The Passion of Anne Hutchinson

From The Wall Street Journal:

How did a dispute within a small breakaway group of Protestants over a seemingly obscure point of theology become an iconic episode in American history? The issue was whether one could earn eternal salvation through godly behavior, or whether the gift of saving grace is bestowed without regard to a person’s conduct. To the side led by Anne Hutchinson, the difference was between a popish “covenant of works” and a true “covenant of grace.” To the other, headed by John Winthrop, “free grace” portended “antinomianism,” a world of free love and social disorder in which the laws of church and state did not apply to true believers.

The protagonists, as Marilyn J. Westerkamp shows in “The Passion of Anne Hutchinson,” (Oxford, 312 pages, $29.95) were worthy adversaries. Winthrop, the leader of the Great Puritan Migration to Massachusetts Bay, was the colony’s frequent governor and the man whose vision of a “city upon a hill” became the stuff of presidential speeches. Hutchinson (1591–1643), the daughter of a dissenting minister, was a charismatic matron with a reputation for piety. Caught in the middle was the Rev. John Cotton, a Cambridge-educated divine with a foot in each camp. Resonating through the centuries, the controversy plays out in the parties’ own voices in diaries and trial transcripts.

Hutchinson herself speaks to the modern interest in women’s history. Called by the scholar Michael Winship “the most famous—or infamous—English woman in colonial American history,” she has been cast as a martyr for religious freedom, a victim of the patriarchy, or a sacrifice to social order at a time when Massachusetts was threatened by belligerent Native Americans and a hostile Crown. She was a prophet, a Jezebel or both.

Hutchinson arrived in Boston, age 43, in September 1634, on board the same ship that a year earlier had brought her adored pastor, John Cotton, to the New World. Accompanying her was her husband, William, a successful cloth merchant, 10 of their 11 surviving children, and a handful of relatives and servants. The Hutchinsons joined their eldest son, who had already crossed the Atlantic with Cotton. Among the wealthiest émigrés, they received a house lot across the street from Winthrop, grazing rights on Taylor’s Island in the middle of Boston Harbor, and 600 acres of farmland near what later became Quincy. William soon became a town selectman and a member of the General Court. Anne became a sought-after midwife and herbalist, known for edifying religious counsel in the birthing room.

. . . .

By 1636, Anne was holding weekly prayer meetings for women in her home. At first, the gatherings followed the English custom of female “conventicles,” but as Anne’s fame spread her constituency broadened to include men. Eventually Hutchinson presided over two “public lectures” each week, attended by 60 to 80 followers. Her message—an increasingly strident condemnation of all the local clergy except Cotton—only exacerbated her challenge to the standing order.

In October, the colony’s embattled ministers held a private session with Cotton, Hutchinson and her newly arrived brother-in-law, the Rev. John Wheelwright. Cotton was conciliatory; the other two less so. While conceding that “sanctification,” or good behavior, might be evidence of salvation, Hutchinson and Wheelwright added a new point of contention, asserting that “the person of the Holy Ghost” dwelled within the justified believer. The “indwelling spirit” had been a byword for anarchy since the Reformation. It was exactly what Winthrop and the other institutionalists feared, and they swung into action. Over the next year, Winthrop was swept back into office, Cotton walked the fine line between supporting Hutchinson and placating his fellow clergy, and Wheelwright was banished for seditious contempt of authority. Then, in November 1637, Hutchinson was tried before the civil magistrates for troubling the peace of the commonwealth and its churches.

The trial lasted two days and Hutchinson clearly had the better of it, parrying wits and biblical knowledge with the colony’s best. Then, at the end of the second day, Hutchinson upended the proceedings when she proclaimed that her understanding of grace had come “by an immediate revelation.” (Scholars have long debated why she handed victory to her opponents—was she claiming her prophetic mantle, reassuring her base or suffering from exhaustion? Cotton, to his credit, argued on her behalf that such private revelation was within the Puritan mainstream.) More devastating was the public prophesy that followed: “I fear none but the great Jehovah, which hath foretold me of these things,” she proclaimed. “I know that, for this you go about to do to me, God will ruin you and your posterity and this whole state.”

Hutchinson was convicted and banished from the colony, her departure delayed until she could be excommunicated by her Boston church. In the end, even Cotton renounced her. She moved to Rhode Island but when Massachusetts threatened to annex the region, she and a small group fled to Dutch territory, not far from what is now the Hutchinson River in the northern Bronx. In 1643, all save one child were massacred by the local Native Americans. The leaders of Massachusetts Bay exulted: “The Lord heard our groans to heaven, and freed us from our great and sore affliction . . . this woeful woman.”

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

PG notes that a great many histories of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, established in 1620 with the landing of the first passengers from The Mayflower, tend to show the colonists as consistently virtuous people.

They certainly displayed substantial toughness, finally coming ashore in late December.

The Mayflower arrived in November of 1620, hence, the Thanksgiving celebration that was held in 1621 to celebrate a year’s survival. However, there was no place to live on shore, so work crews ferried back and forth from the ship until late-December.

Only very crude shelters could be constructed on shore, but they were better than staying on an intensely cold, leaky and filthy ship, being thrown about during nasty New England winter storms, which were much colder and more severe than passengers had experienced in England or Holland.

In addition to those who had died during the voyage across the Atlantic, 45 of the 102 passengers who were on the Mayflower when it sighted land died during the first winter due to illness (likely a disease called leptospirosis, caused by leptospira bacteria that is spread by rat urine) poor nutrition and housing. A number of orphan children were taken in by families whose adult members had survived.

Based on PG’s reading, no one who made it through the first winter could have thought of themselves as among the privileged classes. He suspects a great many fervently wished they had never made the voyage. Even in the spring, their lives were miserable.

The colonists would have been much more likely to have died absent the miraculous appearance of Tisquantum, or Squanto, an English-speaking Native American. Squanto was a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been captured and enslaved by an earlier English explorer prior to his escape.

Unfortunately, the Pawtuxet tribe and other tribes were not immune to either leptospirosis or other European illnesses circulating among the settlers. These illnesses caused a great loss of life (almost certainly in much greater numbers than Mayflower passenger deaths) among the Native Americans in Massachusetts and adjoining areas. These large numbers of Native American deaths opened up a lot of vacant land for use by the Plymouth colonists and those who followed.

For those who may wish to assign blame for these deaths to the English settlers and crew, no one in Europe, let alone the Mayflower passengers, had any idea about the sources and causes of these types of illnesses. Evidence that microorganisms could cause disease wouldn’t be discovered until more than 250 years later. (Robert Koch, Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, 1905)

That said, European diseases were invisible allies of a lot of different European explorers by decimating various Native American tribes. See, for example, Hernán Cortés and 500 Spanish soldiers. They managed to conquer the Aztec capitol, Tenochtitlan, estimated population, 200,000, in 1521. Tenochtitlan ruled an empire estimated to include 16 million people. By far the most important weapon was one about which Cortés knew nothing – smallpox.

PG remembers that some wealthy New England families cited their ancestors who arrived on the Mayflower as evidence of high breeding. Perhaps this belief still circulates in some circles, but both the Pilgrims (a minority) and non-Pilgrims were nobody’s idea of aristocrats in their own minds or in the minds of anyone in England who was aware of their existence.

Both PG and Mrs. PG have Mayflower ancestors. However, while we have enjoyed learning about them, neither of us feel more elevated by them than we do by the illiterate Swedes (PG) and the illiterate and impoverished Russians (Mrs. PG) who arrived in the United states in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s.

Further regarding Mayflower descendant’s superior breeding, it’s estimated that about one in seven Americans living today are descendants of those who arrived on the Mayflower.

PG’s suggestion (for any who may be interested) is to celebrate and be grateful for your progenitors, regardless of how humble or grand they may be.

It may help to know that however grand some of your ancestors may seem, the nature of family trees is that the number of ancestors doubles with each generation one traces back. There aren’t enough kings, queens, dukes or duchesses to fill anyone’s family tree. (And that’s not even considering the number of your ancestors who were illegitimate children.)

Is the Pirate Queen of Scientific Publishing in Real Trouble This Time?

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

It’s been a rough few months for Sci-Hub, the beloved outlaw repository of scientific papers. In January its Twitter account, which had more than 180,000 followers, was permanently suspended. In response to a lawsuit brought by publishers, new papers aren’t being added to its library. The website is blocked in a dozen countries, including Austria, Britain, and France. There are rumors of an FBI investigation.

And yet Alexandra Elbakyan, the 32-year-old graduate student who founded the site in 2011, seems more or less unfazed. I spoke with her recently via Zoom with the assistance of a Russian translator. Elbakyan, who is originally from Kazakhstan, has a bachelor’s degree in computer science and coded Sci-Hub herself. She lives in Moscow now and is studying philosophy at the Russian Academy of Sciences. Back when she started the site, which offers access to north of 85 million papers, she didn’t expect to be fending off lawsuits and dodging investigations a decade on.

“I thought Sci-Hub would become legal in a couple of years,” she said. “When the laws are obviously in the way of scientific development, they should be canceled.”

. . . .

It hasn’t been that simple. In 2017 a New York judge awarded Elsevier, the multibillion-dollar publishing company behind more than 2,500 journals, a $15-million default judgment against Sci-Hub for copyright infringement. The same year, a Virginia judge awarded the American Chemical Society $4.8 million. (With Elbakyan overseas and Sci-Hub’s financial situation somewhat mysterious, neither publisher is likely to collect a dime.) Courts have repeatedly forced Elbakyan to switch domain names.

The latest lawsuit, filed in India by three academic publishers, including Elsevier, asks the High Court of Delhi to block access to Sci-Hub throughout the country. While the case is pending, the court has instructed Sci-Hub to stop uploading papers to its database. The order is not unusual; what’s surprising is that Elbakyan has complied. She has a history of ignoring legal rulings, and the Indian court has no power over Sci-Hub’s activities in other countries. So why has she chosen, at this moment, to give in?

One reason is that Elbakyan believes she has a shot at winning the case, and her odds might improve if she plays by the rules. “I want the Indian court to finally support free access to science,” she said. If that happened, it would mark a significant victory for Sci-Hub, with reverberations likely beyond India. Victory remains a longshot, but Elbakyan thinks it’s worth the hassle and expense. She didn’t even bother to contest the two lawsuits in the United States.

In coverage of Sci-Hub over the years, Elbakyan is usually cast as an idealistic young programmer standing up to publishers who resell science at a steep markup. There’s some truth to that. Elsevier brings in billions in large part by charging colleges and universities for bundled access to its journals. Those without subscriptions often pay $31.50 for access to a single article. For an independent researcher, or one who works at a small institution that can’t afford to sign a deal with Elsevier, the cost of merely scanning the literature is prohibitive.

And you could argue, as Elbakyan does, that the company’s paywalls have the potential to slow scientific progress. She’s not the only one: More than 18,000 researchers have signed on to a boycott of Elsevier journals because of its business practices.

The other option is to download a journal article’s PDF from Sci-Hub free. About a half-million people each day choose the latter.

Pirates and Publishers

So what’s wrong with using Sci-Hub? According to the publishers who brought the case in India, quite a bit. Pirate sites like Sci-Hub “threaten the integrity of the scientific record, and the safety of university and personal data,” a joint statement reads. It goes on to say that sites like Sci-Hub “have no incentive to ensure the accuracy of scientific articles, no incentive to ensure published papers meet ethical standards, and no incentive to retract or correct articles if issues arise.”

For the record, there’s little evidence that Sci-Hub is actually a threat to the scientific record. The papers on the site are the same papers you can download through official channels. It’s almost certainly true that articles that have been retracted or corrected remain up on Sci-Hub, but academic publishers themselves have a less-than-stellar record of policing and pruning the literature. Plenty of research that has failed to replicate, or should never have passed peer review in the first place, can be found in Elsevier’s archives.

The charge that Sci-Hub is a threat to personal data stems from Elbakyan’s practice of using, let us say, borrowed logins in order to download papers. That’s necessary because whenever publishers determine that a login is being used to download an unusual number of papers, they cut off access, forcing Elbakyan to constantly seek new logins. She’s done this for years and makes no secret of it. The publishers also allege that she uses “phishing attacks to illegally extract copyrighted journal articles.”

Elbakyan denies employing phishing attacks — that is, sending emails that trick people into revealing their login information — but allows that some of the accounts Sci-Hub has used might have been obtained with that technique. “I cannot check the exact source of the account that I receive by email,” she said. There’s no indication that Sci-Hub is using the logins for some other nefarious purpose.

Even so, courts have found that what Sci-Hub does isn’t legal. The question is whether, in the cause of sharing scientific information, her systematic ransacking of academic publishing is justified. In short, is Elbakyan doing more good than harm?

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

Disclosure: A very long time ago, PG spent an unhappy three years working for what is now called RELX , which is the owner of the Elsevier which is the focus of the OP. (Combine Dutch and English top executives and you can come up with some of the most stupid company names in the universe.)

The business in which Elsevier and related companies is massively profitable for the following reasons.

  1. Elsevier and its associated companies obtain valuable intellectual property at no cost.
  2. Elsevier, etc., obtain expert editing and review of valuable intellectual property at no cost.
  3. Elsevier, etc., employees perform the most mundane tasks involved in putting together this free material into printed and (reluctantly) electronic publications for which they charge research academic libraries obscene prices to receive printed copies and access electronic copies of this material.
  4. Libraries at academic research institutions (every major and most minor universities, colleges, schools of law, medicine, etc., plus research institutions, etc.) must have access to this information so their scholars can perform research for a variety of purposes, including, prominently, writing new articles to submit to the editors of Elsevier’s prestigious journals to be considered for publication.
  5. The engine that drives this entire boat is called (at least in the United States) publish or perish. If you wish to move from a lowly graduate student into the world of assistant professors, associage professors, full professors, deans, etc., and have your employment in such roles protected by tenure, you need to publish in the sorts of journals Elesevier owns. The exact same work published via KDP won’t do the job.

By PG’s potentially-blinkered lights, this sort of system is possible because the people paying for these journals and funding the writing and review of the journal articles are spending other people’s money.

There is no direct cost to the dean of a medical school who requires that any candidate for an assistant professorship at the medical school have published a lot of articles in respected medical journals published by Elsevier or similar publishers.

In PG’s mind, there is no reason that an entrepreneurial University president could not start a University publishing organization that operates in the same manner as Elsevier and others do. Harvard University has had its own press for a long time but, to the best of PG’s knowledge, has limited itself to publishing books, not periodicals, The Harvard Business Review, published by the Harvard School of Business, is an example of a prestigious journal published by a private university.

On the law school front, many law schools have published law reviews in which law professors seek to have scholarly publications published. Publications in law reviews satisfy the publish or perish obligations of law professors at a wide range of institutions. One cool feature for law schools is that quite a bit of work on the law reviews is performed by second and third-year law students who have performed well in law school. Indeed, being invited to become a member of the law review’s staff is an important résumé entry for a starting lawyer looking for a job.

Why can’t the medical school and the biology and chemistry and English departments do exactly the same thing? If the Stanford Medical School announced it would be starting a series of medical journals devoted to issues important to a variety of medical specialties and staffing it with the same sort of people Elsevier uses, Stanford publications would very quickly take their place at the top of the journal rankings and receive gobs of submissions from graduate students and professors elsewhere. Stanford could charge others for subscriptions to these publications and substantially burnish the medical school and the university’s already stellar reputation.

Yes, it would cost a university some money to start its own series of professional and scholarly journals, but such publications would allow a university to earn extremely large sums of money that its libraries and the libraries of other colleges and universities pay to Elsevier and its ilk.

Professors at colleges and universities would be happy to scratch each other’s backs by exchanging peer review services for colleagues at other institutions.

PG suspects that the reason that universities do not start these sorts of entrepreneurial ventures goes back to the Other People’s Money problem and a desire for a quiet life.

If others with to comment, criticize, expand, dismiss, etc., etc. PG’s thoughts on this subject, they should feel free to do so in the comments, in their own blogs (hopefully linking back to this post, but PG’s not going to sue anyone who quotes him with or without attribution plus ideas are not protected by copyright laws.)

Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket: Amazon Edition

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I’m putting up this post in the middle of the fear sequence as it appears on my website, not because the post fits in the fear cycle, but because I don’t want to monitor the news for weeks to see what, if anything, has changed.

On June 9, here in the States, Democrats in the House of Representatives introduced a package of five bills which theoretically have bipartisan support. In a nutshell, the bills are aimed at stopping anti-competitive practices among the tech giants. Some of the provisions could even force companies like Amazon to break apart into smaller units.

Now, realize, that here in the U.S., just because a bill gets introduced doesn’t mean it will pass. It needs to pass both houses of Congress, and then the President must sign the bill into law. If the President refuses, Congress can override his veto…with enough votes.

In other words, there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip.

. . . .

For a decade now, I’ve been railing against writers who go exclusively to Amazon. I’ve been say, as clearly as I can, that as a business person, you should never, ever, ever put all your eggs in one basket.

Back in the early days of the new world of publishing, indies from the Kindle Boards would screech over to my website (usually on a Saturday) to call me stupid and ignorant, especially when I “attacked” Amazon.

Amazon is too big to fail, they said. Amazon will be around forever, they said.

And it didn’t matter how many examples I gave them of too-big-to-fail companies that did, indeed, disappear, they didn’t listen.

Those indies are mostly gone now, not because Amazon failed, but because they burned out or didn’t understand what kind of success they actually had and therefore gave up.

But for every screamer who left, another took their place. Usually quieter, and often just as dismissive. They’ve now moved to other places to share information because they know I’m inhospitable to exclusivity and Kindle-only. They’re stuck in Amazon’s algorithms, believing their writing careers are safe.

When these writers “go wide” as they call it, selling their books on sites other than Amazon, and lose Amazon’s exclusivity and “page reads” and deals, their income goes way down. Because these writers don’t understand that they need to build a new audience on each platform.

Building audiences takes time, but it protects against the eggs-in-one-basket problem.

. . . .

When a company gets hit with antitrust violations, there are a lot of remedies. Breaking up the company is one. Forcing the company to divest itself of parts of its business that help it create a monopoly is another. And there are so many more.

. . . .

“For Amazon,” [Michael Cader at Publisher’s Marketplace] writes, “that would likely mean divesting most arms of their publishing octopus, including much if not all of Audible, plus Brilliance, Amazon Publishing, Kindle Direct Publishing, and probably CreateSpace. It might apply to divesting AbeBooks as well.”

Sit with that for a moment. Amazon might have to get rid of everything that makes their indie publishing arm possible. Amazon could do a few things with it. They might sell the pieces. If those arms aren’t making a lot of money (in corporate terms), they might simply shut them down.

That’s not a big deal for people who are wide. They’ll still be able to publish.

But indies whose entire career is based on Amazon’s ecosystem? Those indies will go through a year or more of turmoil—if Amazon sells those pieces. If Amazon shuts those pieces down, the indies will lose their careers overnight.

. . . .

I’m just going to use Cader’s pull quotes here, since he really does very little editorializing, except at the end. (Although the choice of quotes is instructive.)

Here’s how he describes that Act:

The Act “prohibits discriminatory conduct by dominant platforms, including a ban on self-preferencing and picking winners and losers online.” In particular, it prohibits conduct that “advantages the covered platform operator’s own products, services, or lines of business over those of another business user.”

Significantly, covered companies may not “interfere or restrict a business user’s pricing of its goods or services.”

It blocks the use of “non-public data obtained from or generated on the platform by the activities of a business user or its customers that is generated through an interaction with the business user’s products or services to offer or support the offering of the covered platform operator’s own products or services.”

And it would keep Amazon from putting its thumb on the scale of their various promotional levers, blocking, “in connection with any user interfaces, including search or ranking functionality offered by the covered platform, treat the covered platform operator’s own products, services, or lines of business more favorably than another business user.”

There’s so much to unpack here. Note that this act covers pricing and promotion and, once again, competition. Instead of the Amazon ecosystem favoring Amazon, it would have to level the playing field in all areas.

That would mean, indies, there’s no competitive advantage to being Amazon-only.

. . . .

Amazon itself would survive. If the American Innovation and Choice Online Act is the only one that passes, then all those publishing services would remain intact, but the promotional deals that favor only Amazon products—and yes, your exclusive book is an Amazon product—would disappear.

All the advantages you have at Amazon would disappear if either of these two Acts pass in the current form.

They won’t. They’ll be different, if they ever make it out of committee. They’ll be significantly different after random House members get to put their imprint on the bills. They’ll be even more different after the Senate messes with it.

. . . .

Eventually, the U.S. government will take apart Amazon and the other tech giants. In the 1920s, the U.S. government took apart the tech giants of the late 19th century. When the tech giants’ power rivals the U.S. government and/or trumps the government (pun intended), the U.S. government—in a bipartisan way—will defang a tech giant. It sometimes takes years. But it will happen.

What do I recommend for those of you who are Amazon exclusive? I recommend that you watch this legislation for one thing. For another, I would start—slowly—divesting yourself of the exclusivity at Amazon.

I’d take my lowest performing works and pull them out of the exclusive ecosystem, going wide with them. I’d focus on promotions outside of Amazon for those particular products. I’d learn how to be a business person without Amazon, so when the Amazon ecosystem changes—and it will—you will be prepared.

. . . .

I have watched countless writers go under when the book publisher goes bankrupt. I  have watched non-publishing businesses go down because they have, essentially, one client and either that client stops paying or that client goes out of business.

See this as the shot across the bow that it is. The changes might not happen in 2021 (most certainly they won’t). They might not happen in 2022. But by mid-decade? Maybe.

. . . .

The system Amazon built that has—as a sideline—benefitted some exclusive indie writers will change in the next five years. I can guarantee that.

It might change sooner.

The indies who act now to slowly go wide will survive.

Those who cling to the old ways of doing things—exclusive, through Amazon—will lose their entire business, maybe sooner rather than later.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

PG shares some of Kris’s concerns but doesn’t think some of her concerns, while legitimate, are as serious as she does.

PG also thinks other factors Kris doesn’t mention may impact Amazon’s future.

When a strong personality steers a large company, there are upsides and downsides.

Even though the company becomes very large, the strong personality can make the ship turn more rapidly than a similar company under more conventional corporate governance could. Bezos and Amazon have demonstrated the benefits of this agility and willingness to take risks on more than one occasion. Steve Jobs and Apple are another example.

Sometimes, when there’s a strong personality at the top of an organization, the organization develops responsively to their leadership style. A new leader with a different style can lead to organizational stumbles. Organizations governed by several strong leaders acting in various roles may transition to new leadership more easily than single-leader organizations.

Another potential drawback of strong personality leadership is that subordinates with similar talents and personalities will go elsewhere instead of remaining in the organization. Would a clone of Jeff Bezos go to work at Amazon today? Suppose a clone of Jeff Bezos was an Amazon vice-president. Would they stick around to see how the CEO-successor game played out or jump to a leadership role in a different company when a head-hunter called with a good opportunity elsewhere?

The problem of a Big Tree CEO stunting the growth of smaller trees in the lower ranks is a real possibility. Some CEOs deal with that problem better than other CEOs do.

Amazon today is two large businesses – The Everything Store, where zillions of people go to buy stuff, and Amazon Web Services.

Of the two, Amazon Web Services earns the most money and is the most valuable. At root, The Everything Store is a retailer, and retailers, large and small, almost always operate on tight margins. AWS is a money machine.

Perhaps he has missed it, but he hasn’t seen anything that suggests that AWS is the focus of any serious antitrust scrutiny. Most of the public heat is focused on The Everything Store because it competes effectively with all sorts of retailers and touches on the distribution and sales operations of a whole bunch of manufacturers and suppliers of goods.

The Everything Store also competes with lots and lots of other retailers. Its enormous success in this sphere has gained the company a lot of enemies, including dedicated Amazon-haters. Most of traditional publishing falls into this segment. So do the many culturally influential individuals who are hopelessly in love with the idea of the little bookshop on the corner.

PG opines that most middle-class people in the US have no beef with Amazon and are happy to continue buying all sorts of things from the company.

For politicians, all the potential glory lies in attacking The Everything Store.

That’s the background as PG sees it.

What’s the future of legal attacks on Amazon?

PG thinks the timeline of any antitrust litigation against Amazon is very long.

He’ll summarize the timeline of the Microsoft antitrust of the last century:

  • Serious investigations began in the early 1990’s
  • Suit was filed by the Justice Department in 1998 after Netscape lost the browser wars to Internet Explorer
  • In mid-2000, the trial judge handed down his verdict. Microsoft appealed.
  • In mid-2001, The Court of Appeals acted rather quickly, reversed the trial court’s decision, and sent the case back down for a brand-new trial with a different judge.
  • At this point, the US Department of Justice got serious about settling the case instead of going through the trial-and-appeal process again. Microsoft exited the antitrust litigation in November, 2001, almost unscathed.

So, Microsoft’s antitrust litigation problems lasted over ten years from the beginning of serious investigations until the case was resolved. Today, Microsoft is the second most valuable company in the US by market capitalization.

In 1969, following a comprehensive investigation, the Justice Department filed an antitrust suit against IBM for monopolizing the personal computer market. That case lasted 13 years and IBM survived, remaining in the top ten of the Fortune 500 until 2006.

So, PG’s bottom line on Amazon is that, unless the company does something truly stupid, antitrust problems are, at most, a distant cloud on the horizon.

As far as harmful new legislation impacting Amazon, there is less predictability, but Amazon is #2 on Fortune Magazines list of the World’s Most Admired Companies.

Amazon is a very popular company with a great many American voters. Amazon has an estimated 147 Prime members in the United States. PG speculates that a letter to its customers asking them to contact their congressional representatives to head off anti-Amazon legislation might be quite effective.

PG is not aware of any law that would prevent Amazon from sending an email to each of its Prime members (or each of its customers) in the United States (or anywhere else) asking them to send a letter or email to their Congressional Representative and each of their two Senators.

Typically, Amazon’s customers provide a physical address to which purchases of non-digital goods should be sent, so the company has a very good idea of which state and congressional district in which a customer lives and/or does business. With that information, Amazon could provide relevant names, offices and email addresses, etc., for the relevant representative/senator.

Amazon’s letter or email to its customers could encourage customers to contact their representatives to tell them not to do anything that would harm Zon, including voting for any legislation that would force Amazon to change its business or stop selling popular products to individuals.

There would be a huge uproar by the anti-Zon press and other of the usual suspects, but PG thinks congressional representatives would get the message that their constituents like Amazon just the way it is and don’t want anybody voting for laws that would prevent them from buying whatever they want from Amazon.

Bipartisan House Bills Aim to Rein in Amazon & Other Big Tech Companies

From Shelf Awareness:

On Friday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives introduced five bills that aim to rein in Big Tech companies–Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple. The moves parallel efforts by the European Union to regulate Big Tech more, and seem to be one of the few areas where Congressional Democrats and Republicans have found common ground. Still, the bills could take a while to pass, especially in the Senate, with some Republicans wary about changing antitrust law, and once passed could take longer to implement.

“The proposals would make it easier to break up businesses that used their dominance in one area to get a stronghold in another, would create new hurdles for acquisitions of nascent rivals and would empower regulators with more funds to police companies,” the New York Times observed.

One of the bills, the Ending Platform Monopolies Act, would make it unlawful for an online platform to own a business that uses “the covered platform for the sale or provision of products or services” or that sells services as a condition for access to the platform, the Wall Street Journal wrote. The platform company also couldn’t own businesses that create conflicts of interest, such as by creating the “incentive and ability” for the platform to advantage its own products over competitors. The act could require Amazon to split into several companies.

The Journal added: “If the Ending Platform Monopolies bill were to be passed, Amazon could have to split its business into two separate websites, one for its third-party marketplace and one for first-party, or divest or shut down the sale of its own products. Amazon’s private-label division has dozens of brands with 158,000 products. It is also a market leader on devices such as Kindle eReaders, Amazon Echos, Fire TV streaming devices and Ring doorbells.”

Another bill bars platforms from giving preference to “the covered platform operator’s own products, services, or lines of business over those of another business user,” or that excludes or disadvantages other businesses. This, too, could deeply affect Amazon.

Another bill seeks to limit mergers, “making it unlawful for a large platform to acquire rivals or potential rivals,” the Journal wrote. Still, “the bill would have prevented only ‘a small percentage of all technology sector deals’ over the past decade, the summary said.”

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

PG wonders if any of the relevant lawmakers are thinking about what consumers (AKA voters) would like to have happen to Amazon.

Consumers vote with their dollars and their votes say they love Amazon more than any place else online in the United States (and probably the world).

PG did a quick and dirty online check and found apparently reputable (at least by online standards) sites that placed Amazon as the #1 online shopping site in the UK, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan and India.

Amazon came it at #2 in Mexico and #3 in Brazil. It didn’t make the top-ten in China.

So, because a large number of people love Amazon and a small number of people don’t like Amazon.

Some of the don’t-likes carry grudges against Amazon for one thing or another, mostly about changing things as they were. Of course traditional publishers and those with stakes in physical bookstores lead the way, but lots of other physical retailers do as well.

Nobody counts the millions and millions of people involved with third-party sellers on Amazon who are also very happy. Amazon’s nearly two million third-party sellers worldwide account for well over half of the platform’s total sales — 62% in 2020. Two million third-party sellers are much more than two million individual gals and guys working out of their garage. More than a few are large enterprises that employ dozens or hundreds of people.

PG found a website that lists the top one thousand Amazon third-party sellers world-wide based upon a formula it believes reflect the relative size of their sales volume. Amazon has 17 separate marketplaces, focused on geographical, cultural and/or language markets.

Within the top-ten third-party sellers world-wide, you’ll find:

  • German sellers – 3
  • UK sellers – 3
  • Indian sellers – 1
  • French sellers – 1
  • American sellers – 1
  • Japanese sellers – 1

In short, by attempting to disrupt Amazon’s operations, US politicians and their supporters are potentially harming a great many organizations and people who aren’t Jeff Bezos or Amazon millionaires at all.

And that’s not even talking about the the independent app developers that rely on Apple’s app store and those small businesses who use Google advertising.

PG suggests if you compare those who want to cut Amazon down to size to those who benefit from Amazon’s products and services, the Anti-Zon campaign is a war of the rich and privileged against much more varied and diverse worldwide group of individuals and small businesses for whom Amazon is both a valued source of good quality at reasonable prices and a way of earning a living when other avenues of financial advancement may be restricted and limiting.

And that’s not even talking about the gang of gatekeepers, thieves and con artists hovering around the traditional publishing empire.

But PG could be wrong.

He does feel better now, looking out the window hoping to see a unicorn or warm puppy walking by.

What’s in a Bookstore?

From Public Books:

When brick-and-mortar publishers and bookstores close, today as in the past, the unsold stock sometimes ends up in an indecorous heap. It’s one thing to know that about one-third of the books published in Europe before 1700 survive only in a single copy; it’s quite another thing to confront waterlogged books languishing on the sidewalk. Without the public funding or institutional backing enjoyed by many libraries, bookstores these days tend to have a hard time making ends meet, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified these pressures. Should a bookstore have to close, we lament the disappearance of its social and intellectual ecosystem, even more than the loss of the books themselves.

Especially for antiquarian and other independent booksellers, there exists a tension between sharing knowledge and running a business. Bookstores sell books and book-adjacent items, of course. But they also may serve as editorial offices, publishing houses, classrooms, and lecture halls, not to mention cafés, play spaces, and reading rooms. Sites of collaboration and exchange, bookstores, like libraries, can help hold a community together.

A number of recent works warn against reducing bookstores to the financial bottom line. Kaouther Adimi’s novel Our Riches, translated from the French in 2020 by Chris Andrews, reconstructs a history of the bookstore that French-Algerian intellectual Edmond Charlot founded in Algiers in 1935. In Bookshops: A Reader’s History, translated in 2017 from the Spanish by Peter Bush, Barcelona-based critic Jorge Carrión weaves together notes from his bookstore pilgrimages around the world with anecdotes culled from books about books and reading. And D. W. Young’s The Booksellers, an earnest 2019 documentary film about the antiquarian book trade, follows a cast of collectors, archivists, librarians, and booksellers as they try to reinvent and diversify their craft, while selling what appears to be a trifling number of books. There’s no wide-eyed optimism in these three works. Their affectionate depictions of bookstores and booksellers instead ask us to consider what we’re in danger of losing.

Can lessons from the past help guide independent booksellers and their patrons as they navigate a book world in flux? Histories of the early modern book market, when both books and the global economy were new, do not provide a definite blueprint for how to deal with the changing technologies of the book or the effects of online bookselling. They do, however, reveal a pliable sense of what books were in the first place. Literary scholars José María Pérez Fernández and Edward Wilson-Lee’s Hernando Colón’s New World of Books: Toward a Cartography of Knowledge and historians Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen’s The Bookshop of the World: Making and Trading Books in the Dutch Golden Age show that books, and the book world, have never not been in flux.

This knowledge may offer some measure of reassurance to 21st-century bibliophiles uneasy about the future of reading. It turns out that book buyers have always sought to temper desire with circumspection, while booksellers have aimed to balance parsimony with intellectual largesse. For more than five centuries, equilibrium has remained elusive to both parties.

. . . .

Hernando Colón—aka Ferdinand Columbus, Christopher’s son—built in Seville one of the largest private libraries of the 16th century, but he distrusted booksellers. Making a show of defending his family’s name, Colón refuted rumors that his father had been a bookseller in Genoa before his rather more famous transatlantic endeavors. When Colón’s last librarian described the cross-referenced author, title, and subject catalogues, the transcribed snippets, and the book summaries used to organize this collection, he emphasized the usefulness of these tools for sniffing out bookseller fraud.

Compiled in the nearly two-thousand-page Libro de los epítomes manuscript rediscovered in the University of Copenhagen’s Arnamagnæan Institute, in 2019, the book summaries, in particular, made it possible for Colón’s collaborators to spot titles that had little or nothing to do with the works they adorned and to recognize attempts to hawk old publications as new. Early modern book buyers had reason to be wary of unscrupulous publishers and shady booksellers.

Wealthy booksellers were worthy of particular suspicion. In his will, Colón instructed heirs charged with the conservation and expansion of his collection—which consisted of about 15,000 volumes at the time of his death, in 1539—to avoid merchants who dealt principally in large and expensive books, like those that characterized the disciplines of law and theology. Colón faulted such booksellers with overestimating the comprehensiveness of their stock and remaining uncurious about the inexpensive, small-format works of popular poetry and current events that he coveted.

. . . .

Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen’s wide-ranging coauthored work, The Bookshop of the World, demonstrates that the economics of books is best understood by thinking about print culture as broadly as possible. Building on Pettegree’s previous research on books in the early Renaissance and on the “invention of news,” this new book examines 17th-century Dutch publishing dynasties like the Elzeviers, in Leiden, and the Blaeu and Janssonius families, in Amsterdam. These family firms produced costly and significant books. Joan Blaeu’s Atlas Maior, a richly illustrated collection of maps, and the Elzeviers’ publications of works by Galileo and Descartes stand out. Dutch traders also bought books in bulk from publishers elsewhere in Europe, often paying in cash, and then resold them at a markup at home and abroad. Adept entrepreneurs with an eye for the shifting tastes of readers in both Protestant and Catholic regions, they speculated.

Meanwhile, large and small firms alike jostled for the predictable income and low risk associated with smaller printing jobs. The highly literate and politically engaged Dutch were avid readers: newspapers, advertisements, funeral orations, dissertations, political and wedding pamphlets, posted announcements, and the like—obrezillas and paperwork, one could say. Drawing on publisher and notarial archives, Pettegree and Der Weduwen plot this iceberg of lost printed matter.

Successful Dutch publishers transformed the book market beyond the Dutch Republic, too. They squeezed out local competitors in Copenhagen. They dictated preferential terms at the critical Frankfurt book fair. They were strident players in the production and trade of English bibles. And their success in Paris aroused protectionist reactions. Amsterdam became the metaphorical bookshop of the world, but at a cost.

. . . .

Although the buying and selling of books for profit has always been an aim of booksellers, bookstore archives reveal the myriad other activities taking place amid the commerce. Blurring the lines among the different sorts of intimacy and creativity realized in rooms full of books, Paris-based author Kaouther Adimi’s Our Riches fictionalizes the story of Edmond Charlot and Les Vraies Richesses, the bookstore that Charlot founded in Algiers in 1935.

Charlot was an editor and publisher as well as a bookseller. The works of Albert Camus, André Gide, and a host of other prominent authors appeared in the book list he deftly curated. The inventive Charlot—in Our Riches, at least—is bursting with ideas for collaboration, resulting in an “éditions Charlot” book frontispiece painted by René-Jean Clot and an exhibition at the bookstore of Sauveur Galliéro’s sculptures. Adimi depicts Les Vraies Richesses as a ferment.

The bookstore lent books in addition to selling and producing them. In Adimi’s telling, a young man named Riyad is sent from Paris in 2017 by the building’s new owners to clear out the remaining books and prepare the space for a beignet shop. Since the 1990s, when the Algerian government acquired the bookstore from the founder’s sister-in-law, the space had served as a branch of the Algerian National Library—though locals persisted in calling it Les Vraies Richesses. Abdallah, who from 1997 onward had managed the lending library while sleeping on its mezzanine, was known fondly in the neighborhood as “the bookseller.” Evoking the slipperiness of the French word librairie, which now denotes “bookstore” but in centuries past more often meant “library,” Adimi questions whether book lovers must conserve their books and booksellers must sell them.

. . . .

If they’re canny and patient, booksellers specializing in rare books also sometimes step into literary history, though they usually arrive late, sometimes by a few centuries. D. W. Young’s film The Booksellers illustrates that the reputations and livelihoods of antiquarian booksellers are more often tied to the books themselves than to the comings-and-goings of poets and novelists.

Yet as once difficult-to-find books appear for sale online at clearinghouse sites, what counts as a rare book is changing. For one, the bar to qualify as rare is higher: annotations or ownership by some noteworthy figure—a book “run over by the right truck,” as one merchant puts it in The Booksellers—add value. What’s more, the boundaries of the book are now more porous even than they were in the first decades of print. This porousness is manifest in, among other things, the variety of the antiquarian bookseller’s merchandise. The familiar hardback is today but one artifact among a surfeit of manuscript notes, corrected drafts, published zines, audio recordings, video outtakes, fancy gloves, curious writing implements, and all manner of literary historical tchotchkes.

To reimagine the bookstore’s stock is to grow the community of collectors and transform the image of the bookseller. Amplifying the feminist legacies of New York dealers like Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern, for instance, booksellers Heather O’Donnell and Rebecca Romney founded the Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize for an outstanding book collection by a young woman. Collector and filmmaker Syreeta Gates built an archive of early hip-hop because such an archive did not exist, and she needed one for her activist work. The long-term payoff on these investments will not simply be solvency for antiquarian bookstores. As these sorts of nascent collections multiply and, over time, migrate to libraries, the authoritative histories of much more than the book will look different.

Link to the rest at Public Books

PG suggests the variety of business strategies described in the OP illustrates his proposition that the physical bookstore is, first and foremost, a business model.

Like all other business models for a wide range of commercial endeavors, the physical bookstore has strengths and weaknesses. PG acknowledges that physical bookstores carrying a wide variety of inventory have been a successful business model for a very long time.

However, while a long record of past commercial success may indicate a high probability of the physical bookstore continuing into the future, it certainly doesn’t guarantee that will be the case.

To take an obvious example, the use of horses for powering various types of transportation systems had an exceptionally long and successful history through the beginning of the 20th Century. PG suggests this business model for transportation had a much longer history of success than the physical bookstore does today.

The invention of the internal combustion engine put horse-powered transportation systems out of business very quickly. Today, nations that utilize horses as a key part of their means of transporting people and things are uniformly regarded as quite primitive.

For thousands of years of success demonstrating the efficacy of horses powering transport, it’s no long a viable business model.

Just as the invention of the internal combustion engine and vehicles powered by that means did not instantly result in commercial actors putting all their horses out to pasture (or worse), the handwriting was on the wall and the evolution of commercial land transportation was inevitable.

PG suggests that electronic books and digital commerce in physical books (for people who still want them) is inherently superior to the business model of the physical bookstore.

Just as the wealthy still ride horses for pleasure and some US ranchers use them for managing cattle and other livestock in remote and rugged areas, PG is not suggesting that the future will mean absolutely no physical bookstores will exist. He does suggest that physical bookstores will become a smaller and smaller and, essentially, quaint and quirky niche of the far larger world of commercial distribution of written information.

Censorship Competition Heats Up

From The Wall Street Journal:

By now it is clear that wokeness is a contagious malady. Amazon.com made headlines in February when it suddenly delisted Ryan Anderson’s book “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment,” a thoughtful, humane and deeply researched investigation of a controverted subject of public debate.

As the publisher of that 2018 bestseller, I was taken aback by reports that Mr. Anderson’s book was unavailable at “the world’s largest bookstore.” At first, I wondered whether there was some mistake.

But no. It was a deliberate act of censorship. Moreover, like the earl of Strafford, Amazon’s motto was “Thorough.” They didn’t just stop selling the book. They pushed it into the digital oubliette, erasing all trace of it from the Amazon website. They did the same thing at their subsidiaries Audible, which sells audiobooks, and AbeBooks, which sells secondhand books.

Now it turns out that Bookshop.org, which bills itself a scrappy alternative to the Bezos Behemoth, is up to the same game. A couple of weeks ago, a reader alerted us that Mr. Anderson’s book had gone missing from the Bookshop.org website.

The organization never responded to our queries. But on Friday we learned from our distributor that Bookshop had deep-sixed the book. “We did remove this title based on our policies,” Bookshop wrote to our distributor—without, however, explaining what those “policies” might be. “We had multiple complaints and concerns from customers, affiliates, and employees about the title.”

Perhaps other customers, affiliates and employees expressed “complaints and concerns” about Heather Mac Donald’s “The War on Cops,” another Encounter bestseller. That book has also been disappeared from the Bookshop website.

. . . .

I couldn’t help but note that at least one of my own books, “Tenured Radicals,” is missing in action there. Apparently there were no “complaints and concerns” about Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” however. That book is available in a variety of editions, as are the anti-Semitic lucubrations of Louis Farrakhan and many other similarly unedifying effusions.

Underdogs make for good copy, so it was no surprise that Bookshop was hailed as a brave upstart, a feisty David to the Goliath of Amazon. “Bookshop.org hopes to play Rebel Alliance to Amazon’s Empire,” ran the headline of a valentine in the Chicago Tribune.

Bookshop turns out to be little more than another minion for the Emperor of Wokeness. For the past couple of weeks, the first item advertised on its home page is that bible of antiwhite woke sermonizing, “How to Be an Anti-Racist.” Many readers, I’d wager, would have “complaints and concerns” about that screed. But that doesn’t mean that Bookshop should stop selling it. Nor would it, regardless of how many complained.

The move to squash Mr. Anderson’s book is the vanguard of a larger effort to silence debate and impose ideological conformity on any contentious issue in which the commissars of woke culture have made an investment. It has nothing to do with principle and everything to do with power.

Amazon and now Bookshop have sided firmly with the bullies. Doubtless there will be more interdictions, delistings and suppressions. They can do it, so they will do it.

One of the more tiresome canards from the courtiers is that entities like Amazon and Bookshop are private companies and therefore that they can choose to sell, or not sell, whatever they want.

This is true, but also irrelevant. What we are witnessing are not the prerogatives of the free market but the clashings of a culture war. Those clashings may adopt, as camouflage, the rhetoric of free enterprise, but their end is control and obliteration of opposing points of view.

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

Lest any visitors to TPV should have any doubts, PG is concerned about viewpoint discrimination on the part of Amazon.

He acknowledges that, as a private business, Amazon has the right to choose what products it will and will not sell, but this decision drops the company into the middle of a political controversy that it needn’t have joined.

Amazon is a very large target for those across the political spectrum and a serious antitrust investigation of the company’s activities and policies could substantially harm its business.

More than one giant US company has been hamstrung and permanently impaired by a lengthy antitrust probe. Classic examples are AT&T, Kodak and Standard Oil.

Most recently, Microsoft was involved in a lengthy antitrust suit.

Bill Gates later said that the antitrust suit prevented Microsoft from completing development on Windows Mobile, its cell phone operating system (which left the field open to Apple and Android). Apple’s annual revenue is now about twice as large as Microsoft’s.

Gates also cited the stress of the antitrust suit as a contributing factor in his decision to step down from the leadership of Microsoft in 2000. PG is not alone in believing that Microsoft has not been the same company since Gates left.

There has been a growing sentiment in the United States that the big technology companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook have become too large and powerful.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos had what was widely regarded as a poor showing in his videoconference testimony before the House Antitrust Committee last summer. He recently declined an invitation to testify before a Senate committee investigating “The Income and Wealth Inequality Crisis in America.”

PG notes that TPV is not a political blog and requests that comments not devolve into political name-calling. He is concerned about Amazon’s future primarily because it is the only significant marketplace where indie authors can publish their books on an equal basis with books from traditional publishers and Amazon provides a very large portion of the royalties that indie authors earn from their books.

Know thy reader

From The Bookseller:

With the levelling off of e-book sales, many have begun to wonder whether the book publishing industry will be spared the kinds of disruption experienced by other sectors of the media industries. But the digital transformation of the book publishing industry was never fundamentally about e-books anyway: e-books turned out to be just another format by which publishers could deliver their content to readers, not the game-changer that many thought (or feared) it would be. The big question that the digital revolution posed to book publishers is just as pressing today as it was a decade ago: it’s the question of how publishers understand who their ‘customers’ are, and how they relate to and interact with them. 

For most of the 500-year history of the book publishing industry, publishers understood their customers to be retailers: publishers were a B2B business, selling books to retailers, and they knew very little about the ultimate customers of their books, the readers. The digital revolution has forced publishers to think again about this model and to consider whether there might be something to be gained by becoming more reader-centric. This fundamental shift in publishers’ self-understanding is likely to be one of the most significant and enduring consequences of the digital revolution in publishing. 

But how does a publisher actually become more reader-centric? Over the last decade or so, many publishers have come to realize that one of the most effective ways to make their businesses more reader-centric is to build their own dedicated databases of readers so that they can interact directly with readers via email. Building a customer database can be a slow and laborious process, but with focus and creativity, a publisher can grow a list remarkably quickly: one senior manager I interviewed at a large US trade publisher explained that they had decided to build a customer database in a particular area of their publishing programme and, using a combination of paid ads, partnerships and sweepstakes, they succeeded in getting half a million people to sign up in the first year alone.  Having these email addresses and customer information in your own database is much more effective than relying on social media and gives you much more control, as you are not reliant on the algorithms of social media companies to determine which posts get fed through to people’s news feeds. Moreover, with emails to readers, you can get a much higher level of engagement than with many other retail goods, in part because many readers have an emotional connection with authors whose books they enjoy and they want to know more about any new books written by their favourite authors.  The benchmark for email open rates is 20%, but the open rate for emails relating to books by brand-name authors can be as high as 60%.

But it’s not just mainstream pubishers who are using digital technologies to establish direct relationships with readers: some start-ups on the margins of the publishing field have taken this much further and are pioneering new kinds of publishing that integrate reader input into their decision-making processes. One example that will be familiar to many in the publishing world are the crowdfunding publishers, Unbound in the UK and Inkshares in the US.  While many people think of crowdfunding as an innovative way of raising capital (and it is), the real genius of crowdfunding is that it is an audience-building machine. The crowdfunding model means that every new author brings a few hundred new readers into the system – their friends and family members and the people who have a particular interest in the book they’re proposing to write, and the book goes ahead only when enough readers have pledged their support for the project. Crowdfunding models like Unbound and Inkshares are creating a new kind of relationship between authors and readers in which readers are not simply the buyers of books but, rather, their co-creators. At the same time, they are building networks of engaged readers that enable them to capture customer data rather than leaving it for Amazon to hoover up. By using crowdfunding to create a system of reader curation, they are turning the traditional model of publishing on its head.

. . . .

The real opportunity that the digital revolution opens up for publishers is that, for the first time in the long history of the book, it is now possible for publishers to do something they could never do before: build direct channels of communication with readers and do it at scale. This is a central feature of the digital transformation in publishing, and those publishers that succeed in making their businesses more reader-centric, learning not just how to market more effectively to readers but how to listen to them too, are likely to be the ones that will ride the wave of the digital revolution most successfully in the years to come.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Leveling off of ebook sales? Email lists? Reader-centric? Crowdfunding?

PG is certain that the author of the OP (and the book shown below), an Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Cambridge is an intelligent and probably likeable guy, but PG was a bit surprised while reading the OP that The Bookseller (and, presumably, its readers) will think that anything described is actually new information or insight about the book business these days.

A bit of ebook history for those who may not know or remember it:

  • While ebooks predated Amazon ebooks, for all intents and purposes, as a meaningful segment of publishing, ebooks didn’t exist until Amazon started selling ebooks and inexpensive ebook readers. (Widespread adoption of small digital screens on phones definitely helped as well.)
  • As a classic example of Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma, the creative executives and companies that drove the dynamism, growth and profitability of print publishing, bookstores, newspapers and magazines during the second half of the twentieth century didn’t understand how important electronic media would become and how quickly electronics, including digital electronics and digital networks, would replace print as a means of written communication to audiences large and small.
  • Jeff Bezos moved to Bellevue, Washington, rented a house with a garage and became entranced with the potential of web commerce in 1995. He decided that books were a great product to sell online because of the large worldwide demand for literature, the low unit price for books, and the huge number of titles available in print. That decision started a business that would upend the business empires of the great publishers of New York, then move on to disrupt traditional bookselling and publishing around the developed world.
  • At the same time Amazon was going public in 1997, Barnes & Noble sued the company, claiming it wasn’t the the world’s largest bookstore, but was, instead, a book broker. Bezos settled out of court and kept going.
  • Barnes & Noble CEO Leonard Riggio would have been much smarter to use the money he paid his lawyers to buy Amazon stock because $100,000 invested in Amazon on the day it went public would have been worth more than $120 million as of May 2020.
  • Sometime in the summer of 2009, executives at the highest levels of Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster started meeting secretly in the private dining room of a Manhattan restaurant to develop a strategy to prevent Amazon and other ebook retailers selling their ebooks at a discount from list price.
  • At the time, these five publishers were producing 48% of the ebooks sold in the United States.
  • In December, 2009, Apple’s senior VP of Internet Software and Services contacted these New York publishers to set up secret meetings for the purpose of discussing ebook pricing.
  • Apple planned to unveil the iPad on January 27, 2010, and start shipping iPads in April. As part of the launch, Apple wanted to announce its new iBookstore that would include ebooks from the major publishers.
  • The Apple VP told the five publishers that Apple would sell the majority of e-books for prices between $9.99 and $14.99, with new releases being $12.99 to $14.99, substantially more than Amazon was charging.
  • Apple planned to use the same “agency” model which it used in its App Store for distribution of e-books. Apple would be a sales agent and the Publishers would control the price of their e-books in the iBookstore. Publishers would pay Apple a 30% commission on each sale.
  • Apple didn’t want Amazon to be able to sell ebooks at a lower price. The agreement between Apple and each of the big publishers would include a so-called “most-favored-nation” or “MFN” clause which allowed for Apple to sell e-book at its competitors’ lowest price. If the big publishers allowed Amazon to discount prices, Apple could discount them an equal amount and take its 30% commission from that price.
  • The Big Publishers concluded that, if Amazon didn’t play ball, their ebook customers would simply buy iPads and buy their ebooks at the iBookstore. Finally, there was a powerful enough tech company to take on Amazon in the ebook game.
  • On the day of the iPad launch and the announcement of the iBookstore, including an announcement of Apple’s ebook pricing, a Wall Street Journal reporter asked Apple CEO Steve Jobs why people would pay $14.99 for a book in the iBookstore when they could purchase it for $9.99 from Amazon. Jobs replied that “The price will be the same… Publishers are actually withholding their books from Amazon because they are not happy.”
  • This public statement expressed the terms of the agreement. The big publishers, acting in concert, would jointly force Amazon to increase its e-book prices with the threat to cut off Amazon’s ebook supply. If Amazon refused to increase prices, Apple would be the only place to buy ebooks from the major publishers that controlled most of the book marked. If Amazon knuckled under and raised its prices, Apple would face no price competition.
  • The United States Justice Department and 31 states filed suit against Apple and the five conspiring publishers for violating longstanding US antitrust laws. Three of the publishers settled the claims on the date the suit was filed, admitting they had violated the law. The other two publishers settled the case prior to trial, also admitting wrongdoing.
  • News reports stated that the publishing executives had not consulted their own attorneys about whether their actions were legal or not. (PG notes that any law student who had completed more than three weeks of a one-semester law school antitrust course would have known that this scheme was a clear-cut violation of the law. No legal gray areas available for this hot mess.)
  • After a trial, Apple was found to have wrongfully violated US antitrust laws. Apple appealed the decision as far as it could go and lost. Apple was forced to pay $450 million in damages for its wrongful actions.

And the OP describes ebooks as “the wave of digital revolution” as if this is new information.

PG believes that no one would dispute that Amazon is by far the largest outlet for independently-published ebooks anywhere in the world. Amazon does not break out indie ebook sales in its own accounting reports.

Veteran publishing consultant, Mike Shatzkin, estimated that, between 2011 and 2013, self-published books grew from nothing to almost 30% of the book units sold in the US. This growth coincided with a period during which ebook sales also increased rapidly.

The Alliance of Independent Authors estimated that in 2016, in the US, fewer than 1200 trade-published authors who debuted in the last ten years earned $25,000 a year or more, compared to over 1,600 indie authors who earned $25,000 per year or more.

In 2020, ALLi reported that 8% its members had sold more than 50,000 books in the prior two years.

An Enders Analysis in 2016 found that 40% of the top-selling ebooks on Amazon were self-published.

PG won’t say the ebook and indie revolutions are over, but will say that the trends of the last ten years have undeniably been moving towards more ebooks and more money for indie authors. Any industry statistics that limit themselves to ebooks sold by traditional publishers are missing the majority of the overall market.

PG further suggests that for most authors, indie or traditionally-published, a dozen legitimate positive reviews on Amazon are worth more than a signing at your local Barnes & Noble.

The author of the OP is promoting a book he recently published.

Yesterday’s Absence

PG apologizes for not demonstrating proof of life on TPV yesterday.

Casa PG had quite a bit of snow yesterday. And the day before yesterday. And the day before that.

Neighborhood skiers have all disappeared.

Along with their vehicles.

One mentioned skiing to PG prior to his disappearance.

PG is willing to admit that skiing actually happens. However, he also suspects that skiing may also be a ruse to avoid shoveling snow.

When giant or semi-giant snow is forecast, the rusor escapes to some snowless place until the snow in the neighborhood finally melts, then returns with a tan and brags about how great the slopes were to every rusee who stayed and shoveled. Thus the rusor is proclaimed as the master or mistress of snow, seeking and conquering the stuff at its deepest wherever it may lie while mere mortals just push bits of it off the sidewalk.

However, no one who resorts to this ruse king of the slopes strategy to avoid clearing their driveway is ever willing to make the sacrifice of reclining beside a pool in the warm sun, a glass of liquid with a little paper umbrella close at hand, wearing ski goggles. If they think of it at all in their langor, they probably believe that tan lines resulting from their sunglasses will fool people into thinking they were wearing goggles on the slopes.

This allows an astute observer like PG to know that no pristine white slope was sacrificed to relieve his neighbor from the Puritanical virtue of shoveling a lot of snow even when more snow will fall during the coming night, a task that Sisyphus would have recognized.

(Yes, PG knows that some people wear sunglasses while they ski, but kings and queens of the slopes always descend so rapidly through the deepest snow that sunglasses would be quickly dislodged. Besides, no one ever sees a a high-speed Winter Olympics ski champion not wearing goggles or sporting a goggles tan.)

On a serious note, PG notes that many in Texas and other southern states, have experienced widespread and prolonged power outages due to a period of extreme cold following an ice storm that has cut off electrical power for millions.

For visitors to TPV who live in warmer climes, an ice storm can be much more destructive and disruptive than even a snow storm.

Ice can bring down multiple electric power lines in rapid succession, triggering outages that can quickly spread across cities and regions. Ice can make driving impossible, even for large trucks responding to fires and trucks that bring much of what people need to live in metropolitan areas and smaller trucks that distribute it from central warehouses. Most US food stores rely upon daily delivery of food via trucks to replenish their shelves and have room for no more than 2-3 days supplies of non-perishable foods in attached storage spaces.

In southern states, many people don’t have cold-weather clothing because they don’t need it. Fireplaces are decorative. Wood stoves or coal stoves are virtually non-existent. Even layering up with ten golf shirts or 15 sun dresses won’t keep you warm.

Update on Comments Issue

PG thanks those who have sent suggestions about PG’s mysterious problems with Comments numbers not showing correctly, either via comments to PG’s prior post on the topic or via email.

After considering the information submitted by helpful visitors and doing a bit of research, PG think he’s found a fix.

Here’s a brief summary of PG’s latest theories which may or may not be correct. (Time might not even tell if they’re correct. PG doesn’t actually care if he understand exactly what he might have done to fix the problem, he just wants the problem fixed.)

Trigger Warning for Computer Science People: PG is not going to use a lot of technical terms because he would probably not do so correctly. He’ll simplify things down to the level his brain can process today. If PG’s brain mistakenly simplifies something into total incorrectness, feel free to clarify/correct in the comments.

That said, relax. PG isn’t going to try to do this sort of thing on a regular basis or, perhaps, ever again. Unlike straightforward legal doctrines such as The Rule in Shelley’s Case, PG understands that he can’t actually understand computer science stuff.

Being a lawyer for a long time has, however, allowed PG to sharpen his hand-waving abilities into something that impresses him, if not others.

Unfortunately, hand-waving doesn’t always work on computers the way it might work on carbon-based life forms.

Statement of Problem and, Hopefully, Solution

  1. Like a great many other WordPress sites, TPV uses a caching plugin. PG has a very good hosting provider (now), Hosting Matters, but even a very good host uses hard drives and, even with fast hard drives and fast internet connections, there’s going to be a lag between a visitor to TPV clicking on something and any hosting provider delivering a response to the visitor’s browser.
  2. A widely-used means of reducing that turnaround time is to add a caching plugin to the WP site. Basically, a caching plugin tells WP it doesn’t need to bother the servers much, because the plugin already knows what WP is looking for.
  3. This works fine so long as the caching plugin actually knows what it claims to know.
  4. Sometimes when a widget or something else is changed in a WordPress site, the caching plugin doesn’t get the message. So it says bananas are still yellow today because they were yellow yesterday even if the yellow bananas have disappeared and been replaced by green bananas. (PG apologizes if he got too technical about bananas.)
  5. So PG has added another plugin that says it fixes the problem with the existing TPV caching plugin holding onto stale info by forcing the caching program to forget the stale info.
  6. PG doesn’t know what happens if the plugins disagree about what truth is.
  7. So far, it’s looking like it works, however.

Let PG know if the comments seem to be better.

BookExpo, Bookstores, and Libraries

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

In 2020, BookExpo finally died. BookExpo was, once upon a time, a convention for booksellers, put on by the publishing industry. Back then, it was called The American Booksellers Association Convention, and honestly, it was marvelous. If you were a book person, it was like the best place ever.

Books everywhere. So many books in such large convention halls that you couldn’t see everything. You couldn’t even try.

Dean and I went as authors a few times, and always hoped to go back with our bookseller friends. If you had a bookseller badge, you got free everything. Free books. Free posters. Free autographs from famous writers. Free admission into fascinating talks. Everything but free shipping—because you got so much free stuff that you had to ship it back home, where you would finally have time to look at it, sort it out, and maybe make purchases.

In one long hallway at the convention, foreign publishers sat and discussed rights sales with agents and a handful of savvy writers. A lot of deals got made right there. And in a separate building, the small and specialty and regional presses lived. On the way, you could run into the new technology wing…which was filled with things that almost never came to fruition.

It was loud and exhausting and fascination. I remember watching a few of my out-of-shape bookseller friends treating their bodies like Christmas trees, hanging book bags off arms, shoulders, around their necks, and waists, staggering out of the convention hall to the even bigger parking lot to drop off the bags, then go back and get even more piles and piles of stuff.

No one does this anymore. In fact, no one has done this in…oh, maybe 10 to 15 years. BookExpo got sold to Reed Exhibitions in 1995, and the convention declined from there. Of course, bookselling changed too. There was too much consolidation in the 1990s, the book distribution system collapsed, and Barnes & Noble and the other chain stores took over. The small booksellers remained, hanging on by their fingertips.

Attendance at BookExpo got smaller and the freebies rarer. Publishers found other ways to introduce new books to the “trade.” And then in the past few years, Reed spun off the rights fair, which was, really the only reason to go. You could meet foreign publishers face to face and actually sell a few things, if you felt so inclined.

Ah, but let’s face it. The rise of the internet meant that all of the information that used to be shared in person could be shared quicker and in more depth over the internet. And it wasn’t as tiring as using your body like a Christmas tree or spending hundreds on shipping freebies that you probably didn’t even want.

For years, everyone in the industry complained about BookExpo, calling it a shadow of its former self. Reed Exhibitions moved BookExpo to the pop culture part of its organization and added BookCon, hoping to bring in “readers” (forgetting, I guess, that booksellers are readers). That didn’t work.

They canceled the convention in the spring, like damn near every other convention, and held a virtual convention on the usual dates, a convention that made little news or impact. And so, in December, ReedPop, the organization that now manages BookExpo announced there would be no BookExpo in 2021 or maybe ever again. BookExpo was “retired.”

The event director, Jenny Martin, issued a surprisingly candid (for this kind of business) statement:

The pandemic arrived at a time in the life cycle of BookExpo and BookCon where we were already examining the restructure of our events to best meet our community’s needs. This has led us to make the difficult decision to retire the events in their current formats, as we take the necessary time to evaluate the best way to move forward and rebuild our events that will better serve the industry and reach more people than we were able to before. We remain committed to serving the book community and look forward to sharing more information in the future.

I don’t really expect to see anything like this again. The annual meeting of a lot of booksellers and a lot of publishers made sense when there were a lot of booksellers and a lot of publishers, thirty or so years ago. Now, though, in the traditional publishing arena, there just aren’t a lot of big traditional publishers.

And after this year, maybe not that many booksellers. The American Booksellers Association reported that 35 member bookstores had closed due to the pandemic as of October. Another 20% are in danger of closing.

Even those that are managing are struggling. They’re holding on through a combination of cost-cutting, online sales, crowdfunding, and PPP loans—which are (as of this writing) no longer available. Between April and June, the Book Industry Charitable Foundation issued $2.7 million in grants, and has given 443% more in grants than last year.

. . . .

Bookstore owners all say they’re working harder for less money. The stores that are open are spending on cleaning and PPE, as well as dealing with the stress of ordering customers to mask. Some stores have gone to curbside pickup and what used to be called special ordering. Others have done fundraisers and are linking with other businesses. They’re hanging on, but just barely.

And they’re all worrying about the supply chain. They are smaller, so they often don’t get the bigger books as early as say, Amazon or Barnes & Noble, because of the limitations in the supply chain.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

PG notes that, during a major catastrophe that substantially disrupts the personal, family, social and business lives of many people at the same time, a great many people make predictions about what life will be like after the disruption is complete.

After the disruption is complete, some predictions are wrong and some are right. For PG, the most interesting post-disruption happenings are those that few or no one predicted.

One thing that often occurs is that business enterprises that were in poor or marginal condition prior to the disruption are more likely to be destroyed or, if they survive, substantially changed from their prior form. Often and unfortunately, a great many people employed by those businesses have to find another line of work through no fault of their own.

Examples of many such disappeared businesses will come to mind for most visitors to TPV, so PG will not list examples.

PG will, however, make one prediction that will surprise no one who hangs around these environs very often – the parts of the traditional book business that deal in the now-expensive process of creating and selling physical books will be much-diminished after the economy opens up again.

Traditional publishing and selling physical books are, in the 21st century, narrow-margin operations without a lot of room for error or financial difficulties.

Some may continue because they are owned or funded by those not overly reliant upon the book business for their ongoing financial welfare, but the status of an organization that is an expensive hobby, business or personal, is fraught. It is difficult for such organizations to attract and retain talent or intelligence when other opportunities look like a much better bet.

Morale among the employees of such organizations becomes lower and lower, to the detriment of the organization’s business operations and financial results. Those who can get out, leave.

Perhaps the owners of a business in a declining sector hope to find a greater fool to whom to sell the business, but even fools can often recognize a death spiral.

Considering the future, traditional bookstores are essentially just another retail business. They may sell something regarded as of more cultural worth than a load of gravel, but, ultimately, to quote an old phrase, when their outgo exceeds their income, their upkeep will be their downfall.

A traditional publisher is somewhat different in that its principle assets consist of intangible intellectual property, essentially long-term licenses that permit them to use the words contained in the works licensed to them by authors in a wide variety of ways. Much of the time, the author has only retained the right to be paid by the publisher for “sales” or licenses of the author’s work.

The author may hold the copyright to a book or story, but the publisher has exclusive control over all of the means by which that book or story can be used to generate money.

If someone acquired the assets of a publisher for a good price and that new owner of rights under the typical publishing contracts of hundreds or thousands of authors, if the new owner wanted to maximize its revenue from such contract rights, the owner has a variety of ways of doing so.

Under the provisions of typical publishing contracts used by large publishers and a lot of medium-sized or small publishers, PG opines that an unscrupulous owner could game those contracts in a manner that would minimize or eliminate royalty payments to some or all of its authors.

PG is not going to provide any details because he doesn’t want to see any author being treated poorly or cheated out of income she/he reasonably expects to receive from their art and labors.

He will only say that he has not reviewed a publishing contract that he could not game to the author’s financial detriment if he were suddenly had ownership and control of the publisher’s rights to that contract.

PG has reviewed more contracts of different types and used in different businesses during the centuries of his legal career than he can remember. He has reviewed and negotiated extremely well-written contracts prepared by highly-competent attorneys working for very, very wealthy organizations owned and operated by very, very talented and intelligent individuals. He has also reviewed and negotiated contracts prepared by incompetents and idiots on the other side of the deal.

Based upon that experience, he can say that traditional publishing contracts are close to the bottom in terms of precision, enforceability and a lack of ways a publisher could avoid its expected financial obligations to its authors without the author ever knowing about it. In the event the author discovered what the publisher was doing, if the publisher was careful and willing to game the provisions of the publishing agreement in its financial favor, it might be difficult or impossible for an author to persuade a court to help the author out of the mess.

But, as usual, PG could be wrong or, given the current world situation, have been driven crazy by Covid and its attendant distortions of nearly everything.

(However, through some sort of minor miracle, PG and Mrs. PG did receive their first of two anti-Covid vaccinations earlier today, so PG’s thoughts may be muddled by unreported vaccine side effects in addition to the usual causes.)

Star Wars Novelists Seek Years of Missing Royalty Payments From Disney

From The Wall Street Journal:

Alan Dean Foster was in his late 20s when George Lucas, standing near a model of the Millennium Falcon in a warehouse in Southern California, met him to discuss writing the novel adaptation of his forthcoming movie “Star Wars.”

The original contract called for an upfront payment of $7,500, until Mr. Lucas tossed Mr. Foster a 0.5% royalty on sales that Mr. Foster, now 74 years old, says added up to several times that initial payment. They arrived several times a year as the original 1977 blockbuster set box-office records and the novelization he wrote went on to sell more than one million copies.

Then, in 2012, Walt Disney Co. bought Lucasfilm Ltd.—and the royalty checks stopped.

Now, Mr. Foster and other authors from Disney-purchased franchises are in a heated dispute with Hollywood’s biggest empire, which they say refuses to pay royalties on book contracts it absorbed in the $4 billion Lucasfilm deal and other acquisitions. The amount of money at stake is minuscule to a company of Disney’s size but important to the writers seeking it. While Disney has mined Lucasfilm for new movies that have collectively grossed nearly $6 billion at the world-wide box office, these writers say the company has delayed dealing with their complaints and stiffed them on checks that rarely total a few thousand bucks apiece.

Since Mr. Foster’s dispute was taken public by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America association, other authors of books tied to projects from Indiana Jones to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” have come forward with similar stories of royalty checks that stopped after Disney acquired the properties. In each case, Disney threatens to alienate an obscure but vital tentacle of the franchises, as these novelizations helped build and maintain fan loyalty. Complicating matters: The exact amount of money at stake is unknown, since sales and royalties for the books involved have fluctuated wildly over time.

A Disney spokesman said: “We are carefully reviewing whether any royalty payments may have been missed as a result of acquisition integration and will take appropriate remedial steps if that is the case.”

Mr. Foster, who is well-known to longtime Star Wars fans, says Disney is ignoring the workaday players who help build intergenerational connections to beloved characters. He and his wife are both in poor health, and he said the royalty earnings could come in handy for medical expenses.

“I’m not Steve Spielberg. I’m not Steve King. I don’t even have a name that starts with Steve,” he said.

The dispute began in the summer of 2019, when Mr. Foster’s literary agent, Vaughne Hansen, first asked Disney why he had stopped receiving royalty checks on three novels he had written tied to “Alien,” the outer-space horror series produced by Twentieth Century Fox, the studio Disney bought as part of a $71.3 billion deal in 2019.

Mr. Foster and his agent then realized the same thing had occurred to his royalties for two Star Wars books after Disney bought Lucasfilm.

In response to queries about the “Alien” checks, a Disney attorney told Mr. Foster that the company had acquired the rights to these books, but not the obligations to pay out royalties. But in the case of “Alien,” Ms. Hansen said, the rights to Mr. Foster’s novels had been reassigned several times, with no interruption of royalty checks, before Disney bought Fox.

“Disney has acquired a house with a mortgage on it. They want to keep living in the house. They don’t want to pay the mortgage,” Mr. Foster said.

The writers group says a similar pattern has emerged following other Disney acquisitions. At least a half dozen writers across a range of Disney-owned properties have since said they are in the same boat, said Mary Robinette Kowal, president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

. . . .

Disney has begun reviewing the “Alien” case, but there is a line of writers behind Mr. Foster waiting for a turn at the negotiating table. In total, Ms. Hansen estimates her client had made more than $50,000 in royalties on the original Star Wars novelization alone before the checks stopped in 2012.

If Disney agrees to calculate the missing royalties, it faces a daunting task tracking down sales that cover six years and, in Mr. Foster’s case alone, five novels published in dozens of international markets.

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 posted concerning this interesting Disney legal theory before.

Here’s a short excerpt from a textbook on general business law:

Parties to a contract may transfer their rights and obligations to other people through an assignment or delegation. An assignment involves the transfer of contract rights. A delegation involves the appointment of another to perform one’s duties under a contract.

When an assignment is made, the assignee receives exactly the same rights that the assignor had before the assignment took place. Thus, if the obligor has a valid excuse for not performing for the assignor under the original contract, the same excuse is also good against the assignee. Nonpersonal rights under a contract can be legally assigned without the obligor’s permission, whereas rights to receive personal services may not be assigned without the consent of the person who is to perform the services. Rights also may not be transferred if the parties include a provision in their contract prohibiting an assignment, if the assignment is against public policy or otherwise illegal, if the assignment would violate a statute, or if a court disallowed the transfer.

https://college.cengage.com/business/goldman/business_law/7e/chapters/chapter12.html

PG thinks that Disney’s legal theory is too cute to be legally-enforceable. This will especially be the case if those individuals or entities who/that received compensation from Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm are claiming they’re not liable for payments or are effectively unreachable via American legal processes.

PG speculates that The Walt Disney Company, incorporated in Delaware, but having its principal place of business in California, and, thus, likely subject to California laws in these sorts of matters, is likely to attract the attention of more than a few of the many entrepreneurial attorneys who practice in that state.

Given the enormous size of the creative industries located in Hollywood and its environs, an aggressive and innovative law firm (or a group of such law firms) could decide that Disney might represent a big fat target. During the course of what would likely be protracted litigation, plaintiffs’ counsel might discover a lot of additional novel legal theories adopted by Disney’s attorneys to short-change authors and other creators.

While PG is a long-time member of the California Bar and knows many intelligent and competent fellow members, he acknowledges that a lot of crazy things happen in California’s legal world, he has difficulty believing such a transparent technique for avoiding contractual obligations on Disney’s part would survive close examination by California courts.

Plus, if this tactic works for Disney, it should also work for a lot of other California organizations and individuals to the detriment of the many creators in California and elsewhere.

Murphy’s Law and Its Offspring

  • Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong, it will.
  • Murphy’s Corollary: Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.
  • Murphy’s Second Corollary: It is impossible to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious.
  • Murphy’s Constant: Matter will be damaged in direct proportion to its value.
  • Quantized Revision of Murphy’s Law: Everything goes wrong all at once.
  • O’Toole’s Commentary: Murphy was an optimist.

While working on his computer earlier today, PG was reminded of Murphy’s Law when he was almost ready to allow a disk drive cleaning program to remove a great many files on a hard drive that the program decided were “unnecessary, redundant, outdated” or otherwise no longer needed.

Suffice to say, in more than one earlier life, PG has acquiesced to such a request only to discover that almost all of the files the drive cleaning program removed were no longer needed on PG’s computer. Discovering exactly which of the 100,000 deleted files were needed after all has never been the best use of PG’s time.

PG’s Supplement to Murphy’s Law:

It is always cheaper to buy a bigger hard drive than it is to figure out which files that the drive cleaning program just deleted turned out to be necessary after all.

PG is blessed with some very intelligent heirs. Should they wish to organize/clean up/sanitize/correct/detoxify/etc. PG’s hard drives after he departs this world, they will be welcome to do so.

For the time being, PG has has three terabytes of internal storage and 16 terabytes of external storage up and running on the master computer at Casa PG and just discovered a nicely-priced external 18 terabyte hard drive on Amazon, so he is unlikely to be forced to tidy up any bits and bytes soon.

And, given the possibility of local disasters, so far, online storage space located somewhere on the internet beyond the spacious grounds of Casa PG appears to be even more extensive.

The Delete button on PG’s keyboard will never gather dust, but the scope of its domain will remain limited to characters, words, the odd paragraph and an occasional draft version of a finished document saved in at least two other places.

Just How White Is the Book Industry?

From The New York Times:

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah had just turned 26 when he got the call in 2017 that Mariner Books wanted to publish his short-story collection, “Friday Black.”
Mr. Adjei-Brenyah suspected that the contract he signed — a $10,000 advance for “Friday Black” and $40,000 for an unfinished second book — wasn’t ideal. But his father had cancer and the money provided a modicum of security.

Mr. Adjei-Brenyah’s uneasiness over his book deal became more acute last summer. Using the hashtag #PublishingPaidMe, writers had begun to share their advances on Twitter with the goal of exposing racial pay disparities in publishing. Some white authors disclosed that they had been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for their debut books.

. . . .

Mr. Adjei-Brenyah wanted to share his contract. But he knew that doing so could make his publisher look bad and hurt his career. “It’s scary when it’s your life,” he said.

. . . .

As #PublishingPaidMe spread online, more than a thousand people in the publishing industry signed up for a day of action to support the Black community.
Publishing executives responded by releasing statements expressing support for racial justice, announcing antiracism training and promising to put out more books by writers of color. If they follow through, last summer’s activism could diversify the range of voices that American readers encounter for years to come.

. . . .

How many current authors are people of color? As far as we could tell, that data didn’t exist.

So we set out to collect it. First, we gathered a list of English-language fiction books published between 1950 and 2018. 

. . . .

We also constrained our search to books released by some of the most prolific publishing houses during the period of our analysis: Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, Doubleday (a major publisher before it merged with Random House in 1998), HarperCollins and Macmillan. After all that we were left with a dataset containing 8,004 books, written by 4,010 authors.

To identify those authors’ races and ethnicities, we worked alongside three research assistants, reading through biographies, interviews and social media posts. Each author was reviewed independently by two researchers. If the team couldn’t come to an agreement about an author’s race, or there simply wasn’t enough information to feel confident, we omitted those authors’ books from our analysis. By the end, we had identified the race or ethnicity of 3,471 authors.

We guessed that most of the authors would be white, but we were shocked by the extent of the inequality once we analyzed the data. Of the 7,124 books for which we identified the author’s race, 95 percent were written by white people.

Author diversity at major publishing houses has increased in recent years, but white writers still dominate. Non-Hispanic white people account for 60 percent of the U.S. population; in 2018, they wrote 89 percent of the books in our sample.

. . . .

This broad imbalance is likely linked to the people who work in publishing. The heads of the “big five” publishing houses (soon, perhaps, to become the “big four”) are white. So are 85 percent of the people who acquire and edit books, according to a 2019 survey.

“There’s a correlation between the number of people of color who work in publishing and the number of books that are published by authors of color,” said Tracy Sherrod, the editorial director of Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins that is focused on Black literature.

That correlation is visible in our data, exemplified by Toni Morrison’s career as an editor at Random House from 1967 to 1983. Random House’s first female Black editor, Ms. Morrison championed writers such as Toni Cade Bambara, Henry Dumas and Gayl Jones. During her tenure, 3.3 percent of the 806 books published by Random House in our data were written by Black authors.

The number of Black authors dropped sharply at Random House after Ms. Morrison left. Of the 512 books published by Random House between 1984 and 1990 in our data, just two were written by Black authors: Ms. Morrison’s “Beloved” (through Knopf, which was owned by Random House) and “Sarah Phillips,” by Andrea Lee.

. . . .

In 1967, the same year that Ms. Morrison joined Random House, Marie Dutton Brown started as an intern at Doubleday and eventually rose to the rank of senior editor. Now a literary agent, Ms. Brown said that she witnessed how ephemeral gains for Black writers can be.

“Black life and Black culture are rediscovered every 10 to 15 years,” said Ms. Brown. “Publishing reflects that.”

. . . .

Ms. Brown attributed the fluctuation in publishers’ support for Black writers to the news cycle, which periodically directs the nation’s attention to acts of brutality against Black people. Publishers’ interest in amplifying Black voices wanes as media coverage peters out because “many white editors are not exposed to Black life beyond the headlines,” Ms. Brown said.

The lack of diversity among authors might be obscured by a small number of high-profile nonfiction books written by athletes, celebrities and politicians of color, according to Ms. Brown. “It gives the appearance that there are a lot of Black books published,” while publishers’ less famous “mid-list” authors are overwhelmingly white, she said.

. . . .

Look at the books that appeared on The New York Times’s best-seller list for fiction, though, and a different picture emerges: Only 22 of the 220 books on the list this year were written by people of color.

L.L. McKinney, an author of young-adult novels who started the #PublishingPaidMe hashtag, wasn’t surprised by the statistics on how few Black authors have been published relative to white authors.

“I’ve heard things like, ‘We already have our Black girl book for the year,’” said Ms. McKinney. She also remembered comments suggesting books wouldn’t sell well if they had a Black person on the cover.

In a 1950 essay titled “What White Publishers Won’t Print,” Zora Neale Hurston identified the chicken-or-egg dilemma at the heart of publishers’ conservatism. White people, she wrote, cannot conceive of Black people outside of racial stereotypes. And because publishers want to sell books, they publish stories that conform to those stereotypes, reinforcing white readers’ expectations and appetites.

“It’s amusing to me when publishers say that they follow the market,” said Ms. McKinney. “They’re doing it because of tradition. And the tradition is racism.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

For those visitors to TPV from outside the United States, as indicated, this story is from The New York Times, in the Opinion section.

Every major US publisher is located in New York City. The number of management personnel in Big Publishing that read a newspaper other than The New York Times on a regular basis could likely be counted on one hand.

The New York Times Best-Seller list is regarded as the gold standard by traditional publishing rates a book’s performance regardless of how much the NYT bestsellers diverge from Amazon bestseller lists.

Speaking of Amazon, the next time a traditionally-published author or agent talks about Amazon ruining the book business, some might be tempted to say that the New York book business deserves to be ruined.

PG has mentioned previously that the major US publishers are all owned by large international media conglomerates. PG was going to spend some time checking to see if he could determine whether the top management or boards of directors of those conglomerates included anyone other than purely white individuals, but realized that it would be a waste of time because he already knew the answer to that question.

Nine Months of Covid

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

The last nine months have felt like one long never-ending sentence without commas or periods. One that has been filled with tumultuous waves of emotions, varying levels of anxiety, unexpected outbreaks of gut-wrenching sobs, as well as moments of rueful hilarity, all because of a pandemic that has upended our lives, taking with it an unfathomable number of them. And yet, here I am writing about a book that would most likely have ended up in my computer’s “drawer” if it were not for COVID.

I am one of the lucky ones. I have a roof over my head. Food in the fridge. And can work from home. I am also turning 83 and have COPD. In other words, from March until late June, I wouldn’t venture out. Couldn’t venture out for fear of being infected. And even when from my window, I could finally see more and more people donning masks, I walked outside with trepidation.

Like many of us, during the first month of the lockdown, I maniacally washed, or alcohol wiped everything that came from Amazon and Instacart. I learned how to shop for the week instead of for a day or two—something that takes extraordinary planning for a family, but especially for someone like me who lives alone.

I talked with friends on FaceTime. Read in fits and starts—my concentration sorely lacking. And I watched Cuomo on TV. The book of short stories about friendships that I had started late in 2018 and finished, or so I thought, in February 2020 I put to the side. While I’d shared some of the stories with friends, even had asked a friend to read through for typos, from the outset I’d had low expectations of finding an agent or publisher. No matter that when I told a writer friend I’d begun working on a story about a particular failed friendship, she suggested I write others. “Would make a great book,” she said. “Friendships are hot right now.”

I am not someone who writes daily. I write when I have something that needs to get out of my system, or when I’ve set a project for myself. My friend’s comment created that project. I would write about the various friendships I’d had—disguised of course—and some I could only imagine. And while, as I wrote, a part of me hoped that miraculously an agent would sweep the pages up into loving arms, I knew better. Knew what it would take to get a book of short stories onto bookshelves.

. . . .

The original story got tossed. Another went from 25 pages to three. I changed endings, deepened characters, even changed the name of the book. This went on until the end of August when I made the decision to self-publish. At 83, with COVID possibly around the corner, time was not on my side. Within a week I had signed a contract and continued my editing frenzy until finally,  in November I pressed “send” and the collection was no longer in my hands.  

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

The author’s book is titled What Would I Do Without You?: A collection of short stories about friendships

Unfortunately, although the paperback version of the book was published November 10, 2020, PG wasn’t able to find an ebook version on Amazon.

It appears that the author of the OP published through BookLocker, an assisted-publishing organization with which PG was not previously acquainted.

After a bit of grazing through the BookLocker website, PG did discover something he could agree with in a section of the website titled, Reasons Not to Use Us:

4.) We, unfortunately, don’t work with jerks. If you are a jerk, you’d be better served by one of our competitors. We prefer to work with professional individuals…who have manners.

Part of PG’s business philosophy is not phrased so well as BookLocker’s is, but does have the virtue of being shorter:

Don’t work with jerks.

Whenever PG has knowingly or inadvertently violated this policy, he has come to regret it, regardless of the amount of remuneration he has received for his services.

The problem is that, regardless of what PG’s spidey sense tells him about an individual, he has sometimes made a mistake and has ended up working with jerks.

He has concluded that a reasonable analogy can be made between jerks and fools per an old saying, sometimes described as Murphy’s Second Corollary:

It is impossible to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious.

A Brief Observation

As long-time visitors to TPV may have surmised, PG has an informal circuit of 20-30 websites he checks on most days, looking for items that may be of interest to visitors here. He also has a number of Google Alerts that scan the Internet horizon for items that may be blog fodder and email PG a link when they find one.

Over the past few weeks, a number of usually prolific websites discussing the business of writing, traditional publishers, etc., seem to have slowed down their posting more than a bit. The quality of materials produced by usually interesting website proprietors and bloggers has also dropped off a bit.

Amateur-psychologist PG attributes at least some of these phenomena to Covid Blues or some such thing.

(PG is a Certified Amateur in a wide range of subjects. You can ask him any question and receive some sort of answer.)

Certainly, many parts of the traditional publishing business have reasons for moderate-to-severe depression.

This is probably a terrible time to be an employee at Barnes & Noble at any level on the organization chart. The mood in Indie bookstores likely ranges from moderately hopeful to “I hate the idea of talking to a bankruptcy attorney.”

At traditional publishers, an inner psychic conflict is raging between “I hate, hate, hate Amazon!” and “If it weren’t for Amazon and its cursed ebooks, we’d be talking to bankruptcy lawyers too.”

(Amateur medical expert PG recommends employing a corporate psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of Dissociative Identity Disorder AKA Multiple Personality Disorder or, at a minimum, getting in touch with your inner child.)

OTOH, from a financial standpoint, this is a pretty nice time for a great many indie authors and Amazon.

People locked down in their homes who don’t want their brains to turn to mush from weeks of binge-watching television are apparently turning to reading.

The physical bookstores are shut down, the paperback selection at their local grocery store is completely disgusting, the nearest library admits one masked patron per hour to make a selection from its dead-tree collection while inhaling carcinogenic disinfectant vapors,

But

  1. A reader can purchase any one of a zillion ebooks on Amazon, and
  2. Be guaranteed to receive Covid-free electrons on their iPad or Kindle 30 seconds or so after hitting the Buy now with 1-Click® button, and
  3. Some of those ebooks don’t cost very much, so
  4. The teeny family budget allocated for fun isn’t hammered!

(Amateur mathematician PG counts Four Wins.)

Does the ACLU Want to Ban My Book?

From The Wall Street Journal:

I never thought book banning would be respectable in America, much less that I’d be the target, but here we are. Last Thursday Target stopped selling my book, “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters,” in response to two Twitter complaints.

One read: “In 2016, @Target, you released a statement affirming your support for transgender customers. @AskTarget why you’re selling a book notorious for its harmful rhetoric against us. Historically, harmful products have been pulled from this shelf, and this should be, too.”

The other: “I think the transcommunity deserves a response from @AskTarget @Target as to why they’re selling this book about ‘the transgender epidemic sweeping the country.’ ”

That’s a caricature of my view. I think mature adults should have the freedom to undergo medical transition. But teenagers are another matter. Social contagions exist, and teen girls are particularly susceptible to them. The book takes a hard look at whether the sudden spike in transgender identification among teen girls is yet another social contagion to befall girls who, in another era, might have fallen prey to anorexia or bulimia.

Many transgender adults, including some I interviewed for the book, agree that teen girls are undergoing medical transition too fast with too little oversight. Others disagree and have written books. Amid a sea of material unskeptically promoting medical transition for teenage girls, there’s one book that investigates this phenomenon and urges caution. That is the book the activists seek to suppress.

“Abigail Shrier’s book is a dangerous polemic with a goal of making people not trans,” Chase Strangio, the American Civil Liberties Union’s deputy director for transgender justice, tweeted Friday. “I think of all the times & ways I was told my transness wasn’t real & the daily toll it takes. We have to fight these ideas which are leading to the criminalization of trans life again.” Then: “Stopping the circulation of this book and these ideas is 100% a hill I will die on.”

You read that right: Some in today’s ACLU favor book banning. Grace Lavery, a professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, went further, tweeting: “I DO encourage followers to steal Abigail Shrier’s book and burn it on a pyre.”

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

PG is reflexively opposed to banning books or any form of expressive speech on the basis of its content except for a small group of carefully-delimited topics. Photos of adults having sexual relations with children would be one of those exceptions.

From a legal standpoint, the Constitution is a document that creates a national government, grants it certain rights and, via the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution) limits the government’s exercise of its powers in some specified ways.

Target is not, of course, a government entity. As a commercial retailer, Target is free to decide what products it will sell and what products it will not sell.

The ACLU or any other group or individual is free to communicate its opinions about any book. Reviewers do that very thing, likely at least tens of thousands of times each day, on Amazon and other online bookstores, on websites, blogs, Twitter, etc.

That said, PG has concerns about the growing trend in the United States (and perhaps elsewhere) to silence those with whom some groups disagree. Pressuring a retailer (like Target or Amazon) to remove a book from its retail offering is, in effect, silencing or partially-silencing (“deplatforming” is another term) that book’s author.

While the United States Constitution protects the freedom of individuals or groups of individuals to speak, write, etc., their beliefs, it also protects the rights of those who believe otherwise to object to those beliefs, including the right to say that books or other writings that include such objectionable writings should not be stocked or sold by Target or another commercial or non-profit entity.

That said, one of the purposes of the First Amendment to the Constitution that protects free speech is to encourage discussion, writings, even arguments, concerning just about anything. The unstated assumption is that such activities are important for the discovery, discussion, analysis, understanding and, in some cases, resolution of issues that may impact the welfare of individuals, groups and the nation as a whole.

The Preamble to the US Constitution explains the purpose of the specific designation of rights, powers, structures, etc., set forth in the document:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The expressed intent of the authors of the Constitution was to create a structure of government that, among other things, would “insure domestic Tranquility.”

PG will note that there are many places in the United States that do not presently comport with his understanding of “domestic tranquility.”

PG is reminded of a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin, one of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention that created the document:

“Someone shouted out, ‘Doctor [Franklin], what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?’

To which Franklin supposedly responded: ‘A republic, if you can keep it.’”

The Washington Post published a short article in December, 2019, about the origin and various accounts of the wording in the oft-repeated quote.

The Post concluded that the most-likely version of the quote was a response to a question from Elizabeth Willing Powel, a prominent society figure and the wife of Philadelphia Mayor Samuel Powel. Ms. and Mr. Powel had hosted the convention delegates and their wives at their home for various social occasions while the convention was deliberating the Constitution.

Instead of the question being put to Franklin on the street, it was more likely to have been asked by Ms. Powel, a woman known for her wit and knowledge, when Franklin entered a room in her house.

“Well Doctor what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”

“A republic” replied the Doctor “if you can keep it.”

To which Ms. Powel is reported to have said, “And why not keep it?”

The Post article doesn’t include any information about what Franklin’s answer to the second question was.

PG does suggest that keeping a republic is an ongoing task and domestic tranquility will make that task easier.

The Limits of the Viral Book Review

From The Nation:

Have you read a book review recently? The ones that make the rounds, dropped in DMs and threaded down Twitter timelines? They all fixate on a certain quality. Critics—and the authors they cover—seem to be obsessed with self-awareness. Writing about oneself isn’t new at all, but what’s current (and quickly growing stale) is the overtly self-conscious way contemporary writers have chosen to go about it.

Katy Waldman at The New Yorker reads the phenomenon through the lens of contemporary politics, writing, “As the cracks in our systems become increasingly visible, the reflexivity trap casts self-awareness as a finish line, not a starting point.” For her, reflecting on the self in our times means being forced to examine oneself, but instead of addressing one’s privileged position within a system, for example, writers frequently cop to being complicit—and therefore complicated. Voilà, end of story. Lauren Oyler at Bookforum finds the modish, fact-checkable blandness of contemporary autofiction rooted in authors’ efforts at being “the least godlike figure around.” These writers, she argues, forgo editorializing in order to fulfill a desire to be perceived as a “good person” by readers who, “under the terms of popular, social-media-inflected criticism, [are] now judge and jury, examining works for their political content and assessing the moral goodness of the author in the process.” Molly Fischer, writing in New York magazine and referring to Waldman’s and Oyler’s reviews, along with a recent essay by Ryu Spaeth in The New Republic, describes the worst aspects of self-aware writing as such:

The problem is the defensive postures that all the self-awareness seems to produce, among characters and the writers who create them: squirmy half-apologies, self-deprecating irony, piously articulated desires to do better, and, perhaps, an implication that self-awareness is “enough”—that simply acknowledging one’s luck amid the world’s cavalcade of injustice might count as doing something to make it better.

In the same essay, a review of Eula Biss’s recent book Having and Being Had, Fischer recalls Amanda Hess’s piercing observation from 2018 identifying “the obligatory paragraph in much online personal writing now—the one where the writer flogs herself for her privilege, ticks off all of her structural advantages, and basically argues against herself writing the piece.” It’s noteworthy that Hess concludes her tweet by describing this type of paragraph as “weird.”

And it is weird—not necessarily that such disclaimers exist but how they’ve formally come about. Whether in fiction or nonfiction, self-awareness, as a literary tic, doesn’t arise out of thin air. Publishing one’s writing demands that one admit to wanting and needing readers; all this genuflecting occurs for some kind of audience.

. . . .

In her review, Waldman delivers this devastating line: “Rooney, like her characters, seems content to perform awareness of inequality, even to exploit it as a device, but not to engage with it as a profound and messy reality.” It’s certainly true that in her books, dinner party conversations and excerpted e-mails aside, the politics of Rooney’s characters are curiously bloodless, appearing as an aesthetic while the real conflicts of the books—the engines that propel the narrative—are frequently television-esque devices like misunderstandings (Normal People) or love triangles (Conversations With Friends). Yet we’re not really privy to Rooney’s political life or even her material one, except for what she reveals in interviews or nonfiction essays. Does the construction of her novels reflect on her personhood? Does knowledge of her politics imply we might have preferred the text constructed differently? Dancing along this line of inquiry—one that probes for evidence of an author’s ideological preferences and inconsistencies—naturally presents the temptation to get in a dig at the author herself, which critics have always been fond of doing and audiences, especially, of reading.

Link to the rest at The Nation

PG notes that, at least in the United States, snottiness has become much more prevalent over the past several months.

He also wonders how many readers really care whether “the construction of her novels reflect on [the author’s] personhood” or not or whether “knowledge of her politics imply we might have preferred the text constructed differently? Dancing along this line of inquiry—one that probes for evidence of an author’s ideological preferences and inconsistencies—naturally presents the temptation to get in a dig at the author herself.”

Why have so many people adopted the habit of criticizing others for “evidence of [their] ideological preferences and inconsistencies” lately?

Has the philosophy of “live and let live” completely died? Has the culture moved into an age during which only one view or opinion is the proper one?

Has who is a kulak and who is not become the most important categorization of another in a binary society?

Or, perhaps, is this just a collection of symptoms of a new and dangerous wave of mass derangement?

PG is, unfortunately, reminded of the precursors to mass movements and hatreds generated by Hitler and Mussolini over 70 years ago.

Rumors of PG’s Death

PG’s smart phone up and died without giving advance notice yesterday. PG attempted resuscitation to no avail. Various smart phone experts were consulted, but none of their interventions could revive Old Phaithful.

PG currently has a loaner that one of his offspring promptly delivered. However, a different operating system plus the lack of a zillion favorite apps plus PG’s locked-in auto-thumbs combine to make the substitute feel like a creation from alternate reality.

But none of this is of interest.

What may be of interest is that PG has used Two-Factor-Authentication to increase the security of several of his online accounts, including the boiler room of TPV.

There are a variety of different TFA systems with which PG is familiar, but the most common is one that sends an unlock code via text message when a user enters a correct ID/PW combination. PG hasn’t seen a TFA that offers the option of sending text messages to two phones, sending a text message plus an email, etc.

The absence of an operating phone to receive text messages made TPV even more secure than usual yesterday.

The fact that PG is making this post means that his loaner phone can receive text message from TPV just fine.

PG is pondering whether to turn off TFA for TPV until he gets a new phone that works wonderfully or not. He’s also considering the possibility of a TFA or alternate belt-and-suspenders security option that won’t lock up instantly if his phone dies or is misplaced.

But that’s not anyone’s problem but PG’s.

He apologizes for commenters whose comments were held for moderation for much longer than normal, questions that went unanswered, etc.

Rights Reversion: How to Give an Out-of-Print Book New Life with Self-Publishing

From Writer Unboxed:

Women’s fiction author Densie Webb [asked]:

“The rights to my first book (with a small publisher) revert back to me in January. I’ve thought about self-publishing, but I don’t have a clue how to go about it.” Densie asked for help evaluating the decision, a simple step-by-step process for self-publishing a book, and inexpensive resources to help her navigate the process.

As a creative entrepreneur, I think Densie has an exciting opportunity on her hands, and I’m thrilled to help her consider her options. But before we dive in, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that rights reversion is a nuanced topic largely dictated by the author’s publishing contract. We’re not going down that rabbit hole today, but to learn more about rights reversion, check out Authors Alliance’s free guide, “Understanding Rights Reversion: When, Why & How to Regain Copyright and Make Your Book More Available.”

For the sake of exploring Densie’s situation, I’ll assume all rights will revert to her and she will have complete creative control over her work.

Is There Value in Self-Publishing an Out-of-Print Book?

At some point in your writing career, you might find yourself in a position like Densie’s, weighing whether it’s worth your time, energy, and money to self-publish a title that has reverted to you. I liken the situation to owning a rental property and letting it sit vacant. Your book is an asset, and sidelining it feels like a missed opportunity. Assuming the subject matter is not obsolete, you can leverage your book to expand readership, promote other titles, and generate income for the rest of your life and 70 years after your death (if it was created on or after January 1, 1978; learn more about copyright duration).

Rights reversion can open a world of new possibilities for you and your book, not the least of which is a do over. If you didn’t like your publisher’s cover or title, this is your chance to change it. If the publisher only exploited some of the rights it purchased, you now have the freedom to release the book in new formats, translate it into different languages, and expand distribution to new platforms and geographies. This can also be an opportune time to take a bold new marketing approach—or at least update your book’s front matter to showcase your full list of titles and its back matter with a call to action for readers, such as leaving a review, signing up for your email list, and/or following you on social media.

Can Self-Publishing Rejuvenate Low Sales?

There’s nothing like low sales to shake an author’s confidence. But rather than letting it send you into a negative shame spiral, see it for what it is: a symptom. Your job is to uncover a symptom of what?

Conduct a post-mortem investigation of your book’s previous publication lifecycle to identify what went wrong and build a new plan to increase its chances of success.

Consider questions like:

  • How was your book positioned in the market? Did the previous publisher target the right audience? Was it listed in the right categories on booksellers’ websites? Are there opportunities for you to position it differently?
  • How does the cover compare to competitive titles in your category? Does it stand out and grab readers’ attention, or is it a wallflower among the pack?
  • Is the book’s description as compelling as it could be? Does it sound current or outdated? Does it hook readers and leave them wanting more?
  • What did readers think of the story? Read the book’s reviews to learn what resonated with readers and where they felt the story fell short. Is there an opportunity to strengthen the story?
  • What kind of marketing and public relations activities did the publisher use to promote your book before, during, and after its launch? Did you participate in a book tour or blog tour? Did you guest post on relevant blogs and websites or participate in podcast interviews? Did you hold giveaways or price promotions? What promotional activities earned the best results? What types of activities were missing from your mix?

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG says the OP is well worth reading for any traditionally-published author. So is the Authors Alliance ebook on rights reversion that is discussed and linked-to in the OP.

However, in PG’s preternaturally-humble opinion, rights reversion provisions in 99.9% of the publishing contracts PG has read are a hot mess.

How does an author know if one or more of his/her/their books are out of “print”? PG doesn’t remember any traditional publishing agreement that required that the publisher to affirmatively notify the author if the author’s book was out of print.

Per the OP – If a hardcopy version is Print on Demand, is the book out of print? If that’s questionable, can the Publisher have twenty copies of the POD book printed, then stash them in a warehouse somewhere and only sell via POD?

Arguably, under the language of some out-of-print clauses would be effectively nullified by having a handful of copies sitting in the warehouse, priced however the publisher decides to price them, not listed in the publisher’s catalog and never mentioned by a publisher’s sales rep when speaking to a book store buyer.

Ebooks listed on Amazon are certainly available for the public to purchase, even if nobody every buys one because it’s priced at $49.95.

For PG, there is an obvious and equitable resolution to this archaic contract language. PG first came up with a nickname for this idea at least ten years ago, maybe longer.

Minimum Wage for Authors

PG’s idea is achingly simple and requires an answer to only one simple question:

“How much did the publisher pay the author in the author’s last royalty check?”

The publishing contract says, essentially (not legalese, but legalese for this concept is very simple):

“If publisher pays author less than $250 in royalties during any royalty reporting period, author may, by written notice to the publisher, terminate this publishing agreement and all rights granted to publisher under this agreement shall immediately revert to author and publisher shall have no further rights to the author’s book or any part of it.”

The key elements/benefits to this provision are simple:

  • There is no question regarding whether the out of print clause has or has not been triggered. How much was the check? Over or under the royalty number in the contract?
  • If the publisher really wants to keep publishing the book, the publisher can simply pay the $250 to the author and maintain the publisher’s rights to publish the book.
  • It would probably be a good idea to add a provision that requires the publisher to send the author a written, dated and signed document attesting that all rights to the book have reverted to the author and publisher has no further rights to publish or otherwise assert any claims to the book. However, even in the absence of such a document, the author could show a new publisher (or Amazon for self-publishing purposes) a copy of the original publishing contract and a copy of the check and/or royalty statement showing that less than $250 was paid.
  • Additionally, while PG isn’t any sort of tax expert, he believes that publishers are required to report payments they have made to authors to federal and state taxing authorities, at least in the US. All sorts of government penalties and fines come into play if the publisher doesn’t file such reports in an accurate and timely manner. A copy of the government filing showing how much the author received would be another way of conclusively showing the author’s rights had reverted.
  • Most publishing contracts saddle the author with the obligation to pay the publisher’s attorneys fees and costs in the event someone sues the publisher claiming the author stole the manuscript to the book and wasn’t the real author, etc., etc., etc. One additional filigree that could be included in a minimum wage for authors provision is that, if the publisher doesn’t promptly release its rights to the book if royalties don’t total $250 or more and author hires an attorney to enforce the author’s contract rights, the publisher pays the author’s reasonable attorneys fees.
  • If you want to relieve the publisher of the burden of paying attention to its business, you could add a provision that says if a publisher fails to pay the minimum royalty, author can send publisher a written notice to that effect and, if the publisher fails to pay the minimum royalty within 30 days of receiving the notice, the contract is terminated.

As mentioned earlier, a long time ago, PG first proposed this type of provision in lieu of traditional out-of-print clauses in publishing agreements.

PG is not aware of any argument or claim that this structure is unworkable or unfair to either the publisher or the author. If one of the many perceptive and highly-intelligent individuals who visit TPV sees a reason this concept might not work or that it would be grossly unfair to anyone, PG would be happy to review those reasons if inserted into a comment to this blog post.

PG has been wrong before and will, at some future date, be wrong again, but he thinks his proposal is pretty bullet-proof and establishes an unambiguous way of dealing with out of print issues.

Fact Checking Is the Core of Nonfiction Writing. Why Do So Many Publishers Refuse to Do It?

From Esquire:

When I set out to write my first book, I wanted to write a book that examined the very nature of facts and how we turn them into stories. To do this, I knew, I would have to get every fact that was verifiable correct. The more you want to ask the big, shifty questions, the more your foundation must be rock solid.

My book, The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia, concerns the deaths of two people who have many living family members, the incarceration of a living man, and a protracted emotional and social trauma of enormous meaning to a great many real and living people in a region with enormous (rightful) distrust of media and journalists. I’d done my best to get the facts correct as I wrote, but I had thousands of pages of archival documents, photos, trial transcripts, and newspaper clippings, as well as hours of interviews. The text had been through too many revisions, both large and sentence-level, for me to count. In quiet moments, I felt the anxiety of getting something wrong grip my stomach. I could hurt someone, open myself up to lawsuits, or just make a reader lose confidence in everything I had to say. Getting my book fact checked was not optional.

Fact checking is a comprehensive process in which, according to the definitive book on the subject, a trained checker does the following: “Read for accuracy”; “Research the facts”; “Assess sources: people, newspapers and magazines, books, the Internet, etc”; “Check quotations”; and “Look out for and avoid plagiarism.” Though I had worked as a fact checker in two small newsrooms, did I trust myself to do the exhaustive and detailed work of checking my own nonfiction book? I did not.

From reading up on the subject and talking to friends who had published books of nonfiction, I knew that I would be responsible for hiring and paying a freelance fact checker myself. This is the norm, not the exception; in almost all book contracts, it is the writer’s legal responsibility, not the publisher’s, to deliver a factually accurate text.

As a result, most nonfiction books are not fact checked; if they are, it is at the author’s expense. Publishers have said for years that it would be cost-prohibitive for them to provide fact checking for every nonfiction book; they tend to speak publicly about a book’s facts only if a book includes errors that lead to a public scandal and threaten their bottom line. Recent controversies over books containing factual errors by Jill Abramson, Naomi Wolf, and, further back, James Frey, come to mind.

Editors who acquire nonfiction books and work closely with authors subscribe to ideas of factual accuracy, but are usually not trained journalists, meaning that they might be unfamiliar with the fundamentals of reporting and fact checking (there are some exceptions to this norm, including recently named publisher of Simon & Schuster and former New York Times writer Dana Canedy). Despite the common sense idea that books are the longer and more permanent version of magazine articles, there is an informal division of church and state between the worlds of book publishing and magazine journalism. The latter is subjected to rigorous fact checking, while the former is not.

. . . .

A spokesperson for Hachette Book Group, one of the “Big Five” publishing houses and the publisher of my book, shared this statement with me: “We do have procedures in place to ensure that certain nonfiction books and some fiction books are vetted for libel and other legal issues. Relevant facts may be reviewed during the vetting process as necessary.” But ultimately, the spokesperson emphasized, “The responsibility for the accuracy of the text does rest on the author; we do rely on their expertise or research for accuracy.” (Inquiries to Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan went unanswered).

Yet readers and some editors often mistakenly believe that the fact checking of nonfiction books happens somewhere in the typical copyediting process, and in the case of more news-heavy or potentially controversial books, the legal process. But this is not so. These processes may catch contradictions of date and season, name misspellings, or, depending on the copyeditor, glaring errors in research, but they are fundamentally designed to make sure that the book is readable and won’t open the publisher up to lawsuits—not to ensure rigorous accuracy.

. . . .

Hachette Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, bought my book in October 2017. They paid me $50,000 in the first of three installments constituting an advance against royalties. That first payment netted to around $29,000 after agent commission and taxes. This money was supposed to cover the cost of the time it would take me to write the book, as well as all additional research and reporting—to say nothing of the years of research and reporting conducted on my own dime before the book’s sale. I spent about $2,500 on the trial transcript of the case spotlighted in my book, and about $2,000 on travel and reporting. I have no children or adult dependents, and I am in reasonably good health without major medical bills, so I was able to live relatively frugally on the remainder during the period between sale and “delivery” of the completed manuscript to my editor.

My contract stipulated, “The Author warrants, represents and covenants… all statements contained in the Work as published are true or based on reasonable research for accuracy,” and that my book could not plagiarize any other work, “or give rise to a claim of libel or defamation, or invasion of the rights of privacy or of publicity of any party, or violate any law or regulation.” My wonderful editor at Hachette understood from the beginning that it was my intention to get the book fact checked, but confirmed to me that I would have to pay for the checker myself; a legal read to protect Hachette and I from potential lawsuits would, however, be covered.

. . . .

Just as we entered the small window inside which my editor had told me we needed to fact check so as not to delay the book’s publicity plan, the fact checker I had hired needed to bow out of the project. I turned to acquaintances and to Twitter.

I received about thirty quotes from freelance fact checkers, most of them young reporters who did freelance fact checking on the side to gain experience and to pay the bills, as well as a few more experienced checkers who had worked for magazines like The Atlantic and The New Yorker. Some gave me payment quotes by the hour, and others by lump sum. My book was 110K words, about a third of which were memoir and about two-thirds of which were heavily reported material with extensive interviews and archival material. The quotes to check it ranged from $1,500 to $20,000. Ultimately, I chose a very capable young journalist and freelance fact checker named Maia Hibbett, who had just gone through the The Nation‘s renowned fact-checking internship program and was interested in the subject matter of my book. I paid her $4,000 in three installments to check my book in about six weeks.

Hibbett was excellent—and she found mistakes. Lots of them. A few examples: using more updated census data than had been available when I started writing the book, she corrected 24,170 square miles that make up West Virginia to 24,230. She inserted the word “before” into the sentence “Small-scale coal mining had been happening sustainably in pockets of the state since before the Civil War,” noting in the margin that the coal industry in West Virginia was active by 1840. She pointed out that a quote I attributed to a police statement was not ever written down, only said in court. And on and on. But not just small errors—also major errors in timeline, law, and geography. She pointed out mistakes in my presentation of cause and effect, and in my logic of interpreting the meaning of events and statements. “The larger the mistake,” the author Susannah Cahalan told me, “the harder it is for the writer to see it.”

. . . .

There is no industry standard for which books get fact checked—the ones that are checked get checked because someone (almost always the author) cared a more than average amount about the truth. There is no industry standard for what it means for a book to be “fact checked.” There is no industry standard for where the fact check should go in the production process of a book. And finally, there is no industry standard for how to hire a fact checker, nor how she should be paid or by whom, nor what should happen if the fact checker’s work isn’t good quality or the author refuses to pay for work already completed.

Of the 18 authors I spoke to, half had not hired a fact checker, but had instead relied on some combination of their own diligence, their publisher’s copy editing process and/or legal vetting process, as well as correcting mistakes in the paperback brought to their attention by readers of the hardback.

Literary agent Chris Parris-Lamb cites money as the main reason writers decline to fact check their books. My research suggests that this is partly true, but not the whole story. I spoke to writers publishing across the genres of memoir, essays, cultural criticism, and reported nonfiction; their reasons for not hiring a checker broke down along lines of both money and publishing experience. Regardless of genre, all of those who did not hire a checker were debut authors publishing their first book, or those who could not afford to pay a checker due to the size of their advance or other reasonable financial reasons—moving, illness in the family, a child’s school costs, etc.

. . . .

One of the authors I spoke to, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, hired a fact checker recommended to her publisher by another of their authors at an agreed-upon rate of $5,000.

“It looked pretty good when it first came back to me, but then I started noticing some things that I had corrected before, which she had changed to incorrect things,” the author told me by email. “Or I noticed that she had caught some errors, but she had corrected them in a way that was still wrong. And she didn’t make any notes about how she had sourced her corrections, so it was nearly impossible for me to retrace her steps. And then there were all these things I’d specifically asked her to check, which she completely skipped over. It was a total mess.”

. . . .

“Fact checking was unexpectedly the most stressful part of the whole book process.”

. . . .

On the opposite end of the spectrum for publishers offering fact checking services lies the two original content imprints at corporate behemoth Amazon: Little A and Audible. Like Bold Type, Little A hires and pays the fact checker, while authors receive fact check edits simultaneously with copy edits. In 2018, in an unconventional move, Audible began acquiring the audio rights to the works of prominent nonfiction writers like Michael Lewis and Ada Calhoun. The goal was to produce audio books that would drop in advance of their hardback counterparts. Calhoun told me that Audible suggested and paid for the fact checking of her book; it’s no surprise that Amazon has the money.

. . . .

But the reason why the publishing industry has been slow to implement such guidelines for fact checking may lie further down in the foundation of the whole system. Without widespread consumer awareness that most books are not fact checked, or about which imprints publish which books, there’s no real reason for publishers to care about fact checking. If it comes to light that a book contains major errors, it’s the author, not the publisher, whose reputation takes the hit.

“No one looks at the publishing house’s name on the book they bought four years ago when Newsweek exposes it as inaccurate and says, ‘I’ll never buy a book published by them again!’” Scott Rosenberg of the now-defunct service MediaBugs told The Atlantic in 2014.

Link to the rest at Esquire and thanks to C.E. for the tip.

PG feels that a most salient fact was not included in the OP – If someone claims injury and hires a lawyer (likely on a contingency fee basis), the lawyer will want to make certain there is a deep pocket available from which to extract a large settlement payment or court award of damages.

PG thinks it highly unlikely that any contingency fee law firm would accept a case unless there was a publisher (and, preferably, a large publisher) on the other side of the suit. Why sue an author, who probably doesn’t have a lot of money and who is much more capable of hiding assets than a large publisher owned by a major multinational publishing conglomerate?

The answer will be exactly the same as it would be for an attorney taking a claim by a person injured in an auto accident. “Is there insurance? How much?”

Debbie Driver who works at the local Walmart all week, then goes out and gets together with her girlfriends on Friday night to talk about what jerks their ex-husbands are and get drunk together is not likely to be able to pay a jury verdict when she slams into a school bus bringing the band home from a football game. (Ditto for Darrell Driver).

Debbie or Darrell may well be able to file for bankruptcy, discharge the claims of all their creditors, including the people in the car they ran into on their way home from the bar, and go on with their lives, likely keeping most or all of their personal property.

If the band members want any money, they’d better hope there’s a big auto liability policy floating around somewhere. Unless there is, even if some of the parents of the band members have enough money to pay an attorney to sue Debbie, they’re unlikely to collect enough to pay their attorney’s fees, let alone damages for their children’s injuries, medical bills, etc.

In a former life, when PG practiced retail law, on more than one occasion, he had to tell a prospective client not to hire him to sue someone who had carelessly done something that harmed them because whatever he was able to collect wouldn’t be worth his client’s money or PG’s time.

Back to the calculus of someone suing an author for damaging their reputation, causing them emotional distress, etc. While it is possible to purchase liability insurance for this type of claim (an author’s home or auto policy won’t cover it), such insurance is expensive and only J.K. Rowling can afford to buy it.

Who’s the deep pocket that makes a lawsuit worth while? Hachette, Penguin Random House, et al. Since they published the book, it is quite likely they will bear responsibility for any damages their publication caused.

A concept usually described as “joint and several liability” means that if more than one person or entity harmed someone by their act, it’s not up to the person harmed to figure out who to sue for how much. The individual who was harmed is able to sue everybody and collect some or all of any judgment the court grants from any of the defendants who have the bucks or the property to pay the judgment. It’s up to the defendants to fight among themselves if one defendant is required to pay more damages than might be the case if a lot of the fault for the damaging act was really caused by something someone else did.

So, the bottom line is that, if a book is factually wrong regardless of whose fault the error is or what the publishing contract between the author and the publisher says, a lawsuit that would likely never be filed at all if the author had self-published the erroneous book will be filed if Simon & Schuster is on the hook for damages.

Additionally, it’s quite likely that Simon & Schuster, etc., has liability insurance to cover such claims, albeit with a very large deductible. It is not unusual for commercial liability policies to include a provision and permits the insurance company to sue anybody (Hello, again, author!) to recoup part or all of the money the insurance company paid to resolve a claim against the insured.

But, of course, everyone knows that smart and talented authors always work with a traditional publisher, the bigger, the better. The only reason not to do so is if they can’t write well enough to catch the fancy of an agent who, in turn, catches the fancy of an acquiring editor, etc., etc.

PG apologizes for going into full blather mode. He blames Covid.

A number of intelligent and experienced attorneys visit TPV on a regular basis. In addition to the comments of anyone else, PG invites those attorneys to clarify, expand upon, correct, etc., etc., any of PG’s thoughts or simply share their own thoughts on the OP.

Self-Publishing Is a Gamble. Why Is Donald Trump Jr. Doing It?

From The New York Times:

There is a lot about Donald Trump Jr.’s second book that is unusual.

One of his father’s most effective surrogates, Donald Trump Jr. plans to release “Liberal Privilege: Joe Biden and the Democrats’ Defense of the Indefensible” in early September, during the final fevered weeks of the presidential campaign. His last book sold well. The Republican National Committee can use the new one for fund-raising, as it did with the last.

His plans to self-publish, however, along with the book’s unconventional rollout and distribution plan, make it something of a curiosity in publishing circles.

“It’s a risk,” said Jane Dystel, a literary agent. “And it’s your time.”

Mr. Trump’s first book, “Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us,” was published last November. It has sold 286,000 copies, according to NPD BookScan, and is still selling steadily. But when the coronavirus pandemic grounded him in New York in March, he decided to write another.

. . . .

Center Street, an imprint of Hachette, published his first book, and it made an offer on the second one. Mr. Trump turned it down.

There are a few key differences between going through a traditional publishing house and doing it yourself. One of the big ones is money. Authors who sign with a publisher typically receive an advance payment before the book goes on sale, then about 10 to 15 percent of hardcover sales after they earn back their advance. If the book is self-published, there is no advance but an author can generally walk away with anywhere from 35 percent to as much as 70 percent of the sales. Because Mr. Trump has his own platform — and the promise of bulk purchases from the R.N.C. — he doesn’t need the publicity arm of a major publisher.

. . . .

But those big percentages don’t factor in expenses, which add up quickly. There are lawyers to pay, printed copies that need to be delivered to stores and warehouses, book jackets that need to be designed. There are fussy little details, like registering an ISBN number, filing for copyright, proofreading and more proofreading. Indeed, a typo on the cover of “Liberal Privilege” when Mr. Trump first posted it on Twitter was met with see-how-it-goes-without-us giggles in much of the publishing world. (That typo, an errant apostrophe, has been fixed, but another remained on his personal website this week, after a quote about the book from “Laura Ingraham, Host of The Ingram Angle.”)

So writing and releasing a book on your own is not only a gamble, it is also an unwieldy, complicated project, which is why the biggest-name authors generally don’t bother to do it.

One thing that is guaranteed when self-publishing is greater autonomy. While there’s no reason to think Mr. Trump was held back when he wrote “Triggered,” self-published authors hire their editors and can fire them if they don’t like their advice. This time, Mr. Trump can say truly whatever he wants.

. . . .

The R.N.C. said it raised nearly $1 million from signed copies of “Triggered.” The book was a New York Times No. 1 best seller last year, but it appeared on the list with a dagger symbol next to it, signifying that bulk sales — which came from the R.N.C. and other conservative groups — helped to boost its ranking. The R.N.C. said it has bought several thousand copies of “Liberal Privilege” so far and plans to buy more on a rolling basis.

“Don Jr.’s first book was a fund-raising powerhouse for the party, and we have no doubt this book will be the same,” Mandi Merritt, the press secretary for the R.N.C., said in an email.

Unlike Mr. Hannity’s book, “Liberal Privilege” will not be in bookstores. A person with knowledge of the project said that it will be $29.99 on Mr. Trump’s website, where presales are being handled, and on Amazon, along with an e-book and an audiobook narrated by Kimberly Guilfoyle, a senior campaign adviser and Mr. Trump’s girlfriend. It’s unclear if any major retailers will carry the book, though managers at some traditional distribution channels said last week that they hadn’t heard anything about it.

. . . .

Another unusual aspect of the book is Mr. Trump’s collaborator, Sergio Gor, who has acted as his literary agent, consulted on the content of the book and has overseen the team managing everything from the editing to the print run.

. . . .

“It’s a big job to self-publish,” Ms. Dystel, the literary agent, said, “and it takes your attention away from other things.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Big Shot Publishers? We don’t need no stinkin’ Big Shot Publishers!

Big Shot Agent? We don’t need no stinkin’ Big Shot Agent!

Big Shot Barnes & Noble? We don’t need no stinkin’ Big Shot Barnes & Noble!

Big Shot New York Times? We don’t need no stinkin’ Big Shot New York Times, but thanks anyway for the giant sales boost from your snarky article!

Do-it Yourself takes your Attention?

No Attention paid to Big Shot Agent, No Attention paid to Big Shot Publisher, No Attention paid to Big Shot Barnes & Noble, No Attention paid to Big Shot New York Times.

My Attention? Getting the book out the door and into the hands of a zillion readers!

Big Job to self-publish?

Big Shot Agent, Big Shot Publisher, Big Shot Barnes & Noble and Big Shot New York Times? That’s your Really Big Job!

Big Publisher, Big Shot Agent, Wait until Barnes & Noble gets copies out to all its stores, New York Times article? Impossible Job before November if your name is Trump?

Ya think?

Do-it Yourself is the Ultimate Big Cinch!

Plus Big Fast is Amazon’s middle name!

Anybody going to be dumb enough to use Big Shot Publisher for election-year written book ever again?

There’s your Big Gamble!

Scanty Posting

PG has not kept up with his usual “the trains will run on time” posting schedule during the last couple of days.

Mrs. PG has been working hard on her latest murder-mystery, set in Oxford and Cornwall. Late last week, when the manuscript was about 75% finished, she decided it was horrible. (First time any author has had those feelings.)

She asked PG to read her manuscript.

PG pulled his official lawyer’s red pen out of his desk drawer (or, perhaps from under his desk. He doesn’t recall where his red pen had gone into hiding last week. At least it hadn’t gone through the washer this time.) and got to work.

He made several stupid comments on the first few pages, and started to restructure the whole story, then Mrs. PG explained that he had a long way to go before he would arrive at the place in the book that was concerning her.

PG regrouped, crossed out most of his stupid comments, and got to work.

And it was work. PG was reminded how much harder it is to write a 350-page book than to write a 25-page book contract.

And how much longer it takes to discover things that aren’t quite right in a 350-page book than it does to locate the dead bodies, murder weapon and assorted bits of nasty concealed in a contract.

With a contract, there is little question about whodunit, but lots of questions about how who tried to hide who’s real intentions. Sometimes, a contract is like one of those movies in which an ordinary man with a boring life is actually a terrifying ax-murderer on Saturday night.

But PG digresses.

Mrs. PG’s book ended up being very fascinating for PG. There were a few threads here and there that hadn’t been clipped (it wasn’t the final draft) and on occasion, Sir Robert became Lord Robert a few pages later, but it was a good read. (PG thinks going from a Sir to a Lord is probably a promotion, but that wasn’t what Mrs. PG had in mind.)

Right toward the end, PG got a great idea for how the book should end, did a lot of scribbling on the front and back of a few pages and started to tell Mrs. PG his about socko conclusion. She gently stopped him and suggested that he might want to read the ending she had written before telling her about the one he had been scribbling down.

Turns out that Mrs. PG had loads more scocko in her ending than PG had in his. She is a pro at this after all, and PG is still a socko amateur with a law degree.

In his own defense, however, Mrs. PG thought a few bits of PG’s socko might be nice additions to her ending.

PG and Mrs. PG went to dinner to calm PG down and discuss her book in more detail. PG reassured her that her book was socko and convinced her that what she perceived as horrible was really pretty good and just had a few spots that needed to be spackled, sanded and repainted and no one would ever know there had once been a crack in the wall.

This morning, Mrs. PG got back to work and PG expects the end result to be quite excellent. He cannot divulge any secrets (it is a mystery after all), but he thinks Mrs. PG’s readers will end the book feeling surprised and delighted.

For the record, contracts always have formulaic, boring endings, just places for people to write their names. Way too predictable. No place to hide a last-minute twist.

Perhaps PG should try moving the signature blocks to a spot earlier in the contract and place a disguised gotcha clause at the very end. Or maybe just include a provision on the last page requiring the publisher to pay PG’s client and PG each a million dollars if the sun rises on September 16, 2021, on the chance the publisher will have put aside the contract and fallen asleep before reaching the end.

Alert readers will have noticed a big hole in PG’s plot.

The publisher might return the signed contract to the public library in the middle of a stack of cowboy romances and PG would have to go digging through the stacks trying to locate it. Failure would mean that September 26, 2021, would be just another ordinary day for PG and his client.

One of PG’s college jobs involved digging through stacks, but he can’t remember exactly how the process worked.

PS: While reviewing this post for typos before posting (He knows there are probably still some typos he didn’t notice, but how much did you pay to read this post?), PG decided that the post title, Scanty Posting®, could also be the title of a risqué novel. Or the stage name of an impoverished exotic dancer with a heart of gold whose real name is Bambi.

‘Hamilton’ Loses Its Snob Appeal

As regular visitors to The Passive Voice know, this is a blog about books and authors, not a political blog.

However, a post from a couple of days ago, While offensive TV shows get pulled, problematic books are still inspiring debate and conversation, generated a lot of conversation here, PG decided to put up another post about “problematic” creative works and cancel culture.

If you are concerned this is the beginning of a trend on TPV, be assured it is not.

From The Wall Street Journal:

When I was a new student at Yale in 2015, everyone on campus was talking about the Broadway sensation “Hamilton.” “It’s amazing,” a classmate told me. I had never been to a musical. Neither, as far as I knew, had anyone from my hometown. I searched the internet for tickets: $400—way beyond my budget as a veteran enlisted man attending college on the GI Bill.

So I was pleased this month when “Hamilton” became available to watch on the streaming service Disney+. But now the show is being criticized for its portrayal of the American Founding by many of the same people who once gushed about it. Is it a coincidence that affluent people loved “Hamilton” when tickets were prohibitively expensive, but they disparage it now that ordinary people can see it?

In 2015, seeing “Hamilton” was a major status symbol. In 2020, it doesn’t mean much. The affluent are now distancing themselves from something that has become too popular. A New York Times art critic recently urged that the Mona Lisa be taken down from the Louvre. Too many proles had seen it, undermining its ability to confer status on the well-to-do.

A friend of mine recently told me that he didn’t enjoy “Hamilton” but never told anyone because everybody at Yale loved it. Once something becomes fashionable among the upper class, aspiring elites know they must go along to have any hope of joining the higher ranks. But once it becomes fashionable among the hoi polloi, the elites update their tastes.

The upper classes are driven to distinguish themselves from the little people even beyond art. This explains the ever-evolving standards of wokeness. To become acculturated into the elite requires knowing the habits, customs and manners of the upper class. Ideological purity tests now exist to indicate social class and block upward social mobility. Your opinion about social issues is the new powdered wig. In universities and in professional jobs, political correctness is a weapon used by white-collar professionals to weed out those who didn’t marinate in elite mores.

These are luxury beliefs—or ideas and opinions that confer status on the upper class while taking a toll on lower class. They are evolving so rapidly, it’s hard to keep up. To stay on top of it, you need to have lots of free time or the kind of job that allows you to spend hours on Twitter. Working-class people don’t have time to accrue such cultural capital.

To understand the neologisms and practices of social justice, you need a bachelor’s degree from an expensive college. A common refrain to those who are not fully up to date on the latest fashions is “Educate yourself.” This is a way of keeping down people who work multiple jobs, have children to care for, and don’t have the time or means to read the latest woke bestseller.

The winds will have shifted by the time the proletariat catches up, and that’s the point. Affluent people keep their positions secure by allowing only those who go to the right colleges, listen to the right podcasts, and read the right books to join their inner circle. But just as today’s fashionable art will soon be out-of-date, so will today’s fashionable moral opinions.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

PG had a similar experience when he graduated from a not-very-prosperous rural area (high school graduating class: 22. Number obtaining a four-year degree: 2) and attended a “prestige” university as an undergraduate.

Everything was different, people were different, clothes were way different (PG’s freshman roommate informed him he absolutely could not wear the tight pants he had worn every day in high school anywhere on the university campus. Fortunately, jeans were acceptable and cheap and PG had saved some money from his most recent summer job.)

Unlike a great many people with his social background, PG adapted and ended up fitting in well socially with an “I’m different, but smart and fun to hang with” persona (Although winter breaks were spent at home and spring breaks were spent on campus or at home. Other than a short trip home, summers were spent in cheap housing on or near campus because the jobs paid marginally more and PG had learned how to live cheap.)

However, PG never really enjoyed more than a handful of his college classes. He needed a degree and did what it took to obtain one. Nothing on his degree indicated that he had skipped a lot of classes and ended up with an average GPA. He had some good friends in college and kept up with several for a few years, but remembers talking with only one during the last 30 years. He has far more attorney friends around the country than college friends.

Today, PG lives in a place he enjoys in a nice house with very nice neighbors in a town that includes a large university. Everyone earns a comfortable income, but only a handful of families within a one-mile radius of Casa PG flaunt their money to any significant extent. Several families include someone or more than someone whose occupation would require an advanced degree.

PG doesn’t recall anyone in the neighborhood ever asking him where he attended college and doubts anyone knows or cares.

And, although he enjoyed the book, PG hasn’t heard anyone talk about Hamilton.

See also, My Biggest Regret in Life: Going to College

YOU get an open letter!

From Nathan Bransford:

This week in open letters! I mean books!

This was the week of Open Letters to Solve Everything. First, a group of luminaries led by Thomas Chatterton Williams including J.K. Rowling, Margaret Atwood, and Malcolm Gladwell published an open letter that bemoaned an “intolerant climate that has set in on all sides” and, though it wasn’t named as such, “cancel culture”:

Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes.

The letter was swiftly ridiculed, the ridiculers were ridiculed, and then we got a new open letter by a separate group of luminaries who questioned the accuracy of the first letter’s claims and criticizing it for ignoring the problem of who has the power.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

PG wonders if open letters are the next big literary genre.

Far easier than writing something people will pay to read.

There’s Something About Being Quarantined for Too Long

PG has been receiving inquiries from prospective clients about publishing contracts from various organizations with which PG is not familiar.

He won’t name names because he has only seen a couple of the contracts and not done any checking on any (except to confirm that a notorious vanity press is still in operation).

Like (he expects) many of the visitors to TPV, PG has also seen an uptick in spammy email offers.

PG needs to do a content analysis to learn a bit more, but he wonders if there’s a style guide somewhere that is used by many for whom English is a (distant) second language for the purpose of creating fraudulent-sounding emails.

However, short of a more in-depth review, here are a few style elements that show up in PG’s inbox on a regular basis:

  • The author claims to be a ministry-level official in the government of an African nation
  • The Minister is telling me that I have qualified to receive a lot of money from some government fund
  • Sometimes the money is sitting in an Unclaimed Property fund
  • The general style of the email is quite obsequious and archaically formal, “My Dear Kind Sir or Madam”, etc.

PG doesn’t believe that even the most credulous among us deserves to be defrauded of money he/she has rightfully obtained. However, he wonders if someone who is victimized by this sort of approach might not be in need of a court-appointed conservator to manage the individual’s financial affairs to protect the individual from being financially victimized.

Postscript regarding Vanity Presses and Other Occupants of Publishing’s Swamps:

  1. Don’t pay money to a “publisher” or “press” to publish your book
  2. Always do a series of online searches based on the name of any organization or person who solicits you for money to assist you in publishing your book.
    • You might structure some of your searches as follows: “Shady Publisher” fraud, “Shady Publisher” crook, “Shady Publisher” cheat, etc., etc., etc.
    • Look for a website for the Publisher. Don’t necessarily believe what it says, but see if it looks like one for a major publisher. See if the site lists any alternate names, imprints, etc. the Publisher uses and do all the searches described in this list on those alternates.
    • Do a lot of searches about the Publisher, not just a few.
    • If the Publisher has a physical location listed on its website, Google “Better Business Bureau” and the city named in the physical location. Once you find the local Better Business Bureau (it may be in a larger city near the city where the Publisher is located) use its website to search for the name of the Publisher.
    • Go to several websites where authors gather to talk shop and ask whether anyone has heard about the Publisher
  3. Go to Writer Beware© and look for any mentions of the Publisher. Make sure you don’t miss the Thumbs Down Publishers List and look around there.
  4. Go to Amazon’s Books section and search for the Publisher’s name. If you don’t find it, consider its absence to be a giant red flag with spotlights shining on it. If you do find the Publisher’s name, look at the Sales Rank of the books it has published.

Place In A Book – Do You Need To Go There?

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

Place in a book – do you need to go there?

Some years ago I went to a talk by the award-winning Irish writer Colm Tóibín. It was after the launch of his much acclaimed novel, Brooklyn, and I remember him telling the audience that when he wrote Brooklyn he had never been to the city himself. For his research he had relied on maps, read books and talked to people who lived there. I found this startling, as I’d recently read the book myself and the sense of place was profoundly believable and authentic. It went against that old adage ‘write what you know’ and made me rethink my ideas on how to write a book, on developing the setting for a story. 

As it happens I was working on my first novel at the time. Elastic Girl is an emotional story about a young girl called Muthu who is sold into the Indian circus. The idea had come to me after hearing about this horrific problem on the radio, and it was a story that I felt compelled to write.

However, I wasn’t sure if I was best placed to write it. I wasn’t from India, I knew little or nothing of children being sold into the circus, and I had only been to India a couple of times, and not extensively to the locations where I had intended to take my main character. But, after Colm Tóibín’s talk I felt bolstered. I began to look at all the ways I could make my setting as evocative and believable as he did.

My in-laws are from India, so I did have some understanding of India’s culture, and when I had travelled to India I had kept detailed diaries that were full of information on places, sounds and smells that served to remind me of what it was like. I began to do extensive research on locations in India, the layout of cities, the food, the traditions, and then of course on the subject of children being sold into the circus.

I connected with a charity who helped to rescue children from circuses in India and I absorbed the photographic work of Mary Ellen Mark, an American photographer who spent a lot of time in the circuses in India, capturing images of child performers and acrobats. It’s amazing how much you can learn from an image, how it evokes such visceral emotions, and some of her photography was fundamental in helping to form my central characters.

. . . .

“As outsiders looking in, we see the physical landscape, colours and experience the odors of India and the heartbeat of Indian culture through her (Muthu’s) eyes. You listen to the throb and vibrations of living households and the circus in this case. The reader moves with the moods, noises and visions as if experiencing it first hand.” (Amazon review)

The approach to my second book was different, because I did travel to the setting of my story for research purposes. Black Beach is set in Iceland and I had initially come upon the idea for my book following a conversation with one of my close friends, who is from Iceland. She intrigued me with stories of the Hidden People in Iceland, known as Huldufólk.

These creatures are believed to live inside the rocks in Iceland and there are still many superstitions surrounding their existence. It reminded me of the stories I grew up with in rural Ireland around the existence of fairies, and perhaps that’s why it sparked my interest, this common cultural belief. In contrast to my first book, I had never been to Iceland, but it was definitely on my list of places I wanted to visit.

I was very fortunate to receive an award from the Arts Council in Northern Ireland, and I used that money to go to Iceland to do research. My friend came with me and she was able to help me make contact with some people who were instrumental to my writing of Black Beach. I spent time with the renowned psychic and friend of the Huldufólk, Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir. She was a great source of help in informing my central character, a girl called Fríða who also has the gift of seeing. Ragnihildur continued to help with my many questions in the years after I’d been to Iceland, and was one of the first people to read a draft of my book. 

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

For (perhaps simple-minded) PG, the answer is simple: Fiction is fictional, it describes people, places and things that probably don’t exist in the real world in precisely the same form and nature they do in the fictional world.

Likely in the first lecture of a semantics class in college, students learn a mantra, “The word is not the thing.”

A character in a book that commits a murder is not a real murder and vice versa. Mount Everest in a book is not the actual Mount Everest. A character in a book who is Pentecostal is not a real Pentecostal man or woman.

William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County is not a real county in Mississippi. Many who study Faulkner believe it was modeled on Jefferson County, Mississippi, but if you were to travel to Jefferson County, you would find a university town, built around University of Mississippi.

PG has not read all of Faulkner’s works set in Yoknapatawpha County, but he does not recall any of Faulkner’s writings set in a university town. PG is 99% certain Faulkner never wrote about a fictional version of Vaught–Hemingway Stadium, the home of the University of Mississippi Rebels football team, seating about 65,000 people. Since construction of the stadium was begun in 1915, when Faulkner was about 18 years of age, he would certainly have been intimately familiar with it.

PG’s mental image of Yoknapatawpha County does not include a football team.

PG has read that Faulkner’s writings include over 1,000 named persons in his 19 novels and 94 short stories. None of those is an actual person. None ever lived in Jefferson County.

BONUS FEATURE!!

William Faulkner provides the proper pronunciation of Yoknapatawpha

END OF BONUS Feature

A standard disclaimer at the beginning of a novel often reads something like:

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

As perceptive readers will have concluded, PG dislikes the idea that people, places and things included in a work of fiction have to have any connection with reality at all, let alone be a faithful rendition of an actual person, group of people, town, city, state, country, planet or universe that actually exists.

PG knows next to nothing about the nation of India. However that lack of knowledge does not prevent him from writing a good work of fiction set in India, perhaps relying on National Geographic magazine for local color.

If a person mistakes the contents of PG’s fictional creation for the actual nation, such a person is probably not able to understand much about what PG has written at all (PG is, after all, an attorney, a member of a group not known to consistently produce prose easily grasped by a normal, sane person).

PG has read fiction set in places where he has actually lived. None has reproduced what those places are actually like. A faithful reproduction would not be fiction and would probably be boring as well.

End of Rant. PG feels much better now. He should probably lie down and take a nice nap.

Hosting Issues

PG has been having significant problems with the prior hosting provider for The Passive Voice.

As he has mentioned before, PG started using Hosting Matters as a hosting provider many weeks ago and has been very pleased with both the quality of the hosting and the excellent customer service he has received from Hosting Matters.

Yesterday, PG discovered that his previous hosting provider, HostMonster, had terminated his account with zero notice and no provision to reactivate the account that PG could locate.

PG and Hosting Matters had been trying to transfer all of PG’s various domains registered through HostMonster to Hosting Matters with limited success. Some domains had come over and others hadn’t. Suffice to say, HostMonster has not provided a transparent and efficient process for concluding the transfers of all of PG’s domains to somebody else.

One of the domains that had not yet been transferred to Hosting Matters is thepassivevoice.com.

A bit of research with WHOIS via ICANN disclosed that the registrar for thepassivevoice.com is shown as Fast Domain Inc. The domain’s nameservers are fortunately shown as those of Hosting Matters. PG registered the domain through Hostmonster many years ago.

PG doesn’t understand enough about the nuts and bolts of domain registration to know whether termination of his business relationship with HostMonster will have any impact on the continued operation of TPV in its ordinarily bright and perky manner sooner, later or never, although he suspects never is the least likely of these alternatives.

PG be working with Hosting Matters customer support to figure out how to complete the process of transferring all the remaining bits, pieces and rights relating to thepassivevoice.com over to the comforting arms of Hosting Matters.

In the event of any interruption of access to thepassivevoice.com, PG has registered thepassivevoice.org with Hosting Matters and will operate TPV from that URL as necessary.

PG realizes that .org domains were originally intended for nonprofit organizations (although PG has never discerned any enforcement of that intention).

Considering the income PG generates through his legal practice on a good day (or a good hour) and the hours he spends on TPV, if questioned, he believes he can justify treating this online operation as nonprofit.

Online Marketing Doesn’t Have to Mean Lying, Cheating, or Gaming the System

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

A lot of authors get that deer-in-the-headlights look when I mention marketing books online.

But it’s pretty much the only way to promote books during this “stay at home” pandemic.

So we gotta do it. I understand your reluctance. Social media is full of trolls, scammers, and vast herds of bellicose morons.

And there’s also a lot of unethical and downright criminal behavior that gets labeled as “online marketing”.

Some online marketing “gurus” teach (expensive) lessons in manipulation, lying, cheating, and general flimflammery. I had one contact me just this week. He’d put a Google Alert on “guest blogging” and this blog came up, with my piece complaining about unethical behavior in requesting guest blogposts.

He’s such a lazy idiot that he hadn’t bothered to read the passage of the blog he cut and pasted into the email. But because I used the magic keyword phrase, he expected me to link to his website that teaches people to send unethical guest blogpost requests to bloggers like me.

Um, sure, right, dude. I’ll send my readers to Moron McSleazy University, so they can learn to use Google alerts to harass me.

Here’s the thing: trying to sell your books or services by gaming the system, abusing bloggers, and lying is a very bad idea. Even if you’ve paid a lot of money to learn how. What you want to do is establish a brand that people trust, like Stephen King, Doris Kearns Goodwin or Lemony Snicket—not Scams “R” Us. How do you do that? As Ruth told us last week, you reach success with patience and persistence, not tricks and gimmicks.

. . . .

1) Some Authors Claim Scams are “Genius Marketing.”

Some indie author left a Facebook comment on one of my posts about how Amazon scams are robbing real authors of royalties. His comment:

“What’s wrong with selling a 500-word book for $9.99? I call that good marketing.”

I naively tried to explain, “The reader is going to be angry and disappointed at being scammed and they won’t buy any more of this author’s books.”

The man replied, “Is this book plagiarized? Otherwise, this is genius.” 

I was gobsmacked. This “writer” equated “marketing” with “sleazy, dishonest behavior.” And he admired it.

You know, those Old West snake oil guys only succeeded because they left town the next day to escape being strung up by a posse of disgruntled customers. Not so easy to do on the Internet where you can be doxxed.

There are also “genius marketing” companies that charge thousands of dollars to authors to “buy in” to  99c boxed sets that may possibly get the author “USA Today Bestseller” status. But there’s also a guarantee of no income–because all the money is supposed to go to marketing. But…

  1. Most of these don’t work anymore because readers have bought the sets and found most of the books sub-par.
  2. There is remarkable bad will, bullying and squabbling in these boxed set groups.
  3. Often the companies simply take the money and evaporate. Maybe to teach at McSleazy U.

David Gaugrhan tweeted about a new one just this morning. $5000 to buy in for “guaranteed” USA Today status. Might we say “caveat emptor”?

Online marketing should be about establishing a brand and growing a readership, not getting fake credentials or making a quick buck and skipping town.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog

PG will add that, for most authors, success is a journey. Overnight success is a rarity. There has been more than a single one-trick pony who bombed with the second book in the book world. Overnight success that leads to long-term success is even more rare.

An audience of readers who are anxious to check out an author’s next book is the closest thing to gold PG has found in the writing biz. If the author treats them right, they will buy the next book right away when it’s released, giving it a great boost under Amazon’s algorithms. These same readers will tell their friends, post on their blogs, Facebook, etc., about the new book. They’ll post positive reviews with thoughtful comments germane to the book and, often, talking about why readers with similar interests will like this book.

Theoretically, it’s possible to buy a service that will post fake reviews that are convincing, but, to PG’s knowledge, this has never worked. Too many similar reviews, too many generalities, too many exclamation points and a general odor of inauthenticity.

At some point in time, an artificial intelligence engine may be able to digest the text of a book and spit out phony reviews, but, to the best of PG’s knowledge, that hasn’t happened and isn’t likely to happen in the near future. For one thing, there are much better ways for an artificial intelligence operator/programmer to earn way more money than by selling fake reviews.

For this reason, smart authors work hard to build groups of readers who like their work. Email lists, advance review copies sent to people the author knows personally who won’t grind out something phony or formulaic, engaging blogs with regular visitors, writing reviews of quality books by other authors in the same genre – basic literary marketing blocking and tackling.

Readers who buy well-written books aren’t dumb. If an author exhibits an online personality that’s a genuine reflection of who she is, a personality that may well show up in her characters and her books, people who like the way she writes, thinks and is will tend to stay connected and want to read the next book.

Unless the book promotion shill is a lot smarter than the author’s readers, she/he won’t be able to fool those readers.

But PG could be wrong.

As bookstores in France re-open, early euphoria gives way to plummeting book sales in week two

From The New Publishing Standard:

After a long and painful lockdown it was hardly surprising that many booklovers made a beeline for their nearest bookstore when the green light was given for booksellers to re-open their doors.

From May 11-17 unit sales in bricks & mortar stores were up 6.8% and revenue up 2.7% as lovers of the printed book rushed to get new stock.

But the long lockdown had also introduced many French booklovers to the convenience of digital, be it buying print books online (tempered by the closure for a while of the Amazon warehouses in France) or discovering the delights of the digital book.

Too soon to say how the new normal will level out, and among the factors impacting print book sales will be consumer income that will have taken a hit during lockdown. But the big fear, now seemingly being realised, was that some bookstore buyers may never come back.

In the second week of “deconfinement”, May 18-24, reports Livres Hebdo using statistics from GFK, book sales fell 8% in value and 9.1% in unit sales, and compared to the same period in 2019 revenue was down 10.9% and unit sales down 6.4%.

. . . .

[I]t may well be that it is not publishing per se that has taken the hit, but bricks & mortar book-selling, and that as the new normal settles in publishers may not be any worse off financially, just facing new marketing challenges where ebooks, digital audio and online print sales are a much bigger part of the retail landscape than hitherto.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG notes that, unlike the world of bricks and mortar, on Amazon and other digital sales venues, books from traditional publishers sit side-by-side with books from indie authors.

Readers who have been hammered financially over the past several weeks or months may be even more interested in the reasonable prices of indie ebooks compared to those from traditional publishing. At a minimum, they won’t have the same ability to engage in discretionary spending that they enjoyed a few months ago.

Even those few without significant financial scars may be frightened by their view of their fellows and less apt to spend freely even if they can afford to do so. Who knows, in some circles, spending lots of money may be regarded as unseemly when so many people are suffering financially and emotionally.

Physical bookstores are/were the one market where Big Publishing could sell books without the contemporaneous exposure to price competition from indie authors.

It is inevitable that B&M bookstores will take a significant financial hit from the long shut-downs and continuing economic crash in many parts of the world. Bookstores are, after all, subject to the same forces that affect the larger retailing world.

Some bookstores will simply not be able to afford to reopen. We don’t know how many will fall into that category, but PG thinks it will be a large number. Many indie bookstores are shoe-string operations that were chronically under-capitalized prior to the virus event.

PG has no doubt that publishers will do their best to stuff all bookstores full of physical books, but if the stores haven’t already defaulted on their lease payments and facing eviction notices, the owners may discover that they’re too far in the hole to afford to pay rent, utilities, staff, etc., and decide to cut their losses and walk away (or hide away to avoid lawsuits).

What we don’t know is how many bookstores will try to reopen only to close permanently when they discover that, even with fewer meatspace competitors and a little bit of cash in reserve, a large share of their customers aren’t coming back.

PG doesn’t take pleasure in predicting a financial and emotional disaster for owners of small bookstores. He never likes to see anyone forced out of business by events they can’t control.

However, PG will say that the Virus Months have accelerated the timing of a financial collapse of the traditional book business which, even in the absence of plague, would have occurred, perhaps less suddenly, at some future time.

Plague Writing

In order to smush together the amalgam of words that makes for a day’s worth of posts on TPV, PG has previously likened himself to a baleen whale.

In its mouth, a baleen whale has baleen instead of teeth. Baleen is made from the same type of protein that makes up human hair and fingernails. In whales, baleen are long (up to four meters), flexible bristly lengths of this protein that act like a sieve to trap krill, plankton and small fish found in the ocean.

Basically, a baleen whale takes a huge mouthful of sea water, then squeezes the water through its baleen and swallows whatever is trapped in its baleen after most of the water is gone. These whales typically have grooves in their throats that balloon out to accommodate the large amount of sea water they take in with each gulp.

For the record, age has given PG a bit of jowl he did not have in younger days, but even a baby baleen whale would put him to shame. A baleen whale is a metaphor only.

During the process of slurping up large portions of the internet of books, authors, writing, etc., etc., in order to find the small bits of nutritious intellectual plankton he posts on TPV, PG gets a sense of what else is floating around the bookish internet ocean as well.

It will not surprise most of the visitors to TPV that right now, writers, publishers, critics, librarians, academics interested in literature and writing are pretty much consumed by COVID-19. Perhaps because so many of us are sheltering in place, we are producing lots of plague writing, if not about this particular plague, strongly influenced by the idea of plagues and plaguish visions of a variety of things otherwise not associated with plagues.

China is like a plague. Trump is like a plague. Amazon is like a plague. Capitalists are like a plague. Those who do not subscribe to The New York Times in order to soak in whatever is showing up there on a particular day are like a plague.

Pretty much anyone unlike the writer in thought, behavior and attitude is like a plague or at least like a symptom of a plague.

Like the baleen whale, PG burps up most of the plague writing he encounters in the broad seas of the internet, retaining only a bit of plague krill from time to time that seems to him to differ from the general run of its species.

None of this is to imply that the current plague will not have a significant and lasting impact on the world of books. As PG has muttered before, he thinks the traditional book business will be smaller and more threadbare than it was pre-corona. Amazon will likely be even more influential.

Some writers currently immersed in plague topics will move back to a slightly different subject – Amazon is ruining book culture even more rapidly than it was before the plague revealed the fragile financial footing that underlays much of the traditional publishing world.

As a variety of different people have reportedly said,

Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.

PG hopes his baleenish approach to current writing affairs is useful to those who visit here.

The Other American Dirt Issue: Is Fear of Appropriation Fomenting a Culture of Censorship?

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

I was recently in the NPR studios in New York to participate in the show, 1A’s, panel discussion on the enduring American Dirt kerfuffle, specifically, “What The Controversy Over ‘American Dirt’ Tells Us About Publishing And Authorship.”

Seated in the studio with me was Vox culture writer, Constance Grady, and from two remote locations we were joined by Mexican-American translator, poet and author, David Bowles, and K. Tempest Bradford, a writer and the instructor of “Writing The Other” workshops.

All three had distinct and individual takes on the controversy over American Dirt, and the conversation, led by host Todd Zwillich, focused on two main issues: the publishing industry’s lack of diversity in both opportunity and representation of Latin voices (diverse voices in general), and the pushback against authors taking on stories and characters outside their own cultures.

. . . .

Why was I there? 

As the author of The Alchemy of Noise [She Writes Press, 2019], a novel centered on an interracial relationship struggling under the weight of culture clashes, familial acrimony, and the devastation of a violent arrest, my publishing experience had some relevance to the issues at hand: I was a white author diving into and exploring the lives of several and varied characters outside my own culture.

The bulk of the 1A conversation focused on three things: the lack of representation of Latinx writers in the publishing world, the hyperbolic support of a white author telling a Mexican story while Mexican writers are disproportionately excluded from those rarefied opportunities, and the opinion of many Latinx writers that “she got it wrong,” with stereotypical characters, inaccurate depictions of both country and culture, in a story written “for the white gaze,” as one Latinx author put it. 

Those angles, widely covered and outside my purview, still rumble today. David Bowles recently put a call out on Twitter: “If you’re Mexican, Mexican American, or otherwise intimately familiar with Mexico, I’m hoping you’ll ‘sign up’ below to look closely and critically at a single chapter,” rejecting the notion “that we’re blowing up a couple of inaccuracies to condemn the whole book.” 

I, however, was brought in to talk about the second issue of the debate: is the demand for #OwnVoices equity and the fear of “appropriation” fostering censorship and a growing concern amongst authors that they cannot venture anywhere outside their own cultures? To me, that’s as important an issue as the first, with the potential to have long-ranging impact on the artistic freedom of all writers.

. . . .

The questions asked of me specifically had mostly to do with my experience as a white author pushing a novel with diverse characters, an experience, I made clear, that was wildly divergent from that of Jeanine CumminsAmerican Dirt’s author. Not only was there no bidding war, no seven-figure advance; no intense publicity campaign, A-list endorsements, or Oprah pick, but even with two well-received and previously published (albeit, self—) novels, even with a story considered topical and relevant, even with accolades from a wide range of industry-connected readers, I could not—to use a phrase relevant to my story—get arrested. In a nutshell, I was repeatedly told, not by one but many agents from topline literary agencies, that I would be unable to get my book published: 

  1. “Your whiteness is kind of a problem,” one agent wrote: “This is a well written and serious novel that could not be more current but there may be an issue of whose voice gets to represent race.”
  2. Another admitted she “didn’t have the courage” to take on a book that “might stir controversy.”
  3. A third stated that her rejection was “because of all the concerns about ‘cultural appropriation’ these days. These are brutal times in fiction,” she wrote, “and I’m not comfortable representing a book, no matter how good or worthy, in which that issue is present.”
  4. A fourth (a white male) felt the black male protagonist “didn’t sound black enough.” I’ll just leave that one there…

But the overriding message was clear: I was a white author; I could not include black characters in prominent roles in my book and expect to be published. At a writer’s conference I attended in 2018, I heard that same admonition repeated to countless white authors with diverse characters and storylines. Not only did I find this appalling, but it was daunting to me on a personal level, having spent years writing, researching, interviewing, and fine-tuning a book that was vetted by a wide swath of writers, activists, readers, and opinion leaders from both the black and white communities, and deemed “right.”  

. . . .

But the question asked—whose voice gets to tell stories of race?—was left unanswered, and I wanted to answer it: 

Everyone’s voice.

From our individual, unique, and creative points of view, we each have a stake in chronicling the world in which we live or or the ones we imagine. Our cultures, our diverse experiences, the spectrum of characters we create cannot be monotone, homogenized, or “one cultured.” Our world isn’t; why should our stories be? 

My journey also differed from Cummins’ in the genesis of my story; Alchemy’s fictional narrative was extrapolated from personal experience. Years earlier I’d been in a long-term relationship with a man of color, intimately involved with the people in his life and the caustic experiences he endured. I possessed “learned-perspective,” a unique angle from which to dig into pervasive issues of race, and, given our culture’s continuing battles with white privilege, police profiling, and social injustice, the story remained painfully relevant. So I created characters to whom I gave many of the obstacles we had faced, and told the story as authentically, honestly, and sensitively as I could.

. . . .

Several of those who weighed in on American Dirt stated categorically that white authors—or any authors, for that matter—should be unlimited in who and what they can write about, but if they do venture into cultures outside their own, they’ve got to get it right: Do the work, check the work, vet the work; honor the nuances and sensibilities they’re writing about. This stance has been stated by many of the Latinx writers who took umbrage with Cummins (who, they felt, didn’t get it right), as well as countless black authors who’ve also addressed the tilt toward censorship in the drive for greater inclusivity and the right to tell their own stories. 

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

PG wonders who gets to be the expert about a specific fictional character who is designed to be unique and original?

The critiques come from those who claim the character of a different ethnic background from the author is not realistic. Setting aside the fact that the character doesn’t exist, she/he is fictional, aren’t all the authenticity critics projecting their own opinions and experiences and criticizing the book and author if the fictional character is different from them.

Does every Latino who crosses the border in the United States illegally have the same experiences? And does each of these individuals respond the same way to their life experiences? Is each one shaped and formed into an identical illegal Latino?

Is anyone permitted to be an individual, a combination of their background, culture, genetics, childhood, unique experiences and responses to those experiences? Is any fictional character permitted to be created out of their fictional background?

Authors have been appropriating from others who are much different than they are for a very, very, very long time. PG suggests it is impossible to identify the first author to have done this sort of thing.

Endless examples come to mind – Charles Dickens writing about Miss Havisham, Mark Twain writing about Huckleberry Finn, Pearl Buck writing about Chinese peasants, Margaret Mitchell writing about slaves and slaveowners in the Civil War era, Victor Hugo writing about the impoverished thieves of Paris.

PG also is not persuaded that there are a limited number of books and stories and that they are spread throughout humanity such that if an Anglo author writes about a black woman, somehow a black author somewhere won’t be able to write about a black woman because that story has already been written and no one wants to read more than one story about a black woman.

PG posits that political correctness in general is a weapon devised to silence those who some groups of people don’t like. PG doesn’t know when or where it began, but it certainly was a technique used by the Bolsheviks and the Nazis, among others.

It’s not just a matter of preventing a privileged Anglo author from writing about a fictional Asian individual, it’s about preventing an Anglo author from writing or speaking about a whole range of issues in order to avoid any sort of criticism. It has little to do with artistic or literary merit and everything to do with exerting control and dominating others.

YouTube Adpocalypse is No Surprise

From The Illusion of More:

YouTubers call it the adpocalypse.  It’s a word is used to describe the steady erosion of YouTube’s support for small and independent creators by demoting or demonetizing their channels in favor of more traditional, mainstream material.  Julia Alexander at the The Verge wrote in April of this year …

Between 2011 and 2015, YouTube was a haven for comedians, filmmakers, writers, and performers who were able to make the work they wanted and earn money in the process…. In 2016, personalities like Philip DeFranco, comedians like Jesse Ridgway, and dozens of other popular creators started noticing that their videos were being demonetized, a term popularized by the community to indicate when something had triggered YouTube’s system to remove advertisements from a video, depriving them of revenue.”

While not directly related to copyright, I would include the adpocalypse in a chapter about the broader copyright debate because one of the underlying premises of the “copyright is obsolete” narrative is that the new opportunities created by the internet could replace traditional licensing regimes with legacy “gatekeepers.”  With an evangelical zeal, some of the loudest copyright critics sermonized that the internet was replete with untapped sources of revenue for creators, and YouTube was their Zion—a place where creators could slough off tired notions of ownership, share their work with the world, and earn a living from Google’s advertising machine.

The fact that people were making a business out of being YouTubers—ranging from profitable side-lines to multimillion-dollar payouts for a handful of stars—was sufficient anecdotal evidence to bolster the talking point that concepts like copyright were anachronistic and regressive.  The lecture at old creators was a general theme that they should stop “whining” about lost sales, piracy, devaluation and embrace the unprecedented prospects before them.

. . . .

That was a theme my fellow luddites kept reiterating—that YouTube will “empower” new creators until it is no longer in its business interest to do so, at which point the company will change the rules without warning or transparency.  That was the underlying absurdity of the entire line of argument against creators’ rights—the illusion that a company like YouTube was liberating new creators, even making them feel a sense of ownership in the platform itself and that this apparent symbiosis would last indefinitely.  “The golden age of YouTube — the YouTube of a million different creators all making enough money to support themselves by creating videos about doing what they love — is over,” writes Alexander.

Perhaps.  But I wouldn’t think of it as the party is over so much as a party to which most YouTubers were never going to be invited in the first place.  The promise of millions becoming YouTube entrepreneurs was never attainable, or at least sustainable.  “96.5 percent of all of those trying to become YouTubers won’t make enough money off of advertising to crack the U.S. poverty line,” stated a 2018 article at Fortune.com. YouTube was always a casino, and Google is the House.

. . . .

More than a few of my fellow luddites have mentioned that YouTube’s monetization in not about creators, and never has been.  As composer Kerry Muzzy describes in a sit-down interview with Neil Turkewitz, “So far I have identified 97 million views of videos with my music in them, representing 303 million minutes of watch time. Those 97 million views happened before Content ID located my music in them and under YouTube’s policies, I can’t monetize them retroactively — so YouTube and the uploader made a small fortune in ad sales on those videos, but I got nothing.”

This post is not a gloat.  I legitimately empathize with most creative people, and YouTubers are no exception; but one thing the “old” creator can tell the “new” is that very few favorable tides last a lifetime, which is one reason owning copyrights in successful works can be so critical for so many creators.  Like the aging jazz musician whose royalties in a pre-1972 sound recording just might be her medical bills for the year.

Link to the rest at The Illusion of More

PG suggests the same pattern has applied/will likely apply to indie authors on Amazon. The idea that writing and publishing an ebook is a sure path to financial success and security was an initial Amazon meme.

Plenty of one-shot-wonder “authors” may still receive small payments from Amazon each month, but long-term success for indie authors requires hard and smart work – writing good books, promoting them well, keeping readers involved to the extent they want to be involved, building and sustaining a brand that equates with quality, understanding the segment of the book market in which you exist, etc.

That said, PG would feel better about the long-term well-being of indie authors if Amazon had more successful competitors for online ebook publishing and sales. No disrespect to the variety of start-up publishers who provide good service, quality ebooks, and fair treatment for authors, but PG hasn’t seen anyone who seems to have the ability to scale up to become a second Amazon in terms of sales and reader mindshare. (He would loudly cheerlead for anyone who looked like they could pull off such a difficult feat.)

For all its childish grumbling about Amazon, major publishers and the infrastructure that surrounds them are likely as dependent upon Amazon as indie authors are. Other than in a handful of high-income neighborhoods that support all sorts of retailers that exist nowhere else, and perhaps a few college towns, PG thinks the physical bookstore business is on its way to financial oblivion as well. PG hasn’t seen any credible demographic study of consumers who regularly visit physical bookstores and purchase from them, but he suspects it’s becoming more and more of a niche group.

PG also suggests that the lending of ebooks via traditional libraries is another potent force that will impact the bookstore market. For PG, borrowing an ebook via the local library system isn’t quite as frictionless as Amazon’s purchasing experience, but it can still deliver a quality book from a traditional publisher to PG’s ereading device at 11:00 PM when he’s not quite ready to go to sleep yet.

How to Read a Book Contract – Somebody’s Gonna Die

Per a request in the comments, from an earlier post on The Passive Voice

Let’s assume you are an author represented by a literary agent. If Passive Guy asks you who your agent is, you’ll respond with something like “Suzanne Jones” or “James Davis.”

Passive Guy is certain Suzanne and James are wonderful people, but they’re going to die.

This is not a threat, simply a statement of biological reality.

Who will your agent be after Suzanne dies? Will it be someone you choose or not?

You selected Suzanne because she had a great reputation for helping authors build good long-term careers. Your career isn’t built yet. Who’s going to help build your career if she’s gone?

These are not hypothetical questions. One of the comments to a recent essay about agents by Kristine Kathryn Rusch described the story of Ralph Vicinanza, a literary agent for Stephen King, the Dalai Lama and others, who died in September, 2010, at age 60.

Here’s a bullet-point description of what has happened since Mr. Vicinanza’s death, according to the comment (which fits with other accounts PG has found):

  • The other two agents in the Vicinanza agency quit their jobs
  • A letter was sent to all authors advising them to find other agents and promising to continue to pay royalty checks
  • The executor of the Vicinanza estate intends to keep receiving payments from publishers and collecting agency fees from the authors
  • Other agents are asking Vicinanza authors for more than 15% to handle titles the Vicinanza agency handled, presumably because the estate will claim the first 15%

Contracts with a large organization should differ from those with an individual or small organization. A large organization, like a big publisher, is not going to disappear. It may go bankrupt or be sold, but it will have enough value so someone is likely to keep it running in some form or fashion.

However, if somebody in a large publisher dies, another person will replace the dear departed and business will continue as usual. An author has a relationship with a big publisher because the publisher can jam a lot of books into bookstores, airports, Wal-Mart, etc. The jammers may change, but the jamming continues. (PG knows about author/editor relationships, but you can hire an editor without hiring Random House.)

In a small organization, like a literary agency, a death of an individual can result in the death of the agency. PG would suspect many of the clients of Mr. Vicinanza’s agency signed the agency contracts because of Mr. Vicinanza, and quite possibly, only because of Mr. Vicinanza. PG would have signed if Mr. Vicinanza promised to turn him into another Stephen King.

It appears the executor of Mr. Vicinanza’s estate is his sister, Louise Billie. Passive Guy did a quick Google search and couldn’t find any evidence that Ms. Billie is a literary agent or has any experience in that business. Yet, under the agency’s contracts with authors, Ms. Billie, acting on behalf of the estate, is handling royalties and, presumably, retaining 15% plus, perhaps, expenses.

What’s the contractual solution to problems like this? It’s much simpler than stating the problem.

If the services of a particular individual are a key value to you, include a provision in the contract that gives you the right to terminate the contract:

  • if that person dies,
  • becomes disabled and unable to perform his/her normal work, or
  • leaves the agency for any reason

As far as what happens to the agency percentage on book contracts the agent negotiated while alive or working at the original agency, PG would push for a provision that says those end when your agent goes.

A possible compromise would be that the agency percentage continues to be paid to the agency for one or two years after termination, but PG doesn’t like that because, at least according to the hypothetical value proposition of an agent, the agent’s services are continuing and overlap from book to book. The work an agent puts into your third book also enhances sales of books one an two.

The Vicinanza experience demonstrates that other agents are not willing to accept authors under standard compensation terms if they have to share compensation.

If agents boohoo about this, Passive Guy would simply point out that, if an attorney dies, the attorney is entitled to fees earned up until he takes his last breath and no more. A client is always free to hire another attorney at any time, whether the attorney is alive, partly dead or all the way dead.

Someone is bound to ask why the author should receive royalties forever while the agent who negotiated the publishing contract doesn’t receive agency fees forever.

The answer is that when the author wrote the book, she created an asset, recognized under copyright law, that will exist for a long time and is capable of generating income in a variety of different ways over its lifetime, some of which are recognized today and others of which won’t be conceivable for another 50 years.

The author owns the asset, the agent does not. The agent was paid for a service provided. PG would argue if the ongoing services of a particular agent were the key value to the author, when those services are no longer provided for any reason, the author shouldn’t be required to make any additional service payments.

One big change in book publishing is that it does not require you to have much of an organization to play anymore

From veteran publishing consultant, Mike Shatzkin:

More than two decades into its digital transition, book publishing has evolved so that a capital-intensive infrastructure is no longer a requirement to successfully develop a book, or a list of books, and bring the books to market. This has resulted in a self-publishing segment, so far almost entirely author-driven, that is substantial in reach and readership and which offers ongoing competition to the commercial publishing business largely because of its ability to price its ebooks below what would be survival levels for commercial publishers.

. . . .

What publishers do, over and over again, is the business of “content” and “markets”. Each book is unique content and is individually delivered to its own unique market. So publishers need to stick to content and markets that they understand in a contextual way. That is usually done by sticking to genres in fiction and topics or “audiences” for non-fiction. But people who live in any of many non-fiction “worlds” could well be as well-equipped as any publisher to grasp the content-and-market equations in those environments.

The discrete tasks are:

1. Creating the content, which requires domain knowledge (the world of the content) and, of course, the ability to discern good and effective writing and presentation. And a knowledge of the content world implies a sense of any particular project’s uniqueness and timeliness.

2. “Packaging” the content in a form that is reproducible. That means different things for print and for digital. And it is more complicated for books that are illustrated or annotated with charts or graphs.

3. “Marketing”, or making potential readers aware of the book. This takes in what we used to think of as publicity and advertising, which in the “old days” largely centered around book reviews and the sections in newspapers that carried them, but which is now much more about search engine optimization and social network marketing.

4. Connecting with the avenues of distribution: reaching the sources of printed books their customers might use — bookstores, other retailers, or online merchants for consumers and wholesalers or distributors for those intermediaries, print and e. You have to sell to them and serve them: persuade them to carry or list the book and then deliver, bill, and collect so they can.

5. Selling rights where you can’t sell books. Because many books, no matter their origin, have the potential to gain additional revenue and exposure through licensing for other languages or placing chunks of the book’s content in other venues (what was very simply “serialization” in the all-print days), rights sales and mangement is another activity that a book publisher has to cover.

How have the avenues for sale to end users changed in the past two decades?

Before digital change arrived, which for trade publishers we could say began when Amazon opened in 1995, publishers sold most of their books in stores. The books got there because their sales reps persuaded the stores to stock them. Reps and stores are still a part of the delivery system, but they are no longer the only path to an audience that can deliver a book’s author substantial revenue.

In the past 20 years, online sales of print have moved from under 5% of the total units to certainly 40% of units, perhaps 50%. And it can be much more for some titles.

In addition to print, publishers sell ebooks and those are exclusively online. Twenty years ago, sales were zero. Now they appear to be 20% or more of the sales for big publishers. Once again, there is a range across titles and types of titles and there is a whole new segment of digital-first publishers for which the percentage of ebook sales is much higher, sometimes approaching 100%.

. . . .

Twenty years ago was probably the peak of the big bookstore chains — Borders and Barnes & Noble. Two decades ago, those two retail behemoths were more than 30% of many publishers’ sales. Today, Borders is gone, Barnes & Noble has shrunk, and their sales are less than 10% for most publishers. The number of chain stores is fewer than half of what it was, but shelf space for books has shrunk even more.

As a result of the diminishing bookstore space — shrinking and disappearing chains and despite a recent resurgence of independents the growth from them hasn’t nearly replaced what’s been lost — the opportunities to put printed books in front of consumers have shrunk. So the shelf space in mass merchants, like Walmart and Costco, is especially important for the big books.

. . . .

At the same time, the general interest book clubs have pretty much disappeared. Publishers used to be able to move thousands of copies of big books through those direct mail channels. They’re effectively gone.

And all of the above is really attributable to the fact that the sales have moved to Amazon. Twenty years ago they were probably not as much as 2 percent of book sales. Now, if you include Kindle sales, they are almost certainly 50 percent of the sales. For printed books alone, they are over 40 percent for most publishers.

. . . .

Amazon sales reached a tipping point about ten years ago. Kindle, launched in 2007, grew fast, as the first “direct download” ebook system. (Before Kindle, the ebooks had to be downloaded into a computer and then “synched” to a device.) So when Amazon first offered the self-publishing opportunity through Kindle, they were able to “reach” an audience of sufficient size to enable aspiring authors to actually make some money. When they added their “Create Space” capability for print-on-demand, an author could readily reach half the book-buying audience with one stop.

That was really the catalyst for what has become a tsunami of self-publishing.

. . . .

The much-cheaper [indie ebooks on Amazon] were most compelling for the audiences that consumed many titles: readers of romance, sci-fi, thrillers, and mysteries. It didn’t take long — maybe a couple of years — for a very robust title selection in those genres to become available from many previously-unknown authors.

Whether it was intentional or not, Amazon’s flipping of the time-honored “razors and blades” pricing strategy contributed to their rounding up all those multiple-book readers.

. . . .

[F]rom day one, the tiny-but-growing community of Kindle readers bought an outsized number of books.

For those authors who captured readers through the combination of low-pricing and the appeal of the free book “samples” that digital enabled, the Amazon self-publishing ecosystem could be very remuerative.

. . . .

Regular publishing required an agent most of the time but it required a lot of patience all of the time. Finding an agent took effort and could take months. The publishers’ decision-making process to buy also took a long time, often months. The act of publishing took a long time, also often months. It quite often added up to years. And then the share the author got was a fraction of what Kindle would pay them.

. . . .

So by 2010, we had a very different profile of intermediaries between publishers and their readers than we had a decade or so before.

And in the decade since, the total retail shelf space dedicated to books, across chains, independents, mass merchants, and specialty merchants, has continued to decline. The share of sales being taken by online has continued to grow to the level we cited: 50 percent for most titles. All publishers, but particularly big publishers, have taken to heart that they have to market direct to consumers . . . .

. . . .

If you go back to the top to look at the requirements to publish a book, numbers one and two are the creation and designing of a book, and most publishers use freelance capabilities for that which are available to anybody, including individual authors. Number three (marketing) has many components, but there are a plethora of independent services available to deliver most of the capabilities. Number four (connecting with the avenues of distribution) is delivered by Amazon to their customers and by Ingram to the world. And number five (licensing, particularly foreign rights) can be done by a vast network of agents and digital marketing consultants that already exists. You don’t need to own any of it to play.

And, as a result of all of that, many of the structural advantages a being a book publisher have faded in importance. A person with a manuscript, a computer, and a bit of a budget has been able to publish effectively, and sometimes profitably, for the past ten years. That has spawned the current infrastructure of capabilities and services that might suddenly be discovered as a key tool by entities bigger than individual authors. On another day, we’ll explore that might mean to publishing’s future.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

PG has been hard on Mr. Shatzkin on many occasions in the past. However, over the past several months, Shatzkin has come around nicely (in PG’s occasionally meek and deferential opinion).

If PG were to date this change, he thinks it may have begun when Shatzkin retired (or mostly-retired, PG has no familiarity with anything other than what The Shatzkin Files have disclosed) from his work as a long-time and well-respected publishing consultant based in New York City.

As PG considered this apparent change, he was reminded of Miles’ Law, reputedly named for Rufus E. Miles, Jr., a supervisor in the Bureau of the Budget in the 1940s who told a group of subordinates that, in government agencies, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”

PG has never been in the traditional publishing business (although he has been exposed to traditional publishers via helping Mrs. PG by reviewing the publishing contracts from the traditional publishers with which she formerly did business).

PG was not alone in recognizing the potential for Amazon and its general pricing practices, but particularly for its aggressive move into ebooks, to completely upend traditional publishing. He had witnessed and participated in the revolution that had significantly impacted the legal profession with the birth of computer-based word-processing and its ability to turn out perfect, custom-fitted documents of all sorts very quickly and inexpensively. When he was still practicing retail law, PG made a lot of money by building software programs that could start printing out sophisticated wills and trusts or divorce petitions and related documents while the client was still in the process of writing a check and handing it to one of his legal assistants.

Even more importantly, PG had absorbed significant amounts of the thinking and writing of Clayton M. Christensen, Harvard Business School professor and well-known author of The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, a book that Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs have each said had a major impact on how they built Amazon and Apple.

The early moves of Bezos into providing self-publishing tools for the masses were extraordinarily disruptive, especially for ebooks, putting Amazon’s promotional power behind making some of those indie ebooks into big sellers and, even more important, on a per-ebook basis, paying authors far more than they would receive from the sale of an ebook via a traditional publisher through Amazon.

When you add the tools Amazon has provided for author to exercise broad control over ebook pricing plus author access to the Amazon-based advertising and marketing tools for selling books, Amazon has effectively set up an online laboratory that permits authors to experiment with all sorts of marketing/pricing strategies in an ongoing search for the best way to sell a lot of ebooks. Perhaps more important even than the money Amazon earns from selling indie ebooks, it is in a position impossible for any traditional publisher to equal, where it can watch and learn from all the various pricing/marketing/product design experimentation going on among thousands of individual authors, including some who are selling a huge number of ebooks.

PG suggests that, while good editors, nicely-formatted books and skilled cover designers are very important for most indie authors, paying for those services separately (or doing them yourself, particularly in the case of book formatting), instead of offloading those jobs to publishers and giving up far more income than even the most expensive editor or designer would charge just doesn’t make sense.

If you’re writing in a niche that benefits from quick-to-market strategies to take advantage of something that’s happening right now or soon will happen, a traditional publisher is most definitely not a smart strategy. You can make it all happen much faster (and probably  much better – most publishers’ employees are generalists, not specialists in particular market segments or sub-segments, plus everything at a publisher is subject to bureaucratic time lags) by doing it (or hiring specialists to do it) yourself.

The discovery of truth is prevented more effectively, not by the false appearance things present and which mislead into error, not directly by weakness of the reasoning powers, but by preconceived opinion, by prejudice.

~ Arthur Schopenhauer

Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.

~ Laurence J. Peter

In any bureaucracy, there’s a natural tendency to let the system become an excuse for inaction.

~  Chris Fussell

Bureaucracy is a giant mechanism operated by pygmies.

~  Honore de Balzac

Why Did Interactive Ebooks Never Catch On?

From BookRiot:

It’s taken for granted that an ebook will be almost indistinguishable from its paper version. You could change the font or text size, sure, but you aren’t getting anything that couldn’t be achieved in print. But reading text on a screen offers a lot more options: when reading lengthy online pieces, we expect to have embedded images, videos, and hyperlinks mixed in with the text. Click on a Wikipedia article, and it’s a very different experience from a paper encyclopedia, if just for the links. You can get lost in a never-ending proliferation of tabs. Paper books don’t usually invite this non-linear reading experience, and ebooks copy this system.

. . . .

So why did interactive ebooks never take off? Why can’t I check out an interactive version of my favourite book, where there is an embedded playlist, so I hear the same music or bird songs the characters are listening to? Why don’t my textbooks all come with interactive illustrations that can be rotated and disassembled? Why isn’t there an ebook of House of Leaves that is even more immersive and claustrophobic? Where are the ebook gifs, I ask you?

There’s an excellent Wired article by Steven Johnson that I recommend called “Why No One Clicked On the Great Hypertext Story.” In it, Johnson describes how in the ’90s, with the growing possibilities of the internet, “hypertext fiction” became not only possible, but seen as the future of literature: a pick-your-path story for the digital age. After all, the internet makes the navigation of these kind of stories a lot easier. This technology opened up a lot of possibilities for storytelling. Decades later, we have come nowhere near realizing that potential.

For hypertext fiction, there are were a couple of problems, and they can be expanded to interactive text in general. For one thing, they were incredibly difficult to write. A story that can be endlessly reshuffled in its parts to combine into new stories is a lot to demand of an author, but even the most basic of interactive ebooks requires additional work to finding the right words. Imagine if authors not only had to craft their world, but also provide Pottermore-style interactive illustrations for each scene, and select the perfect soundtrack.

Even when you have all the component parts, it’s a whole other layer of difficulty to make an interactive ebook work. Right now, most interactive ebooks are available as their own apps, because the most popular ebook apps don’t support interactive formats. And if you’re going to be making an app, you need to be able to code.

There’s a lot more demanded on the reader’s end. You have to find and download each individual book’s app . . . . If they are truly interactive, these ebooks also require more from their readers⁠—which was another problem with hypertext fiction. Most people picking up a book don’t want endless ways to read them, and don’t want to pause partway to play a mini game before they can read the next chapter. For the most part, we want our books to be linear.

This isn’t to say that interactive ebooks don’t exist. There are some, but they have not come anywhere near to being mainstream. They aren’t available as a format next to the audiobook and standard ebook option.

. . . .

[I]s the simple, text-based format of books a feature, not a deficit?

. . . .

At their best, books become invisible. They are the means by which we dive into a story, and once we are invested, we stop even seeing the words in front of our eyes. We don’t register that we’re reading. We’re transported. An interactive ebook may end up being less engaging than the plain text version, because it creates a barrier to losing yourself in the story; it makes it harder to forget that you’re reading.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

PG suggests linearity in books is a feature, not a bug. He suggests the human brain is constructed to absorb, retain and analyze information in a linear form.

Beginning, middle and end is not the only way stories can be constructed or recounted, but it is almost certainly the most common story form. Flashbacks can be interesting, but, ultimately they’re not usually satisfactory (at least for PG) unless they contribute to an understanding of a character or story at the time when the story, in the main, is taking place.

For the record, PG doesn’t characterize stories that begin, “When I was a little girl . . .” and end with something like “And so, I’ve always remembered to be kind to all animals.” as a flashback so much as it is a story that takes place in the past with a bit of a frame on it.

PG also doesn’t have a problem with the linearity of two parallel stories taking place at different times with the narratives jumping between past and present so long as they are linked in some way that creates a satisfying experience for the reader. However, if an author tried to combine an episodic telling of the stories of Charlotte’s Web and The Cat in the Hat into a single narrative, PG doubts that a result more satisfying than reading each story by itself would be delivered to the reader.

PG also poses a question. He understands there is a concern with substantial numbers of young people who seldom read for a variety of reasons including poor schools, addictive videogames, unlimited television, etc., etc.

However, is there any real evidence that children who receive a decent education that includes reading and have the opportunity to read outside of school are not enjoying the experience and continuing to read as they grow older? In other words, is there significant and reliable evidence that stories told linearly, beginning, middle and end, are no longer satisfying for such children?

Or, perhaps, PG is entirely out of touch and wrong as can be?

Amazon Has Ceded Control of Its Site. The Result: Thousands of Banned, Unsafe or Mislabeled Products

From The Wall Street Journal:

Many of the millions of people who shop on Amazon.com see it as if it were an American big-box store, a retailer with goods deemed safe enough for customers.

In practice, Amazon has increasingly evolved like a flea market. It exercises limited oversight over items listed by millions of third-party sellers, many of them anonymous, many in China, some offering scant information.

A Wall Street Journal investigation found 4,152 items for sale on Amazon.com Inc. ’s site that have been declared unsafe by federal agencies, are deceptively labeled or are banned by federal regulators—items that big-box retailers’ policies would bar from their shelves. Among those items, at least 2,000 listings for toys and medications lacked warnings about health risks to children.

The Journal identified at least 157 items for sale that Amazon had said it banned, including sleeping mats the Food and Drug Administration warns can suffocate infants. The Journal commissioned tests of 10 children’s products it bought on Amazon, many promoted as “Amazon’s Choice.” Four failed tests based on federal safety standards, according to the testing company, including one with lead levels that exceeded federal limits.

Of the 4,152 products the Journal identified, 46% were listed as shipping from Amazon warehouses.

After the Journal brought the listings to Amazon’s attention, 57% of the 4,152 listings had their wording altered or were taken down. Amazon said that it reviewed and addressed the listings the Journal provided and that company policies require all products to comply with laws and regulations.

“Safety is a top priority at Amazon,” says a spokeswoman. Amazon uses automated tools that scan hundreds of millions of items every few minutes to screen would-be sellers and block suspicious ones from registering and listing items, using the tools to block three billion items in 2018, she says.

“When a concern arises,” she says, “we move quickly to protect customers and work directly with sellers, brands, and government agencies.”

Amazon declined to make executives available for interviews.

. . . .

“There are bad actors that attempt to evade our systems,” Amazon said of products in violation of its policies that appear on the site, adding that “should one ever slip through, we work quickly to take action on the seller and protect customers.”

. . . .

Amazon’s struggle to police its site adds to the mounting evidence that America’s tech giants have lost control of their massive platforms—or decline to control them. This is emerging as among the companies’ biggest challenges.

. . . .

Some lawmakers have begun calling for more regulation of the companies. Courts have begun challenging the firms’ interpretation of their legal protections, and regulators are scrutinizing them. Tech companies say they aren’t illegal monopolies and have generally pledged to address issues such as misinformation and privacy.

Amazon’s common legal defense in safety disputes over third-party sales is that it is not the seller and so can’t be responsible under state statutes that let consumers sue retailers. Amazon also says that, as a provider of an online forum, it is protected by the law—Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996—that shields internet platforms from liability for what others post there.

. . . .

Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that a Pennsylvania customer could sue Amazon over an allegedly unsafe product. The court said Amazon could be considered a seller under Pennsylvania law, in part because the company had no vetting process to ensure that third-party sellers were accessible and available for consumers to sue if they were harmed by an item, leaving consumers with no recourse in many cases. The court also held Amazon had considerable control over third-party sellers and could prevent sales of unsafe items. Amazon has asked the appeals court to review the decision.

. . . .

Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency fined Amazon for letting people sell unregistered pesticides. Amazon agreed, without admitting wrongdoing, to pay a fine and set up new systems to stop such sales. Earlier this year, Washington state’s attorney general and Amazon filed a settlement in state court over state allegations that the company allowed school products on the platform that contained lead and cadmium above federal and state limits. Amazon didn’t admit wrongdoing.

Amazon tells customers, on its payments site: “We want you to buy with confidence anytime you make a purchase on the Amazon.com website.”

On its site aimed at third-party sellers, it says customers “know and trust us, and that trust extends to you.”

Third-party sellers are crucial to Amazon because their sales have exploded—to nearly 60% of physical merchandise sales in 2018 from 30% a decade ago, Amazon says. The site had 2.5 million merchants with items for sale at the end of 2018, estimates e-commerce-intelligence firm Marketplace Pulse.

Amazon doesn’t make it easy for customers to see that many products aren’t sold by the company. Many third-party items the Journal examined were listed as Amazon Prime eligible and sold through the Fulfillment by Amazon program, which generally ships items from Amazon warehouses in Amazon-branded boxes. The actual seller’s name appeared only in small print on the listing page.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

PG says this report hurts Amazon. By PG’s assessment, the WSJ has generally been neutral or positive in its past coverage of the company, so this criticism comes with substantial credibility.

As depicted in the article, Amazon’s response is immensely ham-handed.

The quote from the “anonymous spokeswoman” was pure PR babble and Amazon’s refusal to make an executive available for comment was an even more stupid move. The WSJ is going to print a major story that has taken weeks of work criticizing Amazon on a Friday and no Amazon executive is available for a comment on the preceding Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday?

Amazon has been a very smart company in the past and Jeff Bezos has been a superb voice for the company.

PG has to admit that the Bezos divorce/other woman story made him worry that Bezos would become too distracted to provide the brilliant leadership that has been very beneficial to the company (and its customers) in the past.

Another Distracted-Bezos concern that has been floating about in PG’s mind is a common pattern in US corporate management history, particularly in tech companies. This pattern sometimes appears when a founder/CEO has a strong personality and clear, unconventional vision for what the company is and how it will operate.

PG is thinking of Steve Jobs and Apple, Bill Gates and Microsoft, and Sam Walton and Walmart as examples. (Walmart is not a tech company, but during its developing years, made brilliant use of computer technology to successfully manage its explosive growth.)

This pattern is that the magnetic CEO either doesn’t attract or drives away executives who have similar personalities and talents, so continued excellence suffers without that CEO because the leadership and innovation qualities of the next management layer down are lacking.

A prime example is Apple. Whatever virtues current CEO Tim Cook possesses, in PG’s digitally humble opinion, he’s no Steve Jobs.

Sales of the iPhone, which accounted for 59% of Apple’s revenues in Q4 2018, have been flat, compelling new features have disappeared and purposely-leaked news of future iPhone innovations has been received with far less enthusiasm than in prior years.

Anticipating some pushback on the Microsoft example, PG suggests that Gates was technically charismatic for the tech audiences of his time.

If, as PG fears, Bezos/Amazon is another example of this pattern, he wonders if Amazon will lose its way in ebooks and books as well. While there is some Amazon Derangement Syndrome at work in recent stories about counterfeit books and copyright violations in listings by some sellers, especially those headquartered outside the US, the lax oversight of sellers by Amazon described in the WSJ article may be reflected in its book business as well.

PG regards the reported behavior of allowing Chinese firms to sell almost anything they want to sell on Amazon while the company accepts no responsibility for the sellers’ bad behavior as a disturbing indication that executives below Bezos lack the firm commitment to customer satisfaction that powered Amazon’s ascendance to its current position.

Amazon’s defense position that it is not the seller in lawsuits by Amazon customers for damages caused by defective products may be legally correct, but this sort of behavior by Amazon will undercut customer confidence that Amazon is a quality company selling quality products and a good place to shop. A typical American consumer has absolutely no ability to obtain reparations from a Chinese merchant for defective products.

If, as the OP suggests, many parts of Amazon’s ecommerce offerings are devolving into online flea markets, Amazon’s reputation is headed downward.

Nike Nixes ‘Betsy Ross Flag’ Sneaker

Tomorrow, July 4, is a major American holiday, Independence Day.

The holiday commemorates the Declaration of Independence of the United States on July 4, 1776.

The Continental Congress declared that the thirteen American colonies were no longer subject (and subordinate) to the monarch of Britain and were now united, free, and independent states. The Congress had voted to declare independence two days earlier, on July 2, but it was not declared until July 4.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Nike Inc. is yanking a U.S.A.-themed sneaker featuring an early American flag after NFL star-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick told the company it shouldn’t sell a shoe with a symbol that he and others consider offensive, according to people familiar with the matter.

The sneaker giant created the Air Max 1 USA in celebration of the July Fourth holiday, and it was slated to go on sale this week. The heel of the shoe featured a U.S. flag with 13 white stars in a circle, a design created during the American Revolution and commonly referred to as the Betsy Ross flag.

After shipping the shoes to retailers, Nike asked for them to be returned without explaining why, the people said. The shoes aren’t available on Nike’s own apps and websites.

“Nike has chosen not to release the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July as it featured the old version of the American flag,” a Nike spokeswoman said.

After images of the shoe were posted online, Mr. Kaepernick, a Nike endorser, reached out to company officials saying that he and others felt the Betsy Ross flag is an offensive symbol because of its connection to an era of slavery, the people said. Some users on social media responded to posts about the shoe with similar concerns. Mr. Kaepernick declined to comment.

The design was created in the 1770s to represent the 13 original colonies, though there were many early versions of the America flag, according to the Smithsonian. In 1795, stars were added to reflect the addition of Vermont and Kentucky as states.

In 2016, the superintendent of a Michigan school district apologized after students waved the Betsy Ross flag at a high-school football game, saying that for some it is a symbol of white supremacy and nationalism, according to Mlive.com, a local news outlet. While the flag’s use isn’t widespread, the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said at the time that it has been appropriated by some extremist groups opposed to America’s increasing diversity.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

Here’s a replica of the offending flag:

Here’s the story behind this flag per The History Channel:

Perhaps the best-known figure from the American Revolutionary era who wasn’t a president, general or statesman, Betsy Ross (1752-1836) became a patriotic icon in the late 19th century when stories surfaced that she had sewn the first “stars and stripes” U.S. flag in 1776. Though that story is likely apocryphal, Ross is known to have sewn flags during the Revolutionary War.

. . . .

Elizabeth Griscom was born on January 1, 1752, in the bustling colonial city of Philadelphia. She was the eighth of 17 children. Her parents, Rebecca James Griscom and Samuel Griscom were both Quakers. The daughter of generations of craftsman (her father was a house carpenter), young Betsy attended a Quaker school and was then apprenticed to William Webster, an upholsterer. In Webster’s workshop she learned to sew mattresses, chair covers and window blinds.

. . . .

In 1773, at age 21, Betsy crossed the river to New Jersey to elope with John Ross, a fellow apprentice of Webster’s and the son of an Episcopal rector—a double act of defiance that got her expelled from the Quaker church. The Rosses started their own upholstery shop, and John joined the militia. He died after barely two years of marriage. Though family legend would attribute John’s death to a gunpowder explosion, illness is a more likely culprit.

. . . .

In the summer of 1776 (or possibly 1777) Betsy Ross, newly widowed, is said to have received a visit from General George Washington regarding a design for a flag for the new nation. Washington and the Continental Congress had come up with the basic layout, but, according to legend, Betsy allegedly finalized the design, arguing for stars with five points (Washington had suggested six) because the cloth could be folded and cut out with a single snip.

The tale of Washington’s visit to Ross was first made public in 1870, nearly a century later, by Betsy Ross’s grandson. However, the flag’s design was not fixed until later than 1776 or 1777. Charles Wilson Peale’s 1779 painting of George Washington following the 1777 Battle of Princeton features a flag with six-pointed stars.

Betsy Ross was making flags around that time—a receipt shows that the Pennsylvania State Navy Board paid her 15 pounds for sewing ship’s standards. But similar receipts exist for Philadelphia seamstresses Margaret Manning (from as early as 1775), Cornelia Bridges (1776) and Rebecca Young, whose daughter Mary Pickersgill would sew the mammoth flag that later inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

. . . .

In June 1777, Betsy married Joseph Ashburn, a sailor, with whom she had two daughters. In 1782 Ashburn was apprehended while working as a privateer in the West Indies and died in a British prison. A year later, Betsy married John Claypoole, a man who had grown up with her in Philadelphia’s Quaker community and had been imprisoned in England with Ashburn. A few months after their wedding, the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the Revolutionary War. They went on to have five daughters.

Link to the rest at The History Channel

PG will note that Ms. Ross’ connection with the Quakers is particularly ironic. Per Wikipedia:

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) played a major role in the abolition movement against slavery in both the United Kingdom and in the United States of America. Quakers were among the first white people to denounce slavery in the American colonies and Europe, and the Society of Friends became the first organization to take a collective stand against both slavery and the slave trade, later spearheading the international and ecumenical campaigns against slavery.

. . . .

Quaker colonists began questioning slavery in Barbados in the 1670s, but first openly denounced it in 1688. In that year, four German settlers (the Lutheran Francis Daniel Pastorius and three Quakers) issued a protest from Germantown, close to Philadelphia in the newly founded American colony of Pennsylvania. This action, although seemingly overlooked at the time, ushered in almost a century of active debate among Pennsylvanian Quakers about the morality of slavery which saw energetic anti-slavery writing and direct action from several Quakers, including William Southeby, John Hepburn, Ralph Sandiford, and Benjamin Lay.

During the 1740s and 50s, anti-slavery sentiment took a firmer hold. A new generation of Quakers, including John Woolman, Anthony Benezet and David Cooper, protested against slavery, and demanded that Quaker society cut ties with the slave trade. They were able to carry popular Quaker sentiment with them and, beginning in the 1750s, Pennsylvanian Quakers tightened their rules, by 1758 making it effectively an act of misconduct to engage in slave trading. The London Yearly Meeting soon followed, issuing a ‘strong minute’ against slave trading in 1761. On paper at least, global politics would intervene. The American Revolution would divide Quakers across the Atlantic.

. . . .

In the United Kingdom, Quakers would be foremost in the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787 which, with some setbacks, would be responsible for forcing the end of the British slave trade in 1807 and the end of slavery throughout the British Empire by 1838.

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

So Kaepernick and Nike managed a woke twofer, smearing one of the most famous women in the history of the early United States and a religious group (during an era when religious groups were quite influential in American public life) that was the single most prominent early religious force urging the abolition of slavery.

 

Amazon Gets Bulk of Complaint in AAP Filing with US Trade Commission

From Publishing Perspectives:

For years, many in the publishing industry of the United States and other parts of the world have wanted to see Amazon examined by American governmental regulators for potential anti-competitive practices.

And, as various elements of Washington’s apparatus now address issues in terms of the major tech platforms, the Association of American Publishers (AAP today (June 27) is filing a 12-page statement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), urging the commission to more closely scrutinize the behavior of dominant online platforms that “pervade every aspect of the economy.”

. . . .

And while we find 12 references to Google in AAP’s commentary, it will surprise few in the book business that Amazon is mentioned 33 times.

Today’s filing from the Washington-based AAP, in fact, references that Streitfeld article from the Times’ June 23 edition, though not the Amazon answer, and is responsive to the FTC’s hearings near the close of a long cycle called “Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century”

. . . .

A distinctively international element is engaged at points in which AAP relies on the European Commission’s investigations and action on Amazon’s use of “most favored nation” clauses (MFNs)and the May 2017 acceptance by the EU of Amazon’s commitment to stop using those clauses in distribution agreements with book publishers in Europe.

. . . .

AAP president and CEO Maria A. Pallante is quoted, saying, ““Unfortunately, the marketplace of ideas is now at risk for serious if not irreparable damage because of the unprecedented dominance of a very small number of technology platforms.

“In order to mitigate this crisis and protect the public interest, AAP urges the FTC to exercise much-needed oversight and regulation, particularly as to circumstances where technology platforms stifle competition and manipulate consumer outcomes.”

. . . .

The formulation used by AAP in setting up its commentary rests in two key areas: book distribution and search.

Regarding search, Google is naturally the key interest and AAP’s messaging to the media flags this, saying, “AAP notes that Google’s complete and untouchable dominance is highly problematic [quoting now from its own FTC filing] ‘because its business model is largely indifferent to whether consumers arrive at legitimate or pirated goods.’”

But in reference to book distribution, of course, it’s Amazon that comes in for the lion’s share of complaint. The association in its media announcements finds something of a thesis statement in its commentary to be “No publisher can avoid distributing through Amazon and, for all intents and purposes, Amazon dictates the economic terms, with publishers paying more for Amazon’s services each year and receiving less in return.”

The association delineates five “primary areas of concern” for structuring its commentary this way, we’re quoting here:

  • “Platforms exercising extraordinary market power in the markets for book distribution and Internet search
  • “The threat to competition when platforms act as both producers and suppliers to the marketplaces they operate
  • “Platforms’ imposition of most-favored nation clauses and other parity provisions that stifle competition, market entry, and innovation
  • “Platforms’ use of non-transparent search algorithms and manipulated discovery tools that facilitate infringement and deceive consumers
  • “Platforms’ tying of distribution services to the purchase of advertising services.”

. . . .

In its introductory comments, AAP asks the FTC to consider ways in which tech platforms differ from other players in dominant market operation. It’s here that the association starts grappling with the traditional idea that if prices are low, then anti-competitive harm to the consumer isn’t a factor.

“First,” the association writes, “the assumptions that consumers will purchase goods at the lowest available price and that competition for market share will exert downward pressure on market prices depend on consumers receiving timely and accurate information about prices and quality. … That is often not the case in markets in which one or a handful of platforms use proprietary search algorithms and manipulated discovery tools to tilt the playing field toward particular suppliers or their own distribution channels or products.

“Second, modern technology platforms benefit from—and in some cases depend on—network effects. The larger the network, the greater the competitive advantage over rivals and potential rivals and, once entrenched, the platform has a greater ability to preserve and extend its market power in ways that are not available in markets that are not characterized by network effects.

“Third, in markets dominated by modern technology platforms, an analysis of consumer welfare must not overemphasize retail price levels relative to other critically important factors. The analysis of consumer welfare also must account appropriately for factors such as decreases in quality, consumer choice, and innovation, and a corresponding rise in consumer deception. Nowhere are these considerations more important than in the marketplace for information and ideas.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

.

 

‘Restoring the Promise’ Review: High Cost, Low Yield

Not exactly about books, but PG would bet that over 80% of those who read the books written by regular visitors to TPV (excepting authors of children’s and YA books) are college graduates.

From The Wall Street Journal:

We are at the end of an era in American higher education. It is an era that began in the decades after the Civil War, when colleges and universities gradually stopped being preparatory schools for ministers and lawyers and embraced the ideals of research and academic professionalism. It reached full bloom after World War II, when the spigots of public funding were opened in full, and eventually became an overpriced caricature of itself, bloated by a mix of irrelevance and complacency and facing declining enrollments and a contracting market. No one has better explained the economics of this decline—and its broad cultural effects—than Richard Vedder.

Mr. Vedder is an academic lifer—a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois and a long career teaching economic history at Ohio University. In 2004 he brought out “Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much,” and in 2005 he was appointed to the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, a group convened by Margaret Spellings, the U.S. education secretary. “Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America” is a summary of the arguments he has been making since then as the Cassandra of American colleges and universities. Despite the optimistic tilt of the book’s title, Mr. Vedder has little to offer in the way of comfort.

As late as 1940, American higher education was a modest affair. Less than 5% of adults held a college degree, and the collegiate population amounted to about 1.5 million students. This scale changed with the first federal subsidies, Mr. Vedder notes, beginning in 1944 with the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (the “GI Bill”). Within three years, veterans accounted for 49% of all undergraduate enrollment—some 2.2 million students. Having earned degrees themselves, the veterans expected their own children to do likewise.

Such expectations were supported by still further subsidies, through the National Defense Education Act (1958) and the Higher Education Act of 1965. By the 1970s, there would be 12 million students in the American college and university system; by 2017, there would be 20 million. Meanwhile, more and more federal research dollars poured into campus budgets—reaching some $50 billion in direct funding by 2016—and set off infrastructure binges. To pay for them, as Mr. Vedder documents, tuition and fees vaulted upward, while the federal programs that were intended to ease the financial burden—especially low-interest student loans—only enticed institutions to jack up their prices still higher and spend the increased revenue on useless but attention-getting flimflam (from lavish facilities to outsize athletic programs). At Mr. Vedder’s alma mater, Northwestern, tuition rose from 16% of median family income in 1958 to almost 70% in 2016. Over time, armies of administrators wrested the direction of their institutions away from the hands of faculties and trustees.

Today a college degree has become so common that 30% of adult Americans hold one. Its role as a bridge to middle-class success is assumed—though bourgeois comfort is rather hard to achieve these days with a B.A. in English literature or a degree in, say, sociology. The modern economy, says Mr. Vedder, simply doesn’t possess the number of jobs commensurate with the expectations of all the degree-holders.

The over-educated barista is one of the standing jokes of American society, but the laughter hasn’t eased the loan burden that the barista probably took on to get his degree. Mr. Vedder says that student loans have injected a kind of social acid into a generation of young adults who, over time, manifest a “decline in household formation, birth rates, and . . . the purchase of homes.” Pajama Boy was born, and took up residence in his parents’ basement.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

And a quote from economist Herbert Stein:

What economists know seems to consist entirely of a list of things that cannot go on forever . . . . But if it can’t go on forever it will stop.

PG suspects that this practice may have become impolite or illegal, but when he was interviewing for his first job out of college (before he went to law school) one of the last questions he was asked by the final interviewer, the head of the department in which the job opening existed, was, “What were your SAT scores?”

Evidentally PG’s answer was satisfactory because he was hired for the position despite having absolutely no training or education that might lead a reasonable person to conclude he was prepared for the specific tasks involved in carrying out his job responsibilities.

What the interviewer was trying to ascertain was whether PG might be smart enough to learn how to do the job if he was hired. (PG was, and received a promotion after about a year, but left the company when a better job beckoned.)

PG has read that the SAT and ACT tests (for visitors to TPV from outside of the United States, these are standardized tests required for entry into virtually any college or university in the country) are effectively proxies for IQ tests.

IQ tests were first developed during the early part of the 20th Century for the purpose of identifying retardation in school children. During World War I an intelligence test was devised to help quickly screen soldiers coming into the US Army for assignment to either basic training or officers training. (At the start of the war, the US ground forces included about 9,000 officers. At the end of the war, there were over 200,000 officers.)

After World War I, IQ testing became much more widespread in both education and business. Unfortunately, it also became entangled with the eugenics movement during the 1920’s and 1930’s.

On a general basis, there is a correlation between educational attainment and IQ – MDs, JDs, and PhDs have higher IQ’s on average than college graduates who, in turn have higher IQ’s than those who attended college but did not graduate and those individuals have higher average IQ’s than those who graduated from high school, but received no additional education.

In this as in countless other things, correlation is not causation. There are plenty of people who possess the inherent intelligence and ability to become MDs, JDs and PhDs who choose not to pursue that educational/occupational path. Such individuals do not, of course, become less intelligent if they go in another direction. From personal experience, PG can attest that there is no shortage of attorneys who do stupid things.

A US Supreme Court case titled Griggs v. Duke Power Co., decided in 1971, effectively forbade employers from using arbitrary tests—such as those for measuring IQ or literacy—to evaluate an employee or a potential employee, a practice that some companies at the time were using as a way to get around rules that prohibited outright racial discrimination.

Griggs began when African American workers at the Duke Power Company in North Carolina sued the company because of a rule that required employees who wished to transfer between different departments to have a high-school diploma or pass an intelligence test.

By a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that the tests given by Duke Power were artificial and unnecessary and that the requirements for transfer had a disparate impact on African-Americans. Furthermore, the court ruled that, even if the motive for the requirements had nothing to do with racial discrimination, they were nonetheless discriminatory and therefore illegal. In its ruling, the Supreme Court held that employment tests must be “related to job performance.”

Griggs and resulting civil rights laws notwithstanding, prospective employers still want the best evidence available that a job applicant possesses the abilities (including intelligence) to succeed in the position that needs to be filled.

Given the regulatory environment in which employers operate, post-high school education is a common (and legal) requirement specified in a great many job descriptions. In the US business world, a bachelor’s or advanced degree is often a hard and fast must-have. Written or online job applications always include a section for the applicant to list undergraduate and post-graduate degrees and the institutions that granted such degree(s).

In addition to a degree, the identity of the college/university the applicant attended is often regarded as a proxy for the applicant’s intelligence and ability. The holder of a bachelor’s degree from Harvard will generally be assumed to be more intelligent than someone who graduated from Northeast Hickville State College and Welding School regardless of the personal abilities, talents, work ethic and raw intelligence of the latter.

So, back to the OP,

  • A college degree from an institution generally known for its selective nature is becoming more and more and more expensive because there is no indication that increased tuition and other costs will have any adverse impact on the number and general qualifications (intelligence) of its applicants; and
  • A college degree from some institution, high-quality or not-so-high-quality, as a proxy for intelligence, regardless of the field of study, is a requirement for obtaining a job with a reasonable salary or even getting a foot in the door at a very large number of employers; and
  • Government and other loans are available to any student who wishes to attend almost any college, regardless of a student’s field of study or ability to pay; and
  • As a general proposition under US bankruptcy laws, it is difficult or impossible to avoid the obligation to repay student loans, especially for recent college graduates or graduates who have obtained jobs, regardless of the amount of their current income.

PG wonders one of the ways to address this problem would be to permit employers to receive the results of an IQ test or quasi-IQ test like the SAT or ACT from a job applicant without risking litigation or other penalties for doing so.

Memorial Day

Repost from Memorial Day, 2013:

For readers outside the United States, today is Memorial Day in the US.

While for many, the holiday is only a long weekend marking the beginning of summer, Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day because flowers were used to decorate gravesites, was established in 1868, following the American Civil War to commemorate men and women who died while in military service.

PG took this photograph of the American military cemetery in rural Tuscany near Florence. Most soldiers buried there died in World War II, fighting in Italy.

Are You Self-Publishing Audio Books?

From Just Publishing Advice:

It takes total concentration to read a book or an ebook. But with an audio book, a listener can multitask.

This is the key attraction for so many younger readers in particular, as it allows for the consumption of a book while driving, commuting and playing a game on a smartphone, knitting or even while grinding out the hours at work.

The popularity is on the move and according to recent statistics, audiobooks are now a multi-billion dollar industry in the US alone.

. . . .

In another report, it estimates that one in ten readers are now listening to audiobooks.

While the data helps to gain a small insight into the market, it is still easy to draw an assumption that it is the next logical step for self-publishing authors and small press.

Ebook publishing is now the number one form of self-publishing. Many Indie authors then take the next step and publish a paperback version.

. . . .

An audio version offers an opportunity for self-publishing authors to extend their sales potential, and at the same time, diversify revenue streams.

Well, only a little at present as it is really an Amazon Audible and Apple iTunes dominated retail market. However, in the future, this may change.

. . . .

If you live in the US, you are in luck.

Amazon offers production and publishing through Audio Creation Exchange, ACX.

For authors outside of the US, things are not quite so easy.

. . . .

If you live in the US, you are in luck.

Amazon offers production and publishing through Audio Creation Exchange, ACX.

For authors outside of the US, things are not quite so easy.

This is a very common complaint about Amazon and its US-centric approach, which creates so many hurdles for non-US self-publishers.

The following quote is taken from Amazon’s help topic regarding ACX.

At this time, ACX is open only to residents of the United States and United Kingdom who have a US or UK mailing address, and a valid US or UK Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN). For more information on Taxpayer Identification Numbers (TIN), please visit the IRS website. We hope to increase our availability to a more global audience in the future.

If you live in the UK, Amazon can help you, but you will need to have a TIN. If you are already publishing with KDP, you probably have one.

For the rest of the world, well, Amazon, as it so often does, leaves you out of the cold.

. . . .

There are a growing number of small press and independent publishers who offer to produce and publish audio books.

Distribution is most often on Amazon Audible and iTunes.

Do your research and look for publishers who accept submissions or offer a production service using professional narrators and producers.

As with any decision to use a small publisher, be careful, do your background research and don’t rush into signing a contract until you are totally convinced it is a fair arrangement concerning your audio rights.

While some may charge you for the service, it is worth looking for a publisher that offers a revenue split. This is usually 50-50 of net audio royalty earnings.

It might seem a bit steep, but Amazon ACX offers between 20 and 40% net royalties, so 50-50 is not too bad.

Link to the rest at Just Publishing Advice

As with any publishing contract, PG suggests you check out the contract terms carefully before you enter into a publishing agreement for audiobooks.

Speaking generally (and, yes, there are a few exceptions), the traditional publishing industry has fallen into a bad habit (in PG’s persistently humble opinion) of using standard agreements that last longer than any other business contracts with which PG is familiar (and he has seen a lot).

He refers, of course to publishing contracts that continue “for the full term of the copyright.”

Regular visitors to TPV will know that, in the United States, for works created after January 1, 1978, the full term of the copyright is the rest of the author’s life plus 70 years. Due to their participation in The Berne Convention (an international copyright treaty), the copyright laws of many other nations provide for copyright protections of similar durations — the author’s life plus 50 years is common.

PG can’t think of any other types of business agreements involving individuals that last for the life of one of the parties without any obvious exit opportunities. The long period of copyright protection was sold to the US Congress as a great boon to creators. However, under the terms of typical publishing contracts, the chief beneficiaries are corporate publishers.

While it is important for authors to read their publishing agreements thoroughly (Yes, PG knows it’s not fun. He has read far more publishing agreements than you have or ever will and understands what it is like.), if you are looking for a method of performing a quick, preliminary check for provisions that means you will die before your publishing agreement does, search for phrases like:

  • “full term of the copyright”
  • “term”
  • “copyright”
  • “continue”

Those searches may help you immediately locate objectionable provisions that allow you to put the publisher into the reject pile without looking for other nasties. However, if the searches don’t disclose anything, you will most definitely have to read the whole thing. The quoted terms are not magic incantations which must be used. Other language can accomplish the same thing.

Until the advent of ebooks, book publishing contracts used Out of Print clauses to give the author the ability to retrieve rights to his/her book if the publisher wasn’t doing anything with it.

With printed books, even dribs and drabs of sales would eventually deplete the publisher’s stock of physical books. At this point, the publisher would likely consider whether the cost it would pay for another printing of an author’s book was economically justified or not. If the publisher was concerned about ending up with a pile of unsold printed books in its warehouse for a long time, the publisher might decide not to print any more.

Once the publisher’s existing stock was sold, the book was out of print – it was not for sale in any normal trade channels. The author (or the author’s heirs) could then retrieve her/his rights to the book and do something else with them.

Of course, once an electronic file is created, an ebook costs the publisher nothing to offer for sale on Amazon or any other online bookstore with which PG is familiar.

The disk space necessary to store an individual epub or mobi file is essentially free for Amazon and it doesn’t charge anything to maintain the listing almost forever. (There may be a giant digital housecleaning in Seattle at some time in the distant future, but don’t count on it happening during your lifetime.) Print on demand hardcopy books are just another kind of file that’s stored on disk.

So, in 2019 and into the foreseeable future, an infinite number of an author’s ebooks are for sale and not “out of print”.

So, the traditional exit provision for an author – the out of print clause – remains in existence in almost all publishing contracts PG has reviewed, but it provides no opportunity for the author to exercise it to get out of a publishing agreement that has not paid more than $5.00 in annual royalties in over ten years.

 

Public Knowledge Wants to Solve the Misinformation Problem

From The Illusion of More:

On Tuesday, Meredith Filak Rose of Public Knowledge posted a blog suggesting that a solution to rampant misinformation is to “bring libraries online.” Not surprisingly, she identifies copyright law as the barrier currently preventing access to quality information that could otherwise help solve the problem …

“High-quality, vetted, peer-reviewed secondary sources are, unfortunately, increasingly hard to come by, online or off. Scientific and medical research is frequently locked behind paywalls and in expensive journals; legal documents are stuck in the pay-per-page hell that is the PACER filing system; and digital-only information can be erased, placing it out of public reach for good (absent some industrious archivists).”

Really?  We’re just a few peer-reviewed papers away from addressing the social cancer of misinformation?

. . . .

The funny thing is that Rose does a pretty decent job of summing up how misinformation can be effectively deployed online, but her description could easily be the Public Knowledge Primer for Writing About Copyright Law:

Misinformation exploits this basic fact of human nature — that no one can be an expert in everything — by meeting people where they naturally are, and filling in the gaps in their knowledge with assertions that seem “plausible enough.” Sometimes, these assertions are misleading, false, or flatly self-serving.  In aggregate, these gap-fillers add up to construct a totally alternate reality whose politics, science, law, and history bear only a passing resemblance to our own.

. . . .

Having said all that, Meredith Rose’s article does not say anything categorically false. It is a sincere editorial whose main flaw is that it is sincerely naïve.  “…in the absence of accessible, high-quality, primary source information, it’s next to impossible to convince people that what they’ve been told isn’t true,” she writes.

Yeah. That psychological human frailty is not going to be cured by putting even more information online, regardless of how “good” it may be, or how copyright figures in the equation.  To the contrary, more information is exactly why we’re wandering in a landscape of free-range ignorance in the first place.

. . . .

Speaking as someone schooled in what we might call traditional liberal academia, I believe Rose reiterates a classically liberal, academic fallacy, which assumes that if just enough horses are led to just enough water, then reason based on empirical evidence will prevail over ignorance.  That’s not even true among the smartest horses who choose to drink. Humans tend to make decisions based on emotion more than information, and it is axiomatic that truth is in the eye of the beholder.

But if galloping bullshit is the disease, the catalyst causing it to spread is not copyright law keeping content off the internet, but the nature of the internet platforms themselves.  By democratizing information with a billion soapboxes it was inevitable that this would foster bespoke realities occupied by warrens of subcultures that inoculate themselves against counter-narratives (i.e. facts) with an assortment of talismanic phrases used to dismiss the peer-reviewed scientist, journalist, doctor, et al, as part of a conspiracy who “don’t want us to know the truth.”

Link to the rest at The Illusion of More

While PG didn’t particularly like the tone of the OP, if you’re going to have an open Internet and if you’re going to have freedom of speech, it is all but certain that some people who operate their own blogs, participate in online discussion groups, write for newspapers, appear on television, publish books, have a Twitter account, etc., etc., are going to communicate ideas that either are wrong or seem wrong.

Ever since cave persons of various genders collected around an open fire to drink and talk, some incorrect information was passed from one person to at least one other person, then disseminated from there.

“If Rockie kills a brontosaurus and examines its entrails, he can tell whether it will rain in three days or not.”

Pretty soon, everyone is harassing Rockie to go dinosaur hunting so they could know whether to schedule the prom for next Thursday or not.

From that day until this, regardless of their political persuasion, someone is passing on false information, believing it to be the truth. Someone else is passing on false information for the greater good, knowing it is false. Someone else is creating false information because they have just discovered a great truth which isn’t.

A large majority of Americans regard Adolph Hitler and Nazism as an obvious and indisputable evil. However, this was not always so.

Charles Lindbergh was one of the greatest American heroes of the 1920’s.  He gained even more public stature and enormous public sympathy in 1932, when his 20-month-old son was kidnapped. The most prominent journalist of the period, H. L. Mencken called the kidnapping and trial “the biggest story since the Resurrection.”

Responding to the kidnapping, the United States Congress passed the Federal Kidnapping Act, commonly called the “Lindbergh Law.” In the middle of the Great Depression, rewards equivalent to more than one million dollars in 2018 currency were offered for information leading to the safe return of the child.

A ransom of $50,000 (the equivalent of nearly $1 million today) was demanded for the safe return of the child and was paid. Unfortunately, the Lindbergh baby was killed before he could be found.

Back to the certainty of public opinion, in 1940, the America First Committee was established for the purpose of supporting Adolph Hitler and the Nazis by keeping the United States out of the war in Europe. It quickly gained more than 800,000 members, including a large number of prominent business figures. The pressure of the organization caused President Franklin Roosevelt to pledge that he would keep America out of war.

Lindbergh was greatly admired in Germany and, at the invitation of Hermann Göring, took a high-profile trip to Germany in 1936 where he was treated as a great hero and shown the highly-sophisticated airplanes developed for the German air force. Lindbergh was a high-profile visitor to the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, a huge Nazi propaganda exercise.

The visit was a press sensation with daily articles covering Lindbergh’s activities published in The New York Times. On his return, Lindbergh met with President Roosevelt to report on his observations and opinions. Lindbergh would return to Germany on two more occasions prior to the entry into the war by the United States.

Here’s a short video account of the America First movement and Lindbergh’s opposition to war with Germany from The Smithsonian

Circling back to the OP, had the Internet existed in 1936, what would “high-quality, peer-reviewed” articles have said about Germany and America’s best path forward? What would prominent academics, the owners of major media conglomerates and other prominent world leaders, have posted about Hitler and his supporters?

Prior to the outbreak of hostilities with Germany and Japan, the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Chicago Tribune, New York Herald Tribune, Philadelphia Evening Bulletin and many more publications reported the great economic progress Hitler-lead Germany was making as it pulled itself out of the Depression and downplayed the extent and nature of the nation’s attacks on the Jews. Indeed, Hitler was providing the West with important benefits by vigorously attacking Bolshevism and imprisoning Communist supporters.

In Britain, The Daily Mail was a strong supporter of Germany. Harold Harmsworth, the first Viscount Rothermere, was the founder of the Daily Mail and owned 14 other papers. His influence was on a par with Lord Beaverbrook’s.

Rothermere was a strong supporter of Mussolini’s version of fascism, “He is the greatest figure of the age,” Rothermere proclaimed in 1928. “Mussolini will probably dominate the history of the 20th century as Napoleon dominated that of the early 19th.”

“[The Nazis] represent the rebirth of Germany as a nation,” Rothermere wrote in the Mail. The election, he correctly prophesied, would come to be seen as “a landmark of this time.”

The Nazis’ “Jew-baiting,” Rothermere warned, was “a stupid survival of medieval prejudice.” Of course, he also added, the Jews had brought the Nazis’ displeasure on themselves, having shown “conspicuous political unwisdom since the war.”

Germany had been “falling under the control of alien elements,” Rothermere argued. There were 20 times as many Jews in government positions than there had been before the war.

“Israelites of international attachments were insinuating themselves into key positions in the German administrative machine,” he noted darkly. “It is from such abuses that Hitler has freed Germany.”

The Jews were not just a problem in Germany. The menace they posed was much more widespread, he felt.

“The Jews are everywhere, controlling everything,” Rothermere wrote in private correspondence.

See The Times of Israel for more.

Back to the “problem” with fake news on the Internet, PG suggests that the online disputes between right and left are a feature, not a bug, in a free society.

An Appeal to Authority (“experts agree” “science says” “academic publications clearly demonstrate”) is a classic logical fallacy.

Whether in the form of “bringing libraries online,” “High-quality, vetted, peer-reviewed secondary sources,” or “keeping content off the internet,” PG is very much a supporter of free and open disputes, arguments as the best way of preserving the rights of all individuals, debunking fallacy and ensuring that no one group can control and limit the spread of information, whether fake news or real news.

The Golden Age of Youtube Is Over

From The Verge:

The platform was built on the backs of independent creators, but now YouTube is abandoning them for more traditional content.

. . . .

Aanny Philippou is mad.

He’s practically standing on top of his chair as his twin brother and fellow YouTube creator Michael stares on in amusement. Logan Paul, perhaps YouTube’s most notorious character, laughs on the other side of the desk that they’re all sitting around for an episode of his popular podcast Impaulsive. Anyone who’s watched the Philippous’ channel, RackaRacka, won’t be surprised by Danny’s antics. This is how he gets when he’s excited or angry. This time, he’s both.

“It’s not fair what they’re doing to us,” Danny yells. “It’s just not fair.”

Danny, like many other creators, is proclaiming the death of YouTube — or, at least, the YouTube that they grew up with. That YouTube seemed to welcome the wonderfully weird, innovative, and earnest, instead of turning them away in favor of late-night show clips and music videos.

The Philippou twins hover between stunt doubles and actors, with a penchant for the macabre. But YouTube, the platform where they built their audience base, doesn’t seem to want them anymore.

. . . .

The Philippous’ story is part of a long-brewing conflict between how creators view YouTube and how YouTube positions itself to advertisers and press. YouTube relies on creators to differentiate itself from streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, it tells creators it wants to promote their original content, and it hosts conferences dedicated to bettering the creator community. Those same creators often feel abandoned and confused about why their videos are buried in search results, don’t appear on the trending page, or are being quietly demonetized.

At the same time, YouTube’s pitch decks to advertisers increasingly seem to feature videos from household celebrity names, not creative amateurs. And the creators who have found the most success playing into the platform’s algorithms have all demonstrated profound errors in judgment, turning themselves into cultural villains instead of YouTube’s most cherished assets.

. . . .

YouTube was founded on the promise of creating a user-generated video platform, but it was something else that helped the site explode in popularity: piracy.

When Google bought YouTube in 2006 for $1.6 billion, the platform had to clean up its massive piracy problems. It was far too easy to watch anything and everything on YouTube, and movie studios, television conglomerates, and record labels were seething. Under Google, YouTube had to change. So YouTube’s executives focused on lifting up the very content its founders designed the platform with in mind: original videos.

The focus on creator culture defined YouTube culture from its earliest days. The platform was a stage for creators who didn’t quite fit into Hollywood’s restrictions.

. . . .

Between 2008 and 2011, the volume of videos uploaded to YouTube jumped from 10 hours every minute to 72 hours a minute. By 2011, YouTube had generated more than 1 trillion views; people were watching over 3 billion hours of video every month, and creators were earning real money via Google AdSense — a lot of money. Jenna Marbles was making more than six figures by late 2011. (In 2018, a select group of creators working within YouTube’s top-tier advertising platform would make more than $1 million a month.)

By 2012, creators like Kjellberg were leaving school or their jobs to focus on YouTube full-time. He told a Swedish news outlet that he was getting more than 2 million views a month, boasting just over 300,000 subscribers.

. . . .

Between 2011 and 2015, YouTube was a haven for comedians, filmmakers, writers, and performers who were able to make the work they wanted and earn money in the process. It gave birth to an entirely new culture that crossed over into the mainstream: Issa Rae’s Awkward Black Girl series would eventually lead to HBO’s Insecure. Creators like the Rooster Teeth team and Tyler Oakley went on tour to meet fans after generating massive followings online. YouTube had reached mainstream success, but in many ways, it still felt wide open. Anyone could still upload almost anything they wanted without much input from YouTube itself.

. . . .

Behind the scenes, things were changing. YouTube had begun tinkering with its algorithm to increase engagement and experimenting with ways to bring flashier, produced content to the platform to keep up with growing threats like Netflix.

In October 2012, YouTube announced that its algorithm had shifted to prefer videos with longer watch times over higher view counts. “This should benefit your channel if your videos drive more viewing time across YouTube,” the company wrote in a blog post to creators.

This meant viral videos like “David After Dentist” and “Charlie Bit My Finger,” which defined YouTube in its earliest days, weren’t going to be recommended as much as longer videos that kept people glued to the site. In response, the YouTube community began creating videos that were over 10 minutes in length as a way to try to appease the system.

. . . .

In 2011, YouTube invested $100 million into more than 50 “premium” channels from celebrities and news organizations, betting that adding Hollywood talent and authoritative news sources to the platform would drive up advertising revenue and expand YouTube to an even wider audience. It failed less than two years later, with what appeared to be a clear lesson: talent native to YouTube was far more popular than any big names from the outside.

. . . .

Then, suddenly, creators started encountering problems on the platform. In 2016, personalities like Philip DeFranco, comedians like Jesse Ridgway, and dozens of other popular creators started noticing that their videos were being demonetized, a term popularized by the communityto indicate when something had triggered YouTube’s system to remove advertisements from a video, depriving them of revenue. No one was quite sure why, and it prompted complaints about bigger algorithm changes that appeared to be happening.

Kjellberg posted a video detailing how changes had dropped his viewership numbers. He’d been getting 30 percent of his traffic from YouTube’s suggested feed, but after the apparent algorithm update, the number fell to less than 1 percent. Kjellberg jokingly threatened to delete his channel as a result, which was enough to get YouTube to issue a statementdenying that anything had changed. (The denial sidestepped questions of the algorithm specifically, and spoke instead to subscriber counts.)

These perceived, secretive changes instilled creators with a distrust of the platform. It also led to questions about their own self-worth and whether the energy they were spending on creating and editing videos — sometimes north of 80 hours a week — was worth it.

. . . .

YouTube was exerting more control over what users saw and what videos would make money. Once again, the community would adapt. But how it adapted was far more problematic than anyone would have guessed.

. . . .

By the beginning of 2017, YouTube was already battling some of its biggest problems in more than a decade. YouTube’s founders didn’t prepare for the onslaught of disturbing and dangerous content that comes from people being able to anonymously share videos without consequence. Add in a moderation team that couldn’t keep up with the 450 hours of video that were being uploaded every minute, and it was a house of cards waiting to fall.

YouTube had come under fire in Europe and the United States for letting extremists publish terrorism recruitment videos to its platform and for letting ads run on those videos. In response, YouTube outlined the steps it was taking to remove extremist content, and it told advertisers it would be careful about where their ads were placed. It highlighted many creators as a safe option.

But neither YouTube nor Google was prepared for what Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg — one of YouTube’s wealthiest independently made creators — would do.

. . . .

In mid-February 2017, The Wall Street Journal discovered an older video from Kjellberg that included him reacting to a sign held up by two kids that said, “Death to all Jews.” The anti-Semitic comment was included in one of his “react” videos about Fiverr, after having pivoted to more of a variety channel instead of focusing just on games.

His video, along with reports of ads appearing on terrorist content, led to advertisers abandoning YouTube. Kjellberg was dropped from Disney’s Maker Studios, he lost his YouTube Red series, Scare PewDiePie, and he was removed from his spot in Google Preferred, the top-tier ad platform for YouTube’s most prominent creators.

“A lot of people loved the video and a lot of people didn’t, and it’s almost like two generations of people arguing if this is okay or not,” Kjellberg said in an 11-minute video about the situation. “I’m sorry for the words that I used, as I know they offended people, and I admit the joke itself went too far.”

The attention Kjellberg brought to YouTube kickstarted the first “adpocalypse,” a term popularized within the creator community that refers to YouTube aggressively demonetizing videos that might be problematic, in an effort to prevent companies from halting their ad spending.

Aggressively demonetizing videos would become YouTube’s go-to move.

. . . .

The January 2017 closure of Vine, a platform for looping six-second videos, left a number of creators and influencers without a platform, and many of those stars moved over to YouTube. David Dobrik, Liza Koshy, Lele Pons, Danny Gonzalez, and, of course, Jake and Logan Paul became instant successes on YouTube — even though many of them had started YouTube channels years before their success on Vine.

YouTube’s biggest front-facing stars began following in the footsteps of over-the-top, “bro” prank culture. (Think: Jackass but more extreme and hosted by attractive 20-somethings.) Logan Paul pretended to be shot and killed in front of young fans; Jake Paul rode dirt bikes into pools; David Dobrik’s friends jumped out of moving cars. The antics were dangerous, but they caught people’s attention.

. . . .

Jake and Logan Paul became the biggest stars of this new wave, performing dangerous stunts, putting shocking footage in their vlogs, and selling merchandise to their young audiences. Although they teetered on the edge of what was acceptable and what wasn’t, they never really crossed the line into creating totally reprehensible content.

. . . .

It wasn’t a sustainable form of entertainment, and it seemed like everyone understood that except for YouTube. The Paul brothers were on their way to burning out; all it would take was one grand mistake. Even critics of the Pauls, like Kjellberg, empathized with their position. Kjellberg, who faced controversy after controversy, spoke about feeling as though right or wrong ceased to exist when trying to keep up with the YouTube machine.

“The problem with being a YouTuber or an online entertainer is that you constantly have to outdo yourself,” Kjellberg said in a 2018 video. “I think a lot of people get swept up in that … that they have to keep outdoing themselves, and I think it’s a good reflection of what happened with Logan Paul. If you make videos every single day, it’s really tough to keep people interested and keep them coming back.”

Still, Logan Paul was small potatoes compared to YouTube’s bigger problems, including disturbing children’s content that had been discovered by The New York Times and more terrorism content surfacing on the site. Who cared about what two brothers from Ohio were doing? The breaking point would be when Logan Paul visited Japan.

. . . .

Logan Paul’s “suicide forest” video irrevocably changed YouTube.

In it, Paul and his friends tour Japan’s Aokigahara forest, where they encountered a man’s body. Based on the video, it appears that he had recently died by suicide. Instead of turning the camera off, Paul walks up to the body. He doesn’t stop there. He zooms in on the man’s hands and pockets. In post-production, Paul blurred the man’s face, but it’s hard to see the video as anything but an egregious gesture of disrespect.

Within hours of posting the video, Paul’s name began trending. Actors like Aaron Paul (no relation), influencers like Chrissy Teigen, and prominent YouTubers called out Paul for his atrocious behavior.

YouTube reacted with a familiar strategy: it imposed heavy restrictions on its Partner Program (which recognizes creators who can earn ad revenue on their videos), sharply limiting the number of videos that were monetized with ads. In a January 2018 blog post announcing the changes, Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s head of business, said the move would “allow us to significantly improve our ability to identify creators who contribute positively to the community,” adding that “these higher standards will also help us prevent potentially inappropriate videos from monetizing which can hurt revenue for everyone.”

. . . .

The only people who didn’t receive blame were YouTube executives themselves — something that commentators like Philip DeFranco took issue with after the controversy first occurred. “We’re talking about the biggest creator on YouTube posting a video that had over 6 million views, was trending on YouTube, that no doubt had to be flagged by tons of people,” DeFranco said.

“The only reason it was taken down is Logan or his team took it down, and YouTube didn’t do a damn thing. Part of the Logan Paul problem is that YouTube is either complicit or ignorant.”

. . . .

[B]y the middle of 2018, lifestyle vloggers like Carrie Crista, who has just under 40,000 subscribers, were proclaiming how the community felt: forgotten. “YouTube seems to have forgotten who made the platform what it is,” Crista told PR Week. In its attempt to compete with Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, she said, YouTube is “pushing content creators away instead of inviting them to a social platform that encourages them to be creative in a way that other platforms can’t.”

Even people outside of YouTube saw what was happening. “YouTube is inevitably heading towards being like television, but they never told their creators this,” Jamie Cohen, a professor of new media at Molloy College, toldUSA Today in 2018.

By promoting videos that meet certain criteria, YouTube tips the scales in favor of organizations or creators — big ones, mostly — that can meet those standards. “Editing, creating thumbnails, it takes time,” Juliana Sabo, a creator with fewer than 1,000 subscribers, said in 2018 after the YouTube Partner Program changes. “You’re just prioritizing a very specific type of person — the type of person that has the time and money to churn out that content.”

Individual YouTube creators couldn’t keep up with the pace of YouTube’s algorithm set. But traditional, mainstream outlets could: late-night shows began to dominate YouTube, along with music videos from major labels. The platform now looked the way it had when it started, but with the stamp of Hollywood approval.

. . . .

The RackaRacka brothers are tired.

“We loved it before when it was like, ‘Oh, you guys are doing something unique and different. Let’s help you guys so you can get views and get eyes on it,’” Danny says. “I’d love to go back to that. We have so many big, awesome ideas that we’d love to do, but there’s no point in doing it on YouTube.”

Link to the rest at The Verge

The OP is a very long article. PG has excerpted more than he might have from an article with a different topic, however.

While reading the article, PG was struck by parallels between how dependent indy videographers were on YouTube and how dependent indy authors are on Amazon.

A year ago, PG doesn’t believe he would have had the same response. The amateurism and arrogance demonstrated by YouTube management in the OP contrasted greatly with the maturity and steady hand at the top levels of Amazon. Amazon has not made many dumb mistakes. Amazon has also treated indy authors with respect and generosity beyond that shown by any other publisher/distributor/bookstore in the US (and probably elsewhere).

This is not to say Amazon is a perfect company or that it hasn’t made some mistakes, but Amazon has demonstrated good business judgment, done a pretty good job of fixing its errors and hasn’t changed the way it operates in a manner that has harmed indie authors in a serious way.

Obviously, Jeff Bezos, his attitudes, judgment and approach to dealing with others has imprinted itself up and down the corporate hierarchy at Amazon. That sure hand on the corporate helm has caused PG to trust Amazon more than he does any other large tech company.

Additionally, Amazon has been leagues beyond any other organization in the book publishing and bookselling business in attracting smart adults as managers, making intelligent business decisions, treating partners well and managing the business as if it wanted long-term success as a publisher and bookseller (see, as only one example of business as usual in the publishing world, Barnes & Noble).

However.

PG admits his faith in Jeff Bezos’ solid judgment took a big hit with the disclosure of Bezos’ marital misconduct and divorce.

This struck him as an immature example of the runaway hubris that has brought down quite a few large companies, particularly in the tech world.

PG is old-fashioned in his belief that the behavior of a virtuous individual will manifest itself in all parts of that individual’s life. He understands the common explanation for such behavior in terms of a person being able to segment his life into business and personal spheres and continue in public excellence while making serious mistakes in private behavior.

PG also understands that marriages can fail for a wide variety of reasons and assigning blame for such failure (if there is blame to be assigned) is impossible for someone who is not privy to the personal lives of each party. That said, PG suggests at least a separation, if not a divorce, would be a more standup approach by a mature adult exercising good judgment to a marriage that has declined to the point of a breakup.

A secret affair that is leaked to the press is not, in PG’s admittedly traditional eyes, up to the standards he has come to expect from Bezos. The general reaction PG has seen in the press leads PG to believe he is not alone in his opinion.

Apple Felt like a Totally Different Company Today

From Fast Company:

While I sat inside the Steve Jobs Theater watching Big Bird talk to a hand puppet on the stage, I realized Apple was not the same company I knew not long ago.

No new devices were announced. There were no slides filled with impressive specs or performance metrics. No oohs and ahhs. No “one more thing.”

Yeah, yeah, I know: Apple, under CEO Tim Cook, is becoming a services company to account for flagging iPhone sales growth. What we saw today, at Apple’s “It’s show time” event in Cupertino–maybe for the first time–is the public face of that new company.

Part of the reason the presentation felt so different is because it was as much about other companies as it was about Apple. It was about Apple putting an Apple wrapper on a bunch of content and services made by third parties.

. . . .

All these announcements came in the first hour of the presentation. With that much time left I wondered if Apple had some tricks up its sleeve after all. But no: It had simply reserved an entire hour to talk about its original video content, which it has branded “TV+,” and which won’t be available until next fall.

What followed was a string of Hollywood people talking about the shows and movies they’re making for Apple. The uneasy mix of Hollywood and Silicon Valley cultures was on full display. Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, and Steve Carrell were there to boost a show they’re making about TV news personalities, but they came off like they were trapped under glass.

Steven Spielberg came out to a warm welcome and talked about his reboot of the Amazing Stories series for television. A dramatic video came on about how we desperately need more conversation among people with different viewpoints. Then the lights went down, and when they came up Oprah Winfrey was there.

. . . .

The question is the company’s identity. At Apple events we’re used to seeing people like Kevin Lynch (Apple Watch) and Craig Federighi (iOS) who you know live and breathe core “Designed in California” products.

Today the company made a big deal of announcing a bunch of third-party content and services, with only passing references to the hardware that made it famous. Should Apple really identify itself with products that its own creative hand never really gets close to?

Link to the rest at Fast Company

TPV isn’t a tech blog, but PG has worked with a variety of tech companies in the past and, although he’s a Windows guy, has always admired Apple’s sense of mission and used iPhones almost forever.

The successor of a talented and creative CEO has a tough job in Silicon Valley. After a quick mental review, PG thinks far more successors at significant tech companies have failed than have succeeded.

Steve Jobs took Apple through some perilous times, but he always pushed the envelope and announced interesting new products. Under Jobs, Apple certainly had some product failures, but it never seemed like a company that was resorting to lame strategies. When things got tough, Apple thought big.

As the OP reflected, after stumbling with the pricing/features of its latest iPhones, yesterday’s announcement seemed to represent, “We’ve got to do something! Let’s copy what other companies are doing, but use Apple branding. Apple has a great brand that we need to exploit.”

PG suggests that brand equity is a precious commodity that needs to be preserved and cultivated with impressive new accomplishments, fostering the assurance that customers can continue to receive great benefits from the company and its products. It needs to feel cool by the standards of its industry.

In the tech world, where real technology talent is always in short supply, newly-graduated engineers from top universities are often attracted to employers who promise the opportunity to work on the cutting edge.

For all of Tesla’s financial ups and downs and Elon Musk, its frenetic CEO, engineers working there feel like they’re inventing the future. Amazon has felt like a serious innovator for a long time and can attract tech and marketing talent based upon that reputation and the opportunity to work on something new and different. (PG hopes Bezos’ marital problems aren’t Amazon’s version of Jobs’ pancreatic cancer.)

If Apple’s reputation becomes, “The company is not what it used to be and shows no signs of turning around,” adverse consequences will appear from many different directions.

 

How Printers Can Capitalize on Book Publishing Trends in 2019

From Printing Impressions:

As technology continues to disrupt and transform the book market, publishers are responding by changing business models that affect how media is produced, distributed and consumed in the book publishing industry. As dramatic technology shifts continue, book publishers, authors and printers need to adapt to benefit from new opportunities.

With the start of another year, book publishers and manufacturers are evaluating what the future might hold.

. . . .

For those in the printing industry, Walter highlighted that there was modest growth in print book sales in 2018 with volume climbing 1.3% — in a year where there were no major blockbuster bestsellers like “Fifty Shades of Grey” or “Harry Potter.” Walter expects the market to remain relatively flat but stable. The key is the migration to more and more digitally printed books.

. . . .

The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) is a leading book industry trade association that offers standardized industry best practices, research and information. O’Leary said one of the biggest issues facing the book market is the management of the supply chain and shared results of BISG’s year-end “State of the Supply Chain” survey. O’Leary highlighted that the three top priorities respondents were focused on in 2019 when it came to supply chain management were:

  1. Making data-driven decisions
  2. Timely, high-quality metadata to improve discovery and sales (At its most basic level, metadata is how people find your book. This includes the ISBN, keywords, the author name, pub date, BISAC code, reviews, author bios and more. )
  3. Keeping up with new technologies to improve workflow and supply chain management

. . . .

IBPA CEO Angela Bole explained that three publishing models continue to exist: traditional publishing; self-publishing, where authors can be assisted or unassisted by vanity press organizations; and hybrid or partner publishing.

Bole says that in 2019, the industry will experience the rise in hybrid publishing — a gray zone between traditional publishing and self-publishing that is still being defined. Bole described hybrid publishing as publishing companies behaving like traditional publishing companies in all respects, except that they publish books using an author-subsidized business model, as opposed to financing all costs themselves, and in exchange return, a higher-than-standard share of sales proceeds to the author. In other words, a hybrid publisher makes income from a combination of publishing services and book sales. Hybrid publishers provide a range of services for the author such as:

  • Vet submissions.
  • Publish under its own imprint(s) and ISBN(s).
  • Publish to industry standards.
  • Ensure editorial, design and production quality.
  • Pursue and manage a range of publishing rights.
  • Provide distribution services.
  • Demonstrate respectable sales.
  • Pay authors

Link to the rest at Printing Impressions

PG won’t spend time venting, but he will suggest that traditional publishing is already author-subsidized in that authors receive only a small percentage of the money generated by their books while publishers receive a significantly larger share.

Digitized Images of Works in the Public Domain: What Rights Vest in Them?

From IPKat:

A few days ago the German Federal Court of Justice (BGH) released the full text of its recent judgment concerning protection of digitized versions of public domain images. The IPKat is delighted to host, in two posts, the analysis provided by Tobias Lutzi (Research Fellow at the University of Cologne), and John Weitzmann(General Counsel at Wikimedia Deutschland e. V. in Berlin), respectively.

Here’s what John writes:

Note: The German Wikimedia Chapter had also been defendant in this case, but was acquitted by the court of first instance, while parallel proceedings against the US-based Wikimedia Foundation as service provider of the Wikimedia Commons platform are still on-going at the High Court of Berlin. 

. . . .

From the perspective of the Wikimedia Movement, the most disappointing aspects of the judgment are its treatment of § 72 UrhG, putting additional means of control over public domain works in the hands of those cultural heritage institutions, that regard control as an integral part of their public mission. As mentioned by Tobias here, it is highly questionable whether publicly funded museums should even consider using injunctions to go after digital copies of public domain works they hold in their collections.

If private owners of artworks are involved, there might be an argument for control on behalf of such private interests, in order to get the respective works into museums and before the public’s eye in the first place. But to limit the visibility of publicly owned works of art in any way, to leverage related rights in photographic depictions even with public domain works, can hardly be anything but a gross misunderstanding of the role and mission public cultural heritage institutions have. Such institutions must do anything within their power to hold as much of our cultural heritage in the public’s awareness, including on the internet, and therefore must not hide or withdraw public domain works from the public’s conscious perception.

. . . .

In all this, the judgment in the rem case almost tragically brings to bear the fundamental flaw of the hybrid rule that the German legislator produced by legally synching the neighbouring right in photographs, § 72 UrhG, to the proper copyright in photographic works, § 2 UrhG, in the 1960s. The intention behind this synching was a well-meaning one at the time: Parliament wanted to relieve judges of the close-to-impossible task of discerning non-original photographs from those that are actual works of art. Thus, § 72 was amended to let the same rules that apply to photographic works of art simply also apply to non-original photos – with the one exception of the protection term, which is shorter for non-original photos, lasting only 50 years after publication, whereas photographic works are protected until 70 years after the death of the photographer.

. . . .

[T]he High Court of Stuttgart had argued that even the meticulous reproduction photos in question (i. e. the ones made by the museum’s photographer for a catalogue that had later then been scanned by the defendant and uploaded to the Wikipedia’s media archive Wikimedia Commons) were not “mere technical reproductions”, but represent …

[22] (…) an independent new fixation into a new work form [and are photographs] initially made with creative intention. [own translation]

Now, one does not need to share the infamous fondness of dogmatic detail present in German civil law to find it odd that a second instance court introduces terms like “work” and “creative intention” (in German: “Schöpfungswillen”) when actually speaking about a neighbouring right in photographs. Usually, under German copyright law the term work (“Werk”) is much more narrowly than in the Anglo-American tradition reserved for works of authorship. That is the very reason de être of all those neighbouring rights in “non-works” in the first place. There’s a whole universe of arguments about the special bond between the work and its creator, and why that bond is so very special and valuable, even producing unwaivable moral rights.

. . . .

[C]an there actually be such a personal intellectual contribution or achievement in a photograph if the subject of the photograph is entirely fixed?

It can’t be stated enough: The content of reproduction photos is fixed in all thinkable ways. By definition they must as exactly as possible give the same impression as the works they depict, nothing added and nothing taken away. How can those repro photographs be more than “mere technical reproductions” if all the photographer can work with are shutter time, light, aperture and such – all of which go beyond technical in nature only if and where they are tools for creative expression? It must be emphasised yet again that any kind of creative expression is forbidden for repro photographers, who in this role strictly have to limit themselves to replicating the visual impression the object reproduced makes on viewers.

. . . .

[T]he pictures are indeed limited to getting the technicalities right to carry the exact impression of their object, being repro photographs in the proper sense. In that case, however, they can’t qualify as more than technical reproductions – very elaborate reproductions, one might add, that require a lot of expertise to make, but still reproductions.

. . . .

So, how can a tech-and-expertise-only reproduction photo still be covered by a neighbouring right that does not cover mere technical reproductions? The apparent contradiction is solved by invoking an additional criterion. The Court itself, turning to legal scholarship, established in 1989 (I ZR 14/88) the notion that only the first-stage exact photographic depiction taken of any subject is legally worthy of a neighbouring right protection, while further photos taken of this first photo are not and are seen as mere reproductions. This so-called “Urbildtheorie” has no explicit foundation in the wording of the German Copyright Code. It is purely a development of the law (in German “Rechtsfortbildung”) through judicial deduction and interpretation.

. . . .

There are paintings made by artists a long time ago, and exact photographic depictions of those paintings, protected under a neighbouring right because they are taken directly from the public domain works in the museum. However, had those artists of old used photography instead of brush and canvas to express their creativity, equally exact photographic depictions of such works of photography would not be covered by related rights. In other words, an exactly matching photo of a painting is protected, while an equally exactly matching photo of a photographic work is not.

Link to the rest at IPKat

Here’s a link to the first part the IPKat summary.

PG agrees with the criticism of the decision contained in the commentary (although he claims no expertise in German law).

The fundamental structure of copyright law in the US and, via international treaties, many other places, is based upon the proposition that the creator of an original intellectual property (painting, book manuscript, sculpture, for example) should have the exclusive ability control the exploitation of that property via copying or creation of derivative works for a period of time. An author can prevent someone from replicating the contents of a manuscript without the author’s permission, for example.

Once the copyright term has expired, the creator’s rights under copyright law expire as well.

The rationale for providing an ability to prevent a non-author from simply copying the work of an author, then exploiting it commercially or otherwise is that society in general is benefitted if creators are encouraged to create and share their creations by allowing them the exclusive right to profit from those creations. If there were no effective right for a creator to profit (monetarily, through enhanced reputation, etc), he/she would have to take a job at McDonalds flipping burgers for material support and thus would have less time to create and could well give up the creative activity altogether. Or a great artist would make paintings and never allow anyone to see them so the artist would avoid having others make copies of the products of the artist’s works of genius.

In exchange for a creator being permitted to prevent others who admired a work from simply making a copy of it for their own enjoyment or for commercial exploitation (a natural human instinct) and bring the creations into the public sphere for the artist’s exclusive benefit, the creator’s right to prevent the public from making knockoffs or derivative works was time-limited. Society would protect the creator’s work from reproduction for a period of time so the author could profit and society would benefit from being able to enjoy the work right away, but eventually, the creator’s exclusive rights would expire so other creators or non-creators could use the work for all sorts of new and interesting purposes.

However, intellectual property must have a meaningful element of originality to be protected. If I pick up a rock and paint it red, then seek to prevent anyone else from commercially exploiting rocks painted red, I’ve done something unoriginal and obvious, not truly new or unique or creative. The same analysis would prevent me from copyrighting the words, “and they lived happily ever after.”

With that rambling foundation, why was the German court so wrong?

The artist who created the painting that is now in a German museum owned the copyright to the original painting. The clock was ticking on the copyright’s exclusive period of protection. Presumably, when the artist sold or gave the painting to someone else, the person who acquired the painting acquired the associated copyright, including the right to exercise the rights granted under copyright law in the same manner as the original artist could.

(It is possible for the artist to retain the copyright, while only selling the painting itself, but absent some sort of clearly documented agreement to that effect, the copyright is presumed to go with the painting. This is why authors should only license their copyrights rather than assigning them to publishers unless the publishers pay a large lump sum (not an advance against royalties) up front. If the publisher fails to pay royalties and the publisher owns the copyright, the author has a more difficult time reverting rights to him/herself. An artist who creates a painting is more likely to sell a painting to someone who wants to own it and who pays to acquire the painting rather than agreeing to pay the artist a certain amount for each copy of the painting the purchaser might or might not make.)

What (in PG’s inarticulately expressed opinion) can a museum that has just acquired a painting for which the artist’s copyright has expired do if the museum wants to profit from selling copies of the painting?

The museum could do what the original artist could do, not show the painting to anyone to prevent copying.

Or, the museum could prohibit anyone from bringing a camera into the museum and search pockets/purses, etc., to make certain everyone complies. Or a museum could bind visitors to a contract under which visitors agreed they would not take photos of the painting and further agreed that they would pay the museum $1 million in damages if they violated the contract.

In the German case, the court held that the museum could make a photograph — a copy — of a painting that is no longer protected by copyright, claim a copyright in the photo, then use its copyright of the photo to prevent other people from making, publishing, selling, etc., copies of the original painting because doing so would be the same as making a copy of the museum’s photo of the painting.

In addition to the arguments cited in the OP (a perfect copy of the painting made via a camera does not include elements of creativity to sufficient for the photo to be entitled to copyright protection), PG suggests permitting a photo of an original painting that is not protected by copyright to be copyrighted as if the photo were its own separate creative work, thus starting a new period of copyright protection that prohibits copies of the painting to be made and sold without the permission of the museum is the most slippery of slippery slopes.

When the copyright on the photo is nearing expiration, could a future technology that is not like a camera be used to make another copy of the painting, thus generating a new period of copyright protection that would continue to prevent anyone other than the museum from making copies of the then way, way, way out of copyright painting?

How about using the new technology to make a new copy of the previous copy of the museum’s copyrighted photo and claim a new period of copyright protection on the same basis the court recognized a perfect copy of the original painting to form the basis for a separate copyright – that the operator of the new technology made adjustments necessary for the use of that technology to make another perfect copy?

The museum claimed all of the things the photographer did in order to make a perfect copy – setting the camera properly, lighting the painting just so, etc., represented new creativity that was incorporated in the perfect copy of the painting.

In the United States, this argument would be termed as a claim of copyright based upon “sweat of the brow” activity. See Genesis 3:19 – “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground”

From Wikipedia:

According to this doctrine, an author gains rights through simple diligence during the creation of a work, such as a database, or a directory. Substantial creativity or “originality” is not required.

Under a “sweat of the brow” doctrine, the creator of a copyrighted work, even if it is completely unoriginal, is entitled to have his effort and expense protected, and no one else may use such a work without permission, but must instead recreate the work by independent research or effort. The classic example is a telephone directory. In a “sweat of the brow” jurisdiction, such a directory may not be copied, but instead a competitor must independently collect the information to issue a competing directory. The same rule generally applies to databases and lists of facts.

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

This argument was rejected by the US Supreme Court in  Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service, 499 U.S. 340 (1991).

Discussing the principle that facts are not copyrightable, but that compilations of facts can be, the Court said,

Article I, § 8, cl. 8, of the Constitution mandates originality as a prerequisite for copyright protection. The constitutional requirement necessitates independent creation plus a modicum of creativity. Since facts do not owe their origin to an act of authorship, they are not original, and thus are not copyrightable. Although a compilation of facts may possess the requisite originality because the author typically chooses which facts to include, in what order to place them, and how to arrange the data so that readers may use them effectively, copyright protection extends only to those components of the work that are original to the author, not to the facts themselves. This fact/expression dichotomy severely limits the scope of protection in fact-based works.

Applied to the German case, if the photographer’s objective and accomplishment was to make as perfect a copy of the original painting as is possible using current technology, then, if copyright protection extends, per Feist, only to those components of the photograph that are original to the photographer, not to the components of the photograph that are original to the artist who created the original painting, there is no copyright to a perfect copy of the painting.

If the photographer had used the camera to make a photo that looked different from the original painting, substituting red for blue, for example, an argument for originality might be reasonable and anyone else making a copy of the red/blue photo might be violating the museum’s copyright on the photo.

But a perfect copy of the original painting includes nothing original to the photographer. Anything the photographer might have done that isn’t reflected visually in the resulting photograph doesn’t indicate anything original to the photographer is protected in the perfect copy. PG would argue that even trivial differences between the photo and the painting that result from the transfer of the image from one medium to another don’t constitute originality necessary for copyright protection.

Following is an English version of the German Court decision (per Google translate – PG does not speak German, so he can’t vouch for any level of accuracy)

A1 - BUNDESGERICHTSHOF

Amazon Will Pay a Whopping $0 in Federal Taxes on $11.2 Billion Profits

From Fortune:

Those wondering how many zeros Amazon, which is valued at nearly $800 billion, has to pay in federal taxes might be surprised to learn that its check to the IRS will read exactly $0.00.

According to a report published by the Institute on Taxation and Economic (ITEP) policy Wednesday, the e-tail/retail/tech/entertainment/everything giant won’t have to pay a cent in federal taxes for the second year in a row.

This tax-free break comes even though Amazon almost doubled its U.S. profits from $5.6 billion to $11.2 billion between 2017 and 2018.

To top it off, Amazon actually reported a $129 million 2018 federal income tax rebate—making its tax rate -1%.

. . . .

ITEP notes that its non-existent federal tax payment is a result of the Trump Administration’s corporation-friendly tax cuts. The think tank writes that the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act not only decreased corporate tax rates from 35% to 21%, but it also didn’t close “a slew of tax loopholes that allow profitable companies to routinely avoid paying federal and state income taxes on almost half of their profits.”

Link to the rest at Fortune

PG apologizes for the annoying auto-play video with an accompanying audio track in the OP.

PG also notes that Amazon doesn’t write the federal or state tax codes and PG hasn’t seen any reports that Amazon has violated any of those laws.

As far as tax “loopholes” are concerned, one person’s loophole is another person’s reasonable provision for calculating a fair tax rate.

One of the most commonly-used deductions for individual taxpayers is the mortgage interest deduction. If an individual or couple purchased a home and borrowed money to help fund that purpose, the interest they pay on that loan is deductible from their gross income.

The rationale for this loophole is a belief by the elected representatives of the people that a great many benefits arise when citizens are able to purchase and own their homes. Community stability and the encouragement of civic virtues due to lower rates of transience within a community, encouragement for couples to have children, the benefits to those children (and future taxpayers) that arise from being able to grow up in a single home and attend neighborhood schools as compared to moving to a new location every one-two years due to rent increases on a rented residence, etc., etc., etc.

While there are counter-arguments, PG suggests the home mortgage deduction is highly-valued by a large majority of the adult population of the United States.

When dinosaurs walked the earth, PG took a couple of income tax law classes in law school and several of his classmates earned their Masters of Law in Taxation after completing regular law school.

The complexity and weirdness of the US tax laws cannot be overstated. There are tax attorneys in the United States who earn a good living for their entire careers by specializing in the application and avoidance of taxes imposed under a couple of provisions in the tax law that most people have never heard of and would have difficulty in understanding without extensive prior tutoring in the nearly impenetrable language and concepts and conflicting interpretations of such underlying those laws.

Each of the 50 states have their own individual tax laws and the potential number of unintended interactions between state and federal tax laws probably cannot be calculated.

Speaking only of the US tax laws, there are disagreements about how long they are. In 2015, the Tax Foundation said the Federal Tax Laws and Regulations total more than ten million words.

This figure includes the federal internal revenue code (2,412,000 words long) and federal tax regulations (7,655,000 words long). It does not include the substantial body of tax-related case law that is often vital to understanding the tax code.

The length of the federal tax code and regulations has grown steadily over the past sixty years. In 1955, the two documents were 1.4 million words in length. Since then, they have grown at a pace of about 144,500 words a year. Today, the federal tax code is roughly six times as long as it was in 1955, while federal tax regulations are about 2.5 times as long.

. . . .

Americans spend 6.1 billion hours and $233.8 billon complying with the tax code. Due to increasing tax complexity, over 90 percent of taxpayers now hire professional tax preparers or use tax preparation software.

Why is the federal tax code so complex? In part, it’s because politicians have used the tax code to administer dozens of areas of federal policy – from healthcare to energy to education. In part, it’s because defining income and determining tax liability are inherently difficult tasks. And, in part, it’s because politicians have not made any serious effort to simplify the federal tax code for at least thirty years, instead adding on new provisions on top of one another.

The federal tax laws are so lengthy that there are disputes about how long it actually is. Again, from The Tax Foundation in 2014:

Andrew Grossman, the legislation counsel for the Joint Committee on Taxation that helps write tax laws, attacked us in Slate yesterday for saying that the tax code runs 70,000 pages, countering that it’s “only” 2,600 pages.

. . . .

There’s the literal statutes that Congress has passed (Title 26 of the U.S. Code). The Government Printing Office sells it spread over two volumes, and according to them, book oneis 1,404 pages and book two is 1,248 pages, for a total of 2,652 pages. At perhaps 450 words per page, that puts the tax code at well over 1 million words. (By way of comparison, the King James Bible has 788,280 words; War and Peace runs 560,000 words; and the Harry Potter series is just over 1 million words.)

. . . .

However, a tax practitioner who relies just on the tax statutes will go to jail, because so much of federal tax law is in IRS regulations, revenue rulings, and other clarifications. Congress will set down a policy and leave it to the IRS to write all the rules to implement it. These regulations aren’t short: the National Taxpayer Advocate did a Microsoft Word word count of the tax statutes and IRS regulations in 2012, and came up with roughly 4 million words. Again at roughly 450 words per page, that comes out to around 9,000 pages. The National Taxpayer Advocate also noted that the tax code changed 4,680 times from 2001 to 2012, an average of once per day.

. . . .

But, a lawyer who relies just on cases and regulations isn’t a very good lawyer, because most court decisions are made on the basis of previously decided cases. The respected legal publisher Commerce Clearing House (CCH) puts out such a compilation, the Standard Federal Tax Reporterof 70,000 pages, with notations after each statute containing relevant cases and other information. CCH itself considers this volume to be representative of “the tax code,” since an expert needs to know all 70,000 pages to understand the tax code in full.

So, has Amazon paid its “fair share” of income taxes? PG is highly confident that Amazon has used well-qualified tax experts to prepare its tax returns and calculate its tax liabilities.

For a long time, Amazon had no taxable profits at all. Indeed, it had losses. One of the concepts contained in various parts of the federal income tax laws is a “tax loss carry-forward”. Investopedia describes this as follows:

A tax loss carryforward is a provision that allows a taxpayer to carry over a tax loss to future years to offset a profit. The tax loss carryforward can be claimed by an individual or a business in order to reduce any future tax payments.

Amazon operated at a loss for the first several years of its existence and very thin profits for a lengthy period of time thereafter. To the best of PG’s knowledge, Amazon received no material payments from the US government to help it survive during those years.

Absent the benefits of loss carryforwards during the first years of lean profits, it’s possible that Jeff Bezos would have given up on the possibility that Amazon was ever going to be worth the very hard work he was putting into the company and closed it down so he could spend time working in another more financially-rewarding business.

Amazon currently reports it has 613,300 employees. PG suspects Amazon pays far better wages than McDonald’s does and each of those employees pays individual federal income taxes. From the standpoint of federal government tax revenues, is it a good thing for a company to employ over half a million people who each pay taxes? Would the country be better off if Amazon paid some corporate income taxes, but only employed 50,000 people?

PG will also note that, for its US employees, the company pays a huge amount of money into Social Security and Medicare as its employer’s share of those taxes, which are based upon the wages of its employees.

What Happens When Billionaires Battle Gossipmongers?

From The Washington Post:

Both men have gobs of money.

They didn’t make it the old-fashioned way, with steel and brick, but instead with big, disruptive, life-changing ideas.

After they got rich, after they’d achieved a titan status imaginable only in the digital age, that’s when the tabloids came for them.

And that’s when they went to war.

Theirs is a tale of two billionaires — Jeffrey P. Bezos of Amazon.com fame and Peter Thiel, who birthed PayPal. So different in style and temperament, the two men have each found their sex lives splashed in public against their wills in separate tabloid “gotchas.” But they have tangled with the merchants of salacity in completely opposite ways.

Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, blasted his disdain into the maw of the Internet, essentially delivering the equivalent of a lawyer’s opening statement with the entire planet sitting in the jury box. Thiel operated in sotto voce fashion, secretly maneuvering to exact revenge and not surfacing until he had triumphed.

Bezos is locked in a conflict with the National Enquirer, which last month published intimate text messages he’d sent to Lauren Sanchez, with whom he was having an extramarital affair, and photos of them together. In a Medium post Thursday, Bezos accused the supermarket tabloid, which is owned by American Media Inc., of blackmail and extortion for threatening to publish additional intimate photographs if he and his representatives did not agree to stop their investigation of the how the material was obtained. Bezos suggested that the tabloid, whose parent company is run by a friend of President Trump, had political motives to run stories about his affair. Trump has frequently attacked Bezos over his ownership of The Post.

Thiel’s battle took place against Gawker, the sassy and sometimes raunchy website that earned his eternal enmity by outing him as gay in 2007. He got back at the site in 2016 when he surreptitiously funded a successful lawsuit by Terry Bollea, better known as the wrestler Hulk Hogan, over the site’s 2012 publication of a tape depicting Bollea having sex. Gawker went out of business after a jury awarded $140 million in damages.

“They are two fundamentally different approaches to similar problems,” said Ryan Holiday, author of “Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue.”

When Thiel’s involvement in the Bollea case was revealed, Bezos was less than enthusiastic about his fellow tech titan’s actions. At a conference in June 2016, Bezos was asked about the Thiel-Gawker slugfest. He responded with an old saying: “Seek revenge and you should dig two graves, one for yourself.”

“Is that really how you want to spend your time?” Bezos went on to say. “As a public figure, the best defense to speech that you don’t like is to develop a thick skin.”

Those remarks came to mind for Bezos watchers after his posting on Medium, a self-publishing website.

. . . .

In the first paragraph of Bezos’s post, he frames his decision to publicize letters he had received from the National Enquirer as evidence of wrongdoing — a step beyond berating the tabloid for publishing details of his private life.

“Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten,” Bezos wrote.

The saga is drenched in a hailstorm of theories and counter-theories. Bezos’s team, headed by famed security consultant Gavin de Becker, has cast a suspicious eye on Michael Sanchez regarding the leak of the texts and photos. Sanchez is the brother of Bezos’s girlfriend, former TV host Lauren Sanchez. Michael Sanchez is a Trump supporter, and his potential involvement is part of a theory that the leak is a political hit.

. . . .

Both Sanchez and de Becker have, at times, explored the possibility that the text messages were obtained by a foreign government or a business competitor, according to interviews and a Post review of emails and text messages. Sanchez has even posited that Israel’s Mossad, British intelligence or the U.S. National Security Agency might be involved. (De Becker ultimately concluded that hacking was not involved.)

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

PG hopes he is wrong, but, more than once, he has had the feeling that, a few years down the road, we may look back on this series of events as a turning point for Amazon.

From the beginnings of Amazon, Bezos has put his distinctive personal stamp on the company in the same way that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates built very large companies which seemed to be reflections of their very different personalities.

Jobs, of course, was forced to give up his management position due to cancer while Gates retired from Microsoft in an orderly fashion, but neither company has been the same since the person with the dominant vision that drove its tremendous growth departed.

For PG, Microsoft has become the most boring large tech company in the world. Windows continues. MS Office continues. Like a power utility company, each relies primarily upon its quasi-monopoly position to keep the dollars rolling in.

New Microsoft products seem to be lame derivatives of products originated elsewhere. Microsoft Surface is an iPad wannabe. Why does Edge even exist? MS is into producing products and services that are derivative of its own ancient good ideas or the ideas of others.

On the other hand, Apple is much less boring because post-Jobs management has made the mistake of believing it can continue to raise prices without doing anything really new. Now it’s in the process of cutting prices on its iPhones and iPads to stem a significant decline in sales and the new ideas in mobile phones are all coming out of China.

So what do we make of Bezos and Amazon?

Has Bezos lost his mind? He’s supposed to be reliably brilliant.

The year is 2019 and intelligent people don’t take nude selfies and text them to other people. That’s a mistake that any intelligent sixteen-year-old who wants to get into a good college will not make.

Additionally, intelligent people haven’t gotten into big fights with The National Enquirer for decades. Bezos already bought The Washington Post. He should have purchased The National Enquirer and fired everybody he didn’t like.

When he spent a lot of his time in court, PG had to talk more than one client out of suing someone because the collateral damage to the client’s reputation would far exceed any monetary benefit the client would derive. On such occasions, he would sometimes quote George Bernard Shaw.

I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.

~ George Bernard Shaw

The Growing Importance of Intellectual Property

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I need to be clear as I start this post. We writers create intellectual property. We license our copyrights. We do not sell stories. In fact, the stories we tell, along with their titles, are often not copyrightable. The form in which we tell that story—the order of the events, the order of the words we use,—those things are copyrightable, but the basic boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl discovers she’s fine on her own storyline can and does fuel a thousand books and movies. (That’s why so many memes over the holiday season made fun of the romance movies on Hallmark. Because the movies—all copyrighted in their own right, all different in the copyright sense—share a lot in common.)

If you don’t understand copyright and you consider yourself a professional writer, then you do not understand the business you are in. If you have published a novel, traditionally or indie, and you do not understand copyright, you are volunteering to get screwed over and over and over again. I say this often, and I’m saying it loudly again, because the trend for 2019 and beyond is that every organization you do business with will try to take a piece (if not all) of your copyright on each and every one of your projects.

Your job is to protect that copyright.

. . . .

Forbes actually published an article in fall of 2018 titled “What Authors Should Do When Their Publisher Closes.” You can click over there if you want. The advice isn’t good, because as someone in the article says, what an author should do varies based on the author’s contract. And if the author has an agent, then they’re probably screwed. If the author doesn’t understand copyright, then they’re definitely screwed.

. . . .

I recommend publishing indie, because that’s the best way to protect yourself and your writing income. You’ll have a career if you do that. Your career might vanish on you if you try to remain traditional. Or, rather, you will write as a “hobby” while you make your living doing something else.

Yes, I’m being harsh, but that’s because the intellectual property apocalypse that I’ve been warning you about is upon us. The trends are there, and the signs that traditional publishing (and all of the other big entertainment organizations) know about the value of intellectual property are becoming clearer and clearer.

. . . .

For years now, the Big 5 traditional publishers have had contracts that essentially transfer the entire copyright of a novel from the author to them. The contracts don’t say that explicitly, but when you read the contract as a complete document (which is how you should read it), you realize that the sum total of what the clauses mean is that the writer retains no part of the copyright, and is only entitled to a tiny percentage of the money that copyright earns.

The reason these contracts changed about a decade ago had nothing to do with publishing and everything to do with mergers. As these publishing companies became part of big international conglomerates, many of them entertainmentconglomerates, the legal teams redrafted the contracts to do the copyright grabs.

Most writers had no idea what they were signing, and most of their agents didn’t either. Agents are not trained lawyers. A handful of the big agencies have lawyers on staff, but most of those agencies are concerned with making the agency money, not with making the writer money. So a lot of the contracts are structured to pay and protect the agent, while bilking the writer.

. . . .

Up until a year or so ago, most of the Big Five continued to operate like traditional publishing companies have since the 1990s—a focus on publishing a lot of titles, hoping that some will stick and become bestsellers. But that strategy isn’t working, and sales are down precipitously.

. . . .

[Simon & Schuster] has been in a media conglomerate since the 1980s. I’m not going to go through its tortured history, which runs from Paramount to Viacom and beyond, but realize this: It became part of the CBS Corporation officially in 2005. Around then, it became impossible to get book rights reverted, which is one of the tricks that is recommended for writers in the Forbes article I cited above. (How 1995. Sigh.)

S&S has experimented with electronic books since the 1990s. Dean and I personally made a lot of money in the early 2000s when S&S realized they hadn’t licensed e-rights for Star Trek books. (Dean and I wrote a bunch of them in the 1990s). S&S has tried to have a self-publishing arm since 2012, and they’re doing a lot of things that require writers to pay for services that publishers used to provide.

. . . .

The more IP a company acquires, the more its value goes up. Even if they don’t create anything from that IP. Acquiring a novel’s copyright—with all its potential spinoffs, TV shows, toys, comics—increases a company’s value tremendously.

Read that paragraph again, because the information therein is the key to this whole piece.

The more IP a company acquires, the more its value goes up. Your novel is IP. If they acquire it, their bottom line goes up, even if they never do anything with that IP. Got that?

That’s why S&S stopped, in 2000 or so, reverting the rights to the novels they acquired. Those novels equal more earnings potential—and they allow the company to maintain a value that it wouldn’t have otherwise.

I’ve been warning writers about this copyright grab by corporations for some time, but it was easy to ignore me because the Big 5 have not been (for the most part) exploiting (the legal term for developing or making use of) that copyright.

S&S finally is. That’s what Simon & Schuster’s CEO Carolyn Reidy’s heady year-end report was really all about. She called 2018 “the most successful year in Simon & Schuster’s history,” and yet she didn’t cite a single print bestseller as something that caused the success.

Instead, she touted the rise in audio . . . as well as a mention that sent a little shiver through me.

She wrote:

…[backlist sales now] comprise a higher portion of our revenue than at any time in memory…while readers wanting the tried and true is an industry-wide phenomenon, our concerted effort during the last few years to acquire books with the potential for long-term backlist sales has yielded dividends.

This article does not specify what exactly she means by “backlist sales.” Does she mean actual ebook and print sales, or other licensing, such as foreign rights and so on? Clearly S&S is exploiting the audio rights clauses in their contracts.

What is clear, however, is that a big traditional publisher has finally figured out that not only does their backlist have value in raising the company’s worth, but it also has earnings potential that can be exploited in 2019.

Why does this send a chill through me? Because if one traditional publisher learns it, the others will learn it as well. And the ability of writers who have sold their work into traditional publishers to get the rights reverted will go down to almost nil.

Big traditional publishers will finally join their counterparts in the entertainment industry—the movie/TV companies, the music studios, the game companies—in demanding control of every aspect of the copyright from the original author.

Which means that if an author signs one of those agreements, the author will get pennies on the dollar (if that) for any rights—audio, movie, TV—rather than the kind of earnings writers could have gotten as recently as 10 years ago.

. . . .

And those of you who licensed mass market rights a few years ago, thinking you’d get your ebooks into stores, you probably already signed away most of the copyright, particularly if you went with Harlequin or Simon & Schuster.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

As usual, Kris incorporates a lot of intelligent business thought and advice into the OP (and her other posts in this series).

As PG has mentioned before, he has negotiated, drafted and/or reviewed a great many contracts during his legal career, including some large technology copyright and patent licensing agreements. As he has also mentioned before, the typical contracts between authors and traditional publishers are some of the most unfair and one-sided agreements he has seen.

In a prior era during which it was impossible for an author’s works to reach any sort of meaningful audience without a publisher to cover the costs of printing books and provide meaningful access to buyers for large numbers of physical bookstores, perhaps the value of a publisher’s services was an extremely large portion of the income generated by sales of a book.

However, in an age in which:

  • Amazon is the largest English language bookseller in the world; and
  • Opens its electronic doors to self published authors on terms substantially equivalent to those it provides commercial publishers; and
  • Ebooks have the highest profit margin of any edition of a book a publisher sells; and
  • Ebook editing, formatting and cover design of a quality comparable to that provided by a commercial publisher can be had for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars;

the real value of a publisher for a typical author compared to the effective cost of a publisher to that author has declined precipitously.

PG was about to discuss the value of branding for either an ebook or a printed book, but he will be uncharacteristically brief.

Does anyone go to an online or offline bookstore seeking out a Random House book? Of course not. They’re looking for an author, a genre, etc.

With respect to promoting and selling books, which brand name is most valuable, James Patterson’s or Little, Brown and Company’s?

Without singling out any particular literary agent or agency, PG will say, as a general observation, that agents famous and obscure don’t do anything significant to improve the contract terms for publishing contracts other than increasing the amount of the advance on some occasions. In particular, agents rarely if ever do anything to address the issues Kris discusses in the OP.

In some types of contracts — consumer loans, for example — federal and/or state legislatures have passed laws that prevent commercial lenders from including some contract provisions that are unfair or harmful to borrowers. Compared to the number of individuals who take out loans to purchase a house, automobile or dishwasher, however, authors are a tiny constituency and elected officials have much bigger fish to fry than commercial publishers.

However, perhaps as a result of such consumer protections, some authors may believe they are somehow protected from  unfair provisions in publishing contracts between themselves and large publishers. That belief is incorrect.

Some of the most unfair provisions in a typical publishing contract are presented in the most innocuous manner imaginable.

 

 

Finally, there is nurturing. Publishers don’t just produce books. They nurture. Literary agents also provide nurturing in case publishers fall short in any way.

Like a baby duckling, a baby author needs to be nurtured and petted and encouraged and gently guided if she/he is to grow into a beautiful swan.

Who better to nurture such a delicate creature than a Kommanditgesellschaft auf Aktien headquartered in Gütersloh?

Off the top of his head, other than publishing, PG can’t ever remember ever having a business discussion that included the word nurture or any of its variants.

PG is reminded of a quote attributed to former president Harry S. Truman, “If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog.”

PG suggests that if you want someone to watch over you, steer clear of the publishing business.

.