PG’s Thoughts (such as they are)

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

7 January 2019

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

From Law360:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Law360

PG says there is plenty of blame to go around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Welcome to The Great Acceleration

4 January 2019

From The Scholarly Kitchen:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at The Scholarly Kitchen

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

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

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

PG suggests following the money.

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

What makes the scholarly publications valuable?

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

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

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

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

Discoverability: Draft2Digital

3 January 2019

From Draft2Digital:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

These powerful pages include:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Some key features include:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

So what does that mean for D2D authors?

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

Link to the rest at Draft2Digital

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

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

PG was particularly interested in the Walmart.com announcement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

27 December 2018

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

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

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

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

16 December 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why are Amazon warehouse stories such an evergreen topic?

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

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

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

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

 

The Color of the Year

6 December 2018

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

From Time:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at Time

Who knew a single color could be so powerful?

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Basket is Leaking

2 December 2018

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is that important?

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

30 November 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

« Previous PageNext Page »