Disasters

All natural disasters are comforting because they reaffirm our impotence, in which, otherwise, we might stop believing. At times it is strangely sedative to know the extent of your own powerlessness.

Erica Jong

Global Association of Literary Festivals Holds First Online Webinar

From Publishing Perspectives:

Our regular readers will remember the formal establishment we reported on May 12 of the Global Association of Literary Festivals.

. . . .

And in a way, the development of the new association may well have come at a surprisingly good moment during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. With festivals driven to consider online evocations of their usual offers, there’s temporarily less organizational burden on them, a chance to reflect and strategize.

The downside, of course, is that revenue has also come to a standstill for many if not most festivals, and while we’ve seen one sterling example of a huge success on the ether this spring—the UK’s Hay Festival with its 490,000 streams served out in a two-week offer of sessions—few festivals start with the heft of the Hay and the fundraising capacity that program was able to mount so it could stage its digital presentation.

Wednesday’s session, then, is a consideration of the issues and the imperative faced by many faces during the pandemic–which health officials caution is still in its first wave, and not subsiding.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG suggests that the timing of the creation of the Global Association of Literary Festivals is sadly ironic because, as indicated in the OP, literary festivals have stopped happening since last spring.

After sheltering in place and avoiding airline travel for several months (and likely several more to follow) PG wonders how many people who are not traveling on corporate expense accounts will be interested in flying to book festivals.

In the US, the National Football League, the source of more television and ticket revenue than any other sport, may well be operating under rules that will keep 50% or more of the seats in NFL stadiums empty. Both the pre-season, which attracts both fans and viewers, as well as the season itself are likely to have many fewer games than is normally the case.

PG wonders how many exhibitors, typically a large source of revenue for commercial gatherings, such as literary festivals, will be willing to pay the necessary exhibitor’s fees, pay for the creation and shipping of exhibits and pay travel, food and lodging costs for publisher’s personnel to staff and mingle, etc., with sales of traditionally-published books entirely in the tank (other than via Amazon).

As far as attendees are concerned, PG can’t help but believe that numbers will be impacted by the absence of a great many retiree readers who are likely to be extra-cautious about venturing forth prematurely.

If the Association of Literary Festivals is holding a webinar, why not webinars to introduce big books from traditional publishers? Or webinars for sci-fi or fantasy fans?

PG is not an expert on the world of romance and authors and fans, but why not a Romance webinar?

A commercial webinar need not consist only of individuals sitting at their desks peering into the screen. Nothing precludes a festival that features authors in local professionally-operated studios speaking about their books or being interviewed, perhaps from a distance, by an expert and experienced interviewer?

Publishing revenues to plunge and thousands of jobs at risk

From The Bookseller:

Publishing, including books, newspapers and magazines, could see a £7bn fall in revenue and 51,000 jobs axed due to Covid-19’s effect on bookshop closures and print sales, a report claims.

In total, 400,000 jobs could be lost across the creative industries amid projected weekly revenue losses of £1.4bn a week in 2020, according to research by global forecasting firm Oxford Economics. It predicts publishing will see a 40% decline while 26% of jobs could go.

However, its definition of publishing includes directories, newspapers, periodicals and other activities alongside books—a total sector employing 177,000 people with a total turnover at the start of the year of £16.3bn.

That is substantially more than the £6bn the PA says book publishing brings in alone each year. Figures for book publishing have not been broken out in the Oxford Economics report.

The Creative Industries Federation, which commissioned the research, has warned of a “cultural catastrophe” facing the entire creative sector. It predicts the sector will be hit twice as hard as the wider economy, with a combined revenue drop of £74bn this year and one in five jobs expected to be axed.

. . . .

“Publishing could lose £7bn in revenue and 26% of jobs, affected by the closure of bookshops and decline of print sales. As we emerge from lockdown, we will need imagination and creativity more than ever. We will need those who can take specks of ideas and carve them into a vision for the future. But for that, we need our creative industries.”

. . . .

“The freelance community has been hit really badly by Covid-19 and many freelancers haven’t been supported by any of the government schemes. People are losing their jobs and their businesses.  I worked in publishing for 30 years, and know there’s an incredible creative and innovative eco-system in publishing, in and out of house, from editors and agents, to production, sales and designers. I think what’s been proven is those jobs aren’t going to go anywhere, they’re not going to be automated. The industry is still going to need that ecosystem and it will impact publishing if we lose it.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Hong Kong Publishers

PG realizes he went on a rant titled, “Don’t Do Business with Crooks” yesterday.

He’s going to post another rant today, but promises not to become a Serial Ranter.

For one thing, the internet already has more Serial Ranters than any one person, even if she/he were very, very, very angry or the hugest giganticast Ranter Fan ever, could read in a hundred lifetimes.

(Incidentally, rant.com is for sale.)

PG has had several people ask him to review an unsolicited publishing contract the have received from a “Hong Kong publisher” with a name that doesn’t seem to appear anywhere online.

At least some of the Hong Kong contracts PG has scanned are pretty close to identical in their wording and others are a bit different.

However, all of these contracts share some similar features, including:

  1. The author hadn’t pitched a book to any publisher in Hong Kong.
  2. From front to back, each contract was terrible.
  3. There were no audit rights (PG isn’t certain, but there might have been one contract that included an audit clause, but the audit had to take place in Hong Kong and only what appeared to be Hong Kong’s version of a Certified Public Accountant could conduct such an audit.
  4. When PG did a short bit of online searching, he couldn’t find a website for the Hong Kong publisher.
  5. Ditto for a publisher search on Amazon (US).
  6. The contract granted the publisher rights to the book for the full term of the copyright (sometimes in Hong Kong and sometimes everywhere) and for all languages.
  7. If the author got mad and hired a (Hong Kong) lawyer, the dispute would be heard in Hong Kong pursuant to the laws of Hong Kong in front of a Hong Kong judge.

How could anything go wrong?

The reason the indie authors (they were all indie) gave was that they didn’t have anything going in Hong Kong and probably wouldn’t, so, what the heck?

Yes, some people will just pirate your book outright. You send notices to Amazon (does anyone bother to send notices to Nook?) and Amazon pulls the book down.

Such actions may not stop a dedicated thief, but they may deter a thief with an IQ above room temperature.

The thief wants to stay below Amazon’s radar. If the thief is posting copies of dozens of books online, it’s safer for the thief to put up books that don’t generate an objection than to face Amazon freezing the thief’s account (which may have some royalties on sales of other counterfeit books that haven’t been paid yet the thief may forfeit) so the thief has to open another account and start again.

(PG has heard unconfirmed rumors that if a book is pirated on more than a few occasions, Amazon may require a more complex process for anyone who wants to post the same or similar book again. If Amazon wanted to do so, since it owns owns the largest cloud computing platform in the world, PG speculates that the company could set up a system that would do a quick textual analysis of every book uploaded and compare the analysis against those already uploaded (PG suspects a unique digital fingerprint for each book might be involved if Amazon were to do something like this) to help identify book thieves.)

PG apologizes for his digression, but his bottom line is, if an indie author receives an unsolicited proposal or publishing contract from Hong Kong, that author should:

  • Stop.
  • Think.
  • Don’t feel flattered that someone noticed your book.
  • If you want to waste the scammer’s time, ask for an advance payment from the “publisher” to demonstrate that the publisher is operating in good faith and is really interested in your book. PG might call such a payment an Advanced Advance.

Same advice for a publishing contract from Moscow.

Women’s Ways of Aging

From Public Books:

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage, it intensifies fears of aging and debility that characterize our culture of fitness and drive our aspirations to bodily invincibility. The stigma of aging affects women differentially. While feminists have touted the achievements of older women and insisted that the later years can be the best, we now find ourselves on the other side of an increasingly solid barrier between a “younger” population and an “elderly,” “older,” or “old” one. Those of us who are age 65 or older are the most vulnerable and at risk, both in need of extra protection and most likely to lose out in the triage battle for hospital beds and ventilators. At the same time, our vulnerability to the virus makes it impossible for many of us in this age cohort to participate in the historic street protests we are condemned to witness from afar.

This is therefore a good moment to assess our experiences of aging, and to face our own attitudes more squarely. Rather than battling an ageist and sexist media by insisting that older women can do and be more than ever before by working and playing harder, might we instead focus on care and interdependence, accepting rather than disavowing bodily, emotional, and social vulnerabilities? Rather than celebrating individual victories against aging and mortality, we might embrace a communal ethos of mutuality to which the old have a great deal to contribute.

In proclaiming older women’s powers, the titles of two recent books give a clear sense of their tone and mission: No Stopping Us Now: The Adventures of Older Women in American History, by journalist Gail Collins, and In Our Prime: How Older Women Are Reinventing the Road Ahead, by communications and media scholar Susan J. Douglas. Indignant about the blatant disparagement of older women that characterizes our moment, Collins and Douglas take a celebratory, if not outright triumphalist, tone. Both search for greater social importance and acceptance of older women in earlier historical periods and find examples of their unrelenting energy and productivity today. Both books encourage all women to fight against gendered ageism. They call for forms of cultural recognition that would better represent what their authors see as older women’s mostly positive experiences of aging.

. . . .

In a whirlwind journey through United States history, from the colonial period to today, No Stopping Us Now traces changes in opportunities for and attitudes toward older women. With spirit and energy, Collins leads us through the lives of numerous, mostly well-known older women who wielded considerable influence at different historical moments. Although the book touches upon larger economic arguments about shifting social roles available to mature women—brought about by the need for their products in colonial times, for example, or the opportunities for widows to run their husbands’ farms or businesses—Collins is more interested in how individual women were able to circumvent prejudices and taboos, and thereby thrive in their later years. Collins’s story is one not so much of steady progress as it is of a series of gains and losses, advances and declines—a story that leads to what she sees as today’s open future of increased possibility.

Thanks to Collins, one certainly gets a sense of women’s energy and activity, which is hard to reconcile with popular attitudes of gendered ageism, then and now. She paints vivid portraits, for example, by following the writing, publishing, and public-speaking “adventures” of 19th-century luminaries like Sarah Josepha Hale, who continued writing until she was 89; Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who urged middle-class women to start a whole new life in their 50s; Catharine Beecher, who took courses at Cornell in her 70s; and Jane Addams, who advocated a postponement of old age.

Notably, historians studying American women have analyzed the feminist strategies these and lesser-known women used to advance their work: by seemingly conforming to set gender roles, even as they radically subverted them. Collins, meanwhile, is content to tell these stories chronologically, ending with encouraging contemporary examples that range from Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Nancy Pelosi to Gloria Steinem and Helen Mirren. She does fold these individual white women into a broad historical sweep that also includes exceptional African American figures like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frances Harper, and 98-year-old National Park Service ranger Betty Reid Soskin. Yet she only mentions—without analyzing in any depth—how gendered prejudices are structurally inflected by racial, economic, and other social inequalities.

Link to the rest at Public Books

The Correctors

From Lapham’s Quarterly:

pecters haunt the history of publishing and of humanistic scholarship in early modern Europe: lean, shabby ghosts. Correctors, as they were usually called, prepared manuscripts for the press, read proofs, and often added original material of their own. They were everywhere in the world of print, and many early modern humanists—including those whose names remain familiar—either praised or denigrated them and their work.

What, then, did correctors and readers do? The account books of some of the great firms survive, and they provide firsthand evidence. The surviving ledger of the Froben and Episcopius firms, for example, records the wages paid to employees from 1557 to 1564. Each list of employees begins with a corrector or castigator: clear evidence that these learned employees, whose names appeared before those of the compositors and pressmen, enjoyed a certain status, which was higher than that of those who worked with their hands. Each list also includes a lector, whose pay is usually half that of the corrector or less. Sometimes the document states that a given corrector or reader received payment for other activities as well. In March 1560, for example, the lector Leodegarius Grymaldus received payment both for reading and for two other named tasks: making an index and correcting a French translation of Agricola’s work on metals. In March 1563 Bartholomaeus Varolle was paid for correcting but also for preparing the exemplar, or copy, of a thirteenth-century legal text, Guillaume Durand’s Speculum iuris, and for drawing up an index for the work.

Correctors did many other things as well. They corrected authors’ copy as well as proofs. They identified and mended typographical and other errors, to the best of their ability. They divided texts into sections and drew up aids to readers: title pages, tables of contents, chapter headings, and indexes. Some correctors composed texts as well as paratexts, serving as what might now be called content providers.

At times, correctors acted as expert intermediaries between an author and his publisher. The corrector seems to represent a new social type: a phenomenon brought into the world by printing and a native-born son of the new city of books that printing created. It seems obvious that the new art created new tasks. The printer confronted many rivals in the marketplace. He or she had to show that a particular product was superior to those of rivals. One way to do so—as printers rapidly decided—was to emphasize, in the colophon or, later, on the title page, that learned men had corrected the text. In Italy and Germany alike, books printed in the fifteenth century promised their readers not just texts but texts “diligently emended,” “vigilantly emended and revised,” or “most diligently and accurately revised” by particular scholars. Hiring someone to correct a text—or claiming to have done so, as many printers did even though they had not—represented a rational and effective way to claim a larger market share.

. . . .

One of the most striking facts about correctors was, and is, depressing: for all the utility of what they did, they usually found themselves the objects less of gratitude than of anger, pity, or derision. As early as 1534, when Viglius Zuichemus described Hieronymus Froben’s printing shop, he mentioned the chief corrector there, Sigismund Gelenius, only to say how much he regretted seeing him employed in this capacity. Gelenius, he explained, was “an extraordinarily learned man, and worthy of far better things.” Pretty much everyone agreed. Jeremiah Hornschuch, the proud corrector and author of a textbook on the craft of correcting, admitted that he himself had taken up the trade to avoid the worse one of a tutor, and that most of his colleagues, if they could, “would be off like a shot from this sweatshop, to earn their living by their intelligence and learning, not their hands.”

Correctors had every reason to feel ill used. Their pay was modest: lower than that of the best-paid compositors and pressmen.

Link to the rest at Lapham’s Quarterly

Don’t Do Business with Crooks

A couple of months ago, PG had a post titled Don’t Do Business with Jerks, explaining that this was one of the more common non-legal pieces of advice he gives his clients.

Recently, PG was reminded of another common piece of non-legal advice he gives to his clients.

Don’t do business with crooks.

If you do business with a crook, sooner or later you’re almost certainly going to regret it.

Certainly, some crooks appear to be selective with their targets. You might feel that, since you don’t fit the target profile, you’ll be safe.

The problem is that given the choice between a friendship/relationship and getting something he/she wants, ultimately the crook’s gonna crook.

A crook may be honest in a dozen small business matters. That is an admirable series of decisions, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the crook isn’t a crook any more ever again, that he/she has turned their life around and will never crook again.

It may mean that the crook has decided that whatever non-monetary or monetary value involved in the non-stealing relationship might be present, such potential is speculative when compared to the direct financial benefit of simply stealing something. Or perhaps the crook decides to see if he/she can get more money by not stealing, thinking that stealing is an option if the first path doesn’t pan out.

Yes, crooks can change their ways, turn their lives around and never steal again. Or they can change their ways, turn their lives around, then revert for one reason or another. The reason may be one that makes financial sense or it can simply be that the buzz involved in pulling off a good heist is just too tempting to resist.

While there are many honest publishers, there are also a few dishonest publishers. While there are many honest literary agents, there are also a few dishonest agents. (In the interest of equity, there are many honest attorneys and a some dishonest attorneys.)

The publisher/author relationship is a potential opportunity for thievery because the publisher has control and access to all the information about sales, etc. The author knows only what the publisher discloses.

Yes, most (but not all) publishing agreements include audit clauses, but conducting an audit using a qualified accountant is nothing close to cheap. A forensic audit/auditor is more expensive than a standard audit. (A forensic audit is an examination and evaluation of a firm’s or individual’s financial records to derive evidence that can be used in a court of law or legal proceeding.)

If the publisher is working hard on short-changing an author, the publisher may have taken effective steps to prevent an auditor from discovering the truth.

Perhaps the person/organization has either initiated or been on the receiving end of several lawsuits. Perhaps the person/organization is constantly involved in public disagreements with others over money or other topics. For PG, both of those are large red flags.

One specific type is an individual who has been married and divorced several times with the breakups involving lots of fireworks, nasty accusations, big legal bills, etc. Again, such things happen even if both spouses are perfectly upright and honorable in every way, but long experience indicates that the probability of this being the case is not high.

Without getting into politics, if a client came to PG for advice on entering into a business deal with Donald Trump, given Trump’s history of lawsuits and other public disputes with business partners, PG would likely remind the client about the benefits of a quietly efficient business and personal life.

All of this notwithstanding, people can and do change, turn over a new leaf, repent of past bad behavior, etc.

In such cases, PG suggests that his clients not be the first new business partner of the repentant counterparty. It’s one thing for a person to change their behavior when the sky is blue and birds are singing. However, if a storm appears on the horizon, newly-acquired virtues may take a back seat to unfortunate old habits.

To be clear, PG is not advocating permanent banishment of someone who has made bad decisions or serious mistakes in the past. However, if a client wishes to be a good gal/guy and help someone who is down on their luck, PG suggests that a purely charitable act, one undertaken with no expectation of a return or profit, may be a wiser approach. With no expectations, one may avoid disappointment and estrangement if the repentance is less permanent than anticipated.

You may want to consider writing person with a dodgy past a check instead of giving them one of your books to publish.

PG’s bottom line is still Don’t Do Business with Crooks.

Anti-Semitism and the Intellectuals

From The Wall Street Journal:

George Eliot was at the peak of her renown in 1874 when John Blackwood, her publisher, learned that she was at work on “Daniel Deronda, ” a new novel. As a literary man, he was in thrall to her genius. As a businessman with an instinct for the market, he valued her passionately dedicated readership. But an early look at portions of her manuscript astonished and appalled him: Too much of it was steeped in sympathetic evocations of Jews, Judaism and what was beginning to be known as Zionism.

All this off-putting alien erudition struck him as certain to be more than merely unpopular. It was personally tasteless, it went against the grain of English sensibility, it was an offense to the reigning political temperament. It was, in our notorious idiom, politically incorrect. Blackwood was unquestionably a member of England’s gentlemanly intellectual elite. In recoiling from Eliot’s theme, he showed himself to be that historically commonplace figure: an intellectual anti-Semite.

Anti-Semitism is generally thought of as brutish, the mentality of mobs, the work of the ignorant, the poorly schooled, the gutter roughnecks, the torch carriers. But these are only the servants, not the savants, of anti-Semitism. Mobs execute, intellectuals promulgate. Thugs have furies, intellectuals have causes.

The Inquisition was the brainchild not of illiterates, but of the most lettered and lofty prelates. Goebbels had a degree in philology. Hitler fancied himself a painter and doubtless knew something of Dürer and da Vinci. Pogroms aroused the murderous rampage of peasants, but they were instigated by the cream of Russian officialdom. The hounding and ultimate expulsion of Jewish students from German universities was abetted by the violence of their Aryan classmates, but it was the rectors who decreed that only full-blooded Germans could occupy the front seats. Martin Heidegger, the celebrated philosopher of being and non-being, was quick to join the Nazi Party, and as himself a rector promptly oversaw the summary ejection of Jewish colleagues.

Stupid mobs are spurred by clever goaders: The book burners were inspired by the temperamentally bookish—who else could know which books to burn? Even invidious folk myths have intellectual roots, as when early biblical linguists mistranslated as horns the rays of light emanating from Moses’ brow.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (sorry if you run into a paywall)

We were the people

We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

The Power of Pronouns

From Writers in the Storm:

Some of the smallest words in English (and other languages) are pronouns, but they have a profound impact on meaning and emotions. Using them well in our writing is a powerful shortcut to help our readers.

Pronouns can be proclamations of our psyches to the world, about how we feel about ourselves and others around us. Pronouns can bring us comfort and they can bring us pain. Pronouns can drive us to rage or drop us into tears.

Pronouns are declarations separating us from them. They can bring us together. And they can accuse them.

Sit with this simple sentence for a moment:

Look at what they are doing to my city.

More than likely when you read that sentence, your inner voice reacted. How did it make you feel? What did it make you think about?

Consider this sentence below and notice what changing the pronouns does to the tone, feel, and imagery.

Look at what we are doing to our city.  

Pronouns are debated in Washington. Laws are made surrounding them. The usage of the right pronoun can make us feel included. Conversely, the misuse or misattribution of a pronoun can be used as a weapon.

It is for these reasons that the proper use and care of pronouns should be given in our writing. All our writing: articles, books, emails, and social media. As writers, we have a responsibility to use pronouns with the highest level of ethics and personal moral standards.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

I Am the Faceless Woman on the Cover of Your Novel

From Electric Lit:

I feel the most brown facing
a solid, bright background
that seduces preteens
at the Scholastic fair. My long
black-as-licorice braids with their
sweet virginal shine beg for
pity, are maybe a metaphor
for tradition, repression, machismo,
all the miserable Mexican girls that need
to be saved from Mexican men.

I’ve portrayed all kinds
of Mexicans: Puerto Ricans,
Guatemalans, Peruvians, and even
a few Chinese. It’s easy when you’re
faceless: all smooth, tan skin
and thick hair, for a few blue
moon romance novels,
a wide set of hips.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

PG notes that these are the first two stanzas of a longer poem. You can read the conclusion and another poem by the same author at the link.

The Woman Who Cracked the Anxiety Code

From The Wall Street Journal:

As we have been reminded of late, there is an astonishing complexity—and at times fragility—to our mental and physical health, and we owe a debt to the legions of scientists whose insights and discoveries, over the years, have improved our chances of well-being. Alas, too many of them are unknown to us. One name that was once broadly known has fallen into lamentable obscurity—that of Claire Weekes, an Australian doctor who did ground-breaking work on one of the great scourges of humanity. With Judith Hoare’s “The Woman Who Cracked the Anxiety Code,” we have a chance to learn about Weekes’s varied life and, as important, become reacquainted with her work.

Decades before her death in 1990 at the age of 87, Weekes had been a global sensation, reaching millions of people through her books—“transfusions of hope,” she called them. One of the original self-helpers, she believed that sufferers could master themselves without the aid of professionals, and the strategies she gave them were firmly grounded in the biology of anxiety.

Weekes didn’t plan on medicine as a career, Ms. Hoare tells us. In 1928, at the age of 25, she began graduate studies in zoology in London on a prestigious fellowship. When her beloved mentor died of a stroke, she developed severe heart palpitations. Doctors misinterpreted her condition as tuberculous and sent her to a sanatorium. There she fell into a general state of fear. Six months later, doctors retracted their diagnosis, and Weekes, now nearly incapacitated by stress, resumed her research.

The turning point came when she confided in a friend, a World War I veteran, that she suffered from a frenzied heartbeat. “Far from being surprised or concerned,” Ms. Hoare writes, “he shrugged,” saying: “Those are only the symptoms of nerves.” He told Weekes, in Ms. Hoare’s paraphrase, that “her heart continued to race because she was frightened of it. It was programmed by her fear. This made immediate sense.”

The explanation was deceptively profound, going straight to the core of the mind-body connection. 

. . . .

Weekes had hypothesized a “first fear and second fear” process. The first is a reflex—and the problem in many anxiety disorders is that the reflex is set off for no obvious reason. The second is the conscious feeling of fear. Relief of suffering, for her, came when she learned to quell the “fear of the first fear,” thereby short-circuiting the cycle that was set in motion by the original, unbidden rush of panic: the pounding heart. According to Ms. Hoare, Weekes “immediately grasped the point that she needed to stop fighting the fear.” She had cracked the code.

But this insight would not reach the public for another 30 years. After becoming the first woman to be awarded the degree of Doctor of Science at Sydney University, Weekes conducted research in endocrinology and neurology. Eventually she sought a more pragmatic occupation and enrolled in medical school at age 38. During her work as a general practitioner, she felt special sympathy for her anxious patients and began to counsel them to do as she herself had done: “float past” panic, give bodily sensations and fearful thoughts no power. One of her patients asked for written advice. Her pages to him became “Self Help for Your Nerves,” published in 1962, when Weekes was 59; the book rocketed up the bestseller lists in the U.S. and the U.K. As Ms. Hoare shows, Weekes’s contributions to human welfare live on in mindfulness training and forms of behavioral therapy, sometimes combined with medication. Contemporary neuroscience has vindicated her theory.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (sorry if you run into a paywall)

The Sounds of Silence

PG apologizes for no posts yesterday.

He understands the omission would not be regarded as evil or careless by most visitors to TPV, but PG does try to put up a few items every day. When he has missed posting for a day or two on prior occasions without advance notice, he has received a handful of messages expressing concern for his welfare and regrets that his inaction has caused any concern among regular visitors.

Perhaps he can blame the bizarre lifestyle and physical/mental torpor that accompanies social distancing, sheltering in place, and not having the regular regular face-to-face interaction with friends he enjoys, but PG just sort of checked out on Sunday.

He was kind to Mrs. PG and sent an email to his daughter, but his fingers didn’t manifest their usual itch to tickle a keyboard.

However, PG is happy to announce today that he’s back again and better than ever.

When I finally walked

When I finally walked into Adolf Hitler’s salon in the Kaiserhof Hotel, I was convinced that I was meeting the future dictator of Germany,” [Dorothy Parker wrote]. “In something less than fifty seconds I was quite sure that I was not. … He is formless, almost faceless: a man whose countenance is a caricature; a man whose framework seems cartilaginous, without bones. He is inconsequential and voluble, ill-poised, insecure—the very prototype of the Little Man.

Dorothy Parker

High-Speed History

From The Wall Street Journal:

On Dec. 14, 1932,Germany’s head of state, President Paul von Hindenburg, a former general, a Prussian’s Prussian, hosted a party in honor of Ernst Lubitsch, a German Jew who had emerged as one of Hollywood’s finest directors. As two German writers, Rüdiger Barth and Hauke Friederichs, relate in “The Last Winter of the Weimar Republic,” another guest asked Lubitsch why he no longer worked in Germany. “That’s finished,” he replied, “nothing good is going to happen here for a long time.” Less than two months later, von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler Germany’s chancellor.

The Last Winter” is a day-by-day retelling of Weimar’s final collapse. After a brief introduction, its authors turn their attention to Berlin on Nov. 17, 1932, a day dominated politically by the question of who should become Germany’s new chancellor. According to custom, the job should have been offered to Hitler, leader of the largest party in the Reichstag, but the Nazis had lost ground in elections held earlier in the month, and those who still controlled Germany were not ready for Hitler, not quite yet. “The Last Winter” concludes on Jan. 30, 1933, when, after weeks of intricate maneuvering deftly sketched by Messrs. Barth and Friederichs, von Hindenburg hands the chancellorship to Hitler.

. . . .

[T]he pointillism that comes with being written diary-style is effective, and even when the detail is trivial, it can be startling: Goebbels played the accordion? We are told that the outgoing chancellor, the clever and devious Kurt von Schleicher, displayed little emotion as he said farewell to his cabinet, although one colleague observed that “this experience has been a matter of life or death to him.” A little over a year later, von Schleicher was murdered by the SS during the Night of the Long Knives; the dangerous game, well described in this book, that he had been playing had come to an end.

What comes clear in the authors’ account is how few understood the extent of the abyss that lay ahead. Normal life went on: Department stores held linen sales in the week that Hitler took over. Well, why would they not? And then there were the politicians who thought that, by bringing Hitler into what they imagined was a coalition, they could use and control him—a view initially shared by many, if not the Swiss journalist, quoted by the authors, who wrote that “a bear is still a bear, even if you stick a ring through his nose . . . .”

The authors’ account of the January day Hitler was named chancellor is understandably focused on the Wilhelmstrasse, Berlin’s government quarter, but they keep to the mosaic approach that serves their narrative so well. As expected, there are torchlight parades and a brawl between communists and Nazis. But we also read of an American labor organizer discovering that there are no tickets left for the play he planned on seeing, and of a group of German writers deciding their best option is to wait things out. One, Carl von Ossietzky, warns that the nightmare will last longer than they think: In an epilogue, it’s revealed that he will be in a concentration camp within months. The more the reader knows about the horrors to come, the darker “The Last Winter” seems.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (sorry if you run into a paywall)

Why I’m Leaving Facebook

From Patreon:

I’m getting ready to quit Facebook and generally pull back from social media.

. . . .

My reasons for this are complicated and are expanded on below, but I know that most people (and this is part of the problem) only like to read a tiny bit of text before forming strong opinions. It’s almost as if they already had their opinions are just using the posts on social media to rage-surf. 

So, for those who love brevity, here are the TLDR reasons I’m leaving Facebook (and most of Social Media):

  • It is addictive without substantive reward
  • The application interfaces are terrible and only serve the platform, not the user
  • The concentrated engagement of attention and time on social media are destructive to cooperation and unity
  • The platforms are rife with bots and agents that seek to divide us
  • The platforms create the illusion of accomplishment

[PG comment – The list continues]

. . . .

The main reason I joined Facebook was to chat and “play” with my friends. Facebook has an algorithm, an invisible agent that works to decide what you see and who sees you. I have more than a hundred real-life friends on Facebook. Because of this stupid algorithm, I only see 10 to 15 people’s posts.

There is a button that lets you change from “Top Stories” (the Facebook bot-controlled fascist view) to the “Most Recent” (theoretically, the “real-time” look at your friend’s feed). Nearly all of my friends want the Most Recent, but we all get reset to Top Stories. Why? It doesn’t really matter why. I assume it’s because it’s easier to control the ad flow if the algorithm dictates your view, but from a user-experience perspective, this is the same as having a Word Processor that intermittently changes your fonts to COMIC SANS throughout the day no matter what setting you pick.

Facebook encourages creative people to build Facebook Groups. Recently I started one for my podcast In reSearch Of… and immediately began to get spammed with notices that “more people could see your post if you ran an ad.”

Link to the rest at Patreon and thanks to R. for the tip.

PG closed his personal FB account a few years ago because of concerns about Facebook’s attitude towards user content and significant privacy concerns.

He’s set up one or two dummy accounts with phony names, minimal phony demographics, etc., that he uses solely for looking at posted information that is supposedly ”really great” or of otherwise of potential interest to him. If/when he goes, he is most likely to be somewhat disappointed.

He also uses FB on occasion solely as an anonymous outbound channel for spreading little creations (no, they’re not good, have nothing to do with the law and/or indie/traditional publishing, are not in the least racy or pornographic, tap into the back side or underside of PG’s brain, the right and left sides of which are otherwise occupied) and PG would be embarrassed to be associated with them except by a very small group of years-long friends who are highly understanding of PG’s numerous shortcomings and inadequacies.

If someone wants to be PG’s Facebook friend, he/she/it must have known PG extremely well for at least twenty years. Longer is preferable.

How low pay and low pay transparency undermine the publishing business

From The Bookseller:

Last Sunday, I shared an article from my personal website about the difficulties of progressing in the publishing industry. Since then, I have been inundated with messages from people in the business sharing similar experiences with me. I’ve spent the past week reading these messages and speaking to chief executives, union organisers, HR people and many, many, many publishing workers to try and understand what is going on in our business, and I have come to the following conclusion: it is impossible for publishing to fulfil its own diversity agenda while continuing to pay low wages to most workers and to maintain its decades-long secrecy over pay and progression.

. . . .

According to a survey by bookcareers.com, the average overall salary in publishing in 2017 was £32,228. The average starting salary was £20,740. This data is partial—it relies on participants in a survey, rather than data from the industry itself and the participants were younger than average—so it’s likely the actual average salary is a little higher than this.

So, let’s be generous to the industry and assume that the average worker in publishing might be earning around £38,000. In my experience, unless you are an exception, it can take about ten years of work to get to that level—which is the age at which many people start to have children, so I am including childcare costs in the below calculations.

£38,000 p.a. is around £2,456 take home pay per month according to the jobs website reed.co.uk

Costs (all are per calendar month, approximate and arguably on the low side)

Rent for a one-bed flat: £1,200

Fulltime childcare costs for one child: £1,000

Transport from Zone 3: £140

Bills, including phone, council tax, gas & electric: £300

Total £2,640

This worker would be in the red before they had even bought food.

For a new starter on £24,000 (probably the highest starting salary in the business) with no children, their monthly take-home pay is around £1,600. This person’s costs might look something like this:

Rent for a room in a shared house: £700

Bills including council tax, gas and electric, phone: £200

Travel from Zone 2: £120

Total £1,020

This leaves around £500 or £125 per week for food, socialising, loan repayments, saving for a deposit, taking a holiday, whatever. Many new starters earn less than this (anecdotally, it can still be as low as £18,000).

. . . .

As you can see, for the average publishing worker, it is quite simply impossible to build a financially independent life around this business. It works for those who are in it because they are in relationships (often with people who earn a lot more) or they have family living in London, or family money, or they do not have children.

. . . .

While getting the facts straight about money is important, let us avoid recriminations of any sort because it just distracts us all from the fundamental fact, which is: for most of us, publishing does not pay. Another argument is that plenty of jobs pay around £38,000, even after ten years. That is true, but it is more likely you can do those jobs outside the capital, where rent, childcare and transport are much cheaper. Also the fierce competition for entry-level jobs in publishing means that new starters are often highly qualified graduates who could expect to earn a lot more after ten years in other industries.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

The author of the OP described the pay problem at traditional publishers, small and large, more eloquently and in more detail than PG could.

His only added observation is that, given what PG suspects will occur in the traditional publishing and physical bookstore businesses until well after the onset of a vigorous financial recovery, he suspects that things will become significantly worse in those businesses before they become better, if they ever do.

He will also add that the Wall Street hedge fund that owns controlling interest in Barnes & Noble, Elliot Management, is unlikely to have the slightest emotional connection to the bookstore business and will be willing to cut expenses by huge margins, close stores and lay off headquarters staff or even take BN through bankruptcy court if the fund believes that is the best way to generate the most money from an investment that, in retrospect, may appear to have been poorly-timed.

California Is Examining Amazon’s Business Practices

From The Wall Street Journal:

California investigators are examining Amazon.com Inc.’s business practices as part of an inquiry into the tech giant, according to people familiar with the matter.

The state’s review focuses at least in part on how Amazon treats sellers in its online marketplace, these people said. That includes Amazon’s practices for selling its own products in competition with third-party sellers, one of the people said. Neither Amazon nor California has disclosed an antitrust investigation.

The inquiries come as Amazon faces antitrust scrutiny from Washington, D.C., and abroad. The European Union is planning formal antitrust charges against the firm over its treatment of third-party sellers, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

. . . .

“It would be hard to believe that you’re not going to look at a company like Amazon, given how pervasive it is,” [California Attorney General Xavier Becerra] said in an interview, pointing to how much data the firm collects. “Are they using all of this data in ways that allow them to essentially kill real competition?”

In April, the Journal reported that Amazon employees used data about independent sellers on its platform to develop competing products. Following the story, lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee called on Amazon Chairman and Chief Executive Jeff Bezos to testify on its private-label practices.

. . . .

The House Judiciary Committee is also examining Amazon, its competitive practices and impact on markets. Lawmakers have said Amazon hasn’t fully responded to requests for information about its relationship to sellers.

“Seven months after the original request—significant gaps remain,” said a letter sent from senior members of the House Judiciary Committee to Mr. Bezos in early May.

In a May 15 letter to the committee, the company said it is providing significant information to the committee and is “prepared to make the appropriate Amazon executive available,” without committing to Mr. Bezos making an appearance.

The formal charges in Europe would be the commission’s latest step in a nearly two-year probe into Amazon’s alleged mistreatment of sellers that use its platform.

The charges—called a statement of objections—stem from Amazon’s dual role as a marketplace operator and a seller of its own products, the people said. In them, the EU accuses Amazon of scooping up data from third-party sellers and using that information to compete against them, for instance by launching similar products.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (sorry if you run into a paywall)

PG notes that he casts an even more-jaundiced eye than usual on the actions of government officials during an election year.

He’ll sharpen his eye to double-jaundiced given the highly-charged political atmosphere in the US lately.

Revisiting Brideshead on Its 75th Birthday

From The National Review:

Beetween December 1943 and June 1944, English author Evelyn Waugh took unpaid leave from the army to finish his novel Brideshead Revisited, now considered by many to be his greatest. The book (which Waugh first suggested calling “A Household of Faith”) has many themes — Catholicism, aristocracy, youth, redemption — but the author’s specific focus was, in his own words, “the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters.” Today Waugh’s religiosity, much like his traditionalist tastes, may seem niche or archaic, but his treatment of the human experience of time is — well, timeless. In an updated preface, Waugh offered Brideshead “to a younger generation of readers as a souvenir of the Second War rather than of the twenties or of the thirties, with which it ostensibly deals.” While nostalgia functions both as a theme and a narrative device in the novel, what is often overlooked is how masterfully the two themes, nostalgia and grace, are interwoven.

Like The Great GatsbyBrideshead is narrated by a protagonist who is also a character in the story — Charles Ryder, now a commander officer in the British army. Ryder reflects back on his life before the war. He is temporarily stationed in the English countryside, where he stumbles across an abandoned manor. He was once intimately connected with its former inhabitants, an eccentric aristocratic Catholic family. The rest of the story is told through flashbacks, beginning with his student days at Oxford.

At Oxford, Ryder meets and befriends the impossibly charming Sebastian Flyte, who, though later redeemed (unlike the similarly flawed protagonist in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray), squanders his youth and beauty through foolish and hedonistic pursuits. Julia, Sebastian’s sister and, later, Ryder’s love interest, parallels her brother’s self-destruction in her ill-advised marriage to the agnostic Canadian businessman and politician Rex Mottram. At one point Julia and Sebastian’s pious younger sister, Cordelia, references G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown story in which the thief is attached to “an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.” Such is the operation of divine grace upon the soul, and “Twitch upon the Thread” is, not by coincidence, the name given to the novel’s third part.

Nostalgia, in terms of character psychology, allows for a certain plasticity of time. From the outset, for instance, there is something peculiarly childish about Sebastian. At Oxford, he carries around his teddy bear, eccentrically named “Aloysius,” calls his mother “mummy,” and is emotionally dependent on his nanny. When the young Ryder (prior to his conversion to Catholicism) asks how Sebastian can possibly believe the wackier tenets of the Catholic faith, he answers that he thinks it “a lovely idea.” That, to Ryder, seems proof enough that the whole thing is ridiculous, a belief he repeats to Julia more forcefully when she feels incapable of “living in sin” with him. He tells her “it’s a thing psychologists could explain; a preconditioning from childhood; feelings of guilt from the nonsense you were taught in the nursery.”

. . . .

Orwell was right that the first-person narration can at times feel mawkish. Waugh himself worried about this. “The book is infused with a kind of gluttony,” the author wrote in a later edition, “for food and wine, for the splendors of the recent past, and for rhetorical and ornamental language, which now with a full stomach I find distasteful.” Take, for instance, Ryder’s longing for the interior decoration at Brideshead (the name of Sebastian’s lavish family home): “I often think of that bathroom — the water colours dimmed by steam and the huge towel warming on the back of the chintz armchair — and contrast it with the uniform, clinical, little chambers, glittering with chromium-plate and looking-glass, which pass for luxury in the modern world.” Nevertheless, the point of this is how such objects, as they were, or are, influence how a character conceives of himself. A good example of this is Anthony Blanche, who, Ryder tells us, in later life “lost his stammer in the deep waters of his old romance. It came floating back to him, momentarily, with the coffee and liqueurs.”

Link to the rest at The National Review

How to Fill a Yawning Gap

From The Wall Street Journal:

Is boredom really all that interesting? Thanks perhaps to the subject’s dreary durability, it has generated a considerable literature over the years. Alberto Moravia wrote an engaging novel called “Boredom,” and psychologists, philosophers and classicists have also had their say.

Out of My Skull,” the latest work on this strangely alluring topic, has an exciting title, but nothing about the book is wild or crazy. James Danckert and John D. Eastwood, a pair of psychologists in Canada, know an awful lot about the subject (Mr. Eastwood even runs a Boredom Lab at York University), and they examine it methodically. “In our view, being bored is quite fascinating, and maybe, just maybe, it might even be helpful,” they write, echoing predecessors who find boredom salutary. “Boredom is a call to action, a signal to become more engaged. It is a push toward more meaningful and satisfying actions. It forces you to ask a consequential question: What should I do?”

A taxonomy of boredom, if it’s to avoid exemplifying what it describes, ought to be simple. So let’s just say that boredom is of two kinds. The first is better known to us as ennui, and the democratization of this once-rarefied feeling is one of civilization’s triumphs. At first the preserve of aristocrats and later taken up by intellectuals, nowadays it is available to affluent citizens everywhere. Our endless search for palliatives in the face of this affliction underpins the consumer economy.

The other kind of boredom is the version that most of us get paid for. Commentators on boredom usually genuflect briefly toward factory workers, nannies and other hard-working members of the hoi polloi whose tasks can be mind-numbing. But such people live with a version of boredom that intellectuals find, well, boring. So the focus is usually on the self-important existential variety.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (sorry if you run into a paywall)

With a Plunge in Returns, Net Sales Fell 3.5% in April

From Publishers Weekly:

Net publishing sales fell 3.5% in April compared to April 2019 for the 1,361 publishers who report revenue to AAP’s StatShot program. The small decline, however, is deceiving. Gross sales fell in the monthly comparison, dropping 16%, but were offset by a nearly 49% drop in returns. (AAP calculates net sales by deducting returns from gross sales.) Returns were down in every category and point to an issue that many publishers are keeping an eye on—the possibility of heavy returns when bookstores reopen after closing because of the pandemic.

Nearly all college stores were closed in April, leading to a 57.9% decline in returns to publishers of higher educational course materials in the month compared to 2019. And even though gross sales fell 30.8% in the month, the plunge in returns led to a 139.8% increase in net sales in the category. The AAP said it expects an increase in returns in the category in future months as stores, distributors, colleges, and universities reopen.

. . . .

The same, but less extreme, pattern was seen in the two trade categories. Gross sales of adult books fell 16.4% in April, but returns dropped by 46.3%, resulting in a 7% decline in net sales. Many chain and independent bookstores were closed in April and unable to return books, but they are now slowly reopening and may soon start shipping back unsold copies. 

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Requiem for the Printing Press

From The Wall Street Journal:

The finest moment in the finest movie about newspapers ever made—“Deadline—U.S.A.” (1952)—comes in the final scene.

The editor of a dying newspaper, played by Humphrey Bogart, is down in the pressroom. The paper is planning to print a story accusing a crime-syndicate boss of murder. The mobster manages to reach Bogart on the phone and threatens to kill him if the story appears.

In response, Bogart signals to the pressroom foreman to start the run. Bogart holds the phone up toward the presses as they roar to life.

The mobster, in his apartment, recoils. He yells into his phone: “That noise—what’s that racket?”

And Bogart says: “That’s the press, baby. The press. And there’s nothing you can do about it. Nothing.”

. . . .

That scene comes to mind as local newspapers try to deal with the industry’s widely reported woes. While many papers are struggling to remain solvent, one media trend has attracted surprisingly little attention: More papers are shutting down their presses and, to save money for distant corporate owners, printing their daily editions at other newspaper headquarters hours away. The papers still bear the names of the cities where they’re read, but they roll off presses elsewhere, sometimes in different states.

This week the Miami Herald announced that it is officially moving out of its offices. Because of Covid-19, its reporters and editors have been working from home, and without a newsroom they’ll do that until at least the end of the year. Since April, the Herald has been outsourcing its printing to the presses of its major rival, Fort Lauderdale’s South Florida Sun Sentinel. Ohio’s Cincinnati Enquirer is now printed in Louisville, Ky. Indiana’s South Bend Tribune is printed in Walker, Mich.

When this happens, trucks have to make intercity deliveries, pushing deadlines earlier. Late-breaking stories and nighttime sports events may not make the morning paper. Another casualty: No longer seeing the guys who ran the giant presses downstairs donning their squared-off paper hats, which they made each day from the latest edition.

And forever, when those presses in a newspaper building would start up late at night, the reporters and editors upstairs could feel it in their feet. The vibration from the presses would shoot up through their shoes. It was glorious, part of the romance of newspapering. The shorthand for “reporters”—the press—derives from those printing presses.

The loss has a powerful, bittersweet symbolism. As Brent Batten of Florida’s Naples Daily News, whose presses have been silenced and printing operations sent to Sarasota, about 100 miles away, put it: “We’re an office building attached to the most amazing piece of machinery any of us are ever likely to behold. Without it, we may as well be in a strip mall.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (sorry if you run into a paywall)

On PG’s second job out of college in Chicago, working at a large advertising agency, he went on a couple of tours, one included a major newspaper’s printing presses and the other was of a large press used for printing high-end, slick-paper four-color magazine advertisements.

This was long before computerized printing and color photos were printed by four separate presses, one for cyan, another for magenta, the third for yellow and, finally, black. Color separations were performed with the original photograph and four separate curved pieces of metal were made, one for each of the colors.

There were always dots that made up the images. Newspaper photos had relatively large dots on one curved plate that printed black and various shades of gray. High-end presses for slick paper illustrations had very small dots on four curved plates, one printing cyan, another magenta, then yellow and finally, black if PG’s recollection is correct.

For the first run of a slick-paper color advertisement, someone from the advertising agency, usually a creative director or art director would be there to examine the first few prints off the press to make certain everything looked the way it should. Rerunning hundreds of thousands of advertisements was an expensive proposition that the agency hesitated to charge to its client.

During a visit when PG tagged along, the art director responsible for the the advertisement design and appearance saw a problem with one of the food photographs during a test run, the color of the cheese to be specific. It was not the right shade of yellow-gold. It looked fine to PG, but he wasn’t the art director.

The printing technician pulled some very fine sandpaper from his pocket and, using the test run prints for reference, did about five minutes of lightly sanding small parts of two or three of the curved metal plates while they were still mounted on the press.

After the sanding was complete, the press ran another few test copies, the color of the cheese was perfect (even PG could see a slight difference when the before and after proof copies were laid side-by-side) and nothing else had changed in the image.

The art director approved and the giant press cranked up and hundreds of gears were rapidly turning. The whole apparatus made a wonderful mechanical collection of sounds, more complex than the movie clip captures.

When PG uses Photoshop or another image-manipulation program on his computer to tweak various of his photos, he occasionally thinks of the guy with the sandpaper and the many years of experience required to know exactly where and how much to sand.

Sweden’s digital audio subscription market will shrink 25%, says a Mediavision survey

From The New Publishing Standard:

It’s been so long since we heard anything negative about Sweden’s experiment as the world’s audiobook subscription Petri dish that it sometimes seems digital subscription, led in the Nordics by audiobooks, can do no wrong.

But if a Mediavision survey is correct, the good times may be coming to an end.

According to the Swedish news site BreakIt (auto-translated),

One in four subscribers to the audiobook companies plans to cancel the subscription or change service within 12 months.

This says BreakIt, equates to 195,000 households.

. . . .

It’s not clear from this how much the anticipated shrinkage will be due to genuine disaffection with the service and format, or how much any particular operator is likely to be hit or to benefit.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG doesn’t watch audiobook pricing as closely as he does ebook pricing.

When PG checked, the top five New York Times Best Sellers for audio versions of bestselling books were priced as follows on Audible (a quick check of Barnes & Noble audio CD prices for these books surprised PG because the CD pricing was very close to and sometimes lower than the downloadable audio price from Amazon):

  1. Where the Crawdads Sing – $31.50
  2. Hideaway – $31.49
  3. Fair Warning – $26.94
  4. Camino Winds – $31.50
  5. If It Bleeds – $27.99

A couple of questions occur to PG:

Should audiobooks be less expensive?

Each of these tradpub audiobooks have a price tag which is about twice what the ebook version of the same title is.

Is the price of audiobooks too high?

PG understands that a narrator who has likely spent time developing his/her talents is involved and will require payment. He also understands that audiobook recording studio time and/or recording equipment and a home audio setup won’t come free, but, is the price of audiobooks depressing sales?

Particularly during a serious world-wide economic downturn?

Just as with ebooks, once the original version of an audiobook is created and uploaded to Amazon, all each purchaser is receiving is a bunch of organized electrons. (He’ll set aside CD version as the equivalent of a hardcopy printed book.)

For an organization with as many hard drives as Amazon, electrons are pretty close to free. Delivering 100 copies of an audiobook to 100 purchasers doesn’t cost much more than delivering a single copy of an audio to a purchaser.

What would happen to audiobook sales if an audiobook was priced at 99 cents? Or $2.99?

Or if someone purchasing an ebook could get an audiobook of the same title for $1.99 more?

Is the best opportunity to sell an audiobook at the same time a customer is purchasing an ebook of the same title? Or vice-versa?

Sophisticated retailers, online and offline, work hard to increase the amount of money their customers spend with them. Cross-selling, up-selling, free shipping thresholds, selling related products are goals for any smart retailer. Gaining a greater share of the customer’s purchasing activity is an obsession with well-run business organizations.

Which, of course, raises the perennial question about why commercial publishers aren’t managed very well. Maybe publishing is just too special to be subject to market forces.

That would be of little concern to PG if authors didn’t ultimately bear a great deal of the financial burden created by ineptly-managed publishers.

KKR Completes OverDrive Purchase

From Publishers Weekly:

The investment firm KKR has completed its purchase of OverDrive. On Christmas Eve, KKR announced it had reached an agreement to acquire the digital reading platform from the Japanese conglomerate Rakuten. The deal was expected to be closed in the first quarter of 2020; it is not known whether the pandemic caused a problem in completing the agreement.

“With the sale completed, we are excited to begin working on the opportunities to grow our digital content platform with KKR’s support,” said Steve Potash, OverDrive founder and CEO, in a statement. “We are pleased to have an investor with global resources that knows our industry, believes in our mission and is committed to helping us and our library and school partners succeed.”

In addition to OverDrive, KKR owns RBmedia, one of the largest independent publishers and distributors of audiobooks. The OverDrive acquisition, like that of RB, was overseen by Richard Sarnoff, one-time executive at Random House who also was president of Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments until leaving for KKR in 2011.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG hopes this doesn’t mean that libraries get squeezed by higher ebook expenses.

It also occurred to PG that KKR, a good-sized investment firm, might be thinking of doing something big with ebooks and audiobooks. He suspects Amazon has been watching this deal develop with more than casual interest.

“Do better, publishing people”: an open letter to the industry

From The Bookseller:

I have to start by admitting that when I began writing this letter last week, I was boiling mad and ready to take everyone on. Now, in its tenth or twentieth draft (I don’t know which) I’m still boiling mad, but most of your gaslighting social media posts that sent me over the edge have gone, so I’ve calmed down a little. A little.

I am still boiling mad and I still think you need to know a few things. Firstly – and most importantly – you need to know: publishing is a hostile environment for Black authors.

I’m not talking about the inclusive indies, the ones who’ve been forging their way ahead, I’m talking about the major players in publishing. Yours is an environment that the world thinks is welcoming, liberal, ‘right on’ and intellectual, but in reality can be extremely damaging for Black authors.

Let me also be clear: Black writers do not want special consideration, we do not want special treatment, we want a level playing field, an equality of opportunity, the chance to write books and explore as many subjects and genres as our white counterparts. We want to look around and see other Black people being as successful as us in all different genres in all branches of the publishing business. And that is not the experience for most of us when we come to write our books or have them promoted or see them on the shelves.

When we try to enter the world of publishing, a lot of us already have so much on our shoulders. Black writers know that every word we write, every story we tell, will be taken up as speaking for every single black person that ever lived. We are often seen as a monolith and everything one of us does is often used to represent all of us.

. . . .

Agents are the first gatekeepers most of us encounter and we very often hear from them that they can’t connect with ‘Black’ stories, they don’t understand ‘Black’ voices, the story isn’t teaching them anything. And yet, we can see with our own eyes that they very often represent white authors who are telling stories about Black people and earning millions and accolades whilst doing it.

. . . .

Showcasing black pain? Tick

Willing to constantly talk politely about race and nothing else? Tick

Making white people feel comfortable? Tick

Teaching white people something about the ‘Black experience’? Tick

No one in publishing will admit this, but you can tell by the rejections you receive, the conversations that you have about a book, suggestions that are made that this checklist is – often unconsciously – there.

As we move through the publishing process, what do we come up against next? People who don’t ‘get’ Black voices so set about changing our words to fit the stereotypes in their heads. Editors who need subtle, modern-day ‘slave’ narratives added in even if it doesn’t fit the story arc. Those who ask you to find redemption for a white antagonist so as not to put people (read: white people) off. Publishers who want you to make characters racist because that’s obviously what’s missing from your rom-com. Editors who pick apart every single word to make sure you don’t get uppity and think you might just be good at this writing stuff.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Can Rivals Take Advantage of Amazon’s Pandemic Woes?

From The Wall Street Journal:

When coronavirus lockdowns sent Americans into a frenzy of panic buying, the bad news came almost as quickly as the good for online organic grocer Thrive Market.

In March, the company that aims to compete with Amazon.com Inc. in the health-food sector suddenly found customers flocking to its site as its giant rival struggled to handle its own pandemic business surge. Thrive notched record sales and membership sign-ups.

Then it buckled. Orders ballooned to five times what Thrive could handle. Delivery times for some customers reached two weeks. About 30% of items were out of stock on some days. To keep delivery times from slipping further, Thrive made the previously unimaginable decision to throttle demand by limiting shopping hours.

“It was excruciating,” recalled co-founder and Chief Executive Nick Green. “It felt like a pick-your-poison moment.”

Thrive Market, based in Los Angeles, is one of a host of retailers that have spent years trying to compete against the Amazon retail juggernaut. The coronavirus pandemic provided a fleeting window of opportunity. Amazon, overwhelmed by a wave of orders, temporarily reoriented its business toward essential items, leading consumers to begin looking elsewhere.

But capturing that opportunity—and trying to ensure it is more than a temporary blip—brought extraordinary challenges for Thrive and others, demonstrating the difficulty of competing with even a weakened Amazon.

. . . .

The pandemic has accelerated the shift to online shopping and devastated traditional retailers, including Neiman Marcus Group Inc. and J.Crew Group Inc., which have filed for bankruptcy protection. Financial-services firm UBS Group AG recently predicted the percentage of groceries sold online will rise from 3% this year to 15% by 2025.

. . . .

Mr. Green calls Thrive the “un-Amazon” because, he says, it offers a curated selection of merchandise. Early on, many reluctant investors had the same question: How would it compete with Amazon or Whole Foods Market?

Mr. Green was betting that consumers would try it out for its carefully selected inventory and competitive prices and stick around because they feel good about shopping there. He also billed the company as socially conscious by adhering to such practices as not offering genetically modified products.

Thrive, which is privately held, eventually raised more than $160 million. It now has more than 800,000 members who pay $60 a year. Although Thrive doesn’t disclose sales, Mr. Green said they were in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

On March 11, Mr. Green was preparing to leave work when he glanced at a computer monitor showing the company’s financial metrics. That day’s revenue line shot up like the handle of a hockey stick.

He messaged an executive to make sure there wasn’t a bug in the system. There wasn’t. Checking CNN’s website, he learned the World Health Organization had declared the coronavirus a pandemic. People were buying in a panic.

. . . .

Days later, the country shifted into lockdown mode. Within a week, Amazon was struggling to meet orders promptly. On March 17, it said it was prioritizing the shipments of medical supplies, household staples and other high-demand products. Toilet paper and many cleaning supplies became unavailable, and shipping was taking weeks for some products. Amazon retooled its website to encourage shoppers to buy fewer items.

A survey by investment bank Jefferies Group LLC showed that almost one-third of respondents said they turned to non-Amazon sites during the pandemic because of delivery and inventory problems.

At Thrive, new paid membership sign-ups in March and April were up threefold from the prior year. But the same problems that plagued Amazon ravaged Thrive. Customers rushed to buy cleaning supplies, canned food and other essentials. A six-month supply of toilet paper ran out in three days. Mr. Green wasn’t sure how quickly the company could address the backlog.

Earlier in March, Chief Financial Officer Karen Cate had asked Thrive’s supply-chain director to order five times the usual amount of canned goods and cleaning supplies. She left out toilet paper. “If I could go back, I would change that one,” she said.

. . . .

To some, limiting online store hours seemed a sensible middle ground. Ms. Cate, the CFO, was skeptical. She said she felt Thrive could gain control of its order backlog without limiting members to ordering during working hours. She worried that members who worked during the day—including her daughter, a nurse at a hospital in Pasadena, Calif.—would be shut out.

She relented after seeing internal metrics that showed delivery times would only increase. “OK, I surrender,” she recalled thinking.

On a midnight call, Mr. Green and co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Sasha Siddhartha decided to move forward with limiting the hours. They told other executives the next day and instituted the new policies on March 25.

. . . .

The stress mounted for Mr. Green, whose wife had just given birth to their second child. He was getting a handful of hours of sleep per night and didn’t shave for a month. He stopped working out. Outside of work hours, his time was consumed by his newborn son and late-night emails and calls with executives.

It was difficult to concentrate from his setup in the family’s guest bedroom. He took two monitors and his MacBook Pro and set up an office in his closet, placing the equipment on shelves near his T-shirts and jeans. He scrapped a strategic plan and built a new one, staying up one night until 3 a.m. to finish it. The plan re-examined hiring goals and when the company should expand its fulfillment network, among other things, to ramp up faster.

. . . .

Holding on to customers became harder as Thrive struggled to handle the order influx. Online, customers were threatening to leave over the delays. Members were frustrated and questioned why Thrive was taking on new customers.

. . . .

By early April, Thrive Market was hiring as many as 30 warehouse workers a day. Using several recruiting agencies, it hired more than 300 warehouse workers in less than two months, adding to the roughly 500 it had. Labor costs jumped 20%.

The company also removed nonessential items such as water bottles and yoga mats from its website to concentrate on delivering essentials like food and cleaning supplies. It tinkered with its fulfillment processes, processing orders for high-demand products in one section of warehouses. It prioritized orders with the longest delivery times. It stopped selling low-demand items in the back of the warehouses, partly so workers wouldn’t have to waste time fetching them.

. . . .

Higher costs have reduced the percentage of profit made on orders, Mr. Green said. And the store has had to dip into its cash reserves to pay for a spike in inventory expenses. But the year’s revenue projections have risen, and the company is in a strong cash position, he said, although he declined to provide details.

Thrive’s goal to reach profitability by the end of 2022 hasn’t changed, he said. “With our growth accelerated,” he said, “we expect to get profitable even faster.”

. . . .

The lessons from the pandemic have changed its fulfillment processes. Mr. Green said the company will hold 20% more inventory and will work with a larger number of suppliers. Its technology team plans to roll out improved recommendation functions on the website for when items are out of stock.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (sorry if you run into a paywall)

PG has a soft spot for scrappy young tech startups and was heartened by the apparent survival of Thrive as depicted in the OP. For PG, a couple of smart young gals/guys who put it all on the line to start their own internet business is the cutest thing since puppies. That’s one reasons why he appreciates indie authors.

PG remembers when he first heard about Amazon from a friend and read an interview with Jeff Bezos. Later, PG created quite a few posts as the illegal Apple/Big Five Publishers scheme to kill Amazon fell apart.

Of course, Amazon has probably been the best single thing to happen to authors and readers in the last twenty years. Gatekeepers of dubious ability knocked back on their heels. Talented authors who want to move fast and write a lot of books unchained. Indie authors who know their readers because they pretty much are their readers instead of believing most people are more like their classmates at Swarthmore and Princeton than anything else.

Literati will go to their graves without admitting it, but Amazon has also helped Big Publishing to avoid becoming Semi-Big or Largish-Medium Publishing during the same time-frame. Since a great many publishing executives fall into the category of smartish, Amazon may have even prevented Big Publishing from becoming Chapter 11 Publishing.

Based upon a whole bunch of authors that he knows and carefully monitoring of what authors, particularly indie authors, are sharing about the business side of their art, PG feels comfortable in stating that Amazon’s self-publishing programs have made it more possible for many, many more authors to quit their day jobs than any other organization or collection of organizations on the planet.

As he has mentioned before, PG hopes JB’s style and savvy doesn’t slowly fade away at Amazon since he’s becoming less and less involved in the management of the company. Amazon works in a tough neighborhood. The list of huge, well-known retailers that have lost their mojo and disappeared into Chapter 11 or, at best, irrelevance is a long one and if Amazon ever starts taking its customers for granted, it might join the Wikipedia throng of giant retailers that are no more.