WRITING ON THE ETHER: Seeking Sanctuary


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Table of Contents

  1. Seeking Sanctuary: Merging and Emerging
  2. Pivot: Jane Friedman on the Empowered Author
  3. Pivot: Brian O’Leary, ‘No Longer Optimistic’
  4. Pivot: Peter Collingridge, ‘Soul-Crushingly Hard’
  5. Pivot: Jonny Geller, Enough To Go Around
  6. #PRH Merger: Qualm Before the Storm
  7. Craft: Fried Penguin for Authors
  8. Craft: ‘Get Off the Internet’ for NaNoWriMo
  9. TheFutureBook: Innovation Awards Short-Listed
  10. More Conferences
  11. Books: Reading on the Ether
  12. Last Gas: Anti-Social Media
  13. Less Gas: How To Tweet During Breaking News

Seeking Sanctuary: Merging and Emerging

It’s been a hell of a week.

 

From the golden-glowing camaraderie of San Francisco’s Books in Browsers conference…to the cold water crassness of corporate consolidation…and the ice-bucket drenching of a renegade hurricane.

It just doesn’t get much more Monday than Monday.

I hope.

Special commendations to many the people of the business trying valiantly to keep things from unraveling — Jeremy Greenfield holed up on an ancient Mac at a friend’s place to get a note out to DBW operatives, and Bowker’s Laura Dawson rigging up an extension cord to a neighbor to try to power an online connection from her dark house.

With the Northeast brought to a standstill like this, it might have been a chance for everybody to at last get some reading (or knitting) done. Only the lights went out.

And how curious that the same thing had happened at the conference in California, much smaller scale, just as dark. Just ask Dawson.

 

| | |

The new publishing doesn’t care about formats, it cares about story-telling. It is neutral about content-types, because all content-types can be manipulated on the web. That may seem prosaic, but it is actually revolutionary.

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Peter Brantley

That’s a statement straight from Peter Brantley’s good heart. This is the  upbeat spirit, the cheer with which he recognizes and welcomes “the new publishing.” I’m glad to have met him at the conference he’s writing about for Publishers Weekly in Books in Browsers 2012: A Publishing Industry Rushing into the Future.

Brantley sees an ever-rising barometric pressure the rest of us could miss so easily. He’s not only a tireless advocate for our libraries-in-the-wilderness but also the organizer of Books in Browsers (#BiB12). He is superbly backed and supported by Kat Meyer and Joe Wikert of O’Reilly Media — their Tools of Change Conference is set for February 12-14 in New York, and Meyer has a preview, What to expect at TOC NY 2013.

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Books in Browsers 2012 / #BiB12

The invitational Books in Browsers — as you may have guessed from our tweet-storm — was held October 25 and 26 in San Francisco. We all found sanctuary in the Great Hall of the Internet Archive’s own Fezziwig, Brewster Kahle.

The power suddenly went out on Thursday evening, in perfectly good Californian weather, as Kahle led a congregation of his supporters in a celebration of the Archive’s achievement of 10 petabytes of data.

Ten petabytes: 10,000,000,000,000,000.

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Brewster Kahle

Big data. In the former Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist.

But the power did go out. And it stayed out until we’d decamped the archive that evening.

I went into the Great Hall early to set up my stuff for live-tweeting each morning, and heard the sound the Archive’s servers make in there. Worthy of a ship in space, an incipient hum pitched precisely into the future. To hear it is to feel that a shoe is making the drop.

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The ceiling of the sanctuary at the Internet Archive, formerly the Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist.

Of course, that future was moving fast. Pearson and Random House were about to execute their fateful hug. And the real power outage was churning its way in from the Atlantic.

Brantley would write:

It was the goosebump-and chills-moment you get when you realized that you were watching insanely smart, thoughtful and creative people reinventing publishing right in front of your eyes, hacking together fledgling applications of great beauty and breathtaking promise.

Brantley is talking here about two of several very well-received demos/presentations, we all loved them, on the conference’s second day.

A “self-publishing book” from Liza Daly and Keith Fahlgren of conference sponsor Safari was “written” as we watched, Daly’s voice recorded as text while onlookers could add their commentary in real time.

In another, Poetica.comMaureen Evans and Blaine Cook made a soulful appeal for a culture in which “everyone edits.”  As Brantley describes it, “an online multi-user copyediting tool with a beautiful user interface and intuitive operation, befitting a startup that unites the original developer of Twitter and creator of OAuth, with a poet who has innovated in the application of social media to writing.”

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Pablo Defendini shares a pew with the Internet Archive’s terra-cotta Little People.

There were many more buoyant moments, from Laura Dawson’s faithful calls for networked books to Pablo Defendini’s clever conceit of illustrated ebooks on huge screens.

And there was Kevin Franco’s update on the progress of his Enthrill Books in-store ebook program (we Etherized it here), Hugh McGuire’s web-books explication of discoverability (also Etherized), Kate Pullinger’s tales of “digital fiction” (we call this “transmedia”),and Liz Castro’s walk-through of her development of “modular books” (and a delightful cab ride with her through San Francisco).

Kassia Krozser arrived with an authoritative list of what readers want, including:

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From Kassia Krozser’s Books in Browsers presentation, “What Do Readers Want? Books! How Do They Want Them? Every Way Possible!”

With Brantley and many others embracing cool glimpses of literature thriving on the web, I want to be sure we also note and thank those who recently have helped us feel a chill we need to acknowledge.

The conversation has begun getting a bit darker. Hopes for turnarounds in corner offices are fading. And with the Penguin Random House news just ahead of the storm on Monday, a grimmer reality than we might have chosen seems to be settling into place.

To borrow from Peter Collingridge in his presentation at BiB, I think we’ve reached what certain Californians enjoy calling these days a pivot.

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From Peter Collingridge, Failure Is an Option

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Pivot: Jane Friedman on the Empowered Author

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Jane Friedman

Something was changing in the tone of the industry! the industry! in September, when Jane Friedman — host of the Ether and an editor with Virginia Quarterly Review – was in Berlin as a presenter at Litflow-Thinktank (as was Henrik Berggren, who also joined us at Books in Browsers).

While BiB12 was in session in San Francisco, Friedman published an essay, Do Publishers Need to Offer More Value to Authors?, based on her presentation in Berlin and her accompanying monograph for the Thinktank. There is audio here of her key oral presentation, “Authors are, in effect, the ‘other customer!'” And there’s an audio interview with her (and a Twitter-follower-smitten interlocutor) here, “Empowering the Author.”

In her October 26 retrospective on the Berlin discussions, Friedman writes:

In a nutshell, I suggest that—given the changes happening in the industry—traditional publishers will need to be more author-focused in their operations by offering tools, community, and education to help authors be more successful, to everyone’s greater benefit. If publishers fail to do so, then authors, who have an increasing number of publishing options available to them, will depart for greener pastures.

Her reference in the line “Authors are the ‘other customer,'” is aligned with the viewpoint of Jon Fine, Amazon’s Director of Publisher and Author Relations, who referenced this understanding during DBW’s Discoverability and Marketing Conference.

But in her new write, Friedman delineates three ways in which, “if you’re part of the Big Six engine,” her proposal might be considered “flawed, even laughable.”

  1. “Publishers’ most important service to authors is undertaking the financial risk of their creative work.
  2. Authors have limited interest in spending additional time on marketing, promotion, and platform building.
  3. The Big Six will never have sufficient motivation to do more for authors than they already do.”
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Jane Friedman at LitFlow-Thinktank in Berlin / Photo: Joachim Loch, Kulturstiftung des Bundes

Friedman writes:

I participated in a recent conversation where a publisher-insider asserted that Amazon KDP (and similar DIY e-publishing services, pick your favorite) offered nothing to authors, while taking 30-70 percent for offering that nothing…Of course, this “nothing” that Amazon offers has been a pretty attractive nothing for authors rejected by traditional gatekeepers. This nothing provides authors an equal opportunity to play along with the big dogs at the biggest e-retailing storefront in the world.

Winding down to just “three desirables that publishers offer” — money, service, and status — Friedman outlines the fragility of those lures, and concludes, as she relat4ed to her colleagues in Berlin:

The shrewdest authors—those who are primarily interested in their long-term business success and could not care less about acceptability on New York’s terms—will be the fastest to find other paths, and that’s exactly what’s happening.

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Pivot: Brian O’Leary, ‘No Longer Optimistic’

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Brian O’Leary speaks at Books in Browsers 2012

Another pivotal moment arrived in Brian O’Leary’s talk at Books in Browsers, a day before Friedman’s essay came out.

O’Leary’s presentation is titled The Library Within Us, and in it he openly concedes a change of heart:

A year ago, I was optimistic that publishers and supply-chain partners would soon see their mutual need for a data-driven reconsideration of why publishing exists and the purposes it can serve. I’m no longer optimistic.

Describing how myopic a publisher’s viewpoint can become, O’Leary captures a some comments of Kevin Kelly in his 15-year-old book New Rules for the New Economy, including:

“As innovation accelerates, abandoning the highly successful in order to escape from its eventual obsolescence becomes the most difficult and yet most essential task.”

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Brian O’Leary

O’Leary in his presentation:

“Abandoning the highly successful” … well, that’s why I lost my optimism.

Having established that “the platform ship has sailed” and that Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo, plus “on a clear day, Google,” are the platforms now, “one to build on, not just build.”

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Hugh McGuire and Brian O’Leary produced this book, free copies of which they offered to Books in Browsers attendees. A collection of essays in the spirit of BiB.

O’Leary cites standards, structure, and sense as the three ways in which “we need to prepare for the networked present.”  And at one point, he parallels Friedman very closely in how he sees the best direction for publishers:

The traditional functions of a publishing repository – preparation, management and monetization of content – will need to be maintained at a much greater level of detail and supplemented by a new skill that may be available only to those with sufficient scale: market insight. Without it, authors will have much more reason to sell directly.

And in one paragraph, O’Leary sums up both the sea-change in what networking can mean and the anathema this can represent to the establishment:

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Literary agent Rachelle Gardner has a series of four books for authors, which she plans to release this month and next. “How Do I Decide?” is the first.

For decades, perhaps centuries, the primary platform for publishers and their supply-chain intermediaries relied on the ability to exclude. Now, we’re starting to see the dominance of a platform that includes everything and excludes nothing. In return, we get access to global communities and the ability to meet latent desires.

How convinced do you feel that traditional publishers today understand the critical juncture we’ve reached between Friedman’s “empowered authors” and O’Leary’s historically exclusionary publishers? O’Leary:

We can “pre-empt and co-opt”, resist the change, buying time and perhaps some short-term wins. Or we can learn the new rules and prepare for the opportunities inherent in networked publishing. I hope we do the latter, because there are plenty of boneyards we don’t want to end up in.

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Pivot: Peter Collingridge, ‘Soul-Crushingly Hard’

For my money, one of the most compelling moments at Books in Browsers was among the most sobering. It was about two online ventures in publishing “one of which has absolutely died, and one of which is well on the way to doing that.”

I’m here representing the 90 percent of startups that fail.

And, as in Friedman’s material and O’Leary’s talk, I think it’s important to look deeply into the darkening disappointment bravely framed by Peter Collingridge in his presentation, Failure Is an Option..

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From Peter Collingridge, Failure Is an Option

Collingridge — who repeatedly insists he hopes his story of bad experiences isn’t a downer to others — has kindly provided me with slides from his deck so I can give you a sense of the context in which he told us in San Francisco about the experience of trying to negotiate with publishers for his Enhanced Editions venture (dated on the opening slide as running from 2008 to 2011).

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Peter Collingridge

There’s a compelling video here explaining the concept of this mobile app development. And it’s the phrase “soul-crushing” that becomes Collingridge’s refrain in his talk. In slide after slide (sometimes labled “tl;dr,”  for “too long; didn’t read”), Collingridge delivers biting, confounding conclusions from his experience:

  • Apps are not the savior of publishing
  • Publishers are terrible at marketing digital products
  • Publishers need marketing data
  • Modern marketing tools & techniques are largely absent from “Publishing” (meaning the establishment traditional houses)

The effort he describes culminated in a six-month project with five big transatlantic publishers, hundreds of titles, thousands of price changes, some £100,000 spent in marketing, more than 100,000 tweets and posts.

This preso is important for people who are struggling with the industry-wide, growing understanding that enhanced ebooks, and perhaps to some degree apps, themselves are, “not the saviour of publishing as we’d hoped they would be.”

Collingridge cites absurd PR failures that somehow ring appallingly probable. His summation of this is to say that publishers will spend $30,000 creating an app, then “market’ it with one press release and a tweet. Investor quotes he cites are depressingly telling:

“Come back when you’ve stopped trying to work with publishers, and have started working with authors” and “Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas!”

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Peter Collingridge, Failure Is an Option

As evidenced by his Bookseer project, which distills a wide array of data into promotional “vapor trails,” as he puts it, Collingridge says he still believes “data is mission-critical,” but he has learned that publishers actually “find data scary and prefer vanity metrics.”

And so, Collingridge reiterates:

We found working with publishers soul-crushingly tough and terminally slow.

You can see the video of Collingridge’s fine presentation in this chunk from the Livestream video, being stored currently from the conference: scrub in to timecode 2:22:20.

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Pivot: Jonny Geller, Enough To Go Around

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Jonny Geller

Lastly, I’ll just step back a bit in time to earlier last month when, shortly before Frankfurt, London-based agent Jonny Geller may have seen or felt earlier than most this kind of hardening of realities in the business when he published an opinion piece at The Bookseller, New Model Army.

Here, the comeuppance widens, there’s something for everybody (even bookstores and readers, I’m glad to say),  not just publishers, despite Geller’s early assertion that “authors need to be put back in their rightful place in the publishing firmament: at its heart.”

The implication in what Geller does with a Lawrence of Arabia analogy is that authors are going to reclaim that place at the heart of publishing, with or without the cooperation of the publishers’ establishment.

  • Publishers need to separate their “brand author” business and their “publishing author” business. Brands need a completely different level of care and management, and a vastly different skill-set from their publisher. Authors need individual expertise, passion and 100% belief. If you mix the two up, it becomes predominantly about the bottom line, and both lose out
  • Retailers need to believe their service is worth providing; that what they give is part of the price of the book. Otherwise, develop your online business and use your floorspace as showrooms
  • Agents need to stop whingeing. There is no point shouting at publishers if they cannot effect change in certain areas. Either do it yourself or take the pill
  • Authors new to the business need to take the long view and decide early on if it is a career, a hobby or a passionate indulgence. Experienced authors should expect excellence and demand it of all aspects of the chain
  • Readers need to risk paying for books again

     

I’m particularly glad to see Geller make that last point, the one about readers.

We can talk all day about the reader as a nearly holy figure in our business — seriously overlooked too long by the traditional publishers. But it’s also time for that reader to play his or her fiduciary role in the equation again, and prove the bargain basement prices of the fin-de-agency period to have been what they were, the dive for algorithmic leverage of amateurs flooding the market.

 

In this piece, as in Friedman’s, O’Leary’s, and Collingridge’s, there are winds of profound fatigue whistling loudly around our heads, and we need to listen to them. Fine efforts in challenging new evocations for reading are exactly what we must see, yes, and Brantley brought together a proud sampling of concept and collaboration at Books in Browsers.

But I was glad his roster also included the worry-weary confessionals of O’Leary and Collingridge, reflecting the perceptions of Friedman and Geller.

Writes Geller:

Publishing is not necessarily an adversarial business, but creative friction is essential.

And there’s no creativity in the friction of a basket-case industry. The merger news (that other storm of the week) is something we’ll look at next here on the Ether. In the wan emergency lights of power failures and massive inconvenience, I suggest we take Pearson and Bertelsmann at their unspoken word, watch as they close ranks, and allow ourselves to consider the move, if you will, their final answer. As so much of Books in Browsers showed us, it’s time to move on.

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#PRH Merger: Qualm Before the Storm

As if racing Sandy herself, the tailored suits in the Pearson-Bertelsmann pageant were up bright and early Monday. They bottled up their grip-and-grins on British time, floating a message over to Manhattan. And by the evening, as a fully mooned tide met the storm’s swell at the Battery, almost everybody who’s anybody in the biz had logged in their two cents about the deal before the lights went out. Clear!

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George Davis

As writer George Davis puts it in Penguin Random House: Big Six Realignment Begins, “like two gilded empires arranging a desperate diplo-nuptial alliance, these Big Six giants are defending their hegemony.”

In other words, there’s really no way to romance this one.

From the business standpoint, though, this compression of rich forces is a many-faceted thing.

 

“While the majority of attention surrounding this deal has looked at the impact on the US and UK, home turf for Penguin and Random House,” writes Ed Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief at Publishing Perspectives in Emerging Markets are Key to Penguin Random House Merger, “the true merit of this deal is in creating synergies overseas.”

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Ed Nawotka

Nawotka has some of the international “sprawl,” as William Gibson might have it, at his fingertips. Look just how broad may be the horizon of this new mega-company’s range:

  • Brazil is perhaps the best short-term opportunity for both companies, as last year Penguin purchased 45% of the Brazilian publisher Companhia das Letras, while Random House is all but absent from the market.
  • In India, both companies have ongoing operations, with Penguin having launched its first e-books earlier this year and plans to have all front list titles available digitally by the end of December.
  • In China — which Bertelsmann pulled out of in 2008, closing its bookstores and book club after 13 years in business — Penguin has been been making strides, having established a foothold in 2005 and launching several successful joint ventures, including a partnership with Shanghai Readers 99 to publish Penguin Classics and a training program for translators.

Surveying the global potential of this marriage so inconvenient to some, Nawotka concludes, leaves you in an unexpected place:

Surprisingly, as much as authors and agents might lament the fact that this merger will give them fewer options where they can sell their books (no matter what the merger’s executives are telling the media) and redundant jobs will be lost in New York (yes, that will happen) — once you take in the big picture, the merger makes sense.

Here, Ethernaut, are some more highlights.

 

Wikert: Some pictures are made up of a thousand words.

It’s not surprising that much of the emphasis is on the “company” and its name. Look a bit closer and you’ll also see that “authors” also appears frequently.

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Joe Wikert

When O’Reilly Media’s Joe Wikert is driving, the texts of “the merger messages sent by Random House’s Markus Dohle and Penguin’s John Makinson” reveal — and don’t– a few things in word cloud view.

In Penguin Random House: Parsing the messages, Wikert writes:

I spliced the two documents together and the result is shown below…What about “digital” though? It’s there…you just have to look closely. Very closely.

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Penguin Random House merger word cloud / Joe Wikert

Also Wikert: ‘It should be less about Amazon and more about going direct’

Wikert, as usual a bit readier than most of us to follow the bouncing ball, wrote up Penguin Random House: How big is big enough? with an eye to motivations.

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At Digital Book World, Jeremy Greenfield asked several graphic-artist friends work up fanciful logos for the new merger. This one is by Todd Goldstein.

Call me skeptical but I feel the merger between Penguin and Random House is less about creating “greater scale” and more about simple consolidation in a shrinking industry. Which organization is more likely to create the truly innovative, disruptive products of tomorrow’s publishing industry: a behemoth like Penguin Random House or some start-up working out of the proverbial garage? My money’s on the latter.

Wikert also nailed the prissy-looking corporate distaste for calling a spade Amazon.

How big is big enough? Aren’t either one of those operations already large enough to manage Amazon? If not, are the two combined really going to make a difference there?

Ashlock and Chromy: For publishers, authors (and agents), readers, and the future

The new combined company will still be a small fraction of the size of the big tech and retail giants, which are increasingly the dominant players in book publishing.

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Jason Ashlock

Movable Type Management’s Jason Ashlock and Adam Chromy get themselves up into Mediashift with a put-together that nicely pulls-apart the implications of #PRH for various sectors of the tattered biz, as the headline has it: Random House + Penguin: What the Merger Means for Publishers, Authors, Readers.

Something for everybody. For agents:

Agents always default to gloom, it seems, and agent gloom is based on these two realities: fewer editors to pitch to and fewer to play against each other.

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Adam Chromy

For authors:

One of the ongoing lamentations of artists in the music business is that the dominant labels allow for few openings for new artists, preferring the guarantee of branded mega-stars over the risk of the unproven, however talented. That’s already the case in books, too, of course, but a consolidation at this level only ratifies that reality.

For readers:

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Aaron Tung for Digital Book World

With increased e-book prices, draconian terms dictated to libraries, and prohibitive DRM strategies, book publishers’ behavior has hinted at a similarly unhappy future for books as for music.

For the future:

It’s unlikely that any one of the existing large publishers could or would build a retail competitor to Amazon with only their share of the market. But Random House + Penguin just might be large enough to leverage their combined brand weight and consumer reach to create and sustain their own storefront.

Sabbagh: ‘But did they need the deal?’

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Dan Sabbagh

Bertelsmann and Pearson didn’t waste much time, in concluding their – can one say encylopedic? – merger talks to unite Random House and Penguin. Random House may publish the Fifty Shades trilogy, but a glance at the terms – 53% for Bertelsmann – reveals who had the whip hand: Pearson.

You know, it’s nice to find someone able to turn a phrase or two, and Dan Sabbagh at The Guardian can and does, in his article Random House and Penguin – bigger may not be better.

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Joe Encarnacion for Digital Book World

Sabbagh notes — with the clear eyes that U.S. industry people never seem to have for these absurdities — that RH is “home to Dan Brown and the Great British Bake Off series.”

And he concludes facing Germany:

Thomas Rabe, who has run Bertelsmann for a year, needed a deal. Rabe, the Financial Times reported in September, told colleagues that the company “does not have all the skills required for the digital age” and suffers from “low growth and low potential”. It’s not obvious a merger in books helps, but perhaps some people like to have the biggest library.

Curtis: ‘Who shall live and who shall die?’

Negotiations must take place before departments are closed and people let go. Those decisions will be delegated to middle management executives who will be consulted but who themselves may be candidates for elimination.

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Richard Curtis

As a former Time Warner staffer who has seen waves and waves of layoffs crash over newsrooms, I can tell that Richard Curtis knows whereof he speaks in his post, Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die: What the Random/Penguin Merger Means to You at Digital Book World’s Expert Publishing Blogs.

The only immediate effects of the merger will be anxiety and confusion, and there will be plenty of that. Tons of time will be occupied by speculation and gossip, and there will be a great deal of maneuvering as employees try to position themselves to look indispensable and their bosses strive to save jobs. Decision-making will be hampered in a climate of uncertainty and even paranoia as editors and managers wonder if they will be second-guessed or overruled from on high by superiors privy to some secret plan.

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Nickie Huang for Digital Book World

Curtis is correct. Spectacular paranoia — far worse than the eventual actualities and exhausting to the workforce victimized by its executives — will rule these companies’ offices, day and night on the road to losses of livelihood.

And he has an interesting note on authors. It may be more hopeful than realistic.I’m going to give him a big run here because this is some perspective worth mulling.

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Marco Leone for Digital Book World

In my experience the last people to get the ax are authors. That is not necessarily because the management of publishing companies is compassionate (though I believe it is). It’s because management is mindful (thank God) that the whole apparatus of the publishing industry is fed by authors, and there is great reluctance to slaughter the geese that lay the eggs. There is also the question of shelf space.

Though the two companies have a number of science fiction and romance imprints between them, for instance, closing one of them could remove critical advantages in shelf space for which publishers fight tooth and nail. When that space is given up, competitive publishers are ready to rush in to fill it, and once lost it cannot easily be regained. So, in the next, say, six months to two years or longer we will see mergers of every process and function except editorial.

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Craft: Fried Penguin for Authors

Passive Guy would add that if you have a publishing contract with either a Random House or Penguin or one of their many imprints, unless antitrust authorities stop the merger, that contract and all the books associated with it is going to be owned and/or controlled by a new owner.

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David P. Vandagriff

Attorney David P. Vandagriff, who writes the Passive Voice Blog, has some notes for authors on the #PRH merger following quotes from the Telegraph article on the subject in Random Penguin? What the merger of two great publishers might mean.

Any promises made by the pre-merger publisher that aren’t written into your contract are null and void even if your editor survives the inevitable downsizing. When an editor is fired, it’s possible that some or all of that editor’s books will be orphaned.

And in addition to those points, Vandagriff adds a note of pure mechanics and protocol in times of merger and acquisition (and he’s right):

For understandable reasons, various people who work at both publishers are going to be distracted by internal politics and turmoil, so your expectations for prompt responses to emails and phone calls may may require a substantial downward revision. Both organizations will turn inward as each employee battles to avoid being voted off the island.

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Craft: ‘Get Off the Internet’ for NaNoWriMo

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Carolyn Kellogg

Do you need to see pictures of babies in Halloween costumes? No, you do not. Do you need to see wall posts about the election? No. Take time to vote, but don’t let Internet-style politicking get in the way of NaNoWriMo…Get off the Internet.

Carolyn Kellogg at the LA Times really does have the answer for NaNoWriMo-heads: Get off the Internet.

 

When December first rolls around, you can find out what happened to that dangling crane. Now, however, you actually don’t need to know about it.

None of us may be the one who wants to admit this — except the brave Kellogg — but she is pointing precisely at the enemy. Yes, yes, yes, the enemy and the friend, the ecstasy as well as the agony. But look, you know, I know, Kellogg knows, we all know you’re going to have to get off the Internet.

 

Stop looking at Twitter. Do you know how frequently people were tweeting about #nanowrimo on Nov. 1, Day One of NaNoWriMo? One about every five seconds. That’s 720 tweets an hour, 17,280 tweets a day. If you took the time just to skim a portion of those, do you know how much writing time you will have lost?

 

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Books in Browsers, Internet Archive, Tools of Change, Pearson, Penguin, Random House, O'Reilly MediaIf it’s of help — if you’re really struggling with this — don’t forget the online program I find so helpful in this regard.

RescueTime has got a free offer for you for the entire month of November in which you can use its sanity-saving service to shut down each app or program or site you don’t want to go to for precisely however many minutes or (I hope) hours you want to.

I’ve used it for years, I can personally vouch for it (which is why I have an affiliate relationship with them, though I get nothing from a free trial, of course). It’s like closing a door on the noise, and you can keep, say, your online dictionary (I always do) or other things you DO need to have access to to keep working well. By all means, try it, there’s no obligation.

 

But with or without the good guys at RescueTime, rescue your time from the Internet. Listen to Kellogg, she’s not kidding:

I love the Internet. And I love NaNoWriMo– I started once, but didn’t finish. I tried: I made new routines that prioritized writing, didn’t worry about things like cooking and laundry, postponed social obligations. And still, I ran out of steam. Because getting 50,000 words into semi-coherent sentences in just 30 days with characters and dialogue and plot and a beginning, middle and end — that’s hard. It’s going to be really, really hard, and there’s no time to waste. So…

Get off the Internet.

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TheFutureBook: Innovation Awards Short-Listed

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Books in Browsers, Internet Archive, Tools of Change, Pearson, Penguin, Random House, O'Reilly MediaWe received 221 entries from 19 different countries. As well as the UK and US, entries have come from far and wide, including: Israel, Norway, Australia, Croatia, India, South Africa, Singapore, Germany and more.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Books in Browsers, Internet Archive, Tools of Change, Pearson, Penguin, Random House, O'Reilly MediaPreparing her third year of Innovation Award presentations for the December 3 TheFutureBook Conference in London, Sam Missingham has announced short-listing in categories of Adult App, Best Children’s Apps, Reference Book Apps, Best Technology Innovation, Best Integrated Digital Marketing Campaign, Best Website, and Best Startups.

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Sam Missingham

With major sponsorship this time from Kobo, the conference and awards events are neatly compressed into a single day, as only Mike Shatzkin’s Publishers Launch programs seem to know how to do on this side of the water.

Missingham’s prize program has a way of defining something of the digital dynamic, as its tracks and recognizes strong work year over year.

The awards were established to celebrate innovation and recognise teams, companies and individuals involved in the transformation of the book trade.

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Dave Morris

Among this year’s short-listed entries is the Frankenstein app that author-creator Dave Morris produced with Inkle Studios for Profile Books. We Etherized the story in April, here: The app: For modern Prometheans.

The good news on that one is that since our Ether coverage of the app, Morris has been able to arrange a Kindle release. (It originally was limited to Apple-device fans.)

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From the Dave Morris Frankenstein app

Morris’ competition in the Adult App category includes:

In the Reference Book Apps division, I’m glad to see the inclusion of a couple of the Shakespeare-related apps that have come online lately.

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Dominique Raccah speaks at TheFutureBook Conference, having recently released several in a series of Shakespearean apps.

You’ll recall that Dominique Raccah’s Sourcebooks has begun creating Shakespeare apps, we covered this in O, Brave New App, That Has Such Interactivity In’t!

Note that Raccah is on the early roster of speakers at TheFutureBook Conference on December 3.

In the case of the Innovation Awards, the Shakespearean entry comes from the Cambridge University Press (CUP), and includes a treatment of Romeo and Juliet with an audio performance featuring Kate Beckinsale, Michael Sheen and Fiona Shaw.

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R&J is one of two apps short-listed for the Innovation Awards from Cambridge University Press

Additionally, Shaw leads a doing of the Unmentionable Scottish Play, and both are a part of the CUP entry in the Innovation Awards.

The very healthy Reference division’s short-listed contenders also includes:

Rather than list every entry in competition at the Innovation Awards here, I’ll refer you to the good listing that Missingham has posted at her TheFutureBook blog page and the list is also part of the information on the conference here.

I’ll just add here that there’s an interesting category in the awards, Best Startups, to keep an eye on. Its short-listed nominees include:

No word yet on whether a cutesy name gets you closer to a Best Startup win at the Innovation Awards. We shall see. :)

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More Conferences

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At Writer’s Digest Conference West in Los Angeles, Pitch Slam

For an updated list of planned confabs, please see the Publishing Conferences page at PorterAnderson.com.

There is always another conference.

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Books: Reading on the Ether

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

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: Anti-Social Media

A Twitter user named @ComfortablySmug has been held up as a villain for posting fake news reports to Twitter, and his identity has been forcibly revealed by BuzzFeed — but is that, and all that it implies, an appropriate punishment for his alleged crimes?

This is the case, of course, of one Shashank Tripathi, Republican campaign manager (for congressional candidate Christopher Wight), who is alleged to have taken it upon himself to tweet wrong and misleading information during the onslaught of Sandy.

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Mathewi Ingram

Here, GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram — whom I suspect tweets more regularly than he breathes — writes the massively headlined When does community action against an anonymous troll become a lynch mob? in order to lead the contrarian charge (ever his favorite) toward something like tolerance or maybe just campus-y inquiry on the story, asking “Did @ComfortablySmug deserve to be outed?” and:

Could Tripathi be charged and prosecuted for what he did? He definitely could, although — as my colleague Jeff Roberts noted — proving that he deliberately tried to incite panic is likely to be difficult, if not impossible. It’s not even clear that Tripathi was the original source for all of the fake news he posted, most of which I saw posted by others as well, including people who claimed to be watching a fire at the Coney Island Hospital. Should they all be identified and charged with a crime?

This how-many-angels-can-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin symposium goes on awhile, with Ingram getting around to asking:

The most popular response in the case of Tripathi is that he deserves everything he gets because he was “being a dick,” as more than one person described it. But does that still hold if he loses his job, or his family (assuming he has one) or is charged with a crime and becomes unemployable?

And so delicious, it seems, is this GigaDEBATE that Ingram’s colleagues, along with him some of my faves — LauraHazardOwen, JeffJohnRoberts, et al — basically eat it for lunch, Tom Krazit getting together a long round of tweets and Socialcast discussion in Behind the curtain: GigaOM debates @ComfortablySmug and web vigilantes.

Owen, as usual, isn’t without a considered opinion: “Why shouldn’t someone be publicly shamed for being a dick? We do that for people who behave badly under their real identity all the time.”

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Edward Champion

Just an aside: There’s another good take on this, by the way, from Edward Champion, Hurricane Sandy: The Right to Yell Flood in a Crowded Twitter and Why Peter Vallone Doesn’t Know What He’s Talking About.

But back on the GigaRANCH, Ingram asks, “But should his (Tripathi’s) life be ruined for a couple of tweets that may or may not have been all that important?”

The eye moistens, doesn’t it?

From possible litigation to a life ruined. If this is lunchtime, imagine what a GigaDINNER must be like.

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One of a series developed for Publishing Perspectives’ Show Daily at the Frankfurt Book Fair, this “Storyverse” piece is from Richard Nash’s Small Demons.

Here comes Nicole Solis to say, “If you don’t want something awful that you’ve done to be the first sentence of your obit, don’t do something awful.”

Seems to me (but what do I know?) that the women are fairly clearly aligned with something along the lines of “off with his head.” Roberts, an attorney, is humming along on that one. The other guys  are somewhat more given to dithering a bit over this “ruined life” thing.

It also seems to me that this whole behind-the-scenes thing might be just a bit precious, you think? As Ingram says, “I don’t even know the answer, I just think it’s an interesting question.” Precious? Not precious? You be the judge.

If you need to wring hands over being held accountable for what one does online, and under the guise of a handle that’s not your name, during time of a declared national emergency when hundreds of people like the estimable Alexis Madrigal are trying desperately to keep social media from driving the car of public information over the cliff, you’re going to love this GigaDEBATE.

If not, read on.

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Less Gas: How To Tweet During Breaking News

You know what works a lot better for me than a news-staff’s debate?

This:

1. Follow every link back through the Web to its source and evaluate the original material for yourself. This is the single most important thing you can do. Don’t retweet links you haven’t clicked. Don’t do this from sources you know, and don’t do it from sources you don’t know. Just don’t do it — ever.

The emphases are mine, the wisdom is Garance Franke-Ruta’s at The Atlantic.

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Garance Franke-Ruta

In How to Tweet Responsibly During a Breaking-News Event, Franke-Ruta refers to Mathewi’s interesting “self-cleaning oven” piece of a few days ago. She looks at all the gnashing of tweets. And then she walks right past everyone’s debates and writes: “There are some best practices people on Twitter can maintain on their own to break the chain of infection of bad viral material. Call it building up information-age immunity.”

2. The corollary for visual media is to never tweet or retweet a video you haven’t watched. And if you’re aggregating from a video, never use the quotes someone else has in their story about what was said in the video. Watch the video yourself — you’ll often find things that things have been elided, or small words have been dropped, in the summary reports.

3. Consider the source. Your best friend during a breaking-news event is a local reporter or area expert who is independently evaluating the scene or occurrence and tweeting as they go. Agencies you’ve never heard of but which are important to the news event are also great.

4. Don’t retweet photos that show obvious violations of the laws of physics or wildly improbably events involving animals (unless you can confirm the latter). Be cautious with tweets about areas you know nothing about that are coming from sources who are unverifiable. But do use information you’re receiving outside of social media to inform your thinking on what’s happening.

 

In the original article, Franke-Ruta builds out each point in much fulller detail.I urge you to read it.

She is relentlessly correct in her assessment of best procedures. She’s particularly good on trolls, and she exhibits none of the emotional wallowing that mars so many folks’ regard for such issues. This appears to be the Tripathi scenario she’s addressing, deftly without saying so:

If someone appears to have been a troll before they began news tweeting, approach their news tweets skeptically — they may still be trolling. Also, if someone is purportedly tweeting news about an official agency they appear to have no relationship to, compare that information to tweets coming from the agency in question. If there’s no confirmation from the agency, be skeptical.

 

A whole lot of the social media (still a plural word, damn it) are pumping endless, circular debates around and around and around. Some news outlets do this, too.If you just want to talk your way through to the next crisis, gab away, I won’t be following.

No, I’m a lot happier seeing a news person explain this kind of solid, actionable, targeted professional guidance about the sorts of safeguards journalists know to apply to these situations. This is useful. For my money, arguing about how a practical joker should be handled after purposefully disseminating lies to the public during life-threatening emergency? Is not.

Tripathi created his own little Hades. I wish him joy of it.

The next time the waters of hell are surrounding the rest of us, I’ll be sharing Franke-Ruta’s superb professional instructions with all takers. You come find me if you lose the copy I think you should print out right now and put into the glovebox of your car or the bottom of your messenger bag. Close to your tweetmachine.

#everywordajeweloftruth  #cya

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Authors, Bloggers, and Freelancers
Tuesday Nov. 13
1pET / 10aPT / 1800 London time
Webinar with Porter Anderson

You’re all platformed up. But do you know where you’re going?
Could you use an expert critique?
What separates the serious from the silly online, anyway?
Join us for this special Writer’s Digest webinar — precise guidance on best practices and professional performance points. 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.

 

Main image by iStockphoto / yuriyklymenko

  • http://www.thewritingrange.com/ Diane Krause

    One of the things that caught my attention in this issue was Johnny Geller’s point, “Readers need to risk paying for books again.”

    What do you think it will take for that to happen?

    I’ve been a bit surprised at how my own book-buying habits have changed in the past few years. Much of it is related to my love of reading books on my Kindle, although I was one of those die-hards who swore I would never give up “real” books. Thanks to my Kindle, Amazon, and Twitter as a fantastic resource, I have been able to find good books for much less than the $25 I have to shell out for a hardcover from my favorite big-name author.

    As a reader, I now have more options, which in a sense lowers my risk because there are so many books to choose from at lower price points. So, I am more likely to take a risk on a $2.99 — or even $5.99 — book. However, all the new options also means I may have to purchase a particular book because checking something out from the library isn’t an option.

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  • http://twitter.com/Victoria_Noe Victoria Noe

    Where can I enlist in Jonny Geller’s army? I would like to request a commission, because I’d be much happier as an officer than a grunt. I like being in charge and bossing people around. And I assume the uniforms would be nicer.

  • Bob Mayer

    Frankly, it looks like all the gurus are also too late in their pronouncements while acting like they just thought them up. Indie authors have been shouting all this from the trenches for the last three years, while publishers tried to “brand” themselves– by the way, I used to say no one walks in a bookstore and asks for the next Random House. No one is going to walk in and ask for the next Penguin-Random whatever either.

    My feeling is everything old is new again. Except if you haven’t been on the “bleeding edge” for the past three years, it’s new to you. So I see the rise of a new wave of experts proclaiming, “oh, my gosh, look! Publishers are antiquated, slow and technophobic.” Some people were saying that five years ago. Richard Curtis was saying it 20 years ago. I listened to him. In fact, he was probably too soon with e-Reads.

    Writers create story. Story is the product. Readers consume the product. Everyone else is in between and has to add value to the process. Certainly there are places this needs to be done (editing, formatting, marketing, etc), but publishers, in general, still view the book as the product. They view authors as necessary evils that are easily replaceable. To an extent, they still do, no matter what PR they put out. At NINC the overwhelming odor exuding from agents and editors was fear and defensiveness. As editors and agents tried to explain their value, I listened and wondered what publishing world they existed in, because it wasn’t the one I spent 20 years in, nor is it the current reality. I love listening to Jon Fine from Amazon present. Because he’s honest and makes a point of saying there’s as much we don’t know as we do know. But the spirit I get from Amazon employees is enthusiasm and a willingness to take risks. To try new things.

    I have no clue where publishing will be in three years, but I know where I am now. I submit that the vast majority of legacy publishing doesn’t know where reality in publishing is right now– they are still in a time warp about two years back. And they keep turning to the same people who were wrong three years ago to advise them, once more ignoring the one’s who are indeed the bleeding edge like Bella Andre, whose print only deal is what I consider the big story of the year and so under-reported, it’s like a taboo. Or Barbara Freethy and Marie Force blowing the doors off eBook sales (one million Pubit nook sales for Barbara!). Or Jennifer Probst working with an innovative new press to hit the NY Times list in eBook.

    This is the rise of the author-entrepreneur.

  • Alice Armitage

    Hi Porter-

    It was nice to meet you in person at BiB12. And I learned something very important from sitting in the same room: you do such a great job of quickly disseminating the gist of what is happening, that it is worth following your tweets even while watching the live presentation. It proved to be a terrific way to make sure I didn’t miss anything. (Is that still multi-tasking, when there is only one subject, but you’re engaging in two different methods of experiencing it?)

    Overall, I thought BiB was an amazing conference- one fascinating presentation of awe-inspiring innovation after another. But I walked away feeling a bit depressed- who is going to support and market all this great technology? Will these start-ups be able to stay in business long enough to be discovered? If they do, will there be enough market traction for them to be self-sustaining? Because, as you point out, there doesn’t seem to be much interest coming from the traditional publishers- or even the reading public.

    I love the digital reading experience- especially when it’s some new form of storytelling- like the Silent History app or the examples Kate Pullinger showed of her work. But I have to admit that many of the people I talk to about these innovations (outside the small world of BiB types) aren’t that interested in what I have to show them. I hope it’s only a matter of time before that changes. But, like Brian O’Leary, I beginning to have some doubts.

    All the best,

    Alice

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  • http://twitter.com/Victoria_Noe Victoria Noe

    Do you think people “outside” aren’t interested because they don’t care or they don’t get it? I’m finding more and more that telling people about these things just doesn’t resonate unless I can show them, too.

  • Alice Armitage

    I think that many people just don’t see how any of these innovations would be relevant to their lives. I get excited just by knowing that these innovative technologies exist, but those I talk to don’t tend to react the same way. The idea of a new form of storytelling- or a new way of organizing information- has to impact them personally before it interests them. And I also hear from people that they are sure there will soon be an even better technology than what I ‘m showing them, so they’re going to wait until the next big thing is proven and established before they spend anytime exploring it.

  • http://twitter.com/Victoria_Noe Victoria Noe

    “It has to impact them personally before it interests them.” I think that’s the key.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Hi, Alice,

    Please forgive my late reply here, @AliceArmitage:disqus

    The end of the week was “crowded with incident,” as we might have said a hundred years ago or so. :)

    I’m so glad to hear that the live-texting from the conference was useful to you while you were there with us (great to meet you, too!). It’s actually something I used when producing a major Global Meeting for the UN a few years ago in Florence. We had Country Directors from some 80 nations and many, of course, didn’t have English as a first language. By live-texting the comments from the stage onto big screens in the theater, it gave them a chance to get a lot more of the presentations (which were all in English) because they could check what they were hearing against the visual read-out and confirm. So yes, I understand exactly what you’re saying and many times have heard folks say that they use it this way in-conference. Some, in fact, will make it a kind of backbone of discussion and “riff” on it in their own tweets, also a great way to have a live conversation — along the lines of Maureen and Blaine’s fine presentation … “everybody edits,” as they said. :)

    I did have the same sense of worry, too. In fact, while we can see in that amazing sanctuary how grand something like Maureen & Blaine’s or Liza & Keith’s presos are, it’s my guess that many others — not “in-industry” — could have sat right there with us and been wholly unimpressed, unable to value what was happening and the spirit of networking books that we’re all talking about. In any field, this is the case, of course, there’s an esoteric level to the work that simply must be explored by the pioneers, but it’s capable of outstripping what the “real world” traffic will bear.

    If anything, that’s why I chose to take the Ether’s discussion down that “less optimistic” pathway that Brian so aptly put into place for us — and, as you’ll recall, there was Peter Collingridge saying to us that he represented the 90 percent of startups that will fail. Very frightening, really, but these are the facts.

    It’s one of the most curious aspects of the digital dynamic I know — I should do a piece on this. When at CNN we went through utter hell trying to digitize a system of 16 major networks, as you might imagine, the crowning feat being “CNN.com Live,” as it’s known now (CNN Pipeline when we debuted it in 2005) with four channels of live streaming video from wherever we had news in the world … and the public wasn’t ready. In fact, many in our corporate structure weren’t even ready.

    The pioneers are still usually much farther ahead of the wagon trains than we think. And I fear you’re right. We need to move cautiously and realize that outstripping the readership — at least before we get them stably in the fold of modern reading — may be a big mistake.

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting, so good to be in touch!

    -p.

    @twitter-39469575:disqus

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Right, @AliceArmitage:disqus — a bit more on this after @twitter-240542789:disqus ‘s next comment

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Hi, Victoria Noe and Alice Armitage — Viki, no idea how you found time to comment while trying to airlift Emma from the flood zone, but sorry for my own slow response, it’s been a couple of “those” days since the Ether first gassed.

    I think you’re both right that technologically fueled advances have to have some easily recognizable benefit to the “rank and file” citizen, in order for them to be interested. And the best example, of course, is the Kindle. There were actually a lot of readers before it. I had a Sony Reader (awful at the time) and there was a Franklin Reader, several others. But until Jeff Bezos’ Amazon team could get into the faces of customers (for garden rakes and print books) and make the case for having a book zap to you “through the air” and be carry-able with hundreds of other books everywhere you went, there was no real uptake on e-reading. That was 2007, the intro of the Kindle, and from there, the digitization of the reading experience actually started getting traction to the superb point it’s reached in just five years.

    Our problem — as I think Alice is noting in the first comment, and as I was comparing to a situation at CNN.com — is that we who get so close to digital changes don’t always perceive how little interest the world at large may have in them. It’s hard to remember, in our own excitement, that our neighbors may not care a fig for such advances. (Not for nothing are there non-HD channels all over my cable service, not just HD.) While we can’t stop pressing ahead (which is why BiB is such a great conference for the committed ones), we do have to remember that we can easily get way, way out there and turn around only to find that nobody has followed us.

    Tricky, tricky times. I’ll give you one more parallel from the news world. I ran into a case lately of a very fine group of journalists I like under Om Malik’s GigaOM operation, who had put together a “Behind the Scenes” piece on how they sorted out a (rather advanced, when you think of it) question of responsible social-media action in time of breaking news. It’s my next to last section in the Ether above (I added a later section to answer it with what I think is a much more useful approach, so I wouldn’t be just complaining, lol.) What we found at both the networks and newspapers I worked for was that every time we asked a focus group, “Wouldn’t you like to have some how-we-got-that-story pieces for background on how we bring you the new? Some great behind-the-scenes insights?” you know what they said? No. Focus groups of readers and viewers were adamant that they did not CARE how we did our jobs. They wanted us to just do them and deliver the news. But our managerial types never heard that. Could not accept it. Refused to believe it. And media outlets everywhere still get confused because their so close to their work and so handsomely engaged in it. They think we want that same background purview. Not really. Always a mistake.

    Hard-to-accept reality. As my grandfather used to say when we’d shove off in his fishing boat, “Just look at the many means of transportation we have.” And he never even got onto a plane. :)

    -p.
    @twitter-39469575:disqus

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Hey, @google-09a2be7b6f84fae4eec329151af4fc09:disqus

    Thanks for the input and apologies for the slow comeback, a bit of a complicated time here of late.

    Yes, as you know, I hear and support what you’re saying. Not for nothing have I become something close to an advance man for Jon Fine, LOL, having talked with him and seen him present in several instances. I could not agree with you more that the Amazonian approach is night-and-day preferable to what the industry is trying to evolve out of (or better heads are trying to evolve out of).

    Nevertheless, I think it’s important that — if, in fact, some of our leading digital-dynamic observers are starting to lose hope that the majors can ’round the corner — it’s important that those powerful, decades-old edifices are given a chance to figure things out, to move into a new age, to update and come with us, if you will. If for no other reason, Bob, so that their authors won’t lose out. I know you may not like their authors, but I’m not willing to say they should all have their careers collapse because traditional publishing has made so many grievous mistakes, are you?

    It’s fun for you to shout about how you knew all this three years ago, I realize. You never let us forget that. :) But in fact, there’s nothing that said three years ago (except your poor estimation of the majors) that they wouldn’t be able and smart enough to spring into action, “disrupt themselves before they got disrupted,” as the saying goes, and arrive with the rest of us in a world of wider, deeper, escalating opportunities for publication and author-publisher relations. Your anger — and I can’t possibly say it’s wrong, I can only describe its effect on others — can tend to make it look as if you’d have given the traditional publishers you thought handled you badly no chance, no opportunity to do a better job for you and others. That, my friend, would have been a mistake. Why would you NOT have wanted them to come around and get it right?

    Nor is the final word written yet. We may still be surprised to see some “oldsters” making cannier moves than we expect. If you don’t believe that, then you really do have your head buried in the self-publishing sand, we still can be surprised here.

    In the UK, in particular, I think you’d find that Stephen Page’s Faber and Faber is working extremely hard to get on top of this. Eoin Purcell is telling us about some difficult, bold, and successful re-organization that Bloomsbury (the British version, not the US side) is making. These things are possible. Maybe in Europe because they’ve had the chance to see our guys fall on their faces.

    But sweeping howls against the publishing establishment — even as I join others in feeling less and less optimistic — really don’t cut it, Bob. It’s not about emotion and telling us one more time that everybody between the reader and the author is crap. We have heard it and heard it and heard it. And I’m not even sure you’re being kind to your great associate Jen Talty when you talk that way — she’s something of a go-to whiz on formating and publishing platforms … between the reader and the author.

    It’s actually not always true when you say this, either. I’d say, in fact, that it’s almost always not true. You seem dismissive of “editing, formatting, marketing,” but have a look at James Scott Bell’s new column at The Kilt Zone, as I call it, on the reader who told him point-blank that she’s sick of the errors in self-published work. http://ow.ly/f0BBR

    And I simply will not go along with you on this diminution of agents, either. While I think their role has to evolve very quickly (and thankfully, I see it happening in some cases of real leadership), I think that serious writers need the support of agent-managerial savvy so they (the writers) can still produce something other than four genre titles a year.

    All writers do not want to churn out many, many, many titles fast.

    All writers do not want to try to handle and build their careers solo.

    I’m happy that things have fallen your way, as you know, Bob. But the anger, the blame, the “I told you so” tone gets so very old. When can you start to leave that behind so we can hear your better ideas?

    I saw you on Jane’s post recently mentioning a handshake deal that allows an author an out at Cool Gus if things don’t work out well (do I have that right)? That sounded quite innovative and interesting. That’s what I’d love to hear more from you about. Not that you tried to tell everybody three years go that publishers wouldn’t evolve.

    Give us your better thoughts, man. What good does the hostility and “I told you so” ranting do?

    Thanks.

    -p.

    @twitter-39469575:disqus

    Porter Anderson

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Hey, @twitter-240542789:disqus , I hear you and am with you at the Geller of Arabia Recruitment Center. Those kaffiyehs look smashing, don’t they?
    -p.
    @twitter-39469575:disqus

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Hey, @DianeKrause:disqus

    Thanks so much for the good comment and for reading the Ether. Sorry for the late reply, some complications at Ether HQ lately, lol.

    Your point is a good one, and I was so glad to see Jonny Geller raise it in his piece because it’s hugely important to all of us going forward. Reasons for the dive in pricing are fairly well known, of course. But the resulting devaluation of books in the public mind — as you say, in our own minds! — may be something we have to struggle with for a long, long time.

    I think there’s a tipping point at which ebooks become so much more prevalent than print that we can then start to re-establish the work of authors as something worth more than a cheap cup of coffee. I also think that the terrible on-rush of amateur enthusiasm for publishing is going to ease — at a certain point, many of the disappointed wanted-to-be’s will begin to lose heart and the market won’t be as glutted with material that really deserves a bad price. I hope so, anyway. I keep asking people my ‘when does the pig get through the snake’ question and nobody knows.

    What worries me is that over time we’re bifurcating the audience. On one hand, we have a readership that still values major literary or commercial work, and you can see them buying it, in ebook form, at vastly higher prices, some close to $20 at release (then they usually are discounted somewhat, as in the case of Jo Rowling’s new book). These readers are in a different camp from those who won’t go past $1.99. And so are the writers who churn out the super-quick genre turns that feed the bottom levels — not the same creatures, in intent or (probably) in capability as those who spend years producing the books we’ll all remember and celebrate.

    Penny dreadfuls were always with us, yes. But there’s something darker about this divide that I fear we’re seeing today. A reader who gets through one or two erotic romance books per week on a subscription service isn’t getting anything from publishing like the one who plunks down $11.99 for the Kindle edition of Charles Yu’s “How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.”

    The world may be divided between entertainment heads and art heads, and so it always has been. But if and when we start drawing the line between them so tightly in dollar signs as is happening now, I worry that the “drift upward” from mere-entertainment to stronger stuff is turning into the wrong kind of Green Zone.

    This problem will be in front of us for some time. Thanks for bringing it up so well. In the meantime, I’m with Geller — we have to try to keep encouraging readers to try something better, pay a little more, escape this whiplash denigration of prices that the digital dynamic has wedged into place. It’s time the readers came along with us.

    -p.

    @twitter-39469575:disqus

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  • http://www.thewritingrange.com/ Diane Krause

    Porter — Thank you for the very thorough follow-up, and for all your words of wisdom throughout this thread. I’ll say again that I learn so much every time I visit the Ether, so I have a deep appreciation for all who hang out here and share. Let me also add how much I appreciate your skills as a journalist. My early training was in journalism (with an emphasis on the editing side), and although my life path took a different direction, my heart is still in stories and I place a high value on good communication, and objectivity, which is sadly lacking in journalism today. (Honestly, even good communication and basic journalistic skills seem to be lacking!) Keep up the good work, and I’ll keep coming back.

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