of character in an unrelated motion picture, play, etc.

No, Marie Kondo Doesn’t Want You To Throw Away All Your Books

From Book Riot:

 A lot of people seem to be convinced that a Japanese tidying expert wants them to get rid of all their books. Thanks to her new Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, organizational guru Kondo and her “spark joy” philosophy are back in the news. I can promise you, though, that she is not saying to throw out all your books and never read again. In fact, I think Marie Kondo’s book tidying advice is just what many book lovers need to hear.

If you’ve read Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you’re already familiar with the basic premise of her system. She sorts belongings into categories, piles all items in a category together, and picks up each one, waiting for it to spark joy. If it does spark joy, it stays. If not, it goes.

It’s a very simple way to declutter. There are other basic tenets of the KonMari system, like using small boxes in drawers to keep like things together, and her much-celebrated folding technique (which is pretty great!), but the whole thing revolves around the idea that the things in your home should spark joy in you. In the Netflix show, this system helps participants get rid of things like never-worn clothes, boxes and boxes of baseball cards, children’s toys, extra mugs, and yes, books.

. . . .

Kondo asks us to think about the purpose of each object in our home and the feeling it inspires in us. Apparently, some people are unaware that books are also objects. They’re objects that we love and cherish, objects that are also gateways to dozens of new worlds and experiences, but that doesn’t mean they don’t collect in piles or take up a lot of space in a small home.

. . . .

I’m a book lover. I work in publishing, I’m a former bookseller, and I write for Book Riot. Before I Kondo’d my books a few years ago, I also had DOZENS of books I had never read and probably would never read. Books given to me by exes. Books leftover from grad school. Books I’d read once and hadn’t particularly liked. Books I’d read once and had liked, but didn’t feel the need to read again. I didn’t feel joy when I looked at or touched those books. Sometimes I felt sad or wistful, but most often I just felt stressed and overwhelmed at how many there were. That was a far cry from how I felt when I held a Jane Austen novel or I Capture the Castle. I also lived in a small apartment, and books were everywhere, piled on most surfaces.

. . . .

Kondo suggests getting rid of unread books because if you haven’t read it by now, you probably won’t. I don’t agree with that advice, but here’s the thing about someone’s suggestions: you can take or leave them. Kondo is not actually in your house forcing you to set a pile of beloved books on fire.

. . . .

Kondo herself doesn’t seem to be a big book lover, and that’s fine. In the Netflix show, she allows people to decide what sparks joy based on their own hobbies and interests.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG doesn’t know about you, but he feels much better knowing Marie’s true message about throwing away books.

PG feels joy when he looks at his desk (microsample shown below). It’s familiar and he can (usually) put his hand on what he needs quite quickly.

As far as sparking joy is concerned, PG has a large part of his electric device collection connected directly or not-so-directly to his computer (no computer manufacturer includes nearly enough USB ports in their product design), so sparking is, unfortunately, not associated with joy in PG’s mind.

.

A learned blockhead

A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.

~ Benjamin Franklin

The French Burglar Who Pulled Off His Generation’s Biggest Art Heist

Nothing to do with books, but PG thinks he’s not the only one who enjoys stories and movies about art thieves.

From The New Yorker:

Long before the burglar Vjeran Tomic became the talk of Paris, he honed his skills in a graveyard. Père Lachaise, the city’s largest cemetery, is a Gothic maze of tombstones, in the Twentieth Arrondissement, that covers more than a hundred acres. Frédéric Chopin, Marcel Proust, and Oscar Wilde are among those buried there. Tomic recalled that in the nineteen-eighties, when he was an adolescent, the cemetery attracted hippie tourists, who flocked to the grave of Jim Morrison, and also drug dealers and gang members. Tomic was drawn by the tombstones. In one of twenty letters, written in careful cursive French, that he sent me during the past year and a half, he told me, “Observing them gave me the desire to touch them—to climb up to their peaks.” Tomic and his friends turned the cemetery into a parkour playground, leaping from the roof of one mausoleum to the next, daring one another to take ever-bolder risks.

. . . .

He was born in Paris in 1968, but the following year his mother became seriously ill, and his father, a car mechanic, sent Vjeran to live with his grandmother, in the Ottoman town of Mostar, in Bosnia. By the age of six, he told me, he had developed what he calls “a devious tendency,” adding, “I was showing some unhealthy intelligence.” He tormented his cousins by putting thorns in their shoes. They often played along the banks of the Neretva River, and Tomic became adept at scaling Mostar’s stone bridges; on reaching the top, he would leap into the water below.

At the age of ten, Tomic pulled off his first heist. He broke into a library in Mostar, climbing through a window that was nearly ten feet above street level. He stole two books, each of which appeared to be several hundred years old. (The older brother of a friend learned of the theft and returned Tomic’s plunder.) Tomic said of his early criminal adventures, “It was intuitive. Nobody ever taught me anything.”

. . . .

Despite the turmoil at home, Tomic said, he did well in school, and was a fine athlete. As a teen-ager, he developed a keen interest in drawing, and in his spare time he walked, alone, through the streets of Paris. One day, when he was sixteen, he was strolling through the Jardin des Tuileries when he noticed people lining up outside what appeared to be a greenhouse. It was the Musée de l’Orangerie, a structure that was built, in 1852, to shelter orange trees, and which now houses Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. Tomic went inside. The museum is best known for its Monet murals of water lilies, but Tomic was enraptured by Renoir’s glowing renderings of happy childhoods: kids playing with figurines, practicing the piano, snuggling with mothers. As Tomic saw it, Renoir had used his paintbrush to create a “parallel universe”—an enchanted version of the grim Parisian life he had known. “Renoir has a way of seeing life from a magical realm,” Tomic wrote to me. “It’s as if he even came from this place.” It thrilled him to be “within a hand’s reach” of such spellbinding images.

On returning home, Tomic recalled, he told his mother about his transporting experience at the museum, and said that he wanted to paint—“that it was my passion, that other jobs weren’t worth anything, that they were wastes of time.” Fearing his father’s opinion, he entrusted her to “transmit the message” to him. His father soon approached him and declared that painting was a hobby, not a real job. He pressed Tomic to work at his garage, but Tomic resisted, and eventually “thought about fleeing.”

. . . .

In time, Tomic began robbing apartments in more affluent neighborhoods. His climbing skills continued to improve, and by the age of sixteen he could scale the façade of a multistory building with relative ease. In his letters to me, Tomic described his burglaries in oddly mystical terms, suggesting that his actions were compelled by invisible forces. (He used the French word tractent, which means “towed.”) He described canvassing neighborhoods before choosing his target: “I have to be in harmony with certain places, where I feel good. And then, at that moment, I see—like images from a movie—the places where I have walked in the past week, and some places attract me, and something is waiting for me in the end.”

. . . .

Tomic generally worked alone, scaling walls, leaping between rooftops, and picking locks. Once inside an apartment, he looked first for jewelry, because it was valuable and easy to sell. A burglary that took less than two hours often yielded enough cash to support him for six months on the French Riviera. In his letters, he recounted robbing various Parisian luminaries, including the French-Caribbean singer Henri Salvador and the Egyptian royal family. (He boasted to me that he stole “gold buttons” and some of “Lawrence of Arabia’s medals” from the Egyptians.)

Tomic often returned to an apartment many times without taking anything, in order to find the most expensive-looking items. He adopted this strategy when robbing the apartment of the designer Philippe Starck, in 2004. Starck recently told me, “I never knew anything about my burglar, but I’ve always had respect for his style—an admiration for his temerity—and a sort of intimate affection for him after I discovered that he’d been practically living with us in the apartment for a few days, spending his time sawing into my poor, small safety box without even disturbing us. It was very much a Gentleman Burglar situation, Arsène Lupin style.” (Lupin, the quintessential debonair thief, was invented by the French novelist Maurice Leblanc, in 1905.) Starck went on, “The only shadow was that the only thing he stole was my daughter’s jewelry—her only heritage from her deceased mother.”

. . . .

Many of the luxurious apartments that Tomic broke into had valuable paintings, but he tried to resist taking them, knowing that they would be difficult to unload. “To sell them was dangerous, and I didn’t have reliable sources abroad in order to flog them to collectors or receivers,” he told me. Occasionally, though, the allure of the art proved overwhelming, and Tomic took what he found—including, he says, works by Degas and Signac. “A decent amount passed through my home,” he wrote. He hid some pieces in a cellar, “and some stayed with me for a long time, on the wall, and it’s in these cases that I fell in love.”

This might sound like braggadocio, but Tomic did make off with some masterpieces. In the fall of 2000, in an episode that subsequently made the papers in France, he used a crossbow with ropes and carabiners to sneak into an apartment while its occupants were asleep and stole two Renoirs, a Derain, an Utrillo, a Braque, and various other works—a haul worth more than a million euros.

In May, 2010, Tomic was walking near the Seine when he came upon a large Art Deco building. Looking through a window, he noticed a Cubist painting hanging on the wall. Tomic later learned that the building was the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, known as the mam. But it was the style of thewindow, rather than the Cubist painting, that caught Tomic’s interest. He glanced up: there were cameras on the roof. Tomic walked up to one of the building’s other windows, which was blocked from the security cameras by a parapet. Studying the window’s metal frame, he became convinced that it was the same type that, years earlier, he had disassembled, screw by screw, in a heist. He took out a pocket knife, chipped away at the paint on the frame, and examined the screws that were embedded in the metal. He could easily break in, he decided. It astounded him that nobody had considered this vulnerability. “This made me realize that luck and my past experience were at a rendezvous,” he wrote. “I even asked myself if I was not in another dimension at that time.”

. . . .

On May 14, 2010, in the early hours of the morning, Tomic walked up to a window that faced an esplanade where skateboarders congregated during the day. At around 3 a.m., he saw a guard briefly patrol the galleries, then walk off. Tomic was carrying a piece of dark cloth, and he hung it like a curtain on the outside of the window, to give himself cover. Then he got to work on the window. It took him six nights to finish the job. First, he dabbed the window frame with paint-stripping acid, exposing the head of each screw. Then, after applying another solution, to eliminate rust, he removed the screws and filled the holes with brown modelling clay that matched the color of the window frame. It was a painstaking process, and Tomic didn’t rush.

A few hours before dawn on May 20th, Tomic returned to the site, in a hooded sweatshirt, with two suction cups, and silently pulled out the window. There was a lock holding a grate in place; using bolt cutters, he broke the lock. He entered the museum briefly, avoiding the few working motion detectors. Then he left and retreated to the banks of the Seine, where he waited for fifteen minutes, to insure that he hadn’t set off a silent alarm.

When Tomic went back inside, he spotted the Léger painting, took it off the wall, and maneuvered it out of its frame. He now had an object Corvez prized, but, standing in the museum in the dim light and the silence, he began staring at Matisse’s “Pastoral.” A Fauvist canvas from 1905, it depicts three pale nudes resting while a fourth figure, rendered in bronze tones, plays a flute. “I saw a deep, vivid landscape,” he recalled. “And the little devil playing his flute out of nowhere, as if by magic, as if he were the guardian of this environment.” He took it off the wall.

Then he noticed Modigliani’s “Woman with a Fan,” a portrait of the artist’s muse and obsession, Lunia Czechowska. Tomic fixated on the image, which depicted Czechowska in a yellow dress, her eyes a cloudy white. “The woman in the picture was worthy of a living being, ready to dance a tango,” he wrote to me. “It could have almost been reality.” He stole the Modigliani, too.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Most artists

Most artists are brought to their vocation when their own nascent gifts are awakened by the work of a master. That is to say, most artists are converted to art by art itself. Finding one’s voice isn’t just an emptying and purifying oneself of the words of others but an adopting and embracing of filiations, communities, and discourses. Inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos.

~ Lewis Hyde

Open Access: Germany’s De Gruyter Signs ‘Read and Publish’ Deal

From Publishing Perspectives:

The Berlin-based independent publisher De Gruyter has announced this week the signing of a “read and publish” agreement with Iowa State University Library, the first of its kind for the German house in North America.

The three-year pilot agreement, according to the publisher’s media messaging, “allows for all articles written by authors at Iowa State University to be made open access immediately upon publication.

“In addition, Iowa State patrons will be provided with access to De Gruyter’s “Research Now by De Gruyter” package, which includes all De Gruyter journals that are subscribed to by North American ARL institutions.”

De Gruyter’s “hybrid journal pricing structure” is in play here, with journal subscription prices adjusted based on the percentage of open access articles. A deep discount is provided, as well, the company says, “to Iowa State authors who publish their articles in one of De Gruyter’s many pure open access journals.”

. . . .

OA2020 is to a Munich-based collaborative effort signed by institutions in many parts of the world to replace “the subscription business model with new models that ensure outputs are open and re-usable and that the costs behind their dissemination are transparent and economically sustainable.”

The endorsement carries several stipulations to which signatories agree.

First, they’re asked if they agree that:

  • Researchers should retain full rights to share their work and the freedom to publish in the journals of their choice and participate in the publishing services they wish
  • The current subscription model, with its ever-rising paywalls, is an unsustainable barrier to the full fruition of scientific research and the fundamental objectives of open access
  • Scholarly publishing should be supported with economically sustainable and transparent business models and released from the constraints of an obsolete system of dissemination

And then they’re asked to promote the primary principle: “We aim to transform a majority of today’s scholarly journals from subscription to OA publishing in accordance with community-specific publication preferences. At the same time, we continue to support new and improved forms of OA publishing.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Binding the Ghost: On the Physicality of Literature

From The Millions:

At Piazza Maunzio Bufalini 1 in Cesena, Italy, there is a stately sandstone building of buttressed reading rooms, Venetian windows, and extravagant masonry that holds slightly under a half-million volumes, including manuscripts, codices, incunabula, and print. Commissioned by Malatesta Novello in the 15th century, the Malatestiana Library opened its intricately carved walnut door to readers in 1454, at the height of the Italian Renaissance. The nobleman who funded the library had his architects borrow from ecclesiastical design: The columns of its rooms evoke temples, its seats the pews that would later line cathedrals, its high ceilings as if in monasteries.

Committed humanist that he was, Novello organized the volumes of his collection through an idiosyncratic system of classification that owed more to the occultism of Neo-Platonist philosophers like Marsilio Ficino, who wrote in nearby Florence, or Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, who would be born shortly after its opening, than to the arid categorization of something like our contemporary Dewey Decimal System. For those aforementioned philosophers, microcosm and macrocosm were forever nestled into and reflecting one another across the long line of the great chain of being, and so Novello’s library was organized in a manner that evoked the connections of both the human mind in contemplation as well as the universe that was to be contemplated itself. Such is the sanctuary described by Matthew Battles in Library: An Unquiet Historywhere a reader can lift a book and test its heft, can appraise “the fall of letterforms on the title page, scrutinizing marks left by other readers … startled into a recognition of the world’s materiality by the sheer number of bound volumes; by the sound of pages turning, covers rubbing; by the rank smell of books gathered together in vast numbers.”

. . . .

There were libraries that celebrated curiosity before, like the one at Alexandria whose scholars demanded that the original of every book brought to port be deposited within while a reproduction would be returned to the owner. And there were collections that embodied cosmopolitanism, such as that in the Villa of Papyri, owned by Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, the uncle of Julius Caesar, which excavators discovered in the ash of Herculaneum, and that included sophisticated philosophical and poetic treatises by Epicurus and the Stoic Chrysopsis. But what made the Malatestiana so remarkable wasn’t its collections per se (though they are), but rather that it was built not for the singular benefit of the Malatesta family, nor for a religious community, and that unlike in monastic libraries, its books were not rendered into place by a heavy chain. The Bibliotheca Malatestiana would be the first of a type—a library for the public.

Link to the rest at The Millions

Here are a couple of photos of the Malatestiana Library:

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Diego Baglieri [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

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È permesso copiare, distribuire e/o modificare questo documento in base ai termini della GNU Free Documentation License, Versione 1.2 o successive pubblicata dalla Free Software Foundation; senza alcuna sezione non modificabile, senza testo di copertina e senza testo di quarta di copertina. Una copia della licenza è inclusa nella sezione intitolata Testo della GNU Free Documentation License. Questo file è licenziato in base ai termini della licenza Creative Commons Attribuzione-Condividi allo stesso modo 3.0 Unported

There is an anti-privilege mood. It is hard to see private schools escaping unscathed

From The Guardian:

David Kynaston is a historian who has written books on postwar Britain, the City of London and cricket. His latest book, co-written with his old school friend Francis Green, is called Engines of Privilege: Britain’s Private School Problem, and focuses on the unfair advantage offered by the independent education sector.

You are known for your forensic histories of modern Britain. What inspired this book?
It’s an issue I’ve become deeply interested in since my sons went to a state grammar school in 2007. They both played football for their school and standing on the touchline when they played against local private and state schools I saw the full spectrum of the unequal allocation of resources, the huge difference in the quality of facilities at state and private schools. The unfairness hit me terribly hard. A few years later in 2014 I gave the Orwell lecture, focusing on the private school question, and then at the end of that year my son George and I wrote a piece on the history and cultural significance of private schools in the New Statesman, which provoked five further articles the following week. That was the moment that made me think this was an issue that had some traction.

You argue that private schools add significantly to a child’s socioeconomic opportunities. What do you think would have happened to you, had you not attended Wellington college?
If one has had a very privileged education and then one achieves anything in adult life, there’s always that nagging thought – how much is down to the fact that one had good fortune and others didn’t? The academic advantages conferred by the private school are not dramatic but significant, and cumulatively over the course of a childhood they amount to quite a lot.

. . . .

What tangible advantages did going to private school give you?
In my case, boarding school provided an escape from my parents’ divorce. I was nine when it happened and school was friendly and cosy and it was nice to have another world to go to. Later, I had three very good history teachers and they really got me flying intellectually. In some ways I had better history teaching at school than I did when I was at Oxford. But perhaps the most important thing it gave me was confidence. Private-school students are taught that they are going to do well in life. That makes a huge psychological difference growing up.

There has been a discussion about reforming private schools for decades. Why has it not got anywhere?
I think the liberal left find it a difficult issue because parents want to do the best for their children and if they can afford it they’ll often educate their children privately, and that’s entirely understandable. But attitudes become very entrenched when people have made a significant financial investment. And if one’s been privately educated oneself there’s the question of having advantages that others have not had, and then throwing away the ladder one’s climbed up oneself.

. . . .

Should we bring back grammar schools?
It is an important question and I am a bit conflicted. When grammar schools were phased out at the end of the 1960s, something was lost. At that point, they were offering real academic competition to the private schools. But you also had the problem of selection, division within families and three quarters of the population being written off. I think overall there was a good case for abolition but it was a debatable case. I am not nearly as unsympathetic towards grammars as I am towards private schools.

What should be done now?
There’s obviously the question of outright abolition, but in our view to aim at that is impractical because it would be such a difficult thing to achieve. My starting point is where we are at the moment, with these highly resourced schools for, on the whole, children of wealthy parents, entrenching already existing advantages. So anything, in a sense, is better than where we are now. We’ve put our emphasis on changing the social composition of the schools. We call for a fair access scheme in which, initially, 33% of pupils at private schools would be state-subsidised.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG says the Constitutional prohibition against titles of nobility is one of the lesser-known of the many wise decisions the founders of the United States made as they were crafting the fundamental legal principles that govern the United States.

OTOH, PG attended US public schools.

By any reasonable academic standards, PG’s high school would not have been highly-ranked. Out of 22 members (No, that’s not a typo) in his high school graduating class, only three completed college.

In college, many of PG’s classmates were graduates from private schools or top-ranked public high schools. He has to admit he never felt any injustice because they were more educationally privileged than he was nor did he feel any lasting harm arising from his own pre-college educational experiences.

PG sees no net benefit from any sort of limitation on or prohibition of private schools. If any individual is well-educated, regardless of the source of such education, PG thinks the larger society benefits.

PG knows a small number of families who have home-schooled their children with excellent results. No public funds were expended to pay for that education. Recently one of those families sent a daughter aged 16 and a son aged 14 to a local university and the children have adapted very successfully with excellent academic results. In another family, the oldest son has become a practicing physician as are several of his first cousins who were also home-schooled.

PG suggests that improving substandard schools while leaving those that are performing well alone is the most rational approach. Interfering with schools that are producing properly-educated graduates while being supported by private tuition payments and donations is the height of foolishness, especially where alternatives to such private education have not demonstrated they are able to deliver similar results.

 

 

This is The Best Work Keyboard

From Co-op:

After much debate, our readers chose the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000 as their favorite work keyboard. This was a really tight contest with each entry netting over 15% of the vote. In fact, each of the runner-ups are worth checking out.

. . . .

Here’s why our readers picked Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000:

. . . .

I have a couple of MS Ergo 4000s sitting on a shelf at home, because I’ve got 3 in use (2x at Home, and 1 at work) and they’re fantastic, until they get grungy. My only complaint is that they are virtually impossible to clean right, so when they get gross, just toss it and deploy another.

I am an *extremely* heavy user, and I can get 2+ years out of one. I can type at speed, and for a membrane, they are great. If MS could get off their ass and make a high-end version with mechanical (replaceable?) switches, it would be damn near perfect. Also, if you have large hands, it’s wayyyyyyy more comfortable than many other more compact ergos. -ellomdian

Link to the rest at Co-op

PG has been typing for a long time.

His first experiences with a variety of keyboards came when all proper keyboards had their keys lined up in perfectly straight rows.

PG’s mother was a very fast typist, even on the ancient manual typewriter that was the only one available when PG was but a sprout. She provided excellent advice to him on a variety of topics, but one of her best pieces of advice was that he should take a typing course in high school.

That typing course introduced him to Smith-Corona electric typewriters, which were a definite speed improvement, particularly since PG could hit a key for a carriage return instead of lifting his hands from the keyboard and slapping a lever to physically move the carriage to the left so he could start a new line.

While PG was still in high school, he had his first experience with an IBM Selectric, which was a big step up from the Smith-Corona in speed and in the visual appeal of the finished product. The Correcting Selectric was even better. It removed the concern about typos which invariably slowed typing.  You could fix the typos very quickly and easily and Whiteout was banished forever.

With the advent of personal computers, PG quickly became a keyboard snob.  His first upgrade was Northgate keyboard, which add a wonderful mechanical “clicky” feel to it. He used various Northgate keyboards for several years before trying out an early Microsoft ergonomic keyboard.

He’s used Microsoft keyboards ever since. He is on MS Ergo keyboard number five or six at this point.

Code Name: Lise

From The Wall Street Journal:

In October 1942, Odette Sansom, a housewife turned British spy, was holed up on Gibraltar waiting for passage to Nazi-occupied France to begin her mission. She had left her three daughters at a convent school in England, a decision so painful, she later said, that it paled in comparison to Nazi torture. She had endured training, learning to shoot, detonate explosives, encode messages and navigate by compass at night. She had tried and failed four times to get to France. At last she was just a boat ride away, but the Polish seaman charged with taking her refused.

She was a woman, he said. France was no place for her. Would she like to go dancing with him in Gibraltar instead?

Sansom was relentless. She would get there even if she had to swim, she told him. He commented that she would look good in a bathing suit. In the end, she did the only thing she could—she got him so drunk that he gave in.

Odette Sansom, née Brailly, would go on to become the most decorated woman of World War II—a member of the Order of the British Empire, a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, and the first woman awarded the George Cross, an award for “acts of the greatest heroism.” Her story was first told in print in 1949, followed by a film re-enactment the next year that made her a national heroine. It has been retold many times since. In “Code Name: Lise,” Larry Loftis tells it again for a new generation, reweaving the usual account of her wartime activities into a kind of nonfiction thriller.

It is a story that is inherently thrilling. “Shortly after ten the mist began to dissipate,” Mr. Loftis begins, “leaving them partially exposed.” He then flashes back to give a glimpse of Sansom’s childhood. Born in Amiens, France, she grew up visiting her father’s grave every Sunday with her brother and grandparents. A war hero, he had been killed in action when she was 6. When war returns, her grandfather said, it will be your duty to do as well as your father did.

. . . .

In 1942, when the Admiralty asked civilians to send in photos of the French coastline for possible war use, Sansom mistakenly sent hers to the War Office. That was how she came to the attention of Col. Maurice Buckmaster of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a sabotage and espionage outfit formed in 1940. Its mission, according to Winston Churchill, was to “set Europe ablaze.” Nicknamed the Baker Street Irregulars, due to the location of its London headquarters, the group was also known by other names—“The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” and “Churchill’s Secret Army.”

Buckmaster was particularly interested in finding recruits who could pass as locals. Sansom’s native French made her a natural asset, but she was initially considered too temperamental to serve. “She is impulsive and hasty in her judgments,” read one evaluation, “and has not quite the clarity of mind which is desirable in subversive activity.” It also noted, however, her “patriotism and keenness to do something for France.” Despite these reservations, the SOE sent her on.

. . . .

Sansom and Peter Churchill were arrested in April 1943 and sent to Fresnes Prison, outside of Paris. She was interrogated by the Gestapo 14 times and tortured, her back scorched with a red-hot poker and all of her toenails pulled out. Still, she refused to disclose the locations of other agents. She deflected attention from Peter, claiming to be the brains of the operation, and also cleverly made use of his famous name. Though Peter was not related to the great prime minister, Sansom said he was—and that she was his wife. That ruse is almost certainly what saved both of their lives. She was condemned to death on two counts. (“Gentlemen, you must take your pick of the counts,” she retorted. “I can only die once.”)

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal


Rather than love

Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.

~ Henry David Thoreau

I want love to be simple. I want to trust without thinking. I want to be generous with my affection and patience and love unconditionally. It is easier to love a person with their flaws than to weed through them. I want to love the whole person, not parts; and this is how I want to be loved.”

~ Jewel Kilcher

Give me a woman who loves beer and I will conquer the world.

~ Kaiser Wilhelm

Give me love and work – these two only.

~ William Morris

What It Felt Like When “Cat Person” Went Viral

From The New Yorker:

In the fall of 2017, I was finishing up lunch at a Noodles & Company in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when I saw that I’d missed a call from a 212 area code. I thought, I bet my story just got into The New Yorker. This was an unusual assumption for me to make, given that, at that point, I’d had a single story accepted in a print literary magazine; the rest of my published work was available only in online genre venues, like Body Parts Magazine and Weird Fiction Review. The story I’d submitted to The New Yorker had already been rejected, politely, by every other publication I’d sent it to, but, a few weeks earlier, my agent had received an e-mail from Deborah Treisman, The New Yorker’s fiction editor, which read, in its entirety:

Hi Jenni,

I just want to apologize for holding onto this one for so long. It’s an intriguing piece and I have it circulating here now, so should be able to get back to you in the next week or two.

Sorry to keep you waiting,

Deborah

If you are not in the habit of submitting short stories to literary magazines, this might not seem like such a big deal to you, but, when I learned that the fiction editor of The New Yorker knew my name, I was so thrilled that I forwarded the e-mail to my mother.

. . . .

On Monday, December 4th, my story “Cat Person” came out in the magazine and online. I posted the link on my Facebook page, at which point nearly everyone I’d ever met either liked it or sent me a message saying “congratulations,” and I responded “thank you!!!” Then a bunch of my friends took me out for drinks at a local cocktail bar and, after that, it was pretty much over.

Except that it wasn’t. Three days later, I was sitting in a coffee shop with my girlfriend, Callie, trying to write, when she looked up from her computer and said, “There’s something going on with your story.” Callie is also a writer, and she used to work in publishing, so she was much more connected to the literary Internet than I was. She seemed slightly unnerved. “It’s just Twitter,” I said, with the smug dismissiveness of a thirtysomething late millennial who had tweeted a grand total of twelve times in her life. Callie tried to explain what was happening; I failed to understand. Then I went home, fired up Twitter, and saw that I had a bunch of notifications from strangers. I was reading through them when my mom called about something unrelated. I tried to explain to her what was happening, and then she went online herself and, at some point, she said, “Oh, my God, Kristen, someone Barack Obama follows just retweeted your story.” Then she burst into tears.

In brief, “Cat Person” is a story about two characters—Margot, a twenty-year-old college student, and Robert, a man in his mid-thirties—who go on a single bad date. The story is told in the close third person, and much of it is spent describing Margot’s thought process as she realizes that she does not want to have sex with Robert but then decides, for a variety of reasons, to go through with it anyway. When the story appeared online, young women began sharing it among themselves; they said it captured something that they had also experienced: the sense that there is a point at which it is “too late” to say no to a sexual encounter. They also talked, more broadly, about the phenomenon of unwanted sex that came about not through the use of physical force but because of a poisoned cocktail of emotions and cultural expectations—embarrassment, pride, self-consciousness, and fear. What had started as a conversation among women was then taken up and folded into a much larger debate that played out, for the most part, between men and women, its flames fanned by the Internet controversy machine.

. . . .

I remember the e-mails coming and coming—first, fan letters from people who’d discovered my story and liked it, then anti-fan letters, from people who’d discovered my story and didn’t. I received many in-depth descriptions, from men, of sexual encounters they’d had, because they thought I’d “just like to know.” I got e-mails from people I hadn’t talked to in years who wondered if I’d noticed that my story had gone viral.

. . . .

I’d wanted people to be able to see themselves in the story, to identify with it in such a way that its narrative scaffolding would disappear. But, perhaps inevitably, as the story was shared again and again, moving it further and further from its original context, people began conflating me, the author, with the main character. Sometimes this was blunt (“What, The New Yorker is just publishing diary entries now?”) and other times it was subtler: the assumption was that I’d be happy to go on the radio and explain why young women in 2018 were still struggling to achieve satisfying sex lives—in other words, the assumption was that my own position and history would be identical to Margot’s. I was thirty-six years old and a few months into my first serious relationship with a woman, and now everyone wanted me to explain why twenty-year-old girls were having bad sex with men.

. . . .

So what was it like to have a story go viral? For a few hours, before I came to my senses and shut down my computer, I got to live the dream and the nightmare of knowing exactly what people thought when they read what I’d written, as well as what they thought about me. A torrent of unvarnished, unpolished opinion was delivered directly to my eyes and my brain.

. . . .

I want people to read my stories—of course I do. That’s why I write them. But knowing, in that immediate and unmediated way, what people thought about my writing felt . . . the word I keep reaching for, even though it seems melodramatic, is annihilating. To be faced with all those people thinking and talking about me was like standing alone, at the center of a stadium, while thousands of people screamed at me at the top of their lungs. Not for me, at me. I guess some people might find this exhilarating. I did not.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker and here’s a link to Cat Person.

Publisher to Netflix: Choose your own trademark

From Fast Company:

Black Mirror creators may have wanted viewers to choose their own adventure on Bandersnatch, but they ended up somewhere unexpected—in a lawsuit with the owners of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” trademark.

Chooseco, LLC, the publisher behind the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series and owner of the trademark, has filed a lawsuit against Netflix over the immersive film Black Mirror: BandersnatchThe Hollywood Reporter reports. According to the suit, it’s not that Netflix didn’t realize the phrase “choose your own adventure” was a trademark; it’s that it wasn’t able to secure a license from the company and used the phrase anyway.

“Chooseco and Netflix engaged in extensive negotiations that were ongoing for a number of years, but Netflix did not receive a license,” states the complaint, per THR.

. . . .

And as a result, Chooseco argues, the Choose Your Own Adventure brand was sullied by being connected to the intensely bleak show.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

12 books that CEOs think you should read in 2019

From Fast Company:

If you’re a founder or aspiring entrepreneur, perhaps you’re looking to round out your reading list for 2019 with a few inspiring business reads. We asked entrepreneurs to offer their book recommendations for the new year, including both recent releases and older favorites.

. . . .

BECOMING BY MICHELLE OBAMA

Everyone has a journey on the road to success, paved with triumphs and disappointments that are often invisible to the outside world. It’s a gift to read Mrs. Obama’s authentic and candid story that reflects the experience of so many of us. –Lisa Skeete Tatum, CEO of career management startup Landit

. . . .

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW BY DANIEL KAHNEMAN

Daniel Kahneman, the author, is a nobel laureate and psychologist who has dedicated most of his career to understanding the mechanisms for decision-making. This book is an exploration of the two “systems” we use to form judgements: System 1, which is more or less impulse and strongly swayed by emotion, and System 2, which is how we solve long division problems–our slower and more analytical thought processes. What’s fascinating is how often we fall into “cognitive illusions” or “cognitive bias” because of our dependencies on System 1. We are all trying to make better decisions more quickly, and this book gives really actionable advice on how to do this while explaining why we are the way we are. –Nicole Centeno, CEO of food startup Splendid Spoon

. . . .

DARING GREATLY: HOW THE COURAGE TO BE VULNERABLE TRANSFORMS THE WAY WE LIVE, LOVE, PARENT, AND LEAD BY BRENÉ BROWN

I get recommendations for business books all the time that are incredibly interesting, but I sometimes find that the books that actually impact my business are ones that have nothing to do with commerce. I’m a big fan of Brené Brown and her work on vulnerability and empathy. Her book Daring Greatly is a fantastic work that has helped inform how Maiden Home interacts with the ecosystem we’re building between our craftsmen partners in North Carolina, the Maiden Home team in New York, and our customers all over the U.S. –Nidhi Kapur, CEO of furniture startup Maiden Home

Link to the rest at Fast Company

Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship rests on a theory of economy and society. The theory sees change as normal and indeed as healthy. And it sees the major task in society – and especially in the economy – as doing something different rather than doing better what is already being done. This is basically what Say, two hundred years ago, meant when he coined the term entrepreneur.

~ Peter Drucker

Amazon eyes closed Sears stores for Whole Foods expansion

From Yahoo Finance:

While some traditional retailers are having a hard time keeping their doors open, Amazon-owned Whole Foods has been gearing up to rapidly expand into more regions.

Grocery chain Whole Foods is eyeing sites that were previously home to Sears, Kmart and other struggling retailers, sources told Yahoo Finance.

Last month, for instance, Whole Foods managers visited a site in Utah that used to host a Kmart store. The store shut down in mid-2017 among its parent company’s financial woes and has been vacant ever since.

Whole Foods now has more than 470 stores around the country, still a far cry from its competitors in the grocery space, including Walmart and Kroger. Eighteen months after Amazon’s acquisition, Whole Foods now has the money to open new locations in areas that were once out of reach, including states like Wyoming and Montana.

. . . .

Landlords are also increasingly interested in signing grocery and food retailers because they can help drive foot traffic to a strip mall, according to Saunders.

Whole Foods didn’t respond to request for comments, but Jim Sud, executive vice president of growth and business development at the grocery chain, echoed the strategy of using existing stores at a retail real estate event in Dallas on Tuesday.

“First and foremost, we’re looking for the best location we can find. So if that’s an existing center–second generation space — that meets all of our criteria… we’ll jump all over it,” said Sud.

Link to the rest at Yahoo Finance

Bookstores and Libraries (Planning for 2019 Part 3)

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

If you’re a writer and, more specifically, if you’re an indie writer, there’s a lot of opportunity in the bookstore and library markets. Yes, indeedy, I’m talking brick-and-mortar stuff.

First, a reminder: I’m doing a short series reviewing 2018 with an eye toward 2019. If you have not read the first post in this series, please do so. I will be referring to it throughout the series.  In fact, I’d recommend that you read the entire series in order, simply because I’ll be referring to things in one post that I mentioned in a previous post. Otherwise, I’d be repeating myself ad infinitum.

. . . .

If you only saw my post on Barnes & Noble back in October, you’d think that all bookstores were in deep trouble. Barnes & Noble is in trouble. Despite the happy sunny much-too-upbeat headlines about B&N in December, the trouble remains.

The headlines are great, like this one from goodereader.com which says “Barnes & Noble Plans to Open 15 New Stores in 2019.”Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Thriving businesses expand, right?

But you need to actually read past the headline. Barnes & Noble is actually cutting back retail space, and probably cutting back on expensive leases. They’re going from stores that are at least 17,000 square feet to stores that are 14,000 square feet or less. And they’re moving those smaller stores to “entertainment districts or cultural centers.”

Um, you know, like independent bookstores. Only Barnes & Noble will have a self-serve kiosk and a “book theater” (whatever the hell that is) and “plenty of comfortable community seating areas.”

So, less space for books and less interaction with employees, but also lower rents (most likely) and less money invested in inventory.

In my opinion as a long-time retailer, this is about ten years too late for B&N, and I doubt it will fool their investors.

My analysis from October remains the same. If you’re a writer who wants to be traditionally published so that you have high visibility, you are making a bad choice. With B&N reducing shelf space and putting the final nail in the coffin of what once made their brand unique (having so many books on the shelves that readers could find almost anything), most traditionally published books will not be on the shelves in a brick-and-mortar B&N.

. . . .

The other cloud hovering over the horizon, at least for traditionally published writers, is the possible merger between the two remaining large distributors in the United States. On December 4, Shelf Awareness reported  that the Federal Trade Commission is doing a “preliminary nonpublic investigation” of a merger between Ingram and Baker & Taylor, the two big distributors to see if such a merger would violate antitrust law.

If this merger goes through, the United States would be down to one major book distributor for the entire country. Shelf Awareness opined in its article that the single distributor would have a role that would “be all the more significant because of the closure of most regional book wholesalers over the past quarter century.”

Shelf Awareness also wonders if the changes at Barnes & Noble, and the possible sale of Baker & Taylor by its parent company Follett are related. Shelf Awareness believes that Follett is one of the possible buyers of Barnes & Noble, saying:

Follett may want to sell B&T if it aspires to buy B&N, an approach that would lessen FTC concerns and avoid B&T’s non-B&N retail customers objecting and possibly taking their business elsewhere.

For traditionally published writers, the merger could be a serious problem. If, for example, a writer’s traditional publisher gets into a pissing contest with the merged distributor (Ingram Baker Taylor?) the way that the Big 5 got into a pissing contest with Amazon a few years back (a contest that continues on a small level even today), then many books won’t get into the major print distribution channel, and the very reason the writer went to a traditional publisher disappears.

. . . .

More likely, however, for traditionally published writers in this scenario is that their book is the fourth or fifth on the list published that month by an imprint. Publishers invest a lot of money in the top of the list, but rarely invest in the books farther down. Some of those books don’t even make it into the current distribution system, and might be shut out entirely of a single distributor who might mandate that they only take three books per imprint from a publisher. (These things happen all the time.)

If a writer is going to lose control of her copyright for the life of that copyright by going to a traditional publisher, then the writer needs guarantees that the book will visit all the possible store shelves, and get enough visibility to make such a loss worthwhile. But that kind of guarantee is getting harder and harder, and the physical store shelves have gotten smaller and smaller.

. . . .

The consolidation of the distributors will harm the sales of the blockbusters more than it will harm the smaller titles, further causing problems for the big traditional publishers. And you can already see some cracks in that blockbuster façade. For example, when Simon & Schuster released its year-end letter to stockholders, there was no discussion at all of increased sales of the front list (new) titles. Instead, CEO Carolyn Reidy’s claim that 2018 was S&S’s most successful year appears to be based on the growing audiobook division and a new attention to backlist sales. (And the audiobook division news will be part of the copyright discussions we will have later in this series.)

S&S is developing its own distribution line, which, in turn, will have a benefit for smaller publishers and indie writers. The more the big guns run their own distribution systems, the more they train booksellers to order direct from the publisher, cutting out the middleman.

Which means that small publishers and indie writer/publishers will benefit from the willingness of booksellers to order direct.

. . . .

Retailing is changing. The experience is becoming king. Besides, readers have discovered (remembered?) that it’s fun to go into a bookstore to find a book they didn’t even know existed. It’s easier to browse a brick and mortar store. And it’s not just about buying the book.

According to Washington D.C. economic development planner Ryan Hand (quoted in MarketWatch):

Shopping for a book is an emotional experience. The future of bookstores are small and mixed concept stores. [They will be] social spaces where you develop that emotional connection by books that are curated by literature nerds.

I had just such an emotional experience as I was researching this post. I stumbled upon an article in The Wisconsin State Journal about A Room Of One’s Own Bookstore in Madison, Wisconsin. Even though I culled my book collection way down on our move, I still have several books I purchased at A Room Of One’s Own decades ago, and I have very fond memories of the store.

. . . .

In many ways, these trends in bookselling mean that each bookstore will have its own unique inventory. A Room Of One’s Own in Madison won’t have the same books on its shelf as Writer’s Block here in Las Vegas. Some small booksellers will be amenable to carrying print titles from local authors; other small booksellers will not. Some, like a rabid anti-Amazon bookseller that I know in Oregon, refuse to take a book from any writer who publishes through Amazon. As one of those writers, I stopped recommending that bookstore.

The bookstores will develop personalities again, so that when readers travel, they’ll want to stop in the local bookstore—not to pick up the latest bestseller, but to see what kinds of offers that they might have missed in their own hometowns.

. . . .

As ebooks disrupted traditional publishing, traditional publishers have not figured out how to deal with libraries. When a traditional publisher sells a hardcover book to a library, that book gets only so many check-outs before it literally disintegrates and the library has to replace the book. Traditional publishers, faced with unlimited downloads of an ebook sold to a library, had no clue how to price the damn things.

And so began a quiet little war between traditional publishers and libraries that hit its zenith last summer when McMillan decided to “embargo” Tor science fiction and fantasy titles from libraries for four months after release.

Or, to put it in clearer terms, McMillan believed (based on no evidence at all) that library users would spend those four months buying the books they couldn’t get at the library. No journalist asked why they chose to make this move with their Tor book line only.

I suspect the reason was twofold: Tor’s sales have never been all that great, so they’re probably on an internal bubble (about to be chopped off if they don’t become profitable by a specific date) and some stupid logic that all businesses seem to have about science fiction and fantasy—that their consumers are cutting edge because those consumers read about the future.

Traditional publishers have long seen libraries as their enemy. This is because traditional publishers are a B2B (business to business) entity not a B2C (business to consumer) entity. In other words, publishers believe they sell their books to bookstores and retail outlets, not to readers. The bookstore is the B2C business, not the publisher.

. . . .

Let’s look at some information, shall we? This is from the U.S. based Institute of Museum and Library Services, for fiscal year 2016 (the last time these statistics were available):

(The IMLS annual Public Library Survey) shows that public libraries continue to evolve to meet changing community needs. More than 171 million registered users, representing over half of the nearly 311 million Americans who lived within a public library service area, visited public libraries over 1.35 billion times in 2016. Public libraries offered half a million more programs in 2016 than in 2015; 113 million people attended 5.2 million programs in 2016. In addition, the number of electronic materials continued to grow, with public libraries offering over 391 million e-books to their patrons in the United States.

The Library Journal reports that 25% of the collection materials in public libraries are ebooks. Potash told LJ that the publishing industry’s B2B problem means that it has no idea how many (paper) books libraries ordered because the orders were fulfilled by paper distributors.

Potash said,

…prior to ebooks, even the publishers never knew which libraries bought their books or how many copies, because [library orders] were being fulfilled by the traditional wholesale distributors…. Authors and agents aren’t appreciating that libraries are spending hundreds of millions of dollars…in print and digital, which is contributing to their earnings.

That shows up in the behavior of traditional publishers. They continue to treat libraries like a problem rather than an important part of the book ecosystem.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.



.
A few weeks ago, PG posted a bit about his interaction with an early book wholesaler many years ago. He suggests that the long period of time it has taken for traditional publishers to decide to cut out these middlepersons and ship direct is Exhibit 2,507,438 in PG’s ongoing indictment of what terrible business managers inhabit the world of traditional publishing.

Publishers’ inability to understand the benefits of the marketing and promotional exposure their books gain through libraries is #2,507,439.

PG is less optimistic about the future of physical books and physical bookstores than Kris is.

PG has a long association with physical books. He was fortunate as a child that his mother took him and his siblings to the closest library on a regular basis and made certain there were always books around the house. PG worked in a large university library during his freshman year in college and became an expert at quickly locating books in the huge stacks where few mortals ever trod. When the PG offspring were young, the family visited a Borders on an almost-weekly basis to acquire more books and frequently stopped in at the local library as well.

When Mrs. PG was first published, PG attended a great many book signings at physical bookstores with her. For a period of about three years, the PG’s lived about 10 minutes away from a classic and well-known bookstore, a frequent stop for major authors traveling on national book promotion tours. Mrs. PG did a number of book signings at the store and the PG family frequently visited that bookstore on shopping trips as well.

Even after aggressive culling of the family book collection, PG still sees eight jammed bookcases, each 6 feet tall, whenever he walks out of his office. There are three other large (and jammed) bookcases elsewhere in Casa PG plus books on every coffee table, nightstand, etc., and a few corners where books are stacked on the floor.

PG has inserted that long history as a prelude for saying he doesn’t want to acquire any more physical books, in part because he knows he won’t read them. He can see several examples of unread physical books from where he sits. He much prefers to read ebooks now. The only time he is likely to touch a physical book these days is when he reads poetry to some of the third generation offspring (who are each extremely adept with an iPad).

On those rare occasions when the PG’s enter a physical bookstore, he’s pretty bored and neither of them have purchased a physical book other than as a gift for several years. PG feels no emotional thrill while wandering around looking at the books.

Perhaps PG is an outlier, but he doesn’t think so. He has not been inside a busy bookstore for several years now.

Even assuming that PG’s generation includes many who feel the excitement Kris describes when she discusses some of the attractive and unique bookstores she mentions in the OP, what about the younger generations?

PG submits that music stores were not all that different than bookstores a few years ago, with people of varying ages going in to feel the ambiance, listen to the latest releases and discuss artists and songs with other music aficionados. On Friday and Saturday nights, it wasn’t unusual for a local band to play at some of those stores. Buying a record or a CD in a music store was undoubtedly an emotional experience for many.

What happened to those music stores?

iTunes happened.

Today, only a small fraction of music enthusiasts buy or care about music on physical media. Everybody downloads music from iTunes or other online music retailers. How would you play anything but downloaded music on your smartphone?

PG is informed audiophiles believe that the quality of downloaded music is not as good as music written to CD’s or vinyl, but how many music lovers are interested?

PG would love to hear a reason why digital music and digital books are inherently unlike each other and why physical books will have a unique ability to survive as a mass medium when music in physically recorded form has not.

Amazon will win advertising dollars away from Facebook amid privacy concerns

From re/code:

Amazon could double its ad revenue among top US ad buyers in the next two years, giving it 12 percent of total ad spending in 2020. Meanwhile, Facebook’s main social network platform is expected to lose 3 percentage points of market share in that time.

That’s according to a new Cowen survey of 50 senior US advertising buyers in late December that showed Amazon is expected to gain more digital ad market share by 2020 than any other platform.

These ad buyers controlled a total of $14 billion in digital ad budgets in 2018. The investment bank weighted the data so that bigger spenders factored in accordingly.

Ad buyers are mostly pulling their growing Amazon spend from other digital platforms, the survey found.

Google and YouTube are also expected to lose a modest amount of ad revenue share through 2020. Facebook-owned Instagram is expected to see a 2 percentage point increase in that time, helping to balance out its parent company’s loss.

. . . .

Facebook is particularly vulnerable, thanks to its recent spate of privacy issues.

Of the 50 ad buyers, 18 percent said privacy concerns would lead to decreased ad spend on Facebook, more than any other platform, according to the Cowen survey.

But it’s also likely Facebook’s stagnating daily active user growth in the US and Canada— its most valuable markets — is at least as big a factor as its myriad privacy mishaps.

Link to the rest at re/code

AudioFile

Chalk it up to PG’s sheltered life, but he just discovered AudioFile.

Re: No Time to Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin, Read by Barbara Caruso:

Narrator Barbara Caruso delivers a collection of previously published reflections by Ursula K. Le Guin, who passed away in January. Caruso’s wondrous ability to capture Le Guin’s humor and energy gives listeners an unhurried experience. An introduction by Karen Fowler, also read by Caruso, sets the stage by framing the audiobook as a journey. Distinctions between essays are clear; Caruso pauses a few beats before and after announcing each selection. Listeners become active participants in discussions on youth and old age; ownership, gender, and language in the literature business; beliefs and metaphors; the joys of family and travel; and even snappy uniforms. Interspersed between sections are the adventures of her irrepressible cat, Pard.

Link to the rest at AudioFile, which includes an audio clip from Ms. Caruso’s performance.

Given the long decline in radio drama, at least in the US, some readers have not heard talented voice actors perform. Audio clips for a large number of audiobooks are available on AudioFile, which allows visitors to follow their favorite narrators through various performances.

AudioFile has a Golden Voice Narrators section featuring particularly talented and popular narrators with audio excerpts of their works.

Having attended college with some men and women who became professional actors, as he examined the photos of the Golden Voice Narrators and listened to excerpts from their performances, PG was reminded that while, with a few exceptions, acting is largely a young person’s business, the actor’s voice does not tend to change with age in the same way the actor’s face and body may. Plastic surgery is not necessary for a voice actor to stay busy and a talented woman of a certain age can effectively portray an ingénue should she wish to do so.

The era of audiobooks distributed on magnetic tape, tape cassette and even audio CD means that at least some readers who associate audiobooks with those media may have tuned out of the audiobook world.

Digital audio distribution and consumption via online downloads to iPods and, more recently, smartphones, have powered a resurgence in the audio drama audience.

From Forbes:

In 2017, digital content subscription service Scribd’s fastest-growing segment was audiobooks. Primary audiobook subscriber numbers for Scribd grew by more than 20% in 2016. This rise isn’t unique to Scribd: Audiobooks are also up about 20% year over year across the publishing industry for the first eight months of 2017, according to the Association of American Publishers’ data reports from 1,200 publishers. In the same time period, print books rose just 1.5%, and e-books dropped by 5.4%.

What’s behind the rise of the audiobook? According to 2018 Edison Research data, the percentage of Americans who have ever listened to an audiobook stands at 44%, just one point up from 2015’s 43%. If the audience base isn’t expanding, the number of audiobooks each individual listens to must be going up, and that’s likely due to tech advancements that are changing their listening habits. Eighteen percent of Americans own smart speakers, the same research found, a number that has risen shockingly fast since 2017 when it was just 7%. And don’t forget to factor in airpods, wearables and the still-increasing 83% of smartphone-owning Americans.

“Not only is audiobook production constantly improving, but recent developments in technology have made audiobooks extremely convenient for the consumer,” Scribd CEO and cofounder Trip Adler says. “With the Scribd app, for example, a user can download any audiobook to their device and enjoy it during their commute, while doing chores at home, or even at the gym. And as AI-enabled home devices like Echo and Google Home continue to improve, I think we’ll continue to see the popularity of audiobooks grow.”

Technology might be making it easier to produce audiobooks, but it’s still a time- and resource-consuming process — one that is punished rather than rewarded by the industry’s payment standards, according to Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords.

“Despite the high production expenses, industry-standard payout percentages for audiobooks are abysmal. Traditional publishers and indie authors alike will often earn only between 25-40% list [price] on audiobooks, whereas on the ebook side, where production expenses are negligible, they earn 60-80% list,” Coker says. Since 2016 audiobook sales in the U.S. alone amounted to $2.1 billion, authors are leaving a large chunk of change on the counter.

“In other words,” he adds, “the compensation structures are backward. Authors and publishers have to invest more yet earn less. Why do retailers get away with paying authors and publishers so little on audiobooks? The answer is because the industry is asleep at the wheel.”

. . . .

“Audio rights are now seen as increasingly valuable, to the point that even Audible is bidding against traditional publishers to acquire the exclusive audio rights to promising projects,” Coker says. As the number of smart speakers in homes around the globe continues to pick up speed, I wouldn’t be surprised to see audiobooks continue to ride that same wave.

Link to the rest at Forbes

PG also discovered LibriVox, a nonprofit service that produces free audiobooks of printed books for which copyright protection has expired and are in the public domain – think Jane Austen, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, etc.

All LibriVox audiobooks are created by unpaid volunteers.

From Wired:

I’ve spent the past year with strange voices in my head. Soothing, rich-voiced, strangers intermittently whispering, crying, yelling, and practicing terrible accents in my ear. This is because I discovered the weird world of LibriVox, a charmingly scrappy DIY community site dedicated to creating free audiobooks for public domain texts.

LibriVox is like Audible, the audiobook service owned by Amazon, except that every book is made for free by volunteers, and every book was published before 1923. A legion of volunteer readers—from professional stage actors to people practicing reading English as a second language—patiently, and sometimes not so patiently, inch through thousands of texts, posting the end results for free. The most popular audiobooks on LibriVox— for The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Moby-Dick, and Pride and Prejudice—have been downloaded or streamed more than 2 million times. Since LibriVox started in 2005, over 8,000 texts have been recorded, edited and posted to the site by over 6,000 readers. Other volunteers work on the editing of the audio files and checking for accuracy.

LibriVox volunteers give their work away. The site maintains a do-what-you-will attitude. If a volunteer wants to re-record a book that others have already done, that’s fine: the more the merrier. Anyone can burn LibriVox audiobooks onto CDs and try to sell them. People have done that. More lucratively, perhaps, third-party vendors have also developed LibriVox apps, which generate advertising revenue, and host the site’s catalog.

The difference between LibriVox and Audible is sometimes like the difference between public-access television and high-end cable shows.

. . . .

“Now Audible has millions of members globally,” says Matthew Thornton, Audible’s vice president of communications. “In 2014 that translated to about 1.2 billion hours of listening.” That’s about the equivalent of over 100,000 years of listening. Thornton says the average Audible subscriber devotes about two hours a day to listening, which is kind of mind-blowing.

Whereas LibriVox depends on passionate volunteers, Audible employs a pool of about a 100 mostly New York-based actors to record nearly non-stop in the six studios at the company’s Newark headquarters. The company also draws from professional celebrity performers like John Malkovich, Kate Winslet, Samuel L. Jackson, Anne Hathaway, and more. Audiobooks have become so popular that, in some cases, the sales of individual audio titles outstrip their print counterparts. But unlike Audible, at LibriVox the values of the marketplace are wonderfully disregarded.

. . . .

You won’t find user reviews of performances on LibriVox because the community has decided—rightly, no doubt—that negative comments would discourage volunteers from reading for the site. (But you can find those reviews—negative and not—on those third-party apps and on Archive.org, which also hosts the LibriVox catalog.)

Some of the audiobooks on LibriVox are almost like outsider art. Sometimes while listening I feel like I’m eavesdropping on a strange over-wrought audition, where an aspiring actor tries on and abandons accents, tweaks their voice in pitch too much, or hyperextends vowels in an effort to feel their way into the voice of a fictional New England sea captain, or a crude Yorkshire industrialist, or a displaced German Jew in London.

Link to the rest at Wired

New, Larger Authors Guild Survey: Falling Incomes for US Writers

From Publishing Perspectives:

In one of those quirky coincidences of news coverage, a familiar number has arisen in the top-line reporting from the United States’ Authors Guild about author incomes.

. . . .

Since 2009, their newly released report says, median incomes for authors from writing have fallen by 42 percent.

And when the United Kingdom’s counterpart survey results were announced in June of last year, the Society of Authors reported that the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society had found that median incomes for professional writers since 2005 had dropped the same amount: 42 percent.

. . . .

The sample comprises input from 5,067 published book authors. For the first time, the [Authors Guild] expanded its survey range, requesting responses not only from its own membership but from members of 14 additional writer organizations. That overall group numbered 9,288 people.

. . . .

·         53 percent said they consider authoring books their primary occupation, spending half or more of their work time writing

·         56 percent said they write fiction

·         18 percent said they write literary fiction

·         38 percent said they write genre fiction

·         22 percent said they are academic, scholarly, or textbook authors

·         18 percent said they write general nonfiction

·         9 percent said they publish books to advance their work or personal brand

·         46 percent said they’re traditionally published

·         27 percent said they are strictly self-publishing

·         26 percent said they are both trade- and self-published—the guild notes that “slightly more than half of the respondents have done some self-publishing”

Taken together the responses reported by the full sample of participating published authors indicate that their median income from “all writing-related activities” was US$6,080, down three percent from the guild’s sruvey work in 2013, and down from $10,500 in 2009.

. . . .

There is what appears to be a brighter spot. Authors identifying themselves as full-time, when reporting “all writing-related activities,” showed a median income that was up 3 percent over 2013, coming in at $20,300. The guild points out, however, that this is still substantially lower than the $25,000 median income that class of writer reported in 2009.

. . . .

Self-published writers responding to the survey overall reported earning 58 percent less than trade-published authors in 2017, even while citing what the guild says was a 95-percent increase from 2013 to 2017. (In the top decile, the indies had a median of $154,000 while the trade-authors reported $305,000.)

Not only did self-published romance and romantic suspense writers report median incomes “almost five times higher than the $1,900 median author-related income for the next highest-earning self-published genre category of mysteries and thrillers,” the guild writes, but “the median author-related income for self-published romance and romantic suspense writers was only $50 more in 2017 than in 2013, which may indicate that self-published romance writers as a group have reached a plateau for earnings under current business models.”

. . . .

The organization also points to “blockbuster mentality” as hurting authors, along with those stubbornly low ebook royalty rates of 25 percent and increases in deep discounting.

. . . .

Cal Reid at Publishers Weekly does a good job of summing up the Amazon-related commentary of the survey, “Unsurprisingly, Amazon—described as a dominant force in bookselling and book publishing—figures prominently in the income survey, cited as both a positive and a negative force.

“Amazon has ‘democratized’ publishing, enabling more people to publish books than ever before and the survey found that 76 percent of self-published authors used one of Amazon’s platform. Amazon’s requirement that authors sell exclusively on their platforms limits the amount of money they can make by being forced to participate in Kindle Unlimited and receiving only a 35 percent royalty on books priced at over $9.99, the report says.

“Moreover, the survey found, Amazon’s dominance over online bookselling (the e-tailer controls 72% of the online market, the report found) forced traditional publishers to effectively suppress the income for traditionally published writers. ‘Amazon puts pressure on them to keep costs down and takes a large percentage, plus marketing fees, forcing publishers to pass on their losses to authors,’ the report said.”

. . . .

Over 2,000 authors had average publisher royalties of almost $32,000; close to 1,700 self-published authors reported royalties of just over $31,000.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG suggests traditional publishers could increase the royalties they pay to provide increased income for traditionally-published writers.

Why brands need to make 2019 their most human year ever

From Fast Company:

As we kick-start the new year, it seems that every conversation we have about the future of business centers around automation, artificial intelligence, chatbots, and the like. All of these innovations streamline our ability to connect with our coworkers, our customers, and our broader communities. However, they move us even further away from real human connection with the people who matter most.

These days, customers are more likely to interact with bots than with humans. Coworkers often work at home as part of distributed teams, and community organizations talk to their members more often on social media than in person. We can’t turn back the clock on progress but we can–and should–counteract the harmful elements of these (mostly positive) innovations with a conscious effort to be more human in every aspect of our day-to-day lives.

. . . .

“Technology has created the illusion of connection, but overuse and misuse of it has made us less productive, less engaged, and lonelier,” says Dan Schawbel, author of Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation. While technology is changing how we work, it’s also eroding our connection to coworkers.

. . . .

There’s no stopping the AI freight train. According to a study done by Narrative Science, 61% of businesses implemented AI in 2017, compared to just 38% in 2016.

But chatbots can’t win over customer loyalty. That comes from the happy by-product of the kind of human-to-human interaction where knowledgeable and empowered customer service professionals solve problems for people creatively and quickly. Not only that, but those professionals tailor solutions to individual needs. Think of companies like Zappos, Ritz-Carlton, JetBlue, and Trader Joe’s. None of them became customer-service rock stars by building bots.

. . . .

Every brand has a community–both online and off–and brands make a strategic error if they only connect with their community’s members when there’s a problem. Brands need to stay engaged and connected consistently by practicing the kind of constant generosity that creates strong emotional connections with their broader communities.

. . . .

The online pet retailer, Chewy, sends handwritten holiday cards to customers and sends sympathy gifts when a pet dies. Sure, it’s over-the-top and probably pretty expensive. But in April 2017, Chewy was acquired by PetSmart for $3.35 billion.

The point is, sending a few handwritten notes might not directly lead to an increase in valuation, but you’ll be well on your way to distributing a strong message to your community that your company is filled with living, breathing humans who care about other humans. And in this hyper-digital world that we all now live in, that’s what’s going to set your business apart in the long-term.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

PG notes that each author is also a brand. One has different expectations when considering an Agatha Christie novel than one does while viewing a J.K. Rowling book.

More than a few successful indie authors use their newsletters, blogs, etc., in ways that encourage a personal connection between themselves and their readers. PG has seen enough different communication approaches to conclude that an individual style is a plus for the author’s brand.

Brand management is an activity that a great many successful businesses take very seriously. The titles of some prominent brand management books provide insight:

Publishers Endanger Free Speech

As PG has mentioned before, unlike many other places of online discussion, TPV is not about politics.

The cited article includes political commentary, but the portions PG is excerpting may be of significant importance to authors regardless of their personal political preferences.

From National Review:

The First Amendment has never been stronger. Yet freedom of speech is under dire threat. Both of these things can be true, and both are.

. . . .

Publishers are presenting authors with contracts containing clauses that essentially say, “We will cut you loose should a Twitter mob come after you.” It’s a revolting, shameful trend.

As Judith Shulevitz writes in the New York Times, Condé Nast, publisher of The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and many other magazines, recently started burying in its standard writers’ contracts a landmine. If the company should unilaterally rule that the writer has become “the subject of public disrepute, contempt, complaints or scandals,” the publisher can void the contract. Shulevitz mislabels such stipulations “morality clauses.” To paraphrase Mae West, morality has nothing to do with it. “Cowardice clauses” would be nearer the mark.

. . . .

Book-publishing giants Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Penguin Random House have added cowardice clauses to their standard book contracts, and Shulevitz says she’s heard that Hachette Book Group is considering doing the same. (Penguin, to its credit, allows authors to keep their advances, but others don’t, says Shulevitz.) Penguin’s clause justifies itself with a reference to anticipated adverse impacts on business, warning authors not to do anything that might cause “sustained, widespread public condemnation of the author that materially diminishes the sales potential of the work.” That rationalization won’t withstand much scrutiny. Bill O’Reilly’s latest book stands at number four on the Times’ nonfiction bestseller list, and he was not only pilloried for years but actually fired by Fox News Channel due to scandal. Ann Coulter, Dinesh D’Souza, Tucker Carlson, and many other commentators who are vilified daily on social media (and in D’Souza’s case, actually spent time behind bars) sell books by the truckload. If anything, “being the subject of public disrepute, contempt, complaints or scandals” seems to boost sales, and publishers are well aware of this. Calumny, contumely, and controversy sell. I’m On the Fence About Trump is not a title Simon and Schuster wants to publish.

. . . .

So why are book and magazine publishers putting such language in their contracts? Because they fear rebuke themselves. They don’t want to get dragged by association. “@PenguinRandom are you okay with what your author Mac McSmartypants just said to Chris Cuomo???” is not a comment a book publisher wants to see issuing from the Olympus of Alyssa Milano’s Twitter account and retweeted so many times it reaches more people than the population of France. The temperate response — “Publishing an author does not constitute an endorsement of his or her ideas” — will be ignored, laughed at, swept away in the tide of outrage, even though it’s true.

Link to the rest at National Review

Yet one more reason for authors to read their contracts very carefully.

PG hasn’t seen any political chastity clauses in contracts his clients have asked him to review. He would love to see any that visitors to TPV would like to send to him.

Although PG will not disclose the identity of those who submit such contracts to him, he would prefer that such contracts he receives omit or remove the names of the authors, book titles, or any other information that might be used to identify the author or book(s) in question.

PG will also note that just like no one knows you’re a dog on the internet, no one knows that you are a jealous rival, former spouse, partner, etc., on the internet, so the wildest accusations, well designed, can trigger internet outrage.

 

 

Why I Disagree With the Konmari Tidying-Up Method for Books

From BookRiot:

New year, new resolutions, new approach to life! Now might seem like the perfect time for some life-changing magic, and perhaps the time to begin with some tidying up. Maybe even using the Konmari method that everyone seems to be talking about lately.

Marie Kondo’s ‘Konmari’ approach to tidying up has taken the world by storm, with the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up published in English in 2014 (it was originally published in Japanese in 2011). A sequel, Spark Joy, was published in 2016, a graphic novel version, The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up, released in 2017, and a new series on Netflix, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, began airing in 2019. The main premise of her approach is to discard everything that does not spark joy and you will eventually surround yourself with only things that you love.

I love the idea, and when I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and the graphic novel version of the book, I was inspired to think about what my life and home would look like if I adopted the Konmari method. But there were some elements to her method that I disagreed with, particularly the ones related to books — actually, in retrospect, only the ones related to books. I think I could adopt her approach in every other part of my life. Probably.

. . . .

What is it about books that I disagree with? Kondo suggests that the books that you keep to be read eventually will actually never be read, and that the moment you first encounter a book is the moment to read it. If you don’t read it then, you are not going to, so it can be discarded.

She also argues that you are going to reread very few of the books, and you don’t need to keep the physical object after you’ve read it once; the experience of reading the book will stay with you even if you don’t remember everything in the book. You have experienced reading it, the book is a part of you, the physical object has fulfilled its purpose and therefore can be discarded.

The criterion for whether or not to keep a book using the Konmari method is whether or not you experience a thrill of pleasure when you touch it — whether the book sparks joy.

. . . .

But for me, there are two parts of this that do not work. Her premise that if you don’t read a book when you first encounter it then it has lost its moment and you will never read it is wrong for me. And you know what book most clearly exemplifies this? The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Yes, the very book about this approach. I find that quite amusing, actually. I bought the book in mid-2016. I had just moved to America, and my husband and I were trying to fit everything I had brought with me into his already-established apartment, and I thought the book might help. I read a chapter, then closed the book and didn’t finish it. You might think that the book lost its moment.

. . . .

The second part of her approach to books that doesn’t work for me is her argument that you will not reread. Because I do reread. Maybe not often, and maybe not every single book I own will be reread (and those are ones that I *would* be willing to part with), but I reread enough of my books that this criterion doesn’t work.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Let us start with the premise that PG is not the tidying up type, at least in the manner envisioned by Ms. Kondo.

As he analyzed his tidying or anti-tidying behaviors, he realized that at Casa PG, he unconsciously divides the interior space into common areas and private areas AKA lairs.

The common areas represent spaces where visitors are likely to exist and PG is more prone to tidying behavior around locations like the front door, the living room, spaces a visitor might be able to peer into from the living room, etc.

At the other end of the spectrum, the best example of a lair is PG’s office.

In order to enter PG’s office, a visitor would have to go through the living room, move to a different level of Casa PG and beat PG to the door of his office before he closed it. There is even a lair lock on the door.

On a micro level, PG’s office is approximately rectangular in shape. The door to his office is at one corner of the rectangle and PG’s desk, computer equipment, etc., is at the opposite corner of the rectangle, as far from the door as the size of the office permits. PG spends the most lair time in the deepest part of the office.

As PG performed a tidiness assessment, he realized there are varying zones of tidiness represented in his office. In that respect, PG’s lair represents a creation akin to the layers of an ocean.

.

.

The entry to PG’s office is equivalent to Epipelagic or Sunlight Zone.

As one continues horizontally into the office, one passes through the Bathypelagic (Twilight) Zone and Abyssopelagic Zone (The Abyss). Finally, when the office diver reaches PG’s desk, he/she is fully-immersed in the Hadalpelagic Zone (The Trenches).

As he considered the potential impact of a tidying-up event on his office, PG realized that it would create an ecological disaster of immense proportions.

Should PG conduct a scientific audit of the microbiologic residents of his office, he is certain the results would demonstrate that the life forms which flourish in the Sunlight Zone differ substantially from those in The Trenches. Tidying up this exquisitely balanced little world would undoubtedly trigger a microbial mass extinction.

PG has no desire to be held up as an example of the worst sort of the speciesism which is already too prevalent in our society.

As a responsible steward of his office environment, PG hereby pledges to allow life in all its kaleidoscopic beauty to continue to live undisturbed and evolve in peace.

The face

The face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart.

~ St. Jerome

Affect Recognition

Not exactly about authors and books, but perhaps a writing prompt.

From The Intercept:

Facial recognition has quickly shifted from techno-novelty to fact of life for many, with millions around the world at least willing to put up with their faces scanned by software at the airport, their iPhones, or Facebook’s server farms. But researchers at New York University’s AI Now Institute have issued a strong warning against not only ubiquitous facial recognition, but its more sinister cousin: so-called affect recognition, technology that claims it can find hidden meaning in the shape of your nose, the contours of your mouth, and the way you smile. If that sounds like something dredged up from the 19th century, that’s because it sort of is.

AI Now’s 2018 report is a 56-page record of how “artificial intelligence” — an umbrella term that includes a myriad of both scientific attempts to simulate human judgment and marketing nonsense — continues to spread without oversight, regulation, or meaningful ethical scrutiny. The report covers a wide expanse of uses and abuses, including instances of racial discrimination, police surveillance, and how trade secrecy laws can hide biased code from an AI-surveilled public. But AI Now, which was established last year to grapple with the social implications of artificial intelligence, expresses in the document particular dread over affect recognition, “a subclass of facial recognition that claims to detect things such as personality, inner feelings, mental health, and ‘worker engagement’ based on images or video of faces.” The thought of your boss watching you through a camera that uses machine learning to constantly assess your mental state is bad enough, while the prospect of police using “affect recognition” to deduce your future criminality based on “micro-expressions” is exponentially worse.

Link to the rest at The Intercept

From Business Insider:

Mark Newman founded HireVue in 2004 as a video interview platform. It saved recruiters time by allowing candidates to record answers to interview questions and upload them to a database where recruiters could easily compare how applicants presented themselves.

Four years ago, HireVue began the next phase of its life with the integration of AI.

HireVue uses a combination of proprietary voice recognition software and licensed facial recognition software in tandem with a ranking algorithm to determine which candidates most resemble the ideal candidate. The ideal candidate is a composite of traits triggered by body language, tone, and key words gathered from analyses of the existing best members of a particular role.

After the algorithm lets the recruiter know which candidates are at the top of the heap, the recruiter can then choose to spend more time going through the answers of these particular applicants and determine who should move onto the next round, usually for an in-person interview.

. . . .

As soon as I saw my face reflected back at me on the screen, I felt uncomfortable.

. . . .

I had 30 seconds to prep my answer, and then a couple minutes to give my response. Most importantly, I was given unlimited tries, as all HireVue users are.

With the unlimited answer feature, you can review your recorded response before moving onto the next question, giving you the chance to decide if you’d like to give it another shot.

I made liberal use of this feature, and the estimated 25-minute application soon stretched into 45 minutes. Larsen told me they experimented with unlimited and limited tries for questions, and said they found that the majority of users preferred unlimited.

. . . .

I came in second place, according to my “Insights Score,” which was 65%. This meant that according to the software, I had 65% of the qualities of the perfect customer service rep.

. . . .

The idea is that the AI helps highlight the top performers so that recruiters can dive in and spend time with the most promising candidates.

Larsen said that he understands that people first hearing about HireVue may find it to be scary or invasive, like something out of “Minority Report,” but he said that it’s a tool to make jobs — for humans — more efficient. “The idea is not to replace recruiters,” he said.

. . . .

The strength of HireVue, however, is also its potential weakness — the AI learns from the employee pool hiring managers choose to feed it. It can then be customized to remove certain biases, such as vocal tics, but that is also dependent on human judgment. Ultimately, the AI is automating how hiring managers already recruit, and if they want to correct for past mistakes, they need to be cognizant of them in the first place.

Larsen said that he and his team will be working on lessening the need for human intervention, refining their AI assessment toward an ideal that may or may not ever exist. In that case, after a candidate submits his or her application, “the algorithm is always right. It would be a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No.'”

Link to the rest at Business Insider

On the Experience of Entering a Bookstore in Your Forties (vs. Your Twenties)

From LitHub:

In my twenties the question was never “What do I want to read?” but rather “Who do I want to be?”—and bookstores were shrines I pilgrimaged to for answers. I didn’t have much money and had to be intentional in my selections. I’d pull a book from the shelf and study its cover, smell its pages, wander into the weather of its first lines and imagine the storms to come—imagine a wiser, wilder me for having been swept away by them. It’s something I still feel in my forties. I’m still dazzled by possibilities when I walk into a bookstore.

But it’s not the same.

Now when I wander the aisles, it’s not just some future self I imagine but a past one. There aren’t just books to read but books I’ve already read. Lives I’ve lived. Hopes abandoned. Dreams deferred. The bookstore is still a shrine but more and more what I find aren’t answers to questions but my own unwritten histories.

I’d started coming to bookstores because I wanted to learn how to write and the only consistent advice I got from established writers was to read everything. It was good advice. It’s still good advice. It’s also impossible. No one reads everything, nor even all the books they’d like to. You make your choices, come what may. John Muir’s famous quote about ecology might as well have been about choosing what books to buy: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” The bookstore is a liminal space. Even if like me you don’t have the cash to buy a box of new titles and reinvent yourself week to week, you have the moment of the choosing and everything it tugs upon.

. . . .

Now I live a dozen miles from Walden Pond. In the “local authors” section of the bookstore I frequent Henry David’s guileless, lamb-chopped mug peers out from cover after cover, reminding me of where I am—and who I am. Other books do the same. They’re not merely items on a shelf but points on a map, convergences I can trace to former versions of myself. Last week my nine-year-old son and I wandered into an aisle given over to coffee table books with stunning photographs of the natural world. One was about rivers and I opened it and turned to a picture of the Rogue River. I showed him. I said, “This is where Daddy lived a long time ago—in Oregon—before you were born. Isn’t it beautiful?” But to him it was just another picture of a scenic river. He took a quick glance and said it was pretty cool and drifted off in search of his own possibilities.

. . . .

Choosing is always a sweet sorrow. I don’t mean to lament that fact only to point out that, as with rivers, you never step into the same bookstore twice. And while I remain dazzled by the promise and possibility bookstores offer, I’ve found myself becoming somewhat apprehensive of them. Who needs the reminder of all you never were? Or of all you were but won’t ever be again? At 44 I feel a pressure that wasn’t there in my twenties. As my father so eloquently reminded me last year when I mentioned I’d been shoveling snow: “Be careful, Bud: You’re in the heart-attack zone.” How many books do I have left to read?

Link to the rest at LitHub

Any more, PG seldom enters physical bookstores. When he does, he tends to wonder if the employees are earning a living wage.

In a Barnes & Noble, he wonders what the employees, particularly the long-term employees who started work planning to make bookselling a career, will do when the company files for bankruptcy protection. He wonders what happened to all the people who worked at Borders when it closed.

When he gets back into the stacks to look at the kind of books he really enjoys, he hopes the traditionally-published authors he sees there have day jobs.

If, as the OP says, “you never step into the same bookstore twice,” is an unintentional extra meaning beyond the turnover of store stock hiding there? The next time you step into this store, will all the books be gone?

Copyright Small Claims Act: Update

From The Creative Law Center:

A copyright small claims court is an idea whose time has come.

The problem with the current system of copyright enforcement in the United States is that it’s too expensive and complex. Estimates are that it costs an average of ~$350,000 to prosecute a federal lawsuit to enforce copyrights. I have been involved in cases that have taken as long as seven years to resolve and cost my clients anywhere from $250,000 to $800,000. Most creative professionals simply can’t afford to protect their rights. The game is for the big players only.

The way it stands now, visual artists, authors, songwriters, bloggers, vloggers, and small businesses have rights in their creative properties, but no meaningful remedies when their work is taken. Certain members of Congress, working with key stakeholders, are trying to fix that problem.

. . . .

The CASE Act is an attempt to create a simple and inexpensive process that will allow creative professionals to bring claims of infringement or seek declarations of non-infringement.

The  idea of the current draft is that there would be a small claims tribunal called the Copyright Claims Board operating out of the Copyright Office. Three Officers would hear the claims. Attorneys would be optional; claimants could bring and argue their cases themselves. Hearings would be conducted electronically with no need to appear in person. So, no travel costs.

Using the Copyright Claims Board to resolve an issue is completely optional. A copyright holder does not need to file a claim there and the respondent (the person against whom the claim is filed) can opt out of the process.

Damages are limited. Statutory damages per work infringed cannot exceed $15,000, total damages cannot exceed $30,000. Filing an application for copyright registration is required before a claim can be brought. A claimant is limited to filing up to 10 cases per year, referred to as the “cap.”

. . . .

My client, Elizabeth Putsche, has been involved in litigation over ownership of a body of work consisting of 15,000 photographs for nearly four years in four different courts, both state and federal in two different states. Her ordeal has turned her into a copyright reform activist. Her persistence, as well as the hard work of many others, resulted in a hearing being scheduled just a month after our visit.

. . . .

The CASE Act: the Hearing

There were five witnesses at the hearing: two who represent organizations in support of the bill; two who represent various aspects of big tech who oppose the bill; and a photographer who wants a meaningful way to enforce her rights.

These are the witnesses you will see in the clip below (links are to their written testimony):

  • David P. Trust is the CEO of Professional Photographers of America. Mr. Trust does a nice job of laying out the struggles faced by creative professionals enforcing their rights. He emphasizes the real life impact the problem has on their ability to earn a living.
  • Matthew Schruers is Vice President for Law and Policy at the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a trade group. He’s worried about the problem of trolls clogging up the system with claims against internet users who illegally download videos (mostly porn). I love the part where he pretends to speak for the millions of internet users who he really doesn’t speak for but who can’t be there to speak for themselves, but if they were they’d object. Representative Jeffries (D-NY) deals with Mr. Schruers’s arguments handily toward the end of the clip.
  • Jenna Close is a professional photographer and past Chair of the American Society of Media Photographers. She brought the point home, again and again, that though she may have the rights, she doesn’t have the remedy to enforce them. The Committee showed her a great deal of respect. Her testimony was impressive, in both content and delivery. She’s a boss.
  • Jonathan Berroya is Senior Vice President and General Counsel of the Internet Association. Mr. Berroya also represented big industry players. His primary concern was that the bill should not undermine §512 of the DMCA protections for internet service providers.  But later, he overstepped his charge with a hypothetical about a needle pointin’ grandma from Boca Raton. Representative Doug Collins (R-GA) gave Mr. Berroya a solid smack-down over the use of a hypothetical. It’s fun to watch, but I’m sure Mr. Berroya still isn’t happy about it.
  • Keith Kupferschmid is the CEO of the Copyright Alliance. My impression is that he has taken the laboring oar on negotiating this legislation on behalf of creative professionals. In his written statement, he thoughtfully details the reasons and compromises that make the CASE Act read the way it does.

Link to the rest at The Creative Law Center

Following is a video created by Kathryn Goldman, the author of the OP, of some excerpts from the hearing about which she writes.

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Amazon Takes Market Cap Crown

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon.com Inc. is the latest technology titan to claim the crown of world’s most valuable public company, signaling the industry’s enduring market dominance even after turbulent months in which investors pummeled their shares.

Amazon finished Monday’s session up 3.4% at $1,629.51, with a market capitalization of about $795 billion, the first time the retailer has attained the market-cap title. It ended a weekslong reign by Microsoft Corp. , which finished flat with a value of roughly $785 billion.

The software giant in late November supplanted Apple Inc., for years the leader before worries about iPhone sales—exacerbated by the company’s revenue warning last week—knocked it to No 4, behind Google-parent Alphabet Inc. at about $745 billion.

. . . .

Monday’s rise on Wall Street was driven by hope over a new round of trade talks between Washington and Beijing. The S&P 500 rose 0.7%, climbing for the sixth time in the last eight sessions. Amazon shares are up 8.5% in the past week, rebounding from a brutal stretch.

Amazon’s 25% slide last quarter—its largest such drop in a decade—has pushed investors to scoop up beaten-down shares to start 2019, analysts say. Despite fears of slowing growth, the e-commerce giant is projected to show fourth-quarter sales up 20% from a year earlier when it reports earnings in the coming weeks, according to FactSet.

Tech stocks are well below their peaks—Apple was valued above $1.1 trillion at its apex in October, while Amazon touched $1 trillion midday before closing below it in September. But they remain far more valuable than the most valuable companies in other parts of the U.S. economy.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal 

2019 in US Copyright Law and Policy

From Copyhype:

It’s a new year, and the world is split between those who call it “two thousand nineteen” and those who say “twenty nineteen.” What can we expect in U.S. copyright law and policy over the next twelve months? Let’s take a look.

. . . .

Among the first set of issues that the Committee might take up this year is copyright small claims. Last session, Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Tom Marino (R-PA) introduced the Copyright Alternatives in Small Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act, which would have created a streamlined tribunal for hearing small copyright claims based off recommendations made by the US Copyright Office in its 2013 report on small copyright claims. The Committee held a hearing on the bill just this past September, with a number of members indicating support for moving the bill forward.

We may also see a bill addressing resale royalty rights. A resale royalty provides visual and fine artists—who often rely primarily on income from the sale of their individual works rather than licensing their exclusive rights provided through copyright—with the opportunity to capture a percentage of the proceeds when their works are resold through art auctions. Although there have been a number of resale royalty right bills introduced in previous Congressional sessions that never advanced, there are at least two indications of greater momentum this session: first, the issue’s biggest supporter, Chairman Nadler, is now in charge of the Committee, and second, the most recent bill, the American Royalties Too Act of 2018, was introduced in both the House and Senate by Judiciary Committee leaders, giving it a higher stature than previous versions of the bill.

. . . .

At the end of this month, the [U.S. Patent and Trademark Office] has scheduled a conference on the intellectual property considerations of artificial intelligence. The topics to be discussed include “the copyright implications when AI is used to create new works or when copyrighted works are used to ‘train’ artificial intelligence systems.”

Link to the rest at Copyhype

When the web started

When the web started, I used to get really grumpy with people because they put my poems up. They put my stories up. They put my stuff up on the web. I had this belief, which was completely erroneous, that if people put your stuff up on the web and you didn’t tell them to take it down, you would lose your copyright, which actually, is simply not true.

And I also got very grumpy because I felt like they were pirating my stuff, that it was bad. And then I started to notice that two things seemed much more significant. One of which was… places where I was being pirated, particularly Russia where people were translating my stuff into Russian and spreading around into the world, I was selling more and more books. People were discovering me through being pirated. Then they were going out and buying the real books, and when a new book would come out in Russia, it would sell more and more copies. I thought this was fascinating, and I tried a few experiments. Some of them are quite hard, you know, persuading my publisher for example to take one of my books and put it out for free.

. . . .

I started to realize that actually, you’re not losing books. You’re not losing sales by having stuff out there. When I give a big talk now on these kinds of subjects and people say, “Well, what about the sales that I’m losing through having stuff copied, through having stuff floating out there?” I started asking audiences to just raise their hands for one question. Which is, I’d say, “Okay, do you have a favorite author?” They’d say, “Yes.” and I’d say, “Good. What I want is for everybody who discovered their favorite author by being lent a book, put up your hands.” And then, “Anybody who discovered your favorite author by walking into a bookstore and buying a book raise your hands.” And it’s probably about five, ten percent of the people who actually discovered an author who’s their favorite author, who is the person who they buy everything of. They buy the hardbacks and they treasure the fact that they got this author. Very few of them bought the book. They were lent it. They were given it. They did not pay for it, and that’s how they found their favorite author. And I thought, “You know, that’s really all this is. It’s people lending books. And you can’t look on that as a loss of sale. It’s not a lost sale, nobody who would have bought your book is not buying it because they can find it for free.”

~ Neil Gaiman

Amazon’s ‘Bezos The Great’ Not Weeping Yet

From Seeking Alpha:

In an “all-hands” in mid-November 2018, Amazon employees expressed concerns over two major topics. One was the bankruptcies of Sears and other retailers, and the other was the potential consequences of increased scrutiny from several governments in different parts of the world.

Along with the U.S., major economies like the EU and Japan have either launched an investigation, or are considering opening up investigations concerning potential antitrust violations. The EU has already initiated a probe of the use of merchant data by Amazon.

While the large size of Amazon does make them a political target because of how soundly they have trounced their competitors, from a traditional meaning of antitrust in the U.S., it would be hard to make a case against the company. It would even be harder to do so on the global level.

. . . .

[I]n reality [Amazon] only accounts for 9.8 percent of total retail sales in the U.S., and when including global retail sales, it doesn’t even reach 1 percent of overall sales, according to Jeff Wilke, Amazon’s CEO of the worldwide consumer division.

. . . .

As for its AWS cloud business, it has a market-leading 34 percent share in the U.S., but that’s far from monopoly territory that would trigger antitrust action. This is why merchant data and privacy are scrutinized more than its market share.

As for the performance of Amazon, Bezos noted that it “is not too big to fail. In fact, I predict one day Amazon will fail. Amazon will go bankrupt. If you look at large companies, their lifespans tend to be 30-plus years, not a hundred-plus years.”

That’s actually an accurate statement he made. When you look at the Dow or S&P 500, many companies from the past no longer even exist. And that isn’t primarily from mergers, the majority of them disappeared as a result of bankruptcies.

He went on to say the longevity of the company will be determined by employees making an effort to “obsess over customers” and not to focus inwardly. “If we start to focus on ourselves, instead of focusing on our customers, that will be the beginning of the end. We have to try and delay that day for as long as possible.”

Link to the rest at Seeking Alpha

PG will note that market share is not the only factor in determining whether a company is violating/has violated the US antitrust laws, but it is a significant indicator.

As DIY Litigants Crowd The Docket, Courts Step In To Help

Not necessarily about authors and books, but an illustration of a problem that has been around as long as PG has been a lawyer.

From Law360:

Tarikul Khan turned around and whispered, “I’m scared now.”

Waiting in a wood-paneled Brooklyn courtroom for the first hearing in his lawsuit, Khan was watching U.S. Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom grill a plaintiff also representing himself, in an unrelated matter, about his failure to hand over evidence.

When he eventually stepped before Judge Bloom, though, the judge’s first remark was about how Khan’s complaint for disability benefits was unexpectedly shipshape.

Khan, 68, wouldn’t have been able to create that document without behind-the-scenes help from a key consultant.

“Ms. Cat made this. She did help, everything,” Khan told Law360 in the court cafeteria before the Nov. 8 hearing. “I can’t make this thing myself. I finished high school only, no college — a little bit of college. I have nothing like this.”

“Ms. Cat” is Cat Itaya, the director of the Eastern District of New York’s legal assistance clinic for “pro se,” or self-represented, litigants; it lives inside the courthouse and is run by the City Bar Justice Center. Khan visited Itaya beginning four months before his first hearing, and over six or eight visits — a couple with volunteer lawyers, but most with Itaya — she digested his story and put together a complaint in language the court could parse.

While they remain rare for now, clinics like the one in the Eastern District of New York appear to be catching on in federal court as a way to aid self-represented litigants, for whom putting together a legally coherent complaint can be an insurmountable barrier.

Link to the rest at Law360

PG says there is plenty of blame to go around.

– Laws are made by legislatures. Federal laws are made by the Congress of the United States. State laws are made by the legislatures of each state.

Most legislators are not attorneys. Theoretically, legislatures have access to attorneys who may help in drafting the language of the laws the legislatures pass. In practice, political or business advocacy groups may draft language that friendly legislators then submit for passage.

The legislative process involves a lot of negotiations and the results of those negotiations can be various provisions of the statutes that aren’t consistent with each other or that carve out exceptions to the general application of the statutes. Amendments to the statutes to solve perceived problems may generate additional problems.

It is very unusual for a legislature to simply eliminate laws that prior legislatures have passed without providing replacements. The net result of this behavior is a collection of laws that grows larger and larger over time. The first Congress of the United States met from March 4, 1789, to March 4, 1791 and subsequent congresses have been passing laws ever since.

– Many laws authorize federal or state agencies to write regulations to implement the laws. These regulations typically have the effect of laws. Once passed, regulations may be amended by the agencies without going back to Congress for approval.

Every working day, The Federal Register, publishes agency rules, proposed rules and public notices regarding agency rules and practices. During the past several years, The Federal Register has released 70,000-90,000 pages of new federal regulations each year.

To remain current on every regulation released by The Federal Register, an individual attorney would have to read 200-250 pages of new federal regulations per day every day of the year with no time off for weekends, vacations, holidays, etc.

– A popular idea for providing legal assistance for indigent individuals is to require attorneys to provide free pro bono (from the Latin pro bono publico,”for the public good”) services for such individuals.

For reasons that may already be obvious, no attorney is competent to handle every type of legal matter that may arise under state or federal law. The finest patent attorney in the United States would almost certainly have no idea how to handle Mr. Kahn’s disability claim described in the OP.

Speaking from past professional experience, PG can say that indigent individuals have different legal problems and requirements than school teachers, doctors, and bankers. The types of legal issues that indigent individuals face are within the realm of expertise of a very small number of attorneys. The reasons for this will be obvious – If you wish to earn your living as a lawyer, representing bankers is a better professional decision than representing indigents is.

– Can’t U.S. Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom help out Mr. Kahn with his problems as described in the OP?

A magistrate judge or “magistrate” is what amounts to an assistant judge operating under the direction of one or more US District Federal Judges. (A US district judge is one who conducts trials in cases that fall under federal laws. State trial judges do the same things for cases arising under state laws. In the US, there are many more trials conducted by state judges than federal judges.)

Under US law, judges are supposed to be neutral arbiters of the disputes that come before them, favoring neither side.

The OP doesn’t go into detail, but PG suspects Mr. Kahn’s claim for disability insurance was being pursued because the US Social Security Administration had denied Mr. Kahn’s claim for disability benefits for one reason or another. The SSA is the adverse party and Magistrate Judge Bloom is supposed to decide the dispute between Mr. Kahn and the SSA on the basis of the law and facts as she finds them without unduly favoring either side. If she coaches Mr. Kahn, she compromises her obligation to be a neutral arbiter.

Additionally, most Magistrate Judges are enormously busy handling a flood of various cases, including criminal cases in which the constitutional rights of the accused require speedy trials.

– Legal Aid or other legal assistance organizations as described in the OP can be a very good solution to the challenges PG has described. Essentially, such organizations include groups of lawyers who specialize in representing poor people in the types of legal matters in which poor people are commonly involved.

Unfortunately, funding for such organizations is always a problem. Most are funded by state legislatures. In some cases, the state bar association kicks in some money. In large and wealthy cities like New York City, city government and/or the city bar association may also help provide funding.

Whatever the sources of funding, there are always more indigent people with problems than there are salaried lawyers at a legal assistance organization to provide competent legal assistance.

A significant number of private attorneys provide voluntary legal assistance to indigents, either directly or through legal assistance organizations as described above.

Attorneys who specialize in the more remunerative areas of the law are often not of much use in assisting indigents because of their lack of knowledge about the law outside of their specialties. Attorneys in general practice, who, as a group, earn less than legal specialists, are of the most use to legal assistance organizations because of the general practitioner’s broader and more general scope of legal knowledge.

In a former life, PG was an attorney in general practice in a small town located in an area not known for its wealthy residents and represented a lot of poor people, either through the local legal assistance organization or on his own. He was also a member of the board of directors for that organization for several years.

Although he won’t go into detail, PG will say that some of the most personally-satisfying cases he handled in his former practice were for some of the indigent clients referred to him by that legal assistance organization. The term, “deserving poor,” has most definitely fallen out of favor, but some of PG’s former clients were excellent exemplars of that term.

As he said at the outset, this post is not necessarily about books and authors, but more for the general education of US visitors to TPV. PG knows little about similar problems and solutions in other countries other than to know they exist to a greater or lesser extent.

TPV receives visits from more than a few attorneys and they, along with everyone else, are invited to comment.

 

Baby, There’s a Chilling Effect Outside – Part 2

Yesterday, PG posted an item from The Wall Street Journal titled, Baby, There’s a Chilling Effect Outside, that generated a lot of comments and discussion.

Here are the lyrics from the song:

I really can’t stay (but baby, it’s cold outside)
I’ve got to go away (but baby, it’s cold outside)
This evening has been (been hoping that you’d drop in)
So very nice (i’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice)
My mother will start to worry (beautiful what’s your hurry?)
My father will be pacing the floor (listen to the fireplace roar)
So really I’d better scurry (beautiful please don’t hurry)
But maybe just a half a drink more (put some records on while I pour)
The neighbors might think (baby, it’s bad out there)
Say what’s in this drink? (no cabs to be had out there)
I wish I knew how (your eyes are like starlight now)
To break this spell (i’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell)
I ought to say, no, no, no sir (mind if I move in closer?)
At least I’m gonna say that I tried (what’s the sense in hurtin’ my pride?)
I really can’t stay (oh baby don’t hold out)
But baby, it’s cold outside
I simply must go (but baby, it’s cold outside)
The answer is no (but baby, it’s cold outside)
Your welcome has been(how lucky that you dropped in)
So nice and warm (look out the window at this dawn)
My sister will be suspicious (gosh your lips look delicious)
My brother will be there at the door (waves upon the tropical shore)
My maiden aunts mind is vicious (gosh your lips are delicious)
But maybe just a cigarette more (never such a blizzard before)
I’ve gotta get home(but baby, you’d freeze out there)
Say lend me a coat(it’s up to your knees out there)
You’ve really been grand (i thrill when you touch my hand)
But don’t you see? (how can you do this thing to me?)
There’s bound to be talk tomorrow (think of my lifelong sorrow)
At least there will be plenty implied (if you got pnuemonia and died)
I really can’t stay (get over that old out)
Baby, it’s cold
Baby, it’s cold outside
Songwriter: Frank Loesser
Baby, It’s Cold Outside lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.
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The song won the 1949 Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Here is the song as it appeared in the 1949 movie, Neptune’s Daughter:

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Meet Skull Snaps, a Forgotten Funk Band That Soundtracked Hip-Hop

From Bandcamp Daily:

New Haven, Connecticut rapper Dooley-O and DJ Chris Cosby were digging through a neighbor’s record collection when they found a peculiar album, the cover of which boasted a drawing of three menacing skulls, with skeletons dancing on or near each one. The back cover had an image of a presumably female skeleton, wearing a fancy Victorian hat. The band was called Skull Snaps, and there was no photo of the artists anywhere to be found.

Dooley-O assumed this was a heavy rock album, and since he was a crate-digger who happily sampled any and everything, he decided to give it a listen. As it turned out, the album wasn’t rock, but funk—one song in particular, “It’s a New Day,” boasted a killer opening beat that was just begging to be sampled. And so, in 1988, Dooley-O did just that on a track called “Watch My Moves,” but since he didn’t have any industry connections that could help promote the song, it languished in semi-obscurity. (It was eventually released 14 years later by Stones Throw Records.)

One year after Dooley-O recorded “Watch My Moves,” his cousin Stezo, who’d gotten a gig as a backup dancer for EPMD, scored a record deal and asked Dooley if he could use the Skull Snaps break. Dooley didn’t like the idea at first, but he eventually relented. Stezo’s song, “It’s My Turn,” went big, reaching Number 18 on Billboard’s “Hot Rap Songs” chart.

That was only the beginning. Since Stezo let the sample play out naked in the song, it quickly became fodder for hundreds of other rappers. It now appears on nearly 500 songs, making it one of the most sampled breaks in hip-hop history.

“That thing sounds good. You can put any kind of groove to that and it sounds good. Any groove,” Stezo says today. “I remember Dooley being like, ‘Don’t leave the beat open because people are going to steal our beat.’ I said, ‘Man, what do we care about, as long as we’re the first ones.’”

. . . .

In 2011 and ‘12, Stezo shot a documentary about the group in 2011-2012 called The Birth Beats of Hip-hop: The Legend of Skull Snaps. And in October, Mr. Bongo reissued Skull Snaps on vinyl with support from band members themselves. As it turns out, Skull Snaps were a three-piece band consisting of Sam O. Culley, Erv Littleton Waters, and George Bragg. The members were also in soul group called The Diplomats, who released a number of singles in the ’60s. As for the album’s mysterious cover, Culley says it wasn’t intended to misdirect people. The band had a tough time being a funk trio who played their own instruments and did all their own singing, and funk and soul labels just didn’t know how to market  them.

“My favorite artist was Three Dog Night. Record companies weren’t really accepting black bands back then,” Culley explains. “So we said, ‘We’ll have no pictures on the album. The guy who did the artwork put the three skeletons on top of the damned skull and I’m like, ‘Damn that’s crazy looking. It’s the scariest shit I’ve ever seen.’ It made me think of bikers. That was my first thought. They’re going to think this is a bunch of bikers, you know what I’m saying?”

. . . .

The Skull Snaps record was released in 1973, but the famous beat that would inspire a generation of rappers goes back to the mid ’60s, when the band members would play it at the beginning of shows as a way of getting the energy going. The unique sound and pop of the beat was made by taking a small 12-inch snare and dampening its sound by taping a wallet to it.

“It basically was a tune-up kind of thing,” Culley says. “The drums started playing, and I would start playing on the bass, and then Erv started playing on the guitar, and from that, we would just bam to another song which would be our show.”

. . . .

When it came time to record the Skull Snaps record, they felt that jam needed to be included somewhere. They decided to append it to the beginning of “It’s a Brand New Day” because that was the first song they recorded. Just like in their live shows, they needed the beat to help them get calibrated in the studio.

“We said, ‘We can’t leave that out, because we know what that does to us mentally. It makes us tight, it pulls us right together,’” Culley says. “Once we started the beat like that and we had put vocal arrangement on ‘It’s a New Day,’ it was almost a surprise that the damn thing sounded the way it did, because we have never heard how it sound recorded.”

That beat, like much of the record, was a one-take situation. Just like that, unbeknownst to them, an important piece of hip-hop history was born.

. . . .

Stezo hopes his documentary brings more awareness to who Skulls Snaps are as people and how talented they are. And he’s hoping most of all that the hip-hop community pay their respects. While shooting the documentary, he introduced the band to several rappers who had sampled the break for their own songs.

“Immediately everyone’s thoughts went to, ‘Oh my God, they’re here to sue us,’” Culley says. “But they found out it was just the opposite. We wanted to meet those people who had used that sample,” Culley says. “All of them were like, ‘You know how many careers you saved, how many lives you saved with that breakbeat?’ That’s amazing. And they’re still using it.”

Link to the rest at Bandcamp Daily where you can hear the opening beat of “A New Day” and a couple of other Skull Snaps songs.

PG says music samples can be the basis of a copyright infringement suit. Here’s a link to a discussion of German copyright infringement litigation based upon a two-second music sample.

Baby, There’s a Chilling Effect Outside

From The Wall Street Journal:

 My greatest hope for 2019 is cultural. It is that the left will rise and do what only it can do—strike a blow against political correctness in the arts and entertainment. All artists are meant to be free and daring. Their job, whether in drama, comedy or music, is to approach the truth—to apprehend it, get their hands on it and hold it up for a moment for everyone to see. That’s a big job, a great one, and you can do it only if you’re brave. Pope John Paul II, in his 1999 Letter to Artists, noted something I have witnessed: The artist faces a constant sense of defeat. You’re working, you’re trying, but it’s never as good as you wanted, as you dreamed. Even your most successful work only comes close. Artists are looking for “the hidden meaning of things.” Their “intuitions” spring from their souls. There is an “unbridgeable gap” between what they produce and “the dazzling perfection” of what they glimpsed in the creative moment. They forge on anyway.

. . . .

At happy gatherings the past two weeks, talk turned to the controversy over Frank Loesser’s 1944 holiday classic, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” You know the argument. The song should be pulled from playlists and effectively banned because its lyrics, on close inspection, are somewhat rapey. It’s a song about sexual assault; there’s a clear power imbalance. This argument comes from young writers and activists of the #MeToo movement. Actually, the man in the song hopes to seduce, not rape; the song is flirty and humorous, a spoof of the endless drama between men and women.

From every conversation I witnessed liberal opinion is very much against banning the song, as is conservative opinion.

But companies hate controversy. Radio stations don’t want petitions at Christmastime, no one wants trouble. We’ll be hearing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” less as the years go by. It only takes a few highly focused idiots to kill a song.

. . . .

Political correctness is the enemy of art. Self-censorship is a killer of art. Censorship applied from outside, through organized pressure, is an assassination of art.

We have seen the political correctness of the social-justice warriors sweep the universities, hounding out those who would speak from an incorrect perspective, decreeing new rules of language and living. They do not understand that when you tell people, especially Americans, what they can and cannot say, can and cannot think, they don’t stop saying and thinking. They go underground, sometimes to the depths. And it is dark down there.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Indie Booksellers Report Strong Holiday Finish

From Publishers Weekly:

Although independent booksellers reported difficulty in keeping certain titles in stock, the problem was not enough to dampen sales at independent stores this holiday season.

In fact, reports from around the country indicated overall sales throughout the holiday season were strong, even record-breaking. Some stores reported having their best sales days ever. Lots of interest in Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming (Crown) brought customers into stores, as did a range of other titles, including Educated by Tara Westover (Random House) and Circe by Madeline Miller (Little, Brown) on the adult side and Snowy Nap by Jan Brett (Putnam) and The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith, illustrated by Katz Cowley (Scholastic), on the children’s side.

“The Friday before Christmas, when the stock market tanked, was the biggest sales day we’ve had in 43 years! And the Saturday after that set another record,” said Vivien Jennings, owner of Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kan., a Kansas City suburb, who noted that this year saw an unexpected doubling in gift card sales. Jennings said the store kept Becoming in stock throughout the holidays in part by clearing out all local Costco locations of their inventory. “We also watched inventory runs very carefully, and jumped ahead if we saw anything trending,” Jennings said, adding that, overall, sales were up 10% over 2017 for the season.

Jennings was among several booksellers who cited difficulty in keeping Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat, illus. by Wendy MacNaughton (S&S); The Overstory by Richard Powers (Norton); and Frederick Douglas by David Blight (S&S) in stock.

“Those were the three titles we had the most trouble with,” said Todd Gross, manager of Phoenix Books in Downtown Burlington, Vt. “We only got 30 of Salt, but could have sold 150.” He remarked that getting books from S&S has been particularly challenging for quite some time. “They can take 10 days to get us books, compared with two or three for Penguin Random House.” Gross noted delays in getting books can kill sales, and he praised Bookazine and Baker & Taylor in particular for great service during the holiday season. “They were quick to tell us when in-demand titles were back in stock,” said Gross, who said that his holiday orders flip from relying on publishers 90% of the time during the year, to relying on wholesalers for 90% of orders during the holidays.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG says the shipping operations of publishers only have one thing to do – ship books. They have been performing this function for a long time.

Likewise, the production departments of publishers have only one thing to do – print enough books to meet demand. They also have been performing this function for a long time.

A long time ago when PG was a baby lawyer, he was working for a law firm in Los Angeles and talking to one of the firm’s clients.

This client had started the first book wholesaler in Los Angeles and PG was learning about the client’s business. Basically, the business worked this way:

  • Bookstores could purchase books from publishers at lower prices than they could from the client.
  • However, publishers were not good at processing orders and shipping books.
  • The client was very good at processing orders and shipping books.

So, the client bought books from publishers and put them in a warehouse. Because he bought a lot of books, he had negotiated maximum volume discounts.

Bookstores bought their books from the client, even though he charged higher prices than the publishers did, when they didn’t want to wait for books to arrive from the publishers.

The client made a lot of money doing this, particularly when there was a bestseller. The bookstores wanted copies to sell to customers and they could get them from the client within a day. This client later made even more money when he sold his business to Baker & Taylor several years later.

Some businesses are set up to sell their products only through wholesale channels. This can work financially because they don’t spend any money fulfilling small orders. They crate and ship an order for a thousand widgets using bulk shippers instead of individually packing one hundred boxes, each with ten widgets inside, and paying UPS to deliver each one to a separate location.

Other businesses are set up to sell directly to retailers. This can work financially because they can sell to the retailers at a higher price because they’ve cut out the costs and profits of a middleman.

Apparently, typical book publishers still try to do both, so they bear the expenses of each type of business without being terribly effective at satisfying their customers.

An old typewriter and a big idea

I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged.

I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

~ J.K. Rowling