Bookshop, Hummingbird Sales Skyrocket

From Shelf Awareness:

At Hummingbird Digital Media, which is an American Booksellers Association Marketplace partner for e-books (Hummingbird also sells downloadable audio), sales in the last four weeks have risen 1,315% over the previous four weeks, according to president and chief visionary officer Stephen Black Mettee. For the year to date, sales are up 1,000%.

Hummingbird’s bookstore count has jumped 25% since the coronavirus began spreading in the U.S. although there are still some bookstores that haven’t signed on.

Mettee’s take: “Some bookstores had been slow to embrace e-books and audiobooks. I think as we come out of this–and we will–we’ll find bookstores making digital sales a more important part of their business. That will just make independent bookstores stronger overall. A silver lining in a particularly dark cloud?”

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

Support Authors and Indies

From The Authors Guild:

Help us help authors and indie bookstores!

The Authors Guild would love your help on a special project to support authors with recent and forthcoming books. Canceled book tours and retail closures have thrown a wrench into everyone’s plans, but thankfully, the literary community can still connect online to find out what to read next.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Make a short video or use our graphic to spotlight three books you’re personally excited about
  • Post it to your social media
  • Important: Tag @authorsguild in your post and use hashtag #supportauthors
  • Or send us your Youtube video link and we will add it to our playlist

We also want to show support for small businesses. Feel free to tag your favorite indie bookstores, use the hashtag #SupportIndies, or link to IndieBound.org or BookShop.org.

. . . .

Here are a few authors who have participated so far:

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

Libraries Connected launches online services round-up

From The Bookseller:

Our buildings may be temporarily closed but public libraries still have lots to offer their communities. Here at Libraries Connected, we are showcasing the best digital services from public libraries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Working with a team of public librarians from across the country, we’ll be highlighting key services that can be accessed through library websites and social media platforms.

. . . .

On this page you can find some of the excellent online rhyme times, story times and lego clubs that keep children engaged and support early literacy and creative thinking. We want to help families to choose live and recorded events not just from their own library service but anywhere in the country.

We’re also promoting activities to keep adults connected through library reading groups and book discussion groups.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

It appears that some, but not all, activities may require a British library card. PG didn’t check to see if non-UK residents could apply for a remote guest card.

The following library program appears to originate on the island of Guernsey, part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, consisting of the Channel Islands of Guernsey, Alderney and Sark.

The Bailiwick of Guernsey goes back to 933, when the islands came under the control of William Longsword, having been annexed from the Duchy of Brittany by the Duchy of Normandy. The island of Guernsey and the other Channel Islands formed part of the lands of William the Conqueror. In 1204 France conquered mainland Normandy – but not the offshore islands of the bailiwick. The islands represent the last remnants of the medieval Duchy of Normandy.

The Bailiwick of Guernsey is not to be confused with The Bailiwick of Jersey, also located in the English Channel consisting of the island of Jersey together with nearby uninhabited islands and rocks collectively named Les Dirouilles, Les Écréhous, Les Minquiers, and Les Pierres de Lecq.

The Internet Is for Everyone, Right? Not With a Screen Reader

From Wired:

A few weeks ago, Lucy Greco heard a story on NPR about more clothing retailers shuttering their stores and moving online. Oh, great, she thought, recalling some of her past experiences with online shopping: “You’re clicking on something that says, ‘graphic graphic graphic,’ or some numbered file name, or some gibberish like that.”

The internet can be like this for Greco, who is blind and uses a screen reader to wayfind online. Screen readers convert display text into synthesized speech or refreshable Braille, giving visual displays an audio equivalent. But many websites have features that make them impossible for her to use—unlabeled graphics, forms with missing field labels, links mysteriously named “link.” Greco says she runs into issues like this “90 percent of the time” that she spends online. When she does, entire chunks of the internet disappear.

Since the 1990s, the popular narrative of the internet has been one of progress: More people are online than ever and the web is increasingly open. But today, the internet is far from fully accessible. By some measures, it’s gotten even worse.

There are around 7 million people with a visual disability in the United States, according to the National Federation of the Blind.

. . . .

One study by an accessibility software company this August found that 70 percent of the websites it surveyed, ranging from ecommerce to news to government services, contain “accessibility blocks,” or quirks in the design that make them unreadable with assistive technology. Another accessibility report analyzing the top million homepages on the web estimates that just 1 percent meet the most widely used accessibility standards.

Link to the rest at Wired
.

 

Mondegreen

From Thoughtco:

A mondegreen is a word or phrase that results from mishearing or misinterpreting a statement or song lyric. Also known as an oronym.

The term mondegreen was coined in 1954 by American writer Sylvia Wright and popularized by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll. The term was inspired by “Lady Mondegreen,” a misinterpretation of the line “hae laid him on the green” from the Scottish ballad “The Bonny Earl o Moray.”

According to J. A. Wines, mondegreens often occur because “the English language is rich in homophones–words which may not be the same in origin, spelling or meaning, but which sound the same” (Mondegreens: A Book of Mishearings, 2007).

. . . .

“The point about what I shall hereafter call mondegreens, since no one else has thought up a word for them, is that they are better than the original.”
(Sylvia Wright, “The Death of Lady Mondegreen.” Harper’s, November 1954)

. . . .

  • “I led the pigeons to the flag” (for “I pledge allegiance to the flag”)
  • “There’s a bathroom on the right” (for “There’s a bad moon on the rise” in “Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival)
  • “Excuse me while I kiss this guy” (for the Jimi Hendrix lyric “Excuse me while I kiss the sky”)

. . . .

  • “The girl with colitis goes by” (for “the girl with kaleidoscope eyes” in “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by the Beatles)

. . . .

  • “The girl from Emphysema goes walking” (for “The girl from Ipanema goes walking” in “The Girl from Ipanema,” as performed by Astrud Gilberto)

Link to the rest at Thoughtco and thanks to Karen for the reminder in her comment to an earlier TPV post.
.

The Diatomist

PG had no idea some diatomists – those who study diatoms – engage in the art of arranging diatoms.

The first diatom arrangements date back to the early 1800s, but the art form reached its peak in the latter part of the century. It was a period of intense interest in the natural world and also a time when the arts and sciences were more closely aligned. Diatom arrangements are a stunning example of that particularly Victorian desire to bring order to the world, to display nature in a rational way.

If you’re a little rusty on your knowledge of diatoms, according to The Smithsonian, diatoms, very tiny forms of plant life, range in size from 5 microns to 200 microns. A micron is one-thousandth of a millimeter. A diatom arrangement of 100 forms would fit inside a punctuation mark of average-size text. A single drop of water can contain hundreds of thousands of phytoplankton, free-floating plant life, most of which will likely be diatoms.

Diatoms are also the tiny friends of all life upon the earth – about half of the oxygen in the atmosphere originates from plants living in the ocean, chiefly the untold numbers of phytoplankton in the oceans of the world. The other half comes from plants on land.

Diatoms are not to be confused with Zooplankton, microscopic free-floating animals which feed on phytoplankton and are, in turn food sources for slightly larger aquatic life forms.

Typically, you would view artistic arrangements of diatoms either through a microscope or via microscopic photos or videos.

Eugene V. Debs

Today is celebrated as Labor Day in the United States.

One of the early heroes of what was called The Labor Movement was Eugene V. Debs.

From American Experience:

Outspoken leader of the labor movement, Eugene Debs opposed Woodrow Wilson as the Socialist Party candidate in the 1912 Presidential Election. Later, he would continue to rally against President Wilson and his decision to take American into war — and be jailed for it under the Espionage Act.

Debs was born in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1855, the son of poor Alsatian immigrants. Though his parents encouraged an intellectual spirit, Debs left high school after one year to become a locomotive paint-scraper. There, among the rough-and-tumble of railway men, Debs found his calling. From his membership in the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen to his role co-founding the Industrial Workers of the World (the “wobblies”), Debs raised his voice in defense of the common man.

The years leading up to the turn of the twentieth century brought America unprecedented prosperity — but relatively few people, men like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller Sr., controlled the new wealth. For the nation’s working class, and leaders like Eugene Debs, it was a time to be angry. From steel fabrication to mining, American industries saw major protests as workers tried to secure 8-hour workdays, living wages, and other fundamental improvements.

After leading the American Railway Union in a confrontation with federal troops sent to break up the Pullman strike of 1894, Debs was jailed for six months for contempt of court. It was then that he came to a set of beliefs that roughly mirrored the socialist tenets of the European labor movements. Upon his release, Debs became a featured speaker for the Socialist Party, and ran for president in 1900 as their nominee. He lost, but continued to be the party’s candidate in several subsequent elections.

Debs found his greatest success in the 1912 Election, when he campaigned against Democratic nominee Woodrow Wilson, incumbent President William Howard Taft, and former President Theodore Roosevelt. Debs received almost a million votes – six percent of the ballots cast.

Link to the rest at American Experience.

Debs was accused of sedition because of the anti-WWI speech he’d given in Canton, Ohio, on June 16, 1918. Found guilty on ten counts under the Espionage and Sedition Acts, he would eventually be sentenced to 10 years.

Following is a reading of an excerpt of a speech Debs gave to the court on Sept 18, 1918.


.
A reminder that PG does not always agree with items he posts.

Amazon offered vendors ‘Amazon’s Choice’ labels in return for ad spending and lower prices

From DigiDay:

Amazon has previously offered vendors the ability to “bid” for an Amazon’s Choice badge by lowering prices and spending more money on advertising, bringing into sharper focus how the program, which recently came under fire from senators, actually works.

It’s unclear whether or not this offer was taken up by any Amazon vendors, or how long the program was offered before it was discontinued. One source believed it was only offered for a few months.

Amazon’s Choice label, which is a mark that denotes that an item is recommended, gives certain products and items higher and more obvious placement in search results. While it’s unclear how exactly the mark is earned, it’s been accepted that it’s generally a mix of product listing and specifications, price and reviews, operated by Amazon’s algorithms.

But sources say that Amazon actually offered sellers the chance to bid on the mark back in 2017.

A pitch deck reviewed by Digiday details a 2017 bidding program for the Amazon’s Choice badge in a particular product category. The deck explained the Amazon’s Choice program, which launched in 2015, as valuable to brands in that it increases the visibility of a product listing in Amazon’s search results, which then drives an increase in units sold and revenue over time. An example for an Amazon’s Choice-recommended electronic showed a 10% increase in units sold over one quarter and an immediate increase in the number of people going to the product page over a few weeks.

While Amazon didn’t set up an outright pay-to-play system for its coveted Amazon’s Choice badge, which increases visibility and conversion rates for product listings that receive the tag, it did set up an internal process that could be seen as manipulating the Amazon’s Choice system.

In an email requesting confirmation and information on whether this program existed, an Amazon spokesperson denied that this program was offered.

. . . .

An agency source said that while this bidding program ran briefly in 2017, Amazon rolled it back and Amazon’s Choice badges are now driven by Amazon’s algorithms. According to Amazon’s vendor and seller resources, Amazon’s Choice is rewarded to product listings that have high in-stock and conversion rates, high customer ratings, competitive prices and Prime shipping. But nefarious recommendations from Amazon have come under scrutiny: In a report in June that reviewed dozens of Amazon’s Choice products, BuzzFeed found that Amazon frequently recommended inferior and defective products, as well as products whose reviews had been manipulated by the seller.

Link to the rest at DigiDay

PG was reminded the following song, titled “Don’t Be Stupid.” (Given the title, he has no idea why people are dancing in water).

.

An Author Heads to the Stage

From Publishing Perspectives:

As I bundled up my 225-page memoir manuscript and mailed it to editor Jane Rosenman, I hoped she would reveal the magic formula for transforming my pages into a book. I’d received glowing rejections but still no takers for my story, The Inheritance, about how, six weeks after my mother died, I discovered that she had disinherited me, and my quest to understand why.

Although Rosenman found much to praise, some aspects of my story still weren’t working, including a whiff of bitterness on the page. Yet who wouldn’t be bitter after being blindsided from beyond the grave? But the problem with bitterness, I later discovered, is that it lacks drama.

As I was revising the manuscript, I received an invitation to perform a 10-minute story with Portland Story Theater in Oregon, where I live. When I walked onto the stage, into the pressure cooker of live performance, something happened: my bitterness transformed into humor, and I discovered a liveliness and emotional depth that had not been as evident on the page.

Was I onto something that could help me crack open my story? To find out, I enrolled in a solo performance class with Seth Barrish at New York City’s Barrow Group Theatre, who I then hired to help me craft a performance of my story. With script in hand, I secured a director—Lauren Bloom Hanover—and performed the 50-minute, one-person show, retitled Firstborn, at Performance Works Northwest in Portland, as part of the Fertile Ground Festival. My minitour culminated with my off-Broadway performance at the United Solo Theatre Festival last October, where Jane was in the audience.

. . . .

By telling my story on stage, I found not only its through line but also its beating heart. Writing for performance also gave me more to work with than just the words. Now I had my body, voice, lighting, and music, plus props and images. Also, I could take shortcuts: a transition could be made with a turn of my body or a look to the audience. As Jane said when I spoke with her afterward, the demands of performance helped me get to the “nub of the story.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

 

New Documentary Focuses on Ursula K. Le Guin

From The Wall Street Journal:

“Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin” is the first documentary about the pioneering science-fiction writer—and pretty much the first film of any kind to showcase her work. Although Ms. Le Guin was writing about dragons and wizard schools back in 1968 for her Earthsea series, there have been no high-profile movies based on her 20 novels or more than 100 short stories.

“I don’t think Harry Potter would have existed without Earthsea existing,” author Neil Gaiman says in the documentary, which premieres Friday on PBS. Ms. Le Guin’s Earthsea cycle, a young-adult series about a sprawling archipelago of island kingdoms, included five novels and many stories written between 1968 and 2001.

Other writers who discuss Ms. Le Guin’s work and influence in the film include Margaret Atwood (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), David Mitchell (“Cloud Atlas”) and Michael Chabon (“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay”).

“I think she’s one of the greatest writers that the 20th-century American literary scene produced,” Mr. Chabon says.

. . . .

“I never wanted to be a writer—I just wrote,” she says in the film. Believing science fiction should be less about predicting the future than observing the present, she invented fantastical worlds that were their own kind of anthropology, exploring how societies work.

In her 1969 novel “The Left Hand of Darkness,” she introduces a genderless race of beings who are sexually active once a month, either as a man or woman—but don’t know which it will be. Her 1973 short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” introduces a utopian city where everyone is happy. But readers learn that this blissful world is entirely dependent on one child being imprisoned in a basement and mistreated. The joy of all the people hinges on the child being forced to suffer, and everyone knows it. The author had been horrified to learn through her father’s research about the slaughter of native tribes that made modern California possible.

. . . .

As a female sci-fi writer, “my species was once believed to be mythological, like the tribble and the unicorn,” Ms. Le Guin said in an address before the 1975 Worldcon science-fiction convention in Melbourne, Australia. Her work was called feminist sci-fi, but she grew into that label awkwardly. “There was a considerable feeling that we needed to cut loose from marriage, from men, and from motherhood. And there was no way I was gonna do that,” she said. “Of course I can write novels with one hand and bring up three kids with the other. Yeah, sure. Watch me.”

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

 

The Secret to Success on Youtube? Kids

From Wired:

Kids love YouTube. They love the pinging of the xylophones in the upbeat “Thank you song” on CoCoMelon, a channel with more than 53 million subscribers that plays animated nursery rhymes. They love watching other kids open and test toys, as they do on Ryan ToysReview (subscriber count: 20,749,585). And they love the Baby Shark song. Possibly because of the fun dance moves and possibly because they want to drive adults crazy.

These trends are nothing new, but now we have more than vast subscriber counts or astounding click numbers to illustrate just how central videos featuring kids are to the platform. In a report Thursday, the Pew Research Center said that in the vast ecosystem of YouTube’s English-language videos, children’s content and content featuring kids under 13 are some of the most popular videos on the site.

For the study, researchers analyzed the videos posted by 43,000 YouTube channels, each with more than 250,000 subscribers, during the first week of 2019. There was a lot to work with. In those seven days, these channels posted almost a quarter-million videos totalling more than 48,000 hours. For the record, the authors note, “a single person watching videos for eight hours a day (with no breaks or days off) would need more than 16 years to watch all the content.”

Those videos covered everything from politics to video games. Most were not intended for kids. But the most popular featured kids. Researchers found that just 2 percent of the videos they analyzed featured a child or children that appeared to be younger than 13. “However, this small subset of videos averaged three times as many views as did other types of videos,” says the report.

There have been studies of niche communities within YouTube, but “We hadn’t seen something like this done before,” says Aaron Smith, director of the data lab team at Pew. Although YouTube children’s content wasn’t the impetus for the study, Smith says the results weren’t surprising: “We had a sense that this kind of content would be fairly popular. We know that lots of parents let their kids watch videos on YouTube.”

Videos with cheery, if nonsensical, titles like “Funny Uncle John Pretend Play w/ Pizza Food Kitchen Restaurant Cooking Kids Toys,” and “No No, Baby Rides the Scooter!” racked up over 6 million views each. “SUPERHERO BABIES MAKE A GINGERBREAD HOUSE SUPERHERO BABIES PLAY DOH CARTOONS FOR KIDS,” attracted almost 14 million views.

Not all the videos that featured young kids were nursery rhymes or traditional kids content like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Pew’s analysis found that only 21 percent of videos featuring children appeared to have been aimed at kids. But videos that were both aimed at kids and featured kids were the most popular videos in Pew’s analysis, averaging four times as many views as other “general audience” videos.

As for the other 79 percent of videos that had kids but weren’t directly aimed at children? They did better too, getting “substantially more” attention than other videos aimed at teens and adults. The five most popular videos from the week Pew studied included a baby name reveal and family vlogs with titles like “WELCOMING A NEW MEMBER OF FAMILY!!” One was a sliming video. None are immediately alarming, though Smith couldn’t comment on why that kind of content was so attractive to so many viewers. “Why that type of material pops is unclear to me,” he says. “Someone clearly is enjoying it but it’s not clear who those folks are or what their motivations are for doing that.”

Link to the rest at Wired

PG’s general impression is that the videos that traditional publishers post on YouTube to promote books look cheap and are lame. The ones he recalls had very few viewers at the time he checked them.

However, he wondered if any authors have popular YouTube channels that play a significant part in the promotion and marketing of their books. Feel free to point out examples in the comments.

PG is particularly interested in productive YouTube channels from authors who are not megaseller/JK Rowling, etc., authors.