Thursday, July 31, 2008
New technology always shakes up an industry, and publishing is no different. We've seen a lot of change in recent years, but I believe we are on the verge of an even greater sea change.
The act of physically producing a book was once the sticking point preventing authors' entry into the game. Publishers dominated because they were the owners of the means of production. That is no longer true. Producing a physical book or an e-book is far cheaper and easier to do today.
However, once you have that book--as the self-pubbed among us can testify--the real challenge becomes the marketing of the book. With thousands and thousands of more titles available on the market, drawing attention to a single one is a substantial task.
This is, of course, only my opinion, but I believe this new challenge will result in that sticking point to the game moving further down the line from the production of books to the marketing of books. I suspect in less than three years, authors are going to find themselves at the center of a battle with booksellers on one side and traditional publishers on the other--each struggling to survive.
Acting as a publisher is nothing new to the large bookchains. Crossing that line into publishing already happened for them. They have been publishing public domain books for years. If you walk into a B&N, you'll see aisles of books that were published by B&N.
What will be different is when the bookchains start seeking to obtain rights to copyrighted material to publish. Borders has already announced they are going to begin publishing copyrighted books that will be available exclusively in their stores.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that this flattens the process and cuts out one of the middlemen (the traditional publisher).
What I am unclear about is whether bookchains will employ in-house talent seekers to locate authors or whether they will rely on the agent system. Of course, if they're smart, they'll seek to contact the up-and-coming authors whom their staff identify as being on the verge of breaking out from the pack. Bookstore clerks are probably more in tune with the current market than anyone else. By offering those writers a bigger cut of the pie than a traditional publisher does and by promising prominent display in the store and on their website, the bookchain could entice those writers to leave their current publisher at the end of their contract.
At the same time, all of the major publishers are building digital warehouses. The publishing houses' goal is to sell books from their own websites. Their challenge is twofold. They understand the first challenge: most readers do not shop by publisher; they shop by looking for their favorite author, by browsing new material in their favorite genre or by just wandering around a bookstore.
The second challenge for traditional publishers is much more subtle: to realize that the world has changed and they are going to have to be much more flexible in negotiating with writers. While their bully boy approach [I'm thinking here of S&S] will work in the short term because the balance of power is still in the process of shifting; in the long term, it will work against them because they will have created an adversarial relationship with the very people who provide their product.
Let me repeat what I said earlier, in a world in which much more material is being dumped on the market, the challenge will be to make individual material stand out.
My interest in remaining with a publisher is going to depend on two things: how much are they going to support my marketing efforts and how willing are they to negotiate royalty rates?
Tomorrow we'll talk about the dark horses in this race for power.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
A company called Verve Wireless believes the secret to the newspaper's survival may be the 95 million mobile phone users who subscribe to the Internet:
Verve Wireless believes it can save the dying local newspaper by making it mobile. It offers publishers the technology to create Web sites for cellphones. The company, based in Encinitas, Calif., already provides mobile versions of 4,000 newspapers from 140 publishers . . . The Associated Press, its biggest customer, is betting that Verve has the solution to the nagging problem of dwindling print readership. It led a $3 million round of financing in Verve, a rare investment for the news organization.In exchange for a cut of the newspaper's ad revenue, Verve builds a mobile website on which users can access their local news.
Publishers can upload local ads to their cellphone sites using Verve’s software or have Verve place national ad campaigns on their sites. Verve can deliver a particular ad to, say, people age 21 to 30 who live downtown and have searched for articles about the bar scene. Philadelphia Magazine, for example, sent readers of its Verve-developed Web site a text message offering $4 grapefruit cocktails and half-price appetizers at a local bar.
Read the whole article here.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Children are clearly spending more time on the Internet. In a study of 2,032 representative 8- to 18-year-olds, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly half used the Internet on a typical day in 2004, up from just under a quarter in 1999. The average time these children spent online on a typical day rose to one hour and 41 minutes in 2004, from 46 minutes in 1999.The issue that the article struggles with is whether the type of reading kids do on the Internet IS reading. As might be expected, literacy experts are divided on the subject. The most frequent complaints seem to be that reading on the Internet is impacting our "sustained, focused, linear attention."
The question of how to value different kinds of reading is complicated because people read for many reasons.
Literacy specialists are just beginning to investigate how reading on the Internet affects reading skills . . . The only kind of reading that related to higher academic performance was frequent novel reading, which predicted better grades in English class and higher overall grade point averages.Even proponents of book-reading agree that the Internet can make reading easier for persons with disabilities like dyslexia.
Some literacy experts say that reading itself should be redefined. Interpreting videos or pictures, they say, may be as important a skill as analyzing a novel or a poem.After reading the debate, I found that I agreed with this quote:
“Kids are using sound and images so they have a world of ideas to put together that aren’t necessarily language oriented,” said Donna E. Alvermann, a professor of language and literacy education at the University of Georgia. “Books aren’t out of the picture, but they’re only one way of experiencing information in the world today.”
Even those who are most concerned about the preservation of books acknowledge that children need a range of reading experiences. “Some of it is the informal reading they get in e-mails or on Web sites,” said Gay Ivey, a professor at James Madison University who focuses on adolescent literacy. “I think they need it all.”Read the entire article here.
Monday, July 28, 2008
The ones that I found most interesting were these tracked by Nielsen BookScan:
Minimum number of different books sold in the U.S. in 2006: 1,446,000Or, to put it another way:
Number of those that sold fewer than 99 copies: 1,123,000
Number that sold more than 100,000: 483
Out of the 1,446,000 books released in 2006, 78% sold less than 99 copies while 22% sold more than 99 copies. Of that 22%, less than 1% sold more than 100,000 copies.Sobering statistics. I'd like to know how many of that 78% were self-published books.
See Bluenana's post here.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
This time my heroine is Leah Reece, the owner of a popular e-zine called Heat. Leah is Anglo and her hero, Quin, is Hispanic. Quin has a previous conviction for assault and works for the shady owner of an underground sex club.
I got the idea for the novel from two disparate events: seeing Viggo Mortensen's very hot, tattoed body in Eastern Promises and the discovery of an underground sex club called the Cherry Pit in a suburb of Dallas. That suburb has been trying to close the club down without success for months. See this USA Today story here.
I speak some Spanish--enough to get by--but it is mostly a mixture of my childhood Italian and mandatory high school classes. I am far from being able to conjugate in the local vernacular.
Fortunately I have friends. Among them is Maria Zannini. I wrote about Maria's debut book for Samhain, Touch of Fire, here two months ago. The cover is one of the most beautiful I can remember seeing.
Maria and I had lunch on Thursday, and I quizzed her on the Spanish slang for body parts and extracurricular activities. She was able to give me one or two, but was unsure of others. Then she reminded me that she'd recently introduced me to someone online who might be able to help.
Red Garnier writes for some of the biggest e-publishers online: Ellora's Cave, Samhain, Loose Id and Liquid Silver. Her most recent book, Color My Heart, was released by Samhain last month.
Maria introduced us because Red recently signed a contract with NAL, my publisher, and is working with Tracy Bernstein, my editor. I gave Red a call a couple of weekends ago, and we had a nice chat.
She speaks fluent Spanish.
I emailed her yesterday afternoon, asking for help. Within minutes, I had a detailed email giving me everything I needed.
I'm telling this story as a reminder that you can never network too much. I've been so fortunate in my life because of the good friends I've made. Some of them go all the way back to my childhood. Family and friends are always there for me. I treasure them.
Please check out Red and Maria's websites. Maria's is here and Red's is here.
Thank you, girlfriends!!!
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Now it's the Random House Group in the news. TheBookSeller.com had an article on Friday with writers complaining about changes to the contract of RH:
The controversy hinges on the definition of "out of print" in the digital environment, with one agent saying RHG was "trying to power through enormous changes to the contractual precedent". . .In response, Random House issued a statement, which said in part:
Society of Authors deputy general secretary Kate Pool said her major concern with RHG's new boilerplate was an out-of-print clause allowing rights reversion only if the publisher cannot supply a physical or electronic copy of a book within a month, or if there have been no royalty earnings for a year. The author body plans to raise the issue with RHG.
Pool said: ". . . this is a way that publishers can sit on rights for years on end."
"When we acquire a new title, we commit to the author to do the very best job we can to publish and sell their book. Understandably, we believe we should have the right to continue to sell that book for as long as there is a viable market for it and responsibly take advantage of all new digital technologies.Authors who have first been published by e-publishing houses know the big e-book publishers offer rates around 33% to 35%. The New York houses have a standard paperback rate around 7.5%. They are trying to hold e-books at or near that rate WHILE trying to prevent reversion of rights to the author.
"We continue to work closely with the author and agent community to implement terms that are fair, but also reflect the fast-changing nature of the modern publishing industry."
I've said it many times before, and I will continue harping on it: Writers need to pay attention to their contracts--whether or not they have an agent. Writers OWN their careers and MUST understand what a contract is obligating them to.
Friday, July 25, 2008
Simon & Schuster Inc. says Brown was paid $75,000 in 2005 to turn in an autobiography called "Broken Silence" by February 2006 while Lil' Kim was paid $40,000 in 2003 for a novel that was due June 2004.The article points out that after their deals were cut, both women went to prison. Lil' Kim, whose real name is Kimberly Jones, was imprisoned for ten months back in 2005/06 after lying to authorities about a shooting. MTV.com reported on this:
Kim was convicted on three counts of perjury and one count of conspiracy in March 2005 in connection with the trial of the 2001 shooting incident outside New York's Hot 97 radio stationFoxy Brown, whose real name is Inga Marchand, served eight months in prison in 2007/08 for attacking two manicurists in 2004. The New York Daily News reported:
Brown was sentenced to three years' probation in October 2006. But a judge packed her off to jail when she decided the long-nailed, short-fused star wasn't taking her probation seriously after she hit a woman in the face with a cell phone and threw a pot of hair glue at a worker in a Queens store.I keep saying it over and over. When you sign a contract (and take the money), you are obligated to fulfill the terms.
Certain publishers have argued that they accepted the high initial discounts Audible demanded as covering costs during the early stages of Audible's existence, and while the proportion of revenue from downloads was relatively small. But, as the medium grows in popularity, firms are increasingly calling for the business to rethink its remuneration structure.In January, Amazon announced it was buying Audible.com.
Looks like it didn't take long for Audible to buy into the Amazon philosophy of doing business with its publishing partners.
Read the whole story here.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
More than 300 are found at Google.com in the Google Docs Template Gallery, launched last week and covering everything from project management schedules and travel expense reports to gas mileage calculators. The templates are accessible from any computer and require no fee or special software, just a Google password.Go here to take a look at some of the templates available for use.
Among the most-used templates so far are those for resumes, cover letters, a 2008 monthly calendar, a service invoice and budget planners, according to Google.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
The title refers to a publisher's practice of selling a book to retailers without revealing the author, the subject or what to expect. This is called selling "blind." It isn't a common practice:
Publishers rarely try to sell a book blind, and when they do, it comes with a promise that the title will make a big splash. Sales reps might keep the details of a blockbuster hidden to make sure no juicy bits are leaked to the press ahead of publication.
It will probably come as no surprise to you that this practice is most frequently associated with the Oprah's Book Club:
Whenever a selection is made, that book's publisher is notified ahead of time, but the information is embargoed until Oprah makes her official announcement. Until then, the publisher can try to sell the title blind.You might wonder why bookstores would agree to such a deal. The article claims that booksellers want to be sure of being able to get its order filled early on a potential best-seller where having the book available first can be critical to sales.
Read the entire story here.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
If you read my post on Saturday, you'll have seen that Simon & Schuster is apparently sending a letter to its writers, seeking to modify their contracts to establish the standard royalty for e-books at 15% of "the catalog retail price."
This is actually huge because you have a New York publisher moving its royalty rate for e-books from the industry standard paperback royalty of 7.5% of the list price to the high end of the industry standard for adult fiction hardcover books of 10% to 15%--without any provision for discounting the book.
Do I think S&S is doing this out of the goodness of their hearts?
I've been saying for over a year that New York was going to have to get used to the idea that they could not expect to offer authors the same royalty rates for e-books as they did for physical books.
First of all, their level of expense in producing and releasing an e-book is nowhere near the level of expense of producing, warehousing and shipping a physical book. Second, e-publishers have been offering royalty rates of 33% to 50% since e-books first appeared.
A couple of weeks ago, I spoke in St. Louis to the RWA there. I made the comment that New York was going to have to raise its rates for e-book royalties. One of the published authors in the audience was very aggressive in arguing against this. Although her reasoning seemed muddled ("New York still has huge expenses"), I simply reiterated this was my opinion.
Her comment reminded me of my recent discussion with an employee who was demanding a 42% raise. When I asked what the logic was for making this request, I was told that she "simply can't live on the $32,000 she is presently making."
Both women (the St. Louis dissenter and the disaffected employee) were forgetting two things: (1) Businesses generally (not always) pay according to the value received, not according to the expenses the provider of services (employee) is encountering and (2) Prevailing market rates have an enormous impact on prices and salaries.
Now, less than a month after my St. Louis visit, here comes S&S offering to double its e-book rights. That says a couple of things to me. First, that their authors are complaining about the e-book royalty rates being offered. And, second, that S&S is probably looking for another advantage and using this raise in rates to secure it.
I'd LOVE to see a copy of the letter S&S is sending its authors. The fact that the Authors Guild warns writers that this modification to their contracts may "grant the publisher rights that you've otherwise retained" causes me to suspect there is something else going on here.
Also the Authors Guild says this modification "may affect your ability to obtain a reversion of rights."
THAT sounds like the newest variation of a familiar song. The Internet offers a virtual bookshelf where books need never go out of print in the traditional sense in which we think of "out of print." I'd wager that S&S is arguing that this higher royalty rate and the virtual bookshelf should allow them to retain the right to the work in question indefinitely.
I'd be VERY cautious about signing that clause without a revenue-based threshold (i.e. an annual level of sales they must make) to justify my leaving my work with that publisher.
Stay tuned. I'm sure this is not the end of the discussion.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Rather than traverse familiar ground again, let me refer anyone needing background information to my blog of April 25 here. In that post, I quote Jeffrey Toobin saying:
. . . most people involved in the dispute believe that a settlement is likely. “The suits that have been filed are a business negotiation that happens to be going on in the courts . . .
I checked Justia this morning to see what the current status of the lawsuit is.
On January 29, 2008, an amended order was submitted to the New York Southern District Court. Here are the details of the order signed by Judge John E. Sprizzo:
- All conferences previously scheduled were adjourned
- Expert Witness List due by 11/24/2008
- Discovery due by 1/20/2009
- Motions due by 4/16/2009
So, the negotiations continue to drag on at a snail's pace.
Stay tuned . . .
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Everyone has issues.
By the time we reach adulthood, the childhood bumps and bruises to our psyches (our functional selves) leave us with our own customized set of baggage, which we tote around until we decide to open the boxes and examine that stuff we so carefully packed away.
I've dealt with a lot of my baggage. However, two issues remain. The one I've been dealing with over the past few months has been a tendency to feel trapped when circumstances arise which are beyond my control.
As some of you know from reading this blog, I've had a lot on my plate over the past couple of months. One of the reasons I quit my job was an impulsive response to a growing feeling of being caged. Of course, the threat of serious health issues did not improve upon that sense of being trapped.
While the employment issue is not yet completely resolved, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, despite several pieces of good news health-wise, my usual coping skills have suffered. I've continually awakened to a feeling that my back was to the wall.
Sunday morning, I awoke before dawn. I didn't turn on the lights, just moved in the darkness to my computer to begin writing.
I felt stifled and unable to express myself.
Without stopping to think what I was doing or why, I pulled on my jeans and a tank top, headed out to my car and began driving south.
At 5:00 in the morning on a weekend, there isn't much traffic on the highways heading out of Dallas. I rolled the windows down and cranked up an oldie station on the radio. I'm ashamed to admit I exceeded the speed limit by nearly twenty miles. At least that's what the cop who pulled me over thirty minutes later said.
I talked him out of giving me a ticket--that's the fourth time in a row over the last two years I've pulled off that feat.
Something funny happened. I don't know if it was the speed, the distance or just confirmation that I can talk my way out of most problems, but as I drove home, I realized I'd left that sense of being trapped back on the highway somewhere.
I was now a LONG way from Dallas. I pulled over at a truckstop, had a hearty breakfast and then meandered home, feeling better than I've felt in weeks. I watched the sun rise in the east with a sense of well-being. I returned home, sat at my computer and wrote like a maniac all day.
At the end of this day, I have a sense of accomplishment and--more importantly--a confidence that's been missing for the past eight weeks.
The breaking of the sun over the horizon is my grateful heart dawning upon a blessed world. ~Adabella Radici
Here's the class plan:
Monday: Overview of the industry. A quick historical perspective. What you need to know about genres. How your personality plays into your approach to getting published.
Tuesday: Publishers. Who the major players are and how they think.
Wednesday: Agents. What they do, and how to go about getting one.
Thursday: Booksellers. Why Borders and Barnes & Noble are having such problems. What's going on over at Amazon.
Friday: A look at the major trends. How to increase your odds of getting published.
If you'd like to join us, register today here. Don't be scared off by all the pink if you're male or by the references to romance if you don't write romance. This is a macro class geared for an overview of publishing.
Come play with me [grin].
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Simon & Schuster [S&S], one of the largest book publishers in the U.S., has altered its standard contract with authors in an effort to retain control of books even after they have gone out of print. Until now, Simon & Schuster, like all other major trade publishers, has followed the traditional practice in which rights to a work revert to the author if the book falls out of print or if its sales are low.
The new contract would allow Simon & Schuster to consider a book in print, and under its exclusive control, so long as it’s available in any form, including through its own in-house database -- even if no copies are available to be ordered by traditional bookstores.
That press release started a brouhaha until the Authors Guild posted the following on their site on May 31st:
Simon and Schuster executives apologized for any early miscommunication on this issue, and appreciated the opportunity to clarify their position.What a difference a year makes!
They informed us that S&S is investing a lot of resources in its digital publishing initiative . . . Their goal is to keep books in print more effectively and to market frontlist and backlist titles more vibrantly.
They have confirmed for us that they are agreeable to negotiating with agents a revenue-based threshold to determine the in-print status of a book.
On Thursday, the Authors Guild sent out an advisory to its members warning them about a letter Simon and Schuster [S&S] is sending to authors. Apparently S&S is seeking to modify their contracts to establish the standard royalty for e-books at 15% of "the catalog retail price."
The Authors Guild posted the advisory on their website here:
1) Discuss the amendment with your agent or attorney, if you have one.We'll talk about this more in tomorrow's post.
2) Depending on your existing contract with Simon & Schuster, the amendment may grant the publisher rights that you've otherwise retained.
3) Be aware that the amendment may affect your ability to obtain a reversion of rights.
Friday, July 18, 2008
The SAG contract expired last month, but actors have continued to work while their union and the producers continued talking. The two sides met for two hours on Wednesday without coming to agreement. No further meetings are scheduled at this time, and neither side was willing to comment.
The meeting came a week after the union rejected what the producers called their final contract offer . . . The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers has been calling on union leaders to allow actors to vote on a contract offer that it said would provide $250 million in additional compensation over three years . . . The producers said if the offer is not ratified by Aug. 15, any proposed wage increases would not be made retroactive to July 1.The Screen Actors Guild is the last of the large unions to go up against the producers in the fight for more compensation for DVDs. The writers and directors failed to get what they wanted in their negotiations.
SAG also wants more say for actors when they are asked to endorse products in scripted shows.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
I still check out the photos of Charlie the coyote and his pal Eli the cat every day. Recently a new puppy named Chloe joined the pack.
Shreve Stockton, the writer who took in the ten-day-old coyote in the spring of 2007, has just turned in her manuscript for the book she has been writing on Charlie's first year. She's been cruising the Internet.
Thanks to her for the link to this video here. I promise, you'll smile.
An insider let slip that two new Amazon Kindle models will hit stores this holiday season, with the first coming as early as October.Go here to read the entire article.
The first is an updated version with the same sized screen, a smaller form factor, and an improved interface . . . The second new model, which is shaped like an 8 1/2 x 11-inch piece of paper, is considerably bigger than the current model and should be available next year.
Invariably, as soon as I purchase anything electronic, the company announces the release of a new and improved model. I figure agent Nathan Bransford is reponsible for the upcoming Amazon releases. Nathan recently reported here on the new Kindle he purchased.
BTW, check out Nathan's post here on the new HarperCollins experiment. Keep an eye on HarperStudio.
Publishing News, a UK weekly, had this to say on July 15th here:
PUBLISHING NEWS, THE book trade weekly, is to cease publication. The issue of Friday July 25th will be the last. The news was announced in a statement today (Wednesday, July 15 2008)
The publication, founded in 1979, has been hit by the same problems that have affected all magazines and newspapers, as advertisers have shifted increasing proportions of their spend to online and direct sales.
PNL's founder and Chairman, Fred Newman, commented: 'This has been a sad and difficult decision to make, but the nature of the book trade which today offers a multiplicity of ways for publishers to sell books both to booksellers and to consumers has changed dramatically. For the biggest book publishers, the trade press is now only one of many options for the promotion and sale of their titles.'
I'm so sorry to see this happen.
Bertelsmann described the business being sold--Direct Group North America--as including "book, DVD and music club brands [like] Doubleday Book Club, Book-of-the-Month Club, Mystery Guild, Black Expressions and Columbia House."
Shortly after the sale was reported, Bertelsmann denied reports that it had plans to sell its European book clubs.
Well, time changes all things.
On Tuesday, Forbes.com included a report from the Associated Press as follows:
German media company Bertelsmann AG said Tuesday it will sell off its book and music clubs in several regions, including some countries in Europe and Australia.Because Bertelsmann is not a publicly held company, the financial details of the deals will not be publicly available. The closely held stock is controlled by the German Mohn family.
In a letter to employees obtained by The Associated Press, chief executive Hartmut Ostrowski said the company's board intends to explore sales of its Direct Group units in Australia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Flemish-speaking Belgium, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom . . . Bertelsmann will hold on to Direct Group's businesses in German- and French-speaking regions as well as Italy, Portugal and Spain, concentrating on the larger markets in Europe.
A little more than a year ago, on May 5, 2007 here, I did a post on a BusinessWeek article that reported:
. . . Bertelsmann has also become the biggest book publisher in the Czech Republic and has scored big successes in Poland, Russia, and elsewhere.This January, Bertelsmann named a new Chairman and CEO, Hartmut Ostrowski. Two months ago, Ostrowski announced a new CEO at Random House. Markus Dohle has no publishing experience, but it's expected he will take steps to "revitalize" Random House.
It sounds like Ostrowski and Dohle are shaking up things at Bertelsmann.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Yesterday I got the report: negative. Thank you, Jesus!
To celebrate, I stole this video from my good friend Stephen Parrish here. Thanks, Stephen!
According to news reports, the story began last October with a 58-year-old communication-studies senior at Indiana University/Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) by the name of Keith John Sampson. He was a student employee at IUPUI working as a janitor.
During his break, Sampson was reading Todd Tucker's book titled Notre Dame Vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan, a book which was also carried in the university library.
The next thing Sampson knew, the Anglo student got a visit from his representative from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union who told him not to bring that book back into the breakroom. A co-worker by the name of Nakea William had complained.
Sampson protested that the book was an ANTI-Klan retelling of an historic event in 1924 when the students of the University of Notre Dame disrupted a Klan rally in South Bend, Indiana and drove the Klan out of town. The rep ignored the explanation and repeated his warning.
Now that was bad enough. But this incredible story didn't end there.
Next Sampson was called into the campus Affirmative Action office where assistant affirmative action officer Marguerite Watkins read him the riot act. Sampson's protests about the scholarly nature of the book and the anti-Klan bias did him no more good there than it had with his union rep.
Reminder: This incident took place on the campus of an university, a bastion of higher education and intellectual freedom.
The WSJ reports the next chapter in this ludicrous story which took place in November:
Mr. Sampson stood accused of "openly reading the book related to a historically and racially abhorrent subject in the presence of your Black co-workers." The statement, signed by chief affirmative action officer Lillian Charleston, asserted that her office had completed its investigation of the charges brought by Ms. Nakea William, his co-worker – that Mr. Sampson had continued, despite complaints, to read a book on this "inflammatory topic." "We conclude," the letter informed him, "that your conduct constitutes racial harassment. . . ." A very serious matter, with serious consequences, it went on to point out.
Sampson sought the help of the Indiana state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union which contacted the university. Things began changing after that. In February, the same chief affirmative action officer who had concluded he was guilty of racial harassment without ever speaking to him sent a new letter that essentially rewrote history. According to the WSJ:
. . . she wished to clarify her previous letter, and to say it was "permissible for him to read scholarly books or other materials on break time." . . . She had meant in that first letter, she said, only to address "conduct" that caused concern among his co-workers.Meanwhile FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) had taken up the case. According to the Star Press, an online newsletter in Indiana, Adam Kissel of FIRE said that second letter was not good enough:
“By first finding Sampson guilty of racial harassment simply for reading a book in the break room, then refusing to admit the gross impropriety of such a finding, IUPUI makes a mockery of its legal and moral obligations as a public institution of higher learning.”Clearly feeling the heat from FIRE, Chancellor Charles Bantz wrote a letter to both the ACLU and FIRE, saying he regretted what had happened. However, his regret did not extend to writing an apology to Sampson.
Mr. Sampson told his own story in a May edition of the New York Post here. He said his shop steward told him, "You could be fired," that reading the book was "like bringing pornography to work."
Sampson closed his first-person account in the New York Post with these words:
The unchecked power of such campus bureaucrats needs to be restrained. And if a union like AFSCME won't protect its workers' constitutional rights, it should go out of business.On Monday of this week (after the Wall Street Journal account), the Star Press reported:
If they can stop me from reading one book, then they can stop any American from reading any book.
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Chancellor Charles Bantz apologized to Keith John Sampson in a letter dated Friday, saying the university is committed to free expression.I will be the first person to say that racial intolerance should not have a place in today's society. However, that knife cuts both ways. When people are so overly sensitive that they see offense where none is intended AND persist in that belief despite clear evidence to the contrary, things need to change.
From the top down.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Even before the deal was struck, media companies had been complaining that the unauthorized download of music, movies and other copyrighted content on YouTube was costing them billions. Four months after the purchase, in February, 2007, Disney, GE, News Corp, Viacom and Time Warner publicly accused Google of benefiting from the sale of pirated movies and of offering support to YouTube.
Six weeks after negotiations with Google broke down, Viacom sued both YouTube and Google in New York's U.S. District Court for more than $1 billion dollars. 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."
Here we are sixteen months later, and the New York Times provided an update on the lawsuit. In an ironic twist, the day before the Fourth of July, a federal judge ordered Google "to turn over to Viacom its records of which users watched which videos on YouTube, the Web’s largest video site by far."
The order raised concerns among YouTube users and privacy advocates that the video viewing habits of tens of millions of people could be exposed.Both Viacom and Google insist they will take steps to protect the users' privacy.
But the judge's order stirs the concern of privacy advocates who are already unhappy about the "unprecedented amounts of private information" being gathered and stored by Google and other search engines.
The amount of data covered by the order is staggering, as it includes every video watched on YouTube since its founding in 2005. In April alone, 82 million people in the United States watched 4.1 billion clips there, according to comScore. Some experts say virtually every Internet user has visited YouTube.The Times says that Viacom wants the user information in order to determine how much of YouTube's popularity was based on the pirated clips illegally posted to the site.
Judge [Louis] Stanton agreed that the information could help Viacom make its case. “A markedly higher proportion of infringing-video watching may bear on plaintiff’s vicarious liability claim, and defendants’ substantial noninfringing use defense,” he wrote.
Monday, July 14, 2008
But Ellen Ashe's latest post on her blog here took my breath away.
New Concepts was started in 1996 by Madris DePasture. It is based in Valdosta, Georgia. Internet rumors have been that it is still primarily a family affair. Andrea DePasture is one of NCP's editors, and I've been told that James, the former Author Liaison, is another family member. The position of Author Liaison is currently posted as a vacancy on the website.
Wow! Just Wow!
If you're not familiar with the story, you can visit my post from October 17, 2007 here. It all started when Missy Chase Lapine accused Jessica Seinfeld (Yes, Jerry's wife) of plagiarizing her cookbook.
Lapine's book--The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals--was released April 4, 2007 by Running Press. Seinfeld's book--Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Foodwas released almost exactly six months later on October 5 by HarperCollins.
Although Lapine's publisher Running Press complained to HarperCollins when they saw promotional materials for the proposed Seinfeld cookbook, Lapine herself remained silent. HarperCollins did make some minor changes to their cover at Running Press' request. Neither Lapine nor Running Press made any further complaints.
When Seinfeld's book came out, readers raised the question of plagiarism. Still Lapine remained silent.
But then Jerry Seinfeld went on Letterman on the night of October 29, 2007, where he raised the issue himself. He described Lapine as a "whacko-in-waiting" who had been "waiting in the woodwork to spring out and go whacko" by accusing his wife of breaking into HarperCollins to steal her recipes. He describes Lapine (although he never mentions her by name) as "angry and hysterical" and of being a "three-name woman" and everyone knows all the great assassins in history had three names.
To see the entire five-minute interview go here and move the timeline cursor to 4:50 when the interview turns to the subject of the cookbooks.
Although readers of my blog thought it was amusing and not damaging to Lapine, I was not as sanguine. Lapine had been maintaining a dignified silence until that point. I felt Seinfeld intruded upon her privacy and good will in a reprehensible manner. Apparently Missy Chase Lapine felt the same way because eight weeks later, on January 7, she sued both Seinfelds.
The recent New York Times article said this:
Armed with a new set of lawyers, Ms. Lapine recently extended her lawsuit against the Seinfelds to include HarperCollins, the publisher of Ms. Seinfeld’s cookbook. Ms. Lapine’s original lawyers left the case because they also represent News Corporation, which owns HarperCollins, Ms. Lapine said. Ms. Lapine is seeking unspecified damages.The new lawyers say they expect the case to drag on into the fall.
As I've said before, I don't think much of the plagiarism charge in the lawsuit. However, Jerry Seinfeld should be glad I can't serve on a jury in Manhattan because I'm not so sure I wouldn't be all over him about that defamation charge.
Without knowing any more about the case than I do right now, I think Seinfeld abused his celebrity in mocking a non-celebrity who did not have any other forum in which to respond outside of our courts.
I dislike bullies, especially mean-spirited bullies who hide behind sarcasm, trying to make others laugh at someone else's expense. Just because the victim is 37 instead of 7, it doesn't make it all right.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Both Bertelsmann and Random House have had less than stellar financial results over the last couple of years. As a result, Bertelsmann put its North American Direct Group [direct-to-consumer sales] on the market back in March. And, in May, they named a new chief executive to run Random House--one with no prior publishing experience.
For the last ten days, Bertelsmann has been in the news almost every day.
It began on the Fourth of July with Interfax China, a news agency. Interfax reported here that Bertelsmann had decided to close all its book club business in China. The news release said:
However, the closing of the book club does not mean that the group will retreat from the Chinese market, but rather, it will come back with a new marketing strategy. It will likely shift its business focus to other fast developing areas such as media services and magazine publication. Its new investment program also includes the establishment of a $100 million Asia fund, which was set up in January this year and headquartered in Beijing.
"The situation in China is very different from abroad where the 'book club' model is quite successful. Chinese customers are more sensitive to price when purchasing books, but Bertelsmann's book club model has failed to provide enough discount compared to its competitors, such as Joyo and Dangdang," He Xiao, an analyst from CCID Consulting told Interfax.
Since Bertelsmann opened its book clubs in China in 1997, more Chinese customers have begun buying books online where they can purchase what they want without the requirement that they buy a minimum number of books.
Then, this past Monday, Reuters UK reported here:
German media group Bertelsmann . . . is drawing up plans to sell its Direct Group France division for an amount that could exceed 300 million euros ($470 million). . .On Tuesday, Publishers Lunch directed readers to AFP's story here:
A spokesperson for Bertelsmann in Germany said that no decision had yet been taken concerning the sale of the European activities of Direct Group. "The news over the timing and the price are pure speculation," he added.
Bertelsmann wants to sell its global book clubs because falling sales have convinced the German media group it is time to turn the page on its historic activity, a press report said on Tuesday.
A sale could be quick and complete, according to the Financial Times Deutschland, which cited unnamed sources at Bertelsmann.
Hartmut Ostrowski, the Bertelsmann CEO, was quoted saying "book clubs are losing market share, and we are concerned about how the situation will evolve."
On Friday, MarketWatch.com reported here:
Najafi Companies, a Phoenix, Arizona-based private investment company, has agreed to acquire the direct-to-consumer business, Direct Group North America, from Bertelsmann AG the two companies announced today. The sale agreement, which was entered into earlier this week, is expected to close in the third quarter of 2008. Financial terms between the parties, both privately held, were not disclosed.
Bertelsmann describes the Direct Group North America this way:
Direct Group North America is one of the largest direct-to-consumer distributors of media products in the U.S. The company is home to such marketing-leading book, DVD and music club brands as Doubleday Book Club, Book-of-the-Month Club, Mystery Guild, Black Expressions and Columbia House. The company serves millions of members in the U.S. and Canada through its various club catalogs and online. Direct Group North America has offices in New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, South Carolina and Toronto, Canada.On Friday, while most eyes were focused on the sale of the North American Direct Group, Forbes.com reported:
A Bertelsmann spokesman said the company's European book club business is also under review, but a decision is unlikely before the middle of next year.
Then Publishers Weekly's "Morning Report" announced Bertelsmann was denying it had plans to sell its European book clubs, saying:
A company spokesman denies previous claims and says it has only started the process of divesting Columbia House and Bookspan, its U.S. clubs.The publishing industry is waking up. Two large book club publishers--Bertelsmann and Harlequin--have seen their profits plummet in the past couple of years. With the easy immediacy of e-book downloads and the ready availability of online bookstores like Amazon, why should anyone sign up for a book club that has an expectation of a minimum number of books or where the selection is left to the publisher.
The only way book clubs will work in today's world is: (1) If readers have no other access to either bookstores or the Internet; (2) If the price is competitive with Amazon's pricing; or (3) If the book club is related to a special niche of readers and has access to books those readers cannot get any other way.
Keep an eye on the new Random House CEO, Markus Dohle. It will be interesting to see what path he leads RH down.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
I began this blog three years ago. This morning, I did a search
[I love Blogger] of the posts I had done on the German media conglomerate during that time. I found reading all the posts at once pretty interesting.
Today I'm going to do a narrative timeline of the past three years using those Bertelsmann posts. Tomorrow I'll talk about this week's news.
November 4, 2005: Random House (a division of Bertelsmann), announced a plan to offer its books for online viewing on a pay-per-page-view basis. Free sample excerpts will be permitted with a 4 cents per page charge for every page after the free sample.
November 27, 2005: In looking at who owns what, I reported that Bertelsmann owns German magazines, radio and television stations, BMG Music, Waterbrook Press and Random House. In addition to its own imprints, Random House has multiple subsidiaries, including Ballantine, Bantam Dell, Crown, Doubleday Broadway, and Knopf.
December 12, 2005: I quoted a story in the Wall Street Journal on HarperCollins' plans to maintain control of the digitization of their books. "Along with a recent initiative by Bertelsmann AG's Random House, the initiative signals a growing desire by publishers to control and participate in some of the new online uses of their books."
February 3, 2006: Random House announced that, on February 6, XM Satellite Radio would start to offer "The Random House Hour" on its Sonic Theater channel with each episode featuring two 30-minute readings from different books. The books would be read aloud in their entirety over forthcoming episodes.
I also talked about Random House and Audible.com. In May, 2000, Random House had announced Random House Audible, a strategic alliance with Audible, Inc. to establish "the first-ever imprint" to produce spoken word content to be distributed on the Internet.
November 13, 2006: Bertelsmann revealed that their profit for the first nine months of 2006 was almost half of what it had been the previous year. Reports were that between 20 and 30 of Random House's sales force were cut.
The New York Times described Bertelsmann's Random House as "the world's largest English-language trade publisher, with combined sales of about $2 billion. As of 2004, the company is publishing about 8,000 books a year and has a backlist catalog of some 50,000 titles, employing about 5,300 people worldwide." Bertelsmann is the "third largest media conglomerate in the world."
March 17, 2007: Michael Hyatt's blog listed the top ten U.S. trade publishers by market share. Random House (Bertelsmann AG) held the top spot with 18% of the market. The #2 slot was taken by HarperCollins at 12.4%.
April 11, 2007: Bertelsmann paid Time Inc. $150 million, buying out its partner's fifty percent share of Bookspan, their joint-venture that includes the Book-of-the-Month Club.
The Wall Street Journal reported the deal "would leave Bertelsmann as the only major operator of book, music and DVD clubs in the U.S. . . . The acquisition follows Bertelsmann's 2005 purchase of the Columbia House music and DVD clubs for about $400 million." At the time, I said, "Bertelsmann is putting its money on a very old-fashioned business model--the traditional bookclub--at a time when Internet book sales continue to grow."
May 5,2007: I reported that, among the other bookclubs Bookspan owns are: American Compass, a club primarily aimed at American conservative readers; InsightOut, a book club featuring books of topical interest to gay and lesbian readers; and Mosaico and Circulo, two clubs offering Latin and Spanish-translated selections.
BusinessWeek had an article explaining that, while bookclubs in the U.S. were being replaced by a trend toward e-books and online sales, in places like the Ukraine, there was a growing population of well-educated people faced with relatively few bookstores. "As a result, Bertelsmann has also become the biggest book publisher in the Czech Republic and has scored big successes in Poland, Russia, and elsewhere."
BusinessWeek also reported that the developing world is experiencing a "booming print media." The article cited places like India, Vietnam and China as well as Argentina, where the number of published books has more than doubled since 2002.
While American bookclubs target older consumers, nearly half of the 2 million members in Bertelsmann's Ukrainian bookclub venture are under thirty. Bertelsmann focuses on keeping its prices low in recognition of the lower incomes in the developing world. To help keep costs down, rather than delivering the bookclub shipments to a customer's door, deliveries are made to post offices where the customers come to pick up their books.
March 19, 2008: Four months ago, Bertelsmann reported on Random House's performance for the year 2007. Revenue fell 5.6% to $2.39 billion and EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) dropped 4.9% to $225 million.
The Direct Group's [direct-to-consumer businesses] 2007 revenue fell 4.1% and that Bertelsmann's Chairman Hartmut Ostrowski said the company is "examining all strategic options, including the possible sale" of the group. The Direct Group's EBIT "plunged nearly 91%."
Bertelsmann said the weak performance of the U.S. division where music, DVD and book club membership declined significantly and sales per member were off, was also an important factor in the disappointing performance.
During a press conference in Berlin, Random House announced Morgan Stanley will handle the sale of the Direct Group North America, but did not give a formal timetable.
May 21, 2008: Bertelsmann named Markus Dohle to be the new RH chief executive, replacing Peter W. Olson who had been CEO since 1998. The hope is that Dohle, who has no publishing experience, will open up new lines of business to revitalize Random House.
Richard Sarnoff, president of Random House's corporate development unit, said, "'We acknowledge that a generation is growing up that may not have the same visceral connection with the book format,'" he said. "'They have read as much on screens as they have on paper. We need vehicles to translate our books in different ways.'"
We'll talk more about Bertelsmann tomorrow.
Friday, July 11, 2008
On Wednesday, blogger Simon Owens of the Bloggasm blog reported on the success of some of Tor's authors here.
Authors who go this route believe that the ebooks act as a form of advertising, arguing that the negative effects on sales from people reading it for free are offset by the word-of-mouth campaigns those same people will initiate. These creative commons evangelists also tend to point out that most readers don’t like long texts on a screen, a fact that may cause them to buy the print copy once they’ve sampled enough of the story online.
Sci-fi novelist John Scalzi agreed to add his book Old Man's War to the Tor giveaway list. Owens reports:
In his case, Scalzi watched sales of his book shoot up by 20 percent. But what’s even more interesting is that the sequel to Old Man’s War saw an increase of over 30 percent. Both he and [Tobias] Buckell benefited more from sales of books later in their series.
Thanks to Jonathan Lyons' blog here for the story.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
The launch title, UNMASKED . . . by Nicola Cornick . . . a Regency-set historical available from www.eBooks.eHarlequin.com, has been enriched with interactive buttons that hyperlink to Web sites containing photos, historical commentaries, illustrations, sound effects, maps, articles and more, bringing the world of the novel to life without the reader having to leave the computer or the current screen page. The interactive buttons have been designed to be unobtrusive, so if one prefers not to access the bonus material, the reading experience remains uninterrupted.I've talked before about the Sophie project, also called "The Future of the Book." My first post on Sophie was on April 6, 2006 here. I wrote a second post here. One of Sophie's goals is to permit the reader to interact with other readers and even with the author while inside the book.
While Harlequin's "enhanced" books do not permit readers to interact with each other, they do permit a convenient, interactive experience for the reader.
I have been critical of Harlequin in the past for being slow to respond to the challenges the Internet presented publishing. Back on August 16, 2006 here, I said:
Harlequin . . . built its fortune on two things: formulaic romances and the convenience of its massive book clubs. The romance industry is moving away from both those things. Women (and increasingly men) are interested in off-beat, heroines/heroes with attitude and quirks. In addition, electronic publishing now gives readers the convenience and immediacy that the book clubs once did PLUS the additional benefit of more choice.Two weeks after that post, Harlequin issued a press release announcing they were going digital in a big way:
Harlequin announced the launch of "four digital entertainment ventures": Harlequin Mini eBooks, Harlequin Mini Round Robin eBooks, the eBook Boutique on eHarlequin.com, and www.writeharlequin.com, "a platform for gathering reader-generated content."Harlequin has continued to commit additional resources to online (downloadable) sales. They provided e-books for their British readers of Mills & Boon. In the U.S., they set up a means to download books to library patrons. And last September, they announced they had become the first major publisher to make their complete front-list catalog available in the eBook format.
But the thing in Harlequin's press announcement yesterday that really struck me was this:
Enriched Edition eBooks are available at www.eBooks.eHarlequin.com and are being sold at the same price as regular eBooks.This is a very smart move by Harlequin.
Way to go, Harlequin!
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
ary 8, 2008. See my previous post for the first half of the list.
We left off with Dave Kuzminski of the Preditors and Editors (P&E) website. The rest of the list is:
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. (SFWA) is
a non-profit association of professionally published authors of science fiction, fantasy and horror. Their website is here.
Victoria C. Strauss maintains the Writers Beware website at SFWA here.
The Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. is a "non-profit charitable organization . . . [that] operates several online collaborative
wiki projects including Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikibooks (including Wikijunior), Wikisource, Wikimedia Commons, Wikispecies, Wikinews, Wikiversity, Wikimedia Incubator and Meta-Wiki."
Up until now, I've recognized the names listed in the lawsuit. The following names were not known to me, and I've had to rely on language from the lawsuit to describe who they are:
According to Ms. Bauer's lawsuit, Thomas S. Tully "has at times relevant to this lawsuit owned and operated P&E [Preditors & Editors]."
According to the lawsuit, in or about November, 2006, Shweta Narayan "published a paper and abstract which contained numerous false and defamatory statements about . . . Bauer . . . including, but not limited to, referring to plaintiff as 'a literary agent Lesia Valentine AW [Absolute Write] had exposed as a
scam artist,' and stating that '... Bauer claims to be a real literary agent...' and is a 'well known scam artist.' On November 4, 2006, Narayan repeated her false and defamatory statements in a public talk at the University of California, San Diego."
Lesia Valentine "produced the You Tube videos about Barbara Bauer entitled 'Crouching Snark, Hidden Dragon' and 'Miss Snark's Happy Hooker Crapstravaganza,' featuring defendant Snark, which belittle and defame . . . plaintiff Barbara Bauer."
"In or about May 2006 [Christina] Walden registered and began
to operate a website called 20 worstagents.com, the very purpose of which was to defame plaintiffs and other literary agents. In a malicious attempt to injure plaintiffs personally and profes-
sionally Walden posted an indecent and defamatory photo of plaintiff Bauer superimposed on a list of agents . . ."
Stephan Spencer is the founder of WritersNet here.
Kristen Fischer is a freelance writer who writes a blog called Written Out Loud here.
Gregory Ludwig describes himself as an editor and occasional writer. Bauer names him as a defendant because of his blog webusers.warrick.net. While that blog is no longer accessible, a document by Ludwig is available here.
Bauer's complaint against Aimee Amodio is less specific than her complaints about the other defendants. The lawsuit alleges that Amodio "has published and continues to publish numerous false and defamatory statements about plaintiff. . ."
After figuring out who the people involved were, I did some more looking. It appears that Bauer filed her original complaint in the U.S. District Court (federal court) in New Jersey on 9/20/07. You can read it here.
The Second Amended Complaint was filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey (state court) in Monmouth County, New Jersey on 1/31/08. You can read it here.
There were more differences than just the shift from federal to state court. In the first complaint, Bauer named seventeen defendants (including some joint names) and then named them again in alleged conspiracies. Among the defendants named was Miss Snark. The complaint says, "Miss Snark, The Literary Agent, ('Snark') is a fictitious name used on a blog."
In the second amended complaint, Bauer added three additional defendants (see their names bolded above) and changed her complaint against Miss Snark to list Brian Hill and Dee Power, claiming that they were behind the Miss Snark blog.
There has been a huge amount of speculation as to the identity of Miss Snark. Many writers believe they know her true identity and have continued to protect that name more than a year after the blog ceased operations. None of the writers I know believes that Hill and Power were behind Miss Snark.
According to Bauer's original filing, Miss Snark's blog had a server address in Scottsdale, Arizona. Hill and Power live in Fountain Hills, Arizona, a suburb northeast of Scottsdale.
According to Wikipedia, Fountain Hills has a population of 24,669 and was the eighth fastest-growing city in Arizona between the 1990 and 2000 census.
I'm curious as to why Bauer zeroed in on Hill and Power. Because they were writers living within twenty miles of Scottsdale? Surely not!
I mentioned in yesterday's post that Dave Kuzminski reported the complaints against Hill and Power have been dismissed. I'm guessing they convinced the court that, singly or dually, they didn't write the Miss Snark blog.
So, here's the latest scorecard:
Seventeen original defendants => amended to twenty (counting Hill & Power as one)
The court dismissed the complaint against the Wikimedia Foundation on 7/1/08. Judge Jamie S. Perri dismissed Bauer's complaints against Wikimedia, ruling that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act barred liability as the result of Wikipedia publishing the statements of others. However, according to APP.com:
Perri did not rule out the possibility that Bauer may file an amended complaint against Wikimedia alleging that its Internet site published its own defamatory statements about the literary agent—-not defamatory statements made by others.Twenty defendants => reduced to nineteen
On 7/3/08, Preditors & Editors reported that the complaints against Hill & Power were dismissed.
Nineteen defendants => reduced to eighteen
Stay tuned for more . . .
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Thanks to a comment on James Nicoll's blog here, I found a link here to Barbara Bauer's civil complaint filed January 8, 2008.
If you don't know who Barbara Bauer is, go here.
Here's the list of the defendants Bauer went after:
Jenna Glatzer and MacAllister Stone
and James D. MacDonald and Kent Brewster
and Ann C. Crispin and Patrick Nielsen-Hayden
and Teresa Nielsen-Hayden and Brian Hill,
and Dee Power AKA Harrilane D. Power
AKA D. Carr Harrilane, and David L. Kuzminski
and Thomas S. Tully and Science Fiction and
Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. and Victoria C. Strauss
and Shweta Narayan and Lesia Valentine and
Christina Walden aka Christina Bristol and
Wikimedia Foundation, and Stephan Spencer,
and Kristen Fischer aka Kristen Pascuili and
Gregory Ludwig and Aimee Amodio
I don't recognize all the names, but I do recognize a bunch:
Jenna Glatzer, founder of Absolute Write here
MacAllister Stone, owner and editor-in-chief of Absolute Write
James D. MacDonald, sci-fi author (see here) and frequent commenter on Absolute Write
Kent Brewster, sci-fi author and publisher of Speculations here (now on hiatus)
Ann C. Crispin, sci-fi author and owner of the Writer Beware Blogs! here
Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, sci-fi editors and bloggers at Making Light here
Brian Hill and Dee Power, co-authors with a website here. Dave Kuzminski reported here last week that the suits against Brian Hill and Dee Power had been dismissed.
Dave Kuzminski maintains the Preditors & Editors website here
That's half the list and I have to get ready to leave now. Catch you later . . .
Monday, July 07, 2008
I'm a big fan of the UK site TheBookseller.com. On Friday, I read an article here titled "Publishers Fight Back, Says Andrew Keen." It begins:
Author Andrew Keen has challenged book publishers to fight back against the "tyranny" of free content. Speaking at The Bookseller's conference "Digitise or Die", Keen warned that publishers and other intermediaries were being pushed out of the new economy by the prevailing "northern Californian libertarian mindset" that demanded everything for free . . .Curious about Keen, whom I'd never heard of previously, I did a little investigation on the Internet, that famous bastion of "free content." From Wikipedia, I learned that Keen earned a bachelor's degree in history from the University of London and a master's degree in political science from the University of California, Berkeley.
I also found another article he'd written, this time for the Weekly Standard in February, 2006, here titled "Web 2.0."
That earlier article gives a more complete explanation of Keen's philosopy than TheBookseller.com one does. It opens:
The ancients were good at resisting seduction. Odysseus fought the seductive song of the Sirens by having his men tie him to the mast of his ship as it sailed past the Siren's Isle. Socrates was so intent on protecting citizens from the seductive opinions of artists and writers, that he outlawed them from his imaginary republic.That opening was a good hook, although more worthy of a fiction writer than a non-fiction writer since Keen mixed a character from legend with an historical personage; a mistake I would not have expected from a history major.
The second paragraph of his "Web 2.0" article didn't impress me any more than the first:
We moderns are less nimble at resisting great seductions, particularly those utopian visions that promise grand political or cultural salvation. From the French and Russian revolutions to the counter-cultural upheavals of the '60s and the digital revolution of the '90s, we have been seduced, time after time and text after text, by the vision of a political or economic utopia.It could just be my narcissistic Yank attitude, but I was interested that Keen skipped right over the American Revolution, which began in 1775, and went straight to the French Revolution of 1789.
While his language is certainly pretty, Keen's selective picking and choosing of historical events began to remind me of the shell games I'd seen on the Jersey Boardwalk during my youth. Whenever the carnie's patter distracted me from his nimble fingers, I'd lose track of the walnut shell that hid the pea.
For that reason, I spent some minutes trying to understand his rationale without resorting to American self-absorption. It occurred to me that the insurgents of the American Revolution sought to overthrow a far-distant monarch while the peasant populations of France and Russia struggled beneath more immediate and oppressive despots.
As I considered that possibility I realized that, when Keen speaks of publishers "fighting back," he's actually arguing FOR a modern day oligarchy where the elite of the publishing industry maintain economic control over the peasant rabble of writers.
If you've forgotten your sixth grade history, the word oligarchy comes from the Greek and means "rule of the few." It is a centralized system in which power rests in hands of an organized elite who uses it for their own benefit.
When Keen points with such disdain to those "utopian visions that promise grand political or cultural salvation," he's suggesting that those unkempt French and Russian peasants--not to mention the Berkeley hippies, who were probably far filthier--were seduced into overthrowing their rightful masters.
It takes a while for Keen to come out in the open and admit to this elitist philosophy, but he does finally come clean:
SO WHAT, exactly, is the Web 2.0 movement? . . . It worships the creative amateur: the self-taught filmmaker, the dorm-room musician, the unpublished writer. It suggests that everyone--even the most poorly educated and inarticulate amongst us--can and should use digital media to express and realize themselves. Web 2.0 "empowers" our creativity, it "democratizes" media, it "levels the playing field" between experts and amateurs. The enemy of Web 2.0 is "elitist" traditional media.Gag me with a spoon. And TheBookseller.com actually bought what this guy is shoveling?
I sure hope my publisher (Penguin) isn't listening to him. If they are, they're gonna dig themselves in even deeper than Marie Antoinette did when she said, "Let them eat cake" to those starving French peasants.
Silly me--lowly romance writer that I am--I've been operating under the assumption that Web 2.0 was about collaboration. Web 2.0 birthed the entire social networking movement.
Tim O'Reilly, who is widely credited with inventing the term Web 2.0, said here on December 10, 2006:
Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the internet as platform . . . Build applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them. (This is what I've elsewhere called "harnessing collective intelligence.")Does this mean Web 2.0 is perfect? Of course, it doesn't. By now, savvy Internet explorers know that Wikipedia needs to be a starting place for research, not a end point (I checked Keen's Wikipedia bio against that on his own website).
However, when it works well, Web 2.0 does remarkable things. In February, blogger Josh Marshall and his blog Talking Points Memo won one of the prestigious George Polk Awards for journalism. The press release said:
The Polk Award for Legal Reporting will go to Joshua Micah Marshall, editor and publisher of the widely read political blog, Talking Points Memo. His sites . . . led the news media in coverage of the politically motivated dismissals of United States attorneys across the country. Noting a similarity between firings in Arkansas and California, Marshall and his staff . . . connected the dots and found a pattern of federal prosecutors being forced from office for failing to do the Bush Administration's bidding. Marshall’s tenacious investigative reporting sparked interest by the traditional news media and led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.Since Keen peppered his article with historical references, I'll point out that knowledge was once closely guarded in the hands of the nobility and clergy. It could be argued that the first great media revolution was actually the invention of Gutenberg's press in the mid-fifteenth century. It made newspapers--and eventually books--available to the unwashed masses. I was taught in my eighth grade history class that Gutenberg's invention was one of the precipitating events leading to the Renaissance.
Gosh, maybe Web 2.0 might have a similar impact on today's world by offering information access and collaborative assistance to parts of the world we now label under-developed. When contemplating that possibility, who cares if several thousand god-awful writers self-publish their purple prose? Or if a bunch of teenage bands pollute our ears with their horrible chords via the Internet?
One last item of interest. TheBookseller.com article reports:
Keen . . . argues [in his book, The Cult of the Amateur] that the internet is debasing culture by giving everyone the tools to create and no-one the skills to select . . . Keen added, "for the creative class--this is a bad time", arguing that intermediaries played a vital role nurturing talent: "When you take away the gatekeepers everything becomes crap. Writers don't get rich and famous on their own."I find that last statement wonderfully ironic since it appears that Keen has built a career for himself out of being "famous."
On his website, he modestly describes himself as "the leading contemporary critic of the Internet." His bio goes on to say:
He [Keen] founded Audiocafe.com in 1995, and, securing significant investment from Intel and SAP, established it as one of the most highly trafficked websites of the late Nineties. As the Chief Executive of Audiocafe.com, Andrew became a Silicon Valley celebrity.The bio neglects to mention that Audiocafe folded in February, 2000. However, three months later after the site shut down in May of 2000, Keen moderated a workshop panel titled "Selling Entertainment and Consumer Electronics on the Net" at a conference. Here's the bio he gave to the conference organizers:
Founder and CEO, AudioCafe: Andrew Keen is a leading visionary in the audio business with almost ten years of experience as an entrepreneur, salesman and writer in the industry. Having single-handedly founded Audiocafe in 1997, Keen has driven the development of the site's content and business development. His model of integrating commerce, community and content is now acknowledged as the most viable business model for building a successful Internet business model.What a difference eight years can make.
And where the hell were the "gatekeepers" when Doubleday published Keen's The Cult of the Amateur? What is it that P.T. Barnum is often credited with saying?
Sunday, July 06, 2008
I'm also pretty good at following instructions, and if the directions are clear, I can get where I need to go.
I like Blogger because it's so simple it allowed even me--a computer maladroit--to build this blog. I added a couple of bells and whistles when the instructions to install them were clear. I installed StatCounter at the very bottom of the blog to keep track of my numbers. I put in a link to Technorati so I could periodically check to see who was linking to my blog (and return the favor).
That's what I was doing on Saturday afternoon when I noticed Beth Morrow here had a neat toy.
Beth has a widget for FeedJit, a live traffic feed.
Now StatCounter provides the same service, but I have to go to their website to pull up the info. With FeedJit, I can just scroll down on my own blog to see the data.
Pretty cool, huh?
Go here to add the beta version of FeedJit to your blog. And never say I didn't do something for you.
Thanks to Beth, that clever girl!
Love and kisses,
Saturday, July 05, 2008
I love Radio Lab, which has now wrapped up its fourth season on NPR. The show is hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. The two men select a subject--usually something from the world of science or philosophy--to discuss during each episode.
Here is the description of the program I'm referencing:
What is music? How does it work? Why does it move us? . . . In this hour, we examine the line between language and music, how the brain processes sound, and we . . . re-imagine the disastrous 1913 debut of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring…through the lens of modern neurology.The episode interested me because the Rite of Spring is one of two classical music pieces that frightened me as a child. I first heard it when I was about five years old and an aunt took me to see the re-release of Disney's Fantasia in New York.
I doubt that my aunt had seen Fantasia previously and suspect she thought it was just another Disney animated film. That first experience haunted me for years, returning again and again in frightening nightmares. I was in college before I saw the film again, including the second half with Laura's Dance of the Hours starring the hippos in tutus.
I vaguely recall watching the orchestra play Bach during the opening of the film, but I don't remember the animated segment for the Nutcracker Suite at all. I do recollect The Sorcerer's Apprentice because, like most children, I loved Mickey Mouse.
But it was the fourth selection--twenty-plus minutes of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring--that had the strongest impact on my five-year-old self.
If you aren't familiar with Fantasia, the Rite of Spring section presents a natural history of the Earth from its creation through the age of the dinosaurs to their eventual extinction. It scared the socks off me.
I started to get frightened about three minutes in when the musical score became aggressive and the volcanos began to erupt. See the 7:31 minute segment of the Genesis portion of the film here.
I managed to stay in my seat through the introduction of evolution. The amoebas didn't register on me, but I do remember the relief I felt when I recognized the Brontosaurus and the Triceratops. Like most children, I loved dinosaurs and could identify the well-known species. You can watch the 8:57 minute segment that introduces the dinosaurs here.
Stravinsky provides musical foreshadowing to increase the unease as the gentle herbivorous giants raise their heads to look around fearfully. The heralding of the trumpet announces the violent arrival of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. The T Rex proceeds to fight to the death with a giant Stegosaurus.
By the end of that ferocious battle, I was in my aunt's lap.
The final five minutes of the Rite of Spring segment (which you can watch here) was equally as frightening. Stravinsky wrote his ominous, intense music to tell the story of a pagan ritual that ends in the sacrifice of a virgin. The Disney film opted to show a terrible drought that killed off all the dinosaurs. Their extinction was followed by earthquakes and floods.
By the time intermission arrived, I'd had all of Fantasia I could stand. My aunt and I left the theater, and she took me down the block to the Woolworth's lunch counter where we had grilled cheese sandwiches and chocolate malts.
The Radio Lab interview last Sunday interested me because it explored the question of why music makes us feel so strongly. The program is an hour long, but it was the second half that really energized me.
Robert Krulwich begins that segment by explaining how sound touches your brain. Essentially sound is waves of vibrating air. It enters your ear, vibrates your eardrum, triggering the small bones there. Those bones disturb the fluid, which in turn rocks the hair cells. Those cells bend, setting off charged molecules and creating electricity. The electricity forms a pattern in your brain.
If the sound is orderly, regular and rhythmic, we like it. If the sound is disorderly and unexpected, we feel uncomfortable. One of the Radio Lab guests describes it: "Sound is touch at a distance."
The Rite of Spring premiered on May 29, 1913 in Paris at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. To accompany Stravinsky's music, Nijinsky choreographed a pagan dance as different from classical ballet as the score was different from classical music.
Wikipedia describes what happened at that premiere:
The complex music and violent dance steps depicting fertility rites first drew catcalls and whistles from the crowd. At the start with the opening bassoon solo, the audience began to boo loudly due to the slight discord in the background notes behind the bassoon's opening melody. There were loud arguments in the audience between supporters and opponents of the work. These were soon followed by shouts and fistfights in the aisles. The unrest in the audience eventually degenerated into a riot. The Paris police arrived by intermission, but they restored only limited order. Chaos reigned for the remainder of the performance, and Stravinsky himself was so upset on account of its reception that he fled the theater in mid-scene, reportedly crying.Krulwich asks, "The question is why? Why so much feeling about a piece of music?" Why the uproar?
That riot has been much talked about and much written about, but until recently no one tried to explain it through brain chemistry. Scientists are just beginning to figure out what happens when we hear music we've never heard before, especially dissonant sounds.
There are groups of neurons in the auditory cortex whose sole job is to dissect a new noise, find a pattern in it, and disentangle dissonant sounds. Perhaps that audience failed to make sense out of the Rite of Spring. If so, maybe the neurons squirted out too much dopamine, and the people went mad.
The following March, the Rite of Spring was performed again in the same theater, but as a piece of music, not as a ballet. Because they were forewarned, this new audience listened carefully, found the patterns hidden in the musical score and enjoyed the experience. Stravinsky was hailed as a genius.
The Radio Lab hosts interviewed Jonah Lehrer, who has written a book called Proust Was a Neuroscientist. Lehrer says:
When a pattern of noises is heard repeatedly, the brain memorizes that pattern. Feedback from higher-up brain regions reorganizes the auditory cortex, which makes it easier to hear the pattern in the future. This learning is largely the handiwork of dopamine...But what orders the corticofugal feedback? Who is in charge of our sensations? The answer is experience. While human nature largely determines how we hear the notes, it is nurture that lets us hear the music. From the three-minute pop song to the five-hour Wagner opera, the creations of our culture teach us to expect certain musical patterns, which over time are wired into our brain.I have season tickets to the Dallas Symphony. Over the years, I've probably heard the Rite of Spring performed half a dozen times. I no longer hear the dissonance; the score is familiar and satisfying.
So we hear something new, our brain organizes it, and our brain releases dopamine, which "is the chemical source of our most intense emotions." In other words . . . something new leads to a high level of Captivation and Emotional Resonance, i.e., pleasure and satisfaction. So, Context gets us into the theatre and gives us a headstart on the patterns we might encounter, and then when we are surprised we get great pleasure from the dopamine release that occurs when we identify the new pattern.
Is it maturity? Is it experience? Is it dopamine?
Listen to the Radio Lab program here and decide for yourself. You can scroll forward to 27:53 and listen to the thirteen minutes that I've referenced in this post.
Thursday, July 03, 2008
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Corporations must answer to their shareholders, who expect rising profits and fat dividends. Taking chances is dangerous when you must answer to your shareholders once a quarter . . .
The burden of quarterly reporting means that it is makes more sense for a publisher to put its dollars on a safe bet--a proven author like Stephen King, Nora Roberts or James Patterson--than to gamble on an unknown. This doesn't mean that unknowns or debut authors are out of luck. It simply means that the funnel is a little narrower and your work must be a little stronger than in previous decades.
This past Sunday, Jonathan Karp, a publishing executive for the Hachette Book Group, wrote a piece for the Washington Post. In the article, he said:
Among major publishing houses, the impetus to meet annual profit targets is a fact of life--the basis of budgets, salaries and bonuses . . .On June 25, 2007, I wrote here:
A publisher expected to produce annual growth has several options:
1. Add more titles to augment sales. But no one knows whether the books will sell . . .
2. Sell more copies of existing authors and titles . . .
3. Ask popular authors to "increase output."
4. Diversify your "product line."
5. Cut costs, pray to the gods of movie tie-in paperback editions or hope that one of your authors gets his or her own talk show.
. . . change is on the horizon. While ownership of publishing houses has been limited, the Internet has been fragmenting the book market itself. Consumer choice is increasing. Consumers can now buy physical books, audio books, e-books, or download podcasts.In his article, Mr. Karp writes:
I've repeatedly said that digitization and print-on-demand technology will break the stranglehold the large publishers have on the system. They no longer are the only ones in possession of the technology to produce a printed book.
The barriers to entry in the book business get lower each year. There are thousands of independent publishers and even more self-publishers. These players will soon have the same access to readers as major publishers do, once digital distribution and print-on-demand technology enter the mainstream. When that happens, publishers will lose their greatest competitive advantage: the ability to distribute books widely and effectively.Up to this point, Mr. Karp and I are in agreement.
But then, he goes down a path I can't follow.
Many categories of books will be subsumed by digital media . . . Readers of old-fashioned genre fiction will die off, and the next generation will have so many different entertainment options that it's hard to envision the same level of loyalty to brand-name formula fiction coming off the conveyor belt every year. The novelists who are truly novel will thrive; the rest will struggle.
Consequently, publishers will be forced to invest in works of quality to maintain their niche. These books will be the one product that only they can deliver better than anyone else. Those same corporate executives who dictate annual returns may begin to proclaim the virtues of research and development, the great engine of growth for business. For publishers, R&D means giving authors the resources to write the best books -- works that will last, because the lasting books will, ultimately, be where the money is.
Karp's statement that readers of genre fiction will die off comes out of nowhere, with nothing to support it.
If he'd said readers would die off, I might have understood. People ARE reading less than they once did--and probably because of the many entertainment choices competing for their precious discretionary time. But he specifically separates readers of genre fiction from the greater population of total readers--for no reason that I can determine beyond wishful thinking.
We all view life through the lens created by our own experiences and opinions. I think it might be helpful to examine the filter through which Karp sees the world.
He is the editor-in-chief and publisher of Twelve, an imprint established in August, 2005 by Warner Books (now owned by the Hachette Book Group). Twelve publishes no more than one book a month; hence, its name. I have read and greatly admired a number of his imprint's releases. However, let's face it. Twelve is not the norm in publishing.
What differentiates one genre from another is the specific emotion the reader seeks to experience. For instance, horror evokes terror, mysteries evoke curiosity, thrillers evoke excitement and romance evokes a warm, sexy feeling. The reason genre fiction is so popular is because it provides the reader with the specific emotion that s/he is looking for at that moment.
IMHO, genre fiction will never die off as long as it continues to meet reader expectations for a specific type of emotional experience.
While Mr. Karp and I are in agreement that consumers today have a dizzying array of choices on which to spend their entertainment dollars, I think his hope that "the age of disposable books won't last . . ." is somewhat elitist. I suspect it is also a form of self-soothing for a man who suddenly finds himself trying to cope with a turbulent industry facing radical change.
Starting in the '70s, media conglomerates began gobbling up the ownership of the major publishing houses. Today the major New York houses belong to half a dozen mega-corporations.
This trend toward corporate ownership introduced the short-term thinking I alluded to in the opening of this post. It also made industry execs more cautious and risk-aversive. For this reason, New York publishing houses, like major Hollywood studios, tend to fall back on tried-and-true concepts and top-selling stars. And, in publishing--as in the film industry--the most innovative work, the coloring-outside-of-lines, the greatest flexibility, frequently comes from the independents. In publishing that would be the independent presses and the e-publishers.
If I had to guess, I would say that what will happen is not the death of genre fiction, but the advent of even greater consumer choice. Fiction will come in more formats, more lengths and even more retailing venues.
As an example, if you find yourself stuck in a waiting room, you'll be able to purchase a short story, download it to your cell and read it while you wait.
Or perhaps you and your best friend, who lives 1,000 miles away, can read a book together on a social networking site. At varying points in the books, the two of you will select the plot twist that you find most interesting and follow that thread as it forks off into other choices. Think of it as a more structured form of fan fiction.
Perhaps your e-reader will allow certain scenes of a book to be presented as a video--a modern version of a children's picture book. Or perhaps your e-reader will permit you to select the soundtrack you want to play in the background while you read a horror story. Imagine listening to Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" while reading a creepy horror novel.
Mr. Karp, I don't see less choice in our future; I see more. Hopefully, there's room for both our visions--although you are probably not heartened by mine.
Thanks to both Nathan Bransford and Jonathan Lyons for mentioning Karp's article on their blogs. Read the entire article from the Washington Post here.
P.S. There are two pieces of classical music that I first heard as a child which frightened me. Both can still raise the hairs on the back of my neck today.
The first was two and a half minutes from the Peer Gynt Suite. It was titled "In the Hall of the Mountain King." I was seven years old, and my mother was in the hospital giving birth. My father had fallen into an exhausted sleep, and I slipped out of bed to watch a late night movie on TV. It was The Pied Piper of Hamelin, and "In the Hall of the Mountain King" played while the piper rid Hamelin of the rats. The combination of the music and the rat shadows creeping through the streets scared me out of my juvenile wits.
Close your eyes and listen to that two and a half minutes performed by the Jerusalem Orchestra below. Imagine the rats first slinking and then rushing toward the river where they jump in to drown. See if this doesn't raise the hair on the back of your neck!