Monday, June 30, 2008

The Latest Generation of E-Reader

I'm still way behind on my reading, but picked this item up on Engadget.

Researchers at the University of Maryland and the University of California, Berkeley have been experimenting with a dual display e-book reader.

Instead of my describing it to you, take a look at the video below.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bad Girl Is Being Soooo Good

I'm struggling right now.

A friend just called to tell me that Bad Girl is #18 on Amazon's Single Women Fiction List here. And this nine months after publication.

I've been boycotting Amazon since they got so aggressive with small POD publishers. But I have to admit I'm grinning from ear to ear.

Another Strike Looming?

There's an important deadline coming up Monday night.

Remember, a couple of months ago, the Directors' Guild reached a settlement with the Hollywood studios. Shortly afterward, the Writers' Guild reached agreement.

The end of the Screen Actors Guild's contract arrives at midnight on 6/30.

According to Friday's Wall Street Journal (WSJ):
As the expiration of the Screen Actors Guild contract approaches this Monday, the actors' union finds itself with two battles on its hands: one against the major studios it is negotiating with, and one with itself. How the 120,000- member union resolves its own civil war will determine how and when Hollywood's latest labor showdown gets settled . . .

But resolution isn't expected until more than a week later because of an escalating intramural fight among actors and their unions. A second actors union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists [AFTRA], reached a tentative deal with the studios in late May, and the results of the ratification vote by members, going on now, will arrive July 8. The deal was the first time in 27 years that the two unions have negotiated separately. The Screen Actors Guild -- which shares about 44,000 members with AFTRA -- has gone on the attack against its sister union, criticizing its new contract for alleged deficiencies in areas such as actor compensation and jurisdiction over online content.

The WSJ believes that the AFTRA actors' vote will signal what to expect with the SAG vote. If the AFTRA members accept the deal proposed by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers by a wide margin, the SAG members will probably do the same. If AFTRA turns down the deal, SAG will probably think about striking.

Big names are trying to influence both unions. Tom Hanks is encouraging AFTRA members to sign the proposed deal while Jack Nicholson is urging AFTRA to join SAG in continuing to negotiate.
On Thursday afternoon, George Clooney positioned himself as a peacemaker, releasing a two-page missive that asked for a compromise between the two unions. "Both are, of course, right," Mr. Clooney writes. "What we can't do is pit artist against artist," he adds, "because the one thing you can be sure of is that stories about Jack Nicholson vs. Tom Hanks only strengthens the negotiating power of" the studios. SAG's attack on its sister union has sparked such internal strife among its own ranks that getting strike authorization, which requires approval from 75% of its members who vote, seems like a longshot.

Get ready to buckle down. It may be a long, hot summer. And next season's television shows may be at risk.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

What I Wanted

About six months ago, I saw a trailer for an upcoming film titled Wanted. I really liked the look of the movie and had been waiting for its 6/27 release ever since.

I noticed on Thursday that a number of theaters in the Dallas area were going to do a 12:01 AM showing on Friday morning. I canvassed all my friends and loved ones for someone to go with me. Facing the prospect of getting home at 3:00 AM and having to be at work five or six hours later, no one would bite. Not even my reliable movie pals for action flicks--like my middle brother or my motorcycle cop friend--would go along.

Undeterred, I decided to go alone. Well, not quite alone. I was accompanied by several hundred teenagers, all of whom had to be carded to get inside the theater.

The plotline of the film does not bear up under close examination. However the look and the stunts made up for what the story lacked. The special effects with bullets were reminiscent of Matrix. The FX with car chases alone was worth the price of the ticket.

This is not The Bourne Ultimatum. I won't go see it three times in the theater. In fact, I don't have a burning desire to see it even twice. But I'll probably watch it again when it hits the television screen.

Of course, I paid on Friday for staying up so late on Thursday night, but it wasn't as bad as I expected. By noon, I had shaken off the worst of the fuzziness. In fact, I left the university at 7:00 Friday night and went out to Campizi's for drinks and calamari with a friend.

Sometimes a girl just has to do what she's gotta do.

Friday, June 27, 2008

More on New Concepts Publishing

In my previous post here, I talked about the statement author Sydney Somers posted on her website. Ms. Somers advised her readers that New Concepts Publishing had released her opening chapters as part of an anthology in which other authors completed her novel. She urged her readers NOT to buy the book.

The first time I read a publishing contract, I can remember the sinking feeling I experienced at the clause that said, in effect, if I didn't produce a quality work on time, my publisher could contract another writer to finish/write the contracted novel and I'd have to pay the writer. That sort of thing gets your attention.

Before I go further, let me remind my readers that I am not an attorney and am not attempting to give legal advice here. I am not an e-published author and have no insider knowledge of Ms. Somers' situation or of New Concepts Publishing. Therefore, I am going to describe a completely hypothetical case and then voice my personal opinion based on that hypothetical.

Let's say I found myself in a position where I had contracted with an e-publisher for a novel. Most e-published authors do not have agents. Being me, I would have had my attorney vet my first contract with that publisher. I'm just very, very careful that way. I would have made sure there was language in the contract that provided for arbitration in the case of a dispute. It's likely that the arbitration would have to take place in the state in which the publisher was incorporated, but at least there would be a process for dispute resolution.

Let's say I agreed to contract with the publishing house. Let's further say that I released two or three books with that publisher under similar contract terms. Let's also say that I have an open, as-yet-unfulfilled contract when, for some reason, I become concerned about the publisher. Perhaps I hear bad things from other authors under contract to the house. Perhaps I start to notice a pattern of late or missing royalty payments. Perhaps my emails are going unanswered. Whatever the case, I still have a legal relationship with the publisher. Every step I take must conform to the terms outlined in my contract.

I would first try to informally resolve the problem with my editor. If I went unheard or if my concerns went unanswered, I would probably try the informal route with the senior editor or even the publisher of the e-publishing house [Most e-publishers do not have large organizational structures]. I would retain my emails and would take careful notes of dates and times of calls as well as the content.

If things weren't getting better, my next step would be to return to my attorney. I know I'm going to get flack from e-published writers saying their income from writing does not offer enough revenue to justify retaining an attorney. However, my response is: ONCE YOU SIGN A CONTRACT, YOU OPEN YOURSELF UP TO ALL KINDS OF RAMIFICATIONS IF YOU FAIL TO ABIDE BY THE CONDITIONS OF YOUR CONTRACT. YOU NEED TO COVER YOURSELF LEGALLY.

You can't just walk away from a contract because you've heard bad things about a publisher. You must abide by the terms which you signed. However, the publisher has to abide by the terms to which s/he signed as well. If you are not receiving your royalty payments in the prescribed manner, the publisher could be in breach of contract. Paying $250 to $750 for legal advice is money well spent if you are facing a potential breach of contract situation on the part of either party.

I know enough to say that, once the informal process failed to achieve a resolution, all my further correspondence would be conducted in the manner outlined in my contract. Certified letters (vetted by my attorney) sent to a specific address. If those failed to get action, I would probably ask my attorney to send the next letter. Hopefully, by that point, I would have sufficient grounds to claim breach of contract on the part of the publisher. And, if all else failed, I would have the arbitration process in my contract to fall back upon.

My first concern would be to cover my backside legally so that I would not face some kind of repercussions for my failure to perform. Once the potential risks were dealt with, my second concern would be deciding at what point to let go of the matter. That is a cost effectiveness analysis. What is the potential return I could expect for the money I would have to expend in pursuing the matter? What is the personal cost I would face? By personal cost, I mean the time and the diminution of my positive attitude and spirit.

Back to Sydney Somers. Following Ms. Somer's post on her website, New Concepts posted their own "Public Notice" here.

Obviously, Ms. DePasture, the publisher of New Concepts Publishing, is following a legal script.

I gotta say, I have a problem with Ms. DePasture offering up the real names along with the pseudonyms of her former writers. This smacks of the same petty revenges she has become famous for among the writing community. It also makes me wrinkle my nose with distaste.

But, as I keep saying, publishing is a business. And business sometimes gets dirty.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Catching Up With New Concepts Publishing

Sorry to be AWOL again. To be honest, this will probably continue to happen until I get my various life issues under control. However, I promise to keep coming back to pick up where I left off.

Back in March, when the problems at New Concepts Publishing (NCP) became public, I did several posts on the subject. Read the last one here.

In the months since, the noise about NCP has mostly died down.

Then on Wednesday, erotic romance author Sydney Somers posted the following message on her website here:
First I want to apologize for having to take a publisher grievance public. Unfortunately New Concepts Publishing has recently released a book I did not write, or I should say that I did not complete. I only wrote three chapters of a proposed full length novel entitled HOWL FOR ME a year and a half ago and was contracted by NCP last summer. Today NCP has released a novella of my full length story as an anthology of somekind with two authors I don't know and never worked with. I have no idea what these authors did with my story and characters and implore my readers not to buy this release assuming it to be a finished project of mine. I encourage anyone who may have already purchased the book because they enjoy my stories to complain to NCP for intentionally misleading their customers. I will have more information on this very frustrating situation in my next newsletter.

I applaud Ms. Somers' action. I also think she did the right thing in going public with this information.

A writer's good name is an important part of her brand.

When a reader discovers a new writer, if the book is a good one, the reader begins to form a positive opinion of that writer. With each subsequent book, the reader's trust in that writer grows.

Stephen King introduced me to the concept of the implicit "contract" between the writer and the reader, and he emphasized the writer's obligation to honor the promise to fulfill the reader's expectations.

I have had a long career as a reader. I can think of only two times when I felt a writer breached my contract with him/her. It's indicative of how seriously I took the violations that I still remember them.

The first was James Patterson in 1998. He came out with a new book titled When the Wind Blows. I plunked down my $25 for the hardcover, expecting to curl up with a solid mystery. Instead I found myself reading a sci-fi/paranormal about children with wings. Despite the fact that I LOVE paranormals, I was seriously torqued. I felt I'd been a victim of bait and switch. The flap of the book was misleading, talking about the mystery confronting a widowed Colorado veterinarian. I returned that book to the bookstore for credit and, in the ten years since, have never purchased another Patterson novel.

The second breach of contract between an author and me occurred in the summer of 2004with the release of a paranormal anthology called Cravings. The four authors participating in the book were Laurell K. Hamilton, MaryJanice Davidson, Rebecca York and Eileen Wilks. I had a flight to take and wanted a book that would engross me. Because of my familiarity with the authors of Cravings, I was confident the anthology would provide the diversion I was looking for during the two-hour trip.

Starting with the tenth Anita Blake novel (Narcissus in Chains) in 2001, I had been increasingly disappointed with Hamilton's books. When I purchased Cravings, I was still holding out hope for a good read from LKH. But the "novella" included in that anthology enraged me. "Blood Upon My Lips" was not a novella; it was actually the opening chapters of the twelfth Anita Blake novel Incubus Dreams.

The arrogance of foisting a marketing device on unsuspecting readers had the opposite effect of the one intended. I have not purchased another Anita Blake hardcover novel since. I still read the Merry Gentry series (I have a serious crush on Doyle, Merry's bodyguard).

I've offered all this background to explain why I'm responding so strongly to Sydney Somers' post to her readers. It's my opinion that Madris DePasture, the NCP publisher, has violated Somers' informal contract with her readers by publishing the three chapters of the novelist's unfinished work.

I hope Ms. Somers' will avail herself of any legal options open to her.

More on this story later.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

New Database on Copyrights

Check out the Google Book Search blog here.

According to Publishers Marketplace:
Google Book Search has taken databases of pre-1978 copyright renewal records compiled by Carnegie Mellon's Universal Library Project and digitized by Project Gutenberg and the Distributed Proofreaders and combined them into a downloadable XML file.

Google Book Search offers a link to the XML file, which Google is making available for free. You can use the file to check on the copyright of a book you are interested in or wish to quote.

A Self-Publishing Success

I have repeatedly posted warnings on this blog to newbie writers about self-publishing.

The mistake newbies make is in assuming that a physical copy of their book is the end goal. They don't understand that creating a print copy is simply a step in the process.

The real problems begin when it comes time to market that print copy. Merely having a website on the Internet or a placement on isn't enough. You MUST have a way to drive traffic to your book.

Without major buzz, it is unlikely that people will flock to those sites in search of your book. More importantly, when you self-publish, you do not have access to the venues through which most new releases find homes: Libraries and large retail outlets like Barnes & Noble or Wal-Mart.

Some bookstores, under financial stress, are selling slots on their shelves to self-pubbed writers, meaning that now the "author" not only has to pay for the printing of the book, s/he is also paying for space in a bookstore.

Having said all that, I have also repeatedly indicated that self-publishing can be a viable alternative for non-fiction writers who are a part of a specific niche. Because they are connected to a well-defined segment of the market that is already interested in the subject matter, non-fiction writers have a potential leg up on sales.

Although the fiction market is divided into genres, it's tougher to harness that power because the market is so large and diffuse with many, many websites and social networking opportunities.

Even so, the New York Times had an article earlier this week about a self-publishing success. I thought it well worth the time to look at how it happened.

The book is The Shack, an inspirational novel written by William P. Young, an unknown author. Here is the Times' description of the storyline:
Early in the novel the young daughter of the protagonist, Mack, is abducted. Four years later he visits the shack where evidence of the girl’s murder was discovered. He spends a weekend there in a kind of spiritual therapy session with God, who calls herself “Papa”; Jesus, who appears as a Jewish workman; and Sarayu, an indeterminately Asian woman who incarnates the Holy Spirit.

God is an African-American woman in the novel who sends a note to Mack, inviting him to the shack.

Mr. Young admits to a painful background that includes childhood sexual abuse and marital infidelity. He says he wrote The Shack as "a metaphor for 'the house you build out of your own pain'."

He gave copies of the book to his family and friends who shared it with others. Eventually, he decided to seek publication of his novel.

Back on June 20, 2006, I did a post titled "When Should I Self-Publish?" here. I listed five reasons for writers to consider going the self-publishing route, including two that I thought were entirely legitimate professional reasons:
4) Niche Market: The writer has produced a work on a subject that is not commercially viable for a traditional publisher. There is a market for this work, but it is very limited in size or scope. This frequently involves academic works in some arcane subject.
5) Cross-Genre: The writer has produced a work that traditional publishers simply do not know how to market. This is usually a work that crosses multiple genres.

Here is the line from the New York Times article that I found most interesting:
[Young's writer friend] showed [The Shack] manuscript to several publishers, but it was rejected everywhere — both by Christian publishers, who found it too controversial, and secular publishers, who thought it was too Christian.

Eventually Young, his writer friend, and another former pastor decided to form their own self-publishing corporation. They sent copies of The Shack to "influential Christian friends," tapping into the niche market to which they were already connected. Word-of-mouth spread and book sales grew. People buy copies for their friends who, in turn, buy more copies for their own friends. It doesn't hurt that at, approximately 250 pages, the book is a fast read.

Last month, the Hachette Book Group USA, a division of Hachette Livre--one of the seven largest media conglomerates--signed an agreement to publish the book. With the advertising power and reach of a major publisher, The Shack's future is now almost assured.

Read the New York Times article here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Farewell to George Carlin

George Carlin died Sunday night.

I read his bio on Yahoo and was reminded how significant his impact was on comedy:

Along with Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, George Carlin was one of the most influential, respected and controversial stand-up comics of the late 20th century. His humor was built on the vagaries of human behavior – the truth behind words and phrases, the quandaries presented in everyday life, and the hypocrisies of authority . . .

I grew up with George Carlin. No, I didn't know the man personally, but I've never known a world in which he wasn't doing routines. The guy first appeared on Jack Paar's show in 1960 when he was only twenty-three and debuted his solo act on The Tonight Show in 1962 when he was twenty-five.

When I was younger, Carlin appealed to my wide anti-authority streak.

Now that I'm older--and hopefully, a little more thoughtful--I recognize that while he used adult language in his act, he also addressed "questions about religion, societal trends, politics, and oddities in American and Western culture."

Although he dropped out of school in ninth grade, he was a literate man, a man who loved words. Listening to an interview with him, you'd hear an articulate, extremely well-read man who truly believed no word should have any more or any less value than another--they are all meant to facilitate communication.

In 1972, he got arrested multiple times for his use of "The Seven Dirty Words" in his act. Those seven words were the ones not permitted on television. Of course, teenagers were titillated and older people were scandalized. Yahoo points out that Carlin's routine, ". . . sought to nullify the words’ power by making them seem both commonplace and foolish."

Carlin emphasized the silliness of our phobia about words in his routine. "You can say 'Don't prick your finger,' but you can't say 'Don't finger your prick.' Where's the sense in that?"

There's a part of me that responds strongly to that sentiment. When I began writing erotic romance, the rebel in me enjoyed deliberately flaunting the paternalistic system that makes women ashamed to speak frankly about their bodies and their sexual needs.

  • Did you know that a man's complaint to the FCC about "The Seven Dirty Words" started a court case that went all the way to the Supreme Court? The FCC fined the FM radio station that had played the routine. The station appealed the FCC's action. According to Wikipedia, "The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the FCC action, by a vote of 5 to 4, ruling that the routine was 'indecent but not obscene,' and the FCC had authority to prohibit such broadcasts during hours when children were likely to be among the audience."
  • Carlin made his acting debut on Marlo Thomas' That Girl television show in 1966, playing her agent.
  • Did you know that, in 1975, Carlin was the first guest host of Saturday Night Live?
  • He volunteered for military service, but was court martialed three times before earning an honorary discharge.
  • Did you know that in 2004 Comedy Central named Carlin #2 on its list of the top stand-up comics of all time? He followed Richard Pryor who was #1 and preceded Lenny Bruce at #3.
  • Carlin received his first Grammy nomination in 1966 and won his first award in 1971. Since then, he's had numerous nominations and awards both.
  • Did you know that Carlin was twice nominated for daytime Emmy Awards for his work on a PBS television show for children? His tenth HBO comedy special was also nominated twice for the Emmy.
  • Carlin first appeared at Carnegie Hall in 1972
  • Did you know his book Braindroppings was released in 1997 and stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for eighteen weeks? The paperback stayed on the bestseller list for another twenty weeks. By 2001, the books had sold 750,000 copies.
  • When his wife died in 1997, they'd been together for 36 years.

Below is the comic routine that got him arrested multiple times and eventually made him a footnote in legal annals.

WARNING: Adult content. There are seven words in this video that may offend you. Watch this clip at your own risk.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Brewing Up Espresso

Symbiosis: (from the Greek: sym, "with;" and biosis, "living") commonly describes close and often long-term interactions between different biological species. It refers to "the living together of unlike organisms". . .

Since my dog Lucy's death a few years ago, I have developed a symbiotic relationship with Penny, my next-door Labrador. Her owners are too busy to walk her so I try to do so at least once a day.

In return, Penny climbs the fence into my yard every night at 2:00 AM and carries away the carcasses of whatever varmits my cat Bob has killed during the day. She's never told me what she does with the bodies, and I've never asked.

This morning I got up and approached my back door with trepidation. My fear was that, confronted with two dead animals, Penny had taken the mouse and left the rat for me to discard. I don't mind disposing of field mice, but I really dislike picking up rats. They're much bigger, much heavier and just yucky.

But, no, my wonderful symbiotic friend had made two trips and carried off both bodies. Today is going to be a good day, I can already tell.

While I was in St. Louis on Saturday, I told my new friends about the Espresso Book Machine. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you already know about it. I first blogged about the EBM on
June 24, 2007 here and again the next day here.

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. On Friday, the UK's reported:
Blackwell is introducing an on-demand printer the Espresso Book Machine to its 60-store chain after signing an agreement with US owner On Demand Books.

The deal makes Blackwell the first UK retailer to install the EBM. The academic chain will trial the machine from this autumn at a yet-to-be-determined launch site, and will then roll it out across its stores. It is also looking at possible international retail sites and library supply for the machine.

. . . On Demand c.e.o. Dane Neller . . . said he expected that over time it would help to lower book prices, as it drove supply chain costs down: "But more importantly it means that no book will ever have to be out of print."

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, machines like the Espresso have the potential to save the bricks-and-mortar bookstore from going extinct. It provides print-on-demand technology to bookstores as well as offering the immediacy that permits a bookstore to compete with

Read the entire article here.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I'm Mad As Hell, And I'm Not Going to Take It Any More

Because it was raining when I left the house for the D/FW Airport yesterday morning, I made Bob the cat stay inside. A decision he did not agree with. He protested vociferously as I locked him inside.

Consequently, this morning, he woke me up at 6:30. "Things to see, critters to kill."

About 9:15 while I watched my first Meet the Press without Tim Russert and grieved, Bob yowled at me from outside the French doors. "Hurry up! Come on! Look what I've killed."

My murdering little feline had dropped a gray field mouse on my doorstep. I let him inside and gave him his usual pay: three shrimp-flavored cat treats. He ate them and then went to sleep in his place beside my laptop.

At noon, he was ready to go back outside. And by 2:30, he was howling at me to come see. "Look what I've got!"

This time it was a rat. From nose to tail, a foot-long rat. UGH! I let Bob back in, but didn't rush to give him his treat. He followed me around, yapping and demanding payment until I gave him his second bounty of the day.

I really need to include "disposal of carcasses" in our next employment contract.

Speaking about contracts, I've gone a whole week without mentioning my dislike of the current administration.

Tom Friedman had an op/ed piece in the New York Times this morning titled "Mr. Bush, Lead or Leave." Read the whole article here.

He pointed to the utter hypocrisy of George Bush's current energy position:
Get Saudi Arabia, our chief oil pusher, to up our dosage for a little while and bring down the oil price just enough so the renewable energy alternatives can’t totally take off. Then try to strong arm Congress into lifting the ban on drilling offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Friedman calls this a "massive, fraudulent, pathetic excuse for an energy policy," and I agree completely.

For six years George Bush has opposed creating a sensible energy policy. First, he refused to believe in global warming and actually had his minions redact data from reports that would reveal how dire our global situation was. He protected Detroit automakers from potential legislation that would force up the mileage standards and discourage rich boy toys like the Hummer. He made the EPA as useless as a teat on a boar hog as we say here in Texas (Note: a boar hog is a male pig as opposed to a sow, which is a female pig).

Friedman roars with the same outrageous anger Moses must have expressed when throwing down the tablets as he points to:
. . . a president who hasn’t lifted a finger to broker passage of legislation that has been stuck in Congress for a year, which could actually impact America’s energy profile right now — unlike offshore oil that would take years to flow — and create good tech jobs to boot.

That bill is H.R. 6049 — “The Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008,” which extends for another eight years the investment tax credit for installing solar energy and extends for one year the production tax credit for producing wind power and for three years the credits for geothermal, wave energy and other renewables.

George Bush has promoted and protected his own uneducated (and unsupported) opinions for two terms at the expense of this nation's safety, integrity, reputation and the lives of its young soldiers.

Email your U.S. representative today and ask if s/he is supporting H.R. 6049.

If you don't know your representative's name, go here and search.

Even if you agree with drilling offshore or in ANWR, know that it will take years before we see any oil produced that way. We can do something with solar power and wind power today.

Do something for the environment. Do something for your grandchildren. Do something for the United States of America.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Magazines Enjoying Renaissance With Young Adults

Sorry to be posting Saturday's post on Sunday, but yesterday was a long day.

I got up at four in the morning, caught a 6:50 AM American flight from D/FW to St. Louis, did a talk for the St. Louis RWA chapter and then caught a 3:50 flight back to D/FW. I was a pretty tired camper by the time I got home. I stopped at Steak and Shake for a burger and onion rings, came home and tumbled into bed.

The St. Louis chapter was filled with knowledgeable writers who were very kind and welcoming. I'm especially grateful to Barbara Scott, who took such good care of me.

Advertising Age had a very interesting article a couple of weeks ago. Titled "Magazines Find Surprise Stash of New Readers," it argued:
. . . magazine audiences are getting bigger and often younger too, according to a Mediaedge:cia analysis of last month's benchmark spring MRI research report . . .

"For every magazine that is aging, there are magazines that are trending younger--and are gaining new readers at the same time," the Mediaedge analysis found.

Look across a longer period of time, and the trends take on new clarity.

Allure magazine's median reader age has fallen 1.1 years to 29.1 from 30.2 since the spring 2004 MRI report, while the size of its audience grew 67%. Wired saw its median age fall to 34.6 from 37 in the same span as its audience increased 47%.

While the article was only about adult readers, it indicated that the youngest adult magazine readership was the one growing the fastest. Nat Ives, the author, speculated that this is because (1) The magazines are doing a better job of public placement distribution in physicians' offices, beauty salons and cafes; and (2) Digital media is creating new opportunities for print media. For example, online gamers love to read magazines about gaming.

I'm willing to bet it's also because the shorter magazine articles suit our need for quick and easy reads in a culture in which we have so many demands upon our valuable time.

Friday, June 20, 2008

About Nothing to Lose

Sorry to have been AWOL. I've been overloaded with challenges.

I'm interviewing physicians and radiologists and, because I'm me, I picked the same time to resign my job. Therefore, now I'm not only interviewing doctors, I'm also doing job interviews. [Shakes head sadly]

However, as a good friend reminded me, "You're not unemployed; you're just unjobbed."

When I resigned, my boss asked me to stay to find my own replacement. Since I'd impulsively quit without finding another job first (something I strongly recommend against), AND because I don't want to be without insurance at the same time I'm contemplating surgery, of course, I agreed.

Fortunately, the university didn't want me to leave. I've had three potential offers--two in my own department and one from another department that is starting up a $75,000,000 project. I've almost agreed to accept one of the jobs. We've nailed down the position itself. Now we're talking about details of the offer. Hopefully, I'll be jobbed again by Wednesday.

I purchased Lee Child's new thriller Nothing to Lose the day it came out three weeks ago.

If you're not familiar with Child, you're missing a treat. Nothing to Lose is the twelfth outing for his hero Jack Reacher. Reacher is a ex-military cop who was cashiered out as the armed services ramped down--obviously before we ramped up in the Middle East [Grin]. Reacher is a wanderer who hitchhikes his way across the U.S.

In previous posts, I've likened Reacher to Shane, the loner who rides into a troubled situation, utilizes his special skills to bring about resolution and leaves.

There have been numerous articles about the large number of women readers the series has. In June, 2006, Jeffrey Trachtenberg of the Wall Street Journal said, "[D]espite his brutish ways, Reacher is doing something surprising: winning the hearts of many women readers. Of the 20,000 fans world-wide that have joined the Reacher Creatures fan club, an estimated 65% are female."

In Nothing to Lose, Child evokes not Shane but Rambo.

Reacher is en route diagonally across the country from Maine to San Diego, for no other reason than he wants to do so. He hitchhiked to Hope, Colorado from Kansas and then walked from Hope to the next town, Despair. The imagery is not wasted.

According to the book's cover:
Two small towns in the middle of nowhere: Hope and Despair. Between them, nothing but twelve miles of empty road. Jack Reacher can't find a ride, so he walks. All he wants is a cup of coffee. What he gets are four hostile locals, a vagrancy charge, and an order to move on. They're picking on the wrong guy.

Reacher is a hard man. No job, no address, no baggage. Nothing at all, except hardheaded curiosity. What are the secrets that Despair seems so desperate to hide?

The UK's Guardian has a story about Child, Reacher and the fact that Nothing to Lose is #1 on the New York Times hardback fiction list.

The Guardian also reports that "Tom Cruise's production company has bought movie rights, although Child says he would want a Lawrence Dallaglio lookalike in the lead role."

In a recent interview Child said something interesting:
Women are very offended by injustice and the story of each book is something very unjust, and by the end of the book Reacher has made it just, and women cheer that on.

I suspect that anyone with a strong sense of fair play--male or female--would enjoy the Jack Reacher novels. The good guy always wins, although sometimes at great cost.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

New e-Mail Domains

Starting around 2PM Central Time today, Yahoo began offering free e-mail accounts under two new domains, seeking users who are wanting a new email address.

The new domains are "ymail" and "rocketmail." To establish a new email address, go to

According to the Associated Press,
It will be the first time that Yahoo has offered e-mail accounts under umbrellas other than its own company name since it became a correspondence conduit in 1997.

Yahoo began offering free e-mail shortly after its $80 million acquisition of Four11 Corp., which included the rocketmail domain. Rocketmail users at the time of the acquisition were allowed to keep their existing accounts, but Yahoo hadn't accepted any new addresses under that name until now.

The diversification into new e-mail designations is being driven by the difficulty that people are having as they try to find an appealing e-mail handle under the Yahoo domain . . .

E-mail under the ymail and rocketmail designations will offer all the same features as the Yahoo domain, including an unlimited amount of storage capacity.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Publisher of the Year--On Two Continents

From Thursday's Shelf Awareness:

Penguin proudly notes that its operations in Canada and Australia were simultaneously--but perhaps not coincidentally--named publisher of the year.

Penguin Canada was honored by the Canadian Booksellers Association at BookExpo Canada, the first time in 20 years it won the award and the third time overall. Penguin Canada president and publisher David Davidar thanked authors, agents, booksellers and staff.

Penguin Australia was honored at the Australian Book Industry Awards for the first time in nine years and the third overall, too. CEO Gabrielle Coyne thanked "the company's spirit of collaboration, with authors, illustrators and photographers as well as booksellers, suppliers, agents and the media."

Penguin is, by the way, my publisher. [grin]

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

AFI's 2008 Special

We have had thunderstorms and high winds in north Texas. My telephone went out AGAIN so this post is late.

I love the American Film Institute's television specials. I look forward to each one eagerly. The one tonight looked at the top ten films in ten different genres.

Here are the top ten animated films:

2 PINOCCHIO (1940)
3 BAMBI (1942)
5 FANTASIA (1942)
6 TOY STORY (1995)
8 SHREK (2001)
10 FINDING NEMO (2003)

I wasn't crazy about the choice of Pinocchio or Beauty and the Beast. I would have replaced them with Dumbo and Lady and the Tramp.

Here are the top ten fantasies:

4 KING KONG (1933)
5 MIRACLE ON 34th STREET (1947)
7 HARVEY (1950)
10 BIG (1988)

While I loved Groundhog Day and The Thief of Bagdad, I would probably have replaced them with Babe, Ghost or Superman.

Here are the top ten gangster movies:

4 WHITE HEAT (1949)
10 SCARFACE (1983)

I would have replaced Scarface: The Shame of a Nation with any one of the following: Angels With Dirty Faces, Key Largo, On the Waterfront or Reservoir Dogs.

Here are the top ten science fiction:

1 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
7 ALIEN (1979)

I wish they had included Aliens or The Matrix in the place of Alien and Back to the Future.

Westerns was probably the category over which I felt the most outrage. Here they are:

2 HIGH NOON (1952)
3 SHANE (1953)
5 RED RIVER (1948)
10 CAT BALLOU (1965)

I couldn't believe AFI left off The Magnificent Seven and True Grit. How they could list Cat Ballou and McCabe & Mrs. Miller instead? I'll never know.

Here are the sports films. I would have picked the same films.:

1 RAGING BULL (1980)
2 ROCKY (1977)
4 HOOSIERS (1986)
5 BULL DURHAM (1988)
6 THE HUSTLER (1961)

Here are the top ten mysteries:

1 VERTIGO (1958)
2 CHINATOWN (1974)
3 REAR WINDOW (1954)
4 LAURA (1944)
5 THE THIRD MAN (1950)
8 BLUE VELVET (1986)

While I loved Rear Window, North By Northwest and Dial M for Murder, I was never a particular fan of Vertigo. I found it overwrought and contrived. To list it as the best mystery ever is an unbelievable stretch for me. I probably would have gone with Chinatown for #1. I was thrilled with Laura on the list. I have loved that movie ever since my mother introduced me to it when I was about fourteen--admittedly a very romantic age. And I would have replaced Vertigo with In the Heat of the Night, which was a far more significant film in my mind.

Here are the romantic comedies:

1 CITY LIGHTS (1931)
2 ANNIE HALL (1977)
7 ADAM'S RIB (1949)

I was disappointed not to see Born Yesterday or Sabrina on the list. And while I love Adam's Rib, I would have replaced it with Guess Who's Coming to Dinner as my favorite Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy romantic comedy.

Here are the courtroom dramas:

2 12 ANGRY MEN (1957)
4 VERDICT, THE (1982)
5 A FEW GOOD MEN (1992)
8 IN COLD BLOOD (1967)
9 CRY IN THE DARK, A (1988)

I was thrilled to see To Kill a Mockingbird as #1. I would not have rated Kramer vs. Kramer as highly as AFI did. It probably wouldn't have even made my list. The Verdict is another questionable choice for me. I'd have substituted Inherit the Wind and Philadelphia. I love 12 Angry Men, A Few Good Men and Witness for the Prosecution.

Finally, we have the epics:

2 BEN-HUR (1959)
5 SPARTACUS (1960)
6 TITANIC (1997)
9 REDS (1981)

I was surprised to see Reds on the list. I expected to see Forrest Gump although I wouldn't have voted for either it or Reds. I'll admit it. I'm an incurable romantic. In place of Reds, I would have voted for either The Last of the Mohicans (I adore Daniel Day Lewis in that movie) or Doctor Zhivago.

Another year, another AFI special. Until next year.

Monday, June 16, 2008

An Adventure Begins

About a month ago, I heard an NPR interview with a sixteen-year-old boy who was preparing to embark on a journey to become the youngest person ever to circumnavigate the globe alone in a yacht.

Zac Sunderland is an American teenager who set out on Saturday afternoon at 1:00 PM. He is captaining a 36-foot sailboat christened "The Intrepid," and he seeks to break the record set in 1996 by an Australian teen who accomplished the journey at age 18. Zac plans to complete his journey in eleven months and before he turns 18.

According to the San Jose Mercury News:
The oldest of seven children, Sunderland is a lifelong sailor from a long line of yachtsmen—his Web site says his first home was a 55-foot Tradewind sailboat.

The Los Angeles Times reported:
Zac has always loved the sea. His parents lived on a 55-foot boat when he was born; Marianne recalls spreading the news via single-sideband radio. The family spent three years cruising off California and Mexico. Laurence Sunderland, who transfers boats to various destinations, has often employed his son as night watch-captain.

When NPR asked Zac about his plans for a future career, he told the interviewer:
"I'll have plenty of time to think about it during my trip. . . We'll see how it works out. You never know where life's going to take you."

You can follow along with Zac's journey on his blog here.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Another Father's Day

Today is Father's Day in the U.S. It is the ninth one I have celebrated since the death of my own father.

I've written about Daddy on this blog before. There are lots of labels I could append to him. None give a full sense of the man he was.

He was a first-generation American whose older siblings were born in Italy. He retained the Old World values and conservatism of his parents, but he was ever curious and forward-looking. He moved easily into the electronic and computer age. There was always some piece of equipment--be it a computer or a television
--sitting on his desk in pieces so he could examine how it worked.

He graduated from high school, but only attended a few months of college. He was married by then and needed to work two jobs to support his expanding family. However, Daddy insisted all four of his children get their college degrees--even though my paternal grandfather declared educating a girl (me) was a waste of money. Daddy was very proud when I completed my Master's degree.

He was a raging alcoholic for more than half of his adult life, but he never missed a day of work. When my mother had to tell his employers he was in the hospital because he'd collapsed while drunk, they were shocked. Daddy compartmentalized his drinking, sipping from a thermos of coffee and whiskey during the day to keep the edge off. It was only after work that he would drink himself into a stupor. His employers supported his going into rehab and held his job for him afterward--an enlightened stance long before the days of FMLA. Daddy remained sober for the last twenty years of his life.

I dated a military guy once who told me his priorities were his unit, the Air Force, his country and God--in that order. If Daddy had been asked, he would have said his priorities were his family, his job, God and then the U.S. He never registered to vote, but almost had a heart attack when I registered as a Republican. Whenever I saw him, I could count on his making some kind of sneering reference to "the family Republican" in the same tone he would have referred to a hooker or ex con.

We did not have an easy relationship. Although I never doubted he loved me, my father was an abusive drunk and that had a huge impact on our relationship. I held him at arms' length for most of my life, because it wasn't safe to trust him. When I would call home, he would simply hand the phone to my mother. We rarely spoke and, when we did, it was usually an antagonistic conversation.

When he first got sober, I didn't believe in him or in his sobriety. It was only when one of my brothers pointed out a couple of years later that our relationship was more about ME than it was about Daddy that I began to take a second look.

Daddy was thrilled when I started letting him into my life. One day when I called, he said, "Let me get your mother for you." I responded, "No, wait. How are you doing?" His pleasure was obvious, and our conversations gradually grew longer and longer in length. He never pushed for more than I was willing to give, but
--long before his death--we had achieved a full reconciliation. I'd always known he loved me fiercely; I was just afraid to let myself love him back.

I take pleasure today in saying, "Happy Father's Day, Daddy. I love you, and I miss you."

Hoping to See the End of the Long Nightmare

Sorry this post is late. I thought I'd written it to be published at 12:04 AM Saturday, but apparently I set the parameters to publish it on 6/24 instead of 6/14. I didn't notice the mistake until this morning.

I was driving home from the university when I first heard about Thursday's 5-4 Supreme Court decision with respect to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Yahoo described it this way:
". . . foreign detainees held for years at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba have the right to appeal to U.S. civilian courts to challenge their indefinite imprisonment without charges."

One of the first phrases I learned by heart in elementary school was ". . . all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

Those words were written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776 as the opening of the Declaration of Independence. I still remember the enormous pride I took as a child in pledging my allegiance to the Republic of the United States of America. I have always identified myself as an American with pride and with a sense of purpose.

In recent years, my confidence in what it means to be an American has taken a drubbing. This was especially true when I learned our current administration did not believe that we should extend the same right of habeas corpus to foreigners that we extend to our own citizens.

In case you've forgotten, habeas corpus demands that a person be brought before a judge to answer to the crimes for which s/he is charged. It forces prosecutors to produce the prisoner and justify his or her imprisonment.

A Joint Task Force of the American military has been operating three detention camps at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba since 2002. Some of the detainees have been held for six years without ever having a hearing.

Forget the Declaration of Independence. The Bush administration went even further. It made the argument that the prisoners at Guantanamo were enemy combatants, not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions, the international standard for humanitarian treatment of prisoners of war dating back to our own Civil War.

The Supreme Court ruled two years ago in June, 2006 against this administration's interpretation, forcing the Department of Defense to issue a command that the Guantanamo Bay detainees be afforded the protection of the Geneva Conventions.

There were a total of 775 detainees at Gitmo. Approximately 420 of them have been released without ANY charges being brought against them, which certainly suggests that the authorities did not have enough evidence to prosecute. Last month, the BBC reported, "The Pentagon has said 36 former inmates who were released are 'confirmed or suspected of having returned to terrorism'."

On the surface that says 9% of the prisoners released were terrorists. However, I am suspicious of the words "are suspected." This administration's record of suspicions proving to be accurate is not one to envy. I'd like to know how many "are confirmed" to having returned to terrorism.

Moreover, I'd be willing to bet we might have created some new terrorists out of the men unjustly held for six years without reason. And while focussing on the 36 possible terrorists, let's not forget the 384 prisoners released who have apparently just gone on to try and pick up the broken pieces of their former lives without posing any threat at all to the United States of America.

The Yahoo news story said this:
At its heart, the 70-page ruling says that the detainees have the same rights as anyone else in custody in the United States to contest their detention before a judge. [Justice] Kennedy also said the system the administration has put in place to classify detainees as enemy combatants and review those decisions is not an adequate substitute for the right to go before a civilian judge . . .

[Justice] Souter wrote a separate opinion in which he emphasized the length of the detentions.

"A second fact insufficiently appreciated by the dissents is the length of the disputed imprisonments; some of the prisoners represented here today having been locked up for six years," Souter said. "Hence the hollow ring when the dissenters suggest that the court is somehow precipitating the judiciary into reviewing claims that the military ... could handle within some reasonable period of time" . . .

The court has ruled twice previously that people held at Guantanamo without charges can go into civilian courts to ask that the government justify their continued detention. Each time, the administration and Congress, then controlled by Republicans, changed the law to try to close the courthouse doors to the detainees.

The court specifically struck down a provision of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that denies Guantanamo detainees the right to file petitions of habeas corpus. Habeas corpus is a centuries-old legal principle, enshrined in the Constitution, that allows courts to determine whether a prisoner is being held illegally.

The head of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents dozens of prisoners at Guantanamo, welcomed the ruling.

"The Supreme Court has finally brought an end to one of our nation's most egregious injustices," said CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren. "By granting the writ of habeas corpus, the Supreme Court recognizes a rule of law established hundreds of years ago and essential to American jurisprudence since our nation's founding."

I'm probably not the only one who finds it ironic that President Bush claims we are fighting the war in Iraq to bring democracy to the Middle East at the same time we are ignoring the central tenets of our own Declaration of Independence and the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution (the right to a speedy trial) in our interactions with prisoners in that same war.

The strength of this country is and always has been the ability for good people to overturn the excesses of misguided, corrupt, stupid, or arrogant leaders.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Siren Song of Self-Publishing

On May 16th, Forbes had a commentary on the publishing industry by Sramana Mitra, a self-proclaimed "technology entrepreneur and strategy consultant." The title of the piece was "How Amazon Could Change Publishing." Read it here.

I actually agree with the first line of Ms. Mitra's article:
Technology has disrupted every industry. Now, it's book publishing's turn.

Having said that, the real drag on the industry has nothing to do with technology. The problem that both publishers and booksellers face is the reluctance on all sides to address the problem of book returns. See my post here for more information on that subject.

It was obvious from Ms. Mitra's comments that her knowledge of publishing is lopsided, coming primarily from the self-publishing side of the industry. Among the more blatant errors the article includes was this quote:

"On a book that costs $24.95, the author gets at most $1 to $1.50," says Eileen Gittins, chief executive of Blurb, an online print-on-demand publisher of photography books.

The typical royalty on a hardcover book is 15% or $3.74 of that $24.95, not between 4% and 6% as Eileen Gittins' comment indicates. The author's agent takes 15% of that 15% royalty, not 15% to 20% of the gross that Ms. Mitra implies in her introductory paragraphs.

Ms. Mitra's airy disregard of facts suggests that she came into the industry through the self-publishing portal where most of the writers I've encountered (although not all) are characterized by their impatience to be published.

Because they don't take the time to do their homework on the publishing industry, these writers confuse producing a physical copy of their book with being "published." They are drawn by the self-publishing industry's siren song, which goes something like this:
  • You can wait a decade to find an agent or a traditional publisher, or you can shortcut the process by publishing your book yourself
  • Instead of settling for the low royalties of traditional publishing, you can keep a much larger percentage of your book's revenue by publishing it yourself
  • You can sell your book through and your own website
  • ALL authors have to market their work. Even traditionally published authors must market. There's no difference between being self-published and traditionally published

Of course, this siren song neglects to mention a few truths:

  • Self-publishing has a terrible reputation in the industry
  • The two largest markets (bookstores and libraries) will be reluctant to put your book on their shelves (although a few bookstores will accept payment for placement in their stores)
  • Although you may offer your book for sale on and on your website, you still need a way to drive traffic to the book. Placement alone is no guarantee of sales

Note: I've repeatedly said on this blog that there are a few times when self-publishing makes sense. See my post here for more on this.

Probably the most obvious example of Ms. Mitra's naiveity was in a comment she made in the comment thread following the Forbes' article:
As for authors choosing to work with Amazon - well, if Amazon can guarantee that using their recommendation/
co-branding/merchandising system, they can sell a million copies of my book, why wouldn't I work with them exclusively? I don't know about you, but I certainly would.

Ignoring for the moment the fact that Amazon is NEVER going to "guarantee" a specific number of sales, Ms. Mitra's lack of awareness of the tiny number of books that actually reach the heady heights of a million copies sold speaks volumes.

I'm surprised that Forbes gave someone with Ms. Mitra's limited understanding a bully pulpit from which to speak. I wonder if this was in response to the dramatic increase in the number of print-on-demand titles produced in 2007. I can't think of another reason that makes any sense.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Jeff Bezos' Vision for the Kindle

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I love Publishers Marketplace.

Last year, Michael Cader added a new feature: Publishers Marketplace TV. Two weeks ago Book Expo America (BEA) took place in New York. Yesterday, Publishers Marketplace added video of the BEA sessions. This evening I watched several of the videos. Among the ones I watched was a talk Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, gave on the Kindle.

Bezos began by pointing out that the book has been around for 500 years. He said something that hasn't changed in five hundred years is not easily improved upon. When the Amazon staff started to work on the Kindle 3.5 years ago, their goal was to capture the essential element of the physical book, which is that it disappears in your hands. The medium disappears and allows the message to become the important thing.

He then pointed out the main features of the Kindle:
  • It's lightweight, only 10.3 ounces
  • It's inked pages prevent eye strain; it's easy on the eyes
  • It's readable in sunlight
  • It is low-power consuming. It won't keep running out of batteries, and it doesn't get warm the way a laptop does
  • It isn't a self-important device. It won't beep at you

Bezos admits that the Kindle can't "outbook the book." But it does have special features of its own:

  • It has a resident dictionary so a reader can easily check on unfamiliar words
  • It permits a reader to make margin notes and to underline passages
  • It allows a reader to change fonts at will--to enlarge the print when necessary

But the feature that Bezos is most proud of is the fact that the built-in wireless capacity permits readers to purchase and download a book from Amazon's store within 60 seconds. Readers can also purchase access to newspapers, magazines and blogs. Or to email personal documents to the Kindle to be read at the reader's convenience.

Bezos is confident that the message overtakes the medium with the Kindle.

The Kindle price was recently lowered from $399 to $359.

Bezos assured the audience that people who purchase the Kindle continue to purchase physical books as well.

He was encouraged by the fact that, in only six months on the market, Kindle and the e-books now accounts for 6% of all books sold on Amazon.

When it was launched Kindle had access to 90,000 books; today Kindle has access to 125,000 books, including 100 of the 112 New York bestsellers.

Bezos' vision is to have every book ever printed in any language available on the Kindle within sixty seconds.

An ambitious goal for an ambitious man.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Top Contenders in the Race for Mobile Search

USA Today had an interesting article yesterday. Titled "Are Google, Yahoo the Next Dinosaurs?" it took a closer look at the race for the prize in the mobile search arena:
Today, about 1 billion people have PCs, about 3 billion have mobile phones, growing to 4 billion by 2010. A major driver is the growing popularity of Web-enabled devices such as the Apple iPhone.

One of the biggest challenges: dealing with the matchbox-size screens of cellphones and the other devices, which aren't hospitable to the ads that are the lifeblood of traditional search engines. Billions in potential ad revenue are at stake as social networks, location-based services and wireless search deliver instant answers to wireless users on the go . . .

The fledgling mobile search industry generated about $700 million in ad revenue in 2007, JupiterResearch estimates. By 2012, revenue is expected to hit $2.2 billion and keep rising. Jupiter analyst Julie Ask says mobile search could eventually eclipse the traditional Web, which currently generates about $20 billion in ad revenue.

The problem with mobile search is that search engines rely on ads to generate their revenue. Consumers are accustomed to Google's PC screen with search results plus ads at the top and to the right of the screen.

The tiny screens on mobile devices can't support both search results and paid ads. A new model will need to be developed for mobile search.

Additionally mobile search customers aren't sitting at home in front of a computer screen. They're in cars and on sidewalks, looking for restaurants, bookstores and theaters. They don't have the patience to keep refining their search string or to sort through pages of results.
Search engines, angling to win over mobile customers early, are racing to solve these problems. Their solutions, in some cases, are wildly different.

Google doesn't plan to change its current model for service beyond offering snippets of search results instead of pages and pages of information. The Internet giant is developing an "open wireless operating system--dubbed Android--that would make it easier for consumers to use Google's mobile services. Android-loaded devices are expected to hit the market later this year."

Yahoo's OneConnect service relies on a social networking model and voice-recognition technology.

The article finishes by introducing a start-up mobile search company called Medio, based in Seattle. Medio plans to allow the big mobile carriers to use its service under their own names rather than using Medio's name.

Medio doesn't plan to search the whole Internet for search responses. They are narrowing and targeting their results.

Will Google and Yahoo retain their hegemony of search when consumers switch to mobile devices for their queries? Only time will tell.

Read the whole article here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

And the Winner Is . . .

Time had an interesting article yesterday. Titled "Who Will Rule The New Internet," it talks about the platform wars:
A platform, to computer people, is the software code on which third-party applications function. There are scores of big platforms out there . . .

. . .it's been riveting to watch three of the most innovative companies in Silicon Valley--each representing a fundamental phase of the information era--battle it out. Apple, Google and Facebook are, respectively, an icon from the pioneering days of personal computers; the biggest, most profitable company yet born on the Web; and a feisty upstart whose name is synonymous with the current migration to social networks.

The article describes the differing approaches of the three Internet giants:
Google, for instance, advocates an "open" Web and tends to push for open standards and alliances among developers. Facebook, with its gated community of 70 million active users, offers a more controlled experience and, so far at least, wants to keep its users safely within its walls. Apple comes from the old world. Its elegant products cocoon customers from the chaos of the information age, but the Apple experience tends to be highly controlled, with Apple hardware at the end points and Apple software and services, like the iTunes Music Store, in between.

Read the entire article here.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Customer Service Number

I found a number for Amazon customer service. It is:
1 (800) 201-7575. It is answered 24/7. They offer a menu of options. If you press 7, you'll get "all other options."

I called this morning at 6:30 and spoke to a lovely young lady. I told her my name and email address and asked her to pull up my ordering record. I told her that I would not purchase another book from Amazon until they stopped their strong-arm tactics of publishers.

She wanted to know which publisher I worked for. I told her I was way more powerful than a publisher. I was a READER, a reader who will no longer purchase books from and who intends to tell every reader I know what is going on with them.

She assured me she would pass the information along. I hope she does.

Richard Curtis Has a Blog

I've mentioned literary agent Richard Curtis numerous times on this blog dating back to October 7, 2005 here.

In my humble opinion, Curtis is a very smart man as well as a publishing industry visionary. Since he periodically posts articles on Backspace here, I dropped by there last night to see if he had anything to say about Amazon.

As I poked around, I found a reference to a site I'd not encountered before: e-Reads. Apparently Curtis created e-Reads as an online publisher in 1999.

Of more interest to me was the e-Reads blog here.

Curtis has had a couple of brief mentions of Amazon this month on the blog. On June 2, he said:
At Book Expo America, . . . attention focused on the fact that one of the few areas that is growing at a double digit--indeed, at an exponential--rate is e-book sales on the Kindle. And, according to the New York Times, the publishers are genuinely nervous. The Times pointed out that "...excitement about the Kindle, which was introduced in November, also worries some publishing executives, who fear Amazon’s still-growing power as a bookseller."

Worried they should be. Surprised they should not. They have had ten years to ponder the meaning of the soaring growth of e-book sales and spent half of that decade deriding the trend as a flash in the pan. Now they're rushing to put their backlists into e-book format even as they are haunted by the prospect that e-book sales undercut the profits they make from sales of traditional printed books . . .

But publishers are still missing the point, which is that profits from printed books are hamstrung by a wasteful retail system that takes back one copy for every two distributed. The beauty of e-books is minimal distribution costs and zero returns.

Curtis also directed his blog readers to a post dated May 22 in which B&N CEO Stephen Riggio talked about "the insanity" of the book returns system.

You can read that post here.

I addressed the issue of returns in a post on April 7th in response to Bob Miller's announcement that he'd be starting a new imprint for HarperCollins that would take a new approach to bookstore returns and large advances. You can read that post here.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

And So It Begins . . . Part II

To continue my narrative from yesterday about Amazon's efforts to dominate publishing:

On May 23rd, The Bookseller reported:

Amazon has removed from sale key front and backlist titles from across the Hachette Group: the UK's largest publisher and online retailer are believed to be locked in a dispute over terms.

Apparently Hachette decided to go public about Amazon's quiet efforts to strong-arm publishers into more favorable terms. This past Friday, The Bookseller had another story. Here's an excerpt:

Amazon's current sanctions against Hachette are "effectively creating a breach of trust between Amazon and its customers", Hachette Livre UK c.e.o. Tim Hely Hutchinson has said in a strongly-worded letter to authors . . .

Hely Hutchinson's letter explains Hachette's position in its current terms dispute with Amazon, which has seen the retailer remove the "Buy New" button from key front and backlist titles from across the Hachette Group, and also take them away from promotional positions on the website. Titles such as Kate Mosse's Labyrinth (Orion), Stephen King's Duma Key (Hodder) and James Patterson's The 6th Target (Headline) continued to be affected this week, a fortnight after The Bookseller first reported the issue . . .

The letter says that despite advantageous terms, "Amazon seems each year to go from one publisher to another making increasing demands in order to achieve richer terms at our expense and sometimes at yours", and affirms Hachette's intention to stand firm against conceding additional terms.

More than one person chastised me back in April for over-reacting and being too idealistic. My viewpoint was that I was being pragmatic. You see, I've had the benefit of seeing this game played out before.

Back in February and March of 2006, I did a series on Wal-Mart. The tactics Amazon is currently employing are exactly the same tactics that Wal-Mart used to gain its position of hegemony in retailing. To understand how the tactics work and their consequences, go here and here.

Such strong-arm tactics depend upon the little guys keeping their mouths shut out of fear of reprisal. Otherwise the giant retailer might face legal consequences in terms of unfair business tactics and antitrust issues.

I'm going extrapolate the logical consequences of Amazon's present strategy. If Amazon is not stopped, a chain reaction will begin. Some of you will laugh as I follow the chain to what seems an absurd conclusion. I'm not laughing:
  1. First, the smaller presses, POD presses and e-publishers will disappear as Amazon's margins squeeze them out of business. Amazon will help the process along by offering better terms to authors if they will use BookSurge's POD press and Kindle's e-book to publish. Even if authors don't embrace Amazon initially, as their publishers go out of business, they will be forced to do so.
  2. Brick-and-mortar stores have two constraints which Amazon does not: (1) limited shelf space and (2) a limited geographic range. Bookstores carry books "on spec," filling their shelves with stock they hope readers will seek. Amazon, on the other hand, has unlimited virtual shelf space and unlimited geographic reach. Amazon does not have to warehouse stock. They can wait until a book is actually ordered and the money is in hand before using a digital file and BookSurge to print the book. Because they cannot match the deep discounts Amazon offers, bricks-and-mortar bookstores--already under siege--will be squeezed out of existence.
  3. Like Wal-Mart, Amazon will continue to apply pressure on publishers to give more favorable terms. Wal-Mart's suppliers used cheaper materials and out-sourced to cheaper overseas labor. As the publishing houses' profit margins are squeezed, their cost-cutting efforts will take three directions: (1) Focus even more attention on signing best-selling authors whose work is guaranteed to sell; (2) Begin to pressure their mid-list authors to accept lower advances and lower royalty percentages; and (3) Sign fewer and fewer new authors because of the uncertainty and the expense of growing a new writer.
  4. Mid-list authors and new authors, unable to either find a publisher or unwilling to accept the low royalties, will seek to self-publish. Where will they go? Since, by that time, most of the self-publishing houses will have gone out of business, they will go to Amazon's BookSurge or to Amazon's e-book division, Kindle. Amazon will welcome them.
  5. The next death on the food chain will be the publishers and agents themselves. First the mid-level publishers will die. Well-known agents and the larger houses will be protected for a period of time by their best-selling authors who are loyal to them. However, as those cash cows die off, so will the agents and larger houses. A new paradigm will emerge: Amazon as both publisher and retailer.
  6. Eventually Amazon will have so much power, they will be able to decide WHAT is worthy of being published.

Welcome to the future of publishing.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

And So It Begins . . .

Sorry this post is so late, but high winds here in North Texas knocked out my phone service yesterday afternoon, including my DSL. It wasn't until after the Belmont Stakes were run this afternoon that the service was restored.

Back in late March and early April, I took a lot of flack from people who thought I was overreacting to Amazon's announcement that they were going to force small publishers and e-publishers to use their proprietary POD press, BookSurge. I made my case here and here and asked readers and writers to sign a petition here to Amazon protesting the move.

I got two pages of patronizing comments from the boys' club over on A Writer's Life here and a lot of apathy from everyone else, although agent Nathan Bransford was kind enough to draw attention to my blogs on the subject here.

When I found myself boring even me, I decided to quit talking about the issue and wait for Amazon to make their next move--which I was quite confident they would.

Since then, I've occasionally alluded to the subject as I did in my blog of April 18th when I quoted an excerpt from Publishers Lunch:

One persistent topic at the London Book Fair was Amazon's aggression towards publishers selling books directly from their own web sites at modest discounts. In a blog post, Tim O'Reilly expresses his own larger concern: "As Amazon's market power increases, it needs to be mindful of whether its moves, even those that may be good for the company in the short term, are ultimately destructive of the ecosystem on which they depend. I believe that they are heading in that direction, and if they succeed with some of their initiatives, they will wake up one day to discover that they've sown the seeds of their own destruction, just as Microsoft did in the 1990s."

And again on May 16th when I quoted an excerpt from Mike Shatzkin's speech at the London Book Fair:

About three weeks ago, Amazon declared a new policy that they would no longer ship as Amazon-sold product books printed on demand by another supplier . . . The legality of this approach is not yet clear, but many of the marketplace implications certainly are. Amazon has a commanding position among online book purchasers and they can use that as leverage to compel publishers to conform to their desires . . . This latest policy is a shot across Ingram’s bow -- at the very least; maybe it is a missile into the wheelhouse -- but it is also a sober reminder to publishers that their now second-largest vendor has a whip hand and will use it.

In the past two weeks, I began to see the signs I'd been waiting for. The UK's The Bookseller has had two articles, and this week Publishers Weekly also had a short piece.

Tomorrow's Scotland's Sunday Herald has a lengthy article here titled, Amazon Accused of Squeezing Publisher. Here's an excerpt:

A MAJOR battle has erupted between Amazon and the UK's biggest publisher in the most public fallout yet between the powerful online retailer and the book world.

Amazon has removed several key Hachette Livre UK titles from sale on its British website in an effort to pressurise the publisher to give it a greater percentage of its profits, according to Hachette's group chief executive.

According to an article in The Bookseller two weeks ago,

Amazon conducts yearly negotiations with publishers over the discounts it receives. The Hachette tussle comes in the wake of a similar dispute in January, when a number of Bloomsbury titles were temporarily removed from sale through Amazon's main channel.

I went looking for information on the Bloomsbury dispute and found it in an undated article in the UK's Publishing News:

Publishers are reacting angrily to what one senior executive described as a “crude” attempt by Amazon to increase its discount. “It is going from publisher to publisher with extortionate demands, and if it does manage to get a figure from one publisher it is then going back to the first house and saying x has agreed to such-and-such”. . .

What we see is Amazon attempting a strategy of world domination. In the US, we've already seen them demanding that publishers use their facility for print-on-demand. It seems that the only people who benefit in the value chain are Amazon. They already have 15% of the market in the UK.”

It is estimated that if Amazon carries on growing at this rate, it will have 30% in three years, and publishers believe there is a real danger that bookshops will start closing as a result. “Amazon will be in a position of such dominance that they will be able to dictate terms and destabilise the market” . . .

Bloomsbury rec­ently had a terms dispute with the bookseller which resulted in Amazon removing the 'Buy Now' button from certain Bloomsbury titles on its site.

I did find an article in The Bookseller that said:

Amazon and Bloomsbury's dispute over terms appears to have been resolved, with titles that Amazon had removed from sale now back on offer from the online retailer.

Amazon had previously removed the "Buy New" button on a range of Bloomsbury titles . . . The titles, which earlier this week were only available via Amazon Marketplace [Note by MR: the third party market, mostly used books], are now all available to buy new on the site.

The move follows a letter sent by the Society of Authors to . . . outlining its concerns about the situation.

Neither Bloomsbury nor Amazon would comment on the news. An Amazon spokesperson said: "We won't comment on rumour and speculation. The books mentioned do have Buy buttons. We won't comment on relationships with our suppliers."

See my blog for tomorrow for the rest of the story along with my predictions.

Friday, June 06, 2008

A New Urban Fantasy

I've said it before--while I do have some virtues--patience is not among them. I spent a lot of time in waiting rooms this last week, and I don't do waiting well.

Fortunately I had an ARC of a new urban fantasy that will be released on June 24. It is a well-written, remarkably imaginative novel. I was sorry when I finished it.

The book is The Iron Hunt; the author is Marjorie M. Liu. I highly recommend it.

Maxine Kiss is a Hunter. Centuries before, demons and mankind fought a battle. With the help of some supernatural beings, the demons were imprisoned in another reality, behind the veil. A group of Hunters were charged with patrolling the world, to track down and kill those demons that escape the prison.

Maxine is the last of the Hunters. Her only assistance are five little demons who forged an alliance with her long-ago ancestor.

This is from the back cover of the ARC:

By day, her tattoos are her armor. By night, they unwind from her body to take on forms of their own--demons of the flesh, turned into flesh. This is the only family demon hunter Maxine Kiss has ever known. It's the only way to live, and the very way she'll die. For one day her demons will abandon her for her daughter to asssure their own survival--leaving Maxine helpless against her enemies.

The veil is falling. Demons are escaping. Maxine is beset on all sides.

Liu has previously written half a dozen paranormal romances for Dorchester's Leisure imprint centered around a special detective agency called Dirk and Steele. The books were well-received, but I've not read any of them.

The Iron Hunt appears to be Liu's first novel for my own publisher, Penguin. I will look forward to the next. Her writing is at once vivid and lyrical. If you like urban fantasy, be sure to keep an eye out for this novel.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Kicking Around the Kindle Site

Hi, I'm back although I may have additional absences over the next few weeks. I've got a number of issues to address both at work and personally. A CT scan yesterday revealed I have a rather large but (hopefully) benign tumor that I'll need to deal with in the near future since it is beginning to interfere with my quality of life.

Enough of that. Lots going on in the world of publishing. The New York Times had an article here on Monday that asked the question, "Is the electronic book approaching the tipping point?"

Apparently the New York houses are beginning to get worried about the number of e-readers being sold. They're also concerned about Amazon's growing influence.


The smoke has been creeping out over the transom, and flames have been licking at the curtains for months, but New York is finally getting anxious. And, typical of corporations, they are focusing on the wrong end of the equation.

I think Amazon is playing a shell game with the Kindle. More importantly, I also think they have a limited window of time in which to play their game.

Why do I say this? To start with, Amazon has been coy in refusing to reveal the actual number of Kindle readers sold. They claimed to sell out their initial factory run, but gave no indication whether that was 25 or 2,500 readers.

The limited window of time explanation is easy. New brands of e-readers are rolling off the factory floors every six months or so. As reported by Engadget three weeks ago here, the Astak Mentor e-reader is scheduled to make its debut in October. (Thanks to my friend Lynne Connolly for the heads up).

The Mentor will come in three sizes: 5-inch, 6-inch, and 9.7-inch versions, and will range in price from less-than-$200 to $350. More importantly, in addition to being an e-reader, it will offer Mp3 player capability, Bluetooth and WiFi.

Now think about that for a minute. If you could have one device that allowed you to read e-books AND to download audio music and audiobooks for less than the cost of the Kindle, would you choose to buy the Kindle instead?

Me neither.

And, interestingly enough, shortly after that Engadget article came out, Amazon dropped the price of the Kindle by $40 to $359, bringing it close to the price of the top model of the forthcoming Mentor. Do you think that was an accident?

I discovered some interesting stuff while wandering around Amazon's website this week during interminable waits in doctors' outer offices. Here are some of my findings:

  • There are 1,200 Kindle e-books priced between $2,386.80 to $200. Most of these are technical books with titles like Cardiac Catheterization and Percutaneous Interventions or Biogeochemistry of Trace Elements in Coal and Coal Combustion Byproducts.

  • While Amazon has touted its $9.99 price for most books, there are 1,110 novels priced betwee $312 and $10. I found this a bit confusing. When I'm in a rare bookstore, I expect to find first editions priced higher than reprints. However, I'm at a loss to understand how this works with an e-book. Why would I pay $35.19 for a version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland here when I can go to Project Gutenberg here and download it for free?

  • The previous bullet was when I began to realize that there are a TON of self-published books for sale on Amazon's Kindle. The aforementioned Alice's Adventures was apparently self-published by illustrator Helen Oxenbury. Out of curiosity, I searched Amazon to see if they had a print copy of Oxenbury's version. They did, here, for $11.04. Would someone please explain to me why the Kindle download costs $35.19 and the print version costs $11.04?

  • Because I'm an obsessive little soul (surprise!), I started looking at some of the new releases to see how they were priced. Blood Noir, the new release by Laurell K. Hamilton was interesting. On Monday, you could pay $15.57 for the hardback, $15.42 for the Kindle version and $24.95 for the Mp3 version (note: not an audiobook). Tonight, you can pay $15.57 for the hardback, $9.99 for the Kindle and $30.99 for the audiobook. What's up with this?

  • Amazon staff have done a piss poor job of separating fiction and non-fiction. As I wandered the fiction section, I came across at least three errors on every page. Among them, these books were listed as fiction: The Chinese Communist Party in Reform, Primary Care for Physician Assistants, and Psychological Effects of U.S. Air Operations in Four Wars, 1941-1991: Lessons for U.S. Commanders.

One thing that is helpful. All of the self-published books I found--and they were legion--were priced above $10. So all you Kindle owners, be very careful before purchasing a book that costs more than $9.99. Make sure to check whether it is self-pubbed, or you might get an unpleasant surprise. There are, of course, quality self-published books on the market, but they are in the minority. Buyer beware.

I have said repeatedly here that I think Amazon poses a threat to the publishing industry. But, increasingly, I believe that threat stems from Amazon's vertical integration of the book market, not because I think the Kindle will become the dominant e-reader. Go here to read about Amazon's vertical integration.