Archive for the ‘publishing’ Category

The house, the reading, the writing, the web, and other various topics of momentary interest

April 12, 2013

Alright, it’s cold today.  the high is supposed to be 50, which means it’s actually about 45, which means the other side of the house is uninhabitable. I went over to fix lunch and froze my nuggets. Thank god for the microwave.

On the other hand, I finished nearly all of my grading this morning. And I think I tracked down the shut off valves to the second floor shower. At first I thought they would be concealed in closet of an adjoining bathroom, because that would make total sense.  So, I removed a loose panel in the closet, and was confident I would find a couple of knobs to turn. Well, no knobs.  there were these bizarre upside down copper udders, though. Did some looking through Lowes’ website and found that they are supposed to remove knocking in the lines from air. Kinda neat, actually, but an odd thing to see for the first time. I think I’ve found the cutoff valves in the basement, so when it warms up a bit, I can start tearing apart the tub faucet to see what I need to replace. I’m hoping the shower head is just clogged, but I think it’s going to more likely be the cartridge.

Also, I need to fix the toilet in the half bath. It won’t stop flushing once it starts. An easy enough fix, really.

More adventures in the basement. I hauled the majority of rubber backed rugs out of the basement yesterday. We think they played a role in deteriorating the cement in one third of the basement. In the middle third, they covered a couple of spots where it seems a previous owner tried to use a sledge hammer to level out the natural stone floor. Yeah, not sure what the was going through their heads and why they didn’t just go rent a grinder to take the high spots down slowly. Or, if the sandstone floor bothered them that much, why they didn’t just replace it with cement when they poured floors in the two other sections of basement.  It was definitely bizarre, and a bit disheartening to see the floor damage. Right now we’re thinking of hammering out the two spots that are damaged and seeing if we can find replacement chunks of sand stone to drop in.  Then I discovered that they managed to store more…stuff?… in a couple of crawlspaces in the basement under an addition they did. So I have to haul a small step ladder into the basement to boost up into these crawlspaces to haul out lord knows what. Yay.

On the non-house front, ebooks now make up 23% of all book sales. Not only that, but book sales in general were good. the digital market will continue to grow, and it becoming the dominant format is likely inevitable. At the same time, there is a tangible, tactile quality to paper bound books that is undeniable.  I still haven’t bought an ereader or tablet, I’m not sure when I ever will, but the market is undeniable.

Entertainment Weekly has an article up about a possible Shining movie prequel, and they got a couple of quotes from King about it. King doesn’t sound thrilled, and I don’t really blame him. For one, it’s not going to come close to Kubrick’s masterpiece of horror. Secondly, who cares about what happened to the previous caretaker? We know that already. Dude went nuts, axed his family. If they want to do something at the hotel, fine, but just take it out of The Shining world and use new characters and new events.

And Jeff Bezos with a letter that I disagree with. He can try to dress up his shop window and make it look like a part of the community of publishing/writing/etc., but Amazon is the new WalMart. If you were ever against Walmart because of how they drive smaller stores and companies out of business, you have no reason to feel differently about Amazon. While the publishing world certainly doesn’t do itself any favors with how it has approached the digital transition, Amazon has played an active role in hastening their downfall and turning small(ish) mistakes into catastrophes. It’s not all about the customer, it’s about control and it is about dominance, and in the end it’s about making as money as possible. If you’re going to shop there, either admit you don’t care or that you can’t afford to care. It’s okay, I couldn’t always afford to care, either. But now I can, so I make different choices.

Finally, something else I want to talk about that is a bit off the beaten path: Fox and CBS might become cable networks. The whys of it don’t particularly matter to me, but if you’re curious, it’s a good blog post from SF Chronicle. What I want to do is to pair this with the news that the city of Santa Clara is going to have free wifi. From my understanding of the history of television, the government essentially gave the broadcasting airspace to networks provided they give time back to the public in the form of providing the news. So, for basically an hour a night. And for decades it’s been a steal for the government, in that it has allowed for a populace informed about the nation and the world at a relatively low cost and high access. However, that has changed over the past decade or so. This isn’t about the quality of the nightly news, but the rise of the internet and the connected world. Television has become less important in our every day lives, at least in the sense of sitting down in front of a television and watching your favorite show at 9pm on Tuesdays. If you’re like me and my family, you don’t have cable, dish, or antenna. You just get all of your info from the web. You have a twitter feed you keep track of, you have a facebook account, you’re tapped into various rivers of information.  The problem is that this connection comes with a price. Here it seems to be anywhere from $30-120 a month. Thirty bucks doesn’t sound like a lot, but compare that to the nothing people are accustomed to paying for their broadcast television and their ability to get the news every night for nothing other than sitting through some commercials. And the Washington Post had a report from back in February about how the FCC wants to buy back some of these airwaves from broadcasters to set up a national free wifi network.

And this is why it is important. Not so we can surf gawker for free, but so that our populace – a populace becoming increasingly urban – can benefit from the sort of free access to news and information that previous generations of Americans benefited from. Would it eat into profits for wireless carriers and giant telecoms? Almost definitely, but it’s also entirely in the public’s good to push forward with such initiatives. This isn’t about getting something for nothing, but about knowledge and access.

 

Some Books Links for the Day

July 19, 2012

Here’s a story at The Daily Book Beast about bookselling in the UK. Long story short, Amazon’s ruthless price gouging is bad for book stores and weakens publishers. But once the wolf is in the hen house…

Wondering how some Borders employees have fared since Borders closed shop? well, here are some answers to that question.

If you can’t beat them, apparently Penguin is deciding to join them. And by join them I mean Penguin is spending $116 million to buy the self-publishing company Author Solutions.  I’m leery of the whole self-publishing thing. Granted, every time I go to Amazon they seem to be pimping a new “success” story on their front page, but the numbers of Author Solutions should be a bit more sobering. They have over 150,000 authors publishing through them. How many have made it big?

 
Alright, that’s what I’ve seen so far today that I found interesting.

Paywalls, ebooks, and making way in a digital world

May 25, 2012

My distaste for Amazon’s foray into publishing has made it into a number of posts, but the only alternative I keep spouting is, “Go to Barnes and Noble!” (Or their website). But this isn’t exactly breaking new ground for publishers, and finding a way to stay afloat in a changing world. Then I came across this today. Now, magazines/newspapers are clearly a different beast from book publishing, or at least they have become different, but there is something that seems stunningly similar: the distribution/pay models being pushed by outside companies (Apple, Amazon) do not make a lot of money for the producers of the content. The NY Times went behind a paywall and, as far as I know, have done pretty damn well with it. I pay for it, and I love the coverage they provide. Now, the Financial times have pushed away from the Apple store, set up their own ap, and are enjoying a booming success.

I wonder if this is something the publishing industry could learn from.

Set up their own aps, allow people to subscribe to them for X dollars, distribute some works through digital serials, give access to extra materials, etc. In other words, customize their brands, personalize their products, and provide materials that go above and beyond the books themselves. Is it more work? Oh, hellz yeah. Could it pay off big? Yes. It could also give control back to the publishers. And if they are really afraid Amazon won’t play along, so what? I’m sure Barnes and Noble would be more than willing to find a way to co-exist with such an environment if it meant it could strengthen the prospects of their brick and mortar stores. Independent book stores would probably be all for it, if it meant they had a stronger ally in fighting off Amazon. I have a feeling even a lot of the authors themselves wouldn’t mind getting into something where they could have a stronger impact on the end product and its distribution/marketing/etc.

Maybe none of this is possible, but I want to see the publishing industry not get steamrolled by the digital walmart. And I wouldn’t mind shelling out $5 a month to Penguin if they provide the right content.  Give me serialized novels from up and coming writers, give me interviews with writers and editors,  or notes/revisions kept by the writer, etc.  I don’t know what all, but the possibilities are endless. Give me a reason to give you my money, Publishing Industry. I give a damn about books, and I want you to stick around.

Amazon, Apple, The Big Five (or is it Six?) and the Government

April 12, 2012

I’m sure everyone who cares has already noticed, but the Department of Justice (DoJ) has filed suit against Apple and major publishers for price fixing. Okay, not a big surprise. It’s something that’s been rumored for months, while some other folks are already hitting them with a civil suit because they just can’t buy their ebooks cheap enough.  What this will boil down to, as TPM wraps it up, is that the agency pricing model will likely go out the window, or be much more difficult to do. Media Decoder, over at the NYT,  has a nice article up detailing the case being made by the government.

What’s not getting talk about, though, is that Amazon is just as bad for the book business, and has been operating just as ruthlessly. The LA Times article just linked has gobs of additional links inside of it, including this one to a series done by the Seattle Times about Amazon. Did you really think Amazon was making any money selling eBooks for $10 a pop when no one else was able to sell them for less than $13? They weren’t, and they weren’t caring. Their goal was, and likely still is, to push as many other companies out of the eBook business as possible, corner the market, and charge what they want in the end, both to you, the consumer, and from the publisher – if they still exist.

It’s something I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with supporting. I’ve never been a big Amazon fan (I always bough more books through ebay, if I bought online, but I buy the majority of my books through brick and mortar stores).  I love second hand shops, and any price I could get on Amazon could usually be matched, once shipping and handling was included, by a local shop. Even if it couldn’t, there was the added effect of getting the book right then and there, having something tangible in my hands. ebooks are a bit of a different creature, though.

What is there that is tangible to a digital file? Not a whole lot, that I’ve found.  Because of this lack of tangibility, I think it becomes all too easy to overlook the repercussions of our purchasing an item through this retailer instead of that retailer. We lose sight of how important our actions are.  The truth is, Amazon kills community bookstores. It kills community. It is the new Wal Mart. Do you sell something that could be sold online? well, you’re in the crosshairs. People will walk into you store, look at your merchandise, and then buy it for five cents cheaper from Amazon after using an app to check online prices. And when your store is out of business, they will wonder why, and where they are going to have to go now to preview the novel they aren’t sure about buying, or the television, or the couch or whatever else. You get the idea.

Amazon isn’t doing any  favors for your community bookstores (from the little independent to Barnes & Noble). How is Amazon hurting publishing, though? By pushing harder and harder deals on publishers to sell their books. the cost for printing a physical copy of a book isn’t the biggest money sink. You have to pay the author, the editor, proofreaders, marketing, tech people to run the growing digital side, etc. So, let’s take Amazon’s $10 price. Amazon wants to take 30% right off the top, so we’re down to seven bucks. The other gets around a buck of it (10%) so we’re down to $6. From that $6, a cut is taken out to pay for all of those things listed above, plus everything else (building maintenance, secretaries, security, taxes,…). In other words, the profit margin is pretty damn slim. At some point, the costs of doing business are going to eclipse the returns they get from sales, and Amazon’s pricing structure will go a long way towards expediting that.

I began writing this last night, and I’m not surprised that I woke up to find this in my newsfeed this morning. Amazon is already looking to slash prices again in an attempt to gain greater market share.

This isn’t to say that  publishers are faultless. This article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution talks about how publishers have made it very difficult for libraries to expand their ebook lending. Give how one of the problems with Amazon is their work to gain a monopoly on ebooks, making them more readily available from libraries would seem to be a solid way of fighting that – especially if they adopt an open format that isn’t tied to any one device, allowing consumers more latitude in selecting their ereaders. one of the better ideas I’ve seen (other than just not dealing with Amazon) is to give away a free digital edition with the purchase of a print edition. So, instead of paying $10 for a digital copy, pay $15 for a trade paperback and get a digital copy for free. You put a balance against the ebook market, while also pushing sales for the print version the publisher seems to want to move more.

Alright, somewhat rambly post is over. I know there are gobs of stuff that I haven’t touched on, but I have only so much space and time. The short of it is that I think we’re jumping from the pan and into the fire by going after Apple and the publishers, and shifting power towards Amazon. They’re not a cuddly gentle giant looking to do right by readers everywhere, they’ll looking to make just as much money and grab as much power as anyone else. They can’t be trusted, just as we know we can’t really trust Wal Mart, and the effects of shopping with them are larger than we may initially perceive. If things continue, I won’t be surprised to see more brick and mortar stores close, publishing houses fail, and the quality of products (literature) slip, while the Cult of Amazon grows.Personally, I find it to be a bit of an ugly future.

The End of Swag!

December 2, 2011

I was going to just post a response on the LA Times blog thing, but apparently I have to be a member of facebook to sign into the LA Times to comment. Since I’m not a member of facebook, and don’t plan to be unless the necessity for networking makes it a must, I figured I’d haul my response over here to my own blog. Carolyn Kellogg has a blog up at the LA Times about a book publisher bringing the thunder on book bloggers.  The publisher was William Morrow, and they are essentially telling book bloggers that they’re no longer going to ship a crap ton of free books to them to review, that they’ll get a list of books they can review and that they can review three, and that it would be appreciated if the reviewer would sorta, you know, get the review up within a month or so of the book being published. Apparently, this has not gone over so well, and Ms. Kellogg links to a few bloggers all up in arms over it.

Now, I don’t get anything from anybody. If I review a book,  I’ve either bought it, taken it out of the library, or stolen it from my girlfriend. What’s more, I don’t see how William Morrow is making any unseemly demands with this, other than an implied feeling that they are looking at bloggers as extensions of their marketing department rather than as critics. If they want us to work as extensions of their marketing department, put us on their payroll, lord knows I could use the extra income.  However, their limiting bloggers on the books they want to review and asking them to do it in a timely fashion seems more than fair. If they publish a new mystery novel, it’s better to have as many people talking about it as possible when it’s actually published, and not three months later. After all, you’re getting the book for nothing. While they may not treat the Times this way, face it, most of us don’t have the exposure or power of a good review in the NYT.

Truth is, I don’t think any publisher would be doing this if they didn’t think they’d be saving/making money on it in the long run. William Morrow might have just looked at this and figured that the money they shell out in sending out gobs of freebies to people who might not even bother reading the damn things is a waste.  Maybe whoever compiles internal research for them figured they benefited more just from positive reviews on Amazon than any reviews from blogs. Or maybe their sales just haven’t changed a whole helluva lot since before book blogging took off to now.

On a personal level, I don’t see why someone just wouldn’t go to the library, take out whatever book they want, review whatever book they please, however they please. It’s still free, it doesn’t kill your shelf space, and you don’t have to feel like you’re having to give a good review to this or that, or any review at all.  Your independence is your power.

A Rant in First Person

June 7, 2010

I was in Half Price Books a few weeks ago when I ran across a book that looked interesting. However, instead of just grabbing the thing and going to the checkout like I normally do, I decided to check it out of the library instead and it was a great decision.  I really don’t want to go on about how much I didn’t like the thing. I’ve had to write a couple of negative reviews and it’s not something I enjoy. Further, I also didn’t want to finish the thing. It’s a collection of short stories, I got roughly 80 pages into its total of 120-ish pages, and I just don’t have it in me to finish the thing. Not when I had ceased caring about what I was reading and not when I knew that to finish it only meant I would come here to write a negative review of the thing.

I think part of the problem is that I’m just tired of the whiny first person narrative. It’s been one of a number of current works that I have read lately where the story (or stories) are told from the perspective of someone needlessly whiny, where nothing goes right and where life is just oh so unnecessarily hard and they don’t know why. Wah wah wah.

It would be one thing if these narratives had anything more to them, if there was a reason for the character to be so pathetic and thoroughly uninteresting, regardless of what shenanigans the character is up to and what situations they find themselves in but I think I am becoming convinced that the stories of these characters are without meaning because the writers are writing about themselves and they are without meaning. More and more, literature (especially American) reads as if the authors read works from the Beat Generation, got the fact they were writing about themselves, and took nothing else from their works.

And so we have a mountain of writers armed with the simple mantra of writing about themselves and churning out all sorts of creative non-fictional fiction that is just out and out empty and bad. The writer of the stories of which I read 80 pages of went so far as to admit that a few works had been originally published as non-fiction pieces and that the rest of the collection was more memoir than fiction. Except it’s a memoir that read like the most pathetic headlines found in the magazines collected in grocery store checkout aisles.

I remember reading once an author’s reply about why they write and they replied that they live to write. Too much fiction today seems to be a bastardization of this. People lead lives for the express purpose of chronicling themselves rather than just living their lives. At some point your life is no longer your own but just whatever you think will make the next best chapter. You’re not there for yourself, you’re notliving for yourself, you’re living for…what? I, honestly, can’t even imagine except I’m tired of reading the dead, soulless meanderings of it.

This isn’t to say that all first person narratives are bad, even if they are autobiographical. It can be done well. It still is done well. But it also seems like the Ready-Made Section of literature. It’s writing without the heavy lifting, like renovating a kitchen with pre-manufactured countertops and cabinets. It can look alright, plucking these things off the shelf at Lowe’s but they also stand out for being the same basic mediocre things that they are.

Alright, the rant is over. I also just finished a wonderful short story collection called The Lost TIki Palaces of Detroit, it’s something I want to write about but am deciding the form (review the whole thing or story by story? something in-between?). the frustration from the other reading was just overwhelming, though. On to better things.

Men Don’t Read! (but they do!)(but boys don’t!)(and what about that Ipad?)

May 5, 2010

well, I guess when you essentially disappear from the blogosphere for a week you tend to miss things like the dust-up caused by Jason Pinter’s article about men not reading any more (except they do!) and Laura Miller saying  not to blame the feminine editors, men just don’t want to work low paying jobs while Will Weaver sneaks a little article in about how young men don’t have many options in the library (except for his own book, of course, geared towards boys, which he mentions repeatedly).

I can’t say I buy Pinter’s argument at all. For one, he seems to be calling for more crappy writing geared towards men. I don’t really care who is lining up for Tucker Max. He is not a good writer. He’s entertaining for guys the same way Kathleen Woodiwiss is entertaining for women. And while I’m sure Jericho has led an interesting life, getting more guys to read celebrity bios doesn’t seem like a great goal.

I also don’t buy Miller’s argument, what there is of one. It’s more of a plea not to blame women for being editors while slamming guys for taking jobs that pay better.

Weaver is the one I would put money on for being on the right track. And I know from experience. I have a six year old boy who is a voracious reader who is running out of material to read. There isn’t any. And not just because the majority of it is geared towards girls (though it is) but because there literally just isn’t a lot out there for his reading stage where he’s getting past needing pictures and what is out there is crap. Or geared almost exclusively for girls. Going to the library is grueling. Thank god for Bunnicula lately. And, apparently, Carl Sandburg (who knew the kid would be a fan of rutabegas?).

By the time guys get old enough to buy books the publishing world has already lost them. Their reading experience has likely sucked and they haven’t even taken the necessary courses in high school to be prepared to read serious fiction. And Miller is wondering why more guys aren’t becoming editors? Not surprising considering their test scores on reading/writing when they were younger and how fewer of them are going to college in general.

And, no, it won’t matter if the Kindle is marketed differently. Apple markets the Ipad as an Apple product, occasionally mentioning the few things it does (and here’s a review of the keyboard dock so it can be at least a marginally functional piece of tech). throw the Apple logo on Kindle’s and they’ll sell like crazy. Well, even more crazy than they were selling before.

You want guys to read? Take a lesson from Big Tobacco and Alcohol: Get Them While They Are Young.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want (but this might be what you need)

April 8, 2010

A former Rolling Stones roadie has become the first to simultaneously release a book and iphone app for said book. With talk of where publishing is going, have to think that this has to be a sign of what we can expect for at least the near future as paper books still hold the center stage but digital media garners more followers.

What I’m st ill not sold on is this idea of applications vs a specific document format.  Granted, this is iphone specific but this is something that I’ve seen crop up in conversations regarding ebooks/eliterature and how it will eventually be created/packaged/distributed/sold/experienced. The iphone has caught a wave with this app business, though people creating free (or not so free) apps for download on the web has been around for as long as I can remember.

Personally, I don’t think having everything sold as a separate application will prove viable in the long term, especially as other computer makers get in on it and the demand for widespread use becomes greater. Instead of having a relatively small group vying for the dollars of a similarly small group, eventually we will see a larger buying public demanding greater competition, lower prices and more ease of use.

I have to believe that we will end up where we have essentially went with music. A dominant file type that can be accessed and played by a variety of different competing apps that can be installed on a variety of computers. The idea of being restricted  to particular authors because you own a Samsung rather than an Apple will not be appealing to users while having to create not just one document file but numerous app files will prove less than popular for publishers.

Amazon Upping EBook Prices and Babs in New York

April 1, 2010

Quick blog, noticed a couple of news stories about Amazon upping prices on their ebooks. It’s clearly in response to people going (undeservedly) gaga over the ipad and the various deals publishers have been cutting with Apple. I’m still not a fan over the overly expensive dedicated ereaders but I’m also not a fan of the very underwhelming ipad. Also, the ebook thing is still pretty boring. Just the equivilant of .doc files that have been around forever. Until we start seeing more texts taking advantage of the opportunities the format can really give you (think the equivalent of footnotes or author commentary taken to bizarre extremes with embedded links, pics, etc. Still, for everyone who is into the ebook thing right now, strike while you can because the prices are going up. Thanks to Apple and their mediocre attempt at a tablet.

– – –

I’ve never been a big Barbara STreisand fan but I’ve also never had anything against her. What I don’t understand, though, is why she’s headlining  reception at this year’s book expo america.  Never really followed the Book Expo America before but it just seems like maybe they could have picked someone more literary.

I’m naive, I admit it

March 28, 2010

One of my goals has always been to be published. By a major publishing company. With an editor. And, most importantly, a nice advance that could (maybe) pay my bills for a bit. I also always sorta expect a publishing house to be helpful in pushing me (or any author) in the right direction regarding publicity of said work.

Then I read this blog by Mitzi Szereto.

Then I read this page by Jim Cox at the Midwest Book Review.

Then I talked to a couple of other friends of mine who are knee (well, shoulder) deep in MFA Master/PhD programs.

And I discovered how horribly naive I really am about the whole publishing mess. Any hope that a publisher would help a writer succeed appears blind and destined for failure. Want to do readings? Book’em yourself. Want to get reviewers to read the thing? Send them copies.

Unfortunately, if you’re like me (and you’re probably not, so you’re fine), you don’t really interact well with people. Or maybe you are like me which means that, like me, you have some work to do. for the first time, networking is taking on a clear importance and meaning.  Friends (or at least people who want to remain acquaintances and who may later ask you for a favor) are essential.

But how do you make friends, especially in a world where you are literally a tiny fish in a MASSIVE sea? I come from a small ass town in SE Michigan. I have lately moved to Cleveland.  Not exactly the center of the universe or, especially, the literary universe (Though Dan Chaon lives about 10 minutes away, and I guess Harvey Pekar lives somewhere in this town, so there’s some people whose names are at least noticeable on bookshelves). Given such a situation, it’s easy to look around and wonder how the hell you’re supposed to meet/greet/schmooze anyone.

Well, first, send stuff out. Obvious answer. People like you enough to publish you, on their dime, that’s a great first step in fostering allegiances to call on when needed. Second, use the web. Search for blogs and websites related to your interests/writings/etc. And comment. Say stuff. It’s easy, even if you do look like a naive nit (such as I on Mitzi’s blog). And just know that it’s going to happen. Don’t be an ass. Just be you (unless you are an ass then try to be something less you).

As I crawl, drag, stagger towards finishing the (first) re-write of my first novel I have considered hurling into the world, I’ve started taking these steps. And credit goes to people like Mitzi Szerato and Jim Cox for erecting islands of illumination in the publishing darkness. Eventually, I hope to provide something similar. Until then, I’ll keep plugging away and trying to be a bit less naive.

And I’ll try to shake more hands.