Writing on the Ether: Amazon Singles

Amazon, author, B&N, Barnes and Noble, book, confab, conference, critic, criticism, critique, DBW, Digital Book World, e-book, e-reader, ebook, ereader, Jane Friedman, publishing, publisher, Tools of Change, ToC, #toccon, writer, writing, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, agency pricing, Apple, Big Six, EU, European Union, AAP, copyright, Kindle Single, curator, curation, Maria Popova, Curator's CodeTable of Contents

  1. Beware the Ides of March
  2. Disruption at #sxsw: The 4G human hotspots
  3. Amazon Singles: Humans on the hot seat
  4. Journalism: Smart Sarah
  5. Correctives: Curatorial Code, Britannica, PayPal
  6. e-Reading: Erotica under digital wraps
  7. Nonfiction: Engendering grief
  8. Agency pricing: Good grief
  9. Libraries: Maybe if we march like @MargaretAtwood
  10. Authorial crafts: Friedman, Pressfield, Chandler
  11. Writing: A tool, and a little flow, please
  12. Last Gas: Figuratively speaking

Beware the Ides of March

The noble Brutus hath told you
Caesar was ambitious.

But, of course, today, the 17th Earl of Oxford would have Marc Antony say:

Caesar was disruptive.

We like that word now, don’t we? Disruptive. Oh, yes, we do. Not for nothing did Gayle Feldman, covering the American Association of Publishers for TheBookseller quote one publishing executive saying, “things are going to get ugly” as the US Department of Justice circles with warnings of a collusion suit.

Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.

Whoa, wrong play. How disruptive of me. See?

This mortal house I’ll ruin,
Do Caesar what he can.

Right Antony, wrong script. Disruptive. Actually, the library didn’t have the ebook edition of JC, damn it, so I ended up with A&C, so sue me. No, sue the DOJ. No, sue the authors, isn’t it time we made it all their fault again?

But look where sadly the poor wretch comes reading, and on an evil Kindle, that whoreson jackanapes.

Speaking of whom, has anyone seen these two together??

In a certain light…at a certain angle…in the fog of War with Seattle…when minoxidil fails… “Halt! Who goes there?” “Ship it!” … “We’ll ship it free!” …I’m just sayin’. Disruption.

Meet me on the steps of the Senate, Brute. I’m in.

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Disruption at #sxsw: The 4G human hotspots

Homeless Hotspots is a very real — and very earnest — initiative, imported to Austin for this week’s South by Southwest Interactive festival by BBH Labs, the skunkworks-y innovation unit of the marketing firm Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

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BBH Labs logo

Having read Megan Garber when she was still at Nieman Journalism Lab, I was glad to find her at The Atlantic, writing up the strangest story coming out of confab-choked Austin. In Wi-Fi Hotspots Made of Homeless People: Not as Horrible as They Seem, Garber explains how a so-called “charitable experiment” from BBH Labs of the marketing firm Bartle Bogle Hegarty was set up:

Participants in the program carry MiFi devices with 4G connectivity. “Introduce yourself,” BBH explains, “then log on to their 4G network via your phone or tablet for a quick high-quality connection. You pay what you want (ideally via the PayPal link on the site so we can track finances), and whatever you give goes directly to the person that just sold you access.”

I loved Guy LeCharles Gonzalez’s reaction in his piece on it, “A hobo is my WiFi hotspot.”

When I first saw this … I was like WHAT THE HOLY F**K?!?! Then I followed a few links, got some background, read the organizers’ rationale, calmed down a bit, and am now… completely flustered.

I’m still “flustered,” what a strangely apt word here, and that’s after a couple of days of reading widely on the matter.

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Gonzalez links to the producers-on-the-defensive. Their own explanatory Homeless Hotspots: a charitable experiment at SXSWi includes several points genuinely worth noting:

+ We are not selling anything. There is no brand involved. There is no commercial benefit whatsoever.

+ This is a test program that was always scheduled to end today (there’s no 2-week payment cycle)

+ Each of the Hotspot Managers keeps all of the money they earn. The more they sell their own access, the more they as individuals make.

And such a Texas-size range of responses, too.

Think about all the companies involved in one way or another in SXSW who did absolutely nothing at all for Austin’s homeless population. How much condemnation did they get? None. BBH’s stunt here offends our sense of human dignity, but the real offense is that people were languishing in such poor conditions that they would find this to be an attractive job offer.

That’s Matthew Yglesias at Slate’s MoneyBox blog, in SXSW’s Human Hotspot Problem.

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By contrast, I’ll leave you with Tim Carmody at Wired  in The Damning Backstory Behind ‘Homeless Hotspots’ at SXSW. He raises some badly “flustering” questions that just don’t get easily answered.

This is my worry: the homeless turned not just into walking, talking hotspots, but walking, talking billboards for a program that doesn’t care anything at all about them or their future, so long as it can score a point or two about digital disruption of old media paradigms. So long as it can prove that the real problem with homelessness is that it doesn’t provide a service.

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Amazon Singles: Humans on the hot seat

I’m going to name my first child Amazon. I’m incredibly grateful to them. There’s no other way to put it but that working with Amazon totally changed my life for the better.”

Not only is author and bassist Mishka Shubaly talking openly about his estimated $129,544.82 in Amazon Singles royalties…not only is he understandably happy about how good the whole gig has been for him…but he’s also been allowed by Amazon Kindle Singles Editor David Blum to reveal his sales figures. One of his three Singles, Are You Lonesome Tonight?, has racked up 60,567 copies.

Amazon, author, B&N, Barnes and Noble, book, confab, conference, critic, criticism, critique, DBW, Digital Book World, e-book, e-reader, ebook, ereader, Jane Friedman, publishing, publisher, Tools of Change, ToC, #toccon, writer, writing, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, agency pricing, Apple, Big Six, EU, European Union, AAP, copyright, Kindle Single, curator, curation, Maria Popova, Curator's Code, paidContent, Laura Hazard Owen
Table: paidContent

The person who brings us this and a lot more information is somebody Ethernauts know well. Not a week goes by when I don’t quote one or another bit of copy from Laura Hazard Owen at paidContent. This week, she hit it out of the park.

Her two-parter on Amazon Singles — Exclusive: Amazon Has Sold Over Two Million Kindle Singles and Exclusive: How Much Do Kindle Singles Authors Make? — is, for my money, the most revealing of Amazon personnel and of some numbers (Amazon numbers!) we’ve had yet. Have I read all things Amazonian? No. But of what I’ve read, this trumps the pile, not just for numbers but for the frank, straight-ahead commentary the company permitted. Take care to note, Amazon specifically allowed these writers to break their confidentiality agreements. Even if grudgingly, you have to admit, this was cool.

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For my money, reading Tony Award winner Frank Gilroy’s comments alone is a high. This is the playwright of “The Subject Was Roses.” And I’m linking you there to the IMDB listing because — ready for it? — Amazon doesn’t carry a copy of his Pulitzer Prize-winning script. You can get the Samuel French edition through other sellers. But maybe Blum will be good enough to see if Amazon wouldn’t like to offer that important script, itself, say, to highlight Gilroy’s upcoming second Single?

Disclosure: David Blum was Editor in Chief with the Village Voice. I was a theater columnist and critic for Ross Wetzsteon at the Voice for several years, shortly after Euripides premiered Medea.

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Check out some of the candor here. This is author Oliver Broudy, who has two Singles out and reports some $65,241.16 in royalties to date from them:

Dave Blum lost significant money on the second single because of the advance that he gave me, which I needed because the book required some travel. But he still signed me up for a third with the same advance. The loss they sustained on my last single is nothing to them, nothing. They don’t care. They’re trying to develop an editorial brand here, and this is the price they’re willing to pay, much as they’re willing to take a loss on e-books because they want to sell Kindles. There’s definitely a literary culture within the Kindle Singles program, and that’s a very good thing. Once they have total market saturation, then promoting this kind of literary culture may cease to be a priority, but that remains to be seen.

Predictably, some people focused on the overall numbers of the 14-month-old Singles program. It wouldn’t do to be too impressed by anything Amazonian, of course.

Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch, for example, gently pooh-poohed the numbers overall, in Beyond the Biggest Authors, Amazon Admits “Singles” Sales Are Quite Low.

The six bestselling Kindle Singles titles are in fact all non-exclusive works from established authors: Lee Child, Stephen King, David Baldacci, Dean Koontz….Two exclusive works from established authors, Karin Slaughter and Jodi Picoult, occupy the next two slots, and seem to account for another 250,000 units (or) more, while the remaining 4 titles on the top 10 list look to comprise another 200,000 units or so. (This) leaves the bulk of the Kindle Singles list–155 titles–racking up sales of around a million units, or an average of 6,500 units each (good for $6,500 to $19,500 in gross sales). And that’s with significant site promotion and their own dedicated bestseller list.

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Right. And authors may find more to appreciate than early sales figures here, particularly in the honest comments of author Will Bunch saying:

One thing I learned the first time around: Amazon’s not a traditional publishing company so they don’t really have proofreaders. I’m a terrible proofreader myself, and after the first one, ‘October 1, 2011,’ we had to go in after a couple of days and fix a fair number of mistakes. The second time, I made sure other people read behind me and proofread it for me.

Gracious, telling comments, both glowing and cautionary. Real chat, made possibly by Seattle’s willingness to give Owen this kind of access. I congratulate Owen on “obtaining some general statistics,” as Cader refers to them, yes, and some highly specific insights that we simply haven’t had on this operation. Owen’s conclusion:

Kindle Singles allows Amazon to draw in authors who deem the program low-risk because it’s not in conflict with other publisher relationships they may have. Those authors may then stick around, especially if they believe that doing a full-length project with Amazon has the potential to be as lucrative as Kindle Singles have been for many of them.

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Journalism: Smart Sarah

Read the books. I direct this more to the tech side of the publishing reporter spectrum, but what gets lost in all the chatter about ebooks/agency model/Amazon taking over or not taking over the world/etc. is that publishing is, and always will be, about books.

Speaking of Cader and Publisher’s Lunch, that’s his colleague, News Editor Sarah Weinman on her own blog, Off on a Tangent. She has some key points in Tradecraft For The Budding Publishing Reporter in which she notes the high quality of Owen’s Amazon double-play, and goes on to list key skills for anyone trying to cover publishing:

  • A very high bullshit detector
  • Learn how to read financial documents
  • Go through legal filings
  • Befriend a scout or two
  • Break open the glamour box
  • Love the beat

And, my favorite, Read the books.

And if you don’t read, or don’t at least talk or hint about what you’re reading in some context, uh, why are you doing this? It would be like a TV reporter who doesn’t watch television or an aviation reporter who never flies.

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Correctives: Curatorial Code, Britannica, PayPal

The Curator’s Code is an effort to keep this whimsical rabbit hole open by honoring discovery through an actionable code of ethics — first, understanding why attribution matters, and then, implementing it across the web in a codified common standard, doing for attribution of discovery what Creative Commons has done for image attribution.

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ᔥ CuratorsCode.org

Maria Popova is leading the charge on this one, and it’s a subject you won’t be surprised  that I like. If you’ve seen my tweets — and I can only fear you have — you know that I’ll edit anything necessary to be sure I get a writer credited inside that 140 characters.

In Introducing The Curator’s Code: A Standard for Honoring Attribution of Discovery Across the Web, she offers two insignias you can insert with a bookmarkletl. This one   indicates “a direct link of discovery” (or “via” in common Twitter-speak). This one indicates a “hat tip” or “indirect discovery, story lead, or inspiration.”

I like the rationale. I’m a bit wary of the execution. How about you? Here’s Popova once more:

While we have systems in place for literary citation, image attribution, and scientific reference, we don’t yet have a system that codifies the attribution of discovery in curation as a currency of the information economy, a system that treats discovery as the creative labor that it is.

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Britannica’s own market research showed that the typical encyclopedia owner opened his or her volumes less than once a year,” say Greenstein and Devereux.

Tim Carmody at Wired turns to historian Yoni Appelbaum at The Atlantic to get that devastating little tidbit on the news of the Encyclopedia Britannica going all-digital.

Like Carmody’s family, mine had World Book at home, and I would later write for the World Book Yearbook. But my father’s Britannica set was considered far too sophisticated a reference for students to understand, at least in the intellectual hothouse that was the South Carolina of my childhood.

Maybe it’s that Daddy’s Study Only insult — or my willing embrace of disruption, don’t you know? — that’s causing me to feel less woozy and nostalgic than others about the thing’s corporeal adjustment. Also two factors — searchable, update-able. Back to Carmody:

Encarta is more important to this story than Wikipedia. It’s easy to see Britannica going web-only as a story of “Wikipedia wins, because open beats closed,” and start making general statements about the fate of everything only if that’s the lens you use to see every story, in no small part because you have a very short memory. Britannica went bankrupt in 1996, long before Wikipedia was a crowdsourced gleam in Jimmy Wales’ open-access eye.

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PayPal’s new policy will focus only on e-books that contain potentially illegal images, not e-books that are limited to just text, spokesman Anuj Nayar said on Tuesday. The service will still refuse, however, to process payments for text-only e-books containing child pornography themes.

Not since Verizon’s customers turned that company around when it tried to charge a $2 fee for paying your bill online. Here’s the report from Alistair Barr of Reuters, picked up by the Baltimore Sun, Exclusive: PayPal backtracks on “obscene” e-book policy:

PayPal is relaxing the policy after the main credit card companies made a distinction between extreme pornographic images and e-books that explore such topics with only the written word.

And it was, of course, a big moment for many who had seen a dangerous precedent of corporate censorship afoot in PayPal’s original moves.

“This is going to be a major victory for writers, readers and free speech,” said Mark Coker, founder of e-book distributor Smashwords. “They are going to build a protective moat around legal fiction.”

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e-Reading: Erotica under digital wraps

Electronic readers, and the reading privacy they provide, are fueling a boom in sales of sexy romance novels, or “romantica,” as the genre is called in the book industry. Kindles, iPads and Nooks “are the ultimate brown paper wrapper,” says Brenda Knight, associate publisher at Cleis Press, of Berkeley, Calif., a publisher of erotica since 1980.

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When Katherine Rosman went into the Wall Street Journal about Fifty Shades of Grey, her story was headlined Books Women Read When No One Can See the Cover.

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It seems, however, that more serious questions are out there, involving the provenance of the work. As Laura “She’s Everywhere” Owen writes in Erotic Novel ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey,’ Fan Fiction And Copyright, “As more fan fiction gets monetized in book form, will other copyright issues arise?”

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Owen points to Master of the Universe versus Fifty Shades by E.L James Comparison by Jane Litte at Dear Author in which there’s an assertion that “Fifty Shades” is “89% the same” as “Master of the Universe,” a work of fan fiction. “Fifty Shades” has been bought by Vintage as a three-book deal.

And in the head-on comparison of several paragraphs that Jason Boog does at GalleyCat in Fifty Shades of Grey Began as Twilight Fan Fiction, the pedestrian prose does seem remarkably similar. As do many folks’ complaints about the media focus on privacy as an erotica-selling benefit of e-reading.

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I’m not so sure the e-reading privacy point is that far-fetched. I think many guys like ebooks in part because one’s colleagues on that flight to a business meeting don’t have to know what you’ve got on your Kindle. It may or may not be even one shade of racy. But when asked “Whatcha readin’?” the classic “mind your own business” never goes down as well as “just some PDFs from the office.”

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Nonfiction: Engendering grief

In another question of male and female experience, writer Victoria Noe brings a compassionate courage to her post, Mars and Venus Grieve Their Friends this week.

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Image: FriendGrief.com

Noe’s nonfiction work-in-progress focuses on the barriers many people encounter in the aftermath of a friend’s loss. Maybe an unsympathetic family is blind to the friend’s pain, maybe the friend feels that her or his own grief is less important, even intrusive, superfluous, compared to that of the “loved ones.”

If you asked a group of people if men grieve differently, I’m guessing most would say yes. They’d insist that men work through their grief by doing things: keeping up with familiar routines or running errands for the family of their friend who died.  They may insist just as strongly that women talk through their feelings. Men are assumed to not want to verbalize their grief, much less share it.

Noe writes that in research for her “FriendGrief” book on the overall phenomenon, she thought that asking guys “to talk about a friend who died would be akin to pulling teeth. I would be lucky to get a few coherent sentences. I don’t think I’ve ever been so wrong in my life.”

Men are quite capable of talking about their friends, their memories, and their grief. But in many situations, men – rather than women – are judged by how they react.

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Chicago-based Noe — who in person, by the way, is so fond of laughing that you’d never dream her book deals with death and grief — now is making plans for a second book that focuses solely on the grief of men for friends.

I’m grateful to hear this from her. And I think it takes a generous spirit to write this way about the depth of feeling she’s discovering in men. I’ll need no e-reader to hide this book once she has it out.

The truth is most men aren’t given a safe, non-judgmental place to share their memories and sadness. They may be protecting their image; they may feel the need to be stronger than anyone around them…If you know a man who’s lost a friend recently, get together with him. Go have coffee or a beer. Just hang out.

You can keep all Fifty Shades. I’ll wait for MensGrief, thanks.

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Agency pricing: Good grief

When people state that the Agency Model’s uniform pricing is actually good for competition, ask the people who are trying to shove this bullshit down your throat if they buy their print books at a discount from Amazon!

Things have gotten onlier twitchier since I pushed out Monday’s Extra Ether, a selection of cries and whispers about the Department of Justice’s (yes, they’re on Twitter, bless their federal hearts) warning of potential lawsuits regarding Apple, most of the Big Six, and agency pricing.

Our opening quote above is from Mike Cane in Don’t Believe The eBook Anti-Anti-Trust Spin.

In fact, Cane also has taken on Scott Turow, writing as president of the Author’s Guild in his widely discussed Letter from Scott Turow: Grim News (covered in my Monday Ether). Cane mounts a blistering refutation to Turow on the basis of industry precedents. It’s well worth a look in order to round out your perspective — the good Ethernaut is unafraid to take on many viewpoints, right? Right.

In Authors Guild Favors Big Six eBook Price Cartel, Cane concludes:

Turow would have every one of you — and the AG (Authors Guild) membership — believe that revisionist bullshit. Turow either doesn’t know history or is deliberately hiding the facts from everybody. Don’t be fooled by his bleating or by the weak chorus of others who repeat that same tune. The Agency Model must be abolished.

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In yet a third story in four days on some element of the story, Amazon Under Siege, Cane exhorts the publishers to understand that they’re not as disadvantaged by the world’s largest online retailer as they seem to think they are.

Amazon is no longer as strong as all of you think. Now, Big Six, it’s time for you to prove it to yourselves.  And you had better move fast on this. Because if the Agency Model falls and Amazon is again free to price everything at $9.99 — or even below — Bezos will be able to manipulate all of you into thinking Kindle dominates when it’s actually only the price that does.

Meanwhile, in a largely countervailing approach, the well-considered Thoughts on eBook Pricing by Joe Wikert, this point comes into play:

The agency model prevents brand erosion — Think of the premium products you’ve bought or admired. Oftentimes their prices are higher than most of the competition’s. What would happen if those prices were suddenly significantly reduced? Would those products retain the full value of their premium brand? Highly unlikely. And shouldn’t the owner of that brand have a say in what price is associated with it? …Over time the value of that brand is affected. That’s why I think publishers should definitely have the option to go with the agency model so they can manage retail prices and not let their brand lose value.

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But here’s Nate Hoffelder to swat that argument aside, pointing out that “The problem with this is that readers don’t think of publishers as brands. For the most part, readers don’t even know who the publisher is.”

This is in And the Anti-Anti-Trust Complaints Continue – where he comes in with what might be the best line, the truest line yet: The real issue is that no one feels capable of competing with Amazon. (Emphasis mine.)  Hoffelder goes on to write:

If you don’t like how Amazon does business, fine. Start your own company…This should be easy for publishers, given that they already control the content. Do you know why the major publishers haven’t (and won’t) do this? It ‘s because it would involve learning a new business style, and the dinosaurs cannot adapt anymore. It’s far easier to hobble the fleet of foot than it is to compete.

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Daniel Martyns at The Future Book takes it from the human side of the question, asking:  So How Do You Reward The Author? – the question so easily forgotten by industry talkers who see things mostly through business-colored glasses.

At one end of the value chain we have ebook pricing, which today is in need of a sustainable model that is in the consumer interest. After all, they are the final arbitrator and the only one who actually puts real revenue into the chain. At the other end, we also find a similar need for a sustainable reward model, which is in the long term interest of the author. After all they are the ones who actually create the work and its value.

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Then there’s Frédéric Filloux writing Ebooks: Defending the Agency Model at Monday Note  After a long prelude, he gets to his bottom line, which rings unfortunately as a pity-the-publishers appeal: “Legacy publishers are culturally ill-equipped for such a difficult transition.”

And we end up back with the Turow letter, this time in Scott Turow: Wrong About Everything by David Gaughran. He writes:

Let me get this straight. Amazon’s policy of discounting one product (e-books) was making it uneconomic for physical bookstores, who sell a completely different product (print books), to keep their doors open? Let’s just pause for a moment and ponder the ridiculousness of that statement…

At this stage, I don’t know if Mr. Turow is being deliberately disingenuous, willfully ignorant, or just letting his inner Sophist run wild. The claim that the Agency Agreement is responsible for Amazon’s share of the e-book market falling from “about 90% to roughly 60%” is ridiculous.

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But just as this edition of the Ether gasses its way toward Neptune, former-agent-now-author-and-CNETBoy Nathan Bransford weighs in, as usual with less rococo emotion than some of our Eastern icons.

From way over on the other side of those amber waves of grain, here comes the independence I love in a good California wine, I mean writer.

The irony of returning to the wholesale model is that publishers may actually make more money per e-book copy sold even as prices go down for consumers. This sounds like a win-win for publishers, but it ignores the big losers: traditional bookstores, which will be even less able to compete with cheaper e-books. Publishers are not eager to lose those outlets and will be forced to wind down huge print operations as print continues its (inevitable in my opinion) decline.

Bransford headlines his piece in the Pasadena patois —  Why the DOJ’s Potential Lawsuit Over the Agency Model is a Really Big Deal. And it looks like he’s coming down on a side the Justice Department might appreciate.

So who wins?  In my opinion: Readers. Yes, there are dangers to publishers, which may result in collateral damage to authors. There are certainly dangers to non-deep-pocketed e-booksellers. It would be chaotic to say the least to have lots of different e-book prices and to have to contend with different formats and standards and try to decide where you’re going to buy your e-books.

Bransford’s take on the situation, however, probably runs along the lines brought to bear by the DOJ in cases of consumer interest:

If the agency model is dismantled, e-books are getting cheaper and the book market will steadily get more efficient.

More books for less money?

As a reader: sign me up.

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Libraries: Maybe if we march like @MargaretAtwood

“The NYPL stands ready to explore with any of you (publishers) pilot schemes to try things. We can argue about this in abstraction til Kingdom come. It seems to me it’s time to sit down, one-on-one if that’s what it takes, and say, ‘what are the mechanisms that seem plausible?'” Marx said. …”Everything you are concerned about we can test.”

As you can read in Michael Cader’s Publishers Lunch report, NYPL President Urges Publishers to Propose Pilot Models, Dr. Anthony Marx, CEO of one of the greatest libraries in the world, went to the mat at the Association of American Publishers’ (AAP) annual meeting Wednesday. He stressed:

“We’re eager to be promoting your books…on the library site now, if you come in looking for a book and it’s out, the first thing we ask you is whether you want to buy a copy. Our patrons buy books and we buy books.We are trusted by our patrons to have views about quality. We help to sell your books.”

You have to wonder if the publishers can tell how bad they look if they don’t take up Marx and the NYPL on that offer. If they won’t try out solutions to their ebook-lending qualms, then it’s clear they don’t want solutions.

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In one of Digital Book World’s Jeremy Greenfield’s write-ups of the AAP meeting, Head of Library Association Appeals to Publishers to Sell E-Books to Libraries, it sounded as if there’s been little movement on the whole front since we Etherized last week on the problem of publishers, libraries and ebooks.

American Library Association President Molly Raphael said that the ALA is currently negotiating with individual publishers in an effort to convince them to provide affordable e-books to libraries. In the case of Random House, the strategy may have backfired, as the company announced soon after its latest meeting with the ALA that it was raising its prices for e-books drastically.

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But then I read Margaret Atwood’s Deeper into the Twungle in the New York Review of Books.

On Twitter you find yourself doing all sorts of things you wouldn’t otherwise do. And once you’ve entered the Enchanted E-Forest, lured in there by cute bunnies and playful kittens, you can find yourself wandering around in it for quite some time.

This is what AWP should have asked Atwood to read as her keynote address in Chicago, of course. In addition to being one of the most beguiling of pieces about Twitter yet — the great lady tweets merrily, remember — it also suddenly dunks you into her account of “the still-famous 2011 ‘War of the Toronto Library System'”:

Atwood For Mayor graffiti and buttons (and) the news that a platoon of citizens had attended a City Hall meeting wearing printouts of my face.

Note her closing lines on that episode:

The story shot around the world via social media and newspapers; the library and City Hall both were deluged with letters and messages; and councilors became quick to declare their enduring love for libraries. It’s clear from this and many more sharp-edged manifestations—such as Tahrir Square and Occupy Wall Street—that Twitter and its online siblings do not merely reflect the news: they also create it.

Maybe we need to take a cue from Margaret ‘n’ Marx (not that one, Anthony Marx of the NYPL). Shouldn’t our relentlessly social media be able to pressure the publishers toward the offer from Fifth and 42nd Street to test out some solutions and get ebooks back into libraries?

Maybe, like Toronto, we should all some day be Margaret Atwood.

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Authorial crafts: Friedman, Pressfield, Chandler

In A definition of Author Platform, the Ether’s host, Jane Friedman, pinpoints a series of strong insights about the vexing platform issue that seems to tie so many writers in knots.

Platform building is an organic process and will be different for every single author. There is no checklist I can give you to develop a platform, because it depends on:

  • your unique story/message
  • your unique strengths and qualities
  • your target readership

Your platform should be as much of a creative exercise and project as the work you produce. …Use your imagination, and take meaningful steps. It’ll be a long journey.

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In Working on Two Tracks by Steven Pressfield, we read:

When we complete a work of art or commerce and expose it to judgment in the real world, three things can happen:

1. Everybody loves it.

2. Everybody hates it.

3. Nobody notices that it even exists

It will not surprise you, I suspect, when I say that in my opinion all three responses are impostors. None is real, and none should be taken to heart by a professional.

Aside from knowing the correct construction “none is” (not “none are,” damn it), I’m ready to shake Pressfield’s hand for this signal stroke of clarity alone:

“Sunflowers” was just as great in 1889, when Van Gogh couldn’t give it away, as it was in 1987 when it sold for $39.9 million.

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And in Goodreads’ CEO on Winning the Battle of Book Discovery, Otis Chandler holds forth at Ed Nawotka’s Publishing Perspectives with data gleaned from a survey of 3,000 Goodreads participants.

According to a recent survey of Goodreads members, 79% of them report discovering books from friends offline, and 64% find books from their Goodreads friends.

Relationship, as many of us have seen, is all, Chandler writes. Not only does he say that “96% of people (surveyed) say they read books by authors they already know,” but he also advocates repetition:

Your book needs to be “discovered” multiple times by a reader before they will decide to read it. What that combination of discovery methods looks like is the fascinating dilemma we face. And it is likely to be unique to each and every book.

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Writing: A tool, and a little flow, please

Late arriving additions here, of interest to writers.

Amazon, author, B&N, Barnes and Noble, book, confab, conference, critic, criticism, critique, DBW, Digital Book World, e-book, e-reader, ebook, ereader, Jane Friedman, publishing, publisher, Tools of Change, ToC, #toccon, writer, writing, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, agency pricing, Apple, Big Six, EU, European Union, AAP, copyright, Kindle Single, curator, curation, Maria Popova, Curator's Code, Victoria Noe, FriendGrief

First, the Digital Book World Self-Publishing Guide isn’t really something so comprehensive as that headline sounds, but it has a potentially useful comparison chart of services (some free, most not) offered by 13 programs.

Included are Book Country, CreateSpace, and others, for example, which indicates the wide range of purpose and features here.

Among Devon Glenn‘s introductory comments: “Self-publishing services are designed for a large number of clients who have relatively small budgets. As with the yellow pages, there is a lot of up-selling and packaging of individual services.”

And: “To convert a fully prepared manuscript, go to the distributors directly to avoid additional fees, like Barnes & Noble’s PubIt! and Amazon’s KDP.”

For an author starting to consider self-publication and the professional assists that process requires, this can be a useful starter point.

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Amazon, author, B&N, Barnes and Noble, book, confab, conference, critic, criticism, critique, DBW, Digital Book World, e-book, e-reader, ebook, ereader, Jane Friedman, publishing, publisher, Tools of Change, ToC, #toccon, writer, writing, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, agency pricing, Apple, Big Six, EU, European Union, AAP, copyright, Kindle Single, curator, curation, Maria Popova, Curator's Code, Victoria Noe, FriendGrief
BookLamp.org / PublishingPerspectives.com

Next, at Publishing Perspectives, Ed Nawotka has a brief write, BookLamp Infographic Visualizes the Thematic Flow of a Book.

In it, he describes a new infographic’s elucidation of BookLamp’s process of arraying “everything from density (to) pacing, all in aid of book discovery.” He quotes from the site, which is part of the Book Genome Project:

Any reader will tell you that a book has ebbs and flows, like currents in a river. Like a Thematic Current. And visualizing it can be interesting.

I’d like to see a software meant to take a similar approach to a work-in-progress, graphically rendering the progress of themes and sub-themes for an author in-process.

BookLamp’s system, Nawotka tells us, goes after more than 32,000 points of data. That’s prodigious. As BookLamp’s folks say:

As you can see, the thematic currents of this book deal heavily with ancient or medieval setting, strong romance, family (much of the story deals with having heirs), and warfare. More specifically, you can see where major battles occur, where major romantic engagements occur, and where pain and suffering occurs during and after combat

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Last gas: Figuratively speaking

Oh, I know, I know. “David Silva literally floats around the pitch”; “In his youth, Michael Owen was literally a greyhound.” “That’s not what ‘literally’ means, you dolt,” the snobbish middle-class football fan (me) screams at his television as Jamie Redknapp, patron saint of literalism, abuses the word once more.

I think I hate Tom Chivers at the Telegraph for this piece, headlined Sadly, Jamie Redknapp is literally correct. It’s a grotesque capitulation to the feckless cave-ins of Webster, his wife Merriam, and other dictionary types.

For years, I wrestled anchors and other on-air types to the floor during commercial breaks, trying to get them to stop using the word “literally” as a mere intensifier. “It means ‘actually,'” I told them. “To say the little girl who led her classroom’s Bucks for Bangladesh drive ‘literally wrapped her arms around the world’ is to name that child a monster.”

I got nowhere. Clearly, neither has Chivers. He even has the gall to go back through past ages’ writers’ misuse of the term “literally,” citing Alcott and Dickens and who cares?

I, for example, think that there are plenty of words which mean “really” or “very much”, and only one word which does the work “literally” does, and it’s nice to keep these things separate.

Me, too! But it’s too late for Chivers. He’s over the edge. No stamina, that twit.

Another Et tu, Brute? The answer is always yes, isn’t it?

It’s always fine to let usage and ignorance erode precision and eloquence, isn’t it? “It’s accepted!” the lazy ones shout at us.

It’s not accepted here.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

That’s three days flat to me, if you slam your shopping-mall “literally!” on the end of it.

So OK, I’ll shut up now. But only figuratively.


Today’s Ether images are from a spring night’s Cultura Spettacolo at Capitoline Hill, Rome. Photos: @Porter_Anderson

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