Indie Booksellers Report Strong Holiday Finish

From Publishers Weekly:

Although independent booksellers reported difficulty in keeping certain titles in stock, the problem was not enough to dampen sales at independent stores this holiday season.

In fact, reports from around the country indicated overall sales throughout the holiday season were strong, even record-breaking. Some stores reported having their best sales days ever. Lots of interest in Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming (Crown) brought customers into stores, as did a range of other titles, including Educated by Tara Westover (Random House) and Circe by Madeline Miller (Little, Brown) on the adult side and Snowy Nap by Jan Brett (Putnam) and The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith, illustrated by Katz Cowley (Scholastic), on the children’s side.

“The Friday before Christmas, when the stock market tanked, was the biggest sales day we’ve had in 43 years! And the Saturday after that set another record,” said Vivien Jennings, owner of Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kan., a Kansas City suburb, who noted that this year saw an unexpected doubling in gift card sales. Jennings said the store kept Becoming in stock throughout the holidays in part by clearing out all local Costco locations of their inventory. “We also watched inventory runs very carefully, and jumped ahead if we saw anything trending,” Jennings said, adding that, overall, sales were up 10% over 2017 for the season.

Jennings was among several booksellers who cited difficulty in keeping Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat, illus. by Wendy MacNaughton (S&S); The Overstory by Richard Powers (Norton); and Frederick Douglas by David Blight (S&S) in stock.

“Those were the three titles we had the most trouble with,” said Todd Gross, manager of Phoenix Books in Downtown Burlington, Vt. “We only got 30 of Salt, but could have sold 150.” He remarked that getting books from S&S has been particularly challenging for quite some time. “They can take 10 days to get us books, compared with two or three for Penguin Random House.” Gross noted delays in getting books can kill sales, and he praised Bookazine and Baker & Taylor in particular for great service during the holiday season. “They were quick to tell us when in-demand titles were back in stock,” said Gross, who said that his holiday orders flip from relying on publishers 90% of the time during the year, to relying on wholesalers for 90% of orders during the holidays.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG says the shipping operations of publishers only have one thing to do – ship books. They have been performing this function for a long time.

Likewise, the production departments of publishers have only one thing to do – print enough books to meet demand. They also have been performing this function for a long time.

A long time ago when PG was a baby lawyer, he was working for a law firm in Los Angeles and talking to one of the firm’s clients.

This client had started the first book wholesaler in Los Angeles and PG was learning about the client’s business. Basically, the business worked this way:

  • Bookstores could purchase books from publishers at lower prices than they could from the client.
  • However, publishers were not good at processing orders and shipping books.
  • The client was very good at processing orders and shipping books.

So, the client bought books from publishers and put them in a warehouse. Because he bought a lot of books, he had negotiated maximum volume discounts.

Bookstores bought their books from the client, even though he charged higher prices than the publishers did, when they didn’t want to wait for books to arrive from the publishers.

The client made a lot of money doing this, particularly when there was a bestseller. The bookstores wanted copies to sell to customers and they could get them from the client within a day. This client later made even more money when he sold his business to Baker & Taylor several years later.

Some businesses are set up to sell their products only through wholesale channels. This can work financially because they don’t spend any money fulfilling small orders. They crate and ship an order for a thousand widgets using bulk shippers instead of individually packing one hundred boxes, each with ten widgets inside, and paying UPS to deliver each one to a separate location.

Other businesses are set up to sell directly to retailers. This can work financially because they can sell to the retailers at a higher price because they’ve cut out the costs and profits of a middleman.

Apparently, typical book publishers still try to do both, so they bear the expenses of each type of business without being terribly effective at satisfying their customers.

An old typewriter and a big idea

I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged.

I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

~ J.K. Rowling

The Revolutionary Genius of Plants

From The Wall Street Journal:

We humans take it for granted that plants are our inferiors. But they make earth habitable for us animals, by harnessing the energy of the sun to produce food and by releasing oxygen. That’s not the only trick they have up their leaves. In this thought-provoking, handsomely illustrated book, Italian neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso considers the fundamental differences between plants and animals and challenges our assumptions about which is the “higher” form of life. It seems we have much to learn from our green companions—about everything from designing buildings to organizing society.

The evolutionary split between animals and plants came nearly half a billion years ago, as life migrated from the oceans to the land. While animals roamed around their new environment, plants rooted themselves in one place. From these diverse strategies stems what Dr. Mancuso considers the most important distinction between the two kingdoms—not whether they move or produce their own food but how individual organisms are internally organized.

Whether they are predator or prey, animals’ survival depends on efficient movement and quick decision-making. And so we have adopted a top-down structure, with a central brain and organs such as heart and lungs to perform other vital functions. Because we can run away from predators, animals can afford to put our cerebral, circulatory, respiratory and other essential eggs in just one or two baskets.

For stationary plants, on the other hand, individual organs would only be “points of weakness,” Dr. Mancuso writes, chinks in their defenses that would leave them vulnerable to predators. So plants hedge their bets by spreading single functions, including such vital ones as respiration and photosynthesis, throughout the whole organism—breathing and creating food with their entire body. Plants may be brainless, but thanks to this simple, decentralized structure they enjoy a “distributed intelligence” that serves them well in meeting the challenges of their environment.

Plants are exceptionally sensitive to their surroundings, constantly monitoring a host of factors, including light, gravity, moisture, oxygen, sound, the presence of other plants and the approach of predators. Recent research conducted in Dr. Mancuso’s laboratory at the University of Florence has shown that at least one plant is capable of learning and remembering: When Mimosa pudica, a tropical native also known as the sensitive plant, is exposed to gentle shaking, it responds at first by closing its leaves. But after seven or eight trials, the plant concludes the vibrations aren’t a real threat and keeps the leaves open—a lesson it can remember for more than 40 days.
. . . .
 Due in part to their distinctive organization, plants have thrived, colonizing every continent and accounting for at least 80% of the world’s biomass. Though plants are ancient they are, Dr. Mancuso writes, “the epitome of modernity: a cooperative, shared structure without any command centers,” which is the ideal melding of durability and innovation. “When you want to design something robust, energetically sustainable, and adaptable to an environment of continuous change,” Dr. Mancuso suggests, “there is nothing better on earth to use as inspiration” than plants.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal 

 

Everything flows

Everything flows and nothing stays.
Everything flows and nothing abides.
Everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.
Everything flows; nothing remains.
All is flux, nothing is stationary.
All is flux, nothing stays still.
All flows, nothing stays.

~ Heraclitus of Ephesus

Ontario’s 49th Teachers Site Supports Canadian Books in Schools

From Publishers Perspectives:

Launched in the spring of 2018 with the aim of getting Canadian books into Ontario classrooms, 49th Teachers expands on the established book promotion platforms 49th Shelf and 49th Kids, but is designed to connect directly with teachers and teacher-librarians.

. . . .

The new teacher initiative may well be of interest to other world markets’ publishers who would like to see their books better featured in educational settings.

The site offers educators a database of nearly 20,000 Canadian-authored kids’ and YA books as well as nearly 800 related resources, all available as free downloads.

One area of the site, for example, features “character education” selections that are recommended for development of respect, responsibility, empathy, kindness, teamwork, fairness, and so on.

. . . .

In addition to the database, the site offers users:

  • Options to search by author, title, genre, subject area, age, and grade level
  • Access to nearly 800 resources developed specifically for use with books in the database, searchable by subject, grade, and by resource type such as teacher’s guides, reading guides, handouts, etc.
  • A variety of themed booklists prepared either by the site editor or by educators
  • A books blog written by a children’s books librarian
  • Links to reviews, recommendations, and purchasing options
  • The ability to create book lists and share them with other site members

Link to the rest at Publishers Perspectives

Best of Frenemies

From The Wall Street Journal:

JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive James Dimon assembled a team in 2017 to answer a question that had been nagging at him for a while: “How should we think about Amazon?”

The team explored the ways Amazon.com Inc. could muscle into financial services and where JPMorgan could fit in, according to people familiar with the matter. And what if, as Wall Street has long feared, the tech company were to become a bank itself?

Industries from pharmaceuticals to logistics are grappling with the Amazon question, as the retailer relentlessly expands into new business areas. But in many ways, the online retail giant and the nation’s largest bank by assets have a special relationship.

The fortunes of the two companies have become more entwined over the years. They are closely connected through a credit-card deal struck when the retailer was still mostly selling books and CDs on the internet. JPMorgan is in talks to partner with Amazon on a number of financial ventures, and the bank lends to the tech company. With Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., the companies are working on a first-of-its kind venture to lower health-care costs for their hundreds of thousands of employees. Increasingly, JPMorgan has begun to emulate some of Amazon’s signature management practices.

Mr. Dimon and Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, have also become friendly over the past two decades, even as their business interests have at times been at odds, and despite some differences in their personal styles.

. . . .

As the relationship between the men and their companies deepened, the balance of power shifted in Amazon’s favor. The retailer’s market value—at $770 billion—now dwarfs JPMorgan’s $335 billion. The bank, used to being the heavyweight in the room, is trying to figure out how Amazon fits into its world and how to avoid becoming its latest casualty.

One strategy: Be more like Amazon.

. . . .

JPMorgan’s relationship with Amazon stretches back to at least 2002, when Chase began issuing the online retailer’s co-branded card. The deal predates Mr. Dimon, who joined JPMorgan in 2004.

A few years earlier, Mr. Bezos had tried and failed to hire Mr. Dimon to be Amazon’s president. Mr. Dimon, recently fired from Citigroup Inc. by his mentor, Sanford “Sandy” Weill, flew to Seattle to have lunch with Mr. Bezos. Mr. Dimon has said it wasn’t the right time to make such a dramatic change.

“I had this vision I’d never wear a suit again, I’d live in a houseboat like Tom Hanks” in the movie “Sleepless in Seattle,” Mr. Dimon told CNBC in July.

Over the two decades that followed, Amazon’s sales exploded. So did its clout.

About two years ago, when it came time to renegotiate the card agreement, Amazon was in a position to extract painful concessions.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Planning For 2019 Part 2

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

 The biggest issue for the latter half of 2018 was book sales. Indies and traditional publishers both complained that book sales were down, and that a crisis was imminent. Their ideas of crisis were different, but they come from a similar source, which is the current state of disruption in the publishing industry.

. . . .

I’m doing this short series focusing on 2018 with an eye toward 2019 because I firmly believe that you cannot plan for the future if you don’t know where you’re standing right now. (And a note on terminology: I’ll be using indie published writer instead of self-published writer because indie writers are running a business, whether they like it or not. I want the terminology to reflect that.)

This series is important to all kinds of fiction writers, whether they’re traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid of both. Please remember that I write this blog for the writer who wants a long-term fiction career, so keep that in mind as well.

. . . .

What started this discussion were some alarming numbers from the Association of American Publishers, which can track fiction sales through traditional venues  but not, mind you, sales figures from Amazon, which is the largest bookseller in the United States. (Some of the Amazon numbers were reported to AAP from the publishers themselves.) There’s a lot of self-reporting in the old fashioned way that publishing numbers get gathered, from independent bookstores telling their numbers (without a fact check) to publishers doing the same.

Still, no small bookstore will deliberately underreport its numbers unless there is a business or tax reason to do so, which doesn’t seem to factor in here. Verifying the numbers from both booksellers and publishers has never been part of book sales reporting, not even after computers came into the picture. (Although, with the assistance of numbers from Bowker and book distributors, the introduction of computers did help.)

The numbers that caught everyone’s attention were two-part.

1) Sales of adult fiction titles fell 16% from 2013 to 2017.

2) That 16% represents a rather large dollar figure. Sales went from $5.21 billion to $4.38 billion.

Realize we are talking about traditional publishing here, not indie publishing at all. Those numbers aren’t really baked into the book sales numbers in any significant way. (Remember, Amazon isn’t counted here, and Kindle Unlimited isn’t reflected here at all.)

The scarier number for traditional publishers appears deeper in the article. This number comes from Bookscan, which only tracks print sales. I’m going to quote PW here. The italics at the end of the sentence are my emphasis added.

…the BookScan figures show that no fiction title topped one million copies sold in 2016 or 2017 at outlets that report to the service.

For an industry that used to sell print titles well over a million on a regular basis (at the turn of the century and before) that’s a scary, scary, scary number. For comparison, I tried to go to 1998 with a quick web search of Publisher’s Weekly, but I only managed to find 1999. It’ll do.

There were six trade paperback fiction bestsellers that sold one million copies plus, and trade was the smallest selling fiction category at the time.  There were more mass market paperback bestsellers than I wanted to count—and these listings began at 2 million sales plus. Leading that list with 2 books was John Grisham at 4.1 million and 3.875 million respectively.  Eight hardcover novels sold more than 1 million copies, including (again) a John Grisham.

. . . .

Last year, John Grisham admitted to the New York Times that his novels sell half of what they sold in 2007, which was less than they sold in 1997.  Here’s how Janet Maslin of the Times reported his comments:

He doesn’t worry much about book sales either, except he’s very alert to the numbers. “The biggest change for me has been that I’m selling about half the books I sold before the Great Recession,” he said. “Maybe a little bit more than half. This is discretionary spending, and people are not spending.”

Savvy readers will see that I used this same quote last year in discussing book sales.  Nothing has changed in the year or so since I wrote that post.

Until the last ten years or so, traditional publishing dominated the marketplace. They could sell millions of copies to readers because there was no other game in town. Nothing competed with traditionally published novels.

. . . .

We are at Stage Three in the publishing disruption, though, and traditional publishers are no longer the only game in town. Not even close. And they’ve got a really serious issue: their business model was built in the previous century. To make matters even worse, they’ve consolidated. None of the big traditional publishers are nimble in anyway. They’re part of large conglomerates who expect major earnings from each corporation under their huge umbrella.

In an upcoming part of this series, I will examine how traditional publishers are looking to keep themselves relevant to their corporate masters. It will change the traditional publishing model forever, but it won’t benefit writers in any way.

. . . .

Traditional publishers are terrified by these shrinking sales numbers. Their solutions are based in their old model thinking—and, unfortunately for them, are mostly impossible.

The reason I chose John Grisham as my example is three-fold. First, there’s that lovely quote he gave the New York Times. Second, I looked up his numbers last year and the current ones are this: His books now sell in one month what they used to sell in one week. Sometimes in one day.  The third reason? He’s still sitting on top of the bestseller list, as one of the most important big guns, twenty-seven years after he hit it.

He’s on the list, Nora Roberts is still on the list, Stephen King…

Let’s go back to that Publisher’s Weekly article that sparked so much discussion. A lot of the discussion was about what’s “wrong” with fiction sales. The discussion is lost in that traditional publishing bubble, thinking they’re still the only game in town.

They talk about movies and TV as competition (what is this? 1960?) and claim that people are either reading nonfiction or aren’t reading much at all. Worse, they’re blaming Amazon for much of their problems—refusing to see that Amazon is their biggest client.

. . . .

There is one line in here, though, that speaks to the problem that traditional publishers have had since 1997 or so—and they have not solved, despite being told over and over and over again that they need to rethink this.

They’re not building author careers. Or, as Peter Hildick-Smith of The Codex Group (which many industry insiders use for market research and pre-publication book testing) told PW:

Creating a dependable, bestselling author is a multibook investment that requires different strategies and great persistence. It’s not a one-and-done launch.

. . . .

The essence here is that the author is the brand, not the publisher, and traditional publishers are no longer putting the money into developing new brands. Which is why you’re seeing the same old same old on trad pub bestseller lists, and why the sales figures are going down.

There’s a lot to read out in the marketplace. Readers who like legal thrillers don’t have to read John Grisham. They can read a variety of other authors in a variety of different ways.

Hildick-Smith put his finger on the rest of the problem. He said that “so much inexpensive genre fiction [is] now available at ‘subprime price points under $5’ (from such channels as Kindle Unlimited), publishers must invest to develop brand name authors who can command premium-price loyalty.”

. . . .

Traditional publishing is not going to build new writers into bestsellers. They’re not even trying. That’s clear from a quote from Paul Bogaards, a vice president of Alfred P. Knopf who is apparently still dining out on his 2009 acquisition of Stieg Larsson’s books. In talking about rebuilding fiction sales, Bogaards is simply quoted as saying this:

There will be another big novel. There always is.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch


As PG was reading this excellent post by Kris, he was also thinking about flightless birds.

PG claims no special expertise about flightless birds, but he understands that most/all flightless birds have vestigial wings. Their distant ancestors could fly, but, over time, for one reason or another, flying became less important and they lost the ability to do so.

Some species of flightless birds live exclusively on isolated islands where few predators are found. These birds deal with whatever threats remain for them without needing to fly.

Other species of flightless birds have become very large – the ostrich and emu, for example. Given their size, they are no longer potential prey for predators like weasels and small cats which could pose a threat to smaller birds.

On occasion, a small flock of wild turkeys strolls through the grounds of Casa PG. They can fly and run and, particularly in flocks, intimidate a small carnivore.

These wild turkeys bear little resemblance to the domestic turkeys which may provide the main course for your dinner next Thanksgiving. The domesticated turkeys have been bred to develop outsized breasts, the better to provide more white meat which many consumers prefer. However, the domestic turkeys are so large and heavy, they are completely unable to fly. At best, they can run for a short distance while flapping their wings.

So back to books and publishing.

Thirty or forty years ago, there were a great many more publishers in the United States than there are today. There were more large traditional publishers in New York, some of which operated under the management of their founder or founder’s heirs and including many medium-sized publishers that have now been absorbed into giant conglomerates. There were also quite a number of successful regional publishers focused on serving a particular geographic area and many more specialty publishers that focused on particular interest groups – golf, military history, regional cooking, hunting and fishing, local history, cowboys, etc.

Today, traditional US publishing is much more concentrated, with the “Big Five”, five huge publishers, all of which are located within a short cab ride of each other on the island of Manhattan and are subsidiaries of even larger worldwide media conglomerates.

One might be tempted to compare them to giant flightless birds, living within a monoculture comprised of wealthier-than-average white people who, by and large, attended the same 20-25 colleges and haven’t had any real jobs outside of publishing. All five Big Five CEO’s are white. Four are male.

Each of the large publishers relies heavily on sales through traditional bookstores. Barnes & Noble is their largest bricks and mortar customer.

Perhaps the best example of the dangers of the Big Five monoculture is the illegal price-fixing conspiracy that began in 2009 and was designed to allow Apple to derail Amazon’s ebook business.

In 2009, Big Publishing was not happy with Amazon. The publishers had finally decided they needed to start selling ebook versions of their books. However, in the typical fashion of organizations who felt entitled to exert control to protect their quasi-monopoly, the publishers did not want ebooks to cannibalize the sales of their printed books. The publishers had for some time discouraged bookstores from aggressive price discounting. This policy worked well with smaller customers, but Borders and Barnes & Noble were large enough that they were less subject to this pressure

Accordingly, the publishers set the prices of their ebooks high so as not to “devalue” their books in the eyes of customers and to encourage customers to continue purchasing printed books through traditional bookstores and restrain Amazon’s book sales.

Amazon was not cooperating with this strategy, however, and was selling ebooks from the large traditional publishers for $9.99, even if the company had to take a loss on each ebook sale.

Approximately every three months, the CEOs of the Big Six (Penguin and Random House had not yet merged) would meet in private dining rooms in New York restaurants without counsel or assistant present, in order to discuss the common challenges they faced, including most prominently Amazon’s pricing policies. (When PG first learned about this practice, he was absolutely astounded. It laid the groundwork for a classic slam-dunk victory in the later antitrust case. Any lawyer who learned a client was doing this would be hoisting red flags from morning until night. It was a profoundly stupid practice.)

In 2009, Apple was preparing for the announcement of the first iPad in early 2010. Apple CEO Steve Jobs was a very sick man.

Jobs had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004. By early 2009, he was a very sick man and had lost a great deal of weight. He took a medical leave of absence in late January and had a complete liver transplant in April, 2009. Following the transplant, he was better, but still not completely well. He would die from his illness in 2011.

In late 2009, Jobs’ lieutenant, Apple’s senior VP of Internet Software and Services, Eddy Cue, set up meetings with the top executives of the six largest New York Publishers. Apple wanted to announce the iBookstore in conjunction with the iPad announcement but had concerns about Amazon’s pricing.

Cue told the publishers that Apple wanted to sell the majority its e-books between $9.99 and $14.99, with new releases being $12.99 to $14.99. Apple also adopted the agency model of pricing, wherein the publishers would control the price of the e-books with Apple receiving a 30% commission.

However, Apple didn’t want to be underpriced by Amazon, so it would insist on an agreement with the publishers that Apple could match any price at which Amazon was selling an ebook.

Leading up to the agreement of five of the publishers to agree to Apple’s terms (Random House abstained), they continued their private dining room discussions and called each other over 100 times in the week before signing the agreement.

On the day of the iPad launch, On the day of the launch, Jobs was asked by a reporter why people would pay $14.99 for a book in the iBookstore when they could purchase it for $9.99 from Amazon. In response Jobs stated that “The price will be the same… Publishers are actually withholding their books from Amazon because they are not happy.”

The plot quickly fell apart and the Justice Department sued the five big publishers and Apple for conspiring to illegally fix the prices of ebooks. Later, the Justice Department publicly humiliated management of the Big Five by requiring an admission of guilt and forcing monetary settlements.

The whole ebook price-fixing fiasco is an excellent illustration of one of the most serious weaknesses of the groupthink monoculture that governs Big Publishing. Even after their price-fixing fiasco, they have not made any meaningful changes to avoid becoming even bigger, fatter domesticated turkeys who are unable to respond in a meaningful way to the changes in the publishing business.

While PG believes the five huge flightless birds do not have a bright future before them, as Kris suggests, indie authors need to keep their eyes open and options ready to respond to changes in the book business.

Amazon is not the same as it was nine years ago. In 2009, its net sales revenue was $24 billion. In 2017, it was $178 billion. In 2009, Amazon was filled with managers who remembered when the company was a scrappy little underdog and maintained that mindset.

Between 2009 and 2019, a lot of new people have become Amazon executives. To the best of PG’s knowledge, the KDP group has substantially changed since then. It has undoubtedly grown into a huge organization. In 2009, Amazon had a total of 24,000 employees. Today, it has 566,000.

PG continues to be pleased with Amazon, as reflected by its usual treatment of authors. However, with a large organization, things can always change and indie authors need to be wise and ready to change when change is thrust upon them or when change can provide better opportunities for their books and their business.

 

The Future of Music, Where Middlemen Have Met Their Match

From OZY:

“Hey, Dad. I want to show you a song.”

The speaker was my 16-year-old daughter. Music for her? Primarily visual and to be enjoyed in video clips. Video clips that did not always feature videos. Sometimes it was just some clip art and the music. But no record store, no record album, no tape — reel-to-reel, eight track, cassette or otherwise — and finally no compact disc. And she’s not alone in how she’s digging on the music she digs on.

According to Nielsen’s music report, digital and physical album sales declined (again) last year — from about 205 million in 2016 to 169 million copies in 2017 — down 17 percent. Over the past five years, right up to Nielsen’s mid-year report, sales had fallen by roughly 75 percent. That decline is coinciding with a streaming juggernaut that continues to grow. How much so? Last year streaming skated, quite easily, beyond 400 billion streams. You include video streams and you have figures over $618 billion. You look back at the year before and you see a 58 percent increase in audio streams.

While this buoyed the damned-near-moribund music industry to the tune of 12.5 percent growth from 2016 to last year, the music business is now, as it has been, all about discovering the music that can generate all of those streams. And that’s where things get curious because record labels that are used to creating heat now have to go places where the heat is being created to stay viable and vibrant.

. . . .

With a number of presently high-profile artists — Odd Future, Lil Yachty, Post Malone, etc. — being “discovered” on places like SoundCloud over the past five years, entire communities of music fans can beat both the hype and the Spotify/Pandora/SiriusXM radio/Amazon algorithms that suggest if you liked this, you might also like that, by starting there, and branching out. First stop: Instagram.

“People come in all the time and play me stuff from their IG feeds,” says Mark Thompson, founder of Los Angeles-based Vacation Vinyl (that sells, yes, primarily vinyl). “So I’m hearing bands that it soon becomes pretty clear have no label, no representation, nothing but an IG feed and maybe some music recorded on their laptops.”

To put this in perspective, in July 2018, Instagram added the music mode in Stories, and just that quickly streaming started to feel … old. Because from the musicians’ mouths to our ears, unmediated music finds its way from the creator to the consumer. Spotify is trying to adapt too — it has over the past year begun to sign deals with independent musicians to give them access to the platform.

. . . .

“It’s free,” she says, having endured speeches about listening to unpaid/stolen music. Since she and her friends don’t ever listen to more than 60 seconds of any song, at least while I am around, this raises the question: Is it a business and is it sustainable in the same way that Apple Music, Tidal, Deezer or iHeartRadio have managed to be?

“Unknown,” says former promoter and music industry executive Mark Weiss. “But the business is where the ears are. And if the business is any damn good it’ll figure out how to stay in the conversation.”

. . . .

Flash-forward to record contracts from the mid-1990s that covered cassette tapes, vinyl, compact discs and “future technologies not yet known.” The digitization of analog music had already changed the landscape for everything from crime to interior design.

Whereas previously you’d have needed a turntable, an amplifier, maybe a preamp, a tape player, a receiver, speakers and a subwoofer to listen to the music that you’d be playing off of tapes, vinyl or CDs, after everything was digitized you just needed a phone and speakers.

Link to the rest at OZY

How Much of the Internet Is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually.

From New York magazine:

In late November, the Justice Department unsealed indictments against eight people accused of fleecing advertisers of $36 million in two of the largest digital ad-fraud operations ever uncovered. Digital advertisers tend to want two things: people to look at their ads and “premium” websites — i.e., established and legitimate publications — on which to host them.

The two schemes at issue in the case, dubbed Methbot and 3ve by the security researchers who found them, faked both. Hucksters infected 1.7 million computers with malware that remotely directed traffic to “spoofed” websites — “empty websites designed for bot traffic” that served up a video ad purchased from one of the internet’s vast programmatic ad-exchanges, but that were designed, according to the indictments, “to fool advertisers into thinking that an impression of their ad was served on a premium publisher site,” like that of Vogue or The Economist. Views, meanwhile, were faked by malware-infected computers with marvelously sophisticated techniques to imitate humans: bots “faked clicks, mouse movements, and social network login information to masquerade as engaged human consumers.” Some were sent to browse the internet to gather tracking cookies from other websites, just as a human visitor would have done through regular behavior. Fake people with fake cookies and fake social-media accounts, fake-moving their fake cursors, fake-clicking on fake websites — the fraudsters had essentially created a simulacrum of the internet, where the only real things were the ads.

How much of the internet is fake? Studies generally suggest that, year after year, less than 60 percent of web traffic is human; some years, according to some researchers, a healthy majority of it is bot. For a period of time in 2013, the Times reported this year, a full half of YouTube traffic was “bots masquerading as people,” a portion so high that employees feared an inflection point after which YouTube’s systems for detecting fraudulent traffic would begin to regard bot traffic as real and human traffic as fake. They called this hypothetical event “the Inversion.”

. . . .

Take something as seemingly simple as how we measure web traffic. Metrics should be the most real thing on the internet: They are countable, trackable, and verifiable, and their existence undergirds the advertising business that drives our biggest social and search platforms. Yet not even Facebook, the world’s greatest data–gathering organization, seems able to produce genuine figures. In October, small advertisers filed suit against the social-media giant, accusing it of covering up, for a year, its significant overstatements of the time users spent watching videos on the platform (by 60 to 80 percent, Facebook says; by 150 to 900 percent, the plaintiffs say). According to an exhaustive list at MarketingLand, over the past two years Facebook has admitted to misreporting the reach of posts on Facebook Pages (in two different ways), the rate at which viewers complete ad videos, the average time spent reading its “Instant Articles,” the amount of referral traffic from Facebook to external websites, the number of views that videos received via Facebook’s mobile site, and the number of video views in Instant Articles.

Can we still trust the metrics? After the Inversion, what’s the point? Even when we put our faith in their accuracy, there’s something not quite real about them: My favorite statistic this year was Facebook’s claim that 75 million people watched at least a minute of Facebook Watch videos every day — though, as Facebook admitted, the 60 seconds in that one minute didn’t need to be watched consecutively. Real videos, real people, fake minutes.

. . . .

And maybe we shouldn’t even assume that the people are real. Over at YouTube, the business of buying and selling video views is “flourishing,” as the Times reminded readers with a lengthy investigation in August. The company says only “a tiny fraction” of its traffic is fake, but fake subscribers are enough of a problem that the site undertook a purge of “spam accounts” in mid-December. These days, the Times found, you can buy 5,000 YouTube views — 30 seconds of a video counts as a view — for as low as $15; oftentimes, customers are led to believe that the views they purchase come from real people. More likely, they come from bots.

. . . .

Link to the rest at New York magazine

Welcome to The Great Acceleration

From The Scholarly Kitchen:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at The Scholarly Kitchen

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

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

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

PG suggests following the money.

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

What makes the scholarly publications valuable?

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

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

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

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

Publishers Weekly Takes Over The Millions

From Publishers Weekly:

PWxyz, parent company of Publishers Weekly, has acquired the online magazine the Millions, plus its website TheMillions.com, for an undisclosed price.

The Millions was founded in 2003 by Max Magee and offers coverage of books, arts, and culture aimed at a consumer audience. Magee had been its editor until 2016, when Lydia Kiesling took over the role. Moving forward, Adam Boretz, a longtime editor at PW, who also served at the Millions as Magee’s associate editor, will become editor of the Millions, and will be promoted to senior editor at PW. Kiesling will continue to be involved in various capacities.

Although Magee will no longer be involved with the magazine, the Millions writing and editorial staffs will remain largely unchanged. PW will look to beef up the magazine’s advertising efforts under the direction of PW publisher Cevin Bryerman.

“The Millions has grown over time into a vibrant and necessary project, and in recent years I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how the project might live beyond my stewardship,” said Magee. “In Publishers Weekly, the Millions will gain a partner that is devoted to the site’s mission and we hope will make the site a lasting institution. We at the Millions uniformly believe this is a great outcome for the site and for its writers and readers.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG cannot claim to be a frequent visitor to The Millions, but he had no idea that the site sold advertising.  He thought the business plan was Support The Millions by Becoming a Member.

For those who are not familiar with the site, it is a combination of book reviews (Are they the advertising the site sells?) and interviews with people with whom PG is unfamiliar (More paid advertising?).

Laura Adamczyk‘s stories are not for the faint of heart.

Since 2014, when Jeff Jackson and I roamed the AWP Writers Conference together, I’ve read everything he’s written—that I know of, anyway.

In early 2016, during a monthslong relocation to Barcelona, I fell under the spell of three contemporary masters of Spanish-language fiction: Javier Cercas, of Barcelona, Javier Marías, of Madrid, and Álvaro Enrigue, of Mexico and New York. Even now, back in the U.S., I feel with these writers the special connection you get when your reading life and your life-life come close enough to touch.

I met Feroz Rather one verdant summer in Kashmir, almost a decade ago. 

I interview Ottessa Moshfegh at Caffe Vita, in Silverlake, earlier this month.

Always be yourself

“Always be yourself, unless you can be a narwhal.”

~ Author Unknown


Consider the Narwhal

Not really to do with the business of writing, but PG’s fleeting attention was captured by the title of the OP.

From The London Review of Books:

In 1584, as Ivan the Terrible lay dying, he called from his bed for his unicorn horn, a royal staff ‘garnished with verie fare diamondes, rubies, saphiers, emeralls’. Unicorn horns were believed throughout Europe to have magical curative properties; as late as 1789, a unicorn drinking horn was used to protect the French court, where it was said to sweat and change colour in the presence of poison. To prove the horn’s efficacy, Ivan ordered his physician to scratch a circle on the table with the tip of the horn, and to ‘seeke owt for som spiders’. The spiders placed within the circle curled up and died; spiders placed outside it ran away and survived. The dead spiders, though, could not console Ivan. ‘It is too laite,’ he said, ‘it will not preserve me,’ whereupon, soon afterwards, he died.

The unicorn horn was, of course, a narwhal tusk: the tooth of a small Arctic whale, which grows out through the upper lip, twisting counter-clockwise for up to 2.5 metres. Named rather ungallantly for the Old Norse word nar, meaning ‘corpse’, and hvalr, ‘whale’, after their mottled grey markings, narwhals are unicorn-like not just in their appendages, but in their elusiveness; they are one of the mammals about which we know least. They spend the winter months dodging dense pack ice, where humans cannot follow, and can swim a mile deep, twisting upside-down as they descend into pitch-black water.

. . . .

The great mystery of the narwhal is the purpose of its tusk. Appearing in males of about a year old, as short and thin as a little finger, it grows for nearly ten years until it’s as wide as 25 cm at the base. Herman Melville writes of the ‘nostril whale’ in Moby-Dick: ‘Some sailors tell me that the Narwhale employs it for a rake in turning over the bottom of the sea for food. Charley Coffin said it was used for an ice-piercer … But you cannot prove either of these surmises to be correct.’ He ends by suggesting it would make an excellent letter opener. Because less than 15 per cent of female narwhals have the tusk, it can’t be necessary for survival, and so, when male narwhals were observed clashing tusks it was often interpreted as rivalrous jousting. Recently, though, scientists have found that the tusk is shot through with around ten million nerve endings, and by rubbing tusks on meeting, the narwhals may be passing on information about the salinity (and therefore propensity to freeze) of the water through which they have just passed; not aggressors, then, but Mercators.

. . . .

The legend of the narwhal is not a gentle one. The Danish ethnologist Knud Rasmussen recorded the myths of the Inuit of Greenland’s northwestern coast in the late 19th century. In the narwhal origin myth, the cruel mother of a blind son tricks him out of his fair share of bear meat. The mother plaits and twists her hair into a long braid and the two go out to harvest passing white whales; the son binds her with ropes to one of the whales, and it drags her into the sea. According to Rasmussen, ‘she did not come back, and was changed into a narwhal … and from her the narwhals are descended.’

. . . .

This was not Elizabeth I’s only narwhal tusk. Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Walter Raleigh’s half-brother, presented her with a gem-encrusted narwhal tusk worth £10,000 (enough, at the time, to buy and staff a small castle). It was, he told her, a ‘sea-unicorn’.

Link to the rest at The London Review of Books

Discoverability: Draft2Digital

From Draft2Digital:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

These powerful pages include:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Some key features include:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

So what does that mean for D2D authors?

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

Link to the rest at Draft2Digital

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

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

PG was particularly interested in the Walmart.com announcement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bullet Journaling

From The Wall Street Journal:

Bullet journaling is an organizing strategy developed several years ago by Mr. Carroll [Ryder Carroll, The Bullet Journal Method] that has attracted something of a cult following. It involves writing out tasks and daily events by hand, which helps you think about whether they’re worth doing. A table of contents or index in the front of a bullet journal allows you to include everything from exercise logs to project plans and to find notes quickly. There are different types of “bullets” for events and tasks, and tasks that aren’t completed in one daily log are moved onto the next day’s roster.

All of this can read like “stereo instructions,” as Mr. Carroll jokes. (“When you notice a Master Task is spawning a lot of Subtasks, it can indicate that this Task is growing into a project.”) Yet the point is to de-clutter your mind and make life more organized than it would be with mere to-do lists.

Bullet journaling is a serious system that takes itself a touch too seriously. Mr. Carroll notes that detailing how you spend your time helps you remember that life includes more than daily drudgery: Drinks with old friends, dinners out with spouses and other pleasures are more common than we recall at first. But it’s hard not to laugh when, as an example of the range of bullet journaling, Mr. Carroll tells of a guy who used his journal entries to figure out why things didn’t work out with his girlfriend. (She was distant, apparently.)

A common criticism of bullet journaling is that, with its emphasis on hand-written entries, the journals themselves can begin to look like adult coloring books, and a cursory search online reveals devotees who have spent hours curling bubbly letters and other adornments. What a waste of time for a method aimed at making the most of your time! Credit to Mr. Carroll for assuring his readers that you don’t have to be an artist to reap the benefits of bullet journaling.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG is engaged in an attempt to become more efficient with his time after realizing that some parts of his working day are extremely efficient, but other parts are inefficient.

He’s pretty certain that he’s not going to write anything down on paper because one of his inefficiencies is not processing the paper which enters his life with any pretense of efficiency. He believes he needs less paper, not more.

A bit of online research disclosed that (surprise!) there are a lot of Bullet Journal apps. However, at the moment, PG is deapping his phone and tablet. His winnowing method is very simple – if he doesn’t immediately know what an app is used for by looking at its icon, he’s not going to use it and it’s going into the bitbucket.

However, during his brief look at bullet journaling, PG discovered a couple of articles about using Evernote for bullet journaling (here and here).

Since PG does use Evernote on a regular basis and has done so since the program was in beta, he’s going to go that route.

He thinks.

At present.


My Life As a Psychopath

From The Cut:

The word “psychopath,” like many words associated with mental and personality disorders, is used broadly, and often incorrectly — colloquially, we might call someone who lies a lot a psychopath, just as we might call someone who texts us more frequently than we want “crazy.” The word “psychopath” is also routinely used to describe serial killers, though not all serial/mass murderers have psychopathic personalities. And while “sociopath” is sometimes (mistakenly) used interchangeably with psychopath, only the latter is rigorously defined and clinically accepted, says Craig Neumann, a professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of North Texas whose singular research focus has been the psychopathic personality and its traits.

According to Neumann, the true definition of “psychopath” is actually pretty narrow: “Broadly speaking, psychopathy refers to a pathological personality style that is interpersonally deceptive, affectively cold, behaviorally reckless, and often overtly antisocial,” he writes. To qualify, he says, a person must possess traits pertaining to each of four “domains”: Interpersonal, Affective, Lifestyle, and Antisocial. The corresponding traits are as follows:

Interpersonal: They’re manipulative, deceitful, and/or narcissistic.
Affective: They lack remorse, are callous, and may take pleasure in hurting others.
Lifestyle: They’re impulsive, may use illegal substances, and may have disregard for the consequences of their actions.
Antisocial: They are physically aggressive and may have a history of or tendency toward criminal behavior.

Importantly, Neumann notes, psychopathy is a scale. “It’s not that you’re either a psychopath or not,” he says. “In the same way someone can have severe depression but it’s also possible for someone to have mild or moderate depression.” Neumann uses the example of professional poker players: they might be deceitful, and narcissistic, but they’re (probably) not psychopaths. Similarly, he takes issue with neuroscientist James Fallon’s calling himself a psychopath because his brain imaging profile matched that of psychopathic individuals.

“Just because the amygdala shows hypoactivation does not make you a psychopath,” says Neumann. “This is a characteristic that’s associated with psychopathy, but biology is not destiny. We believe that the syndrome, the personality disorder, is a coming together of these four major domains.” While certain people may possess a few, or even most of the psychopathic characteristics (like superficial charm, sexual promiscuity, and early behavioral problems, to name a few) listed on the Psychopathy Checklist(the PCL-R) — another tool used in the diagnostic process — unless they fulfill each of the four domains, Neumann doesn’t consider them truly psychopathic.

“The max score on the PCL-R is a 40, but to reach 30 is really going to be up there,” he says. (Most people score between a 1 and a 3, he adds.) “But the point I’m trying to make here is that even people who are 25, 26, they don’t quite reach the diagnostic threshold. Even people who are 16, 17, 18 on the PCL-R are nasty sons of bitches. Do they meet the diagnostic threshold of what we would call meeting a diagnosis of psychopathy? No.”

. . . .

Neumann hasn’t met or spoken to the subject of the following interview, but he did offer some potential disclaimers when I described the nature of our conversation. “These people dissimulate, they lie quite regularly, so it’s a challenging interview to do,” he says. “And most individuals at very high levels of psychopathy are not going to submit to an interview.” He’s also insistent that psychopaths are inherently and evidently unpleasant to be around. “One of the essences of personality pathology is you usually feel it in your gut first. Would I get in a car with this person and drive across the United States? And if you say ‘Oh, hell no,’ that gives you a clue that there’s something off in terms of personality,” he says.

The woman I spoke to, who will remain anonymous, says she was diagnosed as a psychopath in her mid-20s, and the diagnostic process she describes appears to be in line with what Neumann says is required. That said, our conversation was under an hour, and I am not a psychologist. That conversation, which has been edited for length, is below.

. . . .

 When were you diagnosed as a psychopath?
From age 26 to 27. I went through the whole diagnostic process over several months. There were a certain number of doctors that were involved, and a lot of testing: neuropsych testing, personality testing, brain scans, a lot of different interviews and going through the history of my childhood. It wasn’t a quick snap diagnosis. It was something that was arrived at over a decent period of time.

. . . .

Let’s talk about what people get wrong about psychopaths, in your view. Especially now, when there’s this huge cultural true-crime obsession, I think we have this very particular understanding of what a psychopath means, and it’s almost universally someone who’s very violent. 
It’s actually not an unreasonable thing — not because it’s true, but because of what they’re presented with. Most studies done on psychopaths are done [on men] in prison or in forensic hospitals, so everything you’re going to hear is going to come from a criminal. It’s always going to be painted against the backdrop of someone who has committed crimes. They’re only out for themselves, they don’t care about anyone else. If you interviewed any walk of people, and based their entire profile based on [the institutionalized] version of that person, like neurotypicals or autistic people, bipolar people, you get a very different picture than if you interviewed them in their general lives.

There is also this mistaken thinking that all serial killers are psychopaths, which is just not even remotely true. It’s just a myth that won’t die. There’s a phrase: “Not all psychopaths are serial killers, but all serial killers are psychopaths.” It’s just incorrect. But people hear this, and they associate [us with] serial killers. For some reason, people think we want to kill people. And I think that probably comes from the lack of empathy. People believe that if you have a lack of empathy, that automatically opens a floodgate of antisocial behavior. That’s not really how it works. I may not care, I may not have an emotional reaction to someone’s pain, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going out of my way to cause pain. It just means that I don’t have that emotional response.

In a day to day sense, or in your interpersonal relationships with people, is empathy or attempted empathy something you’ve had to teach yourself in order to relate to other people? How does that work? 
Well, we have cognitive empathy. So if your mother died, I can look at you, I can see that you are in pain. I may not feel the same pain, but I can understand you feel pain, and that series of behaviors usually warrants a certain response: comfort or interaction, engagement. And so it’s a matter of honing that over time, and also making sure that I can continually consider that my reaction to things is not how other people experience things. Which is hard, because you sort of go through life with the assumption that everybody experiences it like you do.

Do you ever feel afraid? 
We don’t feel fear. We get adrenal responses. When you have adrenaline responses to a car accident, or bungee jumping, or what have you, we’ll still get that, but for us, we don’t feel the fear, which can be obviously dangerous if you’re a little kid, and you don’t know you’re supposed to be afraid of stuff. We don’t process the emotion of fear. It doesn’t occur to us. And we can’t understand it, either. I mean, we get that you feel something, but we don’t get it.

How do you perceive it when you hear someone expressing their fear of mortality, or says they’re afraid to die someday? That always baffles me, because I can’t comprehend why it matters. For me, life is very much in this immediate moment. This moment is all you have, and the fear of it going away is just nonsensical. This is a huge disconnect for me. People explain it in ways that they very much understand: they’re afraid of dying, they’re afraid of not being important, they’re afraid of being forgotten. And none of those things are important to me, so it’s sort of like saying I’m afraid of not being the color blue.

. . . .

When you say cognitive love, does that mean you don’t feel that sort of romantic roller coaster feeling that other people describe to you? 
Well, no, I don’t. Certainly attraction. I feel attraction, and he’s very attractive. But psychopaths don’t process oxytocin like neurotypicals do. What oxytocin contributes to in your brain is chemical love, so that feeling of a roller coaster. Bonding is another one we don’t have. You bond to your significant other, you bond to your children, you bond to your pets. There’s also trust, which is a weird one, because I didn’t know oxytocin had anything to do with trust. Most people feel trust as an actual emotion. I never knew that. To me, trust was always: You show me how you’re going to behave, and I will determine whether or not I want you around. I always knew I didn’t trust people, and I always had a disconnect, because I didn’t know it was a chemical reaction for most people. I didn’t have an explanation as to why I didn’t trust people, but then I started digging into oxytocin. It made sense.

A lot of people think of psychopaths as having a very flat emotional affect, and I know we haven’t talked for long, but that’s not my impression of you. You obviously have a personality, and a distinctive way of speaking, and so I wonder what your experience is with that perception. 
People think we have no emotion, which is absolutely not true. We just feel them way turned down. If most people feel an emotion between seven and eight on a dial of ten, I feel it between zero and two. Negative emotions are background noise. We can’t tune into that frequency because our brains just don’t process enough information for them to ever be loud enough to feel or direct behavior. We enjoy things, get excited about things, like adrenaline — that’s great. I laugh with people, I enjoy intellectual discussions. A lower functioning psychopath probably wouldn’t enjoy intellectual conversation. They’d rather go and rob a liquor store. But that’s why they spend most of their lives in prison.

Do you feel at all that your psychopathy is an advantage to you? Do you feel lucky in any sense? 
No. It’s not an advantage, because all neurotypes come with limitations, don’t they? With psychopathy I constantly have to figure out people, and why they do what they do, and how to respond to them. Normal people have to deal with grief and loss and pain and heartbreak, but they also have things to make them happy. I think people are pretty wired the way they’re meant to be. I don’t know that it’s necessarily an advantage or disadvantage, it’s just what you make of it. I could easily take psychopathy and make it a terribly negative thing for both me and the world, because I could make bad choices, and do terrible things. I could do that, but that’s not who I have any interest in being. Anyone can make bad choices for themselves.

. . . .

 Online you’re very out as far as being a psychopath but is it something that a lot of people in your personal life know? Or your family? 
No. They have no idea, and I’m going to keep it that way.

. . . .

When you meet new people, whether professionally or personally or whatever context, do you present them with the version of yourself that fits the situation? 
Absolutely. Why tell them anything that they don’t need to know? They just need to know what they can expect of me.

Do you think it’s something that people suspect about you? Or do you think people’s perceptions are so off that they wouldn’t really know what psychopathy looks like? 
No. Psychopaths use what we call a ‘mask.’ It’s basically an entire affectation of being like everyone else. We learn at a really young age that if we respond to things the way that we naturally respond to things, people don’t like that. So you just learn how to affect the behavior and how to appear like everyone else, and that’s just what you have to do.

There’s a very different version of me that goes out of the house and interacts with the world from the person who’s home with people who know how I actually am. And even with the people who do know me, and do know how I actually am, there still has to be a mask. If somebody’s spending time with me in a room, I won’t give them the impression that they’re welcome. They might say something to me, and I’ll answer them back, but I’m not going to look at them, there’s no feeling of being welcome. But to me, unless I tell you to leave, you’re completely welcome.

I have a friend who will feel like I resent her spending time with me. She’ll be like, “I’m bothering you.” You’re not bothering me. Why do you think you’re bothering me? She’s like, “Well, I just get the impression you don’t want me here.” Did I tell you to leave? “No, but are we okay?” We’re fine! You’re fine. I have to make that connection. So if I don’t do that, people feel like there’s something profoundly lacking, and they feel uncomfortable. It’s very disquieting to them.

Link to the rest at The Cut

PG found this fascinating (no, he’s not a psychopath) because he doesn’t believe he’s ever met anyone who is a psychopath or close to one.

In olden days, prior to public defenders being available almost everywhere, when PG was occasionally assigned by a court to represent a criminal (technically, a defendant charged with a crime, but most defendants PG encountered professionally were, in fact, guilty of some sort of  crime), they mostly struck him as pretty stupid people without much impulse control.

PG also did a lot of voluntary Legal Aid work and encountered low-functioning people who got tangled up in legal matters, often divorces where the children were placed in foster care while custody issues were litigated. In such cases, PG represented the children and, on occasion, could not recommend that custody be granted to either parent even though the foster care system was not ideal. Still no psychopaths (he thinks) among those folks.

He’s not a frequent reader of novels depicting the inner lives of psychopaths, but doesn’t remember reading any in which the psychopathic character sounded a lot like the subject of this interview.

What 2018 Looked Like Fifty Years Ago

From The New Yorker:

Prophecy is a mug’s game. But then, lately, most of us are mugs. 2018 was a banner year for the art of prediction, which is not to say the science, because there really is no science of prediction. Predictive algorithms start out as historians: they study historical data to detect patterns. Then they become prophets: they devise mathematical formulas that explain the pattern, test the formulas against historical data withheld for the purpose, and use the formulas to make predictions about the future. That’s why Amazon, Google, Facebook, and everyone else are collecting your data to feed to their algorithms: they want to turn your past into your future.

This task, like most things, used to be done by hand. In 1968, the Foreign Policy Association, formed in 1918 to promote the League of Nations, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary by publishing a book of predictions about what the world would look like, technology-wise, fifty years on. “Toward the Year 2018” was edited by Emmanuel G. Mesthene, who had served in the White House as an adviser on science and technology and who ran Harvard’s Program on Technology and Society. It makes for distressing reading at the end of 2018, a year that, a golden anniversary ago, looked positively thrilling.

. . . .

Two things are true about “Toward the Year 2018.” First, most of the machines that people expected would be invented have, in fact, been invented. Second, most of those machines have had consequences wildly different from those anticipated in 1968. It’s bad manners to look at past predictions to see if they’ve come true. Still, if history is any guide, today’s futurists have very little credibility. An algorithm would say the same.

Carlos R. DeCarlo, the director of automation research at I.B.M., covered computers in the book, predicting that, in 2018, “machines will do more of man’s work, but will force man to think more logically.” DeCarlo was consistently half right. He correctly anticipated miniature computers (“very small, portable storage units”), but wrongly predicted the coming of a universal language (“very likely a modified and expanded form of English”). One thing he got terribly wrong: he expressed tragically unfounded confidence that “the political and social institutions of the United States will remain flexible enough to ingest the fruits of science and technology without basic damage to its value systems.”

Reporting on the future of communication, J. R. Pierce, from Bell Labs, explained that “the Bell System is committed to the provision of a Picturephone service commercially in the early 1970s,” and that, by 2018, face-to-face communication across long distances would be available everywhere: “The transmission of pictures and texts and the distant manipulation of computers and other machines will be added to the transmission of the human voice on a scale that will eventually approach the universality of telephony.” True! “What all this will do to the world I cannot guess,” Pierce admitted, with becoming modesty. “It seems bound to affect us all.”

. . . .

But the most prescient contributor to “Toward the Year 2018” was the M.I.T. political scientist Ithiel de Sola Pool, whose research interests included social networks and computer simulation. “By 2018 it will be cheaper to store information in a computer bank than on paper,” Pool wrote. “Tax returns, social security records, census forms, military records, perhaps a criminal record, hospital rec-ords, security clearance files, school transcripts . . . bank statements,credit ratings, job records,” and more would, by 2018, be stored on computers that could communicate with one another over a vast international network. You could find out anything about anyone, without ever leaving your desk. “By 2018 the researcher sitting at his console will be able to compile a cross-tabulation of consumer purchases (from store records) by people of low IQ (from school records) who have an unemployed member of the family (from social security records). That is, he will have the technological capability to do this. Will he have the legal right?” Pool declined to answer that question. “This is not the place to speculate how society will achieve a balance between its desire for knowledge and its desire for privacy,” he insisted.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

You Tell Me: How Often Do You Buy a New eReader?

Nate has a question at The Digital Reader:

When it comes to mobile devices, some tend to get replaced faster than others. People hang on to laptops for as many as six to eight years, while smartphones tend to get replaced every other year (if not more often).

If we made a spectrum to track device lifespans, ereaders would be listed at the far end with laptops.

eReaders don’t change that much from year to year, so as a result people tend to hold on to them. For example, some brands such as Amazon and Kobo have used the same CPUs for years and years (it wasn’t until the Oasis that Amazon finally upgraded to a dual-core CPU). And even when the screen resolution improved, it was sometimes hard to see the difference and thus hard to justify replacing a device that worked just fine.

So tell me, how long do you hold on to your e-reading device?

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG likes technology that can do many things well.

PG loves, loves, loves technology that does something important perfectly.

His Kindle Paperwhite presents books for reading perfectly.

It’s small, light and completely operable with the right thumb.

The screen is perfectly legible when the lights are on or they’re off.

Its battery life approaches infinity.

It’s better than a paper book because it’s lightweight, it’s simpler to tap the screen with your thumb than to turn a page, you don’t lose your place if you drop it, it’s thinner than any printed book PG is interested in reading and you can take as many books as you like on vacation while still using only a single suitcase.

If you finish a book by a newly-discovered author you really like at 7:00 pm, you can immediately start reading the sequel without going anywhere.

PG bought a plain-vanilla Kindle before the Paperwhite was released and used it with some regularity, but the crisper screen of the Paperwhite together with the ability to use it in dim light or no light made all the difference.

 

 

The Media’s Post-Advertising Future Is Also Its Past

From The Atlantic:

It’s my holiday tradition to bring tidings of discomfort and sorrow to my colleagues in the news business. One year ago, I described the media apocalypse coming for both digital upstarts and legacy brands. Vice and BuzzFeed had slashed their revenue projections by hundreds of millions of dollars, while The New York Times had announced a steep decline in advertising.

Twelve months later, it’s end times all over again. There have been layoffs across Vox Media, Vice, and BuzzFeed (and dubious talk of an emergency merger). Mic, once valued at $100 million, fired most of its staff and sold for $5 million. Verizon took a nearly $5 billion write-down on its digital media unit, which includes AOL and Yahoo. Reuters announced plans to lay off more than 3,000 people in the next two years. The disease seems widespread, affecting venture-capital darlings and legacy brands, flattening local news while punishing international wires. Almost no one is safe, and almost everyone is for sale.

It’s tempting to think that this is the inevitable end game of Google and Facebook’s duopoly. The two companies already receive more than half of all the dollars spent on digital advertising, and they commanded 90 percent of the growth in digital ad sales last year. But what’s happening in media right now is more complex. We’re seeing the convergence of four trends.

1. Too many players

It’s not just Facebook and Google; just about every big tech company is talking about selling ads, meaning that just about every big tech company may become another competitor in the fight for advertising revenue.

Amazon’s ad business exploded in the past year; its growth exceeded that of every other major tech company, including the duopoly. Apple is building tech that would skim ad revenue from major apps such as Snapchat and Pinterest, according to The Wall Street Journal. Microsoft will make about $4 billion in advertising revenue this year, thanks to growth from LinkedIn and Bing. Uber is reportedly getting into the ad business as it eyes new revenue sources to beautify its forthcoming IPO. AT&T is building an ad network to go along with its investment in Time Warner’s content, and Roku, which sells equipment for streaming television, is building ad tech. Oracle, Adobe, and Salesforce are using their cloud technology to collect data that could be used for ad targeting, as Axios reported.

These tech companies have bigger audiences and more data than just about any media company could ever hope for. The result is that more advertising will gravitate not only toward “programmatic” artificial-intelligence-driven ad sales but also toward companies that aren’t principally (or even remotely) in the news-gathering business.

. . . .

4. Patrons with varying levels of beneficence

Publications that were once the crown jewels of publicly traded firms are finding refuge in the arms of affluent patrons. Many legacy titles have already landed with millionaires and billionaires, including Time (bought by Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce), Fortune (bought by Chatchaval Jiaravanon, a Thai businessman), and The Washington Post (owned by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon). Emerson Collective, an organization founded by the billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs, purchased a majority share of The Atlantic in 2017.

Those nostalgic for the lucrative old days might curl their toes at the mention of a Medici-esque sponsorship model. But billionaire-supported investigative reporting is surely better than no investigative reporting at all. So what’s the matter with patronage?

A patron is a person. A person can change his or her mind—and often does. Chris Hughes junked The New Republic when losses eclipsed his idealism. Phil Anschutz snuffed out The Weekly Standard. Michael Bloomberg has made noises about selling off his political desk if he runs for president, or offloading his entire eponymous media empire, which employs several thousand people.

. . . .

To understand the future of post-advertising media, let’s briefly consider its past. During a period of the early 19th century known as the “party press” era, newspapers relied on patrons. Those patrons were political parties (hence “party press”) that handed out printing contracts to their favorite editors or directly paid writers to publish vicious attacks against rivals.

That era’s journalism was hyper-political and deeply biased. But some historians believe that it was also more engaging. The number of newspapers in the United States grew from several dozen in the late 1700s to more than 1,200 in the 1830s. These newspapers experimented with a variety of journalistic styles and appeals to the public. As Gerald J. Baldasty, a professor at the University of Washington, has argued, these newspapers treated readers as a group to engage and galvanize. Perhaps as a result, voting rates soared in the middle of the 19th century to record highs.

It was advertising that led to the demise of the party press. Ads allowed newspapers to become independent of patronage and to build the modern standards of “objective” journalism. Advertising also led to a neutered, detached style of reporting—the “view from nowhere”—to avoid offending the biggest advertisers, such as department stores. Large ad-supported newspapers grew to become profitable behemoths, but they arguably emphasized milquetoast coverage over more colorful reader engagement.

As the news business shifts back from advertisers to patrons and readers (that is to say, subscribers), journalism might escape that “view from nowhere” purgatory and speak straightforwardly about the world in a way that might have seemed presumptuous in a mid-century newspaper. Journalism could be more political again, but also more engaging again.

. . . .

For example, in just the past few decades, The New York Times’ revenue has shifted from more than 60 percent advertising to more than 60 percent reader payments. As its business model has changed, so has its coverage. “Look at The New York Times in 1960 vs. 2010; the reportage is more interpretive,” observed the late James L. Baughman, the communications theorist and University of Wisconsin professor.

Mid-century newspapers were as broad and unobjectionable as department stores, because department-store advertising was their business. News media of the future could be as messy, diverse, and riotously disputatious as their audiences, because directly monetizing them is the new central challenge of the news business.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Love, hate and hypocrisy: the best books about animals and humans

From The Guardian:

A pack of wolves follows a sled, picking off the sled dogs and then the occupants one by one, to the last man. So begins Jack London’s White Fang, published in 1906. The wolf pack is led by a wolfdog, Kiche. The ensuing story is told from the viewpoint of Kiche’s wolf pup, White Fang, through whose gaze we view the violence of the parallel worlds of animals and humans. White Fang is the narrative mirror of London’s earlier The Call of the Wild, in which a pet dog, kidnapped and used as a sled dog, runs away to join the wolves. Wildness is the true nature of animals, though the challenges of survival in the wilderness can also turn man into a beast, London seems to say. White Fang ends up enjoying domesticity with his new master, many miles away from the Yukon. Humans have triumphed over nature, but nature is still out there.

. . . .

In Of Wolves and Men, Barry Lopez details the hate reserved for animals whom we cannot bend to our will. For centuries in the US, extermination was enacted against wolves. Lopez details the way they were treated as outlaws and criminals, subjected to public torture and execution. Crowds gathered to watch a particular wolf die as agonisingly as possible: drawn and quartered, and left to swing on the gibbet.

. . . .

“The way we think about other species sometimes defies logic,” writes Hal Herzog in Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, which does a remarkable job of describing and explaining our emotionally complicated responses to animals. The truth is that, when we treat them with cruelty and indifference, this is often the way they treat each other. Animals, though, are not hypocrites, and Herzog must be applauded for calling out humans, among them “dog lovers” whose quest for the perfect breed has caused unquantifiable amounts of canine suffering.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Colorful Statements: The Art of Illustrator Eliot Wyatt

From Adobe Create Magazine:

Eliot Wyatt likes to say that his personality and his work are quite similar: “a bit weird, fun, and loud.” An illustrator based in Bristol, England, Wyatt creates colorful—and sometimes a little trippy—work that has enlivened high-profile campaigns for clients like Airbnb, Buzzfeed, and Nescafé.

. . . .

Wyatt’s subjects range from politics and social issues to celebrities, delicious-looking foods, fantasy automobiles, and really cool sneakers. A candy-colored palette and a flat, nearly two-dimensional look make for a very distinctive body of work.

. . . .

When asked about how his approach is unique, Wyatt is thoughtful. “I don’t know if it’s a bad thing, but I wouldn’t say there is anything particularly unique in the way I approach my work,” he says. “I will sketch out ideas, develop the best ones, and then move into a final image. What is unique is the thoughts and ideas that run throughout my illustration work and the way that becomes identifiable as my style. It’s not necessarily the way you approach a project; rather, it’s the way you think about it. For example, it could be thinking about a different way to view a particular scene or object, or how you may be able to refer to something without directly placing it in the image. These decisions contribute just as much to your ‘style’ of work as the aesthetic you choose to work in.”

. . . .

And what, in his mind, constitutes a successful piece? “For me, it is when both the aesthetic and the ideas are strong in a single image. Sometimes an illustration can lead too much with the aesthetic, which ultimately makes for a weaker image. Typically, all work, either client or personal, starts out the same way. My initial sketches are developed further in to larger sketches, which allows for more focus on creating a solid composition and framing of the image.”

Link to the rest at Adobe Create Magazine, which includes several examples of the Wyatt’s art.

PG is familiar with writing exercises but wondered if authors engage in other practices that help jumpstart or expand their creative efforts.

For example, is a character sketch the equivalent of a visual artist sketching out an idea?

To the best of PG’s recollections, visual arts and writing are centered in different parts of the human brain, but he could be wrong.