Writing on the Ether: Authors Priced Out of the Market?

#DBW12, #toccon, #WDC12, Amazon, author, AWP, B&N, Barnes and Noble, book, confab, conference, critic, criticism, critique, DBW, Digital Book World, e-book, e-reader, ebook, ereader, Jane Friedman, publishing, Tools of Change, writer, writing, Porter Anderson, Writing on the EtherTable of Contents

  1. Overture: If music be the food of love
  2. eBooks: Are authors priced out of the market?
  3. Industry hysteria: The Big Seventh
  4. Conferences: Fighting for air at AWP
  5. Digital: By any other name?
  6. Libraries: What if they just forget ebooks?
  7. Language: Roz on the (right) rampage
  8. Self-publishing: Bransford bursts the bubble idea
  9. Women Authors: Counting VIDA
  10. Last gas: The quiet warrior

Overture: If music be the food of love

Before we begin to gnash our teeth over industry and insult this week, I’m pleased to offer you an embedded stream from Q2 Music. That’s the 24-hour NPR-affiliated  contemporary-classical service I’m always gassing about on Twitter.

Music may have nothing to do with your work, I realize. No problem. And this music, most of it created by the world’s top living composers, may put your muse right through the windshield.

But I hope you’ll consider hitting play while you’re here today — catch an echo of the Ether in spaces that lie light years beyond our words. Today’s programming includes a playlist curated for Q2 by David Byrne (2pET), opening a three-week American Mavericks festival.

And Q2 is always there, always ahead of there, actually: The fearless and relevant music you crave. Free tunes. Most of which you couldn’t hum to save your life.

And now, dear Ethernaut, shall we tear our hair together?

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eBooks: Are authors priced out of the market?

The future is going to be filled with amateurs, and the truly talented and persistent will make a great living. But the days of journeyman writers who make a good living by the word — over.

That’s Godin to authors: You have no right to make money anymore. Thank you, Seth.

These dominoes of merciless wisdom fall in an interview at Digital Book World picked up by Mathew Ingram of GigaOM. Here’s Ingram:

The crucial principle at work (is) …your real competition isn’t the book or news outlet that is better than you; it’s the one that is good enough for a majority of your audience. …Maybe those vampire books by Amanda Hocking or the detective novels from million-selling author John Locke aren’t as good as yours, but for hundreds of thousands of weekend readers they are probably good enough.

Heart sinking yet? I should have offered you a drink, not music.

In the ongoing debate about how to price ebooks properly, it can seem that the author — whose personal investment and effort usually tops everyone else’s — is being overlooked, swatted aside.  And Ingram, as right as he is, does nothing to soothe the savage breast:

Godin’s point isn’t that you can’t make money; it’s that you have to think differently about how to accomplish that task.

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Let’s get past Seth (where is the duct tape?) and hunker with Ed Nawotka at Publishing Perspectives, where he’s asking the comparatively handsome question, What’s More Fairly Priced at 99 Cents, Nonfiction or a Novel?

#DBW12, #toccon, #WDC12, Amazon, author, AWP, B&N, Barnes and Noble, book, confab, conference, critic, criticism, critique, DBW, Digital Book World, e-book, e-reader, ebook, ereader, Jane Friedman, publishing, Tools of Change, writer, writing, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether
Matt Gartland / WinningEdits.com

Nawotka begins by noting that in many nonfiction books, “a single chapter or two supports the whole enterprise.” That’s a nice way of saying there’s one idea and 250 pages. Nawotka goes on:

To me, selling a “digital short” nonfiction piece for 99 cents or even $2.99 is a much more valid commercial transaction than buying a fiction title for the same price, especially if it is vetted and edited by a proper publisher.

And your little manifesto, too, Seth. (Sorry, I don’t know what came over me. It’s all this violent modern music, that damned Q2.) Nawotka soars on:

To me, fiction — properly vetted and edited fiction — is something that should go for more. It’s often a far bigger investment in a writer’s time than a magazine-length nonfiction piece.

Splendid fellow, this Nawotka, isn’t he?

As for the 99-cent novels, well anyone in their right mind would tell you that it is purely marketing. My bet would be that very few novelists honestly want to see their books sold so cheaply (yes, it works for some, but it remains to be seen if you can build a long-term career on such foundations).

And how softly Nawotka has landed me at another of the better reads to be overlooked by most people lately.

In the recently released second part of Brian O’Leary and Hugh McGuire’s Pressbooks project, Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto, Kassia Krozser’s A Reader’s Bill of Rights establishes with committed vivacity the alliance of author and reader.

I am here to say it is the publishers who are doing their own product the most harm. Every time a publisher allows a print book or ebook to be released with poor editing, poor proofreading, and poor quality, the value of books in general diminishes in the mind of readers. We deserve better.

Krozser is pretty splendid, herself, you see. And I hope you’ll spend some time this weekend with her excellent essay, as well as others in O’Leary and McGuire’s growing book. It can be read free (not “for free,” damn it) online.

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But there’s one point I’ve put to Krozser after reading her essay, and she’s been generous in coming back to me on it.

I’ve explained to her that I’ve had reservations about her discussion of ebook pricing when she concludes, “ebooks cost too damn much.” I’ve wondered if she had taken into account the fact that nothing about the author’s commitment changes for an ebook.

In this  digital revolution, the one element not digitized? — is the author. She or he must still go through the years of nightmarish work; the divorce when the neglected family falls apart; the custody battles; the forfeiture of all social life, up-to-date clothing, and mental health. Just take a good look at the next author you see.

Krozser answers:

First and foremost, I am a writer. I am an author. I am a publisher. I am that weird person who is torn between the “oh yeah” of angry authors and very real realities faced by anyone who goes into publishing as a business…So. I do not believe that, barring the rare JK Rowling, there is ever a way to fully compensate an author for the price of his/her creative labor.

Well, then, how do we reconcile the Reader’s Bill of Rights with what Margaret Atwood terms the “cheese sandwich” that every writer must have to keep churning out the stories? Basically, Krozser answers, we don’t.

There is absolutely no correlation among advances paid or sales or price or buzz or anything and talent. If there were, Paris Hilton would not have received a dime from a publisher. Publishing is, first and foremost, a business. Yes, it sometimes pretends to be a creative industry — especially when it comes to the disconnect between advances and actual sales — but the bottom line is very much the goal (well, that and executive bonuses).

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I’ve asked Krozser what’s wrong with the $9.99 that Amazon made its original, general Kindle book price? Is an author’s life’s work truly not worth ten US bucks?

For traditionally published authors, there is an agreed-upon fair pricing structure, so authors are being paid for their work. However, publishers continue to correlate print and ebooks, without regard to the limitations of the latter. People seemed happy with a $9.99 ebook that didn’t come with the same rights and material as the $23.99 hardcover. They are less tolerant of a higher-priced ebook that is incomplete or poorly treated by the publisher.

And so what of the self-publishing authors who seem bent on bounding from 99 cents to $2.99 to free-giveaway promotions?Aren’t they driving down the whole market?

For self-published authors, they aren’t really driving the cost of the market down as much as they are driving their own worth down. It’s pretty clear that readers are happily paying higher prices for quality books, though there is a tolerance point. I cannot say if these authors feel their pricing is worth it to them — I guess some will offer up an emphatic yes. Me? I disagree.

So when I look at the author as the one step in the production chain not digitized — for whom nothing is streamlined other than a little word-processing software and thank God for Dropbox — maybe I’m not looking at someone forgotten, but at someone who easily can become self-defeating in a marketplace of opportunism.

I want Krozser to play us out here:

Being a writer is a creative endeavor. Being an author is a business. The authors who price themselves at .99 are, in my opinion, bad business people. They are banking on the general cheapness of humanity. They are hoping they’ll win because people will buy their books in droves.

This is bad business because the royalties are lower. This is bad business because we (the readers) equate cheap with lower quality. This is bad business because, well, it tells the world what you really think of your work product, your  talent, your worth. This leads to a marketplace flooded with crappy stories, and these authors are going to be increasingly lost in the mire.

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Industry hysteria: The Big Seventh

Note: For a very useful analysis of the Thursday morning news that the Justice Department is “warning” Apple and five major publishers that it “plans” to sue them — in Reuter’s interpretation of the situation — I recommend legal correspondent Jeff Roberts’ good write at paidContent, The U.S. Threat To Sue Apple And Publishers: What It Means.

Read this:

Any other player in the ecosystem who is not at least mildly panicked probably doesn’t fully understand what’s going on.

Then read this:

Mr Bezos applied what he calls a “regret minimization framework”, imagining whether, as an 80-year-old looking back, he would regret the decision not to strike out on his own. He concluded that he would, and with encouragement from his wife he took the plunge as an entrepreneur. They moved from New York to Seattle and he founded (Amazon), in time-honoured fashion for American technology start-ups, in his garage.

The first lines are from the conclusion of Mike Shatzkin’s excellent two-essay work on Amazon. The other passage is from the Economist.

This is the sound of a point tipping: “What is new and unprecedented is that Amazon sales now constitute 30 percent or more of many large publishers’ business, between print and digital, and that number is rising.” That’s Mike Shatzkin in the first of his essays, Two questions that loom over the trade publishing business.

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Outside publishing, as well, people are “sitting up,” as we say in the South, having a new look, skinny $AMZN margins and all. For example, there’s a piece by Jason Del Ray at Ad AgeAmazon Has Big Plans In Advertising, But Agency Trading Desks Stand in the Way about Seattle’s efforts in “audience extension.” Here’s Del Ray describing it:

“Audience extension” essentially means Amazon is tracking segments of its users as they surf the web, and allowing advertisers to reach those segments on and off Amazon. To do so, Amazon buys ad inventory on third-party sites that its users visit and then resells that inventory to an advertiser for a premium.

One of our problems in the backwater of Old Publishing is that we forget just what a trailblazer Jeff Bezos is on a far bigger plane than we usually see him. This guy, as the Economist reminds us, “pioneered features that have since become commonplace, such as allowing customers to leave reviews of books and other products (a move that shocked literary critics at the time), or using a customer’s past purchasing history to recommend other products, often with astonishing accuracy.”

Paper-mongers may bitch about this outlier — he’s been overshadowed by Jobs, Gates, and others — but Jeff Bezos has as much right to be a publisher as anyone else.

Amazon is hardly the first entity to be both seller and publisher. Mike Shatzkin takes care of that one in the second of his essays, The expected changes in the book business favor Amazon’s share growth :

Joint ownership of publishing and book retailing is definitely not new; it has been a part of the industry for my entire 50 years in it. My first book publishing job was on the sales floor of Brentano’s Bookstore on 5th Avenue in 1962… Across the street from Brentano’s was the Scribner Bookstore, owned by Charles Scribner’s Sons. They were the publishers of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, among others.

And in Two questions that loom, you find Shatzkin getting to the heart of an emotional reason that many in publishing hate Bezos: He wasn’t invited.

More and more, people who have been in publishing for years see Amazon as “in” the book business, but not “of” the book business. That attitude is exacerbated because the answer to the second question above (“who is left standing?”) for many is “perhaps not me.”

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There’s an interesting piece from The Future Book to bring into play here. Emma Wright’s The Future of the Book Business: A Classicist’s View holds that “the traditional publishing industry…has reacted in much the same way as the Greeks in the 4th century, first with…denial that such a threat exists, followed by supreme confidence that these young upstarts…will never overtake them.” She goes on:

Instead of trying to preserve the printed book, which is not going to die out in our lifetime, publishers should be trying really hard to get more people reading, especially children. Who cares if we still have kids 20 years from now who love the smell of books? It would be better for the book business and everyone in general if more people were avid readers. More than publishers need to be challenging Amazon do they need to support libraries, aggressively.

Sounds like some kinship with Krozser there. And an honest reading of Shatzkin indicates we’re past any turnarounds. (Unrelated but interesting: Late news before the Ether pushed out that Wiley Looks to Sell Professional/Trade Assets That Drive $85 Million A Year, by Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch.)


(In five years) if the number following “Big” isn’t smaller than “6,” I’ll be one very surprised prognosticator.

And as for Bezos, if you can’t free up enough mental space to take in the man’s $42 million investment in the 10,000 Year Clock or his role in the space-travel startup Blue Origin, you’re probably not ready to handle what he’s doing with books, either.

The Economist:

Mr Bezos is bound to be the target of more criticism as his company’s hefty investments in new areas continue to put a dent in its bottom line…By being unusually patient, he hopes to create businesses that rivals will find harder to assail…it is the challenge of reaching for distant horizons that really makes Amazon’s boss tick.

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Conferences: Fighting for air at AWP

Some of the nicest people I’ve never met (in person, only online) work with AWP. The folks who man the Twitter account AWPWriter, for example, are unfailingly cordial, helpful, patient, and welcoming. So it wasn’t a lot of fun last weekend in Chicago at #AWP12 to have to tweet them from the teeming floor of the confab to say that all wasn’t going well.

Nevertheless, they’ve gamely sent out their annual post-confab survey. If you’re among the 10,000+ people who were there, I hope you’ll take a little time to fill it out. The organizers need to hear both good and bad reactions.

For the uninitiated, this is the massive annual conference that’s based in university creative writing programs. Some 3,000 of the 10,000 attending this year, we were told during the keynote, were students.

I saw two strong sessions. One was a panel of poets who gathered, rather courageously, for a starkly candid discussion about the challenges of focusing on racial issues in their work. That session, “In White: White Poets and Race,” featured Tess Taylor, Michelle Boisseau, Martha Collins, Kate Daniels, and Jake Adam York. The other was “The Tech-Empowered Writer,” as previewed here last week. It featured Jane Friedman, Christina Katz, Seth Harwood, and Robert Lee Brewer — and was the only session I saw in which all the panelists had Twitter handles.

In looking back at these sessions, the first AWP drawback on my list comes to mind:

No residual online resources from AWP events. No decks of slides, no video, no copies of articles, nothing. Some speakers I saw had paper handouts, and never enough for all the attendees. AWP, unlike ToC with its fine archive of presentations, disappears like Brigadoon into the mists.

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What does AWP want its conference to be and do? It’s a mixed bag: journal writers’ readings; writing-craft sessions; a smattering of business-of-writing events; tributes to beloved colleagues or institutions; parties thrown by various factions; and caucus rallies held by diverse groups within the community. These things occur all day and evening for three days, at about 75 minutes apiece, up to 23 events at once.

Simultaneously, there’s a mind-numbing book fair, which this year had some 550 presses, journals, and other entities. All were lost in cave-like underground exhibition halls. Bored people sitting at tables watched as glazed-eyed conference goers roamed by.

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Would a theme help? Surely, if the steering committee could seize on some issue or topic around which each year’s AWP sessions and events were chosen, it might be possible to bring at least a track or pathway into the current jungle of events.

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But the conference is somewhat at the mercy of its constituents. AWP’s constituents are its campus programs, of course. Everyone needs an event or two, everyone has vastly differing ideas of what makes a good session. How able is AWP’s governing outfit to drive a theme through this forest of organizations?

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Little to no interactivity is supported at AWP. There are no power strips for people who need to plug in laptops and other devices. No tables at the backs of the rooms for live-bloggers. No Twitter handles offered for participants, despite a raging cacaphony of tweeting and other social mediation going on before, during, and after the conference.

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The scholarly focus seems only more blinkered, year after year. I’m a creature of campuses, myself, with three degrees. I’ve taught at universities. I’m not standing on the outside of the academy throwing rocks. But folks. For a field that deals in publication, to have such a slight and disjointed approach to the the industry’s current crises is negligent at best.

A colleague argues that many at AWP “just want to write for themselves,” no interest in being published. I don’t buy it. How many people take writing degrees just so they can leave boxes of fond poems in the attic for their loved ones? #cmonson

Most people at any writing conference are at the very least curious about publication. I’d create an entire day of the conference for aspects of that topic’s myriad issues alone, and bring in some business experts, not campus-program instructors.

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Bad keynote. It pains me to say this because I’m a big fan of Margaret Atwood and was so pleased with the talk she gave at the 2010 ToC, thanks to Kat Meyer and Joe Wikert’s ingenuity in coaxing her to the stage. That’s the address she should have been able to give at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago last weekend for AWP.

Instead, she told us, the conference asked her to speak on “the craft of writing.” She  expressly told the audience, she has nothing to say on the topic, having never studied it, herself. And as I said several times, too, if she does have a craft secret, Atwood’s way too smart to blab it to several thousand would-be writers at a conference.

Her talk, while warmed by her personable presence, was quickly forgettable. It’s pretty hard to put Atwood into a position that renders her forgettable. AWP managed to do it.

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AWP is too danged big. Finally, here is the elephant too large to fit in the room. With 10,000 people, AWP was miserable. I spoke with the astonishingly sturdy concierge staffers who worked, wide-eyed, to keep things under control at the Hilton Chicago. They told me that they (the hotel personnel) had had no idea that the conference would mean such a sea of humanity ebbing and flowing up and down badly overcrowded elevators, jammed shoulder-to-tote-bag in hallways, swarming lobby staircases, cleaning out restaurant inventories. The facility was overwhelmed and so were many of the attendees.

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Now, a few AWP writes from other folks here, representing the gamut from wry skeptic to awestruck apostle, from pro to student.

First, David Duhr at Publishing Perspectives:

From Duhr’s first write:

I am one among 9,500 attendees at this year’s AWP conference. This is well over one million pounds of writers. In fact, judging by what I know about the lifestyles of most in our profession, it might be over two million pounds of writers. Most of which right now is focused on being seen, being heard, and trying to find a bathroom…I’ve already spent $80 today. It’s 40 degrees out…this conference, by the numbers, equals four days of three open barstools between two different Hiltons, and the whole thing is one giant clusterf*ck.

Heard at AWP by Dave Bonta

The Electrifying Community at AWP 2012 in Chicago by Hanna Kjeldjerg

AWP 2012 Wrap-Up by Kristen Grace

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Digital: By any other name?

Anne Kostick and I are great friends and colleagues. She’s an accomplished specialist in UX (user experience), who led a fine workshop at ToC on the issue, and has contributed many excellent articles to DBW’s site. We’ve even been spotted together at lunch and Museum of Modern Art seminars, and we share a love for what Q2 Music is doing for contemporary classical.

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Alas, I fear that my dear Kostick has come a cropper with this latest post, Digital Reading: Renaming the (Digital) Book.

It’s been such a draining season, hasn’t it?

Somehow, the poor thing has taken it into her head that we need a new word for these e-things we’ve been calling books. She lays out the need this way:

We have e-books, of course; but we also have enhanced e-books, book apps, Google books, iBooks, Kindle books, and online books. This is in addition to audio books and various editions of books printed on sheets of paper and bound. Some of these literary products are illustrated, animated, interactive, collaborative, updatable and/or editable. And in every case, we call them books. I call it confusing.

I haven’t experienced this confusion, myself. But I do notice that suggestions for new names for the book trend awfully quickly to the cute. Readers of my work at Writer Unboxed will recall my dislike for “corporate-cute” names. Here in Kostick’s column are proposals that we might call an ebook a “readee.” Or a “wordup.” “Or a “pagey.” Or a “knowie.” Why not just call the thing a “kitty-cat shower curtain” and be done with it?

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In a volley of tweets this week, Kostick mentioned to me a term offered by Ernio Hernandez, “mindcake.” This is offered as a substitute for the term “ebook,” you understand. A “mindcake.”

Let’s just give this one the user-experience test, shall we?

  • On an author’s website: “Sample Chapter 1 here free — I’d like to give you a piece of my mindcake.”
  • In the prosecutor’s office: “We’re going to throw the mindcake at that crook.”
  • At the Christian mindcakestore: “Do you have a copy of “The Mindcake of Common Prayer?”
  • After school: “I’m checking out some enhanced mindcakes from the library.”
  • At the dinner table: “Anybody for dessert?” “No, thanks, I have an iMindcake to read for homework.”
  • On the plane: “Good music?” “No, I’m listening to an audio-mindcake.”
  • At the conference: “Revising that manuscript again?” “It’s my crazy editor, can’t make up her mindcake.”

Icing on the mindcake: coming from the already dire book-Nook-Vook vortex, I believe it’s Jeremy Greenfield at DBW who has ruled out the logical extrapolation to a digital book, “dook.”

Sure to be cutesied up as “dookie.”

Amazing how good the term “ebook” sounds now, isn’t it?

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Libraries: What if they just forget ebooks?

Two years after “standing up” to Amazon by handing Apple instant market share in the ebook space, and jumping through hoops to supply every other harebrained ebook startup with shoddily formatted content, with nary a thought given to device interoperability nor optimal user experiences, and in the wake of the #2 domestic book retailer finally going bankrupt, libraries have seemingly become the one kid on the playground publishers think they can bully into submission.

With the #cmonson zeal we’ve come to expect of him, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez this week is helping librarians face what has seemed unthinkable: eBooks and Libraries: Is it Worth the Effort?

Here’s the question, finally called, italics mine:

Since publishers are so concerned with the “perpetuity of lending and simultaneity of availability” of their ebooks, I have to wonder if libraries shouldn’t just help them out and hit the STOP button themselves? Stop buying ebooks across the board, at any price, under any terms. Let publishers fight it out with Amazon, and when the dust finally settles (it will) and a viable business model appears (maybe), begin negotiating anew, on solid ground, with whomever’s left standing.

Gonzalez goes on to ask what’s the fear in such a potentially sensible move in time of budget cuts? “Is the belief that without ebooks, libraries will seem irrelevant and antiquated,” he asks? “My little local library…(has) a decent children’s library and a variety of useful services that I’d argue are far more valuable to our community.”

This is a very potent argument for many communities’ libraries. And as Gonzalez mentions Andy Woodworth’s timely Alternative Uses for the Pesky eBook Budget, Bobbi Newman of Librarian by Day picks right up on this with her own Should Libraries Get Out of the eBook Business?  She writes:

I can’t help but wonder if Guy LeCharles Gonzalez is right…Do not mistake me, I do not think we should stop looking for a solution or stop advocating on behalf of our patrons, but I do think perhaps we should stop throwing good money at a bad solution.

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Libraries: Could the ebook price hikes be good?

With its move, Random House has made clear what it wants out of a new relationship with libraries- more cash per copy. In return, libraries need to demonstrate what they expect for their money. What should libraries require from their premium ebooks in exchange for premium prices? Here’s my list.

Eric Hellman of the new Unglue.it platform lays out a classic contrarian’s argument for why Random House’s 300-percent increase in ebook prices could have moved the ball into librarians’ court. In Random House’s eBook Price Hikes are GOOD for Libraries. IF… he calls on libraries to leverage their higher prices for more demands on publishers.

The demands he recommends include:

  • portability (unlock ebooks from one or another vendor’s distribution platform);
  • transferability (allow ebooks to be traded among libraries);
  • privacy (no giving up of user info);
  • accessibility (text-to-speech and other technologies);
  • and integrability (a 50-cents word meaning, here, allowing libraries to integrate such services as ebook “annotation, discussion, advanced discovery tools and social interaction”).

And by the way, Joe Wikert at O’Reilly, has produced an informative interview with Hellman about his new platform and program: Unglue.it seeks to set ebooks free.

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Along with Gonzalez’ and Hellman’s good writes this week, this segment of Ether is enriched by a couple more quickly covered bits:

Libraries: Luddites in paradise

“We want to collect one copy of every book,” said Brewster Kahle, who has spent $3 million to buy and operate this repository situated just north of San Francisco. “You can never tell what is going to paint the portrait of a culture.”

It’s David Streitfeld at the Times with In a Flood Tide of Digital Data, an Ark Full of Books, a fascinating feature on Kahle, of the Internet Archive, and his Noah-ic mission to preserve a physical archive.

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And lastly:

Libraries: Not Scooby-Doo but Skoobe.de

Skoobe is designed as a „virtual library“. This means, that users can browse the whole assortment and borrow all ebooks as long and as often as they want. Only the number of ebooks that can be borrowed at the same time as well as the number of new ebooks per month are limited. Five ebooks at the same time are available on the user’s bookshelf, when „returning“ one, another title can be borrowed.

The Skoobe.de homepage

Our good colleague Sebastian Posth in Berlin gets into Sam Missingham’s blog at The Future Book with Germany’s first ebook subscription service Skoobe.de has launched, a great layout of this kickass new service. Get this:

Above all specifications and features for users – the app is super-professionally designed and runs very smoothly -, there is another remarkable thing to mention about the company: Skoobe is a joint venture of the two German major trade publishing companies Verlagsgruppe Random House and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck plus arvato – arvato Publishers Services. This means, that Skoobe will be backed up with loads of trade content right from the start! And, it’s open to other publishers as well, due to which Skoobe is able to offer ebooks also from one of the most innovative trade publishers in the German ebook market, Bastei Lübbe. Which will probably attract even more publishers!

So maybe we should consider a springtime move to Dusseldorf, ja?. Next week’s Ether will be in Deutsch, you won’t mind, will you? Auf Wiedersehen.

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Language: Roz on the (right) rampage

When did we start forgiving sloppiness and sneering at correctness? If you have a genuine love of the writing craft, isn’t it a point of pride to get these things right?

Author and craft coach Roz Morris is tired of a few hostile phrases: “Here are some terms we must stop using. ‘Grammar Nazi.’ ‘Punctuation police.’ ‘Spelling snob.’”

Fed up with the brazen backlash of amateurs — who are inevitably the ones most offended by having a mistake pointed out to them — Morris wrote Love writing? Love the tools of the language. In it, she asks readers to share their “pet hates.” At this writing, she has 85 comments listed on the post. She concludes:

We are writers. Our prose is our instrument. These are not stuffy, irrelevant rules. They are essential technical skills for communication. When we get them wrong, we trip up the reader. Or we mislead, or undermine ourselves.

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Language: At least try a roundabout

I’d like to add a ban on pop clichés to Morris’ comments on writing quality. We owe better to our readers and to each other, our colleagues. I’d suggest we start by declaring it illegal, irrational, and unattractive  to use the phrase “at the intersection of” except in giving traffic directions.

At AWP, we heard it continually. “At the intersection of literature and current events,” “at the intersection of politics and poetry,” “at the intersection of rhetoric and classicism,” “at the intersection of technology and letters,” ad nauseum.

Anybody parroting that phrase risks being run down at the intersection of laziness and mall-speak. If you’re a writer – and, as we know, all but four U.S. citizens now claim to be writers because “it’s the Internet” – work up a little originality.

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Self-publishing: Bransford bursts the bubble idea

I say no. We’re not in a bubble. This is not a temporary blip. There are sooo many people who are writing books out there. There are even more who want to write a book and believe they have a book in them. There are thousands upon thousands of unpublished manuscripts out there and even more in progress.

Nathan Bransford, the crossover artist who was a high-profile agent and now is an author of MG books and a fixture at CNET, raises the question so he can answer it: Is There a Self-Publishing Bubble?

Blogging was a blip. Books are far more central to our culture and are far, far more glamorized than blogs. Lots of people want to grow up and be a famous author. Fewer want to be a famous blogger… There is a massive supply of books in the pipeline.

Bransford has an eye for art and enjoys dusting off canvases on his posts, here in the twilight of blogging. His apt choice for this piece is one of the charming “Soap Bubbles” paintings (Les Builles de savon) of the French master Jean-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779). There are three versions of the work, held by the National Gallery, the Met, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, respectively.

Chardin’s “Soap Bubbles,” the version on display at Los Angeles County Museum of Art

LACMA’s image viewer gives you the chance to examine in close detail that museum’s version of the work. Listed as being currently on view, it’s the gift of the Ahmanson Foundation and measuring 23 5/8 inches by 28 ¾ inches. Relative to Bransford’s post, LACMA’s extended discussion notes that this evocation of blowing bubbles, “is far from being a scene of carefree, youthful abandon.” There are bubbles, and there are bubbles.

This has been a welcome interlude. On we go.

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Women Authors: Counting VIDA

VIDA, an American organization that supports women in literary arts, recently released ‘The Count’ for 2011 providing a sobering (and somewhat depressing) look at the current state of rates of publication between women and men in some of the most prestigious literary review outlets (including the New York Times Book review, Times Literary Supplement and the New Yorker).

Author Clare Langley-Hawthorne is one of the regular bloggers at Kill Zone — which, as a point of interest, is written by six women and five men, by my count.

In Is There a Literary Glass Ceiling? Langley-Hawthorne laments not only the frustrating disparities of staffing and coverage at various venues, but also the apparent imbalance between men and women being published.

She turns to Alison Flood and Michael Bonnet’s report in The Guardian, Gender bias in books journalism remains acute, research shows. It’s there that we find some indication that the percentage of material published by women lags that published by men.

The Guardian contacted a number of the UK’s largest publishing houses and found that 2011 non-fiction releases for Penguin, Atlantic Books, Random House and Simon & Schuster all painted a similar picture, with 74%, 73%, 69% and 64% per cent of all titles male authored respectively.

While those numbers are no happier than VIDA’s corresponding figures on drastically less media coverage and presence for women, The Guardian’s research at least includes an inquiry into how much female-authored work was available for media outlets to cover.

In both articles — Langley-Hawthorne’s and The Guardian’s — the reader comments are  telling.

Some respondents express surprise at statistics suggesting that many more books by men than by women may be getting into publication. Others reject that information as immaterial, even though, of course, such a severe (and regrettable) imbalance of women’s work to men’s could make it impossible to have a balanced amount of coverage. (The understanding being that if the books simply aren’t there in equal numbers to be covered, then coverage cannot be equal.)

Suffice it to say, Langley-Hawthorne is putting these gender-disparity issues on the table with a refreshing frankness.

My aim is to promote discussion not to whine, complain or moan (which sadly, seems to be the reaction to many women commentators when they raise the issue of gender in publishing).

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Last gas: The quiet warrior

If I wrote a book on the subject of self-sabotage, shouldn’t I be open, even eager, to speak about it? What’s the difference? Speaking and writing are the same thing, aren’t they? No, they’re not.

Steven Pressfield, an author whose work many of us admire — both in his War of Art material on writing, and in his art-of-war historical novels — takes an admirably firm stance in this unusually personal new blog post, Why I Don’t Speak.

Especially timely during the annual round of publishing conferences, when it seems everybody is talking everywhere, Pressfield makes a stand for privacy of the author-reader connection.

There’s a type of communion that happens between a writer and a reader within the pages of a book that cannot be replicated in a public setting—at least not a large-scale one. In fact, the large-scale setting by its very nature corrupts and deforms the meaning of the material.

I wrote The War of Art in book form for two reasons:

1. So I wouldn’t have to talk about it, and

2. Because book format was, in my view, the only appropriate way to deliver this material to the individual who might profit by being exposed to it.

At a time when “social reading” seems to be an idea readily embraced by many writers, it’s intriguing to hear Pressfield stake such an adamant counter position. Here is the author who has helped so many of those same writers — and he’s speaking up for not speaking up.

I’m a writer. I’m not a speaker. Speaking is not my calling. It’s not my thing. I can do it, yeah, and sometimes even pull it off fairly well. But my heart is never in it. I’m not having fun. And when the event ends, even if there’s applause or heartfelt appreciation, I still can’t wait to get out of there. I’m a writer. Speaking, for me, is a form of Resistance.

So, Pressfield writes, he turns down daily invitations to speak.

I can’t be the one to do the talking. Not on this subject. It’s too close to the bone, too intimate, too personal and too important. It ain’t me. I can’t do it.

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This week’s Ether-eal main image is from iStockphoto/mgkaya

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