- Message from Pottermore: It’s the content, stupid
- Message from Pottermore 2: It’s the author’s content
- Authors and publishers: Reverse royalties?
- Selling it, Part 1: The word on blurbs
- Selling it, Part 2: Pro-motion
- ‘Social’ media: Keep your hands off my face
- ‘Social’ media: Body and soul, ‘face’ and ‘book’
- Apple & the Publishers: Agency pricier
- Writing craft: Romancing remuneration
- Next to last gas: Son of a daughter
- Last gas: John Paul Wiggin’s son in SC
Well. Tuesday was certainly a blogger’s pants-wetter, wasn’t it? With your kind permission, I offer the mildest caricature of the ‘sphere…
- 6:47 a.m. … The Pottermore store is open early!…
- 7:40 a.m. …damned DST, it’s April in England already…
- 8: 17 a.m. …Pottermore ebooks are being sold DRM-free…
- 8: 25 a.m. … it’s encrypted up to a hog’s wart on my Kindle…
- 10:05 a.m. … who put that watermark on Harry’s forehead?…
- 10:40 a.m. … whoa, look at Barnes & Noble empty out…
- 10:45 a.m. … BN is sending its Harry Potter fans to Pottermore to get their Nook-ish editions of the ebooks…
- 10:55 a.m. …Zou bisou bisou…
- 11:03 a.m. …Sony Reader Store same thing…
- 11:20 a.m. … wait, not Amazon, too! Jeff Bezos is sending his customers away to Pottermore. Say it ain’t so…
- 11:21 a.m. … why not sell himself a handbag and go to hell in it…
- 11:26 a.m. … that’s how the English witch Rowls…
- 11:27 a.m. … and all Yahoo shall be her parking lot…
- 11:32 a.m. … it’s another British invasion…
- 12:20 p.m. … I saw Goody Rowling with the Devil…
- 12:22 p.m. … whites of their eyes, Bezos…
- 1:08 p.m. … into a toad under a cabbage in Seattle…
- 2:04 p.m. … wait a minute, wait a minute…
- 2:07 p.m. … she’s taken away the Buy buttons…
- 2:25 p.m. … look out, she’s got a wand!…
- 2:26 p.m. … duck, you snitch!…
- 2:49 p.m. … she must have side-swiped Shatzkin, his hair doesn’t always stand on end like that, does it?…
Writing his second article in as many days for TheFutureBook on it, Philip Jones — to my mind our lead reporter on this big story — captured the uproar nicely in The Guardian’s How Pottermore cast an ebook spell over Amazon and, here, in TheFutureBook’s Pottermore gets its wand on:
Having been briefed on how the Harry Potter e-books would come to market last week, even I have been surprised by the reaction—particularly among the digerati who have spent the past 24 hours unpicking the nuances. It was never going to be easy to match expectations, particularly for a brand such as Harry Potter which has to worry about fans as young as six and seasoned publishing observers as wise as Mike Shatzkin.
And speaking of Mike Shatzkin, without overreaching about the mechanics, he went to work as the news developed to get some industry-dynamics context onto the moment before it was frittered away in speculation about the technology used. Here he is in What’s the greater fear for publishers? Amazon or piracy?
In a refreshing change from recent history, the content owner was able to present Amazon with a “take it or leave it” proposition. They decided to “take it”. They were wise. The game was changing either way.
Shatzkin hit every mark, as he usually does, for his audience — people whose main perspective is that of the publishing core and its business operations.
And for them, for everyone, even those not considered central to the industry, the salient points of what has happened are these:
Pottermore’s unprecedented agreement with the major retailers except Apple succeeds in breaking Harry Potter buyers free of those sites and tractor-beaming them in to Pottermore.
- There, the author collects those readers’ money. Now, in one write, this is all you’d think Pottermore got from this extraordinary setup. Leigh Beadon at TechDirt delivers a those click-weary, whining reception: Harry Potter And The Missing Middlemen: Where The Pottermore Store Goes Wrong. Pottermore, Beadon pouts, means “the fans suffer” from having to open a Pottermore account. That’s a point: The poor things have to type in their first and last names and address and everything, you know. Beadon sobs on:
The only advantage is that Rowling makes a little bit more money from each sale—but not all the money, because despite being a direct-to-fan model, her publisher apparently still gets a cut, and the partner bookstores will be paid affiliate fees.
- Actually, the advantage, I’d say, is data. More than money, a bit of which Rowling already has. Now, she gets all that ID and contact data, data, data, rich, fresh, live, crawling data on all those “suffering fans” we’re weeping for because they’ve had to, quoting Beadon again, “jump through hoops for an electronic version.”
- Make that eight copies of “an electronic version.” Those “suffering fans,” once through those dreadful hoops, get eight copies of a book. Formatted as they wish. Eight copies, count ’em, eight.
- Pottermore allows its “suffering fans” to link their eight copies up to the devices they choose (i.e. Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, etc.) to use in reading the Scriptori Potteria.
- And what departs from Pottermore, if you will, is DRM-free. If you get an ePub version, it will be watermarked. A digital watermark might, for example, indicate that your copy was uploaded to a pirate site. But is not the same as DRM.
- DRM goes onto a Pottermore book only when it is formatted for you by, say, Amazon for your Kindle, B&N for your Nook, etc. — not by Pottermore but when it’s “wrapped” for you by the company behind your selected device.
- In case you’ve heard confusing language saying that Pottermore was “asking” retailers to DRM copies, a bit of info from Jones on a private e-mail chain will help you. I’m quoting him here with his permission:
It is right that Pottermore requested that DRM be applied to these files, but that was because they (Pottermore) never touch the file and can therefore not watermark them. This applies to all those partners, including Google and Sony.
And that’s as far as I need to go on the tech issues because there’s so much out there. At my last check, a Google search gave me 1,019 news hits on Pottermore.
One qualm about Pottermore in her list holds water. It was first mentioned first to me by Guy LeCharles Gonzalez and then written up well in ‘Pottermore’ Breaks All Retailers and Rules (Except Apple’s and Region Restrictions) by Tim Carmody at Wired. JK Rowling’s site won’t sell you the original British versions of her books if you’re in the States. As Carmody stresses:
I can buy or borrow the U.S. versions of the Harry Potter books anywhere. I can’t get the U.K. versions, the ones the author wrote, at the author’s own site…Even the most radical, tectonic-plate-shifting experiments in digital publishing are still part and parcel of the world of books we’ve inherited: its assumptions, its economics, and its encumbrances.
I’d also recommend Mathew Ingram’s assessment from about 3 p.m. ET on Tuesday. By that time, much good info was in place, and he made a stable assessment of the action: What book publishers should learn from Harry Potter at GigaOm.
While not casting the question as a pivot with Amazon as Shatzkin does, Ingram gets us to the same basic question: how long will our publishers chatter on about piracy when, as Brian O’Leary would surely remind us (see A Pirate’s Dilemma), abundance, not limitations, is what wins the day?
You get eight copies in any formats you like from Pottermore when you buy a book. Here lies abundance.
They never were dumb, those Brits.
Having reclaimed the fields of Pottermore here then, if only briefly, from the gabbling blog-fest, let’s talk about it from the real heart of the story. Because the only thing the readers know is the story. The only thing that makes Pottermore the slam dunk it is? — those readers who bond with that story. That content. Plenty of great marketing over plenty of years, absolutely, kudos to the publishing and studio people who have positioned the Potter oeuvre. But it’s the oeuvre, that suite of stories, that has grabbed both younger and adult readers. Content. By an author.
I like this question from one of my favorite colleagues in Dublin, the humanist Eoin Purcell. I’ve obtained his permission to use it here. The “she,” of course, is Ms. Rowling:
What if she starts selling the technological platform and offering paid-for consultancy to other big-brand authors on how to do what she’s done?
Now, we’re talking the revolution.
No, of course the Pottermore setup isn’t replicable by other authors. But there are parallels with the case of Amanda Hocking. While she and her DIY “vampyre” shtick also stand as unique among writers, her example of self-publisher-invited-in-from-the-cold changes authorial thinking. It’s the same with Rowling: anything but your everyday success, and yet, she has changed things.
Where many see a story about branding, I see an exceptional story about an author and her content.
In his post, Author, Niche & Power Shifts: What Pottermore MIGHT Point To, Purcell remembers there is an author driving this powerhouse — not a disembodied brand. He writes, underline mine:
I’ve long felt that the power balance between authors and publishers has shifted and will shift further as digital change drives home a point I made most clearly in my essay No New Normal: The Value Web:
All of this will happen despite, or perhaps because of the fact that, the actual slice of value captured by each player changes in size and shape. Publishers will be forced to cede more revenue to authors, the idea that 25% Net is a defensible long-term ebook royalty rate is a farce best forgotten about quickly.
A bit more:
If publishers hope to use author brand and scale to attract readers direct then they need to persuade the authors to work with them.
In it, I’ve brought up the Magnum Photos collective of world-class photographers started in 1947 in Paris by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Still a force today, with editorial offices in New York, Paris, London, and Tokyo, Magnum may be a point of reference for collectives of authors. No, it’s not the United Artists model of Hollywood. The photographers of Magnum — like authors — work as free agents, singly, not together in collaborative projects as film people do. In this format, the central collective provides the business services, such as publishing and distribution, that a committed, engaged, and exclusive group of authors might need to direct their own careers.
Magnum photographers send their new work to the collective’s editorial offices for processing, archiving, and distribution with rights management provided by its staffers. In a similar setup, authors could utilize what publishing and/or management services they needed from the collective’s staff of specialists, generating branding for themselves, as Magnum photographers do, if they chose to.
Nor does such a collective have to stand at the height of the Magnum artists’ careers to be effective. Rowling is Magnum class, easily, yes. But cooperatives can be configured to handle any group’s level of sophistication and clout.
The real point isn’t in forming a collective anymore than it’s in DRM and watermarks. The real point is in the “power shift” Purcell is seeing — authors taking the wheel.
As I wrote at Writer Unboxed, “What if a group of authors acquired a publisher?”
Far-fetched? Compare it to: “What if a major author made Amazon send its customers to her to buy her books?”
I’m not a Potter fan, myself, although in the books I’ve read of the series, I surely see the appeal and I honor Quidditch well-played. As far as I’m concerned, this author’s best magic has been deployed here in real life. I’ll give JK Rowling a lift in my Prius any day that broom fails her.
As of Thursday morning, the Harry Potter ebooks and digital audio recordings are available to libraries through OverDrive, as previously promised. Participating libraries can be found via www.overdrive.com/harrypotter. OverDrive is providing EPUB files, and library patrons can borrow Kindle-format files in the US.
If you want to borrow a Harry Potter e-book from the library, place a hold now. At the New York Public Library, there are 78 holds on the ebook version of the first title in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The NYPL bought 50 copies.
This might be too radical, but if a book hasn’t earned out, and isn’t earning much, the publisher could consider restructuring the contract with the author. Erase the advance, and work out a profit sharing model that gives the author incentive to seriously promote. Right now many authors are locked into contracts where they have a disincentive to promote in the vain hopes they might get their rights back. Or offer the authors a chance at buying their rights back with reverse royalties.
This is Bob Mayer at the Digital Book World Expert Publishing Blog, in another angle on author-publisher relations, in The Untapped Potential of Backlist. He’s talking about backlists trapped in a profitless netherworld.
I really think publishers have to change their attention from distribution and work hand in hand with authors. The investment has already been made in these books. Now a little investment in time and a rethinking of contracts could yield great benefits.
First, I was getting more manuscripts and galleys than I could possibly have read, even if I did nothing else, even if I were a certified graduate of Evelyn Wood’s speed-reading school…Nor did I want to be stuck with the choice of saying something nice about a book I didn’t care for or indicating my dislike of the thing to its editor or author. The only way to avoid that particular no-win situation is to steer clear of the whole business. Hence, no blurbs.
In No, I won’t give you a blurb. Here’s why: at his site, Lawrence Block looks at the whole back-scratching party, explains a couple of notable exceptions, and ends up reiterating a policy many authors may want to consider.
This is a stance many writers adopt sooner or later. A rush of blurbish generosity is a not uncommon response to success, and both Stephen King and Mario Puzo were at one point accused of never having met a book they didn’t like…but just as the new media facilitates the requests in the first place, so does it make it easy to respond. I always do, and I always say no.
What if authors started thinking about promotion as part of their creative lives? What would a writer’s life look like if creativity and promotion were blended? …Authors who incorporate promotion into their creative lives are having a lot more fun, becoming better writers, building longer-term relationships with their readers, and selling more books than those who keep these two responsibilities separate.
I’m suggesting that when we put the “art” back in book promotion, both authors and readers benefit. Let’s start by taking a look at a few examples of this “blending” done well.
In March 2010, only 17.2 percent of users hid their friends list. By June 2011, more than half (52.6 percent) did so. Researchers at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University got their data by crawling 1.4 million Facebook profiles from New York City two times, 15 months apart. Then they checked to see how people’s behavior on the site had changed during that interval.
Here’s Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic with new survey data about The Unsocial Network: Privacy Is Staging a Comeback on Facebook. Madrigal reports the survey’s staffers noting that women tend to be “more private than men” and young and middle-aged people tend to be “more private than older users.”
In sum, Madrigal writes, we’re seeing not just a change in how people are using the platform but also of the platform, itself:
On Facebook, to change the way one uses the service is to change the service itself. And that’s exactly what’s happening as users get more sophisticated about their privacy. A Facebook page used to be a sort of personal homepage for everyone on the web; now, that way of using the service is in steep decline.
This means that if you use the word “book” on the Internet in a way that Facebook or its lawyers deem unsavory, the social network can decide to sue you. This is not a joke.
Facebook is trying to expand its trademark rights over the word “book” by adding the claim to a newly revised version of its “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities,” the agreement all users implicitly consent to by using or accessing Facebook.
How do Zuckerberg’s people try to pull off something like this? It’s worth reading, just for the Orwellian cast it throws over the whole so-called Facebook “service.” Here’s the precise mechanism, per Brodkin, of just how Facebook asserts trademark on word “book” in new user agreement — emphasis mine;
If you view the current Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, you’ll find this sentence: “You will not use our copyrights or trademarks (including Facebook, the Facebook and F Logos, FB, Face, Poke, Wall and 32665), or any confusingly similar marks, without our written permission.”
32665 is the number allowing Facebook users to update their pages through text message. The newly revised user agreement reads as follows:
“You will not use our copyrights or trademarks (including Facebook, the Facebook and F Logos, FB, Face, Poke, Book and Wall), or any confusingly similar marks, except as expressly permitted by our Brand Usage Guidelines or with our prior written permission.”
So now remind me — which company is it we like to call “evil,” here in the publishing industry?
The DoJ’s investigation and a related civil lawsuit touch on issues bigger than rising e-book prices or even collusion between publishers. The cases are also about who has the right to sue e-book publishers, the nature of publishers’ bilateral interactions with Apple and other retailers, and whether it’s even possible for a true agency model to exist for virtual goods like e-books.
Tim Carmody at Wired, in Bigger Than Agency, Bigger Than E-Books: The Case Against Apple and Publishers, lays out perhaps the most thorough reading I’ve found yet of the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation into allegations of collusion between Apple and five of the Big Six publishers.
This is not an easy read. The subject becomes more complex, not less, as you get the differences in “hub-and-spoke’ conspiracy and “conscious parallelism,” for example. But Carmody takes the time and goes to the trouble to make it clear that “The real issue…isn’t the agency model, but secret agreements between competitors.”
A useful, clarifying read:
There are three major points of law at stake in both the class-action suit and the Justice Department investigation against Apple and the five publishers:
- Whether and how the agency model applies to virtual goods;
- Whether Apple and publishers engaged in a “hub-and-spoke” conspiracy or simply “conscious parallelism”;
- The status of the “most-favored nation” clause, common to many legal contracts today, which Apple used to ensure that books could not be sold elsewhere at a lower price than in the iBooks store.
As I was writing this series on making a living as a writer, it occurred to me that maybe the most important key, beyond volume or variety or acknowledging the challenges, is this: that in order to make a living as a writer, we have to stop romanticizing it.
At some point we have to stop saying “I write because I have to” or “I write for the pure joy of it” and change the inner mantra to something like, “I’m aiming to make a living from doing what I love, and that means treating it like a business. I can still love it, even if it’s a business.”
Entertainers often are unashamed. The harder they insist on their purpose, though, the more likely it is that I’ll find their stories formulaic and their characters stereotypical.
And what of their clear-eyed brethren? Maass continues, at Writer Unboxed:
The truth tellers, by the same token, can be equally uncompromising. Yet the more they avow their disdain for commercial success, the more I know I will find their manuscripts small and chicken-hearted.
He’ll easily be able to tell those manuscripts’ inciting incidents from their key events, however, if those entertainers and truth-tellers have taken to heart K.M. Weiland’s advice in her Secrets of Story Structure, Part 5:
The key event is the moment when the character becomes engaged by the inciting event. For example, in most detective stories, the inciting event (the crime) takes place apart from the main character, who doesn’t become involved with it until the key event, when he takes on the case. The key event is the glue that sticks the character to the impetus of the inciting event.
A thriller designed as an airport read is probably not going to get much better if you spend a year honing every paragraph. Series are faster too – you know your characters and where you’re going, so half the work is done for you already. A more literary, thoughtful work takes discovery. I sometimes worry that all I’ve got is muddle, and no model to tell me how to put it together. But with time, it comes.
I also like Jane Friedman’s The Marketing Paradox: Start Small To Get Big at Writer Unboxed, in which she points out the kind of ambitions so many writers have of reaching millions without ever having targeted a market. Beware, Friedman writes, thinking along the lines of:
- My book has a broad audience and could be enjoyed by anyone.
- I don’t want to be pigeon holed—I want to attract all types of readers.
- If my book could get promoted on [big-name TV show], everyone would see how widely appealing my work is.
- When extra-terrestrials land, they’ll become a new audience for my book!
If I have $10,000, should I put it in the stock market? Or should I use that cash to back my own dream?
My stuff has crashed and burned 90% of the time. But always when I find myself with money, I use it to buy time—time for me to work.
I bet on myself.
No trend that I’ve ever noticed has seemed quite so pervasive as the daughter phenomenon. Seriously, once you start noticing them, they’re everywhere. A recent issue of Shelf Awareness had ads for both The Sausage Maker’s Daughters and The Witch’s Daughter. I’m Facebook friends with the authors of The Hummingbird’s Daughter, The Baker’s Daughter, The Calligrapher’s Daughter, and The Murderer’s Daughters, and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.
Author Emily St. John Mandel is such an adroit essayist at The Millions. It’s always a pleasure to find one of her pieces laid out with its numbered sections (normally five, I believe), an argument’s logic gone modular.
Here, from Part 4:
I was curious to see if women were more likely to end up with a The __’s Daughter book than men, either because they chose the title themselves or because their editors chose the title for them. This called for a pie chart.
In The ___’s Daughter, Mandel spots peculiar trends in which daughters seem to turn up in these titles more frequently than others.
The daughters of artists and artisans— lace-makers, musicians, painters, calligraphers — were particularly well-represented, as were the daughters of people connected to royalty (dukes, kings), and magical and/or supernatural entities (devils, centaurs, demons).
Busy curatorial cuss that I am, I dashed into Amazon to see about those “_____’s Son” books, and found that the figure changes. I retrieved many more “Son of ____” than “The ____’s Son.” No, not all referencing the she-dog, either.
There’s Son of Stone, Son of Neptune, Son of Hamas, and then we parallel with the daughters — The Enemy’s Son, The Orphan Master’s Son, The Governor’s Son, For the Love of a Son, The Second Son, Sons and Lovers…but this is Mandel’s show:
There’s a large group of parents that’s villainous and/or on the wrong side of the law (The Outlaw’s Daughter, The Killer’s Daughter), followed by a group employed as laborers (The Miner’s Daughter), and a group that’s affiliated with the military (The Admiral’s Daughter, The Colonel’s Daughter). A lot of them work with animals (The Rancher’s Daughter), are possibly metaphorical (The Sun’s Daughter), work in medicine (The Emergency Doctor’s Daughter), or are employed in retail (The Merchant’s Daughter).
As Mandel notes, even if your eyes are glazing over, son or daughter, she has a handy graph showing a breakdown of many literary daughters’ parentage.
And with a tip of the hat to ↬ Matt Mullin, we found our way to Rachel Fershleiser’s “You Rach You Lose” Tumblr site, where the eponymous Fershleiser proposes a reason for the fondness of _______’s daughters:
Ultimately this kind of title does a lot for a book, so it’s easy to understand why it’s used so often. You get a character (if not two), a profession (which can include the historical time frame), a relationship or hierarchy, and an element of mystery or tension, all in three little words.
Sometimes there’s analysis so quickly.
The parent of a 14-year-old at Schofield Middle School complained to school officials and the police after a teacher at the school reportedly read to his class from the novel. The parent described Ender’s Game as “pornographic”, local press reported, and complained about its subject matter.
That’s Alison Flood at the Guardian writing up the incident in Aiken, South Carolina, in which a middle-school teacher was put on administrative leave and investigated by the police because he read to his students from Orson Scott Card’s famous novel — one of the American Library Association’s Top 100 for young adults.
The story, Parent files police complaint after teacher reads Ender’s Game to pupils, tells us the complaints came from the parent of a 14-year-old at Schofield Middle School. The teacher was suspended for readings from Ender’s Game and from Agatha Christie’s Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case, and from The Devil’s Paintbox by Victoria McKernan, the story of two orphans journeying through the frontier west. Fortunately, subsequent reports say the teacher has been exonerated, charged with nothing. this reaction is laughable.
If it weren’t a matter of a teacher being punished for reading from an important book to his lucky students, this incident would be laughable.
A statement from the school said its investigation centered around the report “that the books in question being utilised by the teacher had curse words and terms that might not be age appropriate.”
I’m sure we all remember those curse words in Dame Agatha’s work.
I’m from South Carolina and have visited relatives in Aiken many times. My family seat is on the coast, in Charleston, not in the conservative base of the inland towns.
Maybe when the coming film of Ender’s Game opens about a year from now, I should get back home and see how the Launchies land among the Carolinians.
And I hope you’ll crank the Q2 Music player I’m dropping here for you. Q2 is an NPR-affiliated free 24/7 stream of music I like to offer to writers. These are living composers, many of whom write for Hollywood (hence Roz Morris’ series on Undercover Soundtracks). Their music, fed by the popular world as much as by classical training, simply sounds like a writer’s thoughts and feelings at work. Let me know what you think.
Key imagery: iStockphoto / JazzIRT