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.

.

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.
.

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:

.

.

 

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

The Revolutionary Genius of Plants

From The Wall Street Journal:

We humans take it for granted that plants are our inferiors. But they make earth habitable for us animals, by harnessing the energy of the sun to produce food and by releasing oxygen. That’s not the only trick they have up their leaves. In this thought-provoking, handsomely illustrated book, Italian neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso considers the fundamental differences between plants and animals and challenges our assumptions about which is the “higher” form of life. It seems we have much to learn from our green companions—about everything from designing buildings to organizing society.

The evolutionary split between animals and plants came nearly half a billion years ago, as life migrated from the oceans to the land. While animals roamed around their new environment, plants rooted themselves in one place. From these diverse strategies stems what Dr. Mancuso considers the most important distinction between the two kingdoms—not whether they move or produce their own food but how individual organisms are internally organized.

Whether they are predator or prey, animals’ survival depends on efficient movement and quick decision-making. And so we have adopted a top-down structure, with a central brain and organs such as heart and lungs to perform other vital functions. Because we can run away from predators, animals can afford to put our cerebral, circulatory, respiratory and other essential eggs in just one or two baskets.

For stationary plants, on the other hand, individual organs would only be “points of weakness,” Dr. Mancuso writes, chinks in their defenses that would leave them vulnerable to predators. So plants hedge their bets by spreading single functions, including such vital ones as respiration and photosynthesis, throughout the whole organism—breathing and creating food with their entire body. Plants may be brainless, but thanks to this simple, decentralized structure they enjoy a “distributed intelligence” that serves them well in meeting the challenges of their environment.

Plants are exceptionally sensitive to their surroundings, constantly monitoring a host of factors, including light, gravity, moisture, oxygen, sound, the presence of other plants and the approach of predators. Recent research conducted in Dr. Mancuso’s laboratory at the University of Florence has shown that at least one plant is capable of learning and remembering: When Mimosa pudica, a tropical native also known as the sensitive plant, is exposed to gentle shaking, it responds at first by closing its leaves. But after seven or eight trials, the plant concludes the vibrations aren’t a real threat and keeps the leaves open—a lesson it can remember for more than 40 days.
. . . .
 Due in part to their distinctive organization, plants have thrived, colonizing every continent and accounting for at least 80% of the world’s biomass. Though plants are ancient they are, Dr. Mancuso writes, “the epitome of modernity: a cooperative, shared structure without any command centers,” which is the ideal melding of durability and innovation. “When you want to design something robust, energetically sustainable, and adaptable to an environment of continuous change,” Dr. Mancuso suggests, “there is nothing better on earth to use as inspiration” than plants.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal 

 

Everything flows

Everything flows and nothing stays.
Everything flows and nothing abides.
Everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.
Everything flows; nothing remains.
All is flux, nothing is stationary.
All is flux, nothing stays still.
All flows, nothing stays.

~ Heraclitus of Ephesus

Ontario’s 49th Teachers Site Supports Canadian Books in Schools

From Publishers Perspectives:

Launched in the spring of 2018 with the aim of getting Canadian books into Ontario classrooms, 49th Teachers expands on the established book promotion platforms 49th Shelf and 49th Kids, but is designed to connect directly with teachers and teacher-librarians.

. . . .

The new teacher initiative may well be of interest to other world markets’ publishers who would like to see their books better featured in educational settings.

The site offers educators a database of nearly 20,000 Canadian-authored kids’ and YA books as well as nearly 800 related resources, all available as free downloads.

One area of the site, for example, features “character education” selections that are recommended for development of respect, responsibility, empathy, kindness, teamwork, fairness, and so on.

. . . .

In addition to the database, the site offers users:

  • Options to search by author, title, genre, subject area, age, and grade level
  • Access to nearly 800 resources developed specifically for use with books in the database, searchable by subject, grade, and by resource type such as teacher’s guides, reading guides, handouts, etc.
  • A variety of themed booklists prepared either by the site editor or by educators
  • A books blog written by a children’s books librarian
  • Links to reviews, recommendations, and purchasing options
  • The ability to create book lists and share them with other site members

Link to the rest at Publishers Perspectives

Best of Frenemies

From The Wall Street Journal:

JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive James Dimon assembled a team in 2017 to answer a question that had been nagging at him for a while: “How should we think about Amazon?”

The team explored the ways Amazon.com Inc. could muscle into financial services and where JPMorgan could fit in, according to people familiar with the matter. And what if, as Wall Street has long feared, the tech company were to become a bank itself?

Industries from pharmaceuticals to logistics are grappling with the Amazon question, as the retailer relentlessly expands into new business areas. But in many ways, the online retail giant and the nation’s largest bank by assets have a special relationship.

The fortunes of the two companies have become more entwined over the years. They are closely connected through a credit-card deal struck when the retailer was still mostly selling books and CDs on the internet. JPMorgan is in talks to partner with Amazon on a number of financial ventures, and the bank lends to the tech company. With Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., the companies are working on a first-of-its kind venture to lower health-care costs for their hundreds of thousands of employees. Increasingly, JPMorgan has begun to emulate some of Amazon’s signature management practices.

Mr. Dimon and Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, have also become friendly over the past two decades, even as their business interests have at times been at odds, and despite some differences in their personal styles.

. . . .

As the relationship between the men and their companies deepened, the balance of power shifted in Amazon’s favor. The retailer’s market value—at $770 billion—now dwarfs JPMorgan’s $335 billion. The bank, used to being the heavyweight in the room, is trying to figure out how Amazon fits into its world and how to avoid becoming its latest casualty.

One strategy: Be more like Amazon.

. . . .

JPMorgan’s relationship with Amazon stretches back to at least 2002, when Chase began issuing the online retailer’s co-branded card. The deal predates Mr. Dimon, who joined JPMorgan in 2004.

A few years earlier, Mr. Bezos had tried and failed to hire Mr. Dimon to be Amazon’s president. Mr. Dimon, recently fired from Citigroup Inc. by his mentor, Sanford “Sandy” Weill, flew to Seattle to have lunch with Mr. Bezos. Mr. Dimon has said it wasn’t the right time to make such a dramatic change.

“I had this vision I’d never wear a suit again, I’d live in a houseboat like Tom Hanks” in the movie “Sleepless in Seattle,” Mr. Dimon told CNBC in July.

Over the two decades that followed, Amazon’s sales exploded. So did its clout.

About two years ago, when it came time to renegotiate the card agreement, Amazon was in a position to extract painful concessions.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Planning For 2019 Part 2

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

 The biggest issue for the latter half of 2018 was book sales. Indies and traditional publishers both complained that book sales were down, and that a crisis was imminent. Their ideas of crisis were different, but they come from a similar source, which is the current state of disruption in the publishing industry.

. . . .

I’m doing this short series focusing on 2018 with an eye toward 2019 because I firmly believe that you cannot plan for the future if you don’t know where you’re standing right now. (And a note on terminology: I’ll be using indie published writer instead of self-published writer because indie writers are running a business, whether they like it or not. I want the terminology to reflect that.)

This series is important to all kinds of fiction writers, whether they’re traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid of both. Please remember that I write this blog for the writer who wants a long-term fiction career, so keep that in mind as well.

. . . .

What started this discussion were some alarming numbers from the Association of American Publishers, which can track fiction sales through traditional venues  but not, mind you, sales figures from Amazon, which is the largest bookseller in the United States. (Some of the Amazon numbers were reported to AAP from the publishers themselves.) There’s a lot of self-reporting in the old fashioned way that publishing numbers get gathered, from independent bookstores telling their numbers (without a fact check) to publishers doing the same.

Still, no small bookstore will deliberately underreport its numbers unless there is a business or tax reason to do so, which doesn’t seem to factor in here. Verifying the numbers from both booksellers and publishers has never been part of book sales reporting, not even after computers came into the picture. (Although, with the assistance of numbers from Bowker and book distributors, the introduction of computers did help.)

The numbers that caught everyone’s attention were two-part.

1) Sales of adult fiction titles fell 16% from 2013 to 2017.

2) That 16% represents a rather large dollar figure. Sales went from $5.21 billion to $4.38 billion.

Realize we are talking about traditional publishing here, not indie publishing at all. Those numbers aren’t really baked into the book sales numbers in any significant way. (Remember, Amazon isn’t counted here, and Kindle Unlimited isn’t reflected here at all.)

The scarier number for traditional publishers appears deeper in the article. This number comes from Bookscan, which only tracks print sales. I’m going to quote PW here. The italics at the end of the sentence are my emphasis added.

…the BookScan figures show that no fiction title topped one million copies sold in 2016 or 2017 at outlets that report to the service.

For an industry that used to sell print titles well over a million on a regular basis (at the turn of the century and before) that’s a scary, scary, scary number. For comparison, I tried to go to 1998 with a quick web search of Publisher’s Weekly, but I only managed to find 1999. It’ll do.

There were six trade paperback fiction bestsellers that sold one million copies plus, and trade was the smallest selling fiction category at the time.  There were more mass market paperback bestsellers than I wanted to count—and these listings began at 2 million sales plus. Leading that list with 2 books was John Grisham at 4.1 million and 3.875 million respectively.  Eight hardcover novels sold more than 1 million copies, including (again) a John Grisham.

. . . .

Last year, John Grisham admitted to the New York Times that his novels sell half of what they sold in 2007, which was less than they sold in 1997.  Here’s how Janet Maslin of the Times reported his comments:

He doesn’t worry much about book sales either, except he’s very alert to the numbers. “The biggest change for me has been that I’m selling about half the books I sold before the Great Recession,” he said. “Maybe a little bit more than half. This is discretionary spending, and people are not spending.”

Savvy readers will see that I used this same quote last year in discussing book sales.  Nothing has changed in the year or so since I wrote that post.

Until the last ten years or so, traditional publishing dominated the marketplace. They could sell millions of copies to readers because there was no other game in town. Nothing competed with traditionally published novels.

. . . .

We are at Stage Three in the publishing disruption, though, and traditional publishers are no longer the only game in town. Not even close. And they’ve got a really serious issue: their business model was built in the previous century. To make matters even worse, they’ve consolidated. None of the big traditional publishers are nimble in anyway. They’re part of large conglomerates who expect major earnings from each corporation under their huge umbrella.

In an upcoming part of this series, I will examine how traditional publishers are looking to keep themselves relevant to their corporate masters. It will change the traditional publishing model forever, but it won’t benefit writers in any way.

. . . .

Traditional publishers are terrified by these shrinking sales numbers. Their solutions are based in their old model thinking—and, unfortunately for them, are mostly impossible.

The reason I chose John Grisham as my example is three-fold. First, there’s that lovely quote he gave the New York Times. Second, I looked up his numbers last year and the current ones are this: His books now sell in one month what they used to sell in one week. Sometimes in one day.  The third reason? He’s still sitting on top of the bestseller list, as one of the most important big guns, twenty-seven years after he hit it.

He’s on the list, Nora Roberts is still on the list, Stephen King…

Let’s go back to that Publisher’s Weekly article that sparked so much discussion. A lot of the discussion was about what’s “wrong” with fiction sales. The discussion is lost in that traditional publishing bubble, thinking they’re still the only game in town.

They talk about movies and TV as competition (what is this? 1960?) and claim that people are either reading nonfiction or aren’t reading much at all. Worse, they’re blaming Amazon for much of their problems—refusing to see that Amazon is their biggest client.

. . . .

There is one line in here, though, that speaks to the problem that traditional publishers have had since 1997 or so—and they have not solved, despite being told over and over and over again that they need to rethink this.

They’re not building author careers. Or, as Peter Hildick-Smith of The Codex Group (which many industry insiders use for market research and pre-publication book testing) told PW:

Creating a dependable, bestselling author is a multibook investment that requires different strategies and great persistence. It’s not a one-and-done launch.

. . . .

The essence here is that the author is the brand, not the publisher, and traditional publishers are no longer putting the money into developing new brands. Which is why you’re seeing the same old same old on trad pub bestseller lists, and why the sales figures are going down.

There’s a lot to read out in the marketplace. Readers who like legal thrillers don’t have to read John Grisham. They can read a variety of other authors in a variety of different ways.

Hildick-Smith put his finger on the rest of the problem. He said that “so much inexpensive genre fiction [is] now available at ‘subprime price points under $5’ (from such channels as Kindle Unlimited), publishers must invest to develop brand name authors who can command premium-price loyalty.”

. . . .

Traditional publishing is not going to build new writers into bestsellers. They’re not even trying. That’s clear from a quote from Paul Bogaards, a vice president of Alfred P. Knopf who is apparently still dining out on his 2009 acquisition of Stieg Larsson’s books. In talking about rebuilding fiction sales, Bogaards is simply quoted as saying this:

There will be another big novel. There always is.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch


As PG was reading this excellent post by Kris, he was also thinking about flightless birds.

PG claims no special expertise about flightless birds, but he understands that most/all flightless birds have vestigial wings. Their distant ancestors could fly, but, over time, for one reason or another, flying became less important and they lost the ability to do so.

Some species of flightless birds live exclusively on isolated islands where few predators are found. These birds deal with whatever threats remain for them without needing to fly.

Other species of flightless birds have become very large – the ostrich and emu, for example. Given their size, they are no longer potential prey for predators like weasels and small cats which could pose a threat to smaller birds.

On occasion, a small flock of wild turkeys strolls through the grounds of Casa PG. They can fly and run and, particularly in flocks, intimidate a small carnivore.

These wild turkeys bear little resemblance to the domestic turkeys which may provide the main course for your dinner next Thanksgiving. The domesticated turkeys have been bred to develop outsized breasts, the better to provide more white meat which many consumers prefer. However, the domestic turkeys are so large and heavy, they are completely unable to fly. At best, they can run for a short distance while flapping their wings.

So back to books and publishing.

Thirty or forty years ago, there were a great many more publishers in the United States than there are today. There were more large traditional publishers in New York, some of which operated under the management of their founder or founder’s heirs and including many medium-sized publishers that have now been absorbed into giant conglomerates. There were also quite a number of successful regional publishers focused on serving a particular geographic area and many more specialty publishers that focused on particular interest groups – golf, military history, regional cooking, hunting and fishing, local history, cowboys, etc.

Today, traditional US publishing is much more concentrated, with the “Big Five”, five huge publishers, all of which are located within a short cab ride of each other on the island of Manhattan and are subsidiaries of even larger worldwide media conglomerates.

One might be tempted to compare them to giant flightless birds, living within a monoculture comprised of wealthier-than-average white people who, by and large, attended the same 20-25 colleges and haven’t had any real jobs outside of publishing. All five Big Five CEO’s are white. Four are male.

Each of the large publishers relies heavily on sales through traditional bookstores. Barnes & Noble is their largest bricks and mortar customer.

Perhaps the best example of the dangers of the Big Five monoculture is the illegal price-fixing conspiracy that began in 2009 and was designed to allow Apple to derail Amazon’s ebook business.

In 2009, Big Publishing was not happy with Amazon. The publishers had finally decided they needed to start selling ebook versions of their books. However, in the typical fashion of organizations who felt entitled to exert control to protect their quasi-monopoly, the publishers did not want ebooks to cannibalize the sales of their printed books. The publishers had for some time discouraged bookstores from aggressive price discounting. This policy worked well with smaller customers, but Borders and Barnes & Noble were large enough that they were less subject to this pressure

Accordingly, the publishers set the prices of their ebooks high so as not to “devalue” their books in the eyes of customers and to encourage customers to continue purchasing printed books through traditional bookstores and restrain Amazon’s book sales.

Amazon was not cooperating with this strategy, however, and was selling ebooks from the large traditional publishers for $9.99, even if the company had to take a loss on each ebook sale.

Approximately every three months, the CEOs of the Big Six (Penguin and Random House had not yet merged) would meet in private dining rooms in New York restaurants without counsel or assistant present, in order to discuss the common challenges they faced, including most prominently Amazon’s pricing policies. (When PG first learned about this practice, he was absolutely astounded. It laid the groundwork for a classic slam-dunk victory in the later antitrust case. Any lawyer who learned a client was doing this would be hoisting red flags from morning until night. It was a profoundly stupid practice.)

In 2009, Apple was preparing for the announcement of the first iPad in early 2010. Apple CEO Steve Jobs was a very sick man.

Jobs had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004. By early 2009, he was a very sick man and had lost a great deal of weight. He took a medical leave of absence in late January and had a complete liver transplant in April, 2009. Following the transplant, he was better, but still not completely well. He would die from his illness in 2011.

In late 2009, Jobs’ lieutenant, Apple’s senior VP of Internet Software and Services, Eddy Cue, set up meetings with the top executives of the six largest New York Publishers. Apple wanted to announce the iBookstore in conjunction with the iPad announcement but had concerns about Amazon’s pricing.

Cue told the publishers that Apple wanted to sell the majority its e-books between $9.99 and $14.99, with new releases being $12.99 to $14.99. Apple also adopted the agency model of pricing, wherein the publishers would control the price of the e-books with Apple receiving a 30% commission.

However, Apple didn’t want to be underpriced by Amazon, so it would insist on an agreement with the publishers that Apple could match any price at which Amazon was selling an ebook.

Leading up to the agreement of five of the publishers to agree to Apple’s terms (Random House abstained), they continued their private dining room discussions and called each other over 100 times in the week before signing the agreement.

On the day of the iPad launch, On the day of the launch, Jobs was asked by a reporter why people would pay $14.99 for a book in the iBookstore when they could purchase it for $9.99 from Amazon. In response Jobs stated that “The price will be the same… Publishers are actually withholding their books from Amazon because they are not happy.”

The plot quickly fell apart and the Justice Department sued the five big publishers and Apple for conspiring to illegally fix the prices of ebooks. Later, the Justice Department publicly humiliated management of the Big Five by requiring an admission of guilt and forcing monetary settlements.

The whole ebook price-fixing fiasco is an excellent illustration of one of the most serious weaknesses of the groupthink monoculture that governs Big Publishing. Even after their price-fixing fiasco, they have not made any meaningful changes to avoid becoming even bigger, fatter domesticated turkeys who are unable to respond in a meaningful way to the changes in the publishing business.

While PG believes the five huge flightless birds do not have a bright future before them, as Kris suggests, indie authors need to keep their eyes open and options ready to respond to changes in the book business.

Amazon is not the same as it was nine years ago. In 2009, its net sales revenue was $24 billion. In 2017, it was $178 billion. In 2009, Amazon was filled with managers who remembered when the company was a scrappy little underdog and maintained that mindset.

Between 2009 and 2019, a lot of new people have become Amazon executives. To the best of PG’s knowledge, the KDP group has substantially changed since then. It has undoubtedly grown into a huge organization. In 2009, Amazon had a total of 24,000 employees. Today, it has 566,000.

PG continues to be pleased with Amazon, as reflected by its usual treatment of authors. However, with a large organization, things can always change and indie authors need to be wise and ready to change when change is thrust upon them or when change can provide better opportunities for their books and their business.

 

There are good

There are good and bad times, but our mood changes more often than our fortune.

~ Thomas Carlyle

The Future of Music, Where Middlemen Have Met Their Match

From OZY:

“Hey, Dad. I want to show you a song.”

The speaker was my 16-year-old daughter. Music for her? Primarily visual and to be enjoyed in video clips. Video clips that did not always feature videos. Sometimes it was just some clip art and the music. But no record store, no record album, no tape — reel-to-reel, eight track, cassette or otherwise — and finally no compact disc. And she’s not alone in how she’s digging on the music she digs on.

According to Nielsen’s music report, digital and physical album sales declined (again) last year — from about 205 million in 2016 to 169 million copies in 2017 — down 17 percent. Over the past five years, right up to Nielsen’s mid-year report, sales had fallen by roughly 75 percent. That decline is coinciding with a streaming juggernaut that continues to grow. How much so? Last year streaming skated, quite easily, beyond 400 billion streams. You include video streams and you have figures over $618 billion. You look back at the year before and you see a 58 percent increase in audio streams.

While this buoyed the damned-near-moribund music industry to the tune of 12.5 percent growth from 2016 to last year, the music business is now, as it has been, all about discovering the music that can generate all of those streams. And that’s where things get curious because record labels that are used to creating heat now have to go places where the heat is being created to stay viable and vibrant.

. . . .

With a number of presently high-profile artists — Odd Future, Lil Yachty, Post Malone, etc. — being “discovered” on places like SoundCloud over the past five years, entire communities of music fans can beat both the hype and the Spotify/Pandora/SiriusXM radio/Amazon algorithms that suggest if you liked this, you might also like that, by starting there, and branching out. First stop: Instagram.

“People come in all the time and play me stuff from their IG feeds,” says Mark Thompson, founder of Los Angeles-based Vacation Vinyl (that sells, yes, primarily vinyl). “So I’m hearing bands that it soon becomes pretty clear have no label, no representation, nothing but an IG feed and maybe some music recorded on their laptops.”

To put this in perspective, in July 2018, Instagram added the music mode in Stories, and just that quickly streaming started to feel … old. Because from the musicians’ mouths to our ears, unmediated music finds its way from the creator to the consumer. Spotify is trying to adapt too — it has over the past year begun to sign deals with independent musicians to give them access to the platform.

. . . .

“It’s free,” she says, having endured speeches about listening to unpaid/stolen music. Since she and her friends don’t ever listen to more than 60 seconds of any song, at least while I am around, this raises the question: Is it a business and is it sustainable in the same way that Apple Music, Tidal, Deezer or iHeartRadio have managed to be?

“Unknown,” says former promoter and music industry executive Mark Weiss. “But the business is where the ears are. And if the business is any damn good it’ll figure out how to stay in the conversation.”

. . . .

Flash-forward to record contracts from the mid-1990s that covered cassette tapes, vinyl, compact discs and “future technologies not yet known.” The digitization of analog music had already changed the landscape for everything from crime to interior design.

Whereas previously you’d have needed a turntable, an amplifier, maybe a preamp, a tape player, a receiver, speakers and a subwoofer to listen to the music that you’d be playing off of tapes, vinyl or CDs, after everything was digitized you just needed a phone and speakers.

Link to the rest at OZY

How Much of the Internet Is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually.

From New York magazine:

In late November, the Justice Department unsealed indictments against eight people accused of fleecing advertisers of $36 million in two of the largest digital ad-fraud operations ever uncovered. Digital advertisers tend to want two things: people to look at their ads and “premium” websites — i.e., established and legitimate publications — on which to host them.

The two schemes at issue in the case, dubbed Methbot and 3ve by the security researchers who found them, faked both. Hucksters infected 1.7 million computers with malware that remotely directed traffic to “spoofed” websites — “empty websites designed for bot traffic” that served up a video ad purchased from one of the internet’s vast programmatic ad-exchanges, but that were designed, according to the indictments, “to fool advertisers into thinking that an impression of their ad was served on a premium publisher site,” like that of Vogue or The Economist. Views, meanwhile, were faked by malware-infected computers with marvelously sophisticated techniques to imitate humans: bots “faked clicks, mouse movements, and social network login information to masquerade as engaged human consumers.” Some were sent to browse the internet to gather tracking cookies from other websites, just as a human visitor would have done through regular behavior. Fake people with fake cookies and fake social-media accounts, fake-moving their fake cursors, fake-clicking on fake websites — the fraudsters had essentially created a simulacrum of the internet, where the only real things were the ads.

How much of the internet is fake? Studies generally suggest that, year after year, less than 60 percent of web traffic is human; some years, according to some researchers, a healthy majority of it is bot. For a period of time in 2013, the Times reported this year, a full half of YouTube traffic was “bots masquerading as people,” a portion so high that employees feared an inflection point after which YouTube’s systems for detecting fraudulent traffic would begin to regard bot traffic as real and human traffic as fake. They called this hypothetical event “the Inversion.”

. . . .

Take something as seemingly simple as how we measure web traffic. Metrics should be the most real thing on the internet: They are countable, trackable, and verifiable, and their existence undergirds the advertising business that drives our biggest social and search platforms. Yet not even Facebook, the world’s greatest data–gathering organization, seems able to produce genuine figures. In October, small advertisers filed suit against the social-media giant, accusing it of covering up, for a year, its significant overstatements of the time users spent watching videos on the platform (by 60 to 80 percent, Facebook says; by 150 to 900 percent, the plaintiffs say). According to an exhaustive list at MarketingLand, over the past two years Facebook has admitted to misreporting the reach of posts on Facebook Pages (in two different ways), the rate at which viewers complete ad videos, the average time spent reading its “Instant Articles,” the amount of referral traffic from Facebook to external websites, the number of views that videos received via Facebook’s mobile site, and the number of video views in Instant Articles.

Can we still trust the metrics? After the Inversion, what’s the point? Even when we put our faith in their accuracy, there’s something not quite real about them: My favorite statistic this year was Facebook’s claim that 75 million people watched at least a minute of Facebook Watch videos every day — though, as Facebook admitted, the 60 seconds in that one minute didn’t need to be watched consecutively. Real videos, real people, fake minutes.

. . . .

And maybe we shouldn’t even assume that the people are real. Over at YouTube, the business of buying and selling video views is “flourishing,” as the Times reminded readers with a lengthy investigation in August. The company says only “a tiny fraction” of its traffic is fake, but fake subscribers are enough of a problem that the site undertook a purge of “spam accounts” in mid-December. These days, the Times found, you can buy 5,000 YouTube views — 30 seconds of a video counts as a view — for as low as $15; oftentimes, customers are led to believe that the views they purchase come from real people. More likely, they come from bots.

. . . .

Link to the rest at New York magazine

Welcome to The Great Acceleration

From The Scholarly Kitchen:

My employer, Oxford University Press, holds regular “Oxford Journals Day” events where we bring together our society publishing partners and journal editors to catch up on the latest developments in publishing and to share their experiences. In the autumn of 2017, I was asked to give a “State of Scholarly Communications” presentation for this meeting and, being a fundamentally lazy person, I thought – this is great, Academia moves at such a slow pace that, with some minor tweaks, I’ll be able to re-use this talk for years. Six months later I was asked to reprise the talk for a UK event and I ended up having to rewrite about half of it. Six months later, I had to rewrite the other half.

I like to think of the period that we’ve entered into now as “The Great Acceleration,” a term coined by author Warren Ellis (or, as a recent exhibition states it, “Everything Happens So Much“). We aren’t really dealing with new issues – arXiv has been around posting preprints since 1991, mergers have been common for a while now (Wiley buying Blackwell happened more than 11 years ago), and the open access movement has been front and center since at least the year 2000.

. . . .

But, like every other aspect of our lives in this interconnected, digital utopia in which we live, we’ve reached a point where everything feels like it’s happening at once. Every week it seems like another piece of crucial publishing infrastructure is changing hands, or a new open access policy is announced, or there’s a new open letter petitioning for change that you’re expected to sign onto, or a new technology or standard that you absolutely must implement.

The upside to this accelerated pace is that it gets us closer to our goals faster. We know that the field of scholarly communications is far from perfect, but now it’s so much easier to gather evidence about reader and author needs, so much easier to publicly discuss potential plans, and, at least in some cases, to put those plans into action and draw attention to them.

The downside is that the faster you go, the less effective are your brakes. Scholarly communications is a complex ecosystem, and one that for most participants, largely works pretty well. Deliberately disrupting one aspect of the chain may have unexpected consequences in hundreds of other areas, and by then it may be too late to stop things from collapsing. We know the damage that the “move fast and break things” philosophy of Facebook and others has done to our society at large. Is this what we want for academia as well?

I would argue that the two biggest forces driving change in the scholarly communication landscape are consolidation and regulation. By consolidation, I mean that there’s a now constant cycle of mergers and acquisitions, reducing the number of independent players in the market. By regulation, we’re talking about the increasing number of rules and the compliance burden being put on researchers.

. . . .

We are in the midst of an era of mergers and acquisitions, and the biggest of publishers continue to get bigger. You’ll note that most now have names that are conglomerations of their former entities, “Springer Nature”, for example. The top 5 publishers account for more than 50% of the papers published each year, 70% in the social sciences.

In the past year or two, we’ve seen Wiley purchase Atypon, the platform that hosts more than a third of the world’s English language journals, along with Authorea and Manuscripts.app, both online paper writing collaboration tools. Elsevier has swallowed up bepress, which builds institutional repositories, SSRN, a widely used social sciences preprint network, Plum Analytics, a supplier of altmetrics, Aries, the company behind the Editorial Manager submission system, and in late December, Science Metrix.

. . . .

Some of these acquisitions are driven by need – Wiley reportedly spent a lot of money building a platform that underperformed, and bought Atypon to replace it. The same goes for Elsevier, whose home brewed submission system, eVise, never quite worked out, prompting them to buy Editorial Manager.

But a lot is also driven by Wall Street demands. We know that library budgets are flat, if not declining and that investors demands that companies increase their revenue each year. So first, you gobble up more and more of the existing market. Then you build an open access publishing program – that’s seen as new money, coming directly from funders and institutions rather than from the libraries. A third option comes into play here – if the market is flat, what other markets can a company extend itself into? Remember that Elsevier no longer refers to itself as a publisher, rather it is a “global information analytics business”

. . . .

This is creating a lot of anxiety in the market. If you’re a publisher and suddenly your mission critical infrastructure is owned by a competitor, that has to make you nervous. Combined with concerns about lock-in, this anxiety has led to a growing consensus that the market needs a major investment in shared and open infrastructure and standards. Rather than relying on a competitor or even a private company likely to be acquired by a competitor for key services, perhaps it’s better to work with a community-owned, not-for-profit service. Much of this is being driven by open source software community, which has many advantages due to its transparency, and portability.

It’s unclear whether there’s enough scale in our relatively small community to drive open source development at the level seen for larger industries. We’re just starting to see some of these systems emerging, and while the tools themselves look promising, what’s really needed are services built around those tools. Most publishers don’t have the internal capacity (nor the desire) to become software development and support companies, hence a need for outsourcing remains critical.

. . . .

Given the high number of degrees awarded by universities every year and the very low number of tenure track faculty positions made available, research careers are something of a buyer’s market. We’ve seen universities continually increase the demands they make of their research employees. Researchers are required to do more and more beyond their actual research, including the usual teaching, mentoring, and serving on seemingly endless committees, but also primarily fundraising — science positions are increasingly similar to free-lance work, where the university essentially agrees to rent you space, and then you’re responsible for paying your own salary and costs through whatever grants you can bring in.

Now on top of this, researchers are being asked to jump through an enormous number of additional hoops, ranging from pre-registration of experiments, to posting of preprints (and monitoring and responding to resulting comments), to formal publication (where one must take great care to publish it in an outlet that follows the very specific rules set by your funders, your university, and all of your collaborators’ funders and institutions). Then you need to make the data behind the paper publicly available and help others use it, and if you really want to drive reproducibility, write up and release your methodologies. Societal impact is now deemed important, so you have to become your own publicist, promoting yourself and the work via social media. At the same time, people may be talking about your paper via post-publication peer review systems, so you need to monitor those and respond to any questions/criticisms.

Link to the rest at The Scholarly Kitchen

PG says a lot of the promotion and marketing requirements placed on academic authors sound like what indie authors do when they self-publish a book.

He’s remarked upon the strange economics in the world of academic publishing before, but PG will again remind one and all that the scholarly publishers don’t pay the researchers and authors any royalties or other compensation for the articles they publish.

However, scholarly publishers do charge very high subscription fees for their publications, which, like everything else, are rapidly moving away from paper to electronic form. A large percentage of these subscription fees are paid by college and university research libraries.

PG suggests following the money.

  1. Academic researchers are almost always receiving some sort of financial compensation from academic institutions in the form of salaries, office and lab space, access to the college/university libraries. While outside foundations, etc., may fund some parts of the research, the nonprofit academic institutions, including university-affiliated hospitals and other medical facilities in some cases, are providing support necessary for a great many research projects.
  2. A key deliverable for most academic research is a published report of the results of the research programs. For a variety of altruistic and self-serving reasons, colleges and universities want their contemporaries to know what excellent and innovative work is being done by their scholars.
  3. Instead of simply releasing such research reports directly, by posting them on university computer systems with free downloads available and permitting other relevant online locations academic research to repost, the colleges and universities expect their researchers to obtain what amounts to a stamp of approval from an appropriate third-party privately owned (in most cases) academic publication.
  4. The researchers write up their findings and submit them to scholarly publications. Since such publishers do not employ people with sufficient expertise to determine whether the research has been properly conducted and the research conclusions are supported by the research results, the scholarly publishers send the draft findings and conclusions out to experts in the field. In many cases, those experts are employed by other non-profit academic and research institutions and are certainly not employed by the scholarly publications.
  5. After appropriate third-party scholarly reviews are received by the publisher, sent to the authors, incorporated into revised reports, subjected to follow up examination by third-party experts, etc., the authors’ work is finally published.
  6. The scholarly publisher sells and licenses its publication of the author’s work to libraries, journal subscribers, etc. As mentioned above, scholarly publishers charge very high subscription fees for their publications.

What makes the scholarly publications valuable?

  1. The expertise and labor of the authors of the articles published which may incorporate the results of testing, laboratory research which may involve the use of expensive lab equipment, the use of clinical research facilities in hospitals, etc., which are provided by the institutions where the authors conduct their research,
  2. plus the quasi-certification of the reliability of the articles provided by third-party experts who have reviewed the published materials.

Who receives all the money generated from the sales and licensing of the scholarly publications?

Not the authors or the institutions providing research facilities or the experts capable of reviewing the research and providing the seal of approval.

It may not be the most exciting business in the world, but the publication of scholarly works is a great way to make a large return on the investment necessary to publish journals and books in 2018 2019.

Publishers Weekly Takes Over The Millions

From Publishers Weekly:

PWxyz, parent company of Publishers Weekly, has acquired the online magazine the Millions, plus its website TheMillions.com, for an undisclosed price.

The Millions was founded in 2003 by Max Magee and offers coverage of books, arts, and culture aimed at a consumer audience. Magee had been its editor until 2016, when Lydia Kiesling took over the role. Moving forward, Adam Boretz, a longtime editor at PW, who also served at the Millions as Magee’s associate editor, will become editor of the Millions, and will be promoted to senior editor at PW. Kiesling will continue to be involved in various capacities.

Although Magee will no longer be involved with the magazine, the Millions writing and editorial staffs will remain largely unchanged. PW will look to beef up the magazine’s advertising efforts under the direction of PW publisher Cevin Bryerman.

“The Millions has grown over time into a vibrant and necessary project, and in recent years I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how the project might live beyond my stewardship,” said Magee. “In Publishers Weekly, the Millions will gain a partner that is devoted to the site’s mission and we hope will make the site a lasting institution. We at the Millions uniformly believe this is a great outcome for the site and for its writers and readers.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG cannot claim to be a frequent visitor to The Millions, but he had no idea that the site sold advertising.  He thought the business plan was Support The Millions by Becoming a Member.

For those who are not familiar with the site, it is a combination of book reviews (Are they the advertising the site sells?) and interviews with people with whom PG is unfamiliar (More paid advertising?).

Laura Adamczyk‘s stories are not for the faint of heart.

Since 2014, when Jeff Jackson and I roamed the AWP Writers Conference together, I’ve read everything he’s written—that I know of, anyway.

In early 2016, during a monthslong relocation to Barcelona, I fell under the spell of three contemporary masters of Spanish-language fiction: Javier Cercas, of Barcelona, Javier Marías, of Madrid, and Álvaro Enrigue, of Mexico and New York. Even now, back in the U.S., I feel with these writers the special connection you get when your reading life and your life-life come close enough to touch.

I met Feroz Rather one verdant summer in Kashmir, almost a decade ago. 

I interview Ottessa Moshfegh at Caffe Vita, in Silverlake, earlier this month.

Always be yourself

“Always be yourself, unless you can be a narwhal.”

~ Author Unknown


Consider the Narwhal

Not really to do with the business of writing, but PG’s fleeting attention was captured by the title of the OP.

From The London Review of Books:

In 1584, as Ivan the Terrible lay dying, he called from his bed for his unicorn horn, a royal staff ‘garnished with verie fare diamondes, rubies, saphiers, emeralls’. Unicorn horns were believed throughout Europe to have magical curative properties; as late as 1789, a unicorn drinking horn was used to protect the French court, where it was said to sweat and change colour in the presence of poison. To prove the horn’s efficacy, Ivan ordered his physician to scratch a circle on the table with the tip of the horn, and to ‘seeke owt for som spiders’. The spiders placed within the circle curled up and died; spiders placed outside it ran away and survived. The dead spiders, though, could not console Ivan. ‘It is too laite,’ he said, ‘it will not preserve me,’ whereupon, soon afterwards, he died.

The unicorn horn was, of course, a narwhal tusk: the tooth of a small Arctic whale, which grows out through the upper lip, twisting counter-clockwise for up to 2.5 metres. Named rather ungallantly for the Old Norse word nar, meaning ‘corpse’, and hvalr, ‘whale’, after their mottled grey markings, narwhals are unicorn-like not just in their appendages, but in their elusiveness; they are one of the mammals about which we know least. They spend the winter months dodging dense pack ice, where humans cannot follow, and can swim a mile deep, twisting upside-down as they descend into pitch-black water.

. . . .

The great mystery of the narwhal is the purpose of its tusk. Appearing in males of about a year old, as short and thin as a little finger, it grows for nearly ten years until it’s as wide as 25 cm at the base. Herman Melville writes of the ‘nostril whale’ in Moby-Dick: ‘Some sailors tell me that the Narwhale employs it for a rake in turning over the bottom of the sea for food. Charley Coffin said it was used for an ice-piercer … But you cannot prove either of these surmises to be correct.’ He ends by suggesting it would make an excellent letter opener. Because less than 15 per cent of female narwhals have the tusk, it can’t be necessary for survival, and so, when male narwhals were observed clashing tusks it was often interpreted as rivalrous jousting. Recently, though, scientists have found that the tusk is shot through with around ten million nerve endings, and by rubbing tusks on meeting, the narwhals may be passing on information about the salinity (and therefore propensity to freeze) of the water through which they have just passed; not aggressors, then, but Mercators.

. . . .

The legend of the narwhal is not a gentle one. The Danish ethnologist Knud Rasmussen recorded the myths of the Inuit of Greenland’s northwestern coast in the late 19th century. In the narwhal origin myth, the cruel mother of a blind son tricks him out of his fair share of bear meat. The mother plaits and twists her hair into a long braid and the two go out to harvest passing white whales; the son binds her with ropes to one of the whales, and it drags her into the sea. According to Rasmussen, ‘she did not come back, and was changed into a narwhal … and from her the narwhals are descended.’

. . . .

This was not Elizabeth I’s only narwhal tusk. Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Walter Raleigh’s half-brother, presented her with a gem-encrusted narwhal tusk worth £10,000 (enough, at the time, to buy and staff a small castle). It was, he told her, a ‘sea-unicorn’.

Link to the rest at The London Review of Books

Discoverability: Draft2Digital

From Draft2Digital:

For sure, 2018 had a few bumps in the road. Amazon shook up the industry first by a shift to favoring paid advertising over organic search results, then with policy changes that led to decreased revenue and even canceled accounts, with effectively no recourse for affected authors.

Other interesting turns included dubious trademark claims, leading to the addition of terms like Cockygate being added to every indie author’s lexicon. Some authors attempted to trademark generic cover layouts and common words to (allegedly) protect their intellectual property. In general, it was a year filled with questionable practices on the IP front.

On a more positive front, Draft2Digital’s 2018 was a year of empowering authors in all-new and pretty exciting ways, with all new sales and distribution options, updates to existing tools, and a whole shelf full of new and exciting resources that make it that much easier to stop worrying about everything else and just write.

. . . .

We spend a lot of our time thinking of new ways to help authors take things to the next level. But for 2018, there was one challenge we were eager to take on: Discoverability.

Finding new ways to help readers discover you and your books was our priority for 2018.

. . . .

D2D Author Pages are your home away from homepage. This is a single platform online, where readers find more about you and find all of your books, all in one place. They’re beautifully crafted—we even updated them with all new features before the year was up! More on that in a minute.

These powerful pages include:

  • Your author bio, and an optional author photo
  • Links to your social media accounts
  • Customizable page elements to help promote your books to readers
  • A button that invites users to follow you, either through D2D’s New Release Notifications or by joining your mailing list, pointing them to your signup tool of choice
  • Carousels of your books and series
  • A “hero” book with optional promotional elements, so you can push a new release, first in series, free book, and more

These pages are perfect if you don’t have a website and either can’t afford one or don’t know how to create one. They’re also great as the “My Books” page of your existing site.

. . . .

D2D Book Tabs are a lot like a product page for your book, but they’re so much more! This is where your book lives and breathes online. D2D Book Tabs give your readers a beautiful and convenient place to find out everything they need to know to make the decision to buy and read your book.

Built on the back of our (very popular) Universal Book Links (UBLs), D2D Book Tabs are entirely independent of any single eBook retailer. Readers can click the Buy Now button and find your book anywhere it’s sold online.

Some key features include:

  • Your book and series titles
  • Your name as the author, with a link for readers to find more books by you
  • The cover image of your book
  • A customizable book description
  • Customizable page elements to help promote your book to readers
  • Your author photo and bio

Both your D2D Author Page and your D2D Book Tabs are designed with a smooth and enticing user experience in mind. They’re a perfect balance of form and function, encouraging readers to click through, to buy your books, and to come back for more. They’re a sleek, attractive, and easy way to promote you and your work and to increase your discoverability online.

. . . .

In 2017 we announced our partnership with Findaway Voices—a new way for you to turn your book into an audiobook and distribute it worldwide, even to Audible and Apple Books.

We saw some pretty amazing things come out of this partnership—

  • More than 4,300 authors produced audiobooks
  • More than 6,000 hours of audio was produced and distributed worldwide
  • More than 1,000 new narrators were added to Findaway’s database

. . . .

We’ve had a blast working with Findaway Voices, and based on feedback from our authors, we know you feel the same. Their recent announcement that they’re offering direct distribution to Apple Books, as well as a new 45% royalty (versus the previous 25%), is only going to make them all the more fun to work with.

. . . .

For months there were rumors, and then in September the bag was opened, and cats just ran everywhere. Kobo had struck a deal with Walmart for not only eBook distribution on Walmart.com, but also through select physical storefronts. Not only could readers buy a Kobo device off of Walmart shelves, they could also pick up a hanging placard that allowed them to purchase an eBook right from Walmart’s registers.

Now you could get your oil changed, buy your groceries, pick up fish food, and load up your Kobo reader all from the world’s biggest retailer*.

*We’re never sure if Walmart or Amazon deserves this title, but we’re inclined to give the win to Walmart on this one.

So what does that mean for D2D authors?

Since we have such a great relationship with Kobo, as one of our top sales channels, it means that D2D authors can have their books distributed to Walmart.com as well! In fact, if Kobo happens to be one of your sales channels, you’re already on Walmart’s virtual shelves.

Link to the rest at Draft2Digital

Disclosure: PG drafted the first Terms of Service for D2D for the initial roll-out of their service and has paid attention to their progress as they’ve grown.

PG has always liked the people running D2D and their attitude toward authors, including their royalty rates. When Mrs. PG read the OP, she told PG that she was going to try out some of their new promotional tools. (She’s had books on D2D since the company started.)

PG was particularly interested in the Walmart.com announcement.

At various times in the somewhat-distant and really-distant past, PG has attended a handful of business meetings with various Walmart executives. The attitude of managers when Sam Walton was still running the place (PG did say this goes back a long time) was much more receptive to new ideas from outside the company than the attitude of the managers after Mr. Sam left Bentonville to investigate potential store sites in an entirely different realm.

To be fair, Walmart is a huge company (2.3 million employees) and PG spoke to a small subset of their management team, so his attitude toward Walmart management has been based on an entirely insufficient sampling of people, most of whom may not be there anymore.

At any rate, PG has continued to watch Walmart from afar. After many years of so-so performance and getting totally beaten by Amazon online, over the past year or so, Walmart appears to have rediscovered some of its retailing mojo.

In particular, Walmart.com has finally become a decent website connected to a warehouse and delivery system that’s competitive with Amazon. For the first time ever, PG purchased a few items through Walmart.com during the latter part of 2018 because  Walmart was offering better prices and selection on those items than Amazon did.

That’s a long way of saying that PG will be interested to see if Walmart becomes a serious destination for book purchasers.

He just did a quick scan of Walmart’s online bookstore and while it’s a long way behind Amazon (for example, ebooks and printed books are sold in two different sections of the store), at least some of Walmart’s hardcopy bestsellers were beating Amazon’s prices by a 10-20% margin.

Bullet Journaling

From The Wall Street Journal:

Bullet journaling is an organizing strategy developed several years ago by Mr. Carroll [Ryder Carroll, The Bullet Journal Method] that has attracted something of a cult following. It involves writing out tasks and daily events by hand, which helps you think about whether they’re worth doing. A table of contents or index in the front of a bullet journal allows you to include everything from exercise logs to project plans and to find notes quickly. There are different types of “bullets” for events and tasks, and tasks that aren’t completed in one daily log are moved onto the next day’s roster.

All of this can read like “stereo instructions,” as Mr. Carroll jokes. (“When you notice a Master Task is spawning a lot of Subtasks, it can indicate that this Task is growing into a project.”) Yet the point is to de-clutter your mind and make life more organized than it would be with mere to-do lists.

Bullet journaling is a serious system that takes itself a touch too seriously. Mr. Carroll notes that detailing how you spend your time helps you remember that life includes more than daily drudgery: Drinks with old friends, dinners out with spouses and other pleasures are more common than we recall at first. But it’s hard not to laugh when, as an example of the range of bullet journaling, Mr. Carroll tells of a guy who used his journal entries to figure out why things didn’t work out with his girlfriend. (She was distant, apparently.)

A common criticism of bullet journaling is that, with its emphasis on hand-written entries, the journals themselves can begin to look like adult coloring books, and a cursory search online reveals devotees who have spent hours curling bubbly letters and other adornments. What a waste of time for a method aimed at making the most of your time! Credit to Mr. Carroll for assuring his readers that you don’t have to be an artist to reap the benefits of bullet journaling.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG is engaged in an attempt to become more efficient with his time after realizing that some parts of his working day are extremely efficient, but other parts are inefficient.

He’s pretty certain that he’s not going to write anything down on paper because one of his inefficiencies is not processing the paper which enters his life with any pretense of efficiency. He believes he needs less paper, not more.

A bit of online research disclosed that (surprise!) there are a lot of Bullet Journal apps. However, at the moment, PG is deapping his phone and tablet. His winnowing method is very simple – if he doesn’t immediately know what an app is used for by looking at its icon, he’s not going to use it and it’s going into the bitbucket.

However, during his brief look at bullet journaling, PG discovered a couple of articles about using Evernote for bullet journaling (here and here).

Since PG does use Evernote on a regular basis and has done so since the program was in beta, he’s going to go that route.

He thinks.

At present.


My Life As a Psychopath

From The Cut:

The word “psychopath,” like many words associated with mental and personality disorders, is used broadly, and often incorrectly — colloquially, we might call someone who lies a lot a psychopath, just as we might call someone who texts us more frequently than we want “crazy.” The word “psychopath” is also routinely used to describe serial killers, though not all serial/mass murderers have psychopathic personalities. And while “sociopath” is sometimes (mistakenly) used interchangeably with psychopath, only the latter is rigorously defined and clinically accepted, says Craig Neumann, a professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of North Texas whose singular research focus has been the psychopathic personality and its traits.

According to Neumann, the true definition of “psychopath” is actually pretty narrow: “Broadly speaking, psychopathy refers to a pathological personality style that is interpersonally deceptive, affectively cold, behaviorally reckless, and often overtly antisocial,” he writes. To qualify, he says, a person must possess traits pertaining to each of four “domains”: Interpersonal, Affective, Lifestyle, and Antisocial. The corresponding traits are as follows:

Interpersonal: They’re manipulative, deceitful, and/or narcissistic.
Affective: They lack remorse, are callous, and may take pleasure in hurting others.
Lifestyle: They’re impulsive, may use illegal substances, and may have disregard for the consequences of their actions.
Antisocial: They are physically aggressive and may have a history of or tendency toward criminal behavior.

Importantly, Neumann notes, psychopathy is a scale. “It’s not that you’re either a psychopath or not,” he says. “In the same way someone can have severe depression but it’s also possible for someone to have mild or moderate depression.” Neumann uses the example of professional poker players: they might be deceitful, and narcissistic, but they’re (probably) not psychopaths. Similarly, he takes issue with neuroscientist James Fallon’s calling himself a psychopath because his brain imaging profile matched that of psychopathic individuals.

“Just because the amygdala shows hypoactivation does not make you a psychopath,” says Neumann. “This is a characteristic that’s associated with psychopathy, but biology is not destiny. We believe that the syndrome, the personality disorder, is a coming together of these four major domains.” While certain people may possess a few, or even most of the psychopathic characteristics (like superficial charm, sexual promiscuity, and early behavioral problems, to name a few) listed on the Psychopathy Checklist(the PCL-R) — another tool used in the diagnostic process — unless they fulfill each of the four domains, Neumann doesn’t consider them truly psychopathic.

“The max score on the PCL-R is a 40, but to reach 30 is really going to be up there,” he says. (Most people score between a 1 and a 3, he adds.) “But the point I’m trying to make here is that even people who are 25, 26, they don’t quite reach the diagnostic threshold. Even people who are 16, 17, 18 on the PCL-R are nasty sons of bitches. Do they meet the diagnostic threshold of what we would call meeting a diagnosis of psychopathy? No.”

. . . .

Neumann hasn’t met or spoken to the subject of the following interview, but he did offer some potential disclaimers when I described the nature of our conversation. “These people dissimulate, they lie quite regularly, so it’s a challenging interview to do,” he says. “And most individuals at very high levels of psychopathy are not going to submit to an interview.” He’s also insistent that psychopaths are inherently and evidently unpleasant to be around. “One of the essences of personality pathology is you usually feel it in your gut first. Would I get in a car with this person and drive across the United States? And if you say ‘Oh, hell no,’ that gives you a clue that there’s something off in terms of personality,” he says.

The woman I spoke to, who will remain anonymous, says she was diagnosed as a psychopath in her mid-20s, and the diagnostic process she describes appears to be in line with what Neumann says is required. That said, our conversation was under an hour, and I am not a psychologist. That conversation, which has been edited for length, is below.

. . . .

 When were you diagnosed as a psychopath?
From age 26 to 27. I went through the whole diagnostic process over several months. There were a certain number of doctors that were involved, and a lot of testing: neuropsych testing, personality testing, brain scans, a lot of different interviews and going through the history of my childhood. It wasn’t a quick snap diagnosis. It was something that was arrived at over a decent period of time.

. . . .

Let’s talk about what people get wrong about psychopaths, in your view. Especially now, when there’s this huge cultural true-crime obsession, I think we have this very particular understanding of what a psychopath means, and it’s almost universally someone who’s very violent. 
It’s actually not an unreasonable thing — not because it’s true, but because of what they’re presented with. Most studies done on psychopaths are done [on men] in prison or in forensic hospitals, so everything you’re going to hear is going to come from a criminal. It’s always going to be painted against the backdrop of someone who has committed crimes. They’re only out for themselves, they don’t care about anyone else. If you interviewed any walk of people, and based their entire profile based on [the institutionalized] version of that person, like neurotypicals or autistic people, bipolar people, you get a very different picture than if you interviewed them in their general lives.

There is also this mistaken thinking that all serial killers are psychopaths, which is just not even remotely true. It’s just a myth that won’t die. There’s a phrase: “Not all psychopaths are serial killers, but all serial killers are psychopaths.” It’s just incorrect. But people hear this, and they associate [us with] serial killers. For some reason, people think we want to kill people. And I think that probably comes from the lack of empathy. People believe that if you have a lack of empathy, that automatically opens a floodgate of antisocial behavior. That’s not really how it works. I may not care, I may not have an emotional reaction to someone’s pain, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going out of my way to cause pain. It just means that I don’t have that emotional response.

In a day to day sense, or in your interpersonal relationships with people, is empathy or attempted empathy something you’ve had to teach yourself in order to relate to other people? How does that work? 
Well, we have cognitive empathy. So if your mother died, I can look at you, I can see that you are in pain. I may not feel the same pain, but I can understand you feel pain, and that series of behaviors usually warrants a certain response: comfort or interaction, engagement. And so it’s a matter of honing that over time, and also making sure that I can continually consider that my reaction to things is not how other people experience things. Which is hard, because you sort of go through life with the assumption that everybody experiences it like you do.

Do you ever feel afraid? 
We don’t feel fear. We get adrenal responses. When you have adrenaline responses to a car accident, or bungee jumping, or what have you, we’ll still get that, but for us, we don’t feel the fear, which can be obviously dangerous if you’re a little kid, and you don’t know you’re supposed to be afraid of stuff. We don’t process the emotion of fear. It doesn’t occur to us. And we can’t understand it, either. I mean, we get that you feel something, but we don’t get it.

How do you perceive it when you hear someone expressing their fear of mortality, or says they’re afraid to die someday? That always baffles me, because I can’t comprehend why it matters. For me, life is very much in this immediate moment. This moment is all you have, and the fear of it going away is just nonsensical. This is a huge disconnect for me. People explain it in ways that they very much understand: they’re afraid of dying, they’re afraid of not being important, they’re afraid of being forgotten. And none of those things are important to me, so it’s sort of like saying I’m afraid of not being the color blue.

. . . .

When you say cognitive love, does that mean you don’t feel that sort of romantic roller coaster feeling that other people describe to you? 
Well, no, I don’t. Certainly attraction. I feel attraction, and he’s very attractive. But psychopaths don’t process oxytocin like neurotypicals do. What oxytocin contributes to in your brain is chemical love, so that feeling of a roller coaster. Bonding is another one we don’t have. You bond to your significant other, you bond to your children, you bond to your pets. There’s also trust, which is a weird one, because I didn’t know oxytocin had anything to do with trust. Most people feel trust as an actual emotion. I never knew that. To me, trust was always: You show me how you’re going to behave, and I will determine whether or not I want you around. I always knew I didn’t trust people, and I always had a disconnect, because I didn’t know it was a chemical reaction for most people. I didn’t have an explanation as to why I didn’t trust people, but then I started digging into oxytocin. It made sense.

A lot of people think of psychopaths as having a very flat emotional affect, and I know we haven’t talked for long, but that’s not my impression of you. You obviously have a personality, and a distinctive way of speaking, and so I wonder what your experience is with that perception. 
People think we have no emotion, which is absolutely not true. We just feel them way turned down. If most people feel an emotion between seven and eight on a dial of ten, I feel it between zero and two. Negative emotions are background noise. We can’t tune into that frequency because our brains just don’t process enough information for them to ever be loud enough to feel or direct behavior. We enjoy things, get excited about things, like adrenaline — that’s great. I laugh with people, I enjoy intellectual discussions. A lower functioning psychopath probably wouldn’t enjoy intellectual conversation. They’d rather go and rob a liquor store. But that’s why they spend most of their lives in prison.

Do you feel at all that your psychopathy is an advantage to you? Do you feel lucky in any sense? 
No. It’s not an advantage, because all neurotypes come with limitations, don’t they? With psychopathy I constantly have to figure out people, and why they do what they do, and how to respond to them. Normal people have to deal with grief and loss and pain and heartbreak, but they also have things to make them happy. I think people are pretty wired the way they’re meant to be. I don’t know that it’s necessarily an advantage or disadvantage, it’s just what you make of it. I could easily take psychopathy and make it a terribly negative thing for both me and the world, because I could make bad choices, and do terrible things. I could do that, but that’s not who I have any interest in being. Anyone can make bad choices for themselves.

. . . .

 Online you’re very out as far as being a psychopath but is it something that a lot of people in your personal life know? Or your family? 
No. They have no idea, and I’m going to keep it that way.

. . . .

When you meet new people, whether professionally or personally or whatever context, do you present them with the version of yourself that fits the situation? 
Absolutely. Why tell them anything that they don’t need to know? They just need to know what they can expect of me.

Do you think it’s something that people suspect about you? Or do you think people’s perceptions are so off that they wouldn’t really know what psychopathy looks like? 
No. Psychopaths use what we call a ‘mask.’ It’s basically an entire affectation of being like everyone else. We learn at a really young age that if we respond to things the way that we naturally respond to things, people don’t like that. So you just learn how to affect the behavior and how to appear like everyone else, and that’s just what you have to do.

There’s a very different version of me that goes out of the house and interacts with the world from the person who’s home with people who know how I actually am. And even with the people who do know me, and do know how I actually am, there still has to be a mask. If somebody’s spending time with me in a room, I won’t give them the impression that they’re welcome. They might say something to me, and I’ll answer them back, but I’m not going to look at them, there’s no feeling of being welcome. But to me, unless I tell you to leave, you’re completely welcome.

I have a friend who will feel like I resent her spending time with me. She’ll be like, “I’m bothering you.” You’re not bothering me. Why do you think you’re bothering me? She’s like, “Well, I just get the impression you don’t want me here.” Did I tell you to leave? “No, but are we okay?” We’re fine! You’re fine. I have to make that connection. So if I don’t do that, people feel like there’s something profoundly lacking, and they feel uncomfortable. It’s very disquieting to them.

Link to the rest at The Cut

PG found this fascinating (no, he’s not a psychopath) because he doesn’t believe he’s ever met anyone who is a psychopath or close to one.

In olden days, prior to public defenders being available almost everywhere, when PG was occasionally assigned by a court to represent a criminal (technically, a defendant charged with a crime, but most defendants PG encountered professionally were, in fact, guilty of some sort of  crime), they mostly struck him as pretty stupid people without much impulse control.

PG also did a lot of voluntary Legal Aid work and encountered low-functioning people who got tangled up in legal matters, often divorces where the children were placed in foster care while custody issues were litigated. In such cases, PG represented the children and, on occasion, could not recommend that custody be granted to either parent even though the foster care system was not ideal. Still no psychopaths (he thinks) among those folks.

He’s not a frequent reader of novels depicting the inner lives of psychopaths, but doesn’t remember reading any in which the psychopathic character sounded a lot like the subject of this interview.

Good resolutions

Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account.

~ Oscar Wilde,

What 2018 Looked Like Fifty Years Ago

From The New Yorker:

Prophecy is a mug’s game. But then, lately, most of us are mugs. 2018 was a banner year for the art of prediction, which is not to say the science, because there really is no science of prediction. Predictive algorithms start out as historians: they study historical data to detect patterns. Then they become prophets: they devise mathematical formulas that explain the pattern, test the formulas against historical data withheld for the purpose, and use the formulas to make predictions about the future. That’s why Amazon, Google, Facebook, and everyone else are collecting your data to feed to their algorithms: they want to turn your past into your future.

This task, like most things, used to be done by hand. In 1968, the Foreign Policy Association, formed in 1918 to promote the League of Nations, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary by publishing a book of predictions about what the world would look like, technology-wise, fifty years on. “Toward the Year 2018” was edited by Emmanuel G. Mesthene, who had served in the White House as an adviser on science and technology and who ran Harvard’s Program on Technology and Society. It makes for distressing reading at the end of 2018, a year that, a golden anniversary ago, looked positively thrilling.

. . . .

Two things are true about “Toward the Year 2018.” First, most of the machines that people expected would be invented have, in fact, been invented. Second, most of those machines have had consequences wildly different from those anticipated in 1968. It’s bad manners to look at past predictions to see if they’ve come true. Still, if history is any guide, today’s futurists have very little credibility. An algorithm would say the same.

Carlos R. DeCarlo, the director of automation research at I.B.M., covered computers in the book, predicting that, in 2018, “machines will do more of man’s work, but will force man to think more logically.” DeCarlo was consistently half right. He correctly anticipated miniature computers (“very small, portable storage units”), but wrongly predicted the coming of a universal language (“very likely a modified and expanded form of English”). One thing he got terribly wrong: he expressed tragically unfounded confidence that “the political and social institutions of the United States will remain flexible enough to ingest the fruits of science and technology without basic damage to its value systems.”

Reporting on the future of communication, J. R. Pierce, from Bell Labs, explained that “the Bell System is committed to the provision of a Picturephone service commercially in the early 1970s,” and that, by 2018, face-to-face communication across long distances would be available everywhere: “The transmission of pictures and texts and the distant manipulation of computers and other machines will be added to the transmission of the human voice on a scale that will eventually approach the universality of telephony.” True! “What all this will do to the world I cannot guess,” Pierce admitted, with becoming modesty. “It seems bound to affect us all.”

. . . .

But the most prescient contributor to “Toward the Year 2018” was the M.I.T. political scientist Ithiel de Sola Pool, whose research interests included social networks and computer simulation. “By 2018 it will be cheaper to store information in a computer bank than on paper,” Pool wrote. “Tax returns, social security records, census forms, military records, perhaps a criminal record, hospital rec-ords, security clearance files, school transcripts . . . bank statements,credit ratings, job records,” and more would, by 2018, be stored on computers that could communicate with one another over a vast international network. You could find out anything about anyone, without ever leaving your desk. “By 2018 the researcher sitting at his console will be able to compile a cross-tabulation of consumer purchases (from store records) by people of low IQ (from school records) who have an unemployed member of the family (from social security records). That is, he will have the technological capability to do this. Will he have the legal right?” Pool declined to answer that question. “This is not the place to speculate how society will achieve a balance between its desire for knowledge and its desire for privacy,” he insisted.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

You Tell Me: How Often Do You Buy a New eReader?

Nate has a question at The Digital Reader:

When it comes to mobile devices, some tend to get replaced faster than others. People hang on to laptops for as many as six to eight years, while smartphones tend to get replaced every other year (if not more often).

If we made a spectrum to track device lifespans, ereaders would be listed at the far end with laptops.

eReaders don’t change that much from year to year, so as a result people tend to hold on to them. For example, some brands such as Amazon and Kobo have used the same CPUs for years and years (it wasn’t until the Oasis that Amazon finally upgraded to a dual-core CPU). And even when the screen resolution improved, it was sometimes hard to see the difference and thus hard to justify replacing a device that worked just fine.

So tell me, how long do you hold on to your e-reading device?

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG likes technology that can do many things well.

PG loves, loves, loves technology that does something important perfectly.

His Kindle Paperwhite presents books for reading perfectly.

It’s small, light and completely operable with the right thumb.

The screen is perfectly legible when the lights are on or they’re off.

Its battery life approaches infinity.

It’s better than a paper book because it’s lightweight, it’s simpler to tap the screen with your thumb than to turn a page, you don’t lose your place if you drop it, it’s thinner than any printed book PG is interested in reading and you can take as many books as you like on vacation while still using only a single suitcase.

If you finish a book by a newly-discovered author you really like at 7:00 pm, you can immediately start reading the sequel without going anywhere.

PG bought a plain-vanilla Kindle before the Paperwhite was released and used it with some regularity, but the crisper screen of the Paperwhite together with the ability to use it in dim light or no light made all the difference.

 

 

Classic Literature as Fortune Cookie Fortunes

From The Paris Review:

1. Lord of the Flies

An exotic trip is just around the corner.

. . . .

4. The Lottery

Expect an invitation to an exciting event.

5. A Christmas Carol

You will become better acquainted with a coworker.

. . . .

9. Metamorphosis

A dream you have will finally come true.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Good parties

Good parties create a temporary youthfulness.

~ Mason Cooley

Character

Character is the ability to carry out a good resolution long after the excitement of the moment has passed.

~ Cavett Robert

The Media’s Post-Advertising Future Is Also Its Past

From The Atlantic:

It’s my holiday tradition to bring tidings of discomfort and sorrow to my colleagues in the news business. One year ago, I described the media apocalypse coming for both digital upstarts and legacy brands. Vice and BuzzFeed had slashed their revenue projections by hundreds of millions of dollars, while The New York Times had announced a steep decline in advertising.

Twelve months later, it’s end times all over again. There have been layoffs across Vox Media, Vice, and BuzzFeed (and dubious talk of an emergency merger). Mic, once valued at $100 million, fired most of its staff and sold for $5 million. Verizon took a nearly $5 billion write-down on its digital media unit, which includes AOL and Yahoo. Reuters announced plans to lay off more than 3,000 people in the next two years. The disease seems widespread, affecting venture-capital darlings and legacy brands, flattening local news while punishing international wires. Almost no one is safe, and almost everyone is for sale.

It’s tempting to think that this is the inevitable end game of Google and Facebook’s duopoly. The two companies already receive more than half of all the dollars spent on digital advertising, and they commanded 90 percent of the growth in digital ad sales last year. But what’s happening in media right now is more complex. We’re seeing the convergence of four trends.

1. Too many players

It’s not just Facebook and Google; just about every big tech company is talking about selling ads, meaning that just about every big tech company may become another competitor in the fight for advertising revenue.

Amazon’s ad business exploded in the past year; its growth exceeded that of every other major tech company, including the duopoly. Apple is building tech that would skim ad revenue from major apps such as Snapchat and Pinterest, according to The Wall Street Journal. Microsoft will make about $4 billion in advertising revenue this year, thanks to growth from LinkedIn and Bing. Uber is reportedly getting into the ad business as it eyes new revenue sources to beautify its forthcoming IPO. AT&T is building an ad network to go along with its investment in Time Warner’s content, and Roku, which sells equipment for streaming television, is building ad tech. Oracle, Adobe, and Salesforce are using their cloud technology to collect data that could be used for ad targeting, as Axios reported.

These tech companies have bigger audiences and more data than just about any media company could ever hope for. The result is that more advertising will gravitate not only toward “programmatic” artificial-intelligence-driven ad sales but also toward companies that aren’t principally (or even remotely) in the news-gathering business.

. . . .

4. Patrons with varying levels of beneficence

Publications that were once the crown jewels of publicly traded firms are finding refuge in the arms of affluent patrons. Many legacy titles have already landed with millionaires and billionaires, including Time (bought by Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce), Fortune (bought by Chatchaval Jiaravanon, a Thai businessman), and The Washington Post (owned by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon). Emerson Collective, an organization founded by the billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs, purchased a majority share of The Atlantic in 2017.

Those nostalgic for the lucrative old days might curl their toes at the mention of a Medici-esque sponsorship model. But billionaire-supported investigative reporting is surely better than no investigative reporting at all. So what’s the matter with patronage?

A patron is a person. A person can change his or her mind—and often does. Chris Hughes junked The New Republic when losses eclipsed his idealism. Phil Anschutz snuffed out The Weekly Standard. Michael Bloomberg has made noises about selling off his political desk if he runs for president, or offloading his entire eponymous media empire, which employs several thousand people.

. . . .

To understand the future of post-advertising media, let’s briefly consider its past. During a period of the early 19th century known as the “party press” era, newspapers relied on patrons. Those patrons were political parties (hence “party press”) that handed out printing contracts to their favorite editors or directly paid writers to publish vicious attacks against rivals.

That era’s journalism was hyper-political and deeply biased. But some historians believe that it was also more engaging. The number of newspapers in the United States grew from several dozen in the late 1700s to more than 1,200 in the 1830s. These newspapers experimented with a variety of journalistic styles and appeals to the public. As Gerald J. Baldasty, a professor at the University of Washington, has argued, these newspapers treated readers as a group to engage and galvanize. Perhaps as a result, voting rates soared in the middle of the 19th century to record highs.

It was advertising that led to the demise of the party press. Ads allowed newspapers to become independent of patronage and to build the modern standards of “objective” journalism. Advertising also led to a neutered, detached style of reporting—the “view from nowhere”—to avoid offending the biggest advertisers, such as department stores. Large ad-supported newspapers grew to become profitable behemoths, but they arguably emphasized milquetoast coverage over more colorful reader engagement.

As the news business shifts back from advertisers to patrons and readers (that is to say, subscribers), journalism might escape that “view from nowhere” purgatory and speak straightforwardly about the world in a way that might have seemed presumptuous in a mid-century newspaper. Journalism could be more political again, but also more engaging again.

. . . .

For example, in just the past few decades, The New York Times’ revenue has shifted from more than 60 percent advertising to more than 60 percent reader payments. As its business model has changed, so has its coverage. “Look at The New York Times in 1960 vs. 2010; the reportage is more interpretive,” observed the late James L. Baughman, the communications theorist and University of Wisconsin professor.

Mid-century newspapers were as broad and unobjectionable as department stores, because department-store advertising was their business. News media of the future could be as messy, diverse, and riotously disputatious as their audiences, because directly monetizing them is the new central challenge of the news business.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Love, hate and hypocrisy: the best books about animals and humans

From The Guardian:

A pack of wolves follows a sled, picking off the sled dogs and then the occupants one by one, to the last man. So begins Jack London’s White Fang, published in 1906. The wolf pack is led by a wolfdog, Kiche. The ensuing story is told from the viewpoint of Kiche’s wolf pup, White Fang, through whose gaze we view the violence of the parallel worlds of animals and humans. White Fang is the narrative mirror of London’s earlier The Call of the Wild, in which a pet dog, kidnapped and used as a sled dog, runs away to join the wolves. Wildness is the true nature of animals, though the challenges of survival in the wilderness can also turn man into a beast, London seems to say. White Fang ends up enjoying domesticity with his new master, many miles away from the Yukon. Humans have triumphed over nature, but nature is still out there.

. . . .

In Of Wolves and Men, Barry Lopez details the hate reserved for animals whom we cannot bend to our will. For centuries in the US, extermination was enacted against wolves. Lopez details the way they were treated as outlaws and criminals, subjected to public torture and execution. Crowds gathered to watch a particular wolf die as agonisingly as possible: drawn and quartered, and left to swing on the gibbet.

. . . .

“The way we think about other species sometimes defies logic,” writes Hal Herzog in Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, which does a remarkable job of describing and explaining our emotionally complicated responses to animals. The truth is that, when we treat them with cruelty and indifference, this is often the way they treat each other. Animals, though, are not hypocrites, and Herzog must be applauded for calling out humans, among them “dog lovers” whose quest for the perfect breed has caused unquantifiable amounts of canine suffering.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Colorful Statements: The Art of Illustrator Eliot Wyatt

From Adobe Create Magazine:

Eliot Wyatt likes to say that his personality and his work are quite similar: “a bit weird, fun, and loud.” An illustrator based in Bristol, England, Wyatt creates colorful—and sometimes a little trippy—work that has enlivened high-profile campaigns for clients like Airbnb, Buzzfeed, and Nescafé.

. . . .

Wyatt’s subjects range from politics and social issues to celebrities, delicious-looking foods, fantasy automobiles, and really cool sneakers. A candy-colored palette and a flat, nearly two-dimensional look make for a very distinctive body of work.

. . . .

When asked about how his approach is unique, Wyatt is thoughtful. “I don’t know if it’s a bad thing, but I wouldn’t say there is anything particularly unique in the way I approach my work,” he says. “I will sketch out ideas, develop the best ones, and then move into a final image. What is unique is the thoughts and ideas that run throughout my illustration work and the way that becomes identifiable as my style. It’s not necessarily the way you approach a project; rather, it’s the way you think about it. For example, it could be thinking about a different way to view a particular scene or object, or how you may be able to refer to something without directly placing it in the image. These decisions contribute just as much to your ‘style’ of work as the aesthetic you choose to work in.”

. . . .

And what, in his mind, constitutes a successful piece? “For me, it is when both the aesthetic and the ideas are strong in a single image. Sometimes an illustration can lead too much with the aesthetic, which ultimately makes for a weaker image. Typically, all work, either client or personal, starts out the same way. My initial sketches are developed further in to larger sketches, which allows for more focus on creating a solid composition and framing of the image.”

Link to the rest at Adobe Create Magazine, which includes several examples of the Wyatt’s art.

PG is familiar with writing exercises but wondered if authors engage in other practices that help jumpstart or expand their creative efforts.

For example, is a character sketch the equivalent of a visual artist sketching out an idea?

To the best of PG’s recollections, visual arts and writing are centered in different parts of the human brain, but he could be wrong.