Saturday, March 31, 2007

A Film Without a Rating?

I still have three contest entries to read and judge so this is going to be quick.

The Los Angeles Times (LAT) had a brief story on Friday about the upcoming horror film, Captivity. According to http://www.imdb.com, a man and a woman wake up captives of a kidnapper, intent upon driving them insane.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) decided to slap sanctions on the film following an ad campaign launched by the film's makers, After Dark Films. "The sanctions come after ads depicting kidnapping and murder that the MPAA said were inappropriate were placed on billboards in Los Angeles and on cabs in New York." (LAT)

The film is scheduled to be released on May 18. However, the MPAA has said it will not rate the film for thirty days AND it will require approval of every advertisement and every poster location. The LAT says this move was unprecedented.

The film makers could choose to release the movie without a rating, but this may have an impact on the number of theatres willing to show the movie.

To decide for yourself, here's a link to the billboards that the MPAA found so offensive.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Predictions for the New World

Nathan Bransford posed an interesting question on his blog Wednesday. Prompted by the changes Borders was implementing, he asked which way the industry was headed.

The comments that followed fell into predictable categories: those waxing eloquent about the experience of visiting a bookstore, those who admit that they find the convenience of on-line shopping a plus, a few who acknowledge immediacy is important and the occasional mention of price. Several people commented that bookstores would always survive because they provide customer service.

Here are my predictions together with my reasons:

1) The niche market specializing in mysteries, sci-fi, children's books, etc. will move entirely to the Internet. Why? Geography and economics. Even when the store is located in a large city, where presumably there are enough customers interested in that niche, the buyer must travel to one location. There he finds that the store, burdened by bricks-and-mortar overhead, cannot match the deep discounts offered elsewhere by retailers doing larger volume business.

It makes more business sense for that bookseller to operate online from his home with much lower overhead and where his customers are only a click away. He can still offer his expertise and service, but now he isn't competing on price or geographic convenience. He's offering a home to the niche buyers. If he's smart, he'll provide an online community for those niche buyers (widely separated by space) to chat about books and authors
ad nauseum.

2) The big box stores like Wal-Mart will continue to skim the cream off the top by offering best-sellers at deep discounts. These stores can make a profit on a very narrow margin because of the enormous volume of their sales.

Wal-Mart is engaged in an aggressive expansion program, putting a store within a mile or two of every American consumer. Rather than expanding booksales to more English mid-list books, I predict Wal-Mart will concentrate on providing best-sellers in foreign languages--whatever language is predominate in the local population that immediately surrounds a specific store (Hispanic, Indian, Asian).

3) The large bookchains are going to have to re-invent themselves. People who sing the praises of browsing are not necessarily people who purchase books. They may buy a cappuccino while reading the latest issue of Vogue, but that doesn't necessarily translate into book sales.

I predict the large chains will begin to focus on book-related events for which a customer must pay--either by joining an exclusive club or by straight ticket sales. I'd probably be willing to pay $35 to $45 for a guaranteed seat to hear Lee Child or Jim Butcher speak, including an autographed copy of their newest releases.

Community will be the key word here. While I talked about virtual communities for niche markets above, here the focus will be on real communities for broader markets. The chains could help set up bookclubs or writing groups and provide space for those groups to meet. Writers would be willing to pay for workshops.

Eventually, the chain bookstores will move into the used market (as e-books grow in popularity).

4) The universe of electronic books will continue to grow, but that growth will be directly related to newer generations of e-reading devices coming on the market. As those devices become more sophisticated and less expensive, this market will explode.

Check back with me in two years, and we'll see how close I came to the mark.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Name Change

Last year, Times Warner sold their Warner Books operation to French publisher, Hachette Livre.

This week, Hachette Livre announced a name change for their new American acquisition. Warner Books will now be known as Grand Central Publishing. That name reflects their new address near the famous New York station.

Three Shots That Make My Heart Melt

I'm supposed to be reading and judging entries in an erotic romance contest for a RWA chapter. So, of course, I'm looking for something else to do.

Because it's Wednesday night, and my weekly addiction is about to kick in, I'm going to make a confession. I'm revealing it here because, until now, I've kept this secret from the people in my life. And they never read this blog :)

I LOVE to watch the opening credits of CSI New York on Wednesday nights. I rarely watch the show, but I almost always flip the opening credits on.

My reasons: While I like the theme song, Baba O'Reilly, by the Who (some people call it Teenage Wasteland), I LOVE the opening shot of the third billed actor, Carmine Giovinazzo, who plays Danny. His smile just makes me melt.

Don't get me wrong. I think Gary Sinise, the star of CSI New York is just fine, but Carmine's smile does me in . . . every time.

If you'd like to see a glimpse of that smile, it appears between seconds 17 and 18 here.

I can only remember two other "first shots" of actors that have the same effect on me: One is the first time you see Dennis Quaid as Det. Remy McSwain in the 1987 movie The Big Easy.

If you've never seen the movie, it's a very sexy thriller. Ellen Barkin is a D.A. investigating corruption on the New Orleans police force. Someone suggests she talk to Det. McSwain and calls out, "Remy!" Dennis Quaid turns with a smile, and I become a puddle of goo.

I couldn't find a clip of that first shot, but I did track down the trailer for The Big Easy. It has to be the longest trailer in movie history. You can find it here.

Bit of trivia: The Big Easy was the first film ever sold at Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival.

Although I am a committed hetero, I can appreciate beauty in a woman. Right now, Angelina Jolie is probably the actress whose looks I most admire. However, my all-time favorite opening shot of a female is of Rita Hayworth in the 1946 movie, Gilda.

I know. I know. I wasn't even born then. But I love old movies. In this film, Hayworth's hair almost deserves its own billing. She flings it around like a lethal weapon. In the scene I'm talking about, Glenn Ford enters her bedroom, and the camera shifts focus. She is bending over. When she straightens, she flings her hair over her head and smiles.

You can see that shot on YouTube here.

I'm easily diverted, I know. Especially when I should be doing something else.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

More Pod Critic

To do him credit, Pod Critic has not removed my comment to his blog. He has, however, shut off comments in favor of accepting emails from readers.

PC has also done a follow-up post here to the one from Monday. He clearly took exception to my comment that POD is a technology, not a business model. His new post says, "To say that print-on-demand technology is not a business model is to be uninformed."

It's been a while since I took macro and micro economics, but I remembered that a business model had at least half dozen components, depending on the conceptualization you use. I took a shortcut by Googling the term "business model" yesterday. I easily found the system I remembered from undergraduate school.

The components of the business model I'd been taught in micro-economics were: proposition, market segment, value chain structure, revenue generation, position in the value network (food chain), and competitive strategy.

Print-on-demand should be considered a competitive strategy, one of those components of a business model rather than the model itself. Competitive strategy is the means by which a business develops a competitive advantage.

My intention is not to argue with PC. I actually agree with him on several points. However, I believe that--at this point in time--self publishing is a useful strategy only for certain groups. Note that I said certain groups, not everyone.

If you're interested in reading more on this subject, try three of my earlier blogs. Start with the one for June 20, 2006 here. There were two follow-up posts on June 25, 2006, and September 15, 2006.

I honestly believe self-publishing will become a viable means of publication for more writers in the future. However, that time is not yet now.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Critiquing Pod Critic

Miss Snark had a link to a relatively new blogger here in her Monday post.

Miss Snark filed his post under "sucka," offering a critique in her uniquely brusque and snarky fashion.

I wrote a lengthy response in POD Critic's comment space. I don't know how long that comment will appear, but I'm going to incorporate parts of it in this post.

Pod Critic states: "The truth is this: print-on-demand technology, as I’ve told others, has the capacity to revolutionize the publishing industry; to alter it almost entirely in fact."

Frankly, I agree with him (I'm going to use the generic "him" since I have no idea of the blogger's gender) that POD is the wave of the future. Richard Curtis made that case nearly a year ago in his keynote address to the Backspace Writers Conference in July. You can read his comments here.

Pod Critic and I begin to part company when he says: "Right now, print-on-demand is an advanced printing technology and business model that is mainly in the hands of rank amateurs."

I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again: POD is a technology, not a business model. It is the technology that permits a publishing house to digitally print one book at nearly the same average price per book as it can print one thousand books. I agree it will overtake the industry, in the same way Gutenberg's printing press once did, simply because it makes economic sense. However, it is NOT a business model. The only people calling it a business model are the presses that specialize in self-publishing, who now call themselves "POD publishers" because it sounds better than "vanity presses."

Self-publishing IS a business model. The technology by which one self-publishes is called printing, whether it be POD or traditional press.

Where POD Critic and I really tear the sheets is when he says: "Many authors, and even a few publishers, employing the method are, in essence, inexpert and unprofessional. That is what happens when there is no real (affordable) training program or adequate learning apparatus readily available to the masses. The entire POD system is, in effect, abused; hence the heavy criticism and standoffish positions from those on the other side."

He's off his nut if he thinks the publishing industry doesn't recognize the potential of POD technology. Large publishers like Random House, HarperMorrow and Simon & Schuster are already busy digitizing their backlists.

Last week, Borders Group announced it is revamping its chain of superstores to create digital centers, which will include assistance for self-published writers.

The real problem with POD has nothing to do with "a lack of training program or adequate learning apparatus" for publishers and authors. Both publishing houses and POD presses know exactly what the technology can do and exactly what it means to their future.

The real problem is that POD publishers have given the technology a bad name by printing whatever dreck comes in the door accompanied by a writer with a check who says she wants to self-publish.

In traditional publishing, the READER is the ultimate end user of the publishing house. In self-publishing, the WRITER is the end user of the POD press. And therein lies the problem. A traditional publisher is betting its future by taking a chance on a writer and a manuscript. If the book bombs, the publisher loses a bunch of money. This is not the case with a POD press. Since they are paid up front, they mostly don't care whether the book sells (some of them retain publishing rights or take a percentage of sales, but that's after their costs are covered by a check from the writer).

Instead of refusing a manuscript of poor quality, the POD press accepts the check and turns out a pretty product, no matter how bad the contents, because the writer is their end user. The poor deluded writer then begins to refer to himself as "published," earning the scorn of the rest of the industry.

Until the self-publishing industry develops a filter system to weed out the garbage, even quality self-published authors will bear a stigma.

Hastings Entertainment just posted its fourth quarter results. According to Publishers Weekly, they were the last of the book retailers to announce disappointing year-end figures, following Borders' disastrous results last week.

If book retailers like Borders believe they can save themselves and inflate their revenues by printing and then selling self-published books without vetting for quality, they are sounding their own death knell. It's a very short-term strategy.

Readers are not stupid people. It will only take getting burned a few times by purchasing a poor-quality self-published book before they will associate the seller with getting ripped off. They will become more wary of unknown writers as well. Unfortunately, this is going to make it even harder for new writers to break into the industry.

Let me repeat myself: What IS needed is a filtering system by which inexperienced and impatient authors seeking to self publish are sent back to the drawing board (the way agents and editors currently handle them) instead of encouraging them by taking their money and filling them with false hope when their writing is not up to par.

Like many others, I'm grieving the loss of POD-dy Mouth. I would welcome a new blogger willing to bring quality self-published books to the attention of readers. However, if Pod Critic wants to fill POD-dy Mouth's shoes, IMHO, he will have to demonstrate three qualities: (1) An ability to pick good books; (2) An ethical compass similar to POD-dy Mouth's. Even though she was an author herself, she never used her forum to promote her own agenda (or books); and (3) A less grandiose sense of his place in the publishing universe.

About #3 above: It's fine to be ambitious and to have enthusiasm for your project. It's another thing entirely to make over-blown statements about the amateur quality of the professionals in an entire industry.

The people at POD presses are professionals. They are professionals at selling a dream to hungry, naive and impatient writers. Their services may be overpriced and their advertising somewhat misleading, but the world runs on a "buyer beware" model. If a writer hasn't taken the time to do her research before diving into a POD contract, it's her own fault. God knows there are lots of blogs and websites that warn against plunging into self-publishing. However, there are lots of warnings against buying into silly "lose weight fast" schemes, too, but that hasn't stopped millions from purchasing foolish devices or dietary supplements.

I wish Pod Critic well. Again, in my opinion, he needs to narrow his focus and tone down his rhetoric.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Odds and Ends

Spring is here in north Texas, and I have the broken fingernails and aching back to prove it.

I spent all day Sunday working in my yard, including several long hours weeding. The yard looks great, and I feel like something the cats left on the doormat.

Speaking of which, my kennel informed me last week that, should I avail myself of their services for Bobbin and Dinah in the future, I will have to pay a premium for Bobbin. Turns out the little monster wouldn't let anyone into his run while I was away. He attacked workers using claws and teeth. After two days of not being fed, he allowed them to shove his food through the door. But he wasn't letting them in to clean his litter box.

Who'd a-thunk it? I'd asked them to put Dinah in a separate run because I suspected Bob would be irritable about being boarded for the first time (I've always asked my neighbors to keep an eye on him when I've been away before, but didn't want to leave him and Dinah alone at home together). I was afraid he'd take his annoyance out on Dinah, who is still only about half his size.

Bob's never hurt another human before though, and he's a pussycat (no pun intended) with me. When I went to pick him and Dinah up, the kennel manager asked me to go into his run and crate him myself. He was so glad to see me, he let out a shriek and leaped into my arms; I almost ended up on my rump on the floor of the run. He started to lick my cheek like a dog. I was torn between being touched and being aggravated. He howled all the way home in his crate. His voice was hoarse by the time I pulled into my driveway.

Since we've been home again, he won't let me out of his sight. He kept lying down on the weeds I was trying to pull this afternoon and, right now, he's draped around my shoulders like a feline boa. A very, very heavy and hot feline boa.

Talk about separation anxiety.

I have jury duty on Monday . . . and it's my own damn fault.

Earlier this month, one of the administrative assistants at the University pulled jury duty, and I bragged that, after having been called every year for four years in a row, I hadn't had a call in nearly five years. As I said it, I could almost hear the faint sound of a bell tolling. Sure enough, ten days later, I got a jury duty summons.

Don't get me wrong. I'm proud of my nation's judicial system and don't mind serving. I just wish they'd let me pick the week. Somehow, some way, they always serve me notice for EXACTLY the worst possible week.

Oh, well. The last time I was in voir dire, I announced I was a fiction writer and looking forward to the murder trial. The attorneys dumped me like last week's trash.

I'll have to see what kind of trial they're offering me today.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Grazergate at The Los Angeles Times

There was a huge flap at the Los Angeles Times this past week that culminated in the resignation of the editorial editor. Andres Martinez resigned on Thursday by way of a self-righteous blog on the LATimes.com website.

The LA Times is the fourth largest newspaper in the U.S. by circulation, behind USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. In June, 2000, the Times was acquired by The Tribune Company of Chicago in "the largest acquisition in newspaper industry history" (Tribune website).

There has been some tension between The Times and its new parent. Last fall, a feud broke out between the two sides when Publisher Jeffery M. Johnson and Editor Dean Baquet both protested reductions in the newspaper dictated by the corporate parent. The Tribune responded in October, 2006, by moving David D. Hiller, formerly publisher, president and CEO of the Chicago Tribune Company, to assume the same role at The LA Times. A month later, in November, 2006, James E. O'Shea became editor of The Times, replacing Baquet.

For the past 18 months (since September, 2005), Andres Martinez has been The Times' OpEd chief. Martinez was in charge of "Current," a redesign of the traditional Sunday Opinion section "offering readers an energetic mix of thought-provoking essays, columns and bold graphic journalism." (Tribune website)

Recently The Times proposed having guest editors host the Sunday "Current" section, and Hollywood producer Brian Grazer was selected as the first host.

This week it was reported that Mr. Martinez is romantically involved with "Kelly Mullens, a senior executive at the public relations firm that represents Mr. Grazer’s production company," raising questions of conflict of interest (New York Times).

When the story broke, the new publisher killed the special section, which was due to appear in today's edition.

Martinez was so outraged that he resigned with a lengthy posting in the newspaper's blog in which he said:

David Hiller's decision to kill the Brian Grazer section this Sunday makes my continued tenure as Los Angeles Times editorial page editor untenable. The person in this job needs to have an unimpeachable integrity, and Hiller's decision amounts to a vote of no confidence in my continued leadership.

Martinez goes on to say that Grazer, Mullens and his colleagues had done nothing wrong. He accepts responsibility for "creating this appearance problem" and says that "the newspaper is overreacting."

The Times' reaction can be better understood if it is taken in context with the newspaper's history and an earlier scandal that seriously hurt its credibility.

That previous incident occurred in late 1999 during the opening of the Staples Center, the sports arena in downtown L.A. The Times had prepared a special 168-page magazine edition to celebrate the opening of the new Center. Without informing the editors and writers who worked on the edition, The Times shared profits from that magazine with the management of Staples Center. This was a conflict of interest and a huge breach of the "Chinese wall" that traditionally separates the functions of journalism and advertising in the newspaper industry. The Times' reputation for integrity suffered a black eye as a result.

The new contretemps began this week when The Los Angeles Times' media reporter, Jim Rainey, learned of the Martinez/Mullens relationship and began asking questions with an eye to writing a story. According to the New York Times:

Mr. Martinez said in an interview yesterday that when he learned of the pending article, he wrote a long e-mail message to Douglas Frantz, one of the paper’s managing editors, and that Mr. Frantz, who was on vacation, had written back saying he did not see a problem. Mr. Martinez also said that Mr. Frantz had told him he did not want Mr. Rainey to pursue the article and that everyone could discuss what to do next week.

Mr. Frantz said in an interview yesterday that he was “trying to buy some time and digest the thing.” But he said he later spoke with Mr. Rainey and realized that there was a problem, especially in light of the Staples Center episode.


Reading that section of The New York Times story, the hairs on the back of my neck went up. If there was no problem, why didn't Martinez simply acknowledge the relationship and contribute a comment to Rainey's story instead of trying to stop the story from running, which was clearly the intent of his call to the managing editor?

On top of that, Martinez' blog posting bothered me. IMHO, he was spreading red herrings all over his trail. Try this little tidbit from his resignation:

We're a long ways removed from the fall of 2004 when Michael Kinsley and John Carroll lured me out to the West Coast, with promises of investing more resources on the LAT opinion pages and web site. Some of the retrenchment is understandable given the business fundamentals, but I have been alarmed recently by the company's failure to acknowledge that our opinion journalism, central to the paper's role as a virtual town square for community debate and dialogue, should not be crudely scaled back as part of across-the-board cuts. Decisions being made now to cut the one part of the paper that is predominantly about ideas and community voices go too far in my view, and are shortsighted.

He also takes potshots at the newsroom staff who uncovered the story:

I will not be lectured on ethics by some ostensibly objective news reporters and editors who lobby for editorials to be written on certain subjects, or who have suggested that our editorial page coordinate more closely with the newsroom's agenda . . .

You can read Martinez' entire resignation here. You can also read The New York Times' take on the story here.

See how you feel about this "appearance problem." For me, it's a case of "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion."

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Federal Court Rules on a Law to Protect Kids From Internet Porn

Long-time readers of this blog will remember that I did a series of three posts back on January 20-22, 2006, titled "Alberto, Google and the Right to Privacy." In those posts, I described the history of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA).

COPA was back in the news this week. I'm going to borrow from my old posts to explain the decision made by a federal judge on Thursday.

This all began, as so many messes do, with Congress, good intentions and a bad law.

Once upon a time . . . Congress was trying to protect children from the harmful effects of exposure to inappropriate material. It passed the Communications Decency Act (CDA) in 1996. The law was challenged by the ACLU, and Attorney General Janet Reno found herself squaring off in court. In 1997, the CDA was found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in a 9-0 decision which held that the law was far too broad (And doesn't that unanimous vote tell you just what a fine piece of legislation the CDA must have been?)

Congress gamely regrouped and came back with the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) in October, 1998 to replace the first law. Unlike the CDA, the new law limited itself to the Internet and also to commercial enterprises. "COPA prohibits the transmission of any material over the Internet deemed 'harmful to minors,' if the communication was made for a commercial purpose." The law sought to impose a $50,000 fine and six months in prison for deliberately posting such material on the Internet. It was scheduled to go into effect April 21, 2000.

It probably comes as no surprise that the ACLU challenged both Attorney General John Ashcroft and COPA and sought injunctive relief. A trial court found the law unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds. The fight was taken to an appeals court that agreed COPA was unconstitutional, but not on the First Amendment grounds.

The case then went all the way to the Supreme Court. In 2002, the Supreme Court, limiting its decision to a very narrow scope, sent the case back to the appeals court. The Supreme Court did not address the constitutionality of COPA. Instead the Court left the injunction against FTC enforcement of COPA in place and suggested [hint, hint] that the appeals court take a look at the First Amendment issue. (data courtesy of the American Library Association)

The second time around on COPA, the appeals court (obviously composed of faster learners than Congress) listened to what the Supreme Court had said and struck the law down for First Amendment reasons.

Once more, COPA made its way back up to the Supreme Court and, this time in 2004, the Supreme Court agreed with the appeals court saying (according to the 1/19/06 San Jose Mercury News) the law "was too broad and could prevent adults from accessing legal porn sites . . . However, the Supreme Court invited the government to either come up with a less drastic version of the law [hint, hint] or go to trial to prove that the statute does not violate the First Amendment and is the only viable way to combat child porn." Once again, the injunction against enforcing the law was left in place.

Okay, so now we come to the summer of 2005, and it’s Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ turn at bat. Ignoring the Supreme Court’s invitation to develop a less draconian version of the law, the Bush administration decided that COPA was “more effective than filtering software in protecting from harmful exposure to harmful material on the Internet.” (Search Engine Watch quoting the court documents)

In August, 2005, AG Gonzales’ crew delivered subpoenas to Google, MSN, AOL and Yahoo demanding that the search engine companies “produce an electronic file contain(ing), ‘[a]ll URL’s that are available to be located on your companys’ search engine as of July 31, 2005.’"

In addition, the search engine companies were “asked to ‘produce an electronic file containing [a]ll queries entered into the . . . engine between July 1 and July 31 inclusive.’” (data and quotes provided by Search Engine Watch)

Okay, let’s stop here for a moment and look at what the government was asking for in these subpoenas. First, they wanted all websites available on the search engines, presumably so they could identify the pornographic or inappropriate ones.

Doesn’t that strike you as being a wee bit large a request? Reminds me of my grandmother saying that my eyes were bigger than my stomach when I asked for a second dessert at Thanksgiving. Sort of makes me wonder if the government had a clue as to what they were asking for.

The government also wanted all queries into the search engines for a month’s period of time. Not satisfied with EVERY website on the Internet, the Department of Justice wanted to be able to identify the users who were looking at those websites. The government's request went way beyond simply locating objectionable websites to identifying the users of those sites.

And I'm wondering who was going to be responsible for deciding which sites contained porn? Laura Bush sitting up late at night with her laptop?

The Supreme Court had already struck down the law on First Amendment grounds (you can't limit adults to speech considered suitable for children). Remember what the Court said to the Bush administration when it did so: either come up with a less drastic version of the law or prove that the statute does not violate the First Amendment and is the best way to combat Internet websites with material that could be harmful to children.

Rather than amend COPA, the Department of Justice focused on proving that the statute is the only viable way to combat this material. AND, at the same time, with their request for data that would identify USERS, the DOJ set out to breach even more First Amendment rights.

Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Watch (SEW) postulates "[t]o prove a need for the law, the US government wants to show how much porn children might encounter through searches." And, instead of taking the direct route of doing searches similar to those a child might do on the Internet, the government tried to obtain the data from the four largest search engines.

Sullivan called HTM (harmful to minors) the new WMD (weapons of mass destruction). Remember how THAT government initiative turned out?

So now we come to this week. Even though COPA was passed way back in October, 1998, it has never been enforced. On Thursday, in response to a lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Lowell Reed (Philadelphia) issued an order permanently striking down COPA. Judge Reed said the law was too broad and would "chill a substantial amount of constitutionally protected speech for adults." Sound familiar?

If Gonzales' DOJ had paid attention to the Supreme Court's very broad hints, they would have changed tactics. But, no, the Bush administration insisted their approach was the only right one and tried to bull their way through. And I'm willing to bet the DOJ will push this new decision up the hill toward the Supreme Court again, hoping a more conservative court will support them this time around.

Which is why the plaintiff list, in addition to the ACLU, included such an odd group of bedfellows. According to CNET News:

If the courts eventually uphold COPA as constitutional, a wide variety of Web publishers--from news to sex education to adult pornography--would have to revamp their sites or face criminal prosecution . . . That's why plaintiffs in the COPA case include the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, Salon.com, ObGyn.net, Philadelphia Gay News and the Internet Content Coalition.

The ACLU brought a Carnegie Mellon University professor as a witness. He testified that filters can block 95% of the sexually explicit material on the Internet. He also quoted two studies mandated by Congress that found content filters are more effective than criminal penalties in keeping kids away from harmful materials.

MESSAGE TO THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: Quit trying to kill an ant with a machine gun. Just sit down at your computers and try doing a search the way a kid might. You'll find what you need to know. I promise.

Friday, March 23, 2007

New Strategy at Borders

Lots going on in the publishing world. It will probably take a couple of days to cover everything that happened while I was away.

Most importantly tonight is all the activity over at Borders Books. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) had a lengthy article yesterday by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, one of my favorite reporters. I've mentioned Trachtenberg's stories multiple times in this blog over the last twenty months.

Earlier this month, on March 8, the Borders Group announced they would hold a discussion on March 22 on "the company's fourth quarter and full year 2006 financial results" and would "outline its strategic plan for the future." Pretty big clue that the fourth quarter was not going to be a winning one.

Yesterday, PRNewswire.com had this to say about the Borders' results:

[T]he company recorded a consolidated loss in the fourth quarter of $1.25 per share, which compares to consolidated earnings per share of $1.78 for the same period in 2005. For the full year . . . Borders Group posted a consolidated loss of $2.44 per share compared to consolidated diluted earnings per share of $1.42 for the prior year.

Yeah, there was a reason for that heads up about the forthcoming results.

After the results were announced, Borders led the promised discussion, describing how they planned to turn things around. The WSJ summarized those plans.

The article began by saying, "For six years, Borders Group Inc. has pursued a distinctly unfashionable strategy: betting big on bricks and mortar while paying little attention to the online world. Now with online sales capturing an ever-increasing share of the book business, the No. 2 book retailer is reversing course."

Trachtenberg was referring to the fact that, in 2001, instead of focusing on the Internet as the future of marketing, former Borders CEO Greg Josefowicz opted to turn over the company's online business to Amazon.com.

[B]usiness trends have proved Borders' strategy wrong. While sales at U.S. bookstores have sagged--down 2.9% last year, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau--online book sales have soared. Online retailers in 2006 accounted for 13% of the overall book market, up from 2% in 1998, according to R.R. Bowker LLC, which tracks the book industry. (WSJ)

Today the man who replaced Josefowicz eight months ago, new CEO George Jones, announced the following initiatives:

1) Revitalizing the 499 domestic superstores: "Borders is working on a prototype of a new superstore design that will include a digital center. The centers will enable customers to purchase a variety of digital products, including music and audiobooks." The company is also expected to start replacing its CD inventory with downloadable music. Finally, the WSJ reported the company will "provide such services as personal publishing," which I assume means self-publishing. The first of these newly redesigned superstores is expected to open in 2008.

A press release issued by Borders yesterday said, "The company is also planning to publish exclusive and proprietary books to distinguish the Borders brand and drive high margin sales. Numerous agreements are already in process to publish titles by celebrities, undiscovered talents, and others who will create buzz about books that will only be available at Borders."

At the same time, the company plans to close 264 of its 564 Waldenbooks, those smaller stores mostly located in malls.

2) Refocusing investment on the international front: The press release also said that with the exception of "the company's successful Paperchase [stationery retail] business, Puerto Rico stores, or the franchise operations in Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates" and the company's operations in Singapore, Borders will be seeking "strategic alternatives" for its international operation. Borders has retained Merrill Lynch & Co. to help them unload the majority of its 73 superstores overseas.

3) Reinventing the company through technology and strategic alliances: Borders will develop its own Borders.com website independent of Amazon.com.

Trachtenberg reports that, "In addition, the nearly 17 million readers who now participate in the Borders Rewards program will be able to earn customer benefits through online purchases, something they can't do currently with Amazon."

“We need to reinvent our business to exploit the rapid changes taking place in how consumers access information and entertainment,” Jones said. “Our ultimate goal is to make Borders a vital community gathering place where people come together to see, touch, interact, and learn – online and in-store.” (Borders' press release)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Contracting With An Agent

I didn't get home from the airport until almost 11 PM last night, and I'm moving r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-w this morning. I just finished unpacking and throwing all my laundry from the trip into the washing machine. Then I need to take the rest to the dry cleaners and pick up Tribble from the vet.

I just read a column of Miss Snark's for 3/21/07 here that I wanted to mention. A snarkling had written asking whether agents charge expenses. It reminded me of my experience with this.

It was December, 2005, and I had just been offered representa-tion by my wonderful, brilliant agent. I was incredibly excited. Then I got the contract and there was a clause indicating that I would be responsible for expenses incurred in selling my manuscript.

I had been reading everything I could on this business and had seen tons of warnings against paying an agent for expenses in marketing manuscripts. I panicked. Not knowing what else to do, I emailed Miss Snark and explained my dilemma.

Within the hour, the lovely MS had emailed me back, explaining that this was a totally legitimate clause in a contract.

Several important points she made to me:

1) The "expense clause" is always AFTER the fact. It doesn't kick in until the manuscript is sold, and the expenses come out of the proceeds of that sale. Crooked agents almost always want a check upfront before they've sold anything.

2) The author is never asked to write a check. The expenses are subtracted from the first check received from the publisher via the agent (You understand, don't you, that checks ALWAYS are sent from the publisher to the agent? The agent takes his/her cut and forwards the remainder to the writer).

3) The amount is nominal. Miss Snark says her expenses are limited to $300. That's in line with my agent's clause.

Miss Snark's kindly response allowed me to relax.

While I'm talking on this subject, let me mention a couple of other things about contracting with an agent.

You should always do research on your agent. Know the genres she represents, know the sales she's made, know her reputation in the writing world. You don't want to sign a legal document with a complete stranger.

Do your homework. EPIC--the Electronically Published Internet Connection--has both a sample contract here and "red flags" to avoid here. I downloaded both and used that advice in vetting my contract. I also took it a step further and asked my attorney to read the contract for me.

If there's something you either don't understand or don't agree with in your contract, for heaven's sake address it before you sign. My agent was very agreeable to talking over the clauses that my attorney had earmarked. In almost every case, my agent agreed that the language changes I wanted clarified the expectations, and we incorporated those changes into a revised contract.

Pay as much attention to how your relationship can end as to how it will commence. My agent was very clear on this, but in the time since, I've seen some scary contracts from other agents.

Understand that the agent must receive compensation for a book he shopped for you IF it sells--even after your relationship ends. That will mean a clause that says something to this effect: If you and your agent rip the sheets, he will receive his agent's fee (15%) for any book that sells as a part of his efforts. For instance, say he offered your book How to Retile a Bathroom to six publishers. If you and he part ways and then, four months later, Publisher A calls to say they want the book, the first agent is still entitled to receive his fee because he initiated the contact. This is not open-ended. Most contracts include a clause as to how long the period during which he will be credited for his efforts will last. Six months is pretty standard although I have seen contracts that say a year.

This is one of the big reasons why you need to have a list of the publishers to whom your agent shopped your manuscript. Make sure there's language in your contract about your agent providing you with a WRITTEN list of places to which your manuscript was submitted. It doesn't have to be formal; it can even be by email. You just need some evidence of which publishers have seen your work. Otherwise, it could get sticky if Agent 1 claims he solicited Publisher A on your behalf AFTER the fact.

A contract with a second agent must be very clear on expectations regarding Agent 1. Many agents' contracts are written to cover any manuscript sold during the period of the contract. If you don't have language in the second agent's contract that clarifies this to mean only any book sold by Agent 2, you could find yourself paying 15% to two agents for one book.

I need to run. If I think of other contract issues, I'll do another posting on this subject.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Should an Artist Take a Stand?

Okay, I'll admit it. I approached this trip with a lousy attitude. I focussed on all the negatives of business travel: crowded planes with sneezing, wheezing passengers; airport security lines; the two-hour-forty-minute flight; having to ask friends and neighbors for help; having to leave Tribble (my geriatric cat) at the vet, etc., etc.

While I was grousing, I forgot what a luxury it can be to walk away from your responsibilities--even if only for three days. I love having a king-sized bed to myself, having a maid and fresh fluffy towels every day, and finding the current edition of USA Today with my breakfast waiting at my door in the morning. I forgot my toothbrush (I left it out to dry while I was packing and walked out of the house without it). I called downstairs and the concierge sent up a complimentary new brush. I love it.

Tonight another of the conference attendees and I took the Metro to Dupont Circle, ate at La Tomate, a lovely Italian bistro, and spent an hour visiting an independent bookstore called Kramerbooks. The Metro got us back to the Marriott just before 10 PM.

This afternoon, I read an article in Monday's New York Times where an "artist" drew a line in the sand. See what you think about it.

The artist in question is Julie Taymor, the 54-year-old award-winning director who won two Tonys for her imaginative stage production of The Lion King and who was nominated for a best music Oscar for her lyrics to her film Frida. Taymor recently directed Across the Universe, a '60s love story set to the music of the Beatles and starring Evan Rachel Wood as an American who falls for a Brit. She made the movie for Joe Roth's production company Revolution Studios and for Sony.

Taymor finished shooting in 2005. After test audiences viewed her first cut (two hours and twenty minutes), Joe Roth complained that it was too long. She returned to the editing room, cut the film to 128 minutes (two hours, eight minutes)and delivered the new version to Revolution.

Without telling her about it, Roth took her film and edited it himself. "And last week Mr. Roth tested his cut of the film, which is about a half-hour shorter than Ms. Taymor’s."

Taymor is understandably upset by a producer editing her film. However, since she did not retain the "final cut" rights, the only choice left to her now is to ask for her name to be removed from the film. Such a dramatic move "could embarrass the studio and hurt the movie’s chances for a successful release." It is already six months past its original release date of September, 2006.

You'll understand Roth's reluctance to give a director the final cut after I tell you that the last time he did it was in 2003 with director Martin Brest's movie Gigli. Remember that little cinematic gem? Roth certainly does. That probably explains why he referred to Taymor's "hysteria . . . do[ing] the film an injustice."

Mr. Roth said he believed that the current tensions would be worked out, and that Ms. Taymor would find the best, final version of the film somewhere between his own and her last cut . . . Ms. Taymor herself struck a more conciliatory note in her statement: “I only hope that we will be able to complete the film we set out to make.”

I'll confess that, while I have some sympathy for Taymor, it's a little late to begin worrying about who gets the final word on the film cut. She's not a first-time director; she must have read the contract. I certainly remember swallowing hard when I read in my contract that my final edits had to be acceptable to my publisher.

I don't know if my "artistic vision" wasn't that important to me, or if my desire to see my story in print was stronger than that vision. All I know is that I was very clear early on who owned my story. It wasn't me; I'd sold it. And Taymor sold her artistic vision rights, too. I feel for her, but I also remember when Anne Rice acted out over Tom Cruise's selection as the lead character in her The Interview With a Vampire. She later ate those words.

The time to think about your artistic vision is BEFORE you sign the contract, not AFTER.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Laborer, Craftsman, Artist or Professional?

I figured I'd be too tired to blog tonight. I arrived in Washington at 2:00 this afternoon, got to the Marriott in North Bethesda by 3:00 and was in a caucus meeting by 6:00 PM. It's now a little after 10 PM, I'm back in my room, but not quite ready to sleep yet.

I was cruising Publishers Marketplace when I came across Patry Francis' blog. You have to subscribe to PM in order to access that blog, but you can read her other blog (her other blog????) here. She had a quote I really liked that fit in with a lot of the discussion in the blogsphere this week:

He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.

Patry attributes the quote to St. Francis.

While I like it a lot, I'd rewrite it to read:

He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his eyes is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his eyes and his heart is an artist. He who works with his hands, his eyes, his heart and his head is a professional artist.

I've been astounded by the number of people who seem to cling to the title of artist while rejecting the title of professional. These folk seem to believe being a professional will somehow impact their creativity or free expression.

Interestingly enough, none of the published writers I know have a problem with being called a professional.

Go figure.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Three Questions

This will probably be my last post for a couple of days. I leave Monday morning and won't be back until Thursday.

I listened to NPR today while I was working and heard an interview with David Mamet, the playwright.

He talked about the differences between writing novels and writing plays. He was vaguely contemptuous of novel writers, saying they could get away with more than writers of drama could.

He said that drama focuses on making the audience hunger to know more and to know which character they should be rooting for.

Mamet listed the three questions that a play must answer:

1) Who wants what from whom?
2) What happens if they don't get it?
3) Why now?

As I listened to the interview, I found myself thinking these were excellent questions for a novelist to answer.

Does your novel make readers crazy to know what happens next?

See you soon.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Deep and Dreamless Sleep

Last night was my sleep study. In the event you have a burning desire to know what happens during a sleep study, this is the post for you.

At 8:00 PM, I presented at the emergency room of the hospital where my study was scheduled to occur. A physical therapist named Roger came to collect me, and I followed him to the seventh floor of the hospital, carrying my favorite goosedown pillow and my overnight bag.

The setup was interesting. Roger sat in a control room with windows that looked out onto two sleep study rooms. Since the person who was scheduled along with me last night didn't show, I was the only patient he'd monitor.

My room was like every private hospital room I'd ever been in with a single exception. It had a narrow hospital bed with the standard tray table on wheels, two visitor chairs, a television on a wall stand and a sink. I was a little taken aback by the sight of the camera over the bed. At my question, Roger acknowledged his plan was to watch me sleep the entire night. He'd lowered the blinds on the window between us so the light from his control room wouldn't bother me. He explained that he could either leave a low light on in my room so he could see me on the camera, or he could wear night goggles. I opted for the low light because the night goggles just creeped me out.

After I'd put on my Lanz of Salzburg gown and brushed my teeth, Roger began hooking up the electrodes, using some blue gooey stuff. There were 23 of them (I counted) and two belts that resembled bungy cords. Starting at my feet, there were two electrodes on my legs (to check for restless leg syndrome), a bungy cord around my stomach, a bungy cord around my chest, two electrodes just below my shoulders and 19 electrodes on my face and head. The most annoying ones were a pair of probes in my nostrils and one just in front of my upper lip. There was also a finger monitor on my left hand.

Once he'd hooked me up, Roger left me, after suggesting I wave at the camera when I was ready to go to sleep. Over the mike (yes, he could both hear and speak to me on an intercom system), he directed me to look left, right, up and down so he could check his controls.

By now it was 9:00 PM so I watched part of an episode of Law and Order, Criminal Intent, but abandoned it to read the latest Robin Schone erotic romance (see here). Robin was the first erotic writer whose work I fell in love with, bringing me back to the romance genre after an absence of many years. She hasn't had a release in almost six years so I was thrilled to see Scandalous Lovers. If you have never read an erotic romance, this is the one to read--beautifully done with tons of interesting details about Victorian England.

I wanted to watch Saturday Night Live, but realized I was getting drowsy. I'd spent the whole day running around, getting ready to leave town on Monday. I'd visited my neighbors, called the security company that monitors my house, gone to the cleaners, two Targets, the bookstore, Office Depot, and made half a dozen other stops during the afternoon. At 10:45, I told Roger to switch off the lights. Despite my misgivings that I wouldn't be able to sleep with someone watching me, I was able to drift off within a few minutes.

Unlike normal hospital stays, this was different in the sense that there were NO outside noises. In fact, I think Roger, a woman tech and I were the only occupants of the seventh floor.

I wouldn't describe my sleep as undisturbed. Usually I sleep a straight six hours with one bathroom break somewhere toward dawn. I woke up at 11:30, 2:00, 4:00, and 5:15. Two were because I simply woke up; two were because Roger woke me up to reattach electrodes I'd managed to dislodge. He also requested that I sleep at least 30 minutes on my back (I like to sleep on my right side).

At 6 AM, he came to wake me, saying that the study had gone well. Of course, he wouldn't tell me a darn thing, saying that my doctor would be in touch as soon as the sleep study physicians had time to review my results.

Stay tuned . . .

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Top Ten U.S. Trade Publishers

Lots going on. I leave for Bethesda on Monday, a trip that's complicated by the fact that I'm worried about my geriatric cat, Tribble. I've been on death watch for some time now and didn't want to leave her with friends while I'm gone. Knowing Tribble, she'd choose that time to check out, and I wouldn't want anyone else finding her tiny cold corpse. The two younger cats will go to camp (a cats-only retreat), but Tribble is a problem. My vet, who does NOT do boarding, agreed to keep Tribble for me as a favor.

Meanwhile, tonight is the night I go for my sleep study (see my post here for an explanation). I'm supposed to present myself at the emergency room of a Dallas hospital at 8 PM, where I'll be led to a room and hooked up to machines so that I can relax and sleep on command. Yeah, right.

In the meantime, Michael Hyatt, the CEO of Thomas Nelson, had an interesting post (thanks to Nathan Bransford's blog for pointing me there) about the top ten U.S. trade publishers by market share.

Here's what Hyatt's folk say (I've added the corporations that own the houses in parentheses):

Random House (Bertelsmann AG) 18%
HarperCollins (News Corporation) 12.4%
Simon & Schuster (CBS) 9%
Penguin (Pearson PLC) 8.5%
Hachette* 6%
Thomas Nelson (Intermedia Partners) 4.8%
Holtzbrinck** 4.6%
Tyndale House 2.1%
John Wiley 1.7%
Scholastic 1.5%

*Hachette Livre is the largest publisher in France and the fifth largest worldwide according to Wikipedia
**Holtzbrinck is the media giant that owns Macmillan, St. Martin's Press, Pan, Tor and Forge

"Trade publisher" usually refers to a house producing books intended for general readership, nonacademic books mostly found in bookstores. Of the list above, Thomas Nelson and Tyndale House are primarily Christian publishers. Scholastic is the largest children's book publisher.

I was a little surprised to see John Wiley on the list since I think of them as a scientific and technical publisher. However, they do have a trade division.

According to Hyatt, these top ten publishers represent 67.2% of the total U.S. trade market. Remember, however, that this list of "trade publishers" does not include the textbook market, which is a HUGE piece of the publishing pie.

You can see Hyatt's post on his website here.

I'm off to run all the errands I need to get done before I leave town. Have a good day.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Art For Art's Sake?

I shot my mouth off again on a writers' loop this week.

I couldn't help myself. There was a guy grousing about all the agents and publishers who've rejected him. And, of course, instead of taking those rejections as a sign he needed to work on his manuscript, he blamed the agents and publishers for not recognizing great writing when they saw it.

I was reminded of a book that was popular in the late '70s titled The Road Less Traveled. The book was written by a psychiatrist named M. Scott Peck. While I've never been a big fan of self-help books, there was a passage in that book I've never forgotten.

Dr. Peck described most of the patients he saw in his practice as falling into one of two camps: they either suffered from a neurosis or from a character disorder. He described both conditions as disorders of responsibility. To put it simply, neurotic people think everything is their fault and character-disordered people believe nothing is their fault.

Obviously, treating the neurotic patient is much easier than treating the character-disordered. The neurotic patient already believes he's the cause of his own problems while the character-disordered patient blames her problems on everyone else.

God knows I'm neurotic. Every time I got a rejection, I assumed that it was my writing that needed work. It never occurred to me to blame the rejection on the agent or publisher.

Anyway, I responded to the complaining post by saying the following:

Writing may be an art, but publishing is a business. If a writer wants to cross the divide into publishing, he needs to stop thinking of himself as an artist and begin to think of himself as a professional. That means recognizing his query letter is a business interview, his manuscript is a product for sale, and he is entering into a contract to perform for money.

If you are not willing to perform to expectations, you need to consider self-publishing.


You can imagine the firestorm that followed. I was accused of "selling out" and of prostituting myself for cash. Accusations like that just make me tired.

The guy who'd been whining went into long perorations about his "art" and his refusal to become another cog in the machine of publishing. It was mental masturbation, and I finally responded, "You're stroking yourself here, and you don't need me for that."

I am often amazed by coincidences. Twelve hours later, I was reading Miss Snark's postings for 3/15/07 here. In a post titled "Give Me a F/ing Break," the divine Miss S responded in similar fashion to another "arty" type:

You think a writer just pours words onto paper in a fever of creativity, and originality? Yea, they do. It's called the first draft. Then comes the writing.

Don't give me one single bit of guff about rules and knee jerk publishing. It's a whole lot harder to do it than feel it.


As always, she delights me with her no-nonsense approach.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Checking In On Three Stories

I'm devoting this week to editing my newest manuscript.

I came across a couple of follow-up items to previous posts:

Story 1: On Friday, I posted about Jason Pinter's getting dooced from his job at Crown Publishing because he posted information that his employer felt should not have been made public in a blog.

Today's Publishers Lunch reports that Jason will be joining St. Martin's Press as an editor on Monday, March 26. "He will continue to acquire commercial fiction--thrillers and mysteries--as well as nonfiction in pop culture and other categories."

Story 2: You'll recall that Google purchased the social networking site YouTube on October 9th. Media companies had been complaining even before the deal was struck that the unauthorized download of music, movies and other copyrighted content was costing them billions. In the five months since the purchase, those talks have taken place directly with Google.

The companies making these accusations include five of the seven biggest media conglomerates: Disney, GE, News Corp, Viacom and Time Warner.

On Tuesday, Viacom sued both YouTube and Google in New York's U.S. District Court for more than $1 billion dollars, citing widespread copyright infringement. According to the Associated press, "Viacom claims that YouTube has displayed nearly 160,000 unauthorized video clips from its cable networks, which also include Comedy Central, VH1 and Nickelodeon."

Six weeks ago, potential licensing talks broke down between Viacom, Google and YouTube. Viacom demanded that YouTube remove more than 100,000 unauthorized film clips of programs like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and South Park.

Viacom claims to have since identified another 50,000 unauthorized clips. The media giant said that YouTube's business, "which is based on building traffic and selling advertising off of unlicensed content, is clearly illegal and is in obvious conflict with copyright laws."

Story 3: From November 26 to December 3, I did a series of posts on Second Life, the online metaverse.

From today's Publishers Weekly: "Joining companies like Toyota and Reuters . . . Bantam Dell is establishing a commercial and social presence in the popular online virtual world Second Life. The Random House division is opening the Bantam Dell Book shop March 15 with a "live" appearance by virtual Dean Koontz, reading from his new novel, The Good Guy, scheduled to be published in May."

Back to editing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Goodbye to POD-dy Mouth

My plan for tonight was to talk about the results of POD-dy Mouth's 2006 Survey of Self-Published Books, but when I went over to her website, I found that 3/13 was the last day of her blog. After reviewing self-published books for two years, she's throwing in the towel.

Just looking at her statistics for the past year, I'm not surprised. She's been a hard-working lady.

Here are a few of the stats from her recent blog on activity for 2006:

Her mission: to find 15 excellent books

Total number of queries received: 5,267
Total number of books considered: 1,666

Total number of books not read past first page: 217
Total number of books not read past first paragraph: 23
Total number of books not read past first sentence: 8

Number of selected/reviewed [winning] books by publisher:

Lulu: 5
iUniverse: 5
Velluminous: 2
Authorhouse: 1
Toadspittle Hill Productions: 1
Sunspot Press: 1

I'll be sorry to see POD-dy Mouth leave the blogosphere. I wish her all the best. She's provided an interesting reading experience for the last two years.

Her website is here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

New Study on Film Release

The University of Missouri-Columbia, together with research partners in the United Kingdom and Germany, distributed a press release on 2/28/07 with respect to a global study about the heated debate between movie studios and theater owners.

The study, titled "The Last Picture Show? Timing and Order of Movie Distribution Channels," is scheduled to be published in the October issue of the Journal of Marketing.

The researchers focused on four key channels of movie distribution: theaters, DVD rental, retail DVD and video-on-demand (VOD). Through a sophisticated experimental approach, they looked at distribution and revenue changes by analyzing data from 1,770 consumers in the United States, Japan and Germany. Collectively, the three countries represent 56 percent of the global film market.

I've published on this subject a half dozen times before. If you're interested in the background, read my post of 10/30/05 here or my post of 1/28/06 here or my post of 9/24/06 here.

Among the findings:

Film studios in the U.S. could increase revenues by 16% if films were simultaneously released in theaters, rental DVDs and video-on-demand (VOD), leaving a three-month window to DVD retail. However, such a move would cause a 40% drop in theater revenues and might lead to the closing of some theaters.

In order to create a win-win situation for both the studios and the theater owners, the researchers suggested leaving a three-month theatrical-to-video retail window, offering slightly higher DVD prices and THEN follow up with rental and VOD releases another three months later.

The study also warned that studios needed to be careful not to alienate theater owners in order to avoid financial losses and "public goodwill."

My interest in this subject is not purely academic. Compare this to the possibility that books would be released simultaneously in physical form (hardback or softback) and in virtual form (e-books). A number of publishers are already releasing books in physical form and in audiobooks at the same time.

At a time when bookstores' margins have been cut to the bone, this possibility might have enormous consequences for the book retail industry. Releasing the audiobook at the same time as the physical book still means customers must go to the bookstore to make a purchase. Releasing the e-book at that same time would permit customers to bypass the retail store altogether.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Lunch and Surprising News

I met a new friend for lunch today in Dallas at one of my favorite restaurants, La Calle Doce.

Over Mexican food, we had all those conversations new friends have: "How long have you worked at your job?" "How many years have you been married?" "I love your turquoise earrings." "Oh, you love turquoise and silver, too?"

Then she dropped the bomb. "Yeah, I looked your book up on the Borders website."

I was taken aback. "You found my book at Borders? It's not due out until September."

She responded, "I know. I saw the publication date."

And she was right. The book--without blurb or cover--is on both Amazon and Borders. Not B&N, I'm sorry to say. But it was there on Amazon and Borders, with a release date of September 4th. I was stunned.

I had to tell you that before I take off for my writers' group tonight. I'll be back later this evening to report on a new study that came out of London two weeks ago.

It's a Masterpiece!

Okay, since I offered two posts on Sunday, I'm cheating tonight. I'm posting my Monday blog for 12:04 AM at 9:15 PM on Sunday evening because I am settling down to watch a television program.

Masterpiece Theatre is running a "Best Of" show, with the twelve best series from the thirty-six year history of their productions. I voted along with thousands of other PBS watchers and am hoping to see I, Claudius as the #1 choice. I expect it will end up #2 with Upstairs, Downstairs beating it out. It's probably blasphemous, but I was never a fan of British stories above and below the stairs.

I also voted for what I remember as The Six Wives of Henry VIII for #2 and Elizabeth I for #3. I was just a kid at the time so I may have the titles wrong.

And, of course, my #4 choice was Prime Suspect.

Wish me luck.

Addendum: Well, I was right about Upstairs, Downstairs being #1, but I, Claudius only clocked in at #3. The Forsyte Saga beat it out for the #2 place. Grrrr.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A New Danger to Our Children

I've mentioned on more than one occasion that I'm a social worker. For five years, I was the head of operations for the public agency charged with providing mental health treatment to the indigent of Dallas County.

This week I attended a meeting of psychiatrists, psychologists, treatment providers and community volunteers focussed on the problems of addiction. While the meeting lasted almost an entire day, there was one section of it that I wanted to publicize on the blogosphere: the new street drug called "cheese."

For those of you not familiar with drugs, mixing different ingredients together to create new "highs" is a common practice. Many people have heard of the combination known as a "speedball," in which heroin and cocaine are mixed together. Cheese is a combination of small amounts of black tar heroin and Tylenol. It is snorted, not injected, and is highly addictive.

Cheese surfaced here in Texas last year, and I predict it will soon make its way across the country. It is being marketed to school children as young as ten for as little as $2 a hit. Children who might refuse to take "heroin," which they recognize as a dangerous drug, are lured into thinking that something as innocuous-sounding as cheese is safe.

Unfortunately, this new drug combination holds a special hidden danger. Tylenol contains acetaminophen, which in large doses or continued use is extremely dangerous to the liver (and some studies say to the kidneys as well). An article in Parade Magazine last year reported that “Every year, too much acetaminophen accounts for 50,000 emergency room visits, 42% of liver failures, and an average of 458 deaths.”

Because street drugs are mixed without a precise recipe, putting too much acetaminophen into a batch can make cheese a particularly dangerous substance.

Also, when the brand of Tylenol used is Tylenol PM, there is a third added ingredient: diphenhydramine.

Most of us know diphenhydramine by the brand name Benadryl, an over-the-counter antihistamine and sedative. It is the ingredient that allows Tylenol PM to help you sleep. However, in large doses, diphenhydramine can result in visual and auditory hallucinations.

The San Antonio Express-News reported last year that a hit of cheese could contain as little as one tenth the amount of powder found in a package of sweetener. However, that small amount offers the user "euphoria, relaxation and sleepiness."

I am writing this post to ask everyone who knows children between the ages of eight and eighteen to warn the kids of the sneaky methods drug dealers use. They will call a dangerous substance by an innocent-sounding name just to get a new customer. They will offer the first hits for free and keep the prices low.

This drug is not "cheese." It is black tar heroin along with a potentially fatal combination of over-the-counter medications. In a few short months, cheese has become an epidemic in the schools of Texas.

Save a life. Spread the word. Please.

Digitizing Efforts Continue

There was a press release about Simon & Schuster on Wednesday. The publisher, a subsidiary of CBS, has hired Innodata Isogen to digitize titles. "Innodata Isogen will provide a full suite of digitization and conversion services for the publisher's backlist titles."

This means that S&S joins Random House and HarperMorrow in digitizing their stock.

UK's The Guardian had an article on Saturday, updating Google's initiative to copy every book ever published. The company predicts they can accomplish this massive task within ten years.

There's little doubt about Google's goal, though. "We are talking about a universal digital library." Dan Clancy, the former NASA scientist behind Google's book-scanning technology, told the New Yorker. "I hope this world evolves so there exists a time where somebody sitting at a terminal can access all the world's information."

The publishing industry remains suspicious of Google's motives even as it races to digitize its inventory. It's likely that some kind of deal will be struck down the road by which the publishers can take advantage of Google's search engine capabilities while picking and choosing which excerpts of books will be made available to a search request.

The article included some interesting statistics:

In 1450, new titles were published at a rate of 100 per year. In 1950, that figure had grown to 250,000. By the millennium, the number published exceeded a million.

It's estimated that of all the books ever published, more than 95% are out of print.

The Library of Congress in Washington DC is the largest library in the world with about 29m books among its 130m items, while the British Library has about 13m catalogued books.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Revisiting Dooce

Call me weird, but I'm always encouraged by the sudden appearance of maturity in people I have previously written off as selfish or immature. There's a huge difference between being self-aware and being self-absorbed.

Back on October 23 and 24, 2006, I did two posts on the young woman who introduced the word dooce to the Internet when she was fired for writing very inappropriate material about her boss and co-workers on her blog.

While Heather Armstrong was obviously a bright and talented writer, I was horrified by both her lack of judgment and her inability to predict the consequences of her actions. In my first posting here, I described her firing in 2001 and, in a second posting here, I described an incident that occurred in 2006 where the same destructive tendencies got her (and her husband) into a legal battle with the publisher Kensington. At that time, I said:

Charming and self-absorbed people make me uneasy. While I'll be the first to admit it's fascinating to watch their often thoughtless and impulsive behavior, it's also excruciatingly painful. There's a very thin line between self-absorbed and spoiled. Between self-absorbed and selfish. Between self-absorbed and destructive.

The recent firing of Jason Pinter (see my post for yesterday) reminded me of Heather who, of course, was the first person ever dooced. I went back to her blog and spent some time catching up on what has been going on with her since October.

Hence this post.

There was, of course, the usual drama that accompanies people like Heather. She'd lost and later found her dog Chuck (whom I'd concluded back in October was the most mature member of the family) not once, but twice. The blog was still filled with the humorous commentary that has made Dooce.com famous. But I was interested to see that there was much less focus on Heather's personal health and more on that of her young daughter.

Then came the post that prompted this blog today. On February 28, Heather posted a thoughtful and very self-aware (note: not self-absorbed) post about her firing six years earlier. She said:

I do feel like I have been very wrong for not yet apologizing to that woman [her boss] publicly, and do I ever owe her a huge apology. I know now that my frustrations had nothing to do with her personally, and that how I wrote about her was incredibly tacky. She had actually been a very gracious boss, had brought me into the company herself when she knew I was looking for a new job, had been an advocate of my design work to other executives in the company. What I wrote about her was just gross and clearly indicative that I had serious issues with myself. I do hope that she will one day forgive me and know that I could not be more sorry for hurting her.

I felt like cheering. In a few lines, Heather acknowledged her inappropriate behavior, recognized its source and apologized to those she had hurt by her thoughtless actions. In four short months (and I'm going to make a leap here and assume some heavy-duty therapy), Heather has come a long, long way.

You can read this new post here. I've also added Dooce.com to my links on the right side of this blog (under Fun Links). Heather is a talented writer, and I'm looking forward to reading more about her life and career.

Way to go, Heather.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Cruising the Blogosphere

My freaking sore throat is back again! I think my body is trying to tell me to slow down. This happens whenever I get stretched too thin.

So tonight I'm cheating by calling your attention to posts you might find interesting by other people.

Lots going on in the blogosphere. Anna Genoese announced she is leaving Tor here.

Meanwhile, a number of bloggers are posting about Jason Pinter's getting dooced from his job at Crown Publishing because of a post on his blog. If you don't know what "dooced" means go to my post of October 23, 2006 here. If you want to read Jason's blog, go here (the offending post has been removed). If you want to read some of the online comments go here or here.

Nathan Bransford started a two-part post on what editors do here.

Miss Snark has a list of the 13 ways to end up on her slush pile here.

Okay, my work here is done. I'm going to bed.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Another County Heard From

After my lengthy post on the future of publishing last night, I was interested to see an article in the March 9th issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education. The article, titled "The Prestigious Inconvenience of Print," was written by Edward Tenner, an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies at Princeton University, and can be found here.

Dr. Tenner says: As a former acquisition editor at a publishing house, I can testify that impatient critics of the printed book are getting it wrong. Conventional print publishing is a daunting business. No matter what an organization's size, it faces challenges unknown to wikians and bloggers. A printed book, as one production editor point out to me, is really a machine with a half-million parts, any one of which can go wrong.

Tenner claims that one of the advantages print books have over print-on-demand (I think he means self-publishing) is that "somebody thought enough of this writing" to print it. He extends this argument further by saying that the very "inconvenience" of paper somehow imbues it with significance. The fact that a lover buys a paper greeting card and mails it makes it more significant than an e-card.

He then expands that argument by saying that e-mail messages are not taken as seriously as written messages.

And he says: In sum, just as luxury watches remain in demand while most people carry cellphones that give the time with virtually observatory-standard accuracy, the Web will never destroy older media because their technical difficulties and risks help create glamour and interest.

Reading Tenner's article, I imagined a dyspeptic monk around the year 1500, grousing about the fact that the printing press was replacing illuminated manuscripts. I can just imagine him saying, "You can't be serious about replacing all this beautiful artwork with THAT."

I think the point that a lot of people are missing is that READING is not ever going to go away. People continued to read--in fact, MORE of them began reading when the printing press made books widely available. The medium through which books are delivered is not as important as the fact that information/data/
entertainment will continue to be delivered.

Oral tradition was replaced by cave writing which was replaced by scrolls which were replaced by books and newspapers which are now becoming part of an array of delivery mediums: cell phones, e-readers, audiotapes, Mp3 players, computers. The list will continue to grow. That's not a bad thing. It's just different.

And, yes, I love getting a sweet or mushy greeting card in the mail. They are keepsakes, not to be compared with a book. That claim by Tenner just felt specious to me.

I enjoyed the article, but had a sense of a man trying to hold back a tide. I don't mean that books will go away. However, I do think that they will become more and more expensive. In another two lifetimes, I expect that they will be collectors' items to be enjoyed by the rich. If nothing else, the green movement to protect the environment will have an impact on the price of books and paper.

And for those of you who are inclined to say, "Well, I want to read books, not a computer screen . . . fine. This is about more choice, not less. Continue reading books if that's what you like. My choice depends on what I'm doing. If I'm driving, I like audiobooks, if I'm in the mood to read a novella, my computer screen is just fine and the rest of the time I read books. Those choices don't say anything about me beyond the fact that I'm practical . . . and that I love to read.

All this smug pomposity over books should be reserved for the content, not the medium.

Just one writer's opinion . . .

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

California Dreamin' On Such A Winter's Day

Yesterday, a writer on one of the loops I belong to commented that he thought print publishers were in trouble, and that the
e-publishers were not taking advantage by stepping into the breech. I thought that might be a good subject for today's post.

I agree that the publishing industry is in flux. As in "a state of movement, change or renewal." It would be a mistake, however, to perceive that fluidity as the publishing industry being in trouble.

First of all, the majority of releases each year are published by seven large media conglomerates. Those seven are:

1) Bertelsmann AG (Germany): Random House, which owns Ballantine, Del Rey, Bantam Dell, Crown Publishing, Doubleday, and Knopf

2) Holtzbrinck Publishing Group (Germany): Macmillan, St. Martin's Press, Pan and Tom Doherty Associates which owns Tor and Forge.

3) News Corporation (United States): HarperMorrow Publishers, which owns Avon, HarperCollins, and William Morrow.

4) Pearson PLC (United Kingdom): Berkley, Penguin, Putnam, Viking and Prentice Hall.

5) Reed Elsevier (United Kingdom): Harcourt and Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

6) Groupe Lagardere (France): Hachette Livre, which bought the former Time Warner Book Group, including Warner Books, the Mysterious Press, and Little, Brown and Company in addition to many other titles.

7) CBS (United States): Simon and Schuster

This consolidation of the publishing industry began in the '70s and was two-pronged, including both booksellers and publishing houses. First, large chains like Barnes & Noble popped up and used their buying power to force many small, independent booksellers who couldn't compete out of business. Second, the mega-corporations began buying up small publishing houses, reducing the number of players in the business.

This consolidation movement had huge consequence for the industry. Corporations have shareholders, and they must answer to those stockholders quarterly. Keeping the profit and loss sheet clean takes precedence over other considerations. Taking risks is not encouraged. Books that fail are costly experiments. Why take a chance on a young, new writer when you are virtually guaranteed a sure thing with a best-selling author like Stephen King or James Patterson?

Large corporations are not usually known for being innovators. They are instead notorious for jumping aboard existing trends. Erotic romance writers couldn't give away their books until the genre got hot. Once it heated up, publishing houses rushed to open new erotic romance imprints and hire as many writers of the new genre as they could.

It's important to remember that self-interest (read here: greed) is what motivates business. Although they were slow to see what Google realized immediately, the publishing industry is beginning to understand that the digitization of books offers huge opportunities. A digitized industry can do away with printing, shipping, distributing, returns and warehousing costs. It also can keep a book "in print" forever on virtual bookshelves that are not inhibited by the lack of space considerations faced by bricks-and-mortar bookstores.

Earlier this month, both Random House and HarperCollins announced programs through which readers can now read excerpts of their books, much the way Amazon's "Search Inside" program works. Publishers are beginning to realize that Google's plan to digitize all the books in the world has some merit--they just don't want Google doing it for them.

Now let's take a look at e-publishing. While I have not yet e-published, it's not because I don't believe in or respect the industry. I think e-publishing and a form of self-publishing (not the vanity press industry that exists at present) will be the wave of the future. I continue to believe that, once an e-reader seizes the reading public's fascination the way the iPod did for music lovers, e-publishing will explode.

A digitized industry doesn't really rely on the publisher any more, does it? It would be very easy for a group of writers and artists to band together to produce their own works (United Artists, anyone?). In the future, there is the very real possibility that publishers will find themselves being edged out of the equation, once writers figure a way to insure a consistency of quality that readers can trust.

Of course, while the writers are trying to figure out how to overcome the stigma of self-publishing, the publishing houses will probably be scrambling to come up with ways to hang on to their hegemony. I'm enough of a cynic to picture them lobbying for some kind of governmental protection to prevent anyone from wresting control from them. The international composition of the industry makes that possibility unlikely. What is far more likely is that the industry will decentralize again, breaking up into lots of smaller publishing houses.

Of course, it's my fantasy that lower publishing costs will bring the publishers back to the table with offers of better deals in terms of royalties for writers.

California Dreamin' on such a winter's day . . .

Addendum: Since I wrote this post, Holtzbrinck has changed its corporate name to Macmillan. And Hachette Livre has changed the name of the Time Warner Book Group to Grand Central Publishing.

MR 12/1/07

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Looking Forward to Today

I have a ton of things to do, including getting back to my manuscript. But in checking my calendar, I realized that Jodi Picoult's newest novel, Nineteen Minutes, will be released on Tuesday.

I've mentioned Jodi Picoult before on this blog. She is actually the writer who inspired me to sit down and start writing again after a dry spell that lasted nearly a decade. When I finished reading her novel Keeping Faith in 1999, I emailed her. She was incredibly gracious, answering numerous questions during the time she was on tour, emailing me from hotels.

A lot of what she told me about becoming a writer is covered in a FAQ on her website here:

DO IT. Many people have a novel inside them, but most don't bother to get it out. Writing is grunt work - you need to have self-motivation, perseverance, and faith… talent is the smallest part of it (one need only read some of the titles on the NYT Bestseller list to see that… :) If you don't believe in yourself, and you don't have the fortitude to make that dream happen, why should the hotshots in the publishing world take a chance on you?

I don't believe that you need an MFA to be a writer, but I do think you need to take some good workshops. These are often offered through writer's groups or community colleges. You need to learn to write on demand, and to get critiqued without flinching. When someone can rip your work to shreds without it feeling as though your arm has been hacked off, you're ready to send your novel off to an agent. There's no magic way to get one of those - it took me longer to find my wonderful agent than it did to get published! . . .

Keep sending out your work and don't get discouraged when it comes back from an agent - just send it out to a different one. Attend signings/lectures by authors, and in your free time, read read read. All of this will make you a better writer. And – here’s a critical part – when you finally start to write something, do not let yourself stop…even when you are convinced it’s the worst garbage ever. This is the biggest caveat for beginning writers. Instead, force yourself to finish what you began, and THEN go back and edit it. If you keep scrapping your beginnings, however, you’ll never know if you can reach an end.


During our email exchange, Jodi told me she always starts her novels with a question. What if . . .? Her subjects are usually culled from a news story that piques her interest.

Some of the questions she has asked and answered in novels:

What if a seven-year-old Jewish girl began speaking to God? And what if her "Guard" appeared to be the Christian diety and if miracles began to occur in her vicinity? Keeping Faith

What if a thirteen-year-old girl who was conceived in order to produce the bone marrow needed to save her older sister from leukemia walked into a law office and asked for help in stopping her body from being used as a harvesting ground to keep her sister alive? My Sister's Keeper

What if a quartet of teenage girls who are hiding secrets accuse an innocent man of sexual abuse--a man who once served time for a similar offense? Salem Falls

What if the boy still alive after a teenage suicide pact is accused of his girlfriend's murder? How will the teens' two families--best friends and neighbors for twenty years--react? The Pact

I've listed my four favorites among her books above (in order of preference). I have probably read Keeping Faith four times over the past eight years.

As you can tell, I'm drawn to the stories about children and families. However, not all of Jodi's books are on one theme. They are mostly character-driven studies of people in crisis. She is not afraid of the paranormal--both Second Glance and Keeping Faith explore the outer boundaries of reality. She also explores other cultures: Eskimos (The Tenth Circle), the Amish (Plain Truth), or Scottish clans (Mercy) and does extensive research.

My youngest brother and I are the readers and writers of our family. Despite the thousand miles separating us, we talk weekly. We mail each other books and compare notes via long phone calls. He is a sports columnist and spends a lot of time on the road
--covering Wimbleton, the Olympics, football, whatever.

Despite my entreaties, he resisted reading a Picoult novel for years, saying they sounded like "women's fiction." Now he beats me to the bookstore to buy them, and we have long arguments over the plots and characters.

I read my first Picoult novel because a book review in the Dallas Morning News assured readers that she would one day win the Pulitzer Prize. I don't know if she will or not. What I do know is that you'll be doing yourself a favor by buying or borrowing a book of hers.

Monday, March 05, 2007

More On Harlequin

Marie Tuhart, a writer I greatly respect, responded in the comments section to my Harlequin post of Saturday. Because there's been another post since then, I'm reprinting her comment here:

Maya: Since we know each other and you know I'm a fan of Harlequin, I do disagree with some of what you say.

Harlequin has tried over the years to break away from the "formula," and it hasn't worked. Now, with that said, the formula isn't working either.

While I do believe Harlequin needs to let its authors grow a little bit more in their books and not put so many restrictions on them, there are still some diehard readers that love and want the old formula.

What is setting things apart is its Harlequin's North American sales, not their United Kingdom division that is having problems.

Harlequin Presents and Romances are acquired and almost all the editing is done by editors in London. They have a different view of how the books should be and don't seem to be having any problems in sales.

The North American division has had problems for years and years. The demise of Bombshell this year tells me that while the line may have been a move in the right direction, it was marketed incorrectly and didn't attract the readers, had it been marketed differently.

The single lines may be up because of HQN--where they have allowed their authors to break the mold.

While Harlequin admits their bookclub is an issue, what is the actual issue with the bookclub? Is it the way they're distributed? Is it less consumers? I believe Harlequin has changed distribution channels twice in the last three years of the bookclub. That can cause major problems.

Also, I don't think they've taken into account their own website sales. There are many months that I'll hit the website only to find a book I want is already sold out on the website. I'm sure that has cut into the monthly bookclub sales as well.

Harlequin has been around for a long while, and I don't see them going anywhere. But they need to look at their North American series romance lines and see why they're not doing as good as their United Kingdom division.


Marie: Thanks so much for your comments. Your knowledge of Harlequin is definitely far greater than mine. But I don't think we're that far apart in our thinking on the company:

**We agree that the formulas aren't working any more for the bulk of the readership
**We agree that there will always be some readers who prefer the formula romances
**We agree that the reason Bombshell bombed was because of poor marketing (Readers: see my posts of August 15-16, 2006. Marie was the person I turned to when Harlequin made its announcement on Bombshell)

Having said that, the latest Torstar press release both provides some answers to your questions and creates some new questions. I didn't realize until I saw your comments that I didn't provide a link to the Torstar press release. I apologize for the oversight. Here's the link.

The first answer is that website revenue is included with the book club revenue in the figures for the North American Direct-to-Consumer sales. So, even if the Internet siphons off book club customers, the Internet revenues go into the column where the book clubs sales are reflected.

Torstar has been giving the "disrupted distribution system" as their excuse for poor book club sales for a long time. However, for the first time, the recent press release said that, in addition to the shipping disruptions and higher product cost, a long-term decline in the book club customer base contributed to the decline in earnings. That's also where the company said: "Improved sales through the Internet channel partially offset this decline [in book club sales]."

As far as differences in the sales figures for North American retail and the United Kingdom retail, the press release didn't give us enough information to tell. The UK numbers are lumped in the Overseas figure. The press release DID say:

The Overseas markets had mixed results in 2006 with improvements in the United Kingdom and the Nordic Group offset by lower results in Germany. In the United Kingdom improved retail results, primarily from adjustments to prior period returns provisions, more than offset lower direct-to-consumer volumes.

Direct-to-Consumer volumes refers to the UK book clubs and the Mills & Boon website. So, even in the UK, book club sales are off.

Overall operating profit from the three divisions was:

North American Retail: Up $2.7 million
North American Direct-to-Consumer (including book clubs & website): Down $6.5 million
Overseas (Including book clubs, websites and new programs in Brazil & Germany): Up $1.3 million

For the UK and the Nordic Group to have absorbed the losses elsewhere overseas, I agree that the UK operation is probably doing well. Because that figure is lumped in with the Nordic Group (that also did well) and the other foreign groups, we can't tell if that performance was better or worse than the North American Retail operating profit.

Marie, I don't know what the future holds for Harlequin. I see them making positive steps that I applaud. At the same time, their website indicates that worldwide sales in 1988 were in excess of 200 million books. In 2006, they managed to hold sales steady at the 2005 level: 131 million books.

I'll confess that I have an unsubstantiated theory about what's going on. Maybe later this week, I'll do a post on it.

Thanks so much for your comments. I appreciate them, and I appreciate you.

Visit Marie's website here.

Warm regards,

Maya