Monthly Archives: June 2009

William C. Dietz’s Words for Hire #3 – Publishers

William C. Dietz is the best-selling author of more than thirty novels, some of which have been reissued by E-Reads. Recently he was invited by the SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) Bulletin to write a bi-monthly column called “Words for Hire,” exploring the world of media tie-ins and novelizations. The articles demystify a fascinating genre and we’re delighted to reprint them as a regular feature in these pages.
RC
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William C. Dietz introduces his third column:

My last two columns were focused on the ultimate source of most tie-in work: the film, television and gaming industries which typically create and produce the properties that novelizations and tie-ins are based on. Now it’s time to consider the publishers who purchase the rights and produce the actual books.
Continue here.

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Can You Be Sued for Clicking?

When I was a young man apprenticing at a literary agency, our boss sent me and several fellow staffers on a confidential mission to the offices of a prominent and flamboyant publisher. His company had just published a novel represented by our agency. The publisher handed us envelopes containing cash and instructed us to visit one of several large New York City bookstores and buy a copy of the book. We were then to bring our copy back to his offices, go to another store and do the same. And again and again until we had spent all the cash. The object, he explained, was to inflate sales figures and put the book on the bestseller list. The ploy succeeded.

This little piece of chicanery came to mind when I read a New York Times story by Stephanie Clifford that Microsoft had brought a civil lawsuit in the United States District Court in Seattle against a number of individuals and corporations that Microsoft alleged had manipulated clicks on an Internet ad. The corporation is seeking at least $750,000 in damages. What exactly did these folks purportedly do to incur MS’s wrath?

The offense is called click fraud. Fraud is broadly defined as deliberate deception committed either for personal gain or to damage someone else. It’s a serious tort (violation of civil law) for which one can be sued, or a serious crime for which one can go to jail, or both.

The Microsoft case has to do with the way companies measure their ads’ exposure to viewers who are potential buyers of the advertised products and services. The effectiveness is gauged in cost her click. Clifford cites an outfit called Click Forensics as asserting that “about one in every seven clicks on an advertisement is estimated to be fraudulent.” If the dodge is so commonplace, why would anyone spend a lot of money suing? “Microsoft is trying to make that kind of deception more expensive for perpetrators,” says Clifford. Making an example of click fraudsters, in other words.

Here’s how the reporter explains what happened.

“Advertisers bid on what they will pay to appear in the paid-search results for certain key words. The more an advertiser pays, the higher they are on the list, and advertisers usually pay for each click on their ad.

“In March 2008 several audo insurance advertisers began complaining to Microsoft that traffic to their ads was spiking suspiciously…And clicks to the advertisers appearing at the top of the paid-search results listings for those terms were high. Although traffic appeared to come from different computers, it was actually coming from two proxy servers, which mask the original address of a click.”

Clearly, if the charges stick they will show that this was not a bunch of students in a dorm room earning beer money for repeatedly stroking “Enter” on their keyboards, but rather powerful robot servers that MS investigators tracked to various accounts registered to the defendants. The complaint stated that one of them “directed traffic to competitors’ Web sites so [Microsoft}] would pay for those clicks and exhaust their advertising budgets quickly, which let the lower-ranking sites that he sponsored move up in the paid-search results,” writes Cliffor. You can read more about the investigation and lawsuit here.
Click fraud is as old as the Internet, according to Stefanie Olsen, writing in 2004 for CNET News. “The practice…began in the early days of the Internet’s mainstream popularity with programs that automatically surfed Web sites to increase traffic figures. This led companies to develop policing technololgies touted as antidotes to the problem.”

Nor is Microsoft the first company to take action over click fraud. “In one recent example of the problem,” Olsen wrote in 2004, “law enforcement officials say a California man created a software program that he claimed could let spammers bilk Google out of millions of dollars in fraudulent clicks. Authorities said he was arrested while trying to blackmail Google for $150,000 to hand over the program.” Considering that advertising is the foundation for Google’s fortunes, it will come as no surprise that the firm has taken the most stringent actions to protect itself. Olsen quotes a statement issued by Google that it has been “the target of individuals and entities using some of the most advanced spam techniques for years. We have applied what we have learned with search to the click fraud problem and employ a dedicated team and proprietary technology to analyze clicks.” Olsen called it the “Google Fraud Squad.”

Though click fraudsters are fiendishly clever and possess powerful tools and weapons, the good guys are well armed to combat them. You can visit the website of the Click Fraud Network, “a community of online advertisers, agencies and search providers working together to develop an industry solution to the click fraud problem. Network members that provide data to the network receive free access to online campaign and risk assessment reports.” Among other services the Network offers are a “Click Fraud Index™” tracking click fraud rates by quarter and even a “Click Fraud Heatmap.”

Though the commercial reasons for such aggressive warfare are plain, there’s another less obvious but extremely important one. As newspapers and magazines desperately fight for their lives, they are turning to online advertising as a possible key to salvation. If the metrics are unreliable, however, that door will be closed to those industries. Says Tom Cuthbert, president and CEO of Click Forensics, the company sponsoring the Click Fraud Network, “Click fraud activity continues to grow especially on made for ad sites, parked domains and on the content networks. Advertisers, publishers and search engines need to take notice because content networks are becoming the fastest growing source of click fraud. Ensuring their quality is essential for the pay per click advertising market to continue its growth.”

Looking back at that bit of skullduggery committed by the publisher years ago, I wonder if, today, we would have been asked to perpetrate some variety of click fraud to boost his book’s fortunes. Knowing what I’ve just learned about the consequences, I’m certain I’d think long and hard before I started clicking.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.

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The Next Goldrush? MultiTouch Screen Apps

The Holy Grail of screen technology is the gesture-activated virtual screen portrayed in Stephen Spielberg’s 2002 blockbuster futuristic film Minority Report. Technologists inspired by the brilliant effects have been laboring ever since to interact with screen images, getting them to do what we want them to do by a mere wave of the hand or point of an index finger.

The iPhone’s introduction of multitouch was an astounding innovation that brought Spielberg’s vision closer to actualization. But the Apple device still requires physical contact with the surface of the device, whereas the next generation of virtual screens will liberate our hands from any contact whatsoever.

Where are we on the continuum between touchscreens and Minority Report‘s magic one?

Rebounding from an Apple-led consumer flight to handhelds, a number of PC manufacturers are developing applications designed to lure consumers back to their desks and, according to Ashlee Vance of the New York Times (PC Touch Screens Move Ahead), high on the list are touchscreens. For instance, Hewlett-Packard is pushing the TouchSmart, a desktopper with an upright screen on which you can access every function with your stylus or index finger. TouchSmart offers a variety of great applications. Vance points out that “Customers can turn these machines into bespoke kiosks for, say, ordering merchandise at a sporting event or flipping through a menu while waiting at a restaurant.” Indeed, touch screens are commonly used for keeping track of tables and food orders at restaurants. They can also be embedded in homes to control lights, music, thermostat, etc., and in he kitchen to follow recipes.

However, after you’ve worked an iPhone screen with multitouch, one-finger functionality feels pretty limited, and we have to wonder how practical the TouchSmart approach is for business offices. Here’s a simple test: next time you’re sitting in front of your desktop monitor, try stretching your arm out and poking the screen every time you want to open a file, drag, drop, highlight, cut and paste or perform some other task. Do we really want to reach out to our screen every time we want to move something around or shift to another function? Don’t be surprised if your arm grows weary and your back strained. Let’s face it: some functions are best left to keyboard commands or mouse navigation. And – sitting at a desk is not necessarily where today’s sedentary or peripatetic computer users want to be. If you’re thinking about students, so am I. We’ll get to them in a moment.

You can google lots of HP promotional videos and demonstrations and decide for yourself.

But soon, even five digits may be passé. Enter advanced multitouch and an Israeli outfit called N-trig. Its advanced PC screen technology called “DuoSense” enables users to use both hands as well as a pen.

N-trig is the only industry provider to offer a combined pen, touch and multi-touch solution, having overcome the technological hurdles of combining the two seamlessly in a single device. DuoSense is an intelligent digitizer, fully compatible with Microsoft natural input standards. N-trig’s DuoSense digitizers are are easily integratable, support any type of LCD, keep devices slim, light and bright, can support numerous applications, and can be implemented in a broad range of products ranging from small notebooks to large LCDs.

For a cool demo check out this video of N-trig. By the way, if you’re fascinated by the possibilities and have some clever ideas of your own for Windows 7 apps, N-Trig offers a $900 touchscreen kit that software developers that can use to develop their own.

Note that N-trig’s demonstration is being performed on a tablet computer, as well as on a convertible laptop/slate. Why tablets? Aren’t they just a niche? So far, yes. But that’s going to change big time. There’s a whole population of computer users that is simply not deskbound. It’s called students, and, as we have stated in these pages again and again, the only viable computer product for students is the tablet. “Textbooks and other illustrated books simply cannot be crammed into anything smaller than a screen close to the size of a laptop,” I wrote. “Tablets have all the virtues of laptops PLUS touchscreen functionality. For students, reading books on an e-reading device is highly desirable but not as imperative as the ability to handwrite notes on their device’s screen.”

Students will certainly give N-trig’s DuoSense two thumbs up, plus the other eight digits as well. “Such touch software can handle lots of fingers hitting a screen at once rather than just relying on one or two digits, as most of today’s touch screens do,” writes Vance.

In anticipation of a major push into the tablet market, Microsoft is reported to have invested $24 million in N-trig, and the forthcoming Windows 7 (look for it in 2010) “supports gestures such as pinching and fingertip scrolling,”reports Wired. “Other Windows programs, such as Paint, will also include new brushes designed for multi-touch and features such as panning across a page in Internet Explorer.” But the outer limits of known touchscreen tech is Microsoft Surface’s Cynergy Labs, and it’s likely that Surface will dominate the field until 3D replaces it. Check out these dumfounding videos.

Microsoft’s Surface is probably the direction consumers will go over the next few years, but shimmering on the distant horizon is a means of projecting action onto a screen without any contact whatever. We caught a glimpse of this with the wearable “Sixth Sense” device demonstrated at a recent TED (Technology Entertainment Design) conference. But for a mind-bending look at the state of the art of virtual, check out Project Natal by Microsoft designed for XBox 360. Stephen Spielberg, eat your heart out.

Richard Curtis

This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times. Every blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers. Without them our free society would not only be impoverished but imperiled. We must strive to find a way to rescue the industry, even if it means nothing more than buying a paper on the street. Support your local newspaper.

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Losing Bidder in Cheney Book Auction Offers Advice to Winner Matalin

Ms. Mary Matalin
Threshold Editions
c/o Simon & Schuster

Dear Mary Matalin:

Richard Curtis here, CEO of E-Reads, the publishing company that made what we thought was an irresistible offer to Dick Cheney to publish his book. In case you missed our proposal you may read it here.

But I don’t want to sound like a sore loser. If I had to lose a bidding war, I’m relieved it’s to you. I was terrified it might end up with Harper, who would probably do the same kind of trashy treatment they did for Peggy Noonan’s The Case Against Hillary Clinton, with those made-up internal monologues and transcriptions of speeches Hillary never made. At least I can be confident that your approach to the Cheney book will be utterly responsible, something along the lines of your superb editorial job on Jerome Corsi’s The Obama Nation.

You described that book as “a piece of scholarship, and a good one at that,” and I could not agree more. Your impeccable vetting of Barack Obama’s extensive connections with Islam and radical politics, his Communist and socialist mentors, his close associations with members of the Weather Underground, his involvement in the slum-landlord empire of a notorious Chicago political fixer – well, Mary (if I may), reading that meticulously documented work was an inspiring reminder of why I went into the publishing business.

Nevertheless, I hope you will not be afraid to be stern in your dealings with Cheney. If there’s one thing I know about him, it’s that he has the utmost respect for those who hold people’s feet to the fire.

I realize that my role as underbidder for the Cheney book does not entitle me to any special consideration. Nevertheless, I am happy to share with you some of the suggestions I made to Mr. Cheney in my original pitch to him, and I hope you’ll adopt them. For what it’s worth, here’s what I think Cheney needs to discuss to make this book a blockbuster international bestseller:

  • How he helped President Bush to deceive Congress and the American people into buying into a connection between Al Qaeda and the Iraq government under Saddam Hussein
  • How he misrepresented available intelligence
  • How he outed covert intelligence officer Valerie Plame and got his Chief of Staff Scooter Libby to take the fall
  • How he steered no-bid government contracts to Halliburton, a company in which he has a multimillion dollar interest that has appreciated by thousands of percent since the war began
  • How he undermined the Constitution
  • How he suspended the right of Habeas Corpus
  • How he subverted the rule of law
  • How he instituted secret wiretapping and email monitoring of American citizens
  • How he scammed America’s allies with Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction”
  • How he created a secret cabal of oil and other energy lobbyists
  • How he sent thousands of young men and women to death and maiming in the prosecution of a “phony” war whose real goal was to exploit Middle East oil
  • How he leveraged his office to create a policy of torture and brutality

Do these correspond to your own ideas? Have I missed anything?

Also, since it’s no longer of any use to us, I might as well give you the title that we’d planned to put on the book had we won the auction:

GO FUCK YOURSELF
My Life in High Crimes and Misdemeanors
by Dick Cheney

What do you think, Mary? Is that a winning title or what?

I invite you to reply to this open letter and I promise to promote your response in the widest public forum.

Yours truly,

Richard Curtis
President and CEO
E-Reads

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When Readers Digest From Web, What’s Reader’s Digest To Do?

How is Reader’s Digest gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen gawker, ew.com, espn.com, and Huffpo? So far, the 87-year-old RD can’t, and its declining fortunes and circulation confirm it. The New York Times‘s Stephanie Clifford points out that “Reader’s Digest is decreasing its circulation to 5.5 million from 8 million and lowering its frequency to 10 times a year from 12.” That’s down from a circulation of 17 million at the height of it popularity.

The rural, middle class Just Folksy readership that fueled the publication’s dominant position in the magazine industry, has gone young, urban, savvy, wired, college educated and – gulp! – liberal. Clifford says that in order to cling to its diminishing base, RD has to give its content and viewpoint a rightward spin. “It’s traditional, conservative values: I love my family, I love my community, I love my church,” Clifford quotes Mary Berner, Reader’s Digest Association’s president and CEO. “The project that signals Reader’s Digest’s future, Ms. Berner said, is a new multifaceted effort produced with Rick Warren, the evangelical pastor, called the Purpose Driven Connection.” Is that conservative enough for you, Mr. and Mrs. Middle America?

Among the behemoth’s holdings are such magazines as Every Day With Rachael Ray and The Family Handyman, which some may think corny. Or, as Berner commented, “They are brands that may not be considered cool by the often elitist and self-absorbed standards of New York media.”

Berner herself seems to have passed muster with the representative of the elitist New York medium that interviewed her: “She had taken a car from Manhattan that morning, and wore a pink wool shirt-dress, patent leather Manolo Blahnik heels, and diamond hoop earrings,” writes Clifford.

You can read about it in Reader’s Digest Searches for a Contemporary Niche.

RC
This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times. Every blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers. Without them our free society would not only be impoverished but imperiled. We must strive to find a way to rescue the industry, even if it means nothing more than buying a paper on the street. Support your local newspaper.

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Pearson to Help Schwarzenegger Pump Digits in CA Textbook Initiative

There’s some followup news of note on our story of last week, Hasta La Vista, Textbooks.

After Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger complained about the cost of print textbooks, which is adding to his state’s astronomical budget deficit, and joked about using heavy print editions to build muscles, international media giant Pearson took him up on his call for a e-book substitutes in science and math. Pearson is a world leader in education, business information and consumer publishing (they own Penguin Books, for example).

Craig Morgan Teicher of Publishers Weekly reports that Peter Cohen, Pearson’s CEO of North America school curriculum business, stated,“We believe it is important to take these forward steps toward an online delivery system and we are supporting the Governor’s initiative, recognizing there are numerous challenges ahead for the education community to work through.”

The changeover will not be achieved with a snap of the fingers. The California’s Free Digital Textbook Initiative spells out a number of the challenges that Pearson’s Cohen alludes to.

The California Learning Resource Network (CLRN) is responsible for reviewing these materials to verify that they are aligned to the California content standards. Qualifying mathematics courses include geometry, algebra II, trigonometry, or calculus. The science materials must be aligned to the standards for physics, chemistry, biology/life sciences, or earth sciences, including the investigation and experimentation strand. Digital textbooks should approach or equal a full course of study and must be downloadable.

Above is a photo of the Governor before his state’s financial woes bowed his shoulders.

RC

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Bestselling Kindle Newbie Ready to Share Secrets of Success as Soon as He Knows What They Are

J. A. Konrath identifies himself as the author of three thrillers featuring Lt. Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels (that’s not him pictured at right). He has also published two works of horror under the penname Jack Kilborn, a full-lengther plus a novella in collaboration with Blake Crouch.

He uploaded his books to Kindle (as well as to some other e-book outlets) and has compiled a fascinating account of the experience, studded with precise sales information and embellished with invaluable tips to writers seeking to emulate him.

First and foremost, his horror novel Afraid, irresistibly priced at $1.99, sold over 10,400 copies in the first month of its release. The novella, Serial, was released free a month later and was downloaded by Kindlach ( people of the Kindle) over 34,000 times. Grand Central, which issued print editions, assisted with online promotion.

Konrath then posted some of his other books on Kindle. You can read about his strategies for pricing, product description, networking and other strategies on his blogpost A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. He shares some pertinent observations plus do’s and don’ts. But when it comes to penetrating the mystery of why some of his books sell more units than others, he confesses to being clueless:

What I’ve learned about units sold: Nothing. I have no clue why The List, which is a fun technothriller about cloning, is outselling Origin, which is about a secret government compound studying Satan.

Welcome to book publishing, rookie. You’re in good company. Even the preeminent Alfred A. Knopf threw up his hands in despair, lamenting that his efforts were fifty percent successful, he just wasn’t sure which fifty percent.

RC

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Should Bookstores Be Publishers Too?

Lev Grossman and Andrea Sachs write in Time magazine about our love-hate relationship with Amazon. Their conclusion? It depends on who’s doing the loving and who’s doing the hating. Defining Amazon is about as easy for us as defining the elephant was for the blind monks of Chinese legend. Time succinctly states the case:

“Amazon has diversified itself so comprehensively over the past five years that it’s hard to say exactly what it is anymore. Amazon has a presence in almost every niche of the book industry. It runs a print-on-demand service (BookSurge) and a self-publishing service (CreateSpace). It sells e-books and an e-device to read them on (the Kindle, a new version of which, the DX, went on sale June 10). In 2008 alone, Amazon acquired Audible.com a leading audiobooks company; AbeBooks, a major online used-book retailer; and Shelfari, a Facebook-like social network for readers. In April of this year, it snapped up Lexcycle, which makes an e-reading app for the iPhone called Stanza.”

As if all that were not enough, Amazon has now become a publisher, too. First, there’s its Encore program “whereby Amazon will use information such as customer reviews on Amazon.com to identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors with more potential than their sales may indicate. Amazon will then partner with the authors to re-introduce their books to readers through marketing support and distribution into multiple channels and formats, such as the Amazon.com Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store, Audible.com, and national and independent bookstores via third-party wholesalers.”

Amazon has also put its print on demand division into play in the form of a service called CreateSpace aimed at self-published authors.

Most significantly, Amazon has begun to publish mainstream authors, notably Stephen King, recently engaged to write an original story for the Kindle.

For publishers the thought of Amazon becoming a competitor in their own space is their worst nightmare come true. As Time puts it, “If Amazon is a bookstore, it’s supposed to be buying from publishers, not competing with them. Right?

You got that right, Time! However, before we get out our pitchforks and start baying “Restraint of trade!” at Amazon you need to be reminded that it is not the only book retail behemoth that is also a publisher. Let’s look at Barnes & Noble.

At the beginning of 2003 Barnes & Noble acquired Sterling Publishing, described at the time as “one of the top 25 publishers in America and the industry’s leading publisher of how-to books.” Publishers were gravely concerned and with every reason. Barnes & Noble’s own titles were like a supermarket’s house brand, often undercutting the prices of outside purveyors. Their anxieties were well founded. On many occasion, when I pitched a nonfiction book at a publisher, the editor would tell me to forget about it, Barnes & Noble already had such a book and the new one could never match the house-brand’s low retail price.

The case against bookstores becoming publishers was stated so cogently by Morris Rosenthal that I reproduce it in full below. Though written four years ago as a followup to Barnes & Noble’s acquisition of Sterling, it is word-for-word valid for Amazon as well and should serve as a chilling cautionary tale for all book industry watchers:

Monday, July 25, 2005
Sterling Publishing and Barnes & Noble Books

Barnes & Noble bought Sterling Publishing a little over 3 years ago, and publishing has been a rapidly growing segment of Barnes & Noble’s strategy ever since. Sterling has over 5,000 titles in print and is adding about 1100 annually, primarily in the How-To area. Barnes & Noble also acquires books from other publishers, such as the “in easy steps” computer series from U.K’s Computer Step publishers, and Barnes & Noble also publishes an extensive backlist of out-of-print and out-of-copyright classics. According to their annual 10K filing, Barnes & Noble also “commissions books directly from authors” and “creates collections of fiction and non-fiction using in-house editors.” All of this shapes up as good business for Barnes & Noble, but doesn’t cheer most self publishers.

The reason has to do with shelf spaces and market saturation. Barnes & Noble is the dominant bookstore chain in the country, and they have a good record of working with small publishers when it comes to in-store events and stocking titles. However, as their annual report points out – “Each Barnes & Noble store stocks from 60,000 to 200,000 titles, of which approximately 50,000 titles are common to all stores.” For the true super stores which stock 200,000 titles (though I suspect they may have meant “books” rather than “titles”) that leaves a lot of room for regional or independent books, but the smaller stores seem to do an excellent job stocking the Barnes & Noble published books (and they’d be nuts not to), so it’s a scary thing for a small nonfiction publisher to find that a Barnes & Noble imprint is publishing a competing title.

Barnes & Noble now has some 10,000 books in print, and they tend to be lower priced than the competing titles, which while great for customers (vertical supply chain) doesn’t make publishers very enthusiastic. I seem to recall Steve Riggio saying last year that they were targeting 10% of book sales as self-published by Barnes & Noble. I also seem to remember him saying three or four years ago that they were targeting 5%, so it stands to reason if they reach 10%, they’ll up the ante again.

With half their books coming from their Sterling subsidiary which specializes in how-to, and a good chunk of the remaining half also in the how-to segment, it’s safe to assume that how-to publishers are at the greatest risk for the time being. The how-to emphasis makes sense, since Barnes & Noble can easily track which titles are doing well throughout their chain, than commission or acquire similar titles. They don’t need to be huge sellers, the acquisition cost for a commissioned book is pretty low (lots of hungry writers out there) and the guaranteed shelf space makes a large first print run, which combined with the lack of middlemen, makes the low pricing possible. If I was in the process of setting up a new imprint to publish nonfiction, I would look long and hard at my business model and focus on titles I felt would do especially well on Amazon or independent stores, as opposed to making plans based on the whole market.

Richard Curtis

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It Starts with Your Autograph and Ends With Your Soul

Kindle owners seem to be susceptible to strange personality disorders: they have a hard time separating the device from its content. Just when we’re getting past the compulsion to add book aroma to reading devices, the new manifestation of this strange mental condition is asking authors to autograph Kindles.

The New York Times‘s Andrew Adam Newman reports that at a recent book-signing, David Sedaris was handed a Kindle to inscribe. Sedaris was quick to recognize the cognitive dissonance of this moment and wrote, “This bespells doom.” Clearly, we’re close to the collapse of civilization when the box becomes more significant than the book it contains. But let’s face it, authors don’t care whether civilization collapses as long as they can sell their books. And clearly, this fan did not buy the book in the store where the signing took place. He downloaded it off Amazon’s website and brought his Kindle into the. This seems like a flagrant breach of manners and of the bookstore’s hospitality, the equivalent of crashing a wedding.

Newman cites another fan who at least is sensitive to the distinction. At a reading by novelist Jennifer Weiner the fan presented her Kindle to the author for an autograph, but she “felt very embarrassed and like I was doing something wrong,” she said. “It’s a promotional opportunity for both the writer and the bookstore, and if you’re asking for your Kindle to be signed, you’re taking the bookstore out of the process.”

Read Kindle Joins a Literary Ritual: Authors Can Autograph It and judge for yourself.

Richard Curtis

This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times. Every blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers. Without them our free society would not only be impoverished but imperiled. We must strive to find a way to rescue the industry, even if it means nothing more than buying a paper on the street. Support your local newspaper.

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Museum Exposé Still Missing from NYPL Stacks

The New York Observer has picked up on a story broken by E-Reads a month ago speculating on why the New York Public Library was not carrying Rogue’s Gallery, a recently published book by Michael Gross. Rogue’s Gallery is a provocative look at the Metropolitan Museum and contains some observations critical of a leading socialite supporter, Annette de la Renta, who happens to be on the Board of Trustees of the New York Public Library.

Now, New York Observer reporter Reid Pillifant asks, Why Is Gross’ Museum Expose Missing From NYPL Stacks? Pillifant writes,

“When literary agent Richard Curtis and his wife, Leslie, heard about journalist Michael Gross’ unauthorized Metropolitan Museum exposé Rogues’ Gallery, they wanted to check it out. Literally! So they searched the online catalog of the New York Public Library. But the book wasn’t listed. Then they called the library and got ‘kind of a vague answer,’ Mr. Curtis said.

“Then he remembered Rogues’ Gallery had stirred up some controversy regarding Annette de la Renta, who is a trustee of both the Met and the NYPL.”

Here’s an excerpt from our story.

Gross’s book has been widely ignored in the media, and Kornbluth suggests that a sort of Gentleman’s Agreement among heavy-hitter members of de la Renta’s august social circle is the reason why. “I am not a conspiracy theorist,” writes Kornbluth, “but the media coverage — or lack thereof — of this dustup and of ‘Rogues’ Gallery’ could certainly make me think of becoming one.” You can read all about it in Kornbluth’s blog as well as Gross’s own account of the sordid maneuvers to chill his book.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist either, but what started as a routine inquiry about the availability of the book in the New York Public Library system has definitely pushed me several notches closer to paranoia. It seems that the book is simply not there. You can see for yourself by calling your local librarian or visiting the Library’s website and entering the title and author into the Search box.

We’re not the only ones to smell something fishy. Here’s an excerpt from a blog by New York Social Diary‘s Patrick David Columbia:

So what’s the problem? It seems difficult to determine. Some tell Michael he’s being “paranoid.” I’d tell Michael he’s onto something although where it might take him may not be worth the trip.

It is true that there are people in this town who have what is generally recognized as power. Can they kill people? I don’t know about that. Maybe with kindess or a harsh Fifth Avenue froideur.

Annette de la Renta is the name that comes up first and foremost in the Michael Gross/Met biography business.

As of this writing, as confirmed by the Observer‘s Pillifant, there are still no copies available in Manhattan libraries. But I managed to secure a copy anyway, using an ancient but tried and true technique: I bought a copy at a bookstore. Pillifant expresses my dismay at having to resort to a commercial transaction: “As for Mr. Curtis? ‘I paid retail for it, which, for a professional literary agent, is scandalous.’”

My advice? Support the book, the author, and bookstores: do the same. But let your local library know you expect it to carry Rogue’s Gallery.

Richard Curtis

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