WRITING ON THE ETHER: The End of Truth

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Hurricane Postponement to Nov. 13
Webinar with Porter Anderson

You’re all platformed up. But do you know where you’re going? How can you distinguish yourself from “the madding crowd?” Join us for this special Writer’s Digest webinar — precise guidance on best practices and professional performance points that separate the serious from the silly. This webinar includes a critique — a web post or page from your site, your choice — meaning your work gets individual attention and personalized feedback. http://www.writersdigestshop.com/what-authors-bloggers-freelancers-need-to-know/?=lid/wdpapromo

Click here for full details & registration for this November 13 webinar.

 


Table of Contents

  1. The End of Truth: A Kindle in Norway
  2. Amazon: So Where Was Your Publisher at #WDCW12?
  3. StoryWorld: Echoes From a Nearby Dimension
  4. Craft: Getting Conferences Right
  5. More Conferences
  6. Library eBooks: RH Reverses Ferret
  7. Books: Reading on the Ether
  8. Last Gas: New Numbers on Self-Publishing

 

The End of Truth: A Kindle in Norway

The question for us is not whether we want this increase in argumentation…but rather how we adapt ourselves to it as it unfolds.

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Clay Shirky

That’s Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody.

In a new essay, he nails down a disturbing point that was in our faces earlier this week, with the story of the Kindle that Amazon allegedly emptied of its paid-for contents. The handling of that story, in blogs and some news posts, made some wonder if we can identify truth anymore. And do we even want to? What if the “argumentation” Shirky mentions is something we like better than getting things right?

Shirky’s essay from an upcoming publication of Poynter and CQ Press is on Poynter’s site, headlined Shirky: ‘We are indeed less willing to agree on what constitutes truth.’  It’s been there since about five days before The Tale of the Wiped Kindle broke over our heads like a rudely tossed water balloon.

Shirky references “post-fact” literature. And he flags the fallacy of nostalgia:

There’s no way to get Cronkite-like consensus without someone like Cronkite, and there’s no way to get someone like Cronkite in a world with an Internet; there will be no more men like him, because there will be no more jobs like his.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Books in Browsers, Internet Archive, StoryWorld, Writer's Digest Conference, Tools of Change  GigaOM‘s Mathew Ingram wrote up Shirky’s and others’ comments in Poynter’s Journalistic Ethics in a Digital Age forum.

In Journalism and the truth: More complicated than it has ever been, Ingram, like Shirky, could well have been prophesying the week’s initial rumors that Amazon had wiped a customer’s books from her Kindle.

In fact, in A healthy reminder from Amazon: You don’t buy ebooks, you rent them, Ingram takes on the story of a Scandinavian Kindle owner losing all her books to some kind of Seattle screw-up.

It’s true, of course, that ebooks are, unlike print books, not the property of the reader who “buys” them. We are simply licensed to hold ebooks on our e-readers. We don’t own them as we own print books.

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Joe Wikert

As Joe Wikert at O’Reilly Media wrote in The horrors of renting vs. owning ebooks:

We know when we buy ebooks from Amazon, B&N, etc., we don’t really own those products; we’re simply licensing them. As a result, the door is left wide open for the retailer to come back and wipe them out…This is why I believe we need to shift our industry thinking from ebook licensing to ebook ownership.

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Mathew Ingram

This is part of Ingram’s concern, too in his write:

Both publishers and distributors like Amazon have spent the past decade or so removing rights that we used to have when books were physical property, and were something that you actually bought — along with the right to resell and/or lend them to whomever you wished, whenever you wished.

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Books in Browsers, a conference mounted by O’Reilly Media and the Internet Archive, hashtag #BiB12

This is one of the concepts, in fact, that will be on some minds as the annual Books in Browsers conference in San Francisco opens.

A co-production of O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change folks (Wikert and Kat Meyer) and the Internet Archive (Peter Brantley), Books in Browsers is one of the most forward leaning of the confabs.

I’m looking forward to covering it. Follow us at #BiB12 and on this free live-stream link.

I hope, though, that none of us loses sight of the fact that while the peculiar issue of ebook non-ownership is a critical one, so is Shirky’s concept of a “post-fact” world.

We need to ask ourselves about the parts we each play when, as Shirky puts it:

The strategies developed for reporting the truth in the 20th century simply don’t work any more.

Without a Cronkite to announce a sort of public “company line” on issues of the day?

When anyone can say anything they like, we can’t even pretend most of us agree on the truth of most assertions any more.

 

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Martin Bekkelund

They surely didn’t work when Norwegian blogger Martin Bekkelund wrote in Outlawed by Amazon DRM that Amazon customer Linn Jordet Nygaard’s Kindle had been “wiped” clean of the books she had bought (actually licensed) and her account closed.

Amazon’s one comment on the matter has been an oblique bit of policy boilerplate stating that the company’s policy doesn’t include wiping content from a customer’s Kindle. From a forum:

“We would like to clarify our policy on this topic. Account status should not affect any customer’s ability to access their library. If any customer has trouble accessing their content, he or she should contact customer service for help.”

There is merit to the complaints I heard from colleagues in the media that Amazon doesn’t help itself when it remains silent to requests for public comment. Whatever valid constraints, legal or otherwise, may affect how the company speaks about its business, it’s anything but helpful when no comment is the only comment and the bloggers are nattering in outrage.

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NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation) graphic

By Tuesday in Oslo, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s (NRK) Cathrine Elnan and Olsson Svein reported that Amazon did an about-face — opened closed account.

That link is to the Google translation of the story, which includes the delightful term “e-bokgiganten” for Amazon in its subheadline.

Linn Nygaard writes, in an email to Elnan and Svein at the NRK:

I just tried to log in to Amazon account, and now everything is back to normal.

Her ebooks, as reported by Oslo, are not, in fact, gone from her Kindle. Her account, it’s now reported, has not been shut down. Her Kindle reportedly was malfunctioning and may never have been “wiped” of its content at all.

Nygaard is telling the NRK that she’s no longer without the books for which she paid, although the “e-bokgiganten” has not given her a reason for all the confusion. In the story graphic’s caption this intriguing line: “Linn Nygaard does not rule out that she may have done something that violates Amazon’s terms of use.”

 

Ingram at GigaOm has a very useful synopsis of information he has gathered and reported along the way during this Ether-fast uproar over a supposedly “wiped” Kindle. I’m quoting two paragraphs in full from Ingram to help you get the complexity of the story:

According to several further updates, including one from a British blogger who spoke to her, Nygaard had a previous Kindle with which she bought and read books through an Amazon UK account (even though she lives in Norway [which does not have its own Amazon store]). She later gave that [Kindle] to her mother and bought another one — a pre-owned device she acquired from a Danish classifieds site — and switched her account over to it. After sending it in for service, she got the emails from Amazon service telling her that her account had been blocked.

One popular theory is that this second-hand Kindle could have been linked to some kind of previous infraction. BoingBoing founder and author Cory Doctorow has his own theory, however: that Nygaard’s account got flagged because she bought books through Amazon UK but isn’t an actual British resident. As he notes, retailers often have a somewhat perverse approach to markets like Norway where publishing rights aren’t negotiated separately, and book buyers can get caught in the middle (many consumers in countries where Amazon doesn’t operate do the same thing that Nygaard did by buying through Amazon UK).

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Cory Doctorow

If I had to make a bet, I’d say that Cory Doctorow’s speculation may hold some water. When based in Denmark and Italy, I found that Amazon UK was the most nearly compatible store (more so than, say, Germany’s store) for my U.S.-based Kindle.

I’d also like to point out the responsible, sensible headline treatment Doctorow uses on his write, which goes on to get into, and update, a good discussion of those “open territorial” rights issues. His headline: Kindle user claims Amazon deleted whole library without explanation.

That headline can stand long after the incident and conflicting reports. It reflects the fact that we don’t know what happened in this odd case. We don’t know whether abuse was indeed involved, nor do we really know the extent to which Nygaard’s account was disabled.

We do know that the NRK now reports:

On Monday night, after a number of websites had written about the case, the account was restored and the 30-40 books that Nygaard was available again.

 

And, of course, you read that point about Nygaard’s Kindle account and books being restored everywhere you read the allegations of Amazon behaving as an evil “e-bokgiganten” in the first place — right?

Oh wait. You didn’t read about the restoration of the account, did you?

That’s how you end up tweeting something like this after the story already has moved on:

 

It seems to have been easy for bloggers and reporters to join the barking pack with the damning “news” — or was it just unconfirmed hearsay? — that Amazon had pulled a Kafka on its customer, depriving her of the books she’d paid for and shutting her down on sketchy claims of policy abuse.

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Philip Jones

I had a lively Twitter exchange with TheFutureBook blogger and author Nick Harkaway — along with some input from The Bookseller’s Philip Jones and paidContent’s Laura Hazard Owen.

Harkaway then took it upon himself to put a note at the top of his post at TheFutureBook, Amazon: not a shiny happy face today, to alert his readers to the fact that he had added a series of update notes at the bottom, including:

Edit @ 18:44, Monday: a lot of people are asking whether I/we know that the story is accurate, and of course the answer is “no”. It is possible that Amazon has a genuine beef, although even in that case the handling is less than ideal. The authoritarian feel plays directly to the idea of the company as an artbitrary dictator.

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Nick Harkaway

Harkaway on Tuesday noted (in part because he had spotted the Norwegian Broadcasting Corp’s followup):

It seems that Amazon has re-opened the account, though once again without explanation. An actual phonecall was placed to Linn Nygaard to tell her she’d been reaccepted into the Amazon fold.

Few others were as careful as Harkaway, though.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Books in Browsers, Internet Archive, StoryWorld, Writer's Digest Conference, O'Reilly Media, Tools of Change  As I write this, the Guardian’s write from Monday by Mark King still is headlined Amazon wipes customer’s Kindle and deletes account with no explanation.

Per NRK, this is not correct. And although Amazon contacted the Guardian (per its own update) to offer the forum language about its policy not supporting the wiping of content from a Kindle, there is no way for a reader to know that there’s been a note added to the bottom of the story.

The headline continues baldly to state what not only is not a known fact but a story now reversed by a reputable, national medium, NRK.

This is how we get back to Shirky’s assertions about our “post-fact” age. No matter how we may long for a time when an “official” understanding of an incident or situation, each of us now can be the distributor of “argumentation.”

No longer irreversibly committed to newsprint, blog posts and news reports can be changed:

  • Headlines can be altered to reflect newly discovered elements of a story;
  • Body copy in a post can be marked so that it’s clearly no longer thought accurate, something Owen does well at paidContent with strike-throughs;
  • And even efforts such as Harkaway’s at TheFutureBook are helpful, alerting at the top of a post readers-come-lately to a shifting, developing story like this one in which full details likely will never be known.

Sometimes not handling changing news responsibly is simply laziness. In other cases, it’s ignorance of simple journalistic principle. Here we are, no longer dependent on the woefully inadequate “corrections box” in a newspaper — and we don’t use our capacity to update, enhance, enrich amid a shifting news landscape.

So it is that you can get these two tweets moving together:

 

Whatever the substance of the story, a search for “wiped Kindle” on Twitter will show you at least two universes: those who know the story has moved on (see @DHH above), and those who are still stuck on the original and apparently ill-informed reports (see @sparsetweets above).

Jones has written Whodunnit: Amazon, DRM and VAT at TheFutureBook, looking at several issues around Amazon, our “e-bokgiganten,” that have rushed to paint the retailer as wrong, overbearing and, of course, uncommunicative.

His conclusion won’t make Amazon haters happy:

I’d like to cast Amazon as the villain here, but in truth the company is more like that artful dodger Arthur Daly, a chancer, slightly sharper than the rest.

And we all owe it — to each other and to our own reputations for credibility — to hold back whenever the raging “look what Amazon has done this time” reports start flying across the fjords and deserts and Heartland. Owen and Jones, for example, did an admirable job of holding back on reporting the Nygaard affair, waiting to see what would shake down over time, rather than rushing out to condemn.

Whether you’re working a major news outlet or your own blog site, the thing to remember is that in this “post-fact” age Shirky describes, with no consensus, a rash response to a new-flying rumor will tell us almost nothing about Amazon or another “giganten” entity — it will tell us only something about you.

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Amazon: So Where Was Your Publisher at #WDCW12?

“I love Jeff Bezos!”

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James Scott Bell

We were in one of James Scott Bell’s two sessions at Writer’s Digest Conference West (#WDCW12) in Los Angeles last week.

This was the first westerly doing of the confab, a signature event for F+WMedia. Its flagship seating of the Writer’s Digest Conference will be in April in New York, or #WDC13. Meanwhile, F+W’s annual Digital Book World Conference, #DBW13, is January 15-17, with Early Bird registration ending this week. Use the discount code “porter.”

There in the Hollywood Ballroom at the Loews in Los Angeles, a couple of hundred avid conference-goers were scribbling out notes as Bell spoke.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Books in Browsers, Internet Archive, StoryWorld, Writer's Digest Conference, O'Reilly Media, Tools of Change  His Hitchcock-hefty session on Conflict and Suspense (one of his most successful instructional books for writers) would come the next morning. For now, we were all focused on the complexities of producing quality self-generated ebooks and getting them where readers can find them.

Bell had chosen for his topic “Creating a Career Out of eBooks.”

I don’t know about careers out of ebooks, but we were certainly creating tweets out of his PowerPoint. And he’d come to a part of his talk on metadata. he was giving the writers some examples of metadata, when a voice spoke up from the floor, with a much more meta-concept of data than many in the room had considered.

“Every word in your manuscript is part of your metadata,” this guy said. “Your entire book can help people find it, every word works as a keyword.”

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Jon Fine

It was Jon Fine, Director of Author and Publisher Relations for Amazon. Fine appeared the next day on a panel, himself.

It’s to the credit of Phil Sexton and the Writer’s Digest team that Fine was asked to take part in a panel, himself, “The Future of the Writer” on the conference’s Sunday. Organizers of various conferences haven’t always found it easy to bring the controversies of Seattle into the mix.

But how great it was to see the awful mystique of the dreaded “e-bokgiganten” drop away over drinks at Friday evening’s reception, Fine laughing and chatting with writers — most importantly, answering their nervous, urgent questions with calm, affable, straightforward info.

Fine is personable, attentive, and endlessly enthusiastic about what writers and publishers are doing. His comment in Bell’s session was an apt reminder for attendees about Amazon’s Search Inside the Book function, which does indeed appear to render the entire text of a book into keywords.

A bit later in the same session, one of Fine’s colleagues rose to speak briefly, as well — more laughter in the house as Bell dove for the “I love Jeff Bezos!” line again.

This time, it was Libby Johnson McKee, Director of North American Amazon Independent Publishing. She told the room how helpful it was (“I’m taking so many notes here”) to learn the sorts of issues and instruction the writers were dealing with at the conference.

 

So this was a fact-finding mission for McKee and Fine. They were at the nation’s main writer-training conference to find out what was being asked and answered, to get a look into the business from the viewpoints of the writers, with some of whom they well may be working eventually.

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Nina Amir

Nina Amir, author of How To Blog a Book and a member of my Saturday afternoon panel, “Hardcore Author Marketing,” told me, for example, that she had a great chat with McKee, putting some very specific questions to her and getting clear, actionable answers.

I’m aware that some will see the presence of Fine and McKee at a conference as a kind of infiltration effort.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Books in Browsers, Internet Archive, StoryWorld, Writer's Digest Conference, Tools of Change  But I have to tell you, from close-up, watching these friendly, frank Amazonians listen for hours on end to presentations and to writers’ questions? — they make their weekend in Los Angeles look like the smartest move possible.

Know that at times, the conference-going writers’ questions are shockingly basic, even jejune, inquiries that Ethernauts and others following the industry’s digital dynamic would never have to ask. Hearing those questions, along with some more sophisticated ones, of course, can give you a sharp image of where the community is right now, a snapshot of both the potential and the problems of an workforce without credentials that hunkers at the National Kitchen Table to try to produce something salable.

With Jim “I love Jeff Bezos!” Bell graciously helping to break the ice, and with such accessible, welcoming souls as Fine and McKee on-hand, the only question I walked away with in this regard was: Where are all the other publishers?

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StoryWorld: Echoes From a Nearby Dimension

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Jeff Gomez

Jeff Gomez is one of the chief rabbit hole guides of the annual StoryWorld Conference and Expo.

True to form, he held his own this year in what F+W’s David Blansfield rightly commented to me was one of the most intensely (in a good way) packed programs of any conference schedule around.

Conference chair Alison Norrington knows her chickens, as the Italians say, and she arrayed close to 100 of the industry’s key personalities’ commentary on the endlessly evolving playground of “transmedia,” starting with a long day of Disney Imagineering talent, impressive and articulate.

But Starlight Runner’s Gomez is of a special breed. Having spoken last year at StoryWorld of the personal importance of the field to him and the boyhood hardships that led him to it, he turned up this year ready to roll with something close to a manifesto, his own “Ten Commandments of 21st Century Franchise Production.”

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Books in Browsers, Internet Archive, StoryWorld, Writer's Digest Conference, Tools of Change  There’s a nice workup of Gomez’ StoryWorld keynote at Business Insider, The 10 Commandments Of 21st Century Franchise Production.

For our purposes here, I’m interested in just extracting a couple of the Commandments. Gomez’ work lies in the amalgam of platforms that cluster most easily around film and/or gaming, so all the writings on these stone tablets isn’t uniformly pertinent to publishing.

But here are a couple that struck me as having a lot of meaning to authors and publishers these days.

Know the essence of your brand and never stray from it. I’m here to tell you that an author’s platform can be peculiarly detrimental to an author’s creative intent. It doesn’t have to be detrimental. At least, we have to hope it doesn’t. But as wise as it is for an author to platform, keep Gomez’ guidance in your pocket and don’t forget the creative direction your platform is meant to support.

Stakeholders Must Be Incentivized to Support the Strategy Behind the Rollout of the Story World. Who is working with you on your project? Editors? Agents? A traditional publisher or university press or independent/small publisher? A self-publishing platform? Anyone involved in your project needs to be fully vested, committed, focused on its intent — on your intent. You want their input, definitely. And you want them to be clear on how that input is to support your vision. (It’s your car, drive it.)

The storyworld is unstoppable and rules overall. This sounds a tad Engulf and Devour, Mr. Brooks, but it holds an important bit of truth for creative writers: this business isn’t for hobbyists. It probably never was. But the advent of the Internet, and its easy distribution capabilities, has drawn a lot of dilettantes to the business. In our Last Gas section today you’ll find some new numbers from Bowker that help describe just what a deep bench of upstart-startup energy we’re talking about. Success is in the long haul. And the haul is long. Sort out for yourself what it’s going to take and whether you’ve got the stuff. Nobody else can tell you.

 

Craft: Getting Conferences Right

Hey! I’m back from both Storyworld and Writer’s Digest Conference West in Los Angeles and I’m refreshed and apple-cheeked and full of vim and vig… okay, no. I’m actually kinda jet-lagged and dung-brained. My sincerest wish is to go back to bed and crawl into it and not wake up for like, mmm, three days.

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Chuck Wendig

You can always tell Chuck Wendig, but you cannot tell him much. And in his post Why Writers Must Beware Quackery, he does the unthinkable and forgoes his usual list-of-25 format to fill you in on some major areas of deportment to remember when cavorting among the conferees.

To wit, how to tell the kinds of conference presenters who may not be your friends:

They’re not there to present a rounded picture of the unfirm realities of publishing. They’re not willing to tell you that the whole thing is a maze: they’re willing to tell you that they have the path through it. They exist to present a single face to the entire writing-storytelling-publishing ecosystem, revealing an alarming and overly simplistic lack of diversity.

A great thing to watch out for is the absolutists:

Writing advice often comes in absolutes.

Do this. Don’t do that. This is 100% true 100% of the time.

It is, of course, a fucking sick-bag full of rank malarky.

Writing on the Ether, Books in Browsers, Internet Archive, StoryWorld, Writer's Digest Conference, O'Reilly Media, Tools of Change  agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing

Writer’s Digest Conference West-goers wait for their turns to talk with agents at the Pitch Slam.

Along with the ones who have no discernible reason to be telling everyone else what to do:

You gotta treat this stuff a little bit like science: these self-proclaimed experts have to prove their mettle, first. And one aspect of this burden of proof comes in the form of, “Oh, yeah, I’m actually a writer with some success, not just another jackhole with an unfounded opinion.”

Plus the reason you need a grip on these issues of confabulation before you get there:

Because you need to go in with your eyes open. And you need to go in not being so hungry for answers that you’re desperate to embrace what any homeless person tells you is truth. It’s on you to be smart, be practical, and not let the quacks get their… uhh, well, I was going to go with “teeth in you,” but ducks don’t really have teeth, so let’s just go with, “don’t let the quacks gum you to death with their pond-slick bills.”

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Agents and authors at the Writer’s Digest Conference West Pitch Slam

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https://twitter.com/Ginger_Clark/status/260877611293630465

https://twitter.com/Ginger_Clark/status/260877728989986816

 

More Conferences

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Books in Browsers, Internet Archive, StoryWorld, Writer's Digest Conference, Tools of ChangeFor an updated list of other planned confabs, please see the Publishing Conferences page at PorterAnderson.com.

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Library eBooks: RH Reverses Ferret

This past week, Michael Kelley, the Editor in Chief of Library Journal, called attention to statements from Random House that suggest that libraries own the books they acquire from distributors such as Overdrive or 3M.

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Peter Brantley

Here’s the Internet Archives’ Peter Brantley– with Kat Meyer and Joe Wikert one of our hosts at Books in Browsers — in Random Words of Ownership at the PWxyz blogs.

Michael (Kelley) quotes Skip Dye, head of library relations at Random, “Random House’s often repeated, and always consistent position is this: when libraries buy their RH, Inc. ebooks from authorized library wholesalers, it is our position that they own them…In our view, this purchase constitutes ownership of the book by the library. It is not a license.”

A big “huh?” is appropriate here. Hasn’t a lot of hair-tearing and teeth-gnashing on the deadly long saga of publishers vs. libraries over ebooks turned on the idea that libraries only license them (as we all do), not own them? Brantley has more patience for this than many of us, and it shows in his thoughtful assessment:

These are startling words, and they suggest a wide series of consequences.

In fact, of course, this gets us rather quickly back to Norway and an allegedly wiped Kindle, doesn’t it? Brantley’s on it:

If libraries own the books they purchase from an approved RH retailer, then do consumers own the e-books they buy from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and other online bookstores?

Of course, as with other stories mentioned on our volatile gas, the issue moves on, and we can thank Brantley for staying right on top of it to bring us a new post, Random House Did Not Mean Own, Exactly.

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Created for the Frankfurt Follies, this is one of several beguiling pieces that Small Demons ran in Publishing Perspectives’ Show Daily.

Reverse ferret! (Can you stand the shock?)

Mike Masnick at TechDirt picks up on Brantley’s good work and logs in our Ether-eal Headline of the Week: Turns Out When Random House Said Libraries ‘Own’ Their Ebooks, It Meant, ‘No, They Don’t Own Them.’

Writes Brantley:

In the context of the LJ article, Random House was using a definition of “ownership” that you won’t find in Webster’s dictionary, conveying rights where none exist.

In fact, Random will not sell directly to libraries or library consortia, although Mr. Dye reiterated that they continue to evaluate many alternative library business models.

You know, it’s only English. And they’re only a big publisher that works, primarily, in English.

Brantley gets it clarified very tightly now:

That’s very nice. It’s just not ownership. It’s licensing, with benefits. Library customers of RH titles do not have the ability to transfer their titles to an unapproved platform, such as Califa or Open Library; they cannot resell or donate their ebooks; and there is no mechanism for libraries to receive ebook donations directly from consumers. All that libraries “purchase” from Random House is a verbal commitment to assist libraries in moving their Random House ebooks from one approved commercial platform to another.

And we end this latest ride in the madhouse that libraries’ relations with publishing have become with the faithful Brantley, as usual, getting the right tone and direction into the exhaustion we all feel on this infinitely tedious issue:

I am encouraged that so many of the largest publishers have demonstrated a willingness to work with libraries on ebook delivery. However, advances will come not through tepid experimentation or attempts to control digital markets, but by partnering with the most innovative and forward-thinking libraries hoping to push towards a new horizon of digital services for the communities they serve.

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Books: Reading on the Ether

The books you see here have been referenced recently in Writing on the Ether.

I’m bringing them together in one spot each week, to help you recall and locate them, not as an endorsement. And, needless to say, we lead our list weekly with our fine Writing on the Ether Sponsors, in gratitude for their support.

 


 

Writing on the Ether Sponsors:


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Last Gas: New Numbers on Self-Publishing

  • CreateSpace dominated the print segment, supporting the creation of 58,412 titles (39 percent of self-published print books).
  • Smashwords topped the e-book producers with 40,608 titles (nearly 47 percent of total self-published e-books). T
  • he combined divisions of Author Solutions (part of Penguin Group) produced a total of 47,094 titles and Lulu Enterprises checks in with 38,005 titles.
  • The Bowker analysis shows that beyond these four players, no company has more than 10 percent of market share

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Books in Browsers, Internet Archive, StoryWorld, Writer's Digest Conference, Tools of Change  If I didn’t like Bowker already, I’d sure be warming up to them now.

What’s been as scarce as hen’s teeth in efforts to assess the prevalence of self-publishing and ebooks? Stats. Numbers. Decent, dependable figures.

Bowker to the rescue — at least in part — with Self-Publishing Sees Triple-Digit Growth in Just Five Years, its release on a report that tells us, among other things:

  • The number of self-published books produced annually in the U.S…now tallies more than 235,000 print and “e” titles, according to a new analysis of data from Bowker® Books In Print and Bowker® Identifier Services.
  • While production increases are occurring in both print and e-book formats, the latter is driving the greatest percentage gains. (And) while self-publishing may seem like a cottage industry, it is dominated by large firms that offer publishing services to individual authors.
  • While print accounts for 63 percent of self-published books, e-books are gaining fast.
  • E-book production in 2011 was 87,201, up 129 percent over 2006. Print grew 33 percent in the same period.

We still don’t have all we need. I find this is one of the hardest things to explain to laymen, too, and sometimes even folks in publishing. It has to do with the fact that ebooks can publish and sell well below the ISBN radar that Bowker uses to track titles.

Laura Hazard Owen

In Bowker: Number of self-published books up 287% since 2006, Laura Hazard Owen picks up on points raised by Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch:

Bowker only counts titles with ISBNs, so “KDP exclusives and other sources that still don’t use ISBN numbers” aren’t included. That means the number of self-published ebooks is likely much higher than 87,201. In addition, the print and digital editions of a single title may be counted twice.

Once again, then, some of our clearest needs in terms of data aren’t answered here.

  • How many ebooks, total, are being published with or without ISBN? We don’t know.
  • What percentage of actual titles published (with or without ISBN) are ebooks? We don’t know.
  • How many self-published ebooks are out there, with or without ISBN? We don’t know.

Proprietary constraints still keep us from having the full panoply of figures we need to really understand what’s piling up so fast, who’s putting it out there, and in what form it’s out there. We know it’s up to our knees (or higher), because we keep falling over it. But until info beyond the ISBN is provided, we’re not going to see the landscape in anything but lightning flashes like Bowker’s studies — welcome flashes of light on the subject that tease us with shadowy areas we can’t see.

Still, it’s good to have this much. For now, we’ll take it.

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agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Books in Browsers, Internet Archive, StoryWorld, Writer's Digest Conference, Tools of Change  What Authors, Bloggers, and Freelancers Need to Know:
Hurricane Postponement to Nov. 13
Webinar with Porter Anderson

You’re all platformed up. But do you know where you’re going? How can you distinguish yourself from “the madding crowd?” Join us for this special Writer’s Digest webinar — precise guidance on best practices and professional performance points that separate the serious from the silly. This webinar includes a critique — a web post or page from your site, your choice — meaning your work gets individual attention and personalized feedback. http://www.writersdigestshop.com/what-authors-bloggers-freelancers-need-to-know/?=lid/wdpapromo

Click here for full details & registration for this November 13 webinar.

 


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Jane's newest online course focuses on how to take a holistic and strategic approach to social media that’s based on long-term reader growth and sound principles of online marketing. You won’t find gimmicks or short-term approaches here. Rather, my philosophy is that (1) your work—your writing—is always central, and (2) you have to enjoy what you’re doing on social media for it to be sustainable and eventually become a meaningful part of your author platform.

A big challenge for authors is deciding what types of marketing will work for them strategically, and figuring out what will be effective in cutting through the noise without consuming huge amounts of time. Over the course of 12 weeks, our goal will be to answer this question for you, eliminate as much guesswork as possible, and retain your authentic voice regardless of your strategy.

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Porter Anderson (Find him on Twitter / Find him at Google+) is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute. As a journalist, he has worked with three networks of CNN, The Village Voice, Dallas Times Herald, D Magazine, and other outlets. He contributes to Digital Book World’s Expert Publishing Blog and to Writer Unboxed, and has been posted by the United Nations to Rome (P-5, laissez-passer) for the World Food Programme. He is based in Tampa. His companion to this column, Issues on the Ether Issues on the Ether, appears on Tuesdays at PublishingPerspectives.com, and is followed by a live chat on Twitter each Wednesday, hashtagged #EtherIssue. His Porter Anderson Meets series of interviews for London's The Bookseller features a live Twitter interview each Monday hashtagged #PorterMeets, followed by a write-up in the magazine on the stands each Friday. More at PorterAndersonMedia.com.

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Posted in Writing on the Ether.

22 Comments

  1. a) I love Jeff Bezos (and you and James Scott Bell).
    b) Amazon is not the devil, and is in fact, likely the publisher’s and author’s BDF (best distribution friend). Whether I’m writing a review for Book End Babes or looking at my own sales numbers, when I compare the two “biggies” Amazon vs. B&N – no matter the book I’m looking at, I see more reviews and likes at Amazon and only a fraction at B&N. It’s a numbers game. Where the eyeballs go, so do the clicks.
    c) Thanks for bringing some intelligence to the buy/license media frenzy. I thought we all knew we didn’t own ebooks. Gah.
    d) POD is the future. Conferences say so, but the book industry is slow to adopt. Bookstores don’t want to *have* to sell the book. They take few of lots and return the kittens no one picked up. No matter WHAT product we sell, wouldn’t we all hate returns – hey, what the hell do we do with this extra inventory? Is there a TJ Maxx for leftover books (well, yes, some remainders do get in those awful bins. $1 CHEAP BOOKS!) I don’t even want to think about books being destroyed. Those kittens!
    e) A further point, in publishing a debut author, Lucie Smoker, who used to work at Hastings, she tried with her “ins” to get her book, Distortion, into the Hastings system, yet because it’s non-returnable – even though it’s easily available for purchase by them via Ingram’s iPage, they won’t give it a look. Instead, they urged her to “contact whichever Hastings you’d like and see if they’ll do consignment.” Yet when I tried to do consignment with them on a young adult anthology that featured a local girl as the model on the cover in a mid-sized town, Hastings’ policy was “we can only put the book on consignment if you come and sign the deal in person.” Huh? Are we back in the stone ages? I’m supposed to drive 3 hours to sign a form so a teenager can BRING YOU BUSINESS? In the end, the girls’ mother HAND SOLD forty copies of the book. I mean, COME ON.
    I don’t mean for this to sound like a tirade, but really, when you have an opportunity to showcase local talent (whether that’s a local author or even the model on the cover), why wouldn’t you do it? Why make it so difficult to do business with you? You know who isn’t difficult for me to do business with? Amazon and Createspace. I get answers to my questions within 24 hours. My books are printed and shipped within 2 days and they’ve always paid when they said they would. I’m not saying they are angelic, and sure, we could all learn and get better at what we do, but it sounds like from your Ether, Amazon WAS listening and trying to learn from authors?
    Yes, it’s great to have your book in print. My fourth novel will be in print, too. But I’ll sell dozens of them at events that I host because I can bring the sales, yet it will be the great digital behemoth that can sell hundreds and thousands for me. They are kitten-friendly.

    • Hey, Malena, no tirade at all, I enjoyed your comments and appreciate you taking the time to come by and read and respond!

      I think that while there are drawbacks — in some cases severe — the local presence will never be as gratifying as something broader. Digital does this because it immediately opens global reach, which in turn shows up the provincial nature of a local perspective. (This is something we know well in the news business — I could never abide doing local news, which may represent a form of snobbery, but was a fact of life; for me it was national, international, or nothing.)

      So I’d counsel you only to let go of the local frustrations. You won’t fix, change, evolve, or ease them, if my own experience is any guide. We all must “live locally,” but the more you aim for the farther horizon, the better will be the challenge to reach it.

      All the best and thanks again for the input!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

  2. Thanks for the mention, Porter! Agent Katharine Sands and I had the chance to have dinner with the Amazon reps. John showed a tad of a lack of understanding for what agents do. Makes me wonder if Amazon really understands all they need to understand.

    Plus, the questions I asked had to do with previously published material, in particular blogged content in books. I was assured Amazon was OK with that–but might want to have a conversation with authors about ownership of content prior to publication. Just two days later, one of my coaching clients told me her book, which contained some blogged material, was shut down prior to being published on Amazon. Then when “released” for publication she found her account blocked. This prevented her from being able to actually hit the publish button. There was no “conversation.” Just emails offering no real help.

    I hope the fact finding mission will, indeed, change things a bit as far as the customer experience at Amazon for authors and that the services offered via Kindle and Create Space will reflect that.

    I’ll be sending an email of my own to Libby.

    • Gosh, Nina, I’d be amazed to find Jon lacking in his knowledge of agents and their place in the biz. Maybe the point of discussion at the time was just confusing in some way.

      And while I’m sorry to hear your client may have had a difficult experience with her publication, the case of the apparently not-wiped Kindle we go over in the Ether today reminds us that there are usually some extenuating circumstances in transactional problems that may not be clear at the outset. And “anecdata” (this is a phrase made up by Brett Sandusky, credit where it’s due, lol) is the kind of thing that can lead people to pick up on negative or positive impressions without full details.

      All of which is to say I think I’d need to know a lot more, and from both sides, about the experiences your client reports before I felt we were able to draw any conclusions from them.

      But I’m delighted, of course, to have your input and it was great to see you again in LA and to have you on the marketing panel. Thanks for all the great work at the conference!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

      • I did not see my client’s emails, Porter. So, yes, some of this is anecdata. I can only tell you about her distress. I’m happy to report that Libby was responsive; based on my interactions with her, I felt sure she would be.

        It was lovely to see you and to be on your panel!

    • Nina, I blogged a book last year and received an email from Amazon stating, “During a review of your catalog, we found that one or more of your titles contain content that is freely available on the web. Copyright is important to us – we want to make sure that no author or other copyright holder has their work claimed and sold by anyone else,” etc.

      I wrote back, in entirety, “I am the sole owner of the publishing rights for [Title with ASIN]. The book contains some, but not all, of the posts from my blog [URL]. I am the sole author and copyright holder of all material at [URL], the blog, and in [Title], the book.”

      I received a nice thank you and all is well. Maybe this interchange should be built into blogged books or prefaced to Amazon somehow. I’ve not read your book yet, but it is on my list, since I plan to publish a second round of blog posts shortly. I wonder if Amazon has gotten tougher in the last year?

      • Debra Eve, That’s good to hear. And I will recommend to all my clients that they do be forthcoming in THEIR conversation with Amazon. In the meantime, I have emailed Libby, she may be speaking with my client (hopefully improving the system–but who know) and I maybe getting some quotes from an Amazon rep for an article. Maybe in that process I can get some pointers on how authors can handle this.

  3. Powerful and engaging stuff, Porter.

    This is hardcore: “No matter how we may long for a time when an ‘official’ understanding of an incident or situation, each of us now can be the distributor of ‘argumentation.’” It’s going to take me a bit of time to digest that.

    • Thanks, Dave. I really found it so impactful this week that I couldn’t lead with anything else. As you know, I’ve developed a kind of sympathy for Amazon in this rough period of such blind upset about it — especially as I meet more and more of its committed folks in person and see them trying to get across to authors through the noise. Proud of some of our best journos like @LauraHazardOwen and @Mathewi, disappointed by so many others who nosedived right into that empty swimming pool when the “wiped Kindle” tale started circulating. It’s a tough time for everyone. But unless we each apply the @glecharles method of waiting a few days before responding to Amazon news, we’re going to be caught in this ugly, counter-productive dance of gotcha moments that leave only the perpetrators looking like idiots.

      @cshirky has nailed it. We’re in an entirely Cronkite-less age with no “final answer” (Regis Philben-less, too). Truth simply doesn’t land as an absolute anymore. And boy, we’re all going to miss it. :)

      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

  4. LOL, you crafty reporter. Having Amazon’s Jon Fine and Libby Johnson McKee in the audience was a great boon to the talk, as they both offered info that helped answer questions. And this after I also spoke about the challenges Amazon was facing going in the print direction (the mirror opposite of the Big Publishers surviving in the digital world). The “I love Jeff Bezos” line was thus perfect comedic timing, as the sustained laughter in the room proved.

    The truth is Bezos has built one of those legendary American companies that, because of its size, comes in for criticism. Pick any large company of long standing and that’s part of the territory. Some of it is certainly justified, because you can’t be that big and not face fires that need to be put out. But what Amazon has done for legions of writers is, to put it mildly, the greatest benefit since Gutenberg. It has made it possible to earn actual coin when the gates of the Forbidden City have slammed shut. It has also opened up an additional income stream for writers who are inside those gates. It means writers can write and make actual money. What’s not to love about that?

    • One of these days, James Scott Bell, you and I have to tell these publishing people that we’re both former Equity actors. Shhh, they haven’t figured it out yet.

      In truth, I was delighted, it warmed my improv heart to see the whole thing play out, and Libby was just amazing with her own delivery, when she stood and said, “Actually, I’m from Amazon, too” — I thought the place would go through the roof. (Where are the damned cameras when we need them? Hollywood is going to the dogs.)

      Expertly played, sir, an obvious pro at work, you picked up your cue and stuck your landing and I have to stop mixing metaphors here.

      You’re right about Amazon and the size issue. Part of my decade-and-a-half at CNN was a constant experience of the same thing. People would lay into you at the supermarket if they figured out that’s where you worked and wanted to say that Wolf’s hair looked silly or Anderson wore too many black T-shirts. The biggest targets are the easiest targets.

      I’m just glad to have Libby and Jon rubbing elbows with our animals (have I mixed another one in?) — some similar good chats went on with a couple of Amazonians here at Books in Browsers this week in San Francisco. So when it comes to your big company theory, Amazon is doing this better than Shell Oil ever did.

      Even the “Amazon haters” always concede, too, that the era of e-reading started in 2007 with the Kindle. After years of ereader failure (remember the old Franklin reader? — and I had two Sony readers and an Etch-a-Sketch, myself, all miserable), the Kindle simply changed the market forever. As you point out, it’s authors who are the beneficiaries of this. And once the legacy houses undergo their transition, a few years, this will all be much clearer and we’ll have “ways of working” (is that Uta Hagen?) that everyone can follow and make sense of, instead of this shot-in-the-dark quality it all seems to have now for so many.

      Westerly burg that it is, the sun is rising for authors in Seattle, and the more we can help authors move past the fear-and-loathing stage and into the cooperative, collaborative phase that folks like Jon and Libby are bringing to us, the better the transition will go.

      Here’s to more comedy routines in conference sessions, and thanks, too, for the kind words about the Ether and the Mad Tweeterie, much appreciated … I owe you about half the bar by now, I think.

      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

  5. It was really fun being in the room at WDCW12 during the Fine/Bell interchange. Seriously, it looked like comedy setup. “Are you from Amazon?” “Well, as a matter of fact, I am.” Was it, Porter? :)

    Regarding Kindle wiping: Five days before the warranty expired, my Kindle went haywire. Some books disappeared and the screensaver kept malfunctioning. I spent five minutes on the phone with Amazon support and received a new (fully loaded) one two days later. Maybe I should have raised more of a stink and leveraged my 15 minutes of fame.

    Great finally meeting you, Porter, and thank you again for all your hard work on behalf of writers.

    • Well, Debra, with that kind of customer service experience to report, I’d say next time we’ll reverse the shout and make it “Jeff Bezos loves Debra!” Seriously, that’s the sort of thing that keeps so many (me included) in place as a happy consumer. I’ve had precisely those same grand experiences of no-questions-asked replacements and fast, fast responsiveness — never a bad instance, and I’ve been with them since they rolled out Prime so many years ago. Seeing the care with which Jon and Libby are approaching our community — so much respect for writers, so much interest in the integrity of what’s produced — really can be an eye-opener and a game-changer, if you ask me, for many, many authors. The dread and mystery falls away when you first encounter the fact that these folks are here to listen to us, not vice-versa.

      So many, many companies in so many fields could stand to learn from this. For our part, I think we need to be sure we keep asking conference organizers to be in touch with these good “ambassadors of Seattle,” and make sure we include them, welcome them, embrace what the “e-bokgiganten can do for all of us. (“Scale ME up” is my new mantra, lol.)

      And just to be clear (because you know James Scott Bell and I are perfectly capable of staging Aida in a parking lot), no, there actually was no setup whatever. In fact, I found myself madly tweeting to the group who Jon was when he stood up, realizing they didn’t know him or his position with Amazon — nor even, many of them, that he would be on the 11a panel the next day about the future of the writer (making great, incisive comments, as he did at the Discoverability confab). I was delighted when it all simply fell into place as if we’d rehearsed it for an hour — and, of course, Bell played it to the hilt. (No phonebook being available, which he also could read to us and get a standing ovation.)

      Great stuff and so nice to meet you after my marketing panel, thanks so much for sticking around to speak. This weekend, in fact (writing it on Delta tonight), I’ll have a piece in Writer Unboxed (should go up tomorrow) that relates to conference-going and meeting up, do check in.

      And thanks, as ever for reading the Ether and responding, always great to have you!

      -p.

      @Porter_Anderson

  6. Alackaday, the end of truth—but at least we have “truthiness” in its wake. Porter, I enjoyed seeing you and the other bandits at the Hardcore Author Marketing panel at WDWC. Though I’m not certain how hardcore it was; not one of you was wearing an outside-the-shirt metal-cone bra. But the discussion moved along.

    Conference was good, though the pitch slam, which was slammed into one of the smaller rooms, didn’t move much at all, because of the press of pitching souls. I did enjoy the $18 Manhattan I had at the downstairs bar, until I saw the tab. I blame all high prices, everywhere, on Amazon.

    • Believe me, Tom, Amazon would undersell that Manhattan for $9.99 if it could deliver it to you fast enough. Thanks again for coming to the Hardcore Author Marketing panel (they make up those names, we don’t — and I was unsure whether the Authors or the Marketing were supposed to be Hardcore, better not to ask).

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Tom, good to have you!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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