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.

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Link to the rest at Field Notes