‘SAM’ Review: Building a Better Bricklayer

From The Wall Street Journal:

Spiders can spin intricate webs. Birds weave branches into cozy nests. Bees build hives with near-perfect hexagons. It should be easy for an advanced robot complete with lasers and artificial intelligence to lay a simple brick wall. But, as the journalist Jonathan Waldman chronicles in “SAM,” the quest for a bricklaying robot has been bumpier than the work of a mason with vertigo.

The tale follows Scott Peters, a 30-something engineer in western New York and co-founder of Construction Robotics, as he spends most of the past decade developing SAM (Semi-Automated Mason), prodded by the inspiration and funding of his architect father-in-law, Nate Podkaminer. We watch as the two create a company, hire engineers, experiment with marketing and finally stack walls, haltingly.

Several themes run through the book. First is the often-unsung adaptability of organic intelligence. Engineers have sought for decades to make devices that build with blocks. “Getting an inanimate machine to do what only hands and brains could was apparently some kind of universal geek fantasy,” Mr. Waldman writes. “And while it sounded like child’s play, it was phenomenally difficult. To put it in context: The first machine that successfully picked up small wooden blocks did so only eight years before humans landed on the moon.”

The minute adjustments a human makes when manipulating objects, especially in messy environments like construction sites, result from billions of years of evolution. We make it look easy, until you give instructions to a robot and watch it fumble around or freeze up when it gets a little dirt on its face. Yann LeCun, Facebook’s chief A.I. scientist, once told me, “I would declare victory if in my professional lifetime we could make machines that are as intelligent as a rat.”

Mr. Peters has laudable motivations. “By creating a bricklaying robot,” Mr. Waldman writes, “he aimed to eliminate lifting and bending and repetitive-motion injuries in humans; to improve the quality of walls; to finish jobs faster and safer and cheaper; and to ease project scheduling and estimation. Basically: to modernize the world’s second oldest and most primitive trade.”

. . . .

The robot’s development is an object lesson in debugging. The engineer who crafts the code for the arm has the six stages of debugging posted in the office: “1. That can’t happen. 2. That doesn’t happen on my machine. 3. That shouldn’t happen. 4. Why does that happen? 5. Oh, I see. 6. How did that ever work?” The team swaps out parts, rewrites code and reconfigures designs, sometimes in rain or under a blazing sun. Often the solution is an utterly familiar one: Switch the damn thing off and on again.

A second theme is that technological advancement requires debugging not only hardware and software but also humans. Some of that problem-solving is simple workflow optimization: loading bricks and mortar properly and promptly, keeping people out of the way. Some of it requires deeper psychological and sociological renovation. It’s hard to smooth relations with workers who don’t want to share a job with SAM in the first place. Some masons said its work was sub-par (but more colorfully). Some said it threatened to steal their jobs. And some just didn’t like doing things differently. “The construction industry, the engineers began to learn, was as slow to change as baseball,” Mr. Waldman writes. Similar lessons are emerging from the front lines of semiautomation in medicine, manufacturing and other fields.

. . . .

Mr. Waldman follows all the drama like a fly on a brick wall, richly reporting scenes and conversations, many on job sites where both circuitry and civility break down. The book is reminiscent of a reality-TV show about a scrappy startup, complete with backstory segments as we learn the pasts and personalities of each new hire. There are also a lot of digressions—the history of the bricklayers union, how much pinboys at bowling alleys were tipped, how literal sausages are made, Mr. Peters’s 16th-century ancestors, his high-school swim coach’s career as a famous-in-Japan professional wrestler. 

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

PG has worked with very bright inventors a couple of times during his business life and has found them to have a unique mindset and combination of talents and personality traits.

Of course, authors are a species of inventors, creating stories out of keystrokes.

Both authors and inventors rely upon the protection of intellectual property laws – copyright and patents – to permit them to control and exploit their creations in the way they deem best.

Reviving the Traditional Mystery For a 21st Century Audience

From CrimeReads:

It is the nature of progress that what is now cutting-edge will, with the passing of time, become traditional. And it is the nature of human beings to remake and refine what has worked in the past, and call it new.

And so the term “traditional mystery” is from the outset somewhat difficult to define absolutely. It has an almost organic structure, with successive authors and generations adding their own extensions and renovations to the house built by the likes of Poe, Christie, James, Sayers and Conan Doyle.

That original house had a foundation built on the reassurance of the middle classes, and four recognizable walls: the amateur detective or private investigator with superior powers of deduction, violence and sex occurring largely off-stage and referenced rather than shown, an incompetent or indifferent police force and, above all, the restoration of social order.

Over the years, Hardboiled, Noir, Forensic and Suspense have moved into the street and Traditional crime has been influenced by the architecture of its neighbors. Its walls have been repainted, moved and even knocked down to improve both the view and street appeal for contemporary tenants.

The protagonist of a traditional novel no longer needs to have the savant abilities of Holmes or Poirot. Indeed, modern audiences have become skeptical of cases made on a finely balanced tower of minute observation and inference. Today’s reader has too sophisticated an idea of legal burdens of proof to be satisfied with an arrest predicated on opportunity established by inventive conjecture. Protagonists have become less to-be-admired for their infallibility, than relatable for the opposite.

Similarly, while today’s traditional mystery is still less graphic than its hardboiled, forensic and noir counterparts, it is no longer a drawing room puzzle in which the protagonist is rarely in peril. The modern protagonist is required to have skin in the game, to be at risk of more than the humiliation of not solving the crime. 

. . . .

Perhaps however the most radical renovation is to the notion of the restoration of social order, the load-bearing wall which is an extension of the traditional mystery’s function as a literature of reassurance. Arguably this restoration is the most important facet of not only traditional mystery, but crime novels in general.

. . . .

The modern protagonist, on the other hand, can fail to save the day even if he or she solves the crime. The perpetrator can go unpunished, and lives can remain shattered by loss. The reader knows who did it, but may be denied the simple satisfaction of a “just desserts” ending, without the story failing to meet the standards of a genre which had evolved beyond being a discreet intellectual puzzle.

Link to the rest at CrimeReads

The New Rude Masters of Fantasy & Science Fiction – and Romance

From The Writing of Cat Rambo:

We’re closing the doors on 2019 and with that, I’ve finally finished up this essay, which I’ve been working on for over a year and which keeps having to be updated as new scuffles arose. I have many thoughts on the modern publishing scene, many of them related to class/race/gender/disability issues, but I will focus on a particular question because right now we’re seeing a lot of this getting enacted yet again, this time in the form of the Romance Writers Association debacle. . . .

. . . .

As part of the resulting furor, which seems to me just a flaming trainwreck and shining example of how an organization shouldn’t handle something like this that has included moments like Chuck Tingle disavowing knowing RWA President Damon Suede, authors of color are yet again being called rude for speaking out.

. . . .

In this decade, writers have found themselves at an unsettling and unpredictable moment in publishing as well as history, one that marks major changes in the ways humans consume words. New forces have entered the scene. Among them are the rise of indie publishing, the ability of binge readers to download an entire series to their e-reader in an instant, the accessibility of free media through sites like Project Gutenberg, unforeseen copyright battles involving new technology and business models, and social media with its global reach, to mention only a few.

This moment is shaped by political shifts seeping through from the overall culture. One such shift is an attention to previously-marginalized voices. On the political left, there is a concerted effort to acknowledge that a system of privilege has muted and silenced some groups while privileging those in the mainstream. In recent years, conferences have begun with acknowledging first peoples and their land, cultural repositories are focusing their acquisitions to remedy gaps, and fan conventions are bringing in fans of color and include codes of conduct, to present a few examples of such initiatives.

Also acknowledged is that sometimes celebrated members of the privileged groups have mocked, diminished, or profited from those marginalized voices and their cultures. A manifestation of this acknowledgement is the way in which multiple writing awards have had their names or physical shape changed in recent years, including the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award (now the Children’s Literature Legacy Award), the Melvil Dewey Medal (the new name will be announced in January), the James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award (now the Otherwise Award), the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (now The Astounding Award for Best New Writer), and the World Fantasy Award (the physical award has been changed from a bust of H.P. Lovecraft to a design that is not a human shape).

. . . .

Every year as award seasons play out, we see moments that express these changes. Two recent ones have had at their center writers who are women of color making speeches: N.K. Jemisin and Jeanette Ng.

At WorldCon in 2018, while accepting a Hugo for the third year in a row, Nora Jemisin read her speech off her phone, frequently interrupted by a flood of congratulatory texts (which I thought was adorable). Her speech referenced many of the controversies of recent years and particularly reactions from the Hugo-centered Sad/Rabid Puppies group, a conservative-led movement that had produced significant public vitriol at her previous two wins.

. . . .

I watched Jemisin’s speech not sitting in the audience at the Hugo Awards ceremony but nearby in the convention center, amid a crowd gathered to watch the livestream. I heard the applause; I felt the love around me for what she was saying. It was a moment where I felt myself part of fandom, part of one of that fandom’s institutions, itself beleaguered by alt-right attempts at disruption and co-option. Her speech moved me to tears, in the happiest of ways, and I was not alone in that.

But some did not feel themselves included by her speech. One notable reaction was that of Robert Silverberg. Silverberg is familiar to the majority of science fiction fans, but for those who are not, he is a SFWA Grand Master, and winner of multiple Hugos and Nebulas over the course of the past six decades. He remains influential in the field, serving recently as the 2019 Toastmaster at the World Fantasy Convention and has attended every Hugo Awards ceremony since the first one in 1953.

Among other things, Silverberg said:

I have not read the Jemison books. Perhaps they are wonderful works of science fiction deserving of Hugos every year from now on. But in her graceless and vulgar acceptance speech last night, she insisted that she had not won because of ‘identity politics,’ and proceeded to disprove her own point by rehearsing the grievances of her people and describing her latest Hugo as a middle finger aimed at all those who had created those grievances.

. . . .

Let’s fast-forward a year to Jeannette Ng’s speech accepting the (since re-named) Campbell Award at the Hugo Award ceremony in Dublin in 2019. The Campbell Award is given each year to the best writer first published in the previous two years. It was named for John W. Campbell, the editor of Astounding Magazine

. . . .

Ng comes out swinging, declaring “John F. Campbell, for whom this award was named, was a fascist.” And she talks about the evolution of the genre, how it’s grown “wilder and stranger than his mind could imagine or allow.” She speaks about the Hong Kong protests, still very much in the news at the moment of this writing, and which have become increasingly violent since the time of her speech, including live bullets on the part of the police.

So I need say, I was born in Hong Kong. Right now, in the most cyberpunk in the city in the world, protesters struggle with the masked, anonymous stormtroopers of an autocratic Empire. They have literally just held her largest illegal gathering in their history. As we speak they are calling for a horological revolution in our time. They have held laser pointers to the skies and tried to to impossibly set alight the stars. I cannot help be proud of them, to cry for them, and to lament their pain.

Several venerables of SF stepped forward to react to the speech. Their purpose was not to celebrate this passionate declaration of intersection of politics and science fiction, one that followed in the path of so many other science fiction writers, but to make sure this uppity newcomer knew they should have stayed in their place.

Among them were Norman Spinrad, who discovered the controversy three months later and immediately moved to denounce Ng, saying, “Jeanette Ng who won the Campbell award for best new writer used it to screech a foaming at the mouth tirade against John W. Campbell which you can view on You Tube, calling him a racist and a fascist among other things,” and then adding in the comments, “Whether she was wrong or right may be a matter of opinion, but her utter swinishness is not. As I understand it, both Campbell awards-best new writer, years best novel, are indeed continuing under more politically correct names. And whatever Campbell was, he was not a facist [sic] as the word is propperly [sic] used, ala Musselini [sic]. Nor really a racist in terms of whites versus people of color. The woman, among other things, is an ignoramus.”

Like Silverberg, Spinrad is a multiple award winner, longtime author, and highly regarded. I’m a big fan of his writing, which pushed multiple boundaries in the past, and continues to do so in books like Osama the Gun. He was always on my shortlist for SFWA Grand Master when picking them, and I regret that the Grand Master system is structured in such a way that not everyone deserving can get recognized, and that we continue to miss adding worthies, such as Octavia Butler and Terry Pratchett.

But despite his fervent testimonials, Spinrad’s view of Campbell is not shared by everyone, and the name of the award had been, by the time he spoke, already changed. Spinrad declared Ng simply wrong about Campbell; others have spoken of Campbell as being a representative product of his times. Yet, as Cory Doctorow observes in his own essay about this phenomenon:

There’s plenty of evidence that Campbell’s views were odious and deplorable. It wasn’t just the story he had Heinlein expand into his terrible, racist, authoritarian, eugenics-inflected yellow peril novel Sixth Column. Nor was it Campbell’s decision to lean hard on Tom Godwin to kill the girl in “Cold Equations” in order to turn his story into a parable about the foolishness of women and the role of men in guiding them to accept the cold, hard facts of life.

It’s also that Campbell used his op-ed space in Astound­ing to cheer the murders of the Kent State 4. He attributed the Watts uprising to Black people’s latent desire to return to slavery. These were not artefacts of a less-enlightened era. By the standards of his day, Campbell was a font of terrible ideas, from his early support of fringe religion and psychic phenomena to his views on women and racialized people.

. . . .

Many SF writers are used to being the most liberal voice in the room, the proponents of the wildest and wackiest things. But as time has passed, as is the way of things, the boundaries have been stretched farther, and what was once-wild now looks tame at times. There are new forces in the world. And now some of those previously outrageous, convention-challenging voices are putting their energy into protecting the conventions and social mores they created from any further change.

. . . .

Were they ever as liberal as they think themselves? Some, probably/perhaps. At times it seems that the liberalness of many science fiction writers lies more in their perceptions of themselves than in their actions. Isaac Asimov was notorious for harassing women, Randall Garrett notoriously walked up to women at parties and asked them if they wanted to fuck, and early in this century Harlan Ellison thought it fine to grab a fellow writer’s breasts for a comic shtick—during a Hugo ceremony.

In his essay, “Racism and Science Fiction,” Samuel R. Delany recounts incidents encountered in the field and tells the story of a Nebula Awards ceremony where Isaac Asimov said to him, on a night when he’d won multiple Nebulas, “You know, Chip, we only voted you those awards because you’re Negro…!” Asimov was joking, but the fact remains that at a moment when Delany should have been able to celebrate, some of his fellow writers were saying the only reason he’d won was because of his race—and not all of them were joking. (Campbell also features in Delany’s essay.)

There’s also the fact that some well-established SF writers don’t want to admit that any part of their prominence may be due to privilege. Writers are in general seething masses of ego, and this is an understandable, human thing. But it is true. Writers of color, women writers, writers with disabilities, and queer writers have all faced barriers that writers more sheltered by privilege have not, and the ones that have made it in have done so because they were too good to be ignored. Knowing that your place came at someone else’s expense may be difficult to acknowledge, particularly when you were playing the game on the easiest setting while they had to face a harder one.

. . . .

Some traditionally published writers are uncomfortable with the indie model, and I’ve mentioned the years-long struggle that it took to get them into SFWA before. Often these writers are the ones most snobbish within the confines of the traditionally published version. For a writer to be “overly commercial” is, they will gently imply, an unworthy goal, even while tap-dancing around the admission that the colleague they’re slapping that label on is outselling them. This verbal gyration underlies an attitude that science fiction itself has traditionally held towards romance, that it’s more commercial and somehow a lesser form. It’s an odd reflection of a similar assumption sometimes made by literary fiction about F&SF.

This notion that an author wanting money somehow spoils fiction, degrading it away from “art,” is a symptom of the final factor, which is centered on social class. Some of the loudest voices in our culture’s conversations are experiencing difficulty adapting to social changes affecting who gets to talk and therefore resisting the idea of encouraging voices that have been suppressed by social forces (which also involves acknowledging those social forces exist).

Lots of generalizations are made about millennials. Here’s mine: they rub older people the wrong way sometimes because they won’t put up with the bullshit acceptable in the past. Personally, I dig that. I hit the fact that society uses politeness and the expectation that I be “nice” against me on a daily basis, and so the way I see these fierce young folks say “ok boomer” and move on is a revelation and a joy to me. Day by day, I get a little ruder to the people who think nothing of demanding that I cater to their time and energy rather than mine, and it’s the millennials rolling their eyes at the clueless that egg me on.

Link to the rest at The Writing of Cat Rambo

As he was reading the OP, PG was reminded of a conversation he had a long time ago.

While PG was in college, one of his good friends became a prominent campus radical.

After graduation, the two of us crossed paths a few times.

During one of those meetings/long discussions, the friend was living in a large eastern city where he was the founder and editor of a radical left newspaper that was mostly sold on the streets.

PG doesn’t remember a great many things about that conversation, but one statement his friend made has stuck with him.

“Whenever somebody in the government or establishment says something we don’t like and we don’t know how to respond, we just call them a fascist. That always freezes them and they don’t know what to do.”

PG doesn’t claim any particular expertise on current cultural disputes, but the term fascist is apparently an evergreen term used to condemn someone who the speaker doesn’t like and is, thus, irredeemably evil.

PG almost always remembers his conversation with his friend when he reads or hears the term used.

Amazon Demands Authors Do the Impossible – Control the Prices of Print Books Sold by Third-Party Sellers

From The Digital Reader:

As I am sure you know, Amazon requires competitive prices for ebooks sold through its site. The ToS for KDP specify that authors can’t price their ebooks at lower prices on other sites, and if Amazon finds a lower price, it reserves the right to price match.

This policy has caused all sorts of problems when Amazon has mistakenly identified a lower-priced ebook, and it causes even bigger headaches when Amazon applies to print books.

Author Rosanne Bowman forwarded an email she got from Amazon yesterday. It seems Amazon is upset that Walmart is taking a loss on a couple of Bowman’s books, so Amazon has decided to take it out on Bowman.

Amazon is committed to providing customers with a great shopping experience. We measure this in a number of ways, including high-quality content, accurate listing information, and competitive prices. We reserve the right not to offer books that don’t meet these customer expectations.

We have recently observed that the print list price you provided Amazon for the book(s) identified below is not competitive with the list price(s) of other print edition(s) of the book(s) on another sales channel:

Hook’s Daughter: The Untold Tale of a Pirate Princess (The Pirate Princess Chronicles) (ASIN: 578412454) is listed on Amazon.com at $ 9.99 and at $ 4.92 on https://www.walmart.com/ip/Hook-s-Daughter-The-Untold-Tale-of-a-Pirate-Princess/951175999

In order to maintain a great customer experience for Amazon shoppers, we ask that you please reduce the KDP list price for the above titles and review your KDP catalog within the next 5 business days to ensure your book(s) are competitively priced.  As always, we reserve the right to stop selling titles that are uncompetitive with offerings at other stores, and we may remove the book(s) from sale on Amazon if we cannot provide a competitive customer experience.

BTW, Amazon may not have noticed yet but Walmart also marked down another of Bowman’s books.

Walmart gets the books through Ingram, and therein lies the problem. While Bowman can set the list price at Ingram, she can’t control the price set by Walmart or any other retailer any more than she can control the price through the resale market.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader and thanks to P. for the tip.

PG was not particularly surprised about the contents of the OP.

To the best of his recollection, the provisions of KDP giving Amazon the right to price-match have been around pretty much in their current format since PG first reviewed the KDP Terms & Conditions not long after Amazon launched the program. Ditto for the Digital Pricing and Print Pricing pages.

Amazon pays royalties at a much higher rate than traditional publishers do and Amazon provides access to a worldwide market, but one of the trade-offs for an author to gain those higher royalty rates is Amazon’s price-matching policy. As a general proposition, it won’t be underpriced by anyone who sells online.

As an ancient adage says, you buy the ticket, you take the ride.

Per Nate’s thoughts in the OP, it is true that the author, Ms. Bowman, has no control over Wal-Mart’s pricing of her book, but she does have control over the pricing of her Amazon book.

PG read four posts on the ALLI blog suggesting that indie authors use both KDP Print and IngramSpark together for the best sales results (the latest is here), but PG didn’t see any warnings about the potential Price-Matching issue mentioned in the OP.

Here’s what the IngramSpark website says about using IngramSpark and KDP together:

Using IngramSpark and KDP Together

I would also be remiss if I did not note that you can use both IngramSpark and KDP at the same time if you own your ISBN. Note that if you are making your title available in both self-publishing systems, you can’t choose KDP’s Expanded Distribution because that makes the title available to Ingram and will cause a conflict with the ISBN when you upload into IngramSpark.

Once your title is available, IngramSpark will fulfill orders to places such as Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores, and libraries, and KDP will fulfill Amazon orders. Of course, if you’re looking for a one-stop for all of your content, IngramSpark provides the broadest distribution from one self-publishing platform. This is a good choice if you only want to go to one platform to upload and update your content when there are changes to be made versus having to update in both IngramSpark and Amazon KDP.

If your book is already in KDP’s Expanded Distribution and you would like to use IngramSpark, don’t fret! First you need to remove your book from KDP’s Expanded Distribution program. Then you will need to set up an IngramSpark account, if you haven’t done so already. Last but not least, call or email our customer service team and ask them to transfer your title from Expanded Distribution to your IngramSpark account. Filling out a form is required but once that is submitted, your title will appear in your IngramSpark account in a few weeks.

Amazon Availability

We recently reviewed Amazon availability messaging across all IngramSpark titles and found that 92% had good availability messaging on the Amazon site. The ones that didn’t were mostly newly set up titles or were in/out of revision cycles. Availability messaging tends to change over time as the book develops a sales history.

One of the best things a new author can do as soon as their title goes live is to order their own book through Amazon to help spur good availability messaging. The other thing is to make sure the title is finished before it is uploaded into any system that feeds data to Amazon to keep the title from rapidly moving in and out of revision cycles, which can negatively impact availability messaging. But know that IngramSpark continues to work collaboratively and closely with Amazon to improve availability messaging on their site.

Some of the differences between IngramSpark and KDP come down to hardcovers, print options, discounts, broad book distribution, and convenience. IngramSpark also does not require exclusivity or pricing guidelines as some parts of KDP offer, so that’s something else to keep in mind as you are evaluating which self-publishing company to choose. I hope this post has helped shed some light on IngramSpark vs KDP, but what’s most important to your ultimate decision is what’s right for you and your book.

And here’s a bit more from the IngramSpark blog:

Don’t Limit Your Book Distribution: KDP Select and ACX

Thursday, February 14, 2019

by Amy Collins (@NewShelvesBooks)

More and more, Amazon and Amazon companies are encouraging or requiring authors and publishers to use them exclusively. Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) offers free ISBNs, KDP Select allows for extra marketing options, and ACX will allow budget-restricted publishers/authors a chance to get an audiobook created and produced for free in exchange for 50% of the profits. All of these options give authors opportunities that they would otherwise have to work harder for, but in exchange, they require that you agree to work with them exclusively. Let’s take a look at them one by one:

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP): Free ISBNs, But With a Cost

This enticing offer “gives” a free ISBN to an author wanting to publish. But when you read the fine-print on the KDP site, you will see the following statements: “This free ISBN can only be used on KDP for distribution to Amazon and its distribution partners. It cannot be used with another publisher or self-publishing service.” 

What a lot of self-publishing authors don’t realize is that by using an Amazon/KDP provided ISBN, your book will be tagged with an ISBN that belongs to Amazon. Even though the book and imprint will be registered at Bowker, Amazon owns that ISBN and you cannot take the book to another service or make it available for distribution outside of the Amazon platform. You do not have the distribution rights. Amazon owns those.

. . . .

Amazon Exclusive Options Mean Limited Book Distribution

ACX Audiobooks and Audible

ACX audiobooks produced by ACX in exchange for a higher profit share are not offered outside of the Amazon properties. That means that yes, your audiobook is available at Audible, but NOT available through any Apple properties and NOT available to the library or bookstore markets.  Libraries spend almost 24% of their budgets on audiobooks and the numbers are increasing.

KDP Select

KDP Select is a program where the publisher or author that uploads a book to KDP agrees to NOT make the ebook available anywhere else for at least 90 days. This 90-day exclusivity deal means that your ebook is not available at libraries either, or at Barnes and Noble (B&N), or on Kobo (the largest overseas ebook distribution and sales platform).

. . . .

Amazon Nonexclusive Options

ACX and KDP do offer publishers/authors nonexclusive options. KDP can be used simply as a printer/POD option with an ISBN properly purchased from Bowker or another legitimate ISBN provider. ACX will allow outside produced files a more profitable share and not require exclusivity. (But producing an audiobook is not inexpensive…) KDP suggests, but does not require, signing up for KDP Select which requires a 90-day exclusivity contract.

In both cases, the benefits of agreeing to exclusivity are attractive. They save you money and give you a higher level of exposure. Amazon seems to be everywhere…so why wouldn’t you just save the trouble and go for it? 

Wellllllll…..

Changes in the Publishing Industry

It was not that long ago that the entire publishing industry was bowing before the altar of B&N and Borders. Amazon was a new idea that could have gone either way. In hindsight, it is easy to see Amazon’s potential, but at the time? We really had no idea how far Amazon would go. 

The publishing companies that adore Amazon’s money today were falling all over themselves to give the bookstore chains everything they asked for. Just a few years later, those same publishers were lamenting as Borders declared bankruptcy and B&N cut their purchases by over 50%.

A few years ago, Bookbub would consider promoting ebooks that were exclusive on Amazon. No longer. Do you really want to miss out on the opportunity to get into the biggest ebook promotion venue? Because you cannot get accepted by Bookbub until you are available across a number of platforms.

And the lesson we can all take from this?

Limit or Avoid Exclusive Deals

Don’t put any part of your business into an exclusive deal. Putting your eggs into the Amazon basket may make sense today, after all, Kindle is over 90% of the ebook market. Audible has a huge market share of the audiobooks. Why not save time and give Amazon your business?

Because Kindle, Amazon, and Audible are NOT the whole marketplace. Libraries, bookstores, gift shops, Big Box chains, Apple…do you really want to ignore every other retail option? What about the international market? The US is only a small part of the world; there are ebook, audio, and POD options all over the globe.

Whether or not you believe that Amazon will always be the monolith that it is today, there are still plenty of reasons to distribute your books to all the venues available. IngramSpark provides the broadest book distribution that includes Amazon, chain bookstores, indie bookstores, and libraries. You never know what opportunities might change your life. Don’t turn your back on potential book sales.

So, what’s the bottom line for Ms. Bowman and her Walmart pricing problem? (Note: PG doesn’t know any details other than those included in Nate’s blog, so there may be reasons why some alternatives don’t work.)

  1. As Amazon has suggested, Ms. Bowman can drop the price on her Amazon books so Amazon’s sales price will be lower than Walmart’s. One of the benefits of working with Amazon is control over sales pricing, unlike going through a distributor like Ingram where Walmart ultimately chooses the price.
  2. Ms. Bowman can unpublish either the Amazon or the Ingram version of her book. (PG hasn’t read Ingram’s Terms of Service in detail, although he didn’t see anything about pricing when he searched for that, so he doesn’t know whether unpublishing there can happen quickly or not.) Or, Ms. Bowman can unpublish both books, take a deep breath and launch her book again.
  3. Mrs. Bowman can increase the cost of her Ingram books (although PG doesn’t know how long it might take to work a price increase through the pipeline to Walmart) to, hopefully, push up the Walmart price or incent Walmart to stop selling her book.

Neither Amazon nor Ingram is a charitable organization. There is nothing evil about them setting reasonable terms for those authors or other suppliers who want to sell through their online or offline systems. If any visitors to TPV had misconceptions about Amazon always focusing on lower prices and never wanting to be underpriced on books or anything else, those misconceptions are likely corrected by now.

Walmart has a similar corporate strategy to sell for lower prices than its competitors but Amazon has executed its strategy more effectively than Walmart and has captured a huge part of Walmart’s sales and an even larger portion of Walmart’s profits over the last ten years.

Likely without intending to do so, Ms. Bowman violated one of KDP’s written rules. The portions of the emails from Amazon Nate included in his posts include specific suggestions from Amazon about what Ms. Bowman can do immediately to resolve the problem.

Yes, Ms. Bowman’s KDP royalty payments may be lower than they would be if she could price her books higher than Walmart’s prices, but, from what Nate has written, this is not, in PG’s immoderately humble opinion, evidence of evil Amazon mistreating an author.

Romance: 10 Books That Break the Cliché Mold

From Frostbeard Studio:

We love romance books, and we’re proud of it. There’s no shame in breaking out your favorite trashy romance novel and settling down for some steamy scenes in idealized worlds. But sometimes you want a little more. When we come across an adult romance novel that brings a little something more to the table we get excited. Being the colossal book nerds that we are, we’ve come across some excellent adult romance novels that break the cliché “romance” mold, so we thought that it was high time that we compiled a list of some of our own personally rated “best adult romance books” that break the cliché “romance” mold. These titles span authors, topics, and demographics, but they have one thing in common, they all live in the romance genre.

. . . .

1. IMMORTALS AFTER DARK

Kresley Cole

Vampires, werewolves, demons, oh my! The Immortals After Dark series by Kresley Cole is a great starter for those who want to get into the adult paranormal romance genre. The series doesn’t follow just one character; it switches between different characters within the realm of “others” in the real world. A majority of the stories take place around New Orleans as that is one of the large hubs of paranormal populations in the series but every now and again a story will be set in Russia, Romania, or a plethora of other exotic locales.

The stories are always imaginative but mixed with enough reality that your suspension of disbelief stays intact. The steamier scenes are well thought through and exciting without feeling mundane or cheesy like so many scenes do from other romance novels. The female characters depicted within the series always have a strong backbone and grit. While some may be shy or uncertain, they are never treated like doormats for their male counterparts to walk all over. Some of the female characters kick serious butt while the others are more emotionally impactful. And while the characters typically end up being a race other than human by the end of the novels, you can always relate to their lives through their engaging tethers to the mortal world. Falling in love, bouts of meaningful sex, and saving the world is all in a day’s time in the Immortals After Dark Series.

2. RUTHLESS GAME

Christine Feehan

Ghostwalkers

We’re a big fan of the entire Ghostwalker series by Christine Feehan, but we wanted to give special love to Ruthless Game. Please note, the next sentence is not a spoiler because it’s mentioned in the book’s synopsis on the jacket; one of the most compelling aspects of the story is that its main female character is pregnant for most of the novel. The story follows Rose and Kane as they try to keep their unborn, and later, born, child out of the grasp of a shadow company. The same company adopted Rose as a child, only to run scientific experiments on her in the pursuit of creating the ultimate super soldier. Kane, the male protagonist, volunteered for the same study years later without understanding the depravity of the man running the system. Within the novel, both characters work as a unit to save their child. Rose defies all gender stereotypes of the romance genre, making Ruthless Game a truly unique read.

Link to the rest at Frostbeard Studio

Is AI judging your personality?

From TheUSBreakingNews:

AirBnB wants to know if you have a “Machiavellian” personality before renting you a beach house.

The company may be using software to judge whether you’re trustworthy enough to rent a house based on what you post on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.They’ll turn the systems loose on social, run the algorithms and get results. For the people on the other end of this process, there will be no transparency into the process — no knowledge whatsoever — and no appeals process.

They’ll turn the systems loose on social, run the algorithms and get results. For the people on the other end of this process, there will be no transparency into the process — no knowledge whatsoever — and no appeals process.

The company owns a patent on technology designed to rate the “personalities” of prospective guests by analyzing their social media activity to decide if they’re a risky guest who might damage a host’s home.

. . . .

The end product of their technology is to assign every AirBnB guest customer a “trustworthiness score.” This will reportedly be based not only on social media activity, but other data found online, including blog posts and legal records.

The technology was developed by Trooly, which AirBnB acquired three years ago. Trooly created an AI-based tool designed to “predict trustworthy relationships and interactions,” and which uses social media as one data source.

The software builds the score based on perceived “personality traits” identified by the software, including some that you could predict – awareness, openness, extraversion, kindness – and some strangers – “narcissism” and “Machiavellianism,” for example. (Interestingly, the software also seeks to get involved in civil litigation, suggesting that now or in the future they can ban people based on the prediction that they are more likely to sue.)

AirBnB has not said whether they use the software or not.

Link to the rest at TheUSBreakingNews

From Stanford Engineering:

Computers can judge personality traits far more precisely than ever believed, according to newly published research.

In fact, they might do so better than one’s friends and colleagues. The study, published Jan. 12 and conducted jointly by researchers at Stanford University and the University of Cambridge, compares the ability of computers and people to make accurate judgments about our personalities. People’s judgments were based on their familiarity with the judged individual, while the computer used digital signals – Facebook “likes.”

. . . .

According to Kosinski, the findings reveal that by mining a person’s Facebook “likes,” a computer was able to predict a person’s personality more accurately than most of the person’s friends and family. Only a person’s spouse came close to matching the computer’s results.

The computer predictions were based on which articles, videos, artists and other items the person had liked on Facebook. The idea was to see how closely a computer prediction could match the subject’s own scores on the five most basic personality dimensions: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

The researchers noted, “This is an emphatic demonstration of the ability of a person’s psychological traits to be discovered by an analysis of data, not requiring any person-to-person interaction. It shows that machines can get to know us better than we’d previously thought, a crucial step in interactions between people and computers.”

. . . .

“A future with our habits being an open book may seem dystopian to those who worry about privacy,” they wrote.

Kosinski said, “We hope that consumers, technology developers and policymakers will tackle those challenges by supporting privacy-protecting laws and technologies, and giving the users full control over their digital footprints.”

Link to the rest at Stanford Engineering

PG notes that if something can be done, eventually it will be done by someone.

I was losing a sense of how weird the real world was

From The Guardian:

In 2016, William Gibson was a third of the way through his new novel when Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. “I woke up the day after that and I looked at the manuscript and the world in which the novel was set – a contemporary novel set in San Francisco – and I realised that that world no longer existed. That the characters’ emotional basis made no sense; that no one’s behaviour made any sense. Something of this tremendous enormity had just happened and I felt really lost – and sort of mournful. I was losing this book.”

The great chronicler of the future had been overtaken by events. This had happened once before. Gibson had been 100 pages into Pattern Recognition – the first of his novels set in a near contemporary version of reality – when the Twin Towers fell, forcing him to rewrite that novel’s world and the backstories of its characters. His future had to catch up with the present.

. . . .

Probably the most influential living writer of speculative fiction, his best known aphorism is “the future’s already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed”. Two or three generations of readers have now seen the futures he envisaged in his three trilogies of novels coming dismayingly into being around them. Virtual digital spaces, artificial intelligence, corporations superseding nation states, extreme body modification, and the insane metastasis of the marketing and branding industries … Gibson was on to all these things when Black Mirror’s Charlie Brooker was still in short trousers. And his influence endures. Just last week, Dominic Cummings – a fan – referenced Gibson’s character Hubertus Bigend in a Downing Street job advert.

This latest twist in reality – Trump’s election – meant Gibson had to go to back to the drawing board with the new book, just as he had with Pattern Recognition

Link to the rest at The Guardian