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.

US vs. Apple

From The Wall Street Journal:

Politicians and social critics who worry about “the curse of bigness”—and vow to rewrite antitrust law to break up Facebook and Google—forget what happened the last time the government used the law against a Silicon Valley company. In 2012 the government successfully sued Apple for daring to compete with Amazon in selling e-books. The unintended result was not exactly a victory for the consumer or for competition: the continued dominance of Kindle, Amazon’s e-book format and reading device; increased e-book prices; and suppressed e-book innovation.

Chris Sagers, a law professor at Cleveland State University, explains in “United States v. Apple: Competition in America” what he sees as confusion about antitrust law. His analysis can be helpful—he notes the long history of companies invoking claims of “predatory pricing” as a cudgel against more efficient competitors and stresses that consumers often benefit when industries and companies are driven out of business—but he is confused about the case itself.

His thesis is that Apple’s entry into the e-book market was so clearly a violation of antitrust law that critics of the case must not believe in competition. But critics object to an interpretation of antitrust law that ended up punishing Apple for introducing a new pricing approach—an approach that is now common in every other area of online sales. Mr. Sagers forgets the guardrail rule of antitrust: Don’t bring cases against innovations that create more competition.

Consumers were delighted when Amazon launched its Kindle e-reader in 2007, and book publishers were happy to sell books in digital form. But there was an unusual feature. In its selling of e-books, Amazon operated according to the same pricing arrangement that had governed the sale of print books—that is, it bought e-books wholesale and chose its own price for them, just as bookstores had long done with print books. Brick-and-mortar bookstores needed this pricing flexibility for many reasons, not least to clear their inventory of unsold books by means of lower prices. The arrangement let Amazon sell e-books for years as a loss-leader—at the low price of $9.99—to boost profitable sales of its Kindle devices.

Around the same time, Apple had set about licensing music, video and games so that consumers would have reasons to buy its iPad. Apple realized that, for digital goods, there was no reason to follow the wholesale model. It could simply set up a revenue-sharing formula. Content owners and app developers—think of an iPad or iPhone game, such as “Minecraft” or “Fortnite,” that offers premium features—could pick their own price, even choosing to offer content free, and Apple would take 30% of any sales as a commission.

When Steve Jobs decided to include e-books on the iPad in 2010, Kindle had a 90% market share. So book publishers were again delighted—that Apple would be entering the market with its revenue-share model and letting publishers set the prices for their e-books. The largest publishers met among themselves to agree on the terms for licensing their books to Apple. The government sued, claiming an unlawful conspiracy masterminded by Apple.

Mr. Sagers sees this as an open-and-shut case of an unlawful pricing conspiracy and expresses surprise that there was so much support for the book publishers and Apple. He rightly dismisses the self-serving argument that books are so culturally important that publishers and Apple deserved an antitrust exemption. He is also right to note that Amazon was not, despite its huge market share, an unlawful monopolist—big is not always bad.

. . . .

Mr. Sagers believes that opposition to the Apple case shows that Americans are ambivalent about competition. There are times, he says, when “competition seems destructive.” When antitrust law requires firms to compete in such circumstances, then “antitrust itself has seemed like a failure.” The government claimed that Apple conspired with book publishers, risking higher prices, but the case was perceived as a government favor to Amazon, which it was.

Indeed, people objected to the Apple case because it was ill-advised—limiting consumer choices and blocking lower prices. Appeals Court Judge Dennis Jacobs made this point, writing in his 2015 dissent that Apple’s conduct “immediately deconcentrated the e-book retail market, added a platform for reading e-books, and removed barriers to entry by others.” With Apple in the game, Amazon’s 90% market share fell to 60%. Now it’s back up to 83%, according to the latest industry estimate. As competition decreased, prices increased. The typical price for a Kindle best seller is now in the range of $14.95.

. . . .

The Apple case violated the first rule of antitrust: First, do no harm.

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

PG hasn’t read the book that is the subject of the WSJ review. However, the author of the review wildly misstates the purposes, activities and actions of Apple and all but one of the largest publishers in the United States.

Let us review the actions and actors in this matter (which were extensively documented and discussed on TPV during the days of yore):

  1. While Amazon was not the first entity to sell ebooks, it was the first to sell ebooks from traditional publishers at a substantial discount from their list prices, which correlated with the suggested list prices for printed versions of the same books.
  2. Amazon also was revolutionary in permitting self-published books (including ebooks) to be listed and sold side-by-side on the same basis as traditionally-published books.
  3. The six largest publishers in the United States – Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster had developed a cozy little dinner group consisting of their CEO’s who met about every three months in a private dining room in Manhattan to talk about their mutual concerns – most often Amazon’s habit of discounting the prices of their books and what they could do about it. These six produced the majority of books sold in the US and were receiving complaints from their traditional bookstore customers about Amazon’s low prices. The publishers did not want to “cannibalize” their sales of printed books and were the recipients of a growing number of complaints from their traditional bookstore customers. No company attorneys were present during these dinner discussions.
  4. PG will note that private meetings of the top executives of large companies that dominate an industry to discuss the pricing of their products are almost always a bad idea and, by themselves, raise a big red antitrust flag. Competent corporate counsel would always advise against such a practice.
  5. Apple was planning to introduce its iPad in January, 2010, and include an iBookstore as one of the product’s attractions.
  6. PG notes that Apple has never been a fan of significant discounts for the products it sells.
  7. In December, 2009, Apple’s senior VP of Internet Software and Services, Eddy Cue, contacted the members of the Publishers dinner group to set up meetings.
  8. During these meetings, Cue said that Apple:
    1. Would sell the majority of e-books between $9.99 and $14.99, with new releases being $12.99 to $14.99, higher prices than Amazon was charging.
    2. Apple would use the same “agency pricing model” that it used in the App Store for ebooks.
    3. Agency Pricing allowed the Publishers control the retail price of the e-books with Apple receiving a 30% commission.
    4. Most significantly, Apple would require what is generically described as a “Most-favored nation” clause in its contracts with publishers that allowed Apple to sell e-book at the lowest price of its ebookstore competitors (read “Amazon”).
  9. PG doesn’t recall if the publishers had another private CEO dinner or not, but evidence at the later antitrust trial showed the Big Six publishers called each other over 100 times in the week before signing the Apple agreements. Everyone except Random House boarded this bandwagon.
  10. In January 2010, Apple held one of its typically flashy product launches for the iPad together with its associated ebook, music and video stores.
  11. During the post-launch mingling, Wall Street Journal reporter Walter Mossberg asked Steve Jobs why people would pay $14.99 for a book in the iBookstore when they could purchase it for $9.99 from Amazon. In response Jobs stated that “The price will be the same… Publishers are actually withholding their books from Amazon because they are not happy.” In other words, the publishers would force Amazon to raise its ebook prices to match those in the iBookstore.
  12. Amazon complained to the Federal Trade Commission and, rather than not being able to sell any ebooks of the major publishers, switched to the agency model after negotiations with the major publishers. This resulted in an average per unit e-book retail price increase of 14.2% for their new releases, 42.7% for their NYT Bestsellers, and 18.6% across all of the Publisher Defendants’ e-books.

For lots more information, see United States v. Apple on Wikipedia.

Back to the book reviewed in the OP, there was nothing wrong with Apple “introducing a new pricing structure” – agency pricing. Had Apple only done that, no antitrust violation would have occurred. However, when Apple conspired with a group of the largest publishers to force Amazon (and anyone else selling ebooks) to adopt agency pricing when such had not previously been the case, that was an antitrust violation, particularly in the light of what happened to ebook prices after the coordinated joint action took place.

Had the big publishers individually been willing to lose the highly-profitable ebook sales on Amazon as a potential consequence of telling Amazon it had to raise its prices and/or agree to let the publisher set the price, that would probably not have triggered any antitrust concern. Coordination between the publishers to use their combined power to force Amazon raise prices was where the publishers crossed a clear legal line.

With respect to what happened in the court case, each of the publishers admitted guilt, settled the antitrust claim and promised not to do any price-fixing in the future. Apple litigated the antitrust case to the max and lost at every stage.

Although Amazon was not a party to the litigation, Amazon won.

More significantly (in PG’s majestic and resplendent opinion), authors won. Indie authors in particular won. In June, 2010, a couple of years before any antitrust litigation had been commenced, Amazon introduced its 70% ebook royalty option which has put a great deal of additional money into authors’ pockets ever since.

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.

EU and Article 13: the Dystopia That Never Was and Never Will Be

From The Trichordist:

The “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace“ published in 1996 by John Perry Barlow begins with the words “Governments of the Industrial World I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone.” One reading of this text entirely rejects the possibility that processes of making and enforcing collectively binding decisions – political processes – apply on the Internet. Another possible reading sees the Internet as a public space governed by rules that must be established through democratic process while also holding that certain sub-spaces belong to the private rather than the public sphere. The distinction between public and private affairs, res publicae und res privata, is essential for the functioning of social spaces. The concept of the “res publicae” as “space concerning us all”  led – and not only etymologically – to the idea of the republic as a form of statehood and, later, as a legitimate space for democratic policymaking.

On the Internet, this essential separation of private and public space has been utterly undermined, and the dividing lines between public and private spaces are becoming ever more blurred. We now have public spaces lacking in enforcement mechanisms and transparency and private spaces inadequately protected from surveillance and the misuse of data. Data protection is one obvious field this conflict is playing out on, and copyright is another.

The new EU Directive on Copyright seeks to establish democratic rules governing the public dissemination of works. Its detractors have not only been vociferous – they have also resorted to misleading forms of framing. The concepts of upload filters, censorship machines and link taxes have been injected into the discussion. They are based on false premises.

. . . .

What campaigners against copyright reform term “upload filters” are not invariably filters with a blocking function; they can be simple identification systems. Content can be scanned at the time of uploading to compare it to patterns from other known content. Such a system could, for example, recognize Aloe Blacc’s retro-soul hit “I need a Dollar.” Such software systems can be compared to dictation software capable of identifying the spoken words in audio files. At this point in time, systems that can identify music tracks on the basis of moderately noisy audio signals can be programed as coursework projects by fourth-semester students drawing on open-source code libraries. Stylizing such systems as prohibitively expensive or as a kind of “alien technology” underestimates both the dystopian potential of advanced pattern recognition systems (in common parlance: artificial intelligence) in surveillance software and similar use cases while also underestimating the feasibility of programming legitimate and helpful systems. The music discovery app “Shazam,” to take a specific example, was created by a startup with only a handful of developers and a modest budget and is now available on millions of smartphones and tablets – for free. The myth that only tech giants can afford such systems is false, as the example of Shazam or of enterprises like Audible Magic shows. Identifying works is a basic prerequisite for a reformed copyright regime, and large platforms will not be able to avoid doing so. Without an identification process in place, the use of licensed works cannot be matched to license holders. Such systems are, however, not filters.

. . . .

The principal argument of critics intent on frustrating digital copyright reforms that had already appeared to be on the home stretch is their charge that the disproportionate blocking of uploads would represent a wholesale assault on freedom of speech or, indeed, a form of censorship. Here, too, it is necessary to look more closely at the feasibility and potential of available options for monitoring uploads – and especially to consider the degree of efficiency that can be achieved by linking human and automated monitoring. In a first step, identification systems could automatically block secure matches or allow them to pass by comparing them against data supplied by collecting societies. Licensed content could readily be uploaded and its use would be electronically registered. Collecting societies would distribute license revenue raised to originators and artists. Non-licensed uses could automatically be blocked.

. . . .

Humans can recognize parodies or incidental uses such as purely decorative uses of works in ways that that do not constitute breaches of copyright.

The process of analysis could be simplified further by uploaders stating the context of use at the time works are uploaded. Notes such as “This video contains a parody and/or uses a copyrighted work for decorative purposes” could be helpful to analysts. The Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) in Germany provides a good example of how automatic recognition and human analysis can work in tandem to analyze vast volumes of information. A few hundred people in Germany are currently tasked with deciding whether statements made on Facebook constitute incitement to hatred and violence against certain groups or are otherwise in breach of community rules. These judgments are significantly more complex than detecting impermissible uses of copyrighted works.

. . . .

Being obliged to implement human monitoring will, of course, impose certain demands on platforms. But those most affected will be the platforms with the largest number of uploads. These major platforms will have the highest personnel requirements because they can host content of almost every kind: music, texts, video etc. Protecting sites like a small photo forum will be much simpler. If only a modest number of uploads is involved, the forum operator can easily check them personally at the end of the working day. In that case, uploaders will simply have to wait for a brief period for their content to appear online. Or operators can opt to engage a service center like Acamar instead of adding these checks to their own workloads. Efficient monitoring is possible.

Link to the rest at The Trichordist

PG understands and sympathizes with the concerns of copyright owners about improper use of their property.

However, every online use of copyrighted material does not represent a loss of income to the copyright owner. Assuming there was a price tag associated with the use of such material, it could be omitted entirely or a substitute without a price tag could be selected.

While some uses of copyrighted material can be harmful, a great many of such uses may be viewed by 25 people who are unlikely to be paying consumers of that material.

Under US copyright law, the protected fair use of copyrighted material is often not a clear-cut matter. Reasonable people can disagree about whether a use is covered by fair use or not.

A significant number of owners of large catalogs of copyrighted material are extremely aggressive in their interpretation of what is protected by those copyrights. Disney and Mickey Mouse are but one example.

A couple of statements in the OP raised further concerns:

  • If only a modest number of uploads is involved, the forum operator can easily check them personally at the end of the working day.
  • In that case, uploaders will simply have to wait for a brief period for their content to appear online.

Exactly how is a forum operator who operates a small online site and supports it by working at a day job supposed to conduct an analysis of say 30 uploads to determine whether they may be subject to anyone’s copyright and, if they are, whether the use of the works was fair use or not? If a photo shows up in the uploads, how is the operator to determine who the creator of the photo is/was? If a photo has been modified by the person posting it, how is the operator to determine who the creator of the original photo was?

As far as “uploaders” waiting “for a brief period for their content to appear online”, PG suggests such delays may well adversely impact the quality of the online discussion. If an original post triggers a lot of responses, but those responses are held in moderation, are visitors to the online forum going to assume the post is irrelevant or is of no interest and perhaps leave the forum for good.

The killer among the breezy thoughts in the OP is, “Being obliged to implement human monitoring will, of course, impose certain demands on platforms.”

It will impose a serious and significant demand on platforms. If one were designing regulations to substantially reduce the amount of online dialogue about a wide range of subjects and the number of places where that dialogue occurs, imposing “certain demands” on those who sponsor such communities is a perfect way to make anything other than standard mainstream destinations and opinions to go away and rob the Internet of much of its innovative energy and independent thought.

If one were designing a system to ensure corporate control of online interaction, one might certainly do so on the pretense of protecting the words and pictures of copyright holders.

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.

.



Book Tours Are More Than Just Showing Up

From Publishers Weekly:

In the abstract, a book tour looks like it might be tremendous fun: packed houses of adoring fans, expense-account dinners in fancy far-flung restaurants. I’ve now promoted three books across a couple dozen states and 10 countries, and my experience has looked much more like bleary-eyed airport breakfasts at one end of the day and modest register tallies at the other, which begs the question, was this worth it?

But that depends on the answer to a different question: what’s the goal?

A dozen years ago, before I’d started writing books and was still publishing them, I asked my brilliant boss, Peter Workman: Why do we expend such a huge effort producing seasonal catalogues? Why do we run around like lunatics to finalize covers, on-sale dates, point-of-sale promotions, and everything else—such a frenetic outburst of redesigning, numbers crunching, consensus building, and decision making—all just to produce this printed marketing item? Who cares?

Peter put things into perspective. All that work, all those decisions—that was the real point; the catalogue was the impetus to get it all done.

I look at going out on the road through a similar lens. I do, of course, want to achieve the obvious immediate goal of selling units of the new title, just as we did, of course, need to get the catalogue to sales conference. But selling those hardcovers is just one component of my goal and my publisher’s too, and the booksellers’ too—we all have bigger long-term priorities: the next book, the one after, all the future books in all the years ahead, keeping the lights on.

For my part, I want to write better and better books, published better and better, making for a satisfying and successful career. And I think it’s the lessons learned, the experiences had, and the people met on the road that can make this achievable. On book tours, I go places I’d otherwise never have visited, I’m introduced to readers I’d never have met, and I make friends and fans and important contacts who’d otherwise be strangers.

I’ve learned about contemporary bookselling over dinners in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Austin, Tex.; about the evolving roles of libraries in Stamford, Conn., and Rockport, Mass.; about the terrific mystery conferences in Albany, N.Y., and Toronto; and about honing elevator pitches for radio in Amsterdam and Dublin.

. . . .

Touring has been my MFA plus my MBA, too—establishing a professional network, understanding the marketplace, polishing creative output, and even inspiring me to generate an entire book.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

As PG has mentioned before, with respect to the value of book tours by authors, he believes it’s no longer 1972.

Do book tours sell some books? Undoubtedly.

But what is the cost per book sold, particularly if an author values his/her time? Had the author not gone on a book tour, could he/she have spent the time and energy doing something that was ultimately more profitable with that time and energy (particularly considering that a great many authors are committed introverts)?

If publishers really believe that face-to-face contact between an interesting and persuasive salesperson and a reader who is willing to come to a bookstore to listen, why not hire a skilled salesperson to do the book tour?

Just like writing talent, the talent for selling products or services, particularly on a face-to-face basis, is not evenly distributed throughout humanity. If you have ever been in the presence of someone who is skilled in face-to-face sales, you will immediately notice the difference between a talented salesperson and a typical author squirming at a book signing.

PG has often thought that James Patterson’s success in selling a lot of books derives in significant part from his pre-writing experience of twenty-odd years as an executive working at the largest advertising agency in the world (where he ended up as CEO). Patterson knows far more about how to advertise and sell products than any employee at any publisher and has used his talent to sell far, far more books than he would have had he permitted his publishers to handle all his book promotion and advertising.

In response to the question, “Who better to sell a book than the person who wrote it?”, PG suggests the rational answer is, “Someone who earns his/her living by selling things.”

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

From The Wall Street Journal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Clandestine

PG has discovered an enthusiasm for Field Notes.

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

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

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

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

.

Link to the rest at Field Notes

 

Bookstores and Libraries (Planning for 2019 Part 3)

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Potash said,

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

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

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happened to those music stores?

iTunes happened.

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

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

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

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

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

From Law360:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Law360

PG says there is plenty of blame to go around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Welcome to The Great Acceleration

From The Scholarly Kitchen:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at The Scholarly Kitchen

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

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

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

PG suggests following the money.

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

What makes the scholarly publications valuable?

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

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

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

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

Discoverability: Draft2Digital

From Draft2Digital:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

These powerful pages include:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Some key features include:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

So what does that mean for D2D authors?

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

Link to the rest at Draft2Digital

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

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

PG was particularly interested in the Walmart.com announcement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Current State of Disruption (Planning for 2019 Part 1)

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

 For years now, I’ve done a year-end review, examining what happened and where the industry stands.

. . . .

I wrote down lists and links and reviewed notes and thought long and hard about things…and still couldn’t figure out how to wrap my arms around what I wanted to talk about.

I initially thought about combining the different parts of the industry under topics, and examine the topic rather than that part of the industry. But the industry is diverging in some important ways, making that way of writing these blogs exceedingly difficult.

This afternoon, it struck me: I write the year-end reviews so that I can focus on what to expect from the year to come.

So rather than look in detail at what happened in 2018, I’ll be looking at what happened with an eye toward the future.

. . . .

A reminder: I write these weekly business blogs for other writers who want to make or already have a long-term career. If you’re just starting out, some of this stuff won’t apply to you. If you’re a hobbyist who never wants to quit your day job, again, some of this stuff won’t apply to you. Don’t ask me to bend the blog toward you. There are a number of sites that cater to the beginner or the writer who doesn’t really care if she makes a living.

. . . .

For the most part, however, dealing with beginner and hobbyist issues doesn’t interest me. I’m a long-term professional writer who has made money as a writer since I was 16, who has made a living at it since I was 25, and who started making a heck of a great living at it by the time I was 35. I started writing these weekly blogs to make some kind of sense out of the disruption in the publishing industry in 2009. I did it for me, because I think better when I am writing things down.

The disruption continues, albeit in a new phase (part of what I’ll discuss below), and so I am focusing on what I need to focus on for my long-term writing career. I hope that some of these insights will help the rest of you.

. . . .

The disruption in the publishing industry will continue for some time now. Years, most likely. I don’t have a good crystal ball for how long it will go on, but we are past the gold rush years in the indie publishing world and have moved into a more consistent business model. It’s at least predictable, now. We know some patterns and how they’re going to work.

. . . .

The disruption in traditional publishing has gone on for nearly two decades now. It began before the Kindle made self-publishing easy by giving writers an easily accessible audience. Traditional publishing became ripe for disruption in the 1990s when the old distribution model collapsed.

Many of you saw it from the outside—the decline of the small bookstore, the loss of bookstores in small towns, the rise of the bestseller only in chain bookstores. All of that came from a collapse in the distribution system, from hundreds of regional distributors down to about five. (I don’t off the top of my head recall the actual number.) That made publishers panic. They couldn’t figure out what kinds of books sold best in the Pacific Northwest as opposed to what sold well in the Southeast, and worse, they didn’t have time to figure it out.

(When I came into the business, a top sales person for a major book company would know that science fiction sold well in California and quest fantasy sold well in Georgia, that the Midwest really enjoyed regional books, while New Yorkers often didn’t.)

Bestsellers sold everywhere, so publishers ramped up the production of already-established authors and sent those books all over the nation. Then, when the crisis leveled out, the publishers did not return to the old ways, scared of what to do. They continued to push for huge sellers rather than grow newer books.

Writer after writer after writer got dumped by their publisher in this period, while some new writers made fortunes because they wrote books that were similar to existing bestsellers.

When the Kindle came around and disrupted publishing, both writers and readers were ready for something new. That combination of forces created the blockbuster indie sellers—which were not blockbuster to traditional publishers. (The writers were making significantly more money, but selling fewer units than trad pub bestsellers.)

Hold that thought for a moment while I remind you that another disruption—a different one—was hitting publishing at the same time. Audiobooks went digital, and exploded. It became easy to download an audiobook and listen to it on your iPod (remember those) or your favorite MP3 player. Some cars made it easy to hook up those players to the sound system of the car.

And thus, commuters wanted everything on audio, and the demand in audio grew exponentially. As so many industry analysts said five or six years ago, if the Kindle hadn’t come around, the big story in publishing would have been the audiobook.

And here’s another publisher problem: most publishers never secured audio rights to the books they published. That money went directly to the authors.

. . . .

For years now, those of us who watch business trends have predicted that book sales would plateau. In reality, “plateau” is the wrong word for overall book sales. Those continue to grow, sometimes in ways that aren’t entirely measurable. New markets are opening all the time, bringing in new readers.

The system for measuring both readers and sales is so inadequate that we can’t count the readers we have, let alone the new readers who are coming into the book industry sideways. However, there is a lot of evidence—scattered, of course—that new readers are coming in. (I’ll deal with this in future weeks.)

Readership is growing, but individual sales are mostly declining. Traditional publishing’s fiction sales are down 16% since 2013. Traditional publishing has a lot of theories about this, delineated out in the Publishers Weekly article I linked to.

Indie writers believe a lot of the trad pub sales migrated to them. Maybe.

But some of what happened here was the inevitable decline from the gold rush of a disruptive technology.

Let’s look at traditional publishing for a moment. Traditional publishing moved to the blockbuster model at the turn of the century, meaning that the books that were published had to have a guaranteed level of sales or the author’s contract wouldn’t be renewed. The sales rose, partly because traditional publishing was the only game in town.

In that period, if you went to bookstores all over the country, and followed that up with a visit to the grocery store, as well as a visit to a story like WalMart or Target, you’d find the same group of books on the shelves. A few more in Target than in the grocery store, and certainly more in the bookstore, but still, the same books. And the airport bookstores were the same way.

If a reader needed reading material, he only had a few hundred titles at any given time in the stores to choose from. So the reader read the best of what he found, not necessarily what he wanted to read.

Then the disruption happened. Kindles and ereaders proliferated. Readers found books they’d been searching for, often for years. The readers also found some genres and subgenres that they hadn’t seen in a decade or more, usually books by indie writers that oculdn’t sell to the big traditional companies.

The boom in ebooks grew and grew and grew. (And if traditional pubishing hadn’t dicked around with pricing, their book sales would have grown even more.) That’s why the S-curves on that graph grow precipitously in between Stages Two and Three. Adoption increases revenue for a very very very short period of time.

That kind of growth is not sustainable for years, though. That’s why I say it was an inevitable plateau. If you’ll look on that graph again, though, you’ll see that both curves end higher on the y-axis—the profit axis—than they were at the beginning.

But hitting that plateau after years of rapid growth and, in the case of traditional publishing, a near-monopoly on the market, is painful. And that’s what we’re experiencing.

Also, sales are spreading out. I’ll talk about this a bit more in the next couple of weeks. But think of it this way. Instead of a lot of readers reluctantly reading the latest blockbuster because they’re trapped in the airport and can’t find anything else to read, those readers are now downloading dozens of books on their phones, and reading a variety of things—some of which we don’t have measurements of. Those readers have left the blockbusters they barely liked behind and found books/authors they like better.

So the money that would have gone to five different authors at three different publishing companies is now going to twenty authors, and only two of those authors are with traditional publishing companies. The books the readers are reading, though, aren’t the latest blockbuster by that author, but an older book that came out a decade ago. The price is lower, and the companies aren’t interested in those sales. They want the newest book to sell the most copies.

The consumer spends the same amount of money, but spreads it out over a wider range. Many of these sales are untrackable. Not all of those twenty authors report their sales to anyone, and not all of those sales were made through traditional channels. A few of the authors sold on their own websites. Some of those books came out of bundles. And some came out of a subscription service like Amazon. The traditional publishing companies lost most of the revenue, because their book sales have legitimately declined.

But that doesn’t mean people are reading less or that fiction reading is declining.

I’m not the only one who sees this. Mark Williams of The New Publishing Standard had the same reaction to the traditional publishing fiction numbers that I did. He wrote on November 18:

The big problem we have is that the fiction market, much more so than the wider book market, is so fragmented now, thanks to digital (by which I mean not just ebooks and audiobooks but online POD and most of all social media democratising the promotion of fiction titles), such that it seems like fewer people are reading fiction, but the reality is likely just the opposite.

The fragmented market is but one thing we’ll talk about in the next few weeks. We’ll look at how writers can use that market to their own advantage.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

PG always appreciates the analysis Kris and Dean bring to the publishing world, traditional and indie. He was going to add a few of his thoughts to Kris’ excellent post, but, perhaps as a result of holiday hangover (not the alcoholic kind), his little gray cells are not as well-regimented as usual.

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.

Here is the most recent Kris Rusch book selling on Amazon:

Amazon Targets Unprofitable Items, With a Sharper Focus on the Bottom Line

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon.com Inc. has trained people to buy everything from major appliances to daily staples online. Now it is having second thoughts about some of those sales because they don’t make money—and is pushing big brands to change how they use its site.

Inside Amazon, the items are known as CRaP, short for “Can’t Realize a Profit.” Think bottled beverages or snack foods. The products tend to be priced at $15 or less, are sold directly by Amazon, and are heavy or bulky and therefore costly to ship—characteristics that make for thin or nonexistent margins.

Now, as Amazon focuses more on its bottom line in addition to its rapid growth, it is increasingly taking aim at CRaP products, according to major brand executives and people familiar with the company’s thinking. In recent months, it has been eliminating unprofitable items and pressing manufacturers to change their packaging to better sell online, according to brands that sell on Amazon and consultants who work with them.

One example: bottled water from Coca-Cola Co.Amazon used to have a $6.99 six-pack of Smartwater as the default order on some of its Dash buttons, a small device that allows for automatic reordering with a single press. But in August, after working with Coca-Cola to change how it ships and sells the water, Amazon notified Dash customers it was changing that default item to a 24-pack for $37.20.

That raised the price per bottle to $1.55 from $1.17. And Coca-Cola will start shipping those orders directly to consumers, sparing Amazon the expense of shipping from its warehouses. Manufacturers shipping from their warehouses is something Amazon has asked more brands to do to cut its own costs.

Amazon told Coca-Cola that it was losing money on the smaller, cheaper shipments, according to people familiar with the matter.

Coca-Cola responds that it works with partners to learn together and constantly evolves its offerings.

. . . .

For big consumer brands, not being on Amazon “is not an option anymore,” said Guru Hariharan, chief executive of Boomerang Commerce, which makes e-commerce software. “They have the power; they have the shoppers.”

Amazon also has greater leeway to curb CRaP items because of the rise of independent sellers on its site. They have added hundreds of millions of items, helping ensure that Amazon’s virtual shelves are stocked with the variety shoppers expect. And those sales tend to be more profitable for Amazon, which typically collects a 15% cut plus fees for warehousing.

. . . .

Mr. Bergstein said his company has developed new product formats that are more profitable to sell online—on Amazon or elsewhere. Amazon is “really clear that they have a profitability threshold,” he said. “We’ve been clear about saying, ‘Let’s make sure what we’re selling is profitable, and we’re not just lining Amazon’s pockets.’”

That has meant selling smaller, lighter laundry products like detergent pods and skipping cheaper paper towels. Instead of promoting a three-pack of dish soap, Seventh Generation recently started advertising a 6-pack for $17.70, and it created a larger, 504-count package of baby wipes for $19.91 for sale on Amazon and elsewhere.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

As PG has noted previously, ebooks are an ideal online product for Amazon with extremely low storage and delivery costs.

PG suspects the same could be said for ebooks and traditional publishers although, unlike Amazon, publishers share far less of the money they receive from ebook sales with authors than Amazon does.

Of course, traditional publishers opted to fight with Amazon instead of embrace it as a marvelous way of increasing sales without increasing publisher overhead. They bet their money on Barnes & Noble instead.

While PG is rolling, he’ll briefly address an apparently evergreen story that pops up among various traditional and nontraditional media outlets: Amazon’s warehouse workers.

PG speculates that none of the authors of those articles have ever worked in a warehouse.

By virtue of a summer job during his college years, PG can claim familiarity with warehouse work. It was hard work that involved lugging semi-heavy objects (30-60 pounds) around all day. The surroundings were much dirtier than Amazon’s warehouses, if contemporary photos are accurate. Climate control at PG’s warehouse job consisted of opening a bunch of doors to allow air to circulate at ambient temperatures.

PG expects that if he went on an inspection tour of today’s warehouses, he would find a great many that hadn’t changed much since his college days.

Way back when, PG earned minimum wage. A lot of warehouse workers still earn minimum wage.

In virtually every way, Amazon treats its warehouse workers better than warehouse workers are treated by other American businesses, small or large. Amazon workers earn more than minimum wage. Amazon provides medical insurance. Amazon provides opportunities for promotion. Amazon will pay for further education of its warehouse employees, whether the education is in a field that benefits Amazon or not.

So why are Amazon warehouse stories such an evergreen topic?

Amazon doesn’t want labor unions in its warehouses. For reasons that are not difficult to discern, Amazon believes that unionized employees will not increase productivity at its warehouses. In the US, the number of workers working under union contracts peaked in 1980 and has been declining ever since.

Again in the US, companies with unionized workforces are overwhelmingly operating in old-time bricks and mortar industries. Virtually none of the technology companies that have driven so much economic growth in the US for the last 20 years are unionized.

A common tactic of US labor unions when they’re trying to pressure an employer into agreeing to unionize its employees is to spread horror stories about the working conditions inside of the target employer. The bad PR is supposed to pressure the company into agreeing to permit labor unions into its business. Whether the horror stories are true or not is beside the point.

Amazon presently employs more than 600,000 people. Not all of those people are happy every day. Not all of those people love their jobs.  PG gently suggests that unionized Amazon warehouses won’t change that.

 

The Color of the Year

PG lives a sheltered life, so removed from modern culture and civilization that only this morning, he learned that the color of 2019 is Living Coral.

From Time:

Pantone has announced that Living Coral is the 2019 color of the year. The color authority has bestowed the honorable title on a special hue every December for the past 20 years, taking into account fashion, decorating, design and cultural trends, as well as “how colors can embody our collective experience and reflect what is taking place in our global culture at a moment in time,” according to press release from Pantone.

This year’s color, PANTONE 16-1546 Living Coral, is an animating shade of orange with a golden undertone, which reflects the warmth, nourishment, and shelter of coral reefs to sea life. Pantone notes that this year’s selection symbolizes an “innate need for optimism and joyful pursuits” and “authentic and immersive experiences that enable connection and intimacy” — the latter carrying extra poignancy in a cultural landscape that is increasingly dominated by digital technology and social media.

. . . .

“Color is a language and color is inextricably linked to the culture,” Laurie Pressman, vice president of the Pantone Color Institute, tells TIME of this year’s selection of the color coral. “We see the environment taking on an even greater role in the world we live in today for two primary reasons, one being how connected we are to technology. Because we are so connected to something that’s not real, so to speak, we really need to find that balance closely and intimately with something that is real and you don’t get more real than nature.”

Pressman says the second aspect is “our understanding of our natural resources…we look at the concerns of what’s taking place in nature, the depletion of natural resources. One of the things that we get from nature is energy. When we think about the shifting nature of our world, here’s a color that’s animating and life-affirming.”

Link to the rest at Time

Who knew a single color could be so powerful?

Everybody knows that dozens of colors can change the course of history, but will only one color distinguish 2019 from all the years that came before?

PG learned that pasting PANTONE 16-1546 into a Google search box will bring up lots of examples of Living Coral, including the definitive standard from Pantone.

 

 

Of course, a color cretin like PG is probably not seeing the true beauty of 16-1546 TPX because he is viewing it through a computer monitor that has not been properly calibrated to show really, really true colors (although it looks about the same on his phone).

With that caveat, PG is not certain how he will involve Living Coral in his life during 2019 (he almost typed 1919).

A quick glance into PG’s closet would confirm that the widest collection of colors is found where his ties congregate, but he can’t visualize Living Coral around his neck with a suit.

PG’s socks run the color gamut from navy blue to black with some white ones for the gym. Maybe there is room for 16-1546 TPX near the bottom of the personal  palette that is PG clothed in all his colorful glory.

16-1546 TPX socks might create a Living Coral-assisted mating-season sort of look, which might not work because PG is firmly mated to Mrs. PG and happy to have that connection continue into the distant future.

But he so wants to be “animating and life-affirming.”

It is clear that PG will have to devote much more time to the contemplation and management of color than he has during the decades leading up to 2019 if he wants to establish a fashion forward image “inextricably linked to the culture” when “inextricably” is practically PG’s middle name.

Expect to see much more about Living Coral in upcoming posts on TPV.

Your Basket is Leaking

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

In October 2018, Sears filed for bankruptcy. The form of bankruptcy the corporate heads chose was something called Chapter 11 here in the U.S. It means that the company—once the largest retailer in the entire world—will be able to reorganize and, if they’re lucky and the folks running the company are smart, they might be able to emerge from bankruptcy with some of the business still intact.

The key here isn’t the details of Sears’ bankruptcy. It really isn’t even Sears itself which, when I was a child, fifty years ago, was a fixture in America. It’s the trajectory of the company.

. . . .

By early 1940s, Sears’ catalogue became  known as the Consumer’s Bible. In the 1950s or so, Sears started opening brick-and-mortar stores, and by the mid-1970s, the brick-and-mortar business overshadowed the mail order catalogue.

Mismanagement, a failure to keep up with the times, and a large corporate structure led to a decline starting in the 1980s, exacerbated by the rise of Wal-Mart in the 1990s. Sears still had a lot of value after the turn of the 21st century, but not in retail. The value was in its properties and its stock, and eventually that declined as well.

And now, Sears—mismanaged to pieces, its mail-order business (and famous catalogue) a distant memory—has almost thrown in the towel. They’re fighting for their existence. Very few adults alive remember the store in its heyday.

But look at that trajectory. Mail order on one item only. Then more items. Then unrelated items. Then becoming one of the biggest companies in the world. Then adding brick-and-mortar.

Does that sound familiar? Think of it this way: instead of mail order, think online. Instead of watches, think books. And then realize that Amazon shares much of Sears trajectory, only on a slightly accelerated pace—and without the name changes and the obvious added partners.

Sears to Wal-Mart to Amazon. There is a direct line. Wal-Mart is still fighting for dominance, but they’re no longer fighting Sears. They’re fighting Amazon. And Amazon is probably fighting some other company with a good idea, some company that I’m not entirely aware of.

Why is that important?

Because currently, Amazon is the biggest online retail company in the world. (Wal-Mart is still the largest retailer, but Amazon has moved up to second there as well.)  Amazon is exceedingly important to the indie writer movement. In fact, indie publishing would not be where it’s at without Amazon’s innovation with the Kindle ereader ten years ago.

In that time period, a lot of self-published authors have used Amazon’s ecosystem to make themselves, if not wealthy, then at least comfortably well off.  Many of those writers don’t even market their work outside of Amazon at all, preferring to use the tools provided by Kindle Select to promote their series and their work.

Early on, writing advice for indies (as I’m going to call writers who work outside of traditional publishing) centered on an Amazon-only strategy. If you look at my earliest blogs on the publishing industry, back in 2009/2010, you’ll see me constantly defending myself against that very argument. I learned as a young freelancer to go wide—and that was back in the early 1980s. Relying on only one source for income—no matter how large that source is—is never a good idea.

. . . .

Having been in traditional publishing, with its weird rules and limitations, meant I had learned early on how angry readers get when they can’t get a book that they want. I didn’t want to replicate that experience for them, particularly as I took back control of my publishing, so I never even considered Select.

Although, I had to admit, I was envious at times of writers who could manipulate that system to raise their profiles—at least on Amazon. It would have been nice to have access to the same tools. Eventually, I developed a few new pen names (for a variety of reasons, and no, I’m not telling you who they are), and they experimented in Select.

The Select promotion tools are good until they’re not, as everyone who plays in that ecosystem knows. Amazon changes the system, and then the indies figure out how to best use that system, and then Amazon changes it again.

There have been complaints about Amazon and its practices from the start. But savvy writers have known that Amazon started this revolution, and no matter what they’ve done, we all owe them big for that.

But…then there’s the argument I’ve been making on this blog since at least 2010. Do not put all your eggs in one basket. Even if that basket is the biggest online retailer in the world.

I still get pushback on that advice. But not as much as I used to. Because some of the big pro-Amazon indies are beginning to see cracks around the edges of Amazon. There’ve been too many changes to Select, too many broken promises, too many costly mistakes.

Some of the formerly pro Select-only gurus are now quietly going wide. A few others, trapped in the ecosystem, are using other tools to make their novels available before they put the books into Select. They’re still gaming Amazon’s system, but they’re gaming it to keep the income coming—until they can move out of the exclusivity trap that they had allowed Amazon to build around them.

For the writers, though, who continued to argue that Select was the only viable place to play, October and early November were a difficult time. Writer after writer here in the U.S. noted that their international sales had declined dramatically.

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 says that very few, if any, large organizations are unchanging.

Since he has watched the tech world, from the inside and the outside, for a long time, he has seen a great many changes.

Microsoft is not the same organization it used to be. Neither is Apple.

WordPerfect was a wonderful product and a superb organization in its day, but it’s gone now. Ditto for Lotus 1-2-3, Novell and Netscape. In some cases, former tech giants continue as zombie caricatures of their former selves, but the spark is gone.

The personal influence of a strong executive can profoundly shape an organization. Think of Sam Walton and Walmart. When that entrepreneurial executive leaves or dies, it is quite common for such organizations to change. The Sam Waltons and Steve Jobs of the next decades aren’t working for today’s Walmart and Apple. They wouldn’t fit.

Jeff Bezos and Amazon have a similarly tight bond. Amazon has mirrored Bezos’ personality in many ways.

But Amazon has become an extremely large company and the Bezos influence travels through lots of management levels and and subordinants’ decisions before it reaches indie authors and individual consumers. Bezos simply can’t know about everything Amazon is doing today and he’ll know even less next year.

PG thinks the Amazon plan to have two headquarters locations, which later morphed into three headquarters locations is Exhibit A in demonstrating that Bezos has taken his hands off the wheel.

While widely-dispersed major “headquarters” locations may make it easier to tap into a larger geographic pool of talent to fill the entry-level and middle-management jobs, PG suspects it’s going to be a management mess with queens and kings of little Amazon kingdoms sprouting everywhere.

Bezos’ ability to effectively provide vision, leadership and shape Amazon’s corporate culture is going to be substantially diminished. Any future Jeff Bezos-type Amazon employees who might have the talent to continue the level of innovation and organizational excellence he established are not likely to rise through this type of management structure. And their chances of catching Bezos’ attention and obtaining his help in rising through Amazon by their job performance will be slim.

 

The UK’s 2018 ‘Building Inclusivity’ Conference: A Safe Place for Discussion

From Publishing Perspectives:

There were several key messages highlighted in the UK’s third conference on Building Inclusivity in Publishing, presented by the London Book Fair and the Publishers Association on London’s South Bank on Tuesday (November 27).

. . . .

  • Inclusion should be a given, not an exception
  • Unpaid internships should disappear completely
  • Publishers should establish “safe places” in which conversations concerning issues like identity can take place
  • Children’s publishers need to recognize how important it is for black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) children to see themselves in books

Self-defined “queer working-class woman” Kerry Hudson—whose memoir Lowborn Growing Up, Getting Away, and Returning to Britain’s Poorest Towns is to be published February 5 by Penguin Random House’s Chatto—noted that strides have been made to improve inclusion.

One example Hudson pointed to is the Good Literary Agency, specifically set up with the purpose of reaching marginalized voices, for example—but she also pointed out that a recent report funded by the the Arts and Humanities Research Council and titled Panic! 2018 Social Cass, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries (PDF), suggested that only 12.6 percent of employees in publishing are of working-class origin.

“Marginalized writers aren’t looking for a scheme or a month of open submissions when for the rest of the year they feel as isolated and overlooked as ever,” Hudson said.

“We want an industry where inclusivity is the norm and not the shiniest new project. The aim must be not for superficial changes but actually changing the bones, the very structure of what this industry is. That means moving away from pilots, meetings, and mission statements and looking at how to roll-out, scale up, and truly integrate these principles.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG suggests that traditional publishing is built upon a foundation that is exactly the opposite of inclusive. Publishing drones sift through the never-diminishing slush pile looking for the rarest of manuscripts. They automatically exclude 99%+ of the voices who want to be heard in the broader society.

One might argue that the principal value of traditional publishers for most readers is to create an exclusive collection of books that will appeal to those readers. If a publisher doesn’t exclude manuscripts its readers will, for whatever reason, not enjoy, the costs of publication, overhead, etc., will quickly exceed the publisher’s income and the publisher will disappear.

Self-described “curators of culture” can’t open the gates to just anyone without failing in their curational role, the only value they provide in a world in which self-publishing is becoming more and more widely accepted.

One might also ask if traditional publishers are providing a useful service to marginalized authors by inviting those authors into a business structure in which, “Don’t quit your day job,” is the most common piece of honest advice publishers give to debut authors.

Isn’t Kindle Direct Publishing “actually changing the bones, the very structure of what this industry is” to a far, far greater extent than conferences held on London’s South Bank?

Won’t more marginalized authors succeed in sharing their unique viewpoints with the world by self-publishing? Won’t most marginalized authors find a life as a professional writer easier to attain by selling their work in ebook form on Amazon?

 

Medallion Press Files for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

From Publishers Weekly:

Medallion Press filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy October 18, in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of Northern District of Illinois. In its filing, the publisher listed assets of $100,001 to $500,000 and liabilities in the same range. It cited between 200 to 999 creditors.

Under a Chapter 7 filing, a trustee will liquidate a company’s assets in order to earn as much money as it can to pay creditors.

. . . .

Medallion was founded in 2003 by Helen Rosburg, a published romance author and great-granddaughter of Wrigley Co. founder William Wrigley. The house initially focused on publishing mass market paperbacks in the categories of general fiction, romance, fantasy, paranormal, science fiction, mystery and thrillers.

After growing steadily from its launch to 2010, Medallion formed with Medallion Media Group and put an eye towards entering the movie and music business.

. . . .

Since word of the bankruptcy started to spread, agents have been working to retrieve the publishing rights of their authors from the company.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Several lifetimes ago, as a volunteer lawyer working with Legal Aid (an organization that provides legal assistance to poor people in the US), PG filed a lot of Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions. That said, he has not remained current on bankruptcy law and does not provide any legal advice for those involved in bankruptcy proceedings. He especially doesn’t provide legal advice via blog posts on TPV.

For business organizations, a typical bankruptcy will be filed under Chapter 7 (the business can’t pay its debts and its assets will be liquidated and the proceeds divided among its creditors) or Chapter 11 (if the bankruptcy court will hold the creditors at bay, the business can reorganize itself, stretch out some payments, get out of some contracts and once again become a viable business entity).

The OP says Medallion has filed for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If the legal process is carried through to conclusion, Medallion will cease to exist after a period of time during which its assets are sold and, under the supervision of a court-appointed bankruptcy trustee, the proceeds divided among its creditors according to priorities set in the bankruptcy laws. Any current or future lawsuits against the company get rolled into the bankruptcy process along with the claims of all creditors, including authors who haven’t been paid their royalties.

The OP says literary agents have been working to retrieve the publishing rights of their authors from Medallion. Unless the agents have retained competent bankruptcy counsel, that isn’t going to happen. Medallion no longer controls the publishing rights. Upon the filing of the Chapter 7 petition, which has already occurred, the bankruptcy court controls the publishing rights and all other assets owned by Medallion. Whoever may answer the phone at Medallion can’t do anything with publishing rights, regardless of how persuasive a literary agent may be.

PG is not aware of any special provisions of the bankruptcy laws that place authors in a privileged position in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy of a publisher (although he would be very happy to learn such provisions exist).

Absent such provisions, the publishing agreements between Medallion and its authors are assets that the bankruptcy trustee will try to sell for the best price possible to whoever will pay that price. Any claims for unpaid royalties owed to authors will likely be rolled into the pile of unpaid debts of Medallion and cash resulting from sales of assets will be divided among the printer, the utility companies, UPS, the bookstores that have returned Medallion books for a refund and not been paid, etc., etc., etc., and the authors.

Absent unusually valuable assets, PG suspects the authors will receive a small fraction of their unpaid royalties.

But what about the publishing rights the agents are apparently attempting to retrieve?

In a variety of different business contracts, somewhere back in the boilerplate provisions, there is a bankruptcy clause that is worded something like the following:

In the event that either Party files for protection under bankruptcy laws, makes an assignment for the benefit of creditors, appoints or suffers appointment of a receiver or trustee over its property, files a petition under any bankruptcy or insolvency act or has any such petition filed against it which is not discharged within sixty (60) days of the filing thereof, then the other Party may terminate this Agreement effective immediately upon written notice to such Party.

Unfortunately, upon the filing of a bankruptcy petition, this contract provision becomes unenforceable.

The bankruptcy court determines what happens under the contracts that are held by the individual or company filing for relief under US bankruptcy law. As stated above, generally speaking, under Chapter 7, the bankruptcy trustee tries to sell the assets owned by the person or company filing for bankruptcy relief to whoever offers to pay the highest price.

As an uninvolved observer (and not as an attorney), PG expects the publishing contracts between Medallion and its authors will be sold to an individual or company and (voilà!) – all the Medallion authors will have a new publisher!

The new publisher might be Random House or it might be Kevin the Krusher, New Jersey junkyard magnate, who buys the publishing contracts as a gift for his spoiled son, Digby, who has always wanted to be a member of the literary set.

If the Medallion publishing agreements include the most unfortunate, but quite common provision by which the author granted Medallion the right to publish his/her books for the full term of the copyright the author owns for the book (typically, the rest of the author’s life plus 70 years in the US), each of the Medallion authors can look forward to receiving royalty statements (or not) from Digby every once in awhile accompanied by royalty checks (or not).

After Digby retires, Digby, Jr., may become the publisher followed by Digby III (or not).

Or, if the circle of life applies to publishing contracts, perhaps Digby will burn through all his father’s money and file a petition for relief under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code.

Politics and The Passive Voice

For visitors from abroad, over the course of his first two years in office, President Donald Trump has generated a tremendous amount of emotion among the citizens of the United States. His supporters are usually solidly supportive of his performance and his opponents are extremely antagonistic towards his person and his policies.

The heat of political dialogue in the United States far outweighs the light these days. It is almost impossible to avoid.

The Passive Voice is not a blog about politics. PG doesn’t know that it qualifies as an island of reason amid a storm of emotions, but it’s not about politics, American or otherwise.

TPV occasionally includes items that relate to copyright law and changes thereto in the US and other countries, but PG doesn’t remember any instance in which copyright law sent hundreds of protesters into the streets and drove online denizens mad with rage. If it ever does, he’ll deal with it at that time.

PG has encountered and removed a number of comments that have included political commentary relating to the current resident of the Oval Office and his policies. He requests that discussion on TPV not include the commenter’s views about President Trump either directly or via characterizations of his person or policies closely associated with him.

 

 

Murakami Withdraws from The Alternative Nobel Prize in Literature

From BookRiot:

Japanese author Haruki Murakami has asked to withdraw his nomination as one of the four finalists for The New Academy Prize in Literature, also known as the alternative Nobel Prize in Literature.

According to The New Academy’s press release, Murakami is deeply honored by the nomination; however, he wishes to withdraw to focus on his writing and avoid the distraction that the media attention will bring.

The jury of The New Academy will continue its work to appoint a winner from the remaining three finalists–Maryse Condé, Neil Gaiman, and Kim Thúy, who all have expressed their enthusiasm over being nominated.

. . . .

The New Academy is a Swedish non-profit organization founded in the spring of 2018 in response to the Swedish Academy postponing the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature because of the many scandals that erupted earlier this year. The New Academy is not affiliated with either the Swedish Academy or the Nobel Foundation.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

PG wonders if it was wise for The New Academy Prize in Literature to announce that one of its prize nominees had declined to participate in the prize business.

Had anyone asked PG whether a startup prize company should issue a press release announcing that someone famous had refused in advance to receive a prize, PG would probably have suggested that the PR team find another subject.

Why might Murakami have taken this step?

Answers could include:

  • The flight from Tokyo to Stockholm has to be a killer.
  • On the date of the prize ceremony, December 10, the beaches of Thailand might be more appealing than the shores of the Baltic.
  • Can a literary prize that is funding a “Gala Dinner and Prize Ceremony” with a Kickstarter campaign be all that prestigious?

Or Murakami might have visited the New Academy’s website:

The New Academy is a non-profit organization, politically and financially independent. It consists of a wide range of knowledgeable individuals. The New Academy works within the time frame of the Swedish Academy and in five different committees.

. . . .

The New Academy will be dissolved in December.

While the lure of “five different committees” comprised of “knowledgeable individuals” is powerful, PG hereby respectfully declines to be nominated for a quasi-Nobel Prize for Champerty, Maintenance and Barratry.

You Don’t Own the Music, Movies or Ebooks You ‘Buy’ on Amazon or iTunes

From Two Cents:

When you purchase music, movies or books from Amazon or Apple’s iTunes store, you might be under the impression that that material is yours to enjoy forever; that’s how CDs and paper books work, after all. Why rent You’ve Got Mail for $3.99 every few months when you can “own” it and watch it whenever, forever, for $9.99?

But you’d be mistaken. Anything digital is temporary, even if you clicked “purchase” rather than “rent.” One unfortunate side effect of that you won’t experience with a physical book or record: Your purchases may just disappear if licensing agreements change.

. . . .

As outlined in the Twitter thread, Apple states the content provider of the movies in question removed them from the store. And that removed them from the user’s library, even though he had paid money to buy them. It’s easy to see why that’s frustrating (especially since Apple wasn’t willing to cough up a refund for the purchases he no longer has).

“This wouldn’t happen in the physical world. No one comes to your door and demands that you give back a book,” Aaron Perzanowski, a Case Western Reserve University law professor, who studied these digital purchases, told the LA Times in 2016. “But in the digital world, they can just go into your Kindle and take it.”

. . . .

For example, Amazon notes in the fine print that “Kindle Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider. The Content Provider may include additional terms for use within its Kindle Content.” You also can’t sell or redistribute your ebooks, as you might with a physical copy. Apple’s fine printstates that the licensor “reserves the right to change, suspend, remove, disable or impose access restrictions or limits on any External Services at any time without notice or liability to you.”

. . . .

The best option? If you can, buy a physical copy of a movie or TV show that comes with a digital download. At least you’ll have a backup in case your digital copy disappears—assuming you still have a player to watch it on.

Link to the rest at Two Cents

When PG read the OP, one of the first things to pop into his mind was, “born yesterday”.

The author of the OP apparently discovered licensing of intellectual property shortly before writing the article and assumed at least a portion of the Lifehacker audience didn’t know much about the topic either.

“Born Yesterday” was the name of a Broadway play with two revivals plus three different movies.

Here’s a plot summary of the original Broadway play, Born Yesterday, which premiered in 1946, from Wikipedia:

An uncouth, corrupt rich junk dealer, Harry Brock, brings his showgirl mistress Billie Dawn with him to Washington, D.C. When Billie’s ignorance becomes a liability to Brock’s business dealings, he hires a journalist, Paul Verrall, to educate his girlfriend. In the process of learning, Billie Dawn realizes how corrupt Harry is and begins interfering with his plans to bribe a Congressman into passing legislation that would allow Brock’s business to make more money.

As a general proposition, the creator of intellectual property is its owner. Everybody else who wants to observe, read, listen to, etc., etc., that intellectual property is not the owner of the IP, but only has limited rights created by statute or license to do some things with their copy of the IP.

The owner of a physical book can’t make copies of the book and sell them to others because the book’s owner doesn’t own the IP depicted in the book. He/she is only the owner of the paper, ink and binding of that particular copy of the book. The copyright law (statutory and otherwise) which creates and defines the IP in the first place permits the book’s owner to do certain things with the physical book – read it, lend that copy to someone else, sell that copy to someone else, donate it to a library, deface the book, use excerpts or quotes from the book for various purposes, etc., etc.

The same basic rules, adapted to different media by which IP can be duplicated, transmitted, etc., govern copies of the IP in digital form. Just as making a copy of a book to give or sell to someone else is a violation of the creator’s IP rights, generally speaking, making a copy of a CD, a digital file, a photograph, or other protected medium incorporating such IP to give or sell to someone else is, absent permission from the creator or permission granted via copyright law, a violation of the creator’s IP rights.

Enough of this type of blathering.

The OP caused PG to wonder whether an author self-publishing with Amazon via KDP could make digital copies of his/her ebooks disappear from Kindles everywhere by unpublishing the ebook.

The short answer is probably not.

Here are some excerpts from the current Kindle Direct Publishing Terms and Conditions that describe what rights an author grants to Amazon:

Paragraph 3 Term and Termination (excerpt with PG highlights)

Following termination or suspension, we may fulfill any customer orders for your Books pending as of the date of termination or suspension, and we may continue to maintain digital copies of your Digital Books in order to provide continuing access to or re-downloads of your Digital Books, as well as digital copies of your Books to support customers who have purchased a Book prior to termination or suspension. . . . All rights to Digital Books acquired by customers will survive termination.

Paragraph 5.1.4 Book Withdrawal (excerpt with PG highlights)

All withdrawals of Books will apply prospectively only and not with respect to any customers who purchased the Books prior to the date of removal.

Paragraph 5.5 Grant of Rights (excerpt with PG highlights)

You grant to each Amazon party, throughout the term of this Agreement, a nonexclusive, irrevocable, right and license to print (on-demand and in anticipation of customer demand) and distribute Books, directly and through third-party distributors, in all formats you choose to make available through KDP by all distribution means available. This right includes, without limitation, the right to: (a) reproduce, index and store Books on one or more computer facilities, and reformat, convert and encode Books; (b) display, market, transmit, distribute, sell, license and otherwise make available all or any portion of Books through Amazon Properties (as defined below), for customers and prospective customers to download, access, copy and paste, print, annotate and/or view online and offline, including on portable devices; (c) permit customers to “store” Digital Books that they have purchased from us on servers (“Virtual Storage”) and to access and re-download such Digital Books from Virtual Storage from time to time both during and after the term of this Agreement

It appears to PG that Apple’s agreement with the owners of the copyrights to some iTunes movies did not include anything like the language in the KDP T&C’s and that the movie owners could force Apple to terminate rights of its customers who had paid for licenses to those movies.

It appears to PG that an author or publisher operating under the KDP T&C’s or something similar can’t force Amazon to terminate a customer’s rights to access an ebook they bought through Amazon. Amazon can decide to do so, but an author can’t make Amazon pull a digital move like iTunes did.

As usual, PG is a lawyer, but nothing PG posts on TPV is legal advice. If you would like to obtain legal advice, you need to hire an attorney to give you that advice, not read what a lawyer might post on a blog.

PG invites comments that agree or disagree with his half-baked (or fully-baked) blatherings on this topic.

European Parliament Approves Catastrophic Copyright Bill That Threatens the Internet

From Gizmodo:

Members of the European Parliament voted Wednesday to approve a sweeping overhaul of the EU’s copyright laws that includes two controversial articles that threaten to hand more power to the richest tech companies and generally break the internet.

Overall, MEPs voted in favor of the EU Copyright Directive with a strong majority of 438 to 226. But the process isn’t over. There are still more parliamentary procedures to go through, and individual countries will eventually have to decide how they intend to implement the rules. That’s part of the reason that it’s so difficult to raise public awareness on this issue.

Momentum to oppose the legislation built up earlier this summer, culminating with Parliament deciding to open it up for amendments in July. Many people may have thought the worst was over. It wasn’t—but make no mistake, today’s vote in favor of the directive was extremely consequential.

The biggest issue with this legislation has been Articles 11 and 13. These two provisions have come to be known as the “link tax” and “upload filter” requirements, respectively.

In brief, the link tax is intended to take power back from giant platforms like Google and Facebook by requiring them to pay news outlets for the privilege of linking or quoting articles. But critics say this will mostly harm smaller websites that can’t afford to pay the tax, and the tech giants will easily pay up or just decide not link to news. The latter outcome has already happened when this was tried in Spain. On top of inhibiting the spread of news, the link tax could also make it all but impossible for Wikipedia and other non-profit educational sources to do their work because of their reliance on links, quotes, and citation.

The upload filter section of the legislation demands that all platforms aside from “small/micro enterprises” use a content ID system of some sort to prevent any copyrighted works from being uploaded. Sites will face all copyright liabilities in the event that something makes it past the filter. Because even the best filtering systems, like YouTube’s, are still horrible, critics say that the inevitable outcome is that over-filtering will be the default mode of operation. Remixing, meme-making, sharing of works in the public domain, and other fair use practices would likely all fall victim to platforms that would rather play it safe, just say no to flagged content, and avoid legal battles. Copyright trolls will likely be able to fraudulently claim ownership of intellectual property with little recourse for their victims.

. . . .

Joe McNamee, executive director of digital rights association EDRi, recently told The Verge, “The system is so complicated that last Friday the [European Parliament] legal affairs committee tweeted an incorrect assessment of what’s happening. If they don’t understand the rules, what hope the rest of us?” As we come closer to living parallel lives online and IRL, such sweeping legislation is dangerous to play with.

In a statement sent to Gizmodo, Member of European Parliament Julia Reda said, “Unfortunately, all the concerns by academics, experts and internet users that led to the text being rejected last July still stand.” She said that the EU is relying on “wishful thinking” rather than addressing the clear problems in the directive. Her overall assessment of the vote was blunt: “Today’s decision is a severe blow to the free and open internet. By endorsing new legal and technical limits on what we can post and share online, the European Parliament is putting corporate profits over freedom of speech and abandoning long-standing principles that made the internet what it is today.”

Link to the rest at Gizmodo and thanks to Kat, who points out that this could impact TPV (although it might be a “small/micro enterprise”), for the tip.

Although he claims no deep knowledge of the language of the legislation and its potential impact on TPV or elsewhere, PG says one possibility springs (or limps) to mind would be that it could create a sort of digital Dark Age for websites originating in the EU.

Who is going to quote or take the risk of linking to a European website that may trigger a “link tax” or otherwise expose the site owners to jurisdiction under a complex EU legal regime?

It is not difficult for PG to imagine a new WordPress plugin that automatically screens the IP addresses of linked articles or online visitors to a blog and blocks access to the linked website in general or for visitors with a European IP address. This type of digital censorship system will almost certainly be over-inclusive if the penalties involve exposing a US, Brazilian or Japanese blog to some sort of EU regulatory framework.

If the impact of such an initiative creates one or more digital “no-go” zones, the individuals and organizations in those zones could suffer a much greater harm than any offsetting benefit to the relatively small number of IP rights holders in any nation.

But, as usual, PG could be wrong. As mentioned, he only knows what he reads online about a wide variety of subjects these days.

While he believes himself to be a staunch advocate for the rights of authors and other creators to reasonable legal protections for their works, PG thinks a couple of items about the potential harms of rent-seeking are relevant.

From Wikipedia:

In public choice theory and in economics, rent-seeking involves seeking to increase one’s share of existing wealth without creating new wealth. Rent-seeking results in reduced economic efficiency through poor allocation of resources, reduced actual wealth-creation, lost government revenue, increased income inequality, and (potentially) national decline.

Attempts at capture of regulatory agencies to gain a coercive monopoly can result in advantages for the rent seeker in a market while imposing disadvantages on (incorrupt) competitors. This constitutes one of many possible forms of rent-seeking behavior.

. . . .

Rent-seeking is an attempt to obtain economic rent (i.e., the portion of income paid to a factor of production in excess of what is needed to keep it employed in its current use) by manipulating the social or political environment in which economic activities occur, rather than by creating new wealth. Rent-seeking implies extraction of uncompensated value from others without making any contribution to productivity. The classic example of rent-seeking, according to Robert Shiller, is that of a feudal lord who installs a chain across a river that flows through his land and then hires a collector to charge passing boats a fee (or rent of the section of the river for a few minutes) to lower the chain. There is nothing productive about the chain or the collector. The lord has made no improvements to the river and is not adding value in any way, directly or indirectly, except for himself. All he is doing is finding a way to make money from something that used to be free.

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Rent-seeking is distinguished in theory from profit-seeking, in which entities seek to extract value by engaging in mutually beneficial transactions. Profit-seeking in this sense is the creation of wealth, while rent-seeking is “profiteering” by using social institutions, such as the power of the state, to redistribute wealth among different groups without creating new wealth.

And some relevant quotes:

I readily acknowledge that it may be difficult to know where to draw the line between ‘corruption’ and ‘rent-seeking behaviour’…. The latter term is generally used to refer to the process by which interest groups adopt (lawful) means to secure competitive advantages from the political process and is a phenomenon widely recognised as influencing law and legal institutions in industrialised societies and is the subject of a huge literature . . . . Rent-seeking may, indeed, impose costs to the economy as high, if not higher, than those arising from corruption (narrowly defined).

~ Anthony Ogus

Time, talent, money, knowledge, and resources that could be used to protect people and cure deadly diseases are instead being wasted, siphoned off by rent-seeking because the government needs to…protect us.

~ Lisa Casanova

As soon as the state takes upon itself the task of planning the whole economic life, the problem of the due station of the different individuals and groups must indeed inevitably become the central political problem. As the coercive power of the state will alone decide who is to have what, the only power worth having will be a share in the exercise of this directing power. There will be no economic or social questions that would not be political questions in the sense that their solution will depend exclusively on who wields the coercive power, on whose are the views that will prevail on all occasions.

~ Friedrich August Hayek