Friday, July 31, 2009

The New Report on the Publishing Industry

Bowker, the company that issues ISBN numbers in the U.S., issued a press release on Tuesday.

The company was touting its "2008 U.S. Book Consumer Demographics and Buying Behaviors Annual Report." According to the release, the report is "the first complete consumer-based research report with detailed analysis of who is buying books and what motivates them to make their purchases."
The report also includes first quarter 2009 trends, documenting that mass merchandisers picked up market share while bookstores had the largest decline.
As an example of the kind of info contained in the report, Bowker offered this:
-- 57% of book buyers are women yet women purchase 65% of the books sold in the U.S.
-- Mystery books are the most popular genre for book club sales, with 17% of all purchases of mystery books coming directly from book clubs
-- Generation X consumers buy more books online than any other demographic group, with 30% of them buying their books through the Internet
-- 21% of book buyers said they became aware of a book through some sort of online promotion or ad
-- Women made the majority of the purchases in the paperback, hardcover and audio-book segments, but men accounted for 55% of e-book purchases

Here's the information on the report's price:
The report can be ordered now by visiting Pricing starts at $999 for a single-use PDF or print copy, but the company is offering a 10% discount for orders by July 31, 2009. In addition, members of the news media are entitled to a 50% discount if they are interested in purchasing the report.
Yeah, I'll be lining up for my copy.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

What's Up With Yahoo and Microsoft?

The Yahoo! deal with Microsoft was on everyone's lips yesterday.

To recap, after Yahoo turned down numerous attempts by Microsoft to take over the company in 2008, the two Internet giants found they could agree to a deal in 2009 in which both focussed their gunsights on Google. Another case of "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

The partnership--if approved by Federal regulators--will last for ten years. Yahoo is giving up control of its own search engine, which will now be powered by Microsoft. Yahoo will provide the sales force for the new partnership.

Microsoft is giving 88% of the ad revenue from the search engine partnership to Yahoo for the first five years of the deal.

Let's examine the pluses and minuses of this partnership.

FOR ADVERTISERS: According to the recent comScore press release here during the month of June, 2009, Google dominated the search engine market with nearly 65% of the business. Yahoo had about 20% of the market and Microsoft's new search engine Bing had 8%.

Neither Yahoo nor Microsoft alone has enough traffic to lure advertisers away from Google. However, with their combined 28% of the market and all the publicity about Bing, the partnership offers customers reasons to split their advertising budget between Google and Bing.

FOR MICROSOFT: This is not only about "search." Google threatens the core of Microsoft's cash businesses by developing apps that are web-based and either free or very cheap. Microsoft is built on the concept of proprietary PC-based applications.

By making a deal with Yahoo, Microsoft is counting on diverting advertising dollars away from Google, hopefully weakening its rival.

Microsoft also gains access to Yahoo's search technology and search results. One of the things about search is that the more searches a company does, the more it learns about consumers, which helps it to refine and improve its algorithms.

FOR YAHOO: The company makes a partner of Microsoft, which was threatening a hostile takeover just a year ago. The deal also allows Yahoo to cut huge costs, trading those for a 12% reduction in search revenue. Yahoo can now focus on developing content for its sites, which will continue to run billboard ads.

Google will probably try to convince regulators that the Microsoft/Yahoo partnership poses an antitrust threat and should not be approved.

Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Now This Is a Wedding!

By now, you've probably seen this wedding procession half a dozen times. It's had over 11 million hits on YouTube.

This blog has many purposes. Among those is maintaining a record of the things I want to be able to access again quickly in the future.

The fact that I smile every time I watch this video makes it a good enough reason to post it here.

Have a happy day.

For Urban Fantasy Readers

In January, 2008, I recommended a debut novelist by the name of Mike Carey here.

As I said in that post, Mike Carey is an award-winning graphic novel writer. The Devil You Know was his first novel in an urban fantasy series starring Felix Castor, a free-lance exorcist living in London.

I liked The Devil You Know well enough that I purchased the second in the series, Vicious Circle, from a bookseller in England.

What with my hospitalization in February and the release of my Bad Boy in April, I completely missed the release of Carey's third book in the Castor series, Thicker Than Water, in early March.

I just happened to see a notice last week of the release of Castor Book #4 on July 23. Titled Dead Men's Boots, it's in hardcover. I immediately decided I wanted both Book #3 and Book #4.

Unfortunately neither Borders nor B&N had a copy. I could have tried Amazon, but instead I visited Abe Books online. I found both novels . . . once again in Great Britain.

It's an indication of how badly I wanted the books that I paid to have them shipped from overseas. I placed my order on 7/19 and the first one, a new paperback of Dead Men's Boots, arrived last night.

Here's the blurb:
You might think that helping a friend's widow stop a lawyer from stealing her husband's corpse would be just about the strangest thing on your To Do list. But life is rarely that simple for Felix Castor.

A brutal murder in King's Cross bears all the hallmarks of a long-dead American serial killer, and it takes more good sense than Castor possesses not to get involved. He's also fighting a legal battle over the body--if not the soul--of his possessed friend, Rafi, and can't shake the feeling that his three problems might be related.

With the help of the succubus Juliet and paranoid zombie data-fence Nicky Heath, Castor just might have a chance of fitting the pieces together before someone drops him down a lift shaft or rips his throat out.

Or not . . .

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Brave New World of Amazon

Today's LA Times had an op/ed piece on "Amazon's Troubling Reach."

The article points out that Amazon has had two "major" issues in the last three months. The first problem occurred during Holy Week when Amazon "accidentally" dropped the sales rankings for erotic and gay books (read my blog on the issue here).

The second problem surfaced last week when Amazon deleted copies of George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm from readers' Kindles (read my blog on the issue here).

The Times article says:
In the wake of the uproar, Amazon announced that it would no longer use its wireless capabilities to erase its readers' e-books, and Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos apologized.
In a tip of the hat to one of Orwell's contemporaries, Aldous Huxley, the Times editor David L. Ulin asked this question:
What is this brave new world [Amazon is creating], . . . and are we sure that it's the one we want? . . . The issue . . . isn't that Amazon has erased material from people's Kindles, or de-ranked gay and lesbian writers, but that it can.
Readers of this blog know that I stopped purchasing from Amazon and removed the links on this blog to Amazon some time ago. I'm no longer comfortable with the "brave new world" Amazon promises . . . any more than I am with the one Wal-Mart offers. I quit purchasing from Wal-Mart over three years ago. Both retailers may be cheap and convenient, but I don't like their policies and refuse to support them with my purchasing dollars.

Ulin ends his op/ed with this thought-provoking reminder:
". . . economics is a slippery territory, defined by self-interest rather than the public good."

Go here to read the entire Times article.

Monday, July 27, 2009

What Will We Do About Mom?

My family is still struggling with The Mom Question. As in, when do we force my mother out of the home she's lived in for more than forty-five years?

My three brothers are united in not wanting to move her until it is absolutely necessary. The dog and I think she passed that point sometime last year, but unfortunately we're outnumbered. So we are doing all kinds of workarounds to make sure she can stay in her home as long as possible.

I call her every morning, and my middle brother calls her every evening. My youngest brother stops by to see her on his way to work very morning. My oldest brother comes up once a week to take her out wherever she wants to go. In the meantime, the dog keeps her on schedule. He wakes her up, leads her to the kitchen when it's time to eat and to the bedroom when it's time to go to bed at night.

It's not perfect, but since she won't move in with me or allow a stranger into her house, it's the best we can do. We've disabled the stove and oven so she only cooks in the microwave.

She is aware that she is losing her memory, and it scares her. We've tried different approaches, but the one that seems to work best is when we tell her she's always been "a little bit off" so why worry about it at this late date? That invariably makes her laugh and relax.

Mom is Irish, and she taught us that humor is the best defense when things go wrong.

Saturday evening my youngest brother called. He asked if I would do him a favor. I said, "Sure" and grabbed a pencil to take instructions.

He said, "It's seven o'clock now. I'm outside Pete's Bar & Grill. Would you please wait an hour and then call a cab. Tell the dispatcher to instruct the driver to go into the bar and look for the man who is the most sh*t-faced drunk. That will be me. Ask him to take me home."

I put my pencil down and said, "Been visiting Mom again, hmmm?"

He: "Took her shopping for shoes. Dear God, what a disaster. It took hours. We finally bought a pair, and I got her into the car to head home. She's sitting there with the new shoebox in her lap, and she says to me, 'It's a shame we couldn't find a pair of shoes. When can we go shopping again'?"

I started to laugh. "Okay, take Sunday off. I'll call her every few hours during the day so you can have a break."

I called Mom in the morning at 9:00, around noon and again Sunday afternoon. At 3:00 PM, she was in a furious tizzy because she couldn't find the scissors in order to cut a piece of masking tape.

Scissors are an ongoing problem. We have bought her no fewer than a dozen pairs in the last few months. They just keep disappearing. No one knows where they go.

I talked her through using a knife to make a small cut in the tape and then ripping it across. Midway through the operation, she asked me, "Why can't I just use the scissors?"

I responded, "Because you can't find the scissors."

She said, "There's two of them right here. An orange pair and a blue pair."

Me: "Mom, you just spent ten minutes yelling at me because you couldn't find the scissors."

She: "Oh, you always exaggerate."

Me: {starting to laugh} "You're trying to make me as crazy as you are, aren't you, old woman?"

She: {laughing, too} "Well, that's pretty darn crazy." {odd noise} "Uh-oh."

Me: "What's wrong?"

She: "The phone just fell off the wall."

Me: "What do you mean; the phone just fell off the wall?"

She: "Well, I was in the living room, and it fell off."

Me: "I thought you were on the cordless."

She: "No, I was on the kitchen phone."

Me: {in disbelief} "You had the phone stretched all the way through the dining room to the living room?"

She: "Mmmm, yes. What do I do now?"

Me: "Good luck to you with that. I'll talk to you soon."

She: "Don't you DARE hang up on me. What do I do?"

We spent the next forty-five minutes as follows:

1) Me trying to talk her through snapping the phone back into place on the wall. No success.

2) Me trying to talk her through unplugging the phone from the wall so she could just use the cordless until my brother gets there in the morning. No success.

3) Me trying to talk her through depressing the receiver and taping it down with the piece of masking tape she'd already cut (prescient, wasn't she?) so she could use the other phone until my brother gets there in the morning. No success.

4) Me trying to convince her she could get by until morning without a phone. Absolutely no success.

5) Me just trying to get the hell off the damn phone. A total failure.

Through most of the conversation, we were both laughing so hard we couldn't speak. I had tears running down my face, and she was coughing, trying to catch her breath after laughing herself hoarse.

I know it won't always be this way. Her rages are growing in intensity and duration. But I'm grateful for the laughter the Lord gave us yesterday.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Why I *Heart* Texas

After you live somewhere a long time, it's easy to forget why you love the place. Yesterday I had some reminders of why I love living in north Texas.

My good friend Maria had a housewarming yesterday. I drove an hour east of the D/FW area where she and her husband Greg have purchased a spacious home on six acres of heavily wooded property.

Maria's new house includes lots of tall windows that overlook the forest surrounding the place. She also has a long, wide screened-in back deck that commands a terrific view of the property. We spent some time sitting in comfortable chairs, looking out at the dense wall of tall pine.

A quarter of a mile away from Maria's new home is a private big cat preserve. Every day at dawn and dusk, the loud roars of the lions disturb the silence. Maria says she was told there has been only one lion that escaped during the past six years. That animal was unfortunately shot when he was found nearby by another neighbor who had small children and was not pleased to look out and see the gigantic beast lounging on her front porch.

The neighbor across the road from Maria has a herd of thirty alpaca, which--now that I think about it--may explain why that lion went AWOL. Maria plans to construct a pond on her six acres and then purchase a few goats.

The group of neighbors had a lively discussion about the continuing problems presented by the local possum and raccoons. Raccoons will wait patiently on the other side of a wired fence for a guinea hen or chicken to come close (Good sense is apparently not a poultry trait). The raccoons then use their strong little paws to drag their hapless victim through the wire mesh. [Ugh]

After I made my goodbyes, I returned home, making a stop along the way at an outlet mall with a Rockport Shoe store. When I got back, I went next door to visit with my own neighbors, Linda and Ken. I wanted Linda, a Spanish teacher, to review a form I had created in both English and Spanish. Spanish verb conjugation is not my strong suit.

Linda asked if I had seen the foxes yet. I had not. My own heavily wooded and hilly neighborhood boasts a stream with numerous caves where coyotes have dens, but I haven't seen a fox out here in over ten years.

I waited until after midnight and then went outdoors. Following Linda's advice, I paused at a spot where I could look down a steep hill to another neighbor's property.

The deck around my neighbor's swimming pool is well-lit. And, sure enough, there were two gray foxes sprawled out in comfort nearby. I made a deliberate waving motion. One noticed me and stood. The other just looked over a shoulder, but didn't bother to get up.

I assume they are a mated pair. If so, we may see the return of the gray fox to our neighborhood. The info below gives an important clue as to why this may be happening. Here's a photo and some info on them, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

The gray fox is essentially an inhabitant of wooded areas, particularly mixed hardwood forests . . .

This fox is adept at climbing trees, particularly if they are leaning or have branches within 3 m of the ground, and it is not unusual for it to use this escape device when pursued by hounds.

Contrary to common belief, gray foxes are not strictly animals of the night, but they are much more active then. They have been observed on many occasions in the daytime under conditions that suggested they were foraging. When so encountered, they often move to one side behind a protecting screen of vegetation and wait for the intruder to pass.

Gray foxes usually den in crevices in the rocks, in underground burrows, under rocks, in hollow logs, or in hollow trees . . . In central Texas, a den was found in a hollow live oak with the entrance about 1 m above the ground . . .

The gray fox is omnivorous; the food varies with season and availability. Based upon the stomach contents of 42 foxes from Texas, the winter food consisted chiefly of small mammals (cottontails, cotton rats, pocket gophers, pocket mice), 56%; followed by insects, largely grasshoppers, 23%; and birds (doves, quail, sparrows, blackbirds, towhees), 21% . . . In late summer and fall, persimmons and acorns led with 30%; insects, 26%; small mammals, 16%; birds, 14%; crayfish, 14% . . . Consequently, as judged from these analyses, the usual food habits of the gray fox do not conflict much with man’s economy.

Of some interest is the possible relationship between gray foxes and coyotes. In sections of Texas where coyotes formerly were numerous, the gray fox was scarce; now, after elimination of the coyote, the gray fox has become abundant. Perhaps the coyote tends to hold this fox in check under conditions where they both occupy the same area.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Myth of the Nice Girl

I had lunch this week with a good friend. While we were catching up, she mentioned a mutual pal of ours whom I'll call Nikki.

The three of us have been friends for almost twenty years despite the fact that our lives have led us in very different directions. Nikki married young, happy to accept her husband's encouragement to remain at home and raise the three beautiful children their marriage produced.

I never cared very much for her husband Harold (Note, that's Harold, not Harry or Hal). You know the type--one of those guys who fancies himself a raconteur, never happy unless he's occupying center stage at any gathering. His humor was always at others' expense, a caustic sniping I found tiresome. But Harold was so tone deaf to social cues that he never noticed his brilliant sarcasm left his audience poised midway between boredom and distaste.

Harold often made Nikki the butt of his jokes. He obviously regarded their marriage certificate as his license to ridicule his wife every chance he got. Her friends tried out the term "emotional abuse" on Nikki, but she didn't want to hear it. She remained steadfastly loyal to her husband.

The first time Harold put his hand on my backside, I stepped away. When his efforts at seduction became less subtle, I explained the pleasure I would take in castrating him with a rusty spoon. He stayed away, but thereafter always made sidebar comments to the effect that I was a "24-karat bitch." I ignored him, but wasn't surprised when rumors of his infidelity began to circulate.

Nikki pretended not to know what everyone else knew . . . right up until the day a little over ten years ago when Harold walked out to move in with his latest mistress.

He demanded an immediate divorce, and Nikki was so used to giving him what he wanted, it never occurred to her to do anything but comply. Her friends pitched in to find an attorney for her, and we provided support when, once the final decree was signed, she fell apart.

Finding a job after fifteen years out of the market was tough, but Nikki had three kids to support. She toughed it out, going on interview after interview, before finally landing a menial job. During the past decade, she worked her way up to a middle management job and, in the last couple of years, began to breathe easier about finances.

Harold never completely disappeared. Since the divorce, he's made all sorts of demands--wanting the kids when it was convenient to him, complaining about having to pay child support, griping about how Nikki took him to the cleaners during their divorce, bullying her into taking out a loan to finish paying for braces for a daughter even though the divorce decree made it his debt. Nikki continued to be gracious, saying she was doing it for the children's sake.

Now he's resurfaced again. During the divorce, they split their modest stock portfolio, with Harold deciding which securities he would take and complaining when Nikki's lawyer insisted on an even dollar split.

Apparently he sold his share of the portfolio to help finance his vacations overseas with his once-mistress, now-wife. Nikki held on to her shares. One security in particular has done very well over the last decade.

Anyway, Harold recently called Nikki to complain that she got the best stocks in the property settlement and to demand that she "make me whole." He went so far as to threaten a lawsuit.

And now we come to the point of this post: Nikki is considering giving him half of the shares in the one security that has more than doubled in value since their divorce.

After the lunch at which I heard the recent gossip, I called Nikki to see if she wanted to talk. She did.

Her friends and family are furious with her for even considering Harold's demand. Her stomach is in an uproar. She hasn't been able to sleep. When she called her former attorney, the woman refused to talk to Harold and made Nikki feel foolish for even worrying about his threat to sue.

I listened, fighting my own urge to say, "What's wrong with you? Just tell him to crawl back into his hole and leave you alone." I know Nikki and how much she hates conflict. She would rather pay him than face any unpleasantness.

I asked her why she thought Harold was calling. She responded, "For two reasons. He is feeling pinched by the bad economy, and he likes to control me."

I asked her why she would entertain his demand. She said, "Because I feel guilty when I'm not nice."

And there's the crux of the matter. Nikki was raised to be a "nice Texas girl." To smile no matter what. If someone peed on her new high heels, she could be relied upon to say, "Oh, don't worry about these old things. I was getting ready to give them to the Salvation Army anyway." It doesn't matter that Harold embarrassed her and ignored the gifts of her heart and her loyalty. SHE NEEDS TO BE A NICE GIRL.

I could tell her pain was genuine. I said: "The decision is yours, not anyone else's."

She acknowledged that and said, "I don't know why I'm not angry at him."

I said, "Of course, you're angry at him, but you never show your anger outwardly. So all that rage is turned inward--you can't sleep and your stomach is in knots."

She was quiet for a moment before saying, "What do you think I should do?"

I responded, "You know what I think, but you're not me. The thing is, if you give in, Harold isn't going to acknowledge you as nice. He's going to pat himself on the back for winning again. But I do think you need to remember your two girls and the message you are giving them if you give in."

We all have our own mythology, the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and why we do what we do. We can choose to remain locked into that myth, or we can write a new ending to the story.

I hope Nikki chooses a different page.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

When a Text Message Goes Bad

This is pretty interesting. I'm not sure how I missed it earlier.

The story started in December, 2004. Laci Satterfield's six-year-old son persuaded his mother to download a free ringtone from for his phone. Ms. Satterfield, a resident of New York, filled out the signup form to become a member of Nextones, agreeing to receive promotional material from the company. She put her son's initials and phone number on the form, but used her own age and email address, indicating she was over 18.

A year later, just after midnight on January 18, 2006, Satterfield's son received a text message that read: "The next call you take may be your last . . . Join the Stephen King VIP Mobile Club at”

Simon & Schuster had sent the text message as part of their promotional campaign for Stephen King's novel The Cell. Using a list of 100,000 mobile numbers from Nextones' subscriber list, a marketing company hired by Simon & Schuster sent out the middle-of-the-night promotional message.

Outraged, the New York mom filed a class action suit against Simon & Schuster and their mobile marketing firm, citing the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, which prohibits such unsolicited calls by an Automatic Telephone Dialing System (ATDS). Ms. Satterfield's suit claimed she had never agreed to receive calls from Simon & Schuster. Additionally, she alleged that a SMS (short message service, another name for a wireless text message) constituted a call.

The Northern District of California ruled in Simon & Schuster's favor, partially because that "PwdByNexton" part of the message indicated the message came from the Nextone brand and partially because the Court felt the equipment used was not a ATDS.

Satterfield's attorneys appealed the decision. And, last month, according to Media Post, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in Satterfield's favor:

The decision appears to mark the first time that a federal appellate court has said that the telephone law applies to text messages.

The ruling could have far-reaching effects on mobile marketers who send SMS ads, says cyberlawyer Venkat Balasubramani of Seattle. "There's a lot of marketing going on by text message, and now there's another regulatory scheme that marketers and brands have to worry about . . ."

The IP Law Blog says there are three lessons learned from this case:

  1. Do Not Use An Automatic Telephone Dialing System
  2. A “Call” Can Also Be A Text Message
  3. The “Express Consent” Exemption Will Be Narrowly Construed. Ms. Satterfield did not agree to receive promotional messages from Simon & Schuster, only from Nextones.

The case now goes back to the trial court, and MOCO News Net reports:

The suit was brought on behalf of about 60,000 people, each of whom could receive a minimum of $500 and as much as $1,500 each, according to the law firm behind the lawsuit, meaning a total of as much as $90 million could be paid by S&S and the mobile marketing firm behind the campaign, ipsh! (now owned by Omnicom).

  • Stay tuned for more . . .
  • Wednesday, July 22, 2009

    UofM Offers Reprints of Books on Amazon

    I found this item pretty interesting.

    On Tuesday, the University of Michigan announced it will begin offering books that are in the public domain (out of copyright) in print-on-demand format through BookSurge. The UofM estimated the initial group of books offered on Amazon will include 400,000 titles and will include books digitized for the university by Google.

    BookSurge is the POD firm purchased by Amazon in March, 2005, about the same time Amazon acquired Mobipocket, an e-book software company.

    According the UofM's announcement:
    The agreement gives the public a unique opportunity to buy reprints of a wide range of titles in the U-M Library for as little as a few dollars. As individual copies are sold on, BookSurge will print and bind the books in soft-cover form.
    The University of Michigan has a two-year, non-exclusive agreement with BookSurge in which the university sets the list price for each title and then shares the revenue with BookSurge.

    The university set up a FAQ site here. Among the more intriguing answers was this:
    The university has an agreement with Google to . . . [c]reate digital copies of these books. Now the university has an agreement with a unit of Amazon to . . . [s]ell books and other items very efficiently on the Internet. We think both are great partnerships and the companies agree. In addition, the university will eventually share some of its proceeds with Google on the sale of books that were digitized by Google.
    Wednesday's Publishers Lunch had this to say:
    Earlier this year, Cornell University had announced a similar program, making 80,000 out-of-print public domain titles available through through print-on-demand . . . And the University of Pennsylvania library has a partnership with scanning company Kirtas to to make 200,000 public domain books available in a "digitize-on-demand" program.
    Go here to read the UofM announcement.

    Tuesday, July 21, 2009

    Amazon Imitating Big Brother?

    Last Friday, Amazon stirred controversy once again.

    The Amazon Kindle "ships" books to readers across a wireless network. Some of those readers were alarmed to discover that this network flows in two directions.

    According to the New York Times, "Amazon remotely deleted some digital editions" of George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm from "the Kindle devices of readers who had bought them."

    Amazon said:
    . . . the books were added to the Kindle store by a company that did not have rights to them, using a self-service function. “When we were notified of this by the rights holder, we removed the illegal copies from our systems and from customers’ devices, and refunded customers.”
    Reportedly the publisher who sold the editions of Orwell's works was MobileReference.

    Amazon later admitted that this move was a poor decision and indicated they would make process changes so that, in the future, books are not deleted from the devices of readers who purchased them.

    Anyone familiar with Orwell's 1984 will recognize the irony of having that book removed from readers' Kindles. The book was published in 1949, but depicted Great Britain as part of a futuristic nation called Oceania. The protagonist is Winston Smith, who works for the bureaucratic Ministry of Truth in London in the year 1984.

    Smith's job is to revise historical documents to make them comply with the ruling party's version of history. He deletes the names of persona non grata, retouches photographs and rewrites the historical record. Then he drops the original document or book into a chute that leads to an incinerator known as the "memory hole."

    The sheer deliciousness of 1984 disappearing from Kindles made me wonder if some lone employee at Amazon actually has a sense of humor.

    Charles Slater, one of the readers whose copy was deleted, was quoted in the Times article: “I never imagined that Amazon actually had the right, the authority or even the ability to delete something that I had already purchased.”

    “It illustrates how few rights you have when you buy an e-book from Amazon,” said Bruce Schneier, chief security technology officer for British Telecom . . . “As a Kindle owner, I’m frustrated. I can’t lend people books and I can’t sell books that I’ve already read, and now it turns out that I can’t even count on still having my books tomorrow.”
    Go here to read the entire Times article.

    Monday, July 20, 2009

    B&N Makes a Big Announcement

    From Monday's Publishers Marketplace:
    BN has launched their anticipated ebookstore, offering approximately 200,000 real titles along with 500,000 free public domain titles from Google, "including hundreds of new releases and bestsellers at only $9.99."
    The announcement, describing B&N as the "world's largest bookseller," also described the launch of "the world's largest eBookstore." It promised that readers would be able:
    . . . to buy eBooks and read them on a wide range of platforms, including the iPhone and iPod touch, BlackBerry® smartphones, as well as most Windows® and Mac® laptops or full-sized desktop computers. In addition, Barnes & Noble announced that it will be the exclusive eBookstore provider on the forthcoming and much anticipated Plastic Logic eReader device.
    I first talked about Plastic Logic in a 9/10/08 post here in which I quoted a New York Times story that described Plastic Logic as an electronic newspaper reader: "a lightweight plastic screen that mimics the look — but not the feel — of a printed newspaper." The device is expected to be released in early 2010.
    . . . Plastic Logic’s device, which will be shown at an emerging technology trade show in San Diego, has a screen more than twice as large. The size of a piece of copier paper, it can be continually updated via a wireless link, and can store and display hundreds of pages of newspapers, books and documents.
    Additional features of the new site from the B&N announcement:
    Barnes & Noble’s eBookstore offering its customers seamless access to more than 700,000 titles, including hundreds of new releases and bestsellers at only $9.99, making it the world’s largest selection of eBooks available in one place . . .

    More than a half-million public domain books from Google, which can be downloaded for free . . .

    An upgraded version of its eReader application, which was part of the company's Fictionwise acquisition earlier this year. This device-agnostic eBook application supports both wireless and wired access to the new Barnes & Noble eBookstore. Millions of internet-enabled devices are currently supported by eReader, including the nation’s two leading smartphone device families from Apple and BlackBerry®, as well as most Windows® and Mac® laptops or full-sized computers.

    The free, full-featured B&N Bookstore app for iPhone and iPod touch users, which is now the #1 downloaded book app in Apple’s App Store.
    William J. Lynch, President of, said: "We want to make eBooks simple, accessible, affordable and convenient for everyone.”

    Go here to read the B&N announcement.

    Friday, July 17, 2009

    Delaying eBook Releases

    The debate on ebooks continues.

    On Monday, The Wall Street Journal had an article about Sourcebooks, an independent publisher, which has made the decision to delay the ebook publication of an anticipated best-seller.

    Sourcebooks will be issuing 75,000 copies of Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse, a debut young reader's novel by Kaleb Nation, due to be released on September 9th. That's a significant print run for a debut novel. However, the larger news is that Sourcebooks has decided to delay the ebook release for "at least a half year."

    The Journal quoted Dominique Raccah, the CEO of Sourcebooks:
    "It doesn't make sense for a new book to be valued at $9.99 . . . The argument is that the cheaper the book is, the more people will buy it. But hardcover books have an audience, and we shouldn't cannibalize it."
    On Tuesday, Kassia Krozser had this to say on her Booksquare blog:
    They’re worried that ebook sales will negatively impact the potential for this title to hit a bestseller list . . . Apparently, ’tis better to have no sale at all . . .
    Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst with Forrester Research agrees with Krozser. Epps is also quoted in the WSJ article:
    "Publishers are in denial about the economics of digital content . . . What we've seen in other industries and in the evolution of digital content is that consumers are not willing to pay as much for content that is separated from its physical medium."
    On Wednesday, the CEO of Sourcebooks visited Krozser's blog to respond directly. Dominique Raccah said:
    To me, the decision is analogous to a new release in movie theatres; we don’t expect that movie to be immediately available on DVD . . . isn’t this the same as people (myself included) who say I’ll wait until it comes out in paperback or I’ll wait to see the DVD? And don’t those people sometimes forget and not buy or rent? So yes, there’s a risk that sales will be missed, but isn’t that a risk that has always existed in format choices?
    I think Kassia was exactly right when she said that it's dangerous for publishers to expect readers to simply accept the publishers' business model.

    I was reminded of this argument when I dropped by my local B&N last night.

    There are only two times (amounting to about 25% of my book-buying dollars) when I purchase a book in hardcover: (1) When it is a non-fiction subject in which I have a special interest, or (2) When it is a favorite novelist of mine whom I want to support. The other 75% of the time, I purchase ebooks or paperback books.

    Since I've been published, I'm very aware of the economic realities facing writers. Buying a hardcover of a beloved author is a way I get to read something I'll enjoy and, at the same time, provide support to the author.

    I don't take chances on debut authors in hardcover . . . ever. Why should I? I don't feel any loyalty to these authors who have yet to prove themselves to me. And Dominique Raccah is short-sighted if she thinks I'll have to wait around six months for that paperback or ebook. If I'm motivated, with the availability of the Internet, it's easy to find a used copy of the hardbook within a week or two. A used book purchase means no royalties at all to the publisher or author.

    Last night, I bypassed two new debut hardcover novels to purchase Greg Iles' The Devil's Punchbowl in hardcover. Iles has earned my loyalty. I first read his Mortal Fear in 1997.

    Kassia is exactly right. If publishers don't catch me fast, they run the risk of losing the sale altogether.

    The Internet and digitization have opened possibilities for readers. It also changed the power dynamics between publisher and reader. Publishers need to adapt, not take a dog in the manger approach. There are too many books being published each day for any one publisher to hold much sway in the market.

    Go here to read the Wall Street Journal article.

    Go here to read the first Booksquare post this week on the subject.

    Go here to read the Booksquare response by Raccah.

    Thursday, July 16, 2009

    Harlequin Turns 60!!!

    Yesterday's Shelf Awareness devoted their issue to the 60th anniversary of Harlequin.
    Among ways of celebrating, the company is offering 16 romance stories for free on [here], the special 60th anniversary site.
    Harlequin is celebrating its anniversary by introducing a new imprint: Harlequin Teen.
    . . . the new imprint is the publisher's first dedicated to teens. For another, it's different from most other Harlequin lines in that it will feature stand-alone titles (although some authors will have short series).

    Harlequin Teen plans to publish at least one title monthly, beginning in January, but is launching with several titles in the next few months. Most of the books will appear in trade paperback.
    Harlequin is really pushing the e-book connection for Harlequin Teen:
    All Harlequin Teen titles will be released simultaneously in print and e-book versions, which will have identical prices. The company has a lot of e-experience and sells e-books to readers on "While our e-book sales are a miniscule part of our overall sales," [Senior Editor Natashya] Wilson said, "they are growing exponentially each year."

    Wednesday, July 15, 2009

    Amazon To Buy Netflix???

    Bloomberg is reporting that the price of Netflix shares jumped on Monday on speculation that Amazon may be planning to buy the mail-order movie service.
    “There’s heavy call buying and the stock is up on renewed takeover talk, with Amazon being mentioned specifically,” said Fred Ruffy, the senior options strategist at, a New York-based provider of options market analysis.
    Netflix is the largest mail-order movie service in the United States with more than ten million subscribers.

    A security analyst was quoted in the Bloomberg report saying that Netflix is an "unlikely target for Amazon" because it has distribution centers all over the U.S. Those distribution centers would mean that Amazon would have to collect sales tax in each state where one existed.

    Readers of this blog may remember that Amazon ended up suing New York State back in May, 2008 because that state instituted a law the previous month that demanded online retailers collect sales taxes whenever they made a shipment to a resident of New York.

    I did a post here in which I disagreed with Jane of Dear Author. Jane was supporting Amazon's stance in the lawsuit. My take on the situation was that:
    Bookstores located in New York are paying the sales tax. Amazon is not, giving Amazon an unfair competitive advantage. If the bookstores are forced to close due to lagging sales, staff will be laid off, money will be lost to the local economy. The law says if Amazon uses local websites for click-throughs, they need to pay the tax. I think it's right.
    In January, 2009, Reuters reported that "A New York judge . . . tossed out a lawsuit brought by Inc that challenged the state's right to collect sales tax from out-of-state Internet retailers."

    Actually, the judge threw out two lawsuits--the one by Amazon and another one by

    What's interesting is that just a couple of weeks ago, Forbes reported that Amazon had "notified associates in Rhode Island and Hawaii that the company was no longer working with them . . . because [those] states have passed laws to collect sales taxes on these transactions." Shortly afterward, Amazon also cut off their associates in North Carolina.

    So, on the one hand, we have Amazon shutting down those associates in states where such sales taxes are being collected, but, on the other hand, we're hearing that Amazon is thinking about buying a company that has distribution centers all over the country which would trigger such sales taxes.

    Neither Netflix nor Amazon would comment on the speculation of a deal.

    Stay tuned for more . . .

    Tuesday, July 14, 2009

    On Borrowing a Guest Blogger

    After seeing The Hangover on Sunday afternoon, I went to my office to work for a few hours. That few hours ended up with me leaving for home at 10:30 PM.

    As I sat at a red light, I looked up into my rear view mirror to see a pair of headlights barreling toward me.

    I didn't have time to react (beyond tensing my body, a response I don't recommend) before the car attached to those headlights slammed into my car's rear. Even with my seatbelt on, my body whipsawed forward and back and my left knee hit the dashboard hard enough to knock one of the ashtray-like compartments off its track.

    I won't bore you with the details, but the other driver was drunk out of his mind and did not speak English. My competency in Spanish is about on the par of a third-grader who is flunking the semester. I called 9-1-1 and requested a bilingual police officer at the scene . . . and a fire truck since the other driver's car was on fire.

    The other driver kept trying to return to "his" car, a bit of a misnomer because it turned out he didn't actually own the car. Again, I won't bore you with the details. But I spent the next TWENTY minutes pulling him away from the merrily blazing Chevy Prism he didn't own.

    The front end of his car was completely engulfed in flames by the time the fire department and the police got to the scene. And we had drawn a bit of a crowd, including my university's campus security, who were not amused to realize that the other driver--whose name was Pedro; he refused to give a last name--had no ID or insurance.

    When Pedro saw the campus cops arrive, he turned to the firemen and told them in Spanish he was having chest pains. I had to translate for them. The firemen called for the paramedics who quickly determined there was no problem beyond the medical diagnosis of "drunk as a skunk."

    It was well after midnight before the police let me leave. They gave Pedro a breathalyzer test and then arrested him for DWI.

    I say all this to explain why I am just going to point to a terrific post on Nathan Bransford's blog for today. I'll be back tomorrow.

    Nathan's guest blogger is Eric who talks about the book business from the point of view of a sales assistant at a major book publisher. Go here to read it.

    Monday, July 13, 2009

    Just Hanging Around

    I have a confession to make: I don't usually enjoy comedies--either on television or in the movies. I don't like bathroom humor, and I can't stand slapstick.

    If you were to ask my three favorite film comedies, I would say
    A Fish Called Wanda, Raising Arizona and Fargo.

    So when my friend Ro and I agreed to meet for lunch at 1:00 PM and then go to see the comedy The Hangover, I wasn't overly optimistic.

    I was wrong. This film has moved into my pantheon of top comedies . . . after only one viewing.

    The story is deceptively simple. Justin Bartha is about to wed Sasha Barrese in two days. He and his two best friends (Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms) decide to spend a night in Las Vegas. His future father-in-law (Jeffrey Tambor) loans Bartha his beloved Mercedes convertible for the trip. The only possible fly in the ointment is that Bartha's future brother-in-law, a loser played by Zach Galifianakis, wants to come along on the trip.

    The four set out for Vegas in the sexy car. When they arrive, they check into a villa at Caesar's Palace. The loser B-I-L asks the desk clerk if Caesar ever really lived there.

    After showering and dressing in their casual best, the four men set out for a night on the town.

    Flash Forward: The next morning, three of the guys wake up in a trashed villa (complete with a couple of scary surprises), no memories of the night before and no trace of the groom. They have a little over 24 hours to retrace their steps, locate the groom and get him back to Los Angeles in time to get married.

    The fun is in watching the three groomsmen try to figure out where they've been and what to do about the unexpected extra items they've found in the villa, all the while dodging some bad guys intent on hurting them.

    Bradley Cooper plays Phil, a schoolteacher looking for excitement. Ed Helms plays Stu, a dentist getting ready to propose to his waspish girlfriend of three years. Zach Galifianakis is Alan, a social misfit who wants to visit the casinos to win at blackjack by counting cards.

    I can't remember when I have laughed as hard. The humor is often coarse, and the language is deplorable, but the laughs just keep coming. The trio encounter a beautiful hooker, an Asian baby with a mobile face, a genuine celebrity, some Chinese thugs, a stolen police car and a variety of residents of Las Vegas from cops to an ER doctor to a wedding chapel operator.

    I don't want to say too much about the film because I don't want to spoil it for you. Just take my word for it, and GO see The Hangover.

    Saturday, July 11, 2009

    My Indentured Servitude

    During the week, I work at a well-known university. I am responsible for managing nearly a dozen people.

    On the weekends, however, I am an unpaid employee to an extremely demanding boss: my cat Bob.

    This was forcibly brought home to me this afternoon, when Bob sauntered up to where I sat writing at my laptop, let out one squeak and walked away. I obediently stood and followed him to the French door, which I opened.

    Bob stood in the doorway for nearly twenty seconds, staring out at the backyard, before deciding the 100+ temperature outside was not acceptable. He turned and walked down the hall to my study. When I sat back down in my black leather chair, he leaped gracefully into my arms and draped himself across my forearms.

    As you might imagine, this made typing difficult. Bob tried various methods to get me to give up working. He licked the back of my right hand, he tapped my cheek with his paw and finally stepped off onto the laptop to glare at me.

    I picked him up and tossed him on the floor. He sighed heavily and headed down the hall to my bedroom. I heard him jump up onto the tall mattress.

    I had just settled back to work when I heard a disgruntled squeak. I ignored it, hoping he'd settled down to a nap. No such luck. He continued to howl in obvious distress until I got up and walked to the bedroom where he stood, looking up at the ceiling fan. Understanding his intent, I turned the fan on.

    He plopped down, and I waited to make sure he was happy before returning to type this post.

    I'm looking forward to Monday . . .

    Thursday, July 09, 2009

    The Worst Book Cover Ever

    Orbit Books, a sci-fi and fantasy publisher, announced a fun project on Monday: to create the worst book cover ever. This is from their website:
    Over the next few weeks we’ll be asking for your help coming up with the most ridiculously bad high-concept SFF book cover in the universe – think Wyvern II: The Wyverning, or Martian Under the Doormat. (We know you can do better) Once we’ve settled on the titles we’ll work out the reading line, the blurbs, and cover elements. And then, with your help, our fearless Orbit US Creative Director Lauren is going to design a cover for it that will present it in all its mad glory.
    Who could resist?

    The list of suggested titles is already awesome:
    • He Left Me on Mars
    • Vampire Farm III: The Suckling
    • Martian in the Mirror
    • Speed-Dating on Mars
    • Blacksmith's Bane: The Sword of Shadow
    • Bloodsucking Elves
    • Highway Voodoo Roadkill
    • She-Vixen From the Planet of the Death Rats
    • Solar Shoe Salesman
    • Mars Needs Fairies

    If you want to join in the fun and suggest a title, go to the Orbit website here.

    Wednesday, July 08, 2009

    Ruling in the Rye Case

    As expected Judge Deborah Batts granted a preliminary injunction barring the unauthorized sequel to Catcher in the Rye, titled 60 Years Later.

    According to Publishers Weekly, the federal judge ruled that the sequel "would harm the market for 'sequels and other derivative works' from Salinger and barred publication of Colting's book in the United States."

    The defendant said he would appeal.

    This ruling will not impact the release of the book in Europe.

    Judge Batts found that while there was "some limited transformative character in 60 Years Later . . . the alleged parodic content is not reasonably perceivable, and the limited non-parodic transformative content is unlikely to overcome the obvious commercial nature of the work.”

    Tuesday, July 07, 2009

    A New e-Reader Comes on the Market

    Monday's Publishers Weekly had a story on the launch of yet another e-reading device.

    Called the Ditto Book for Digital Interface Total Text Organizer (yuck!), the e-reader sells for $249.
    Like the Kindle, The Ditto Book has a 6-inch black & white e-ink screen; long battery life and can read both text and PDF as well as play MP3 sound files. On the other hand, . . . the Ditto Book offers an expandable SD card slot that kicks its memory up to 2 GB of storage.
    Unlike the Kindle, the Ditto Book is not wireless; users will need to download e-books first to their computer and then to the e-reader.
    . . . the Ditto Book supports epub format titles, the industry's open e-publishing format standard and the format in which most e-books will be published going forward.
    I'm still waiting for the release of the Plastic Logic e-reading device, which is due out in early 2010. According to Wikipedia:
    It is intended as a replacement for paper, allowing electronic documents to be transported and read just like paper documents. It will have a thickness of less than 7 mm, a form factor of 8.5" x 11" and a weight of less than 16 oz. It will be capable of displaying MS office documents (Excel, PowerPoint, Word), PDF files and others.

    Monday, July 06, 2009

    Verdict Expected Soon in Salinger Lawsuit

    On June 2, Publishers Lunch reported:
    "J.D. Salinger filed suit in a NY Federal Court against the anonymous author of the forthcoming sequel 60 YEARS LATER: Coming Through the Rye, also naming UK company Windupbird Publishing, Sweden-based Nicotext, and SCB Distributors . . . in the action. The complaint declares, 'the sequel is not a parody and it does not comment upon or criticize the original. It is a rip-off pure and simple'."
    The new novel has a 76-year-old protagonist who goes by the name of Mr. C and also features Mr. Salinger himself as a character. The anonymous author uses the pseudonym John David California.

    The 90-year-old Salinger lives in Cornish, New Hampshire and continues to be both vigilant and litigious when it comes to his most famous work. According to the U.K.'s Guardian, he sued a man in 1982 for marketing a phony interview with him to national magazines.

    Then in 1987, Salinger ended up in the Supreme Court, seeking to try to block publication of an unauthorized biography by well-known writer Ian Hamilton. To prevent Hamilton from quoting from his unpublished letters, Salinger copyrighted the letters. A legal defeat forced Hamilton to rewrite the biography without the letters.

    Six years ago, Salinger blocked the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) from producing a TV version of The Catcher in the Rye.

    When Salinger filed his latest lawsuit, Courthouse News quoted Salinger's attorney, Marcia Paul:
    "(T)he sequel begins, as does 'Catcher,' with Holden Caulfield('s) departure from an institution (prep school in 'Catcher;' a nursing home in the sequel) and ends with Holden and his sister Phoebe at the carousel in Central Park. In between, Holden hangs out aimlessly in New York for a few days, encountering many of the same people, visiting many of the same settings . . ."
    Two weeks later, on June 17, U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts temporarily blocked publication of the book, which was billed on its cover as a "sequel to one of our most beloved classics."

    Judge Batts, who is expected to rule very shortly, made it clear that she was leaning toward Salinger's position. Publishers Lunch quoted her: "It would seem that Holden Caulfield is copyrighted."

    Sunday, July 05, 2009

    Revisiting the Palin Resignation

    This has been a busy weekend. I had company from Austin so, although I heard about Sarah Palin's resignation as governor, I didn't actually watch the entire nineteen-minute video from her press conference until today.

    The edited text of her speech appears on her Facebook page here. The quotes below, including caps for emphasis, are from that text.

    Palin took a meandering path to her resignation; she spent nearly eight minutes talking about Alaska's history and touting her accomplishments in office. She only broke from her relentless good cheer twice: First, to take a jab at the media's "slings and arrows" and then to snipe at the "obscene national debt that we're forcing our children to pay because of today's big government spending."

    At 7:50, she finally got down to business, complaining about the "political operatives" who descended on Alaska last August, trying to dig up dirt on her. She then offered a laundry list of the reasons for her resignation with very little specific information about what she will do afterward:

    1) The Financial Burden: The fifteen "frivolous" ethics complaints against her have cost the State of Alaska $2 million. And "Todd and I are looking at more than half a million dollars in legal bills in order to set the record straight."

    2) The Wasted Time: "And one chooses how to react to circumstances. You can choose to engage in things that tear down, or build up. I choose to work very hard on a path for fruitfulness and productivity. I choose NOT to tear down and waste precious time . . . Productive, fulfilled people determine where to put their efforts, choosing to wisely utilize precious time... to BUILD UP . . ."

    3) The Enormous Need: "And there is such a need to BUILD up and FIGHT for our state and our country. I choose to FIGHT for it! . . . I'll work for and campaign for those PROUD to be American, and those who are INSPIRED by our ideals and won't deride them."

    At that point she announced that, not only would she not be running for reelection, she would be resigning her job as governor--a year early.

    This was where she wandered into territory so obviously self-serving that I wondered if the Washington Post cut a piece of the speech from their video here on the press conference. The part in italics is missing from the WP's coverage:
    And so as I thought about this announcement that I wouldn't run for re-election and what it means for Alaska, I thought about how much fun some governors have as lame ducks... travel around the state, to the Lower 48 (maybe), overseas on international trade - as so many politicians do. And then I thought - that's what's wrong - many just accept that lame duck status, hit the road, draw the paycheck, and "milk it". I'm not putting Alaska through that - I promised efficiencies and effectiveness! ? That's not how I am wired. I am not wired to operate under the same old "politics as usual." I promised that four years ago - and I meant it.
    The last seven minutes of the speech were sort of anti-climatic except for the final sentence: "In the words of General MacArthur said (sic), 'We are not retreating. We are advancing in another direction'."

    The press is having a field day trying to figure out what is going on, posting all kinds of reason for her resignation:

    1) The most obvious one is that she is prepping for a run at the White House in 2012. I don't buy it as her only reason. Her resume is already thin. Her title as governor of Alaska is her sole credential. Leaving her first term early does not enhance her future prospects as Commander-in-Chief. If you thought SNL made hay with "I can see Russia from my house," just wait for Tina Fey to get her hands on this.

    2) The second most advanced reason is that there is a big political scandal about to break that would embarrass her. The FBI has already come out to say there is no federal investigation at this time. Of course, that still leaves a window cracked. Just because the FBI has not opened an investigation, it doesn't mean there aren't any problems on the horizon. A preemptive resignation could help to defuse any resulting media uproar. But I don't know that I believe this one.

    3) Rick Sanchez from CNN speculated that she might be pregnant again. This might actually be supported by Palin's own tweet on Twitter: "We'll soon attach info on decision to not seek re-election... this is in Alaska's best interest, my family's happy... it is good, stay tuned."

    Do we accept her at her word that she is just fed up with "the politics of personal destruction" and not seeking "a title before one's name"? Her Fourth of July message on Facebook would seem to contradict that notion:
    I am now looking ahead and how we can advance this country together with our values of less government intervention, greater energy independence, stronger national security, and much-needed fiscal restraint. I hope you will join me. Now is the time to rebuild and help our nation achieve greatness!
    Okay, this is my blog so here's my opinion.

    Back on May 18, Publishers Lunch had this tidbit:
    Sarah Palin's memoir, "a wonderful, refreshing chance for me to get to tell my story, that a lot of people have asked about, unfiltered," on both her personal and political life, from "her childhood in Alaska and last year's campaign to her political beliefs and her family life, including the pregnancy of her teenage daughter," to Brian Murray at Harper (which will co-publish with Zondervan), with Adam Bellow editing, on an exclusive submission (said to be "first and fervent in pursuing this project" by Barnett), for publication in Spring 2010, by Robert Barnett at Williams & Connolly (world).
    I remember thinking when I read the announcement, "Damn, that's a short turnaround for a large publisher."

    Since the resignation, there's been speculation about the future of that memoir. Today the Wall Street Journal had a blog by my favorite columnist, Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, in which he responded to that question:
    The answer, say those in the book publishing community, will depend on whether she’s still active in Republican politics. If she is generating headlines while promoting other Republican candidates, chances are that her book will still be of significant interest. Otherwise, the venture could be riskier.
    I have no doubt that Sarah's eyes are still fixed on the presidency. However, she has several HUGE problems:

    1) Alaska is her base of operations, but the state is no place from which to mount a national campaign for President. She can't just take an afternoon off from her job to campaign in the lower forty-eight states the way other governors have done. She actually acknowledges that in her speech. It's a big deal to fly anywhere from Alaska. She's already had a taste of that during McCain's campaign.

    So running for re-election is out. I think she was being absolutely honest when she said yesterday on Facebook: "And once I decided not to run for re-election, my decision was that much easier – I’ve never been one to waste time or resources."

    2) I think the financial burden she talked about is real. This is a blue-collar husband and wife with no family wealth to back them. I don't know what kind of an advance she got for her book, but I'm guessing the money is needed. I'm further guessing she probably has a deadline somewhere around Thanksgiving. Even with Adam Bellow, conservative editor and author helping, she's got some tough days ahead.

    3) This morning, Thomas M. DeFrank, the Washington Bureau Chief for the New York Daily News talked of an interview he did with Palin last November: "I can report the Alaska governor was engaging, authentic, gracious and appealing . . . Except for energy, however, her grasp of issues was woefully superficial. She was easily the most inarticulate veep candidate I've interviewed while covering 11 presidential campaigns."

    That's a serious problem. Before she can be ready for prime time, the girl will need some heavy-duty tutoring in the issues. You might scoff that such a thing is possible, but I live in the state where George W. Bush went from governor to president--something I did not believe possible when he announced his run for the presidency. And let's face it. Both of them are charming, folksy and about as intellectual as my cat Bob.

    4) There have been endless comparisons between Palin and Nixon. Both gave speeches in which they withdrew from public life, blaming the media. Today's New York Times pointed out what Nixon did after his resignation: ". . . Nixon used the next six years to quietly refurbish his image, building ties with the conservative wing that was becoming ascendant in the Republican Party, ingratiating himself with Republican senators and candidates for governor by campaigning on their behalf, and becoming better schooled in issues."

    Palin is hugely popular in conservative circles. That makes her a big draw for Republican candidates at a time when Republicans need all the help they can get. She can campaign around the country, keep her name out there and build some political capital among legislators, whom she will later be able to call upon to support her.

    All four of the above have one common theme: TIME. Palin needs time to finish her book, to study the issues, to travel around the country and to begin to build her own political network. That's the real reason she's resigning.

    And call me cynical. I'm betting she and Todd are knocking boots every spare minute they have together. Because a pregnancy will help erase that black stain her resignation put on her record. I expect the announcement of a pregnancy to be forthcoming, and I suspect the reasons she hasn't announced it yet are (1) She may not yet be pregnant, and/or (2) Why give up an opportunity to hit the news waves twice--once by announcing your resignation and again by announcing your pregnancy?

    Stay tuned . . .

    Here's the first part of that press conference from YouTube and here's the second part of the press conference.

    Saturday, July 04, 2009

    Happy Birthday, America

    My maternal grandfather had three great loves: his family, his piano and his books.

    Grandpa was a great reader. Outnumbered by his wife and four daughters, he sought refuge from all that estrogen by escaping into his library. My earliest memories of our visits to his New York apartment always included him with a book in his left hand, his index finger marking his place.

    I would ask what he was reading, and sometimes he would actually tell me, which was how I came to know Edward Everett Hale's short story "The Man Without a Country."

    I was probably six or seven when Grandpa described the story to me. It made an enormous impression on me. If you have never read it, I recommend it. It was published in 1863 in the Atlantic Monthly.

    It's a deceptively simple story. It tells of a U.S. Army lieutenant named Philip Nolan who was tried for treason as an accomplice of Aaron Burr's back in the early days of the United States.

    During his sentencing when Nolan is given a chance to assert his loyalty to the U.S., he cries out in anger: "Damn the United States. I wish that I may never hear of the United States again!"

    The judge and the officers of the Court, who had all served during the American War of Independence, are horrified by Nolan's thoughtless outcry. The judge, an Army colonel, hands down the sentence: "The Court decides . . . that you never hear the name of the United States again."

    For the next fifty-six years, Nolan is transferred from U.S. warship to U.S. warship, condemned never to set foot on American soil again. No officer or enlisted man is permitted to tell him one word about the U.S. Any mention of the United States is redacted from his newspapers, and he is forbidden any book that talks of his former country.

    Nolan begins his sentence as an arrogant young fool scoffing at the men who condemned him. However, by the time he dies--more than five decades later--he is a changed man. He has transformed his personal quarters on the ship into a virtual shrine to the country he once renounced.

    I re-read that little story every couple of years and, as we celebrate our nation's birthday once again, it seems appropriate to quote from it. The words are Nolan's:
    "Youngster, . . if you are ever tempted to say a word or to do a thing that shall put a bar between you and your family, your home, and your country, pray God in his mercy to take you that instant home to His own heaven.

    Stick by your family, boy; forget you have a self, while you do everything for them . . . And for your country, boy," and the words rattled in his throat, "and for that flag," and he pointed to the ship, "never dream a dream but of serving her as she bids you, though the service carry you through a thousand hells.

    No matter what happens to you, no matter who flatters you or abuses you, never look at another flag, never let a night pass but you pray God to bless that flag. Remember, boy, that behind all these men . . ., behind officers and government, and people even, there is the Country Herself, your Country, and that you belong to her as you belong to your own mother. Stand by her, boy . . .
    It was no accident that Hale wrote the story as the country teetered on the brink of Civil War. But as she has for over 230 years, America bled and struggled and survived those dreadful internecine days.

    May God bless the United States of America and keep safe the thousands of men and women who protect her daily.

    If you want to read the story yourself, go here.

    Friday, July 03, 2009

    Don't Cry For Sanford, Argentina

    Politicians are different. We all accept that. But what exactly sets them apart from the rest of us?

    The good ones are able to explain convoluted concepts in simple terms that everyone can understand. To be modestly self-deprecating. And to deliver a zinger of a put-down with good humor and superb timing. In his day, President Lincoln was as much a master of the sound bite as Ronald Reagan would be six score years later.

    It takes a healthy ego to first dream of and then plan to occupy the residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. A healthy ego and a single-minded determination.

    And how can we be surprised if ... eventually ... those near the top of the political heap begin to believe their own press and start subscribing to the belief that being different entitles them to ignore the rules by which the rest of us operate?

    I just looked up the definition of narcissism on the Internet: "self-love; an exceptional interest in and admiration for yourself; a person full of egoism and pride."

    That's as good an explanation as any for Governor Mark Sanford's self-serving interviews this week.

    First of all, it takes overweening narcissism to offer the media an interview sensational enough that it manages to rise above all the noise surrounding the death of the King of Pop. A lesser ego might have celebrated the fact that Michael Jackson's demise this week had eclipsed the news of his own adulterous affair.

    But not Mark Sanford. He set out to give the press a story that would guarantee his place in the spotlight.

    In my mind, this spectacular example of poor judgment alone justifies all the calls for Sanford's resignation. Never mind those rumors of financial impropriety.

    And then when he's snared the world's attention again, what does the fool do? He sets out to convince us that his affair with Maria Belen Chapur was about more than just sex. As reported in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Sanford had this to say:

    "This was a whole lot more than a simple affair, this was a love story ... A forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day."

    Gag me with a spoon.

    My first thought upon hearing those words was, "Oh, my God. His poor wife."

    Then I got seriously torqued. What is he doing? Trying to paint himself as a modern day Abelard to Chapur's Heloise? How stupid is he? And just how stupid does he think we are?

    Not yet finished with his plan to self-destruct, Sanford says "he is trying to fall back in love with his wife, Jenny, even as he grapples with deep feelings for Chapur. 'I owe it too much to my boys and to the last 20 years with Jenny to not try this larger walk of faith'.

    "I will be able to die knowing that I had met my soul mate."

    Yeah, that's the stuff reconcilations are built on.

    And just for good measure, he admits he's had "casual encounters with other women while he was married."

    Obviously, it's dawned on him that some woman from his past might decide to capitalize on their time together. This must be the Sanford version of damage control.

    There's a world of difference between sweaty sex and genuine affection, between lust and love. Publicly dissing your wife by rubbing her nose in this crap does not qualify you as a romantic idol. You've already embarrassed her and your kids. Quit trying to peel her dignity from her back like the bark from a tree.

    "Have I done stupid? I have."

    Truer words were never spoken. Now do us all a favor and crawl back under that rock you slithered out from.

    I take comfort in the knowledge that his political career is finished. Videotape of him blubbering for the cameras while "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" plays in the background will make an effective political ad for any future opponents.
    Have I said too much?
    There's nothing more I can think of to say to you
    But all you have to do
    Is look at me to know
    That every word is true.
    [Don't Cry For Me Argentina (Evita)]

    The DOJ is Looking Into the Google Settlement

    If you visit Scribd, you'll find a copy of a letter from the Department of Justice; specifically, William F. Cavanaugh, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, to Judge Denny Chin of the U.S. District Court (Southern District of New York).

    Mr. Cavanaugh is notifying the judge in the Authors Guild v. Google case that the Government is opening an antitrust investigation into the proposed settlement:
    The United States writes to inform the Court that it has opened an antitrust investigation into the proposed agreement between Google and representatives of publishers and authors which forms the basis of a proposed settlement of a pending class action in The Authors Guild Inc., et al. v. Google Inc., Civil No. 1:05-CV-8136. The United States has reviewed public comments expressing concern that aspects of the settlement agreement may violate the Sherman Act.
    For his part, Judge Chin entered an order dated yesterday in which he said:
    The fairness hearing is scheduled for October 7, 2009. The Court intends to conduct the hearing on that date. If the Government wishes to present its views in writing, it must do so by September 18, 2009. The Government may also appear at the hearing to present its views orally.
    On May 11, I did a post on the pros and cons of the settlement here.

    To see the DOJ's letter and the judge's order, go here.

    Thursday, July 02, 2009

    Born Free

    I've been waiting for next Tuesday for a long time. That's the day that Chris Anderson's new book Free comes out.

    You'll remember Anderson. His book The Long Tail was a best-seller during the summer of 2006. I wrote about the upcoming book for the first time on June 10, 2007 here.

    I became interested in Anderson's whole concept of product wanting to be free and did a follow-up blog on the subject on February 13, 2008 here.

    Finally, on February 27, 2008, I talked about an interview Anderson did with Advertising Age here.

    Okay, it's been two years and the wait is finally over. Free hits bookstands next Tuesday, the 7th.

    Wednesday, July 01, 2009


    Alice Hoffman is among our most well-known contemporary novelists. She writes beautifully and movingly . . . of relationships, of milestones and of the human condition. She is one of those writers whose wordsmithing is so well done, I read passages out loud to myself--just to enjoy the rhythm and rhyme of her sentences.

    Her latest book, her 21st novel for adults, titled The Story Sisters was published on June 2. Boston Globe book critic Roberta Silman reviewed the book on June 28, which is where this story starts.

    Silman was complimentary of Hoffman's earlier works. Her review said:
    . . . one of my favorite books is her “Illumination Night,’’ which amply displays her gifts of precise prose and the ability to create sympathetic characters.
    However, when it came to The Story Sisters, Silman was blunt:
    But this new novel lacks the spark of the earlier work. Its vision, characters, and even the prose seem tired. Too much of it is told rather than shown, and the story itself is a strange combination of a coming-of-age novel set on Long Island and a brutal story of the consequences of a childhood trauma . . .
    I'm going to stop here and editorialize for a moment.

    Writing can be a tough business. For most of us, it is done in lonely rooms, in moments hijacked from the rest of our lives: hours stolen from our families, our leisure time and sometimes even our jobs.

    When we finally finish polishing our manuscripts, we run a gauntlet of critiques from our writing partners, agents and finally editors. If the work holds up after that barrage of constructive feedback, we wait endlessly for the book or novella to be released; only to find ourselves facing a new volley of feedback cum criticism from critics and fans alike.

    I say all this to indicate that I have some understanding of how Alice Hoffman must have felt upon reading Silman's review. It must have felt like having your son's fifth grade teacher greet you during a parent/teacher meeting with the words: "I taught Jessica two years ago and found her to be an excellent student and a darling child. Bobby, on the other hand, is a bit of a dolt. I can't wait for him to move on to sixth grade."

    Imagine the shock, the rage, the desire to respond to such outrageous calumny.

    Unfortunately, Alice Hoffman acted on that impulse. She tweeted her outrage on her AliceHof Twitter account. Although the posts are no longer available for viewing, Gawker immortalized them online on Monday morning:
    Roberta Silman in the Boston Globe is a moron. How do some people get to review books? And give the plot away.

    Writers used to review writers. My second novel was reviewed by Ann Tyler. So who is Roberta Silman?
    And Hoffman didn't stop there. In twenty-seven . . . count 'em . . . twenty-seven posts she lambasted Silman, the Boston Globe and the City of Boston, her own hometown.

    Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, she offered up Silman's email address and phone number, suggesting people contact the critic and give her hell.

    {Shakes head sadly}

    It was like watching a trainwreck. Hoffman tried to rally legions of female supporters to her cause with statements like:
    Girls are taught to be gracious and keep their mouths shuts. We don't have to.

    And we writers don't have to say nothing when someone tries to destroy us.

    That last line brought to mind a character in Hoffman's The Third Angel. Here is how she described him:
    Michael Macklin had done some bad things, it was true . . . He put his life on the line in France, and he hadn't even shivered . . . In battle, he'd felt alive. On the run, he felt he had something to run to. He liked danger, he liked the smell of it. He liked the feel of his blood running hot.
    The only blessing in this debacle was that Hoffman mistyped Silman's phone number in her exhortation to readers to reach out and touch Silman.

    Silman told the L.A. Times' Jacket Copy:
    "Aside from your email there have been nine emails to me, all in support of my review and/or my right to review and all apologizing for Alice Hoffman's perplexing behavior . . . I wouldn't change anything about my review. I have written many reviews for The Globe and say what I believe, and, in this case, I praised her earlier work, which was clearly better. I'm sorry Alice could not take pride in the good things I said, and perhaps mull a little on the criticism. That is what I have always tried to do when professional people have criticized my work."
    Jacket Copy also printed the following:
    Alice Hoffman's statement, which was conveyed by her publicist, Camille McDuffie at Goldberg McDuffie Communications, reads:

    I feel this whole situation has been completely blown out of proportion. Of course I was dismayed by Roberta Silman's review which gave away the plot of the novel, and in the heat of the moment I responded strongly and I wish I hadn't. I'm sorry if I offended anyone. Reviewers are entitled to their opinions and that's the name of the game in publishing. I hope my readers understand that I didn't mean to hurt anyone and I'm truly sorry if I did.

    Alice Hoffman
    NOTE TO SELF: Don't ever, ever respond to a review. No matter how much it hurts, just walk away.

    Read Silman's review here.