The triumph of culture

From The Economist:

They tore down the statue and rolled it into Bristol harbour, and none of them denied it. Yet this month a jury in England acquitted four people over the toppling of a likeness of Edward Colston, an English philanthropist and leading slave-trader who died in 1721. Part of the case for the defence was unusual for a courtroom, and revealing of the intellectual mood in Britain and beyond. The real offence, said the accused, was that the monument to such a monster was still standing. Facing criminal charges, they made an argument about art, and about history.

In an era of rising nationalism and seething partisanship, some borders—including those between countries and political camps—can seem to be hardening. But others are blurring, such as between politics and culture, statecraft and stagecraft. When the news vies for attention with entertainment, and is relished as meme and soap opera, entertainers have a political edge—and from France to Ukraine, television personalities have exploited it. Poets may no longer be the unacknowledged legislators of the world, but activist sports stars and outspoken children’s authors have a pretty big say.

The substance of public debate has evolved with the personnel, not least in the erosion of another distinction, between the present and the past. Witness the saga of Colston, who splashed back into the news 300 years after his death. A decade ago, the idea that Conservative ministers might lambast the National Trust, staid steward of English country houses—as they have over its interest in slavery and colonialism—would have seemed outlandish. (So, to American voters, would one run for the White House by the star of “The Apprentice”, let alone two.) Whoever controls the past may indeed control the future, but from the streets of post-imperial Britain to the school boards of America, they have a fight on their hands first.

Disputes over whose history is told, how and by whom, in part reflect a struggle over claims on power and virtue today. Adherents of “cancel culture”, that dismal oxymoron, believe some people, living and dead, are too discredited to be heard at all. In these rolling culture wars, The Economist has no fixed side. But neither are we neutral. Our liberal principles suggest that controversial voices should generally be audible—and that some statues should come down.

. . . .

Culture’s role in politics is not the only way it has become more salient. During lockdown, stories on the page and screen have offered vicarious adventures, and a sense of solidarity in adversity, to people across the world. Even as theatres and galleries closed, the technology of culture has developed to match this craving. If covid-19 has coloured the experience of the arts, meanwhile, in time the reverse will also be true: writers and artists will shape how the pandemic is understood and remembered, and we will be watching.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG is more than a little concerned about cancel culture wherever it appears.

In one respect, the actions of the cancel culture mobs – physical and intellectual – can be classed with book burning. In the Twentieth Century, book burning was most prominently practiced by the Nazis, who burned the books of Jewish authors.

Book burning has a long history, too. The first recorded state-sponsored book burning was in China in 213 BC, according to Matthew Fishburn, the author of Burning Books. The burnings were ordered by Qin Shi Huang, the Chinese emperor who also started the Great Wall and the Terracotta army.

. . . .

On June 22, 2011 a group in The Netherlands burned the cover of The Book of Negroes, by Canadian author Lawrence Hill, continuing both an ancient and modern tradition.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

. . . .

Panhandling Repertoires and Routines for Overcoming the Nonperson Treatment

In this article, I present panhandling as a dynamic undertaking that requires conscious actions and purposeful modifications of self, performances, and emotions to gain the attention and interest of passersby. I show that describing and theorizing panhandling in terms of dramaturgical routines is useful in understanding the interactions and exchanges that constitute panhandling. In addition, repertoires rightly portray panhandlers as agents engaging the social world rather than as passive social types. From this perspective, sidewalks serve as stages on which panhandlers confront and overcome various forms of the nonperson treatment.

This facet of human nature – oppressing or attacking the Other – is most prevalent and dangerous when a group uses force/violence to punish one or more individuals who are perceived to be from a different tribe, species, race or social position – some sort of nonperson who is not a member of whatever group of Übermenschen have the power to threaten an individual or group which lacks legal, social or physical power sufficient to deter mistreatment.

Othering is a phenomenon in which some individuals or groups are defined and labeled as not fitting within the norms of a social group and, thus, may be treated in a manner different from those who are members of a social group, racial, ethnic, educational, professional class, etc.

It is an effect that influences how people perceive and treat those who are viewed as being part of the in-group versus those who are seen as being part of the out-group. Othering also involves attributing negative characteristics to people or groups that differentiate them from the perceived normative social group.

It is an “us vs. them” way of thinking about human connections and relationships. This process essentially involves looking at others and saying “they are not like me” or “they are not one of us so I am not required to give them the same respect I give those who are like me.”

It takes a mob to cancel an individual.

Othering is a way of negating another person’s individual humanity and, consequently, those that are have been othered are seen as less worthy of dignity and respect.

On an individual level, othering plays a role in the formation of prejudices against people and groups. On a larger scale, it can also play a role in the dehumanization of entire groups of people which can then be exploited to drive changes in institutions, governments, and societies. It can lead to the persecution of marginalized groups, the denial of rights based on group identities, or even acts of violence against others.

Verywellmind.com

In the United States, unfortunately, racial/ethnic minorities, religious minorities and language minorities have all been subject to some degree of the cancel culture of a time and place, sometimes geographically localized and at other times widespread.

PG argues that the actions of college students who “cancel” the ideas or speech of an individual or group are operating under the influence of the same class of degraded human nature that resulted in Jews being sent to concentration camps eighty years ago or the Native Americans being killed or forcibly ejected from their homes in the United States or the evil bourgeoisie who owned the means of production being attacked and killed because, by their nature, they were enemies of the proletariat.

Big Tech Wants To End Copyright

From Tilting at Windmills:

I’m a writer by trade. I don’t have another gig as a lawyer or comedian or anything else. This is what I do to support my family.

Luckily, I’m able to do this because the work I create is covered by copyright. Salem—the parent company for sites like Townhall, Red State, Bearing arms, Twitchy, Hot Air, and PJ Media—is able to make money off content because that content can’t be found anywhere else.

At least most of it.

. . . .

Copyright tends to be more of a factor when it comes to entertainment. Books, movies, and television all enjoy copyright protection, which means you can’t just decide to start streaming Firefly on your own for fun and profit. You’ve got to deal with Fox, first.

. . . .

However, as Jennifer Van Laar notes at Red State, big tech seems to be working to undermine much of that.

For years companies like Google and Spotify, whose revenue streams depend on content and profits depend on how cheaply they can acquire it, have worked to weaken copyright protections. They know they can’t get what they want through a transparent legislative process, so they’ve set their sights on effectively changing the law by using “a well-established legal organization to ‘restate’ and reinterpret our copyright laws for the nation’s judicial system.”

The organization, American Legal Institute (ALI), an invite-only organization for legal scholars, is known for its Restatements of Law, which have been described as “Cliff’s Notes” guides to various legal topics:

The ALI…is widely known and rightfully recognized within legal circles as an authority on explaining the law. Through their best-known works, called “Restatements of the Law,” the ALI compiles all aspects of a legal topic and publishes a “Cliff’s Notes” guide to that topic. These Restatements are regularly relied upon by our nation’s judges when they are asked to decide on cases requiring expert knowledge of a particular subject.

According to the Content Creators Coalition, ALI’s Restatements are “descriptive black-letter texts designed ‘to reflect the law as it presently stands’ that are used by courts, scholars, and legislatures to understand the current state of the law on any subject. ALI Restatements have historically been considered the gold standard for unbiased legal clarity and precision” (emphasis added).

Although ALI’s Restatements almost exclusively focus on common law (formed by precedent) and not statutory law, the organization started a project aiming to restate the Copyright Act, a federal statute, back in 2013 at the suggestion of UC Berkeley law professor Pamela Samuelson. According to then-Acting Register of Copyrights Karyn Temple:

[T]he Restatement project appears to create a pseudo-version of the Copyright Act that does not mirror the law precisely as Congress enacted it.

Samuelson is the founder of the Samuelson-Glushko Law Clinics (which one blogger referred to as “Silicon Valley’s answer to the Confucius Institutes)” who, at a Copyright Society of the USA conference “vehemently railed against awards of damages for copyright infringement while a room full of the nation’s top copyright law practitioners sat in shocked, slack-jawed silence or excused themselves for coffee.”

. . . .

Basically, though, Big Tech has decided that it wants to fund “legal research” that will undermine copyright because technology services benefit from looser copyright laws.

For example, you write a book. Now, I’ve written a few myself, so I know how much time and dedication goes into each one. Copyright laws allow you to have control over that book until or unless you give that up to someone, like a publisher. They then get the copyright so they can make money, giving you some of it.

. . . .

What’s happening here is that these Restatements, which are supposed to be based on the current understanding of the law, have been co-opted by some who actively oppose copyright protections in an effort to undermine the legal support for them. They’re blatantly misrepresenting the law in an attempt to effectively change the law.

And they’re likely to get away with it, too.

Link to the rest at Tilting at Windmills and thanks to K. for the tip.

PG will note that the author of the OP said he was not a lawyer upfront.

The Restatements he mentioned have been around forever. They’re published by a private company, The American Law Institute, universally referred to as ALI.

Restatements are a quick way of getting an overview of a legal subject or a piece of a legal subject, but Restatements aren’t the same as federal or state laws or formal decisions by federal or state judges.

When PG was doing a lot of litigation, he would resort to the relevante Restatement only if he couldn’t find any statute or court decision that was close to supporting his client’s case. On more than one occasion when he did this (not much more frequently than 2-3 occasions), the judge would either look at him (or opposing counsel, if opposing counsel tried to use a restatement) and say something like, “Does that mean you can’t find any Missouri law (or California law or federal statute or case) that supports your client’s case?”

If the judge didn’t say this first, opposing counsel (including PG if he was on the other side of a case where the attorney argued from a restatement) would say something like, “Your Honor” or “Judge” (if he knew the judge well), “I have included a great many citations to case law and statutes in order to support my client’s contentions. If counsel cannot locate any reliable citations, I’ll be filing a Motion for Summary Judgment (or whatever was appropriate) on behalf of my client because the other side apparently has no legal basis for their arguments.”

As a quote in the OP says, restatements are like the Cliff’s Notes version of the law. Just as Cliff’s Notes is the resort of desperate college students who aren’t ready for the final exam (May Cliff be blessed for all his past support of a younger and callower version of PG), for most judges with which PG is acquainted, quoting or citing a restatement, unless the restatement reference is accompanied by a whole bunch of on-point cases and statutes, is raising the desperation flag. An insightful client will be wondering why you didn’t recommend starting settlement discussions before wasting all the client’s money in court.

But Big Tech is a money machine and will waste a lot of money to get a 0.001% improvement in a legal position it’s trying to sell the justice system.

But, as always, PG could be wrong.

Barnes & Noble Unveils Union Square & Company

From Publishers Weekly:

Approximately one year after Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt tapped Emily Meehan to reinvent the retailer’s publishing operation, Meehan has unveiled a new name for the press as well as a host of new initiatives.

Union Square & Co. is the new public-facing name of what has been known as Sterling Publishing. Meehan explained that the underlying business will still be called Sterling Publishing, but that all books will be released under the Union Square & Co. and Union Square Kids imprints, plus two existing imprints: Sterling Ethos and Puzzlewright. Books bearing the Union Square name will roll out this fall, while the publisher’s website and email addresses will be updated January 10.

Meehan said she is keeping the Sterling Ethos and Puzzlewright names because they are so well known in their categories of magic and mystic publishing and pencil-and-paper puzzles, respectively. Meehan said Puzzlewright accounts for about 10% of Union Square’s revenue, and she sees more opportunity to grow both that business as well as the business of Sterling Ethos. Specifically, she plans to take hit titles within those imprints and expand them across a variety of formats, including calendars and journals, with the goal of reaching not only existing fans but also a wider audience. Kate Zimmermann is heading up Sterling Ethos and Francis Heaney is leading Puzzlewright.

The launch of the Union Square brand is in keeping with Meehan’s previously announced strategy to broaden the types of books that the group publishes for both adults and children. She believes Union Square is well positioned both to help authors who are looking to reboot their careers and to assist new authors with launching theirs. She said Union Square will be looking for authors who are writing on subjects that reflect shifts in the culture.

“We will be placing bets in the areas where we believe we have a good chance to grow,” Meehan explained, noting that she has no intention of going head-to-head with the Big Five on a regular basis. “We’ll act on books in categories where we want to put a stake in the ground.”

Meehan said a good example of the type of author and book Union Square will focus on is a new untitled interior design book by Carmeon Hamilton, the winner of HGTV’s Design Star: Next Gen and star of the Reno My Rental show. Hamilton “wants to move design in some new ways,” Meehan noted. The author was signed by Amanda Englander, who joined Union Square from Clarkson Potter and who will oversee the publisher’s lifestyle efforts, which include the decorating, food and drink, and health and wellness categories.

Growing Union Square’s fiction list is another Meehan priority, and to that end she signed the Wolf Den trilogy by Elodie Harper. The first installment, The Wolf Den, was a U.K. bestseller, and the series has been touted by B&N’s U.K. sister company Waterstones. Meehan said Union Square will use Waterstones’ merch team as a sounding board when looking to sign other U.K. authors.

. . . .

Accompanying changes to Union Square’s editorial approach, Meehan has made changes to its sales operations, with an eye to improving the publisher’s sales across the entire trade. To that end, Elena Blanco has joined as director, trade sales, and her duties include expanding Union Square’s outreach to independent booksellers. 

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG checked out Union Square’s website and found a word salad of tired clichés.

We focus on making publishing a partnership. Through collaboration and a team approach publishing is made easier and more profitable while providing business skill and global reach.

We combine industry-best experience with business creativity and expertise, then collaborate to help realize the possibilities you created from the first moment you set pen to paper.

. . . .

Authors become part of our Algorithms for Success trademarked Ecosystem which establishes the best future for the author and title.

PG is certain that a great deal of research went into what authors really want – an Algorithms for Success trademarked Ecosystem.

PG wondered if this new collection of English majors who couldn’t get work elsewhere had ever created an algorithm.

Perhaps they started off with “How to Create an Algorithm” with MS Word 2010 on a PC.

Of course, every talented contemporary author who recalls the first moment you set pen to paper will, without a doubt, be thoroughly enchanted.

PG can barely restrain his enthusiasm. His first moment produced something like “Acme Construction (hereafter “The Party of the First Part”)”.

How to Send Messages That Automatically Disappear

Not exactly about books, but it’s New Years Day and the pickins are slim. (See also, Slim Pickens)

From Wired:

MANY MYSTERY AND spy movies are based on the premise that you can send messages that self-destruct, but you don’t need to be an international secret agent to do the same with your own texts.

In fact, most popular chat apps now include some kind of disappearing message feature—which means that if you don’t want a permanent record of your conversation, you don’t have to have one. In fact, encrypted messaging app Signal made its disappearing message feature the default.

While it’s handy to have chat archives to look back on for sentimental and practical reasons (recipes, addresses, instructions, and more), there are other times you’d rather nothing was saved. Here’s what to do.

There is a caveat here for all of these apps, in that the people you’re communicating with can take screenshots of what you’ve said—or, if screenshots are blocked, they can take a photo of the screen with another device. Some of them promise to notify you if your messages have been screenshotted or downloaded, but there’s always a workaround. That’s something to bear in mind when choosing who to chat with and how much to share.

Signal

The disappearing messages feature in Signal is an option for every conversation you have, and now it’s available by default or by an individual conversation: You can switch between disappearing messages and permanent messages at any time in any thread. To do this, tap the top banner in any thread, then pick Disappearing messages.

You can choose anywhere from one second to four weeks for your messages to stick around after they’ve been viewed (or choose Off to disable the feature). You can even set a custom timer—you could tell a message to be gone in 60 seconds. An alert appears in the chat whenever you’ve changed this setting, and anything you send from then on follows the rules you’ve set.

To set a default expiry time for messages in all your chats, open the main app settings page and choose Privacy and Default timer for new chats (under Disappearing messages). This applies to every chat you initiate from then on, not to the existing conversations on your phone.

. . . .

Instagram

Instagram has now gone way beyond photo-sharing to cover Snapchat-style stories, direct messaging, and more. The direct messaging component lets you send photos and videos that stay on record or disappear once they’ve been viewed, though text always stays in place.

Head to your conversation list in the Instagram app, then open the thread that you want to send the disappearing message to (tap the compose icon, top right, if you can’t see it). Tap the camera icon on the left of the compose box and capture the photo or video you want to send.

Down at the bottom of the screen, you’ll then see various options for what you’re sending: View once, Allow replay (which is really view twice), and Keep in chat. Pick whichever you prefer before confirming with the Send button.

Link to the rest at Wired

Security by obscurity is far from a foolproof solution, but if PG were planning to send a bunch of secret messages, he would be inclined to set up a bunch of free email addresses for the purposes of both sending and receiving secret messages.

PG and his secret correspondent would each write their secret message offline, then encrypt the message offline using one of many open-source encryptions programs then send the message to one of the free email addresses.

PG would identify each free email address with a common name like Jim or Becky and provide his correspondent with the list.

In each encrypted email, PG and his online correspondent would mention one of the names in an offhand manner like, “I think Jim might be interested in seeing this.” The friend’s name (or the name of the last friend mentioned in the email) would identify the next email box to be used to send/receive the next encrypted message.

A variation on this system might involve setting up several free email addresses to automatically forward messages to other free email addresses.

Using both US-based email services as well as non-US email services would make tracking messages even more difficult.

Every couple of weeks, PG would create an entirely different set of free email addresses and send the encrypted list to his correspondent. PG might also be inclined to send out encrypted garbage to a whole bunch of email addresses that weren’t his intended recipient.

If PG and his correspondent were able to use computers at various locations and connecting to different Internet Service Providers, more obscurity would result. Throw a VPN with multiple nodes in multiple countries and rotating VPN locations increases the complexity of interception.

PG is informed that large government agencies are capable of cracking a great many encryption algorithms. One reason why PG would be inclined to use open-source encryption is that the source code is available for all to see for debugging and security-checking purposes. This doesn’t mean that open-source encryption can’t be cracked, but with many eyes watching (unlike the situation with encryption software than is not open-source) any cracking weaknesses in the open-source system are probably more susceptible discovery than a black-box encryption program.

Again, PG understands that a super-duper-mega-encryption system created by geniuses is the single best way to communicate confidentially, but demonstrating that such a system is uncrackable is quite difficult, perhaps even impossible.

PG expects that some of the visitors to TPV are far more fluent on this topic than he is and is happy to hear critiques, comments, etc., from one and all.

Over half of adults admit they have conversations with inanimate objects, plants, and pets

As PG has mentioned before, the holidays are often an information desert for articles about writing and the book business, hence this post.

For those interested in being organized, PG suggests that you might file this post under A Frolic of His Own, a legal term used almost exclusively in law school Torts classes.

If the meaning of A Frolic of His Own puzzles you, see the opinion in Joel v. Morison by The Honorable James Parke, 1st Baron Wensleydale in the Court of Exchequer, July 3, 1834.

To the best of PG’s knowledge, this opinion is the only reason anyone remembers the first Baron of Wensleydale any more.

By this dismissal of the Baron, PG is most certainly not impugning the fame of Wensleydale Cheese, which no less a celebrity than George Orwell ranked as the second-best cheese in Britain, bested only by Stilton, in one of his lesser-known works, In Defense of English Cooking.

Consumer Warning: The title essay is only three pages long out of a printed book length of about 56 pages.

In more recent times, Wensleydale Cheese undoubtedly achieved its greatest fame due to its being mentioned in various episodes of Wallace and Gromit.

From StudyFinds:

Many people act a bit “differently” within the privacy of their own home, but a new survey finds most adults are actually having full-on conversations with items that can’t talk back! The poll of 2,000 adults in the United Kingdom finds over half routinely “chat” with inanimate objects at home. Another 60 percent say they’ll often have “entirely two-way” conversations with their pets.

Commissioned by TheJoyOfPlants.co.uk and conducted by OnePoll, the survey also finds 44 percent of adults frequently talk with their house plants. Within that group, four in 10 usually ask their plant if it’s thirsty.

A bit more understandably, over a quarter have lashed out verbally at an object or appliance for failing to do its job. For example, people often scold their TV or coffee maker for failing to turn on. Conversely, sometimes household items perform their functions a bit too well. Twenty-four percent admit they’ve yelled at an alarm clock to shut up. Meanwhile, close to 20 percent have pleaded with their car to keep going while low on fuel and over 10 percent have verbally thanked an ATM for dispensing their cash.

Most respondents have been caught mid-conversation by another human being. As many as six in 10 have been exposed while talking to an object and over half of those situations (60%) ended in laughter.

Plants love hearing a soothing voice

These chats are quite frequent as well. About six in 10 adults talk with their plants on a weekly basis. Another eight percent talk to their plants every day! Close to 40 percent believe these pep talks help their plants grow, while 37 percent report feeling happier themselves after speaking with some shrubs.

. . . .

As far as specific comments, “you need a drink”, “you’re getting big”, and “you’re not looking your best” are the most common things people say to plants. 

Link to the rest at Study Finds

Keeping the Flame of Freedom Alive

From Publishers Weekly:

We’re used to the notion that bookstores are quiet, welcoming refuges, not the focus of state-sponsored kidnapping and detentions. But the mysterious disappearances of five booksellers from Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay Books and its eventual closure are reminders of how powerful ideas in books can be.

In 2015, five publishers and booksellers linked to Causeway Bay Books quietly disappeared one by one. One was abducted at a beach resort in Thailand. Two were picked up at their wives’ homes just across the mainland China border from Hong Kong in Shenzhen. One simply vanished.

The kidnapping in Hong Kong of the fifth, Paul Lee, at the end of 2015 left no doubt that Chinese security agents were systematically picking up the owners of the Mighty Current publishing house and its Causeway Bay Books bookstore. In the case of Lee, he was pushed into a minivan when he was delivering books and taken across the border. And then there were none. This was the nightmare scenario many envisioned following the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China—the scenario in which people exercising their civil liberties within Hong Kong would be snatched.

The Causeway Bay cover-up unraveled when one of those detained, Lam Wing-kee, was allowed by mainland authorities to return to Hong Kong with the promise that he would retrieve information useful to security operatives. Instead, Lam held a press conference, during which he detailed his imprisonment and forced confession.

Until recently, Hong Kong was the freest city in China, and it had long been a beacon of hope in a bleak landscape. The city was home to a lively semi-underground publishing world that specialized in books on China. One of its prominent members was Jin Zhong, who arrived in Hong Kong from the mainland in 1980 and founded a pro-democracy magazine.

. . . .

“When I came to Hong Kong and found freedoms, I really wanted to enjoy those freedoms,” Jin told me from Brooklyn, where he now lives. “My mission in every article I wrote and in every issue of the magazine was to point out all the wrongs that had been done by Mao and the Communist Party.” The magazine thrived, and Jin set up a publishing house, becoming what was known as a “banned-books publisher,” specializing in books that could not be sold in mainland China.

After the Hong Kong handover in 1997, dissident publishers like Jin played a delicate game with security agents. Visitors from the State Security Bureau would ask him to join them for dinner. It was always cordial, free of coercion, but clearly an offer he could not refuse. The point was to let him know he was being watched.

“The idea wasn’t to make you do or not do something, but to break down your feeling of antagonism or resistance,” Jin recalls. “What happened to the Causeway Bay booksellers—those were the hard methods. For most people in Hong Kong, it was soft treatment.”

Tactics toughened when Jin prepared to publish a book in 2015 by Yu Jie, a Chinese American democracy activist, on Chinese president Xi Jinping. “They made it clear that this book was different,” Jin says. “It was clear that these instructions had come from a high level. If I insisted on going ahead with the book, they would have sabotaged it anyway.”

. . . .

Some years earlier, it had emerged that almost all bookstores in Hong Kong were secretly owned by mainland interests. This infiltration of the book business mirrors the secretive party tactics employed throughout Hong Kong.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG has lived long enough to see a great many Communist governments come and go. One or two enlightened leaders grant more freedom, but a nation is only one dictator away from a complete lockdown.

As the OP demonstrates, Chinese President Xi Jinping is China’s latest leader for life and the crack-downs are coming at an increasingly rapid pace.

When Mao died in 1976, after a period of contention for power, Deng Xiaoping took over. He focused on economic growth under a “Four Modernizations” program and seemed to be a new type of leader. Under Deng, the planned economy loosened and China began to thrive materially. He negotiated the return of Hong Kong and its thriving economy from British rule.

Deng felt forced to take harsh steps after the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 due to substantial pressure from Communist hardliners. He told Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau that Communist factions were preparing to take control of substantial numbers of Red Army forces had he not taken the path he did.

Later that year, realizing that he had lost a great deal of power due to the Tiananmen Square protests and the hard-liners’ reaction to them, Deng resigned from leadership of the country and toured the country, giving speeches about economic reform. He died in 1997 without having had much more success.

Deng’s successor, Jiang Zemin, tried to steer a middle path, keeping the economy healthy as a “socialist market economy” while keeping the Party firmly in control of the levers of power.

In 1999, Jiang ordered a harsh crack-down on the crack down on Falun Gong, a religious/spiritual movement, arresting thousands of Falun Gong organizers and sending leaders and members to prison where they were subject to harsh reeducation regimes, sometimes resulting in death.

Jiang slowly relinquished leadership positions before 2005, when he pulled away from public life, but still exercised significant power behind the scenes.

Jiang was succeeded by Hu Jintao who ruled from 2004-2012. Hu reintroduced state control in some sectors of the economy that were relaxed by the previous administration and cracked down on ethnic and religious minorities. Hu and Vladimir Putin in Russia were described by a UPI reporter as “Tough and able authoritarians who had extensive experience of repressing dissent on their rise to the top.”

Hu managed not to screw up the Chinese economy and China’s exports continued to grow while he was in power. However, he was severely criticized for his violations of human rights of various minorities in China or areas subject to Chinese control.

In 2012, Hu was succeeded by Xi Jinping, who is, in PG’s opinion, a full-up serious Communist dictator of the worst sort. So far, Xi has stepped up censorship and mass surveillance and caused a substantial deterioration in human rights beyond what his predecessors were willing to support.

About a month ago, China’s Communist Party declared Xi’s ideology the “essence of Chinese culture”. This is the third fundamental resolution of the Chinese Communist Party since its inception. The first resolution was adopted in 1945 to increase and ratify the power of Mao Zedong.

Xi is different, however, in encouraging a cult of personality to develop around him (see also Mao). Xi also formally removed term limits to his leadership, so he’s in until he dies or someone forcibly removes him from power, a very tough, likely impossible, job.

About a month ago, China’s Communist Party declared Xi’s ideology the “essence of Chinese culture”. This is the third fundamental resolution of the Chinese Communist Party since its inception. The first resolution was adopted in 1945 to increase and ratify the power of Mao Zedong.

Hong Kong, which was originally viewed as a portal for China to do business with the capitalist world when the British ceded control to China is, in PG’s assessment, no different than any other part of China now. He hopes anyone who doesn’t want to live in a place that is like other parts of China is able to escape before it’s too late.

PG acknowledges Wikipedia as a source of many details of his commentary. You can donate to Wikipedia and Wikimedia as PG has just done, by going to Wikipedia and hitting the Donate Button.

A Complete Expert Guide to the Amazon Self-Publishing Costs for New Publishers

From The Urban Writers:

Finishing your first book leaves you feeling like you’ve finally arrived at the center stage. The excitement alone can make your world spin around as you read it once more. It’s understandable when the authors want to rush into the next step.

However, they don’t realize there’s a bunch of sharks waiting out there, waiting to snatch them. New writers must take a step back and consider Amazon’s self-publishing cost and pricing before they allow these predators to grab hold of them.

I was in your position a few years back and I was impatient to get my book out there. I needed people to read my story and listen to my advice. I emailed publishers all over the world with a manuscript, hoping to get a response.

It was only two weeks before the first shark came at me head-first. This publisher was prepared to take my book, but they wanted me to pay for publishing costs upfront. The quotes started pouring in and I was shocked with the requests!

Suddenly, I felt like I had to sell my soul and those of my kids, spouse, and even my dog just to cover the costs. Figures ranged madly but the average was well over $2,000 from publishers that didn’t even leave a stain on the map.

This might not seem like Mount Kilimanjaro, but I assure you that this was only the cost to get started. I still had to pay ridiculous commissions on top of this. The sacrifice of my soul wasn’t enough and they only promised me 25% of future sales.

Unfortunately, I didn’t use the easily accessible internet to find other options like a normal person would. I ended up giving my book to a company that would give me 15% royalties and owns the first 5,000 copies in lieu of printing costs.

I sold my book to the devil, never mind a shark. They haven’t bothered to promote the book and it became lost in the vast world of available reads. The worst of all is that my book is sitting on Amazon at a price that even I wouldn’t pay.

Link to the rest at The Urban Writers

The OP continues with better results after the author discovers that he can self-publish on Amazon.

PG will say again – if any “publisher” you haven’t heard of on multiple occasions (not from a “friend,” but as mentioned in a legitimate publication that talks about books and authors you have heard of before) wants to publish your book, check the sales rank of the publisher’s books on Amazon. Look at several. If the average sales rank is a number greater than something like 5,000, and the publisher doesn’t want to give you a lot of money up front, take a pass. If you can’t find them on Amazon, take an instant pass.

If you think the publisher may be legit, but, again, haven’t heard of them before, contact several of the authors of the publisher’s books on Amazon. Check out the author’s web page and get in touch. (If the author doesn’t have a web page, you probably don’t want the author’s advice on anything. A big Facebook page might substitute for a web page, but PG would be chary of anyone who hasn’t spent the time or money for a web page of their own.)

A great many authors are happy to reply to emails or even give you a phone number you can call. Ask the author all about the publisher. Don’t be afraid to ask about royalty payments and whether they’re arriving on time with royalty statements the author can understand.

If doing this sort of investigation seems like more than you want to do, keep your manuscript, your $5,000 and everything else. Maybe look into a local trade school to learn welding. You’ll make much more money working as a welder for six months than you ever will as an author dealing with a shady or second-rate publisher.

The 1619 Project and the Long Battle Over U.S. History

From The New York Times:

On Jan. 28, 2019, Nikole Hannah-Jones, who has been a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine since 2015, came to one of our weekly ideas meetings with a very big idea. My notes from the meeting simply say, “NIKOLE: special issue on the 400th anniversary of African slaves coming to U.S.,” a milestone that was approaching that August. This wasn’t the first time Nikole had brought up 1619. As an investigative journalist who often focuses on racial inequalities in education, Nikole has frequently turned to history to explain the present. Sometimes, reading a draft of one of her articles, I’d ask if she might include even more history, to which she would remark that if I gave her more space, she would be happy to take it all the way back to 1619. This was a running joke, but it was also a reflection of how Nikole had been cultivating the idea for what became the 1619 Project for many years. Following that January meeting, she led an editorial process that over the next six months developed the idea into a special issue of the magazine, a special section of the newspaper and a multiepisode podcast series. Next week we are publishing a book that expands on the magazine issue and represents the fullest expression of her idea to date.

This book, which is called “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story,” arrives amid a prolonged debate over the version of the project we published two years ago. That project made a bold claim, which remains the central idea of the book: that the moment in August 1619 when the first enslaved Africans arrived in the English colonies that would become the United States could, in a sense, be considered the country’s origin.

The reasoning behind this is simple: Enslavement is not marginal to the history of the United States; it is inextricable. So many of our traditions and institutions were shaped by slavery, and so many of our persistent racial inequalities stem from its enduring legacy. Identifying the start of such a vast and complex system is a somewhat symbolic act. It was not until the late 1600s that slavery became codified with new laws in various colonies that firmly established the institution’s racial basis and dehumanizing structure. But 1619 marks the earliest beginnings of what would become this system. (It also could be said to mark the earliest beginnings of what would become American democracy: In July of that year, just weeks before the White Lion arrived in Point Comfort with its human cargo, the Virginia General Assembly was called to order, the first elected legislative body in English America.)

But the argument for 1619 as our origin point goes beyond the centrality of slavery; 1619 was also the year that a heroic and generative process commenced, one by which enslaved Africans and their free descendants would profoundly alter the direction and character of the country, having an impact on everything from politics to popular culture. “Around us the history of the land has centered for thrice a hundred years,” W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in 1903, and it is difficult to argue against extending his point through the century to follow, one that featured a Black civil rights struggle that transformed American democracy and the birth of numerous Black art forms that have profoundly influenced global culture. The 1619 Project made the provocative case that the start of the African presence in the English North American colonies could be considered the moment of inception of the United States of America.

. . . .

Initially, the magazine issue was greeted with an enthusiastic response unlike any we had seen before. The weekend it was available in print, Aug. 18 and 19, readers all over the country complained of having to visit multiple newsstands before they could find a copy. A week later, when The Times made tens of thousands of copies available for sale online, they sold out in hours. Copies of the issue began to appear on eBay at ridiculous markups. Portions of Nikole’s opening essay from the project, which would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, were cited in the halls of Congress; candidates in what was then a large field of potential Democratic nominees for president referred to it on the stump and the debate stage; 1619 Project book clubs seemed to materialize overnight. All of this happened in the first month.

Substantive criticisms of the project began a few months later. Five historians, led by the Princeton scholar Sean Wilentz, sent a letter that asked The Times to issue “prominent corrections” for what they claimed were the project’s “errors and distortions.” We took this letter very seriously. The criticism focused mostly on Nikole’s introductory essay and within that essay zeroed in on her argument about the role of slavery in the American Revolution: “Conveniently left out of our founding mythology,” Nikole wrote, “is the fact that one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.”

. . . .

Though we recognized that the role of slavery is a matter of ongoing debate among historians of the revolution, we did not agree that this line or the other passages in question required “prominent corrections,” as I explained in a letter of response. Ultimately, however, we issued a clarification, accompanied by a lengthy editors’ note: By saying that protecting slavery was “one of the primary reasons,” Nikole did not mean to imply that it was a primary reason for every one of the colonists, who were, after all, a geographically and culturally diverse lot with varying interests; rather, she meant that one of the primary reasons driving some of them, particularly those from the Southern colonies, was the protection of slavery from British meddling. We clarified this by adding “some of” to Nikole’s original sentence so that it read: “Conveniently left out of our founding mythology is the fact that one of the primary reasons some of the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.”

We published the letter from the five historians, along with my response, a few days before Christmas. Dozens of media outlets covered the exchange, and the coverage set certain corners of social media ablaze — which fueled more stories, which led others to weigh in. The editor of The American Historical Review, the journal of the American Historical Association, the nation’s oldest professional association of historians, noted in an editor’s letter that the controversy was “all anyone asked me about at the A.H.A.’s annual meeting during the first week of January.” The debate was still raging two months later, when everyone’s world changed abruptly.

. . . .

Almost immediately, present and past converged: 2020 seemed to be offering a demonstration of the 1619 Project’s themes. The racial disparities in Covid infections and deaths made painfully apparent the ongoing inequalities that the project had highlighted. Then, in May, a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd, and decades of pent-up frustration erupted in what is believed to be the largest protest movement in American history. In demonstrations around the country, we saw the language and ideas of the 1619 Project on cardboard signs amid huge crowds of mostly peaceful protesters gathering in cities and small towns.

It was around this time that Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas introduced a bill called the Saving American History Act, which would “prohibit federal funds from being made available to teach the 1619 Project curriculum in elementary schools and secondary schools, and for other purposes.” Cotton, who just weeks earlier published a column in The New York Times’s Opinion section calling for federal troops to subdue demonstrations, stated that the project “threatens the integrity of the Union by denying the true principles on which it was founded.” (The “curriculum” Cotton’s legislation referred to was a set of educational materials put together not by The Times but by the Pulitzer Center, a nonprofit organization that supports global journalism and, in certain instances, helps teachers bring that work into classrooms. Since 2007, the Pulitzer Center, which has no relationship to the Pulitzer Prizes, has created lesson plans around dozens of works of journalism, including three different projects from The Times Magazine. To date, thousands of educators in all 50 states have made use of the Pulitzer Center’s educational materials based on the 1619 Project to supplement — not replace — their standard social studies and history curriculums.)

. . . .

This barely mattered. In the United States, the real decisions over education are left to local governments and state legislatures, and the Republican Party has been steadily gaining control of legislatures in the last decade. Today the party holds full power in 30 state houses, and as the 2021 sessions got underway, Republican lawmakers from South Carolina to Idaho proposed laws echoing the language and intent of Cotton’s bill and Trump’s commission. By the end of the summer, 27 states had introduced strikingly similar versions of a “divisive concepts” bill, which swirled together misrepresentations of critical race theory and the 1619 Project with extreme examples of the diversity training that had proliferated since the previous summer. The list of these divisive concepts, which the laws would prohibit from being discussed in classrooms, included such ideas as “one race, ethnic group or sex is inherently morally or intellectually superior to another race, ethnic group or sex” and “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race, ethnicity or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed by other members of the same race, ethnic group or sex,” as Arizona House Bill 2898 put it. To be clear, these notions aren’t found in the 1619 Project or in any but the most fringe writings by adherents of critical race theory, but the legislation aimed at something broader. “The clear goal of these efforts is to suppress teaching and learning about the role of racism in the history of the United States,” the A.H.A. and three other associations declared in a statement in June. “But the ideal of informed citizenship necessitates an educated public.” Eventually, more than 150 professional organizations would sign this letter, including the Society of Civil War Historians, the National Education Association, the Midwestern History Association and the Organization of American Historians.

. . . .

A curious feature of this argument on behalf of the historical record is how ahistorical it is. In privileging “actual fact” over “narrative,” the governor, and many others, seem to proceed from the premise that history is a fixed thing; that somehow, long ago, the nation’s historians identified the relevant set of facts about our past, and it is the job of subsequent generations to simply protect and disseminate them. This conception denies history its own history — the dynamic, contested and frankly pretty thrilling process by which an understanding of the past is formed and reformed. The study of this is known as historiography, and a knowledge of American historiography, in particular the way our historical profession evolved to take fuller account of the role of slavery and racism in our past, is critical to understanding the debates of the past two years.

The earliest attempts to record the nation’s history took the form of accounts of military campaigns, summaries of state and federal legislative activity, dispatches from the frontier and other narrowly focused reports. In the 19th century, these were replaced by a master narrative of the colonial and founding era, best exemplified by “the father of American history,” George Bancroft, in his “History of the United States, From the Discovery of the American Continent.” Published in 10 volumes from the 1830s through the 1870s, Bancroft’s opus is generally seen as the first comprehensive history of the country, and its influence was incalculable. Bancroft’s ambition was to synthesize American history into a grand and glorious epic. He viewed the European colonists who settled the continent as acting out a divine plan and the revolution as an almost purely philosophical act, undertaken to model self-government for all the world.

. . . .

As the Cold War dawned, it became clear that this school could not provide the necessary inspiration for an America that envisioned itself a defender of global freedom and democracy. The Beardian approach was beaten back by the counter-Progressive or “Consensus” school, which emphasized the founders’ shared values and played down class conflict. Among Consensus historians, a keen sense of national purpose was evident, as well as an eagerness to disavow the whiff of Marxism in the progressive narrative and re-establish the founders’ idealism. In 1950, the Harvard historian Samuel Eliot Morison lamented that the Progressives were “robbing the people of their heroes” and “insulting their folk-memory of the great figures whom they admired.” Seven years later, one of his former students, Edmund S. Morgan, published “The Birth of the Republic, 1763-1789,” a key text of this era (described by one reviewer at the time as having the “brilliant hue of the era of Eisenhower prosperity”). Morgan stressed the revolution as a “search for principles” that led to a nation committed to liberty and equality.

. . .

By the 1960s, the pendulum was ready to swing the other way. A group of scholars identified variously as Neo-Progressive historians, New Left historians or social historians challenged the old paradigm, turning their focus to the lives of common people in colonial society and U.S. history more broadly. Earlier generations primarily studied elites, who left a copious archive of written material. Because the subjects of the new history — laborers, seamen, enslaved people, women, Indigenous people — produced relatively little writing of their own, many of these scholars turned instead to large data sets like tax lists, real estate inventories and other public records to illuminate the lives of what were sometimes called the “inarticulate masses.” This novel approach set aside “the central assumption of traditional history, what might be called the doctrine of implicit importance,” wrote the historian Jack P. Greene in a 1975 article in The Times. “From the perspective supplied by the new history, it has become clear that the experience of women, children, servants, slaves and other neglected groups are quite as integral to a comprehensive understanding of the past as that of lawyers, lords and ministers of state.”

An explosion of new research resulted, transforming the field of American history. One of the most significant developments was an increased attention to Black history and the role of slavery. For more than a century, a profession dominated by white men had mostly consigned these subjects to the sidelines. Bancroft had seen slavery as problematic — “an anomaly in a democratic country” — but mostly because it empowered a Southern planter elite he considered corrupt, lazy and aristocratic. Beard and the other Progressives hadn’t focused much on slavery, either. Until the 1950s, the institution was treated in canonical works of American history as an aberration best addressed minimally if at all. When it was taken up for close study, as in Ulrich B. Phillips’s 1918 book, “American Negro Slavery,” it was seen as an inefficient enterprise sustained by benevolent masters to whom enslaved people felt mostly gratitude. That began to change in the 1950s and 1960s, as works by Herbert Aptheker, Stanley Elkins, Philip S. Foner, John Hope Franklin, Eugene D. Genovese, Benjamin Quarles, Kenneth M. Stampp, C. Vann Woodward and many others transformed the mainstream view of slavery.

. Among the converts was Edmund Morgan himself, who noted in a 1972 address that “American historians interested in tracing the rise of liberty, democracy and the common man have been challenged in the past two decades by other historians, interested in tracing the history of oppression, exploitation and racism. The challenge has been salutary, because it has made us examine more directly than historians have hitherto been willing to do the role of slavery in our early history. Colonial historians, in particular, when writing about the origin and development of American institutions, have found it possible until recently to deal with slavery as an exception to everything they had to say. I am speaking about myself but also about most of my generation.”

To be more precise, Morgan might have said that white historians had “found it possible” to hold slavery and the creation of American democracy entirely apart. Black historians, working outside the mainstream for a hundred years, tended to see the matter more clearly. For during this whole evolution in American history, from Bancroft through the 1960s, there was another scholarly tradition unfolding, one that only rarely gained entry into white-dominated academic spaces.

The antebellum historians William C. Nell and William Wells Brown wrote scholarly accounts of Black participation in the American Revolution. But the first work by a Black author generally considered part of what was then the emerging field of professional history was George Washington Williams’s “History of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880: Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers and as Citizens,” published in 1882.

Williams was an innovator. He had to be. In writing his landmark book, he pioneered several research methodologies that would later re-emerge among the social historians — the use of oral history, the aggregation of statistical data, even the use of newspapers as primary sources. His view of the centrality of slavery was also far ahead of its time:

No event in the history of North America has carried with it to its last analysis such terrible forces. It touched the brightest features of social life, and they faded under the contact of its poisonous breath. It affected legislation, local and national; it made and destroyed statesmen; it prostrated and bullied honest public sentiment; it strangled the voice of the press, and awed the pulpit into silent acquiescence; it organized the judiciary of States, and wrote decisions for judges; it gave States their political being, and afterwards dragged them by the fore-hair through the stormy sea of civil war; laid the parricidal fingers of Treason against the fair throat of Liberty, — and through all time to come no event will be more sincerely deplored than the introduction of slavery into the colony of Virginia during the last days of the month of August in the year 1619!

Like so many Black historians, Williams was writing against the grain, not only in his insistence on the influence of slavery in shaping American institutions but in something even more basic: his assumption of Black humanity. This challenge he faced is made clear from the first chapter of Volume I: “It is proposed, in the first place, to call the attention to the absurd charge that the Negro does not belong to the human family.” In a nation backtracking on the promise of Reconstruction, this was an inherently political statement. Just one year after “History of the Negro Race” was published, the U.S. Supreme Court would invalidate as unconstitutional the protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which barred racial discrimination in public accommodations and transportation. A country that denied Black people the rights of citizens could not also see them as significant historical actors.

“History is a science, a social science, but it’s also politics,” the historian Martha S. Jones, who contributed a chapter in the new 1619 book, told me. “And Black historians have always known that. They always know the stakes. In a world that would brand Africans as people without a history, Williams understood the political consequence of the assertion that Black people have history and might even be driving it.”

We can see evidence of this in the decades of Jim Crow that followed Reconstruction, when Black people were not only prevented from voting and denied access to a wide array of public accommodations but also, for the most part, kept out of the mainstream history profession. Nevertheless, a rich Black scholarly tradition continued to unfold in publications like The Journal of Negro History, founded by Carter G. Woodson in 1916, and in the work of scholars like W.E.B. Du Bois, Helen G. Edmonds, Lorenzo Greene, Luther P. Jackson, Rayford Logan, Benjamin Quarles and Charles H. Wesley. Quarles’s book “The Negro in the American Revolution,” published in 1961, was an important part of that decade’s historiographical reassessments. It was the first to thoroughly explore an often-overlooked feature of that war: that substantially more Black people were drawn to the British side than the Patriot cause, believing this the better path to freedom. Quarles’s work posed profound questions about the traditional narrative of the founding era. While acknowledging that for some white people the ideals of the Revolution had “exposed the inconsistencies” of chattel slavery in a nation founded on equality, he also observed a deeply uncomfortable fact: “They were far outnumbered by those who detected no ideological inconsistency. These white Americans, not considering themselves counterrevolutionary, would never have dreamed of repudiating the theory of natural rights. Instead they skirted the dilemma by maintaining that blacks were an outgroup rather than members of the body politic.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

From Wikipedia:

A straw man (sometimes written as strawman) is a form of argument and an informal fallacy of having the impression of refuting an argument, whereas the real subject of the argument was not addressed or refuted, but instead replaced with a false one. One who engages in this fallacy is said to be “attacking a straw man”.

The typical straw man argument creates the illusion of having completely refuted or defeated an opponent’s proposition through the covert replacement of it with a different proposition (i.e., “stand up a straw man”) and the subsequent refutation of that false argument (“knock down a straw man”) instead of the opponent’s proposition. Straw man arguments have been used throughout history in polemical debate, particularly regarding highly charged emotional subjects.

. . . .

The straw man fallacy occurs in the following pattern of argument:

  • Person 1 asserts proposition X.
  • Person 2 argues against a superficially similar proposition Y, falsely, as if an argument against Y were an argument against X.

This reasoning is a fallacy of relevance: it fails to address the proposition in question by misrepresenting the opposing position.

For example:

  • Quoting an opponent’s words out of context—i.e., choosing quotations that misrepresent the opponent’s intentions (see fallacy of quoting out of context).
  • Presenting someone who defends a position poorly as the defender, then denying that person’s arguments—thus giving the appearance that every upholder of that position (and thus the position itself) has been defeated.
  • Oversimplifying an opponent’s argument, then attacking this oversimplified version.
    Exaggerating (sometimes grossly exaggerating) an opponent’s argument, then attacking this exaggerated version.

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

The straw men in the NYT Magazine article come thick and fast. Here’s just one example:

In privileging “actual fact” over “narrative,” the governor, and many others, seem to proceed from the premise that history is a fixed thing; that somehow, long ago, the nation’s historians identified the relevant set of facts about our past, and it is the job of subsequent generations to simply protect and disseminate them.

PG has no problem understanding what an “actual fact” is, but “narrative” is the ultimate squishy concept.

If Jane’s narrative is different than Susan’s narrative, what exactly does that show?

It might mean that one of them is operating from a false premise.

If Jane contends that the sun circles around the earth, Jane has a problem with fact regardless of how many narratives she spins about why this is the truth: because the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, it’s clear that the sun has a relatively circular orbit around the earth. And the sun manifests the same behavior every single day. It’s path is there for everyone to see.

Jane says, “That’s my narrative. Don’t go privileging your “actual fact” about the sun over my narrative about the sun.

The fact is that, at the time of the Constitutional Congress, representatives from some states were adamantly opposed to slavery and had passed state legislation outlawing the practice and other states were adamantly in favor of slavery. Some states had never had slavery while the institution had been established early (see 1619).

The Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower never had slaves. In 1780, when the Massachusetts Constitution went into effect, slavery was legal in the Commonwealth. However, during the years 1781 to 1783, in three related cases known today as “the Quock Walker case,” the Supreme Judicial Court applied the principle of judicial review to abolish slavery.

In 1780, while the Revolutionary War was still being fought, Pennsylvania passed the Gradual Abolition of Slavery Act. There were a number of slave owners in the state at the time. Part of this law focused on the emancipation of children born into slavery after a certain period of laboring for their masters. Females would obtain their freedom at 18 years of age. Males would be freed at the age of 21.

Those who were pro-slavery could point to a long line of historic examples of enslaved people as their narrative about why there was nothing wrong with slavery. Large numbers of Semitic slaves were held as slaves in Egypt for at least hundreds and perhaps thousands of years. Yes, Moses led a lot of them out of slavery, but that required multiple miraculous interventions from God, not because Moses had a better narrative.

In 1780, PG suspects that the majority of the nations, tribes, etc., on the earth included some form of slavery. As PG pointed out earlier today, the British Empire had practiced slavery for quite a long time all around the world.

The Northern states were a minority in the world in abhorring slavery and believing that it should be illegal. That may be a narrative, but it’s also a historic fact.

For PG, the current use of the terms, “privilege” or “privileging” are the recognized way of avoiding facts.

“White privilege” is certainly a real advantage for some white people, but privileging African-Americans in hiring and college admission decisions is privileging them regardless of whether their ancestors were slaves or not. This privilege is extended to the sons or daughters African-American investment bankers or those who trace their ancestry to hereditary African kings and queens who themselves owned large numbers of slaves, in some cases, European slaves.

Nobody born and living in the United States today has owned slaves. No African-American born and living in the United States has ever been a slave.

PG cringes whenever he hears current discussion of privilege or various narratives. For him, it is ultimately just a method for persuading or controlling people by those to whom American society or parts of American society have granted some sort of manufactured moral power.

In the United States: ‘The 1619 Project’ Books Arrive Amid Heated Debate

From Publishing Perspectives:

Some members of Publishing Perspectives‘ international readership may not be familiar with The 1619 Project. It’s an example of long-form journalism that premiered in August 2019 in The New York Times Magazine and was timed to the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the American colony of Virginia.

Those slaves, reportedly more than 20, were sold to the Virginian English colonists. As The 1619 Project’s opening text puts it, “No aspect of the country that would be formed” as the United States “has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed.” And what follows is an evocation of American history that begins not in 1776 but in 1619 when that ship arrived at Point Comfort, Virginia.

“The goal of The 1619 Project according to its introductory text, “is to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year. Doing so requires us to place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.”

And the forthcoming publication of an expanded edition of The 1619 Project as a book finds some in the United States publishing market newly evaluating the industry’s potential at a time fraught with political and social division.

In May 2020, Nikole Hannah-Jones was named the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary as the creator of The 1619 Project. The Pulitzer recognition specifically honored Hannah-Jones’ essay Our democracy’s ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true. And the write-up on her work went on to call the project itself “a groundbreaking look at the impact of slavery 400 years after the first slaves arrived in what would become the United States.”

At the heart of the project’s assertion is the self-evident truth that even as Jefferson wrote in the 1776 American Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” there clearly were people who were not considered in any way equal to others in the nascent republic. Myriad inequalities, both real and perceived, are actually integral to the American experiment.

On November 16, a week from today (November 9), Penguin Random House’s One World will release The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story and The 1619 Project: Born on the Water, the latter a middle-grade children’s book by Hannah-Jones, Renée Watson, and illustrator Nikkolas Smith. Penguin Random House has created a site for the project and the release of these books with extensive listings of events planned around the release and a high-school teachers’ guide.

The upcoming publication of The New York Times Magazine’s work is quickly becoming a focus of social and political activity, particularly through programs developed to let consumers donate copies of the work for use in educational and other settings. This is a reflection of what Penguin Random House worldwide CEO Markus Dohle was talking about on October 20 when he gave an exclusive interview to Publishing Perspectives to inaugurate Frankfurter Buchmesse’s production facility, Frankfurt Studio.

“We know from psychology,” Dohle said, “that immersing yourself into complex stories—particularly into complex characters—helps you to put yourself into other people’s shoes. It helps you to actually see the world from other points of view, and we know it creates empathy and human values, especially in young people. That’s what the world needs right now if we want to help defend our democracy, based on human values.

“Let’s get all kids reading in long-form, and I think we can make a good contribution to help our democracy, as we’ve enjoyed it for the last 75 years after World War II, to survive. I truly believe in the value of publishing but also in our responsibility to help our society, to come together and to heal from what has become a really, really polarized world.”

During the pre-order period, The 1619 Project at Amazon.com swiftly has become the No. 1 bestseller in African American Demographic Studies and in Black and African American History and Born on the Water has become the No. 2 bestseller in Children’s American Revolution History and No. 3 in Children’s Multicultural Biographies.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

While PG has friends who think The 1619 Project is an excellent idea, he believes the original 1619 Project book does not present an accurate view of the influences on the founding of the United States and its core governing document, The United States Constitution. One of the most important predecessors and influence on The Constitution was the Declaration of Independence.

If one is looking for an early influence on the future development of the nation, the Mayflower Compact, written and signed in the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts provides a significant intellectual and values-based foundation for the Constitution.

The Pilgrims in Plymouth found themself in an unusual situation. They were originally British, but had been driven by religious persecution to Holland. The ship included both Pilgrims and non-Pilgrims.

Their original destination – the Northern Part of the British Virginia Colony – was a large, unexplored and amorphous area that included present-day Virginia, but also extended up into today’s State of New York. Their specific original destination is believed to be the mouth of the Hudson River. They were definitely not heading to the existing colony in Jamestown, Virginia.

Suffice to say, their ship, The Mayflower, was blown or mis-navigated off-course and they landed on Cape Code in present-day Massachusetts on November 21, 1620. Before they debarked from the ship, they drafted The Mayflower Contract, a document that would govern the new colony.

The Compact was a short document that provided:

It was a short document which established that set forth the following:

  • the colonists would remain loyal subjects to King James, despite their need for self-governance
  • the colonists would create and enact “laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices…” for the good of the colony, and abide by those laws
  • the colonists would create one society and work together to further it
  • the colonists would live in accordance with the Christian faith

The Mayflower Compact was the first document to establish principles of self-governance in the New World. It was an early and successful attempt at democracy, something different than the British had at the time. Some historians trace the American Revolution and its rebellion against British rule 150 years later to the habits and principles of self-government that began in Plymouth and spread through the remainder of the colonies thereafter.

Since 1215, the Magna Carta had established the rule of law, but the law was the King’s law. Under the Mayflower Compact, the colonists pledged to recognize and obey laws they made for themselves.

Both Pilgrims and everyone else on the ship spent the winter on Cape Cod. It was bitterly cold with strong winds off the Atlantic and ample snow. When the ship returned to England the next spring, a few of the crew stayed in Plymouth. The ship also included some indentured servants – twenty – out of a total of 104 passengers.

A British indentured servant at this time agreed to provide 4-7 years of labor in exchange for passage to a colony, food, lodging and what were called “freedom dues” – payment at the end of indenture intended to give the unpaid servant some sort of start in life thereafter.

The first winter was very difficult due to severe weather – a climate much different than anyone on the ship was accustomed to – poor food, very crude quickly-built housing and the lack of proper clothing. About half of the Mayflower’s passengers and 14 of the indentured servants died.

In 1621, the colonists recruited additional indentured servants from England, Scotland and Ireland. Some of the earliest laws of the Plymouth Colony related to the proper treatment of indentured servants both during and after their period of indenture was complete.

The indentured servants became a adjunct to the family they were required to serve. The master was legally obligated to care for the servant until the end of the indenture, even if the servant became sick, disabled or otherwise unable to work. After the indenture was complete, these men and women became fully-participating citizens of the colony and used their freedom dues to start their new lives.

Indenture was not identical to slavery in that the indentured servant entered into the indenture agreement of their own free will, albeit often under severe financial circumstances. Slavery of any sort, including the enslavement of African men and women in the Southern Colonies, later states, was abhorrent to those many other Northern colonies that patterned their constitutions and laws on principles similar to those contained in the Mayflower Compact and the later laws that sprang from it.

To be sure, Thomas Jefferson, the author of The Declaration of Independence, was a slaveholder throughout his life and had a long-term African slave, Sally Hemmings, as his mistress.

That said, Jefferson was a man of the Enlightenment and was well-versed in the writings of the British writer, John Locke. In Locke’s book, Two Treaties of Government, published in 1690, the year after the Glorious Revolution, he championed the idea of Natural Law, extending the work begun by Plato and Aristotle and continued through Thomas Aquinas and his discussions of Natural Law, the first precept of which was, “good is to be done and promoted, and evil is to be avoided.”

Jefferson’s passages in the Declaration of Independence contending that “all men are created equal,” and all men thus possess “inalienable rights,” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are directly connected to Locke and similar Enlightenment authors back to Aquinas and ultimately to Plato and Aristotle.

In his first draft of The Declaration of Independence, Jefferson included a passionate assault on slavery and the slave trade.

Per Wikipedia, Britain had a long history in the slave trade. Admiral Sir John Hawkins is widely acknowledged to be “the Pioneer of the English Slave Trade”. In 1554–1555, Hawkins formed a slave trading syndicate of wealthy merchants. He sailed with three ships for the Caribbean via Sierra Leone, hijacked a Portuguese slave ship and sold the 300 slaves from it in Santo Domingo. During a second voyage in 1564, his crew captured 400 Africans and sold them at Rio de la Hacha in present-day Colombia, making a 60% profit for his financiers. A third voyage involved both buying slaves directly in Africa and capturing a Portuguese ship with its cargo; upon reaching the Caribbean, Hawkins sold all the slaves.

On his return, he published a book entitled An Alliance to Raid for Slaves. It is estimated that Hawkins transported 1,500 enslaved Africans across the Atlantic during his four voyages of the 1560s. Some entrepreneurs brought slaves to Britain, where they were kept in bondage.

By the mid-18th century, London had the largest African population in Britain, made up of free and enslaved people, as well as many runaways. The total number may have been about 10,000. Owners of African slaves in England would advertise slave-sales and rewards for the recapture of runaways.

The slave trade became a major economic mainstay for such cities as Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow, engaged in the so-called “Triangular trade”. The ships set out from Britain, loaded with trade goods which were exchanged on the West African shores for slaves captured by local rulers from deeper inland; the slaves were transported through the infamous “Middle Passage” across the Atlantic, and were sold at considerable profit for labour in plantations. The ships were loaded with export crops and commodities, the products of slave labour, such as cotton, sugar and rum, and returned to Britain to sell the items.

William Wilberforce’s Slave Trade Act 1807 abolished the slave trade (but not ownership) in the British Empire. It was not until the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 that the institution finally was abolished, but on a gradual basis.

The Church of England was involved in slavery. The Anglican Church’s Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts owned sugar plantations in the West Indies, including slaves who worked on those plantations during this period.

When slaves were emancipated by Act of the British Parliament in 1834 (58 years after Jefferson wrote the original draft of the Declaration of Independence denouncing slavery), the British government paid compensation to slave owners. Among those they paid were the Bishop of Exeter and three business colleagues, who received compensation for 665 slaves. The compensation of British slaveholders was almost £17 billion in current money.

None of this overly-long commentary is meant to excuse slavery in any form at any time.

However, the idea that slavery is or was a uniquely American institution is incorrect. Slavery was practiced, with few exceptions, all over the world and still exists in some nations.

Back to the 1619 Project.

In PG’s opinion, this is an effort to misrepresent the foundation of American society, including the ideas embodied in the Declaration of Independence and made the country’s legal foundational in the United States Constitution.

A great many other countries besides Britain and the United States have periods in their history where slavery of different types was practiced and treated as ordinary or ignored by the majority of its citizens.

PG suggests that the ideas of individual freedom manifested in the Mayflower Compact and many other foundational documents of the nation ultimately lead to the American Civil War, fought to preserve the United States and its ultimate ideals.

That war was fought primarily to abolish slavery and all of its attendant evils and threats to the nation’s fundamental character, welfare and future posed by the Southern States.

The Civil War resulted in the death of more Americans than any other American war and, indeed, the deaths of more American than in all the other American wars the nation ever fought from the War of Independence through the Korean War. That’s how important it was to abolish slavery in this country.

You Are A Writer. You Create And License Intellectual Property Assets.

From The Creative Penn:

Language is powerful.

We choose words carefully in our written works because we understand their impact. They carry a message from one mind to another. They shape ideas. They can change lives.

But writers often use language carelessly when it comes to the business side of being an author, and it shows that many still don’t understand copyright, and how rights licensing can impact your publishing choices, as well as your financial future.

I’ve run across several examples of this recently in discussion with author friends and also online, so I thought it was time for a refresh on intellectual property (IP) — and how important it is to define terms as we move toward Web 3 and a new iteration of what ‘digital’ even means.

You have to understand IP and rights licensing in order to make a living as an author for the long-term, whether you work with an agent or you’re entirely independent.

It might take a little getting used to, but once the penny drops around intellectual property, your language will change and you will have the power to shape your author career in a much more effective — and profitable — way.

Note: I am not a lawyer/attorney and this article is not legal or financial advice.

This article is based on learning about intellectual property from books, courses, and my personal experience publishing independently since 2008. It is a huge topic, so I can only scratch the surface and hopefully, give you something to think about and resources to take your knowledge further.

In this article, I cover: 

  • An overview of intellectual property rights related to written work
  • Original written work = Intellectual property asset
  • Print, Ebook, Audio
  • Other rights licensing opportunities
  • What rights have you licensed? Are you leaving money on the table? Plus, the issues with licensing “digital” rights as we move toward Web 3.
  • More resources — books, courses, podcast interviews

Link to the rest at The Creative Penn

PG says every author should save a copy of the OP for future reference.

Some of the items Ms. Penn discusses will be familiar to regular visitors to TPV, but others may not be.

Here are a couple of excerpts PG fully endorses:


Rights licensing is usually based around: 

  • Format e.g. ebook, paperback, audiobook defined to specific types of each and royalty levels for sale
  • Territory e.g. North America, UK Commonwealth, World
  • Language e.g. German
  • Term e.g. 7 years
  • Specific work (sometimes more than one, and sometimes with an option for other work in the world or under the same author name)

There are also many options for subsidiary rights licensing. Some include: 

  • Adaptations — film, TV, web series, plays/theatre, graphic novel/comic, podcast series, gaming, merchandise, online courses
  • Serial rights, reprints, anthologies 
  • Book clubs
  • Public lending rights, reproduction rights (for example, ALCS in the UK collects these on behalf of authors for library borrowing and photocopies etc.)

Selective rights licensing means you choose to limit the license to whatever the publisher is capable (and likely) of producing. It is very unlikely that a publisher will be able to use all rights in all formats in all territories in all languages.

For example, I license World French electronic, audio, and print for specific non-fiction titles for five years with a first option to renew. 

If you license selectively, you can also independently publish in other formats, territories, and languages. For example, I have now sold ebooks in 168 countries — and that’s just through Kobo.


If you have any form of written content available for someone else to read or purchase or listen to, then you have signed a contract that will include some kind of license. 

What rights have you licensed? Are you leaving money on the table?

If you are traditionally published and someone has paid you for your rights, check your contract to see what you have agreed to.

Many traditionally published authors I talk to will say they don’t know what rights they have signed, which shows they don’t understand how copyright works. If you don’t know what you’ve signed, then you don’t know what else you can do with your body of work. If that’s you, go check your contracts. You might be leaving money on the table.

If you’re an indie author, you sign a contract when you accept the terms and conditions of whichever service you use to publish. So read the Ts&Cs, download a copy, and keep them somewhere as evidence of what you have ‘signed.’

Many of the sites have a non-exclusive contract for a specific format, e.g. Kobo has a non-exclusive right to your ebooks so you can always publish them elsewhere. 

Some sites have exclusive options. For example, if you opt into KDP Select and make your ebooks available on Kindle Unlimited, that is a 90-day exclusive contract for your ebook, so you can’t use any other publishing or distribution service, or sell direct, for the term you enroll. That doesn’t stop you from licensing your audio or print rights, it just limits your ebook options. . . .

Some sites have terms and conditions that are being questioned by authors and author organizations, for example, check out #audiblegate and the investigation into Audible’s contracts. 


Here are a few points PG will emphasize/add to Ms. Penn’s very good post.

  1. Read the Contract – Yes, PG knows that it’s not great fun to read any sort of contract (he has read thousands so he speaks from experience), but read it anyway.
    1. If you receive an electronic version of the contract, print it out.
    2. Then go through the printout or a copy of the paper original like you were grading an essay and looking for evidence of cheating.
    3. Go through it paragraph by paragraph.
    4. Pay attention to the sentence structure. (Really!)
    5. Underline things you don’t understand.
    6. Write notes about your concerns in the margins.
    7. Pay particular attention to defined terms.
      1. Defined terms may be included in a separate section of the contract. PG has seen some contracts that seemed perfectly reasonable until he hit the “Definitions” section in paragraph 36.A.(1) where all hell broke loose.
      2. Here’s an example of a defined term clause, “As used herein, “publish” shall mean . . . .” As mentioned in the prior subparagraph, the “As used herein” piece may be found in an entirely different location in a 30-page contract than the place which talks about publishing your book.
      3. Here’s another example of a defined term, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah (“Publish“)”
  2. Read the Damned Contract! PG knows that when you were two years old, you pitched a fit whenever your mother tried to feed you peas and she finally gave up. But you’re an adult now and you have learned to do hard things, like reading a publishing contract or a Terms & Conditions clause on Amazon’s or somebody else’s website.
  3. Ask Questons: If you don’t understand something you read even after you have diagrammed the sentence, ask what it means.
    1. You can even do it with a Terms & Conditions clause online.
    2. Contact the online help people. If they can’t answer the question, ask them who can and contact that person.
    3. If you can’t get a good response via the Help link, do a bit of searching on the website or online. You’re looking for the Legal Department or Corporate Counsel. If the website is owned by another company, look on that company’s website.
    4. If corporate counsel has an email address, send them an email. If they have a mailing address, also send them a paper letter that says the same thing.
    5. Here’s an example of an email/letter you might consider sending:
      1. “Dear ______________: or Dear Corporate Counsel: I was reviewing your Terms and Conditions and in Paragraph 15 (A), I found the term, “publish” but I could not find a definition of this term anywhere in the Terms and Conditions. I believe “publish” is an ambiguous term and I am confused. In the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary (2019 edition), “publish” is defined as “blah, blah, blah” but in the New Oxford American Dictionary (2021 edition), “publish” is defined as “blah1, blah1, blah1.” As you can clearly see, the two definitions are not identical and, I believe, do not define the term, “publish” in the same way. My particular concern is whether the term, “Publish” as your company uses it includes or does not include blah, blah, blah. Could you please clarify. I started a discussion group concerning this question on Reddit and have received a variety of different opinions, including some by people who say they are attorneys, but you can never tell if someone is telling the truth or not online. One of the people who responded said he was a law student and was going to raise my question in his intellectual property class to see what the professor and other students think about your company’s definition.”
    6. PG just did a Google search for “legal department” on Amazon’s U.S. site and found this link (https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=GLSBYFE9MGKKQXXM)
    7. At the link he found the following in Amazon’s Conditions of Use:

OUR ADDRESS

Amazon.com, Inc.
P.O. Box 81226
Seattle, WA 98108-1226

And a little farther down, he found this:

HOW TO SERVE A SUBPOENA OR OTHER LEGAL PROCESS

Amazon accepts service of subpoenas or other legal process only through Amazon’s national registered agent, Corporation Service Company (CSC). Subpoenas or other legal process may be served by sending them to CSC at the following address:

Amazon.com, Inc.
Corporation Service Company
300 Deschutes Way SW, Suite 208 MC-CSC1
Tumwater, WA 98501
Attn: Legal Department – Legal Process

And farther down he found this:

NOTICE AND PROCEDURE FOR MAKING CLAIMS OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY INFRINGEMENT

If you believe that your intellectual property rights have been infringed, please submit your complaint using our online form. This form may be used to report all types of intellectual property claims including, but not limited to, copyright, trademark, and patent claims.

We respond quickly to the concerns of rights owners about any alleged infringement, and we terminate repeat infringers in appropriate circumstances.

We offer the following alternative to our online form for copyright complaints only. You may submit written claims of copyright infringement to our Copyright Agent at:

Copyright Agent
Amazon.com Legal Department
P.O. Box 81226
Seattle, WA 98108
phone: (206) 266-4064
e-mail: copyright@amazon.com

Courier address:
Copyright Agent
Amazon.com Legal Department
2021 7th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98121

PG advises keeping a copy of your email and the online contract as it existe when you reviewed it in an electronic file on your computer. Insert the date in the copied documents in addition to the date your computer assigns to the file.

Electronic copies will allow you to compare different versions of the Terms and Conditions over time to see whether any changes were made as a result of your email.

PG gave up the practice some time ago, but he used to keep copies of various Terms of Use on different sites to track how they changed over time. Document comparison software makes the job very easy.

PG would be surprised if most online sites would fail to respond to an email such as he described. Potential ambiguity in a contract should raise a red flag with any competent attorney.

If a provision is ambiguous or subject to two different interpretations and a lawsuit follows, a judge will decide what the provision really means. As a very general proposition, a genuine ambiguity in a written contract means the judge will be more likely to interpret the ambiguity against the party that drafted the contract, particularly if, like Terms and Conditions used by online companies, the contract is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.

If you don’t receive a response to your letter and email asking about the meaning of the terms and conditions, you could follow up with an email noting that you haven’t received a response.

If you don’t receive an answer to your question at this point, go ahead and post the T’s & C’s and your questions about them to several relevant online discussion forums and see what happens. Remember squeaky wheels and grease.

It’s clear that PG has gone on way too long about this topic and needs to do something useful. He will leave with one final admonition:

Read the Contract!

PG admits a mistake

After receiving a couple of emails, PG realized that his comments about Critical Race Theory broke his personal unwritten rule to keep politics off of The Passive Voice.

PG has friends of many years standing with whom he has never had a discussion about politics.

Had such a discussion occurred, PG would likely not have agreed with the political views of those friends, but he would never sacrifice friendship because of political differences. Rather than bring any sort of cloud over these friendships, PG is happy to discuss other items of mutual interest and learns something from virtually every such discussion.

Unfortunately, at present in the United States, there is a lot of vitriol exchanged by people of differing political views. Some people in a variety of political spheres seem to feel that politics is the most important topic at all times and in all places and are quite intolerant of those with differing politics.

PG suspects that a lengthy and very stressful period of economic and social shutdown due to Covid plus a nasty political season last November have robbed more than a few people of a sense of community feeling with fellow citizens and residents who believe differently than they do.

PG certainly hopes there will be a resurgence of comity, a feeling joint local and national purpose and greater respect for those whose views are different. PG would love to see a huge surge of politeness from sea to shining sea.

Zoom Dysmorphia Is Following People Into the Real World

From Wired:

LAST SUMMER, WHEN clinics began to tentatively reopen, dermatologist Shadi Kourosh noticed a worrying trend—a spike in appointment requests for appearance-related issues. “It seemed that, at a time like that, other matters would be top of mind, but a lot of people were really concerned with feeling that they looked much worse than usual,” she says.

Kourosh, who is an assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, soon discovered that others in her field and related ones such as plastic surgery had noticed a similar phenomenon. And when she and her colleagues asked patients what was driving their decision to seek treatment, a lot of them cited videoconferencing. The pandemic had catapulted them into a world of Zoom calls and Teams meetings, and staring at their own face on a screen all day every day was wreaking havoc with their self-image.

In the age of Zoom, people became inordinately preoccupied with sagging skin around their neck and jowls; with the size and shape of their nose; with the pallor of their skin. They wanted cosmetic interventions, ranging from Botox and fillers to facelifts and nose jobs. Kourosh and colleagues surveyed doctors and surgeons, examining the question of whether videoconferencing during the pandemic was a potential contributor to body dysmorphic disorder. They called it “Zoom dysmorphia.”

Now, with the rise in vaccinations seemingly pushing the pandemic into retreat, new research from Kourosh’s group at Harvard has revealed that Zoom dysmorphia isn’t going away. A survey of more than 7,000 people suggests the mental scars of the coronavirus will stay with us for some time.

Even before Covid, plastic surgeons and dermatologists were seeing a rise in patients coming to them with demands that were “unrealistic and unnatural,” Kourosh says. The term “Snapchat dysmorphia” was coined in 2015 to describe the growing numbers of people who wanted to look like they’d been put through a face-altering filter in real life, all big eyes and sparkling skin.

Before that, a patient might turn up at a plastic surgeon’s office with photos of a celebrity they wanted to look like clipped from a magazine. Even before the rise of social media, psychologists found that people who stared at themselves in a mirror became more self-conscious.

But Zoom dysmorphia is different. Unlike with Snapchat, where people are aware that they’re viewing themselves through a filter, video conferencing distorts our appearance in ways we might not even realize, as Kourosh and her coauthors identified in their original paper.

Front-facing cameras distort your image like a “funhouse mirror,” she says—they make noses look bigger and eyes look smaller. This effect is exacerbated by proximity to the lens, which is generally nearer to you than a person would ever stand in a real-life conversation. Looking down at a smartphone or laptop camera is the least flattering angle—as anyone from the MySpace generation will tell you, the best camera position is from above, hence the ubiquity of the selfie stick.

We’re also used to seeing our own reflection when our faces are relaxed—the concentrated frown (or bored expression) you wear in a Zoom meeting jars with the image of yourself you’re used to seeing in the mirror. “Changes in self-perception and anxiety as a result of constant video-conferencing may lead to unnecessary cosmetic procedures, especially in young adults who have had increased exposure to online platforms including videoconferencing, social media, and filters throughout the pandemic,” write Kourosh, Channi Silence, and other colleagues.

The term “Zoom dysmorphia” was picked up by international media, and Kourosh was inundated with emails from friends and strangers who it resonated with. In the new follow up study due to be published in the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, the research group found that 71 percent of the 7,000 people surveyed were anxious or stressed about returning to in-person activities, and that nearly 64 percent had sought mental health support.

Link to the rest at Wired

PG is interested in the writing that will come out of this exceedingly strange Covid era.

PG hasn’t seen many reports from other countries, but there was a bizarre craziness that settled over more than a few people in the United States during this period. For others, the Covid-caused disruption of their ordinary daily routines provided an opportunity and incentive to take more extreme rational steps to improve their lives than might have been the case absent Covid.

One of the lasting consequences appears to be that a great many people anticipate not having to go into the office of an employer on a regular basis in the future. Some companies are offering remote work as a recruiting strategy to snare valuable employees away from employers who have announced that everyone will be coming back to the office full-time as soon as public health directives permit.

Other employees are taking retirement or early retirement rather than go back to a daily commute.

The Wall Street Journal reported that exurbs, “outer fringes of large metro areas where single-family homes mix with farms and many workers have traditionally commuted a significant distance to the core of the metro area,” have experienced substantial growth during the Covid shutdowns, driven by move-ins of people who anticipate that they won’t be making a daily commute in the future.

Per the Journal, “for the year ended in March, exurban counties outside large metro areas saw construction of single-family homes rise 20% from the year-earlier period. That was more than twice the rate for core counties in those metro areas.”

“Clearly, it will transform the South,” Susan Wachter, a professor of real estate at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said of exurban growth. The region is benefiting from lower costs that are drawing tech companies and other businesses looking for cheaper locations.

Wall Street Journal

New arrivals Nicole O’Meara and her husband talked for years about moving away from their lifelong home in suburban Chicago, unhappy about property taxes and weather. Last year they moved with their two toddlers to a subdivision in Murfreesboro after spending only a few days in the area.

Ms. O’Meara works from home in accounting. Real-estate company  Zillow Group Inc. recently declared the Nashville metro area the No. 1 U.S. location for these types of workers, known as “digital nomads.” Stephen O’Meara works in the automotive industry and knew he would quickly find a job.

As they worked with a real-estate agent, “she would send me listings and we’d see these houses and they would be gone in a day,” said Ms. O’Meara, 43.

Wall Street Journal

Because the U.S. population as a whole isn’t growing very fast, the population increases in some areas driven by Covid are being offset by declines elsewhere.

California, by far the largest state by population, experienced a population decline in 2020, the first time the California’ had lost population since the state Department of Finance began collecting population date in 1900.

Politics and the English Language

PG usually places his comments after whatever he excerpts, but he’s making an exception in this case.

Politics and the English Language, an essay written by George Orwell, was first published in 1946, largely in response to what he saw happening both before World War II and during a post-war period in which Russian-backed Communism appeared to be gaining power and influence and a rapid pace. After all, the end of the war left Central and Eastern Europe under Russian control, so from the viewpoint of someone wishing to build an empire, the peace deal was a big gain for the Soviet Union.

One of the common practices of Communist governments and their supporters during this period was to manipulate language in a manner which was, unfortunately, quite effective in influencing large numbers of people.

Here’s a quote that encapsulates much of Orwell’s assessment:

Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

Animal Farm was published shortly after the war ended. 1984 was published in 1949.

To be clear, Orwell doesn’t limit his cautions to Russians or Communists. He points out all sorts of different groups and individuals who distort language for political purposes in order to gain and keep power over others.

In the TPV post immediately before this one chronologically, the CEO of The American Booksellers Association described the shipment of a book to a large numbers of bookstores as a “serious, violent incident.”

Quite an accomplishment for a small stack of dried pulp from a dead tree.

Since PG has dozens of such dangerously violent objects just outside his office door, he will have to tread very carefully the next time he goes to refill his glass with Diet Coke.

From The Orwell Foundation:

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language – so the argument runs – must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.

These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad – I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen – but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:

1. I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien (sic) to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.

Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression).

2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder.

Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossia).

3. On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?

Essay on psychology in Politics (New York).

4. All the ‘best people’ from the gentlemen’s clubs, and all the frantic Fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.

Communist pamphlet.

5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion’s roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as ‘standard English’. When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o’clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma’amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!

Letter in Tribune.

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose-construction is habitually dodged.

Dying metaphors. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes ontake up the cudgels fortoe the lineride roughshod overstand shoulder to shoulder withplay into the hands ofno axe to grindgrist to the millfishing in troubled waterson the order of the dayAchilles’ heelswan songhotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a ‘rift’, for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

Operators, or verbal false limbs. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are: render inoperativemilitate againstprove unacceptablemake contact withbe subject togive rise togive grounds forhave the effect ofplay a leading part (roleinmake itself felttake effectexhibit a tendency toserve the purpose of, etc. etc. The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as breakstopspoilmendkill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purposes verb such as proveserveformplayrender. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard tothe fact thatby dint ofin view ofin the interests ofon the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved from anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desiredcannot be left out of accounta development to be expected in the near futuredeserving of serious considerationbrought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on and so forth.

Link to the rest at The Orwell Foundation

The Passion of Anne Hutchinson

From The Wall Street Journal:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pirates and Publishers

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket: Amazon Edition

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Here’s how he describes that Act:

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

It might change sooner.

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

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

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the background as PG sees it.

What’s the future of legal attacks on Amazon?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Shelf Awareness:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But PG could be wrong.

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

What’s in a Bookstore?

From Public Books:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Public Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Censorship Competition Heats Up

From The Wall Street Journal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Know thy reader

From The Bookseller:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday’s Absence

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

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

Neighborhood skiers have all disappeared.

Along with their vehicles.

One mentioned skiing to PG prior to his disappearance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update on Comments Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Statement of Problem and, Hopefully, Solution

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

Let PG know if the comments seem to be better.

BookExpo, Bookstores, and Libraries

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star Wars Novelists Seek Years of Missing Royalty Payments From Disney

From The Wall Street Journal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

PG has posted concerning this interesting Disney legal theory before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murphy’s Law and Its Offspring

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

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

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

PG’s Supplement to Murphy’s Law:

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

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

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

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

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

Just How White Is the Book Industry?

From The New York Times:

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The New York Times

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

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

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

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

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

Nine Months of Covid

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t work with jerks.

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

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

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

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

A Brief Observation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But

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

(Amateur mathematician PG counts Four Wins.)

Does the ACLU Want to Ban My Book?

From The Wall Street Journal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Limits of the Viral Book Review

From The Nation:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The Nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rumors of PG’s Death

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

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

But none of this is of interest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Writer Unboxed:

Women’s fiction author Densie Webb [asked]:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can Self-Publishing Rejuvenate Low Sales?

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

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

Consider questions like:

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

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minimum Wage for Authors

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

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

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

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

The key elements/benefits to this provision are simple:

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

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

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

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

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

From Esquire:

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The New York Times:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The New York Times

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

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

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

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

Do-it Yourself takes your Attention?

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

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

Big Job to self-publish?

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

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

Ya think?

Do-it Yourself is the Ultimate Big Cinch!

Plus Big Fast is Amazon’s middle name!

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

There’s your Big Gamble!

Scanty Posting

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

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

She asked PG to read her manuscript.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But PG digresses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Hamilton’ Loses Its Snob Appeal

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

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

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

From The Wall Street Journal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YOU get an open letter!

From Nathan Bransford:

This week in open letters! I mean books!

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

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

Far easier than writing something people will pay to read.

There’s Something About Being Quarantined for Too Long

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BONUS FEATURE!!

William Faulkner provides the proper pronunciation of Yoknapatawpha

END OF BONUS Feature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hosting Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But PG could be wrong.