Monthly Archives: April 2010

Book Browsing Online? Apple Way Behind Amazon

Publishers Weekly‘s “Soapbox”, traditionally the last page of every issue of the magazine, gives civilians a forum to voice their opinions or relate their personal, book business-related experiences. Yours truly has often stood on the Soapbox haranguing the people like some demented prophet of yore, and it is the place where my end-of-the-year doggerel appears.

A recent Soapbox by Kermit Hummel, editorial director of Countryman Press, examined the difference between Amazon and Apple using a different criterion from the usual technical ones.  Hummel looked at bookstore experience, and by that measurement Amazon leaves Apple completely in the dust.

He starts by summing up the blessings that Amazon has bestowed on a book retailing model that had been mired in an archaic mindset, arguably somewhere between 16th and 18th centuries.

Perhaps the greatest contribution made by Amazon to the book industry over the past 15 years has been the depth it has provided to the book-buying experience. The astute focus on searchability and on taxonomy is reflected in those other titles that appear on any given search page. Amazon both revitalized deep backlists and enhanced the shopping experience with those constellations of titles. Amazon took this associative tool further with the invention of Search Inside the Book. These tools and tricks went a long way toward giving online book buying some of the look and feel that previously had been the domain of the well-read independent bookseller. Yes, the idea is to sell the buyer another product. But it also gives obscure corners of the backlist some light.

By comparison, says Hummel, the Apple shopping experience is “grim”, and, even more unfortunately, you don’t discover just how grim it is until after you’ve bought and used the iPad. What’s wrong? Its bookstore is utterly oriented to bestsellers.

“Does anyone actually try looking any further on the App Store than the top 25?” he asks.

The pathetic taxonomy of the App Store, with all of 20 “categories,” makes it impossible to just look around. Everything is buried beneath that single echelon of the top 25 (conveniently segmented into top 25 paid and top 25 free). With iBooks numbering only 60,000 currently, this problem is only going to become more and more apparent as huge numbers of titles are added into the mix over the next weeks and months.

Bottom line? “Apple is at present simply a lousy bookseller,” concludes Hummel.  Read it in full in Soapbox: Apples and Oranges

Richard Curtis
Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by Publishers Weekly.

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Bowker to Launch Manuscript Submission Program

Asked to free-associate with the name “Bowker” most publishing people think of such publishing services as ISBN book-identification numbers and similar tedious but essential data.  But, in a surprising announcement emailed to publishing professionals, Bowker today announced a service for authors, and one guaranteed to raise some eyebrows.

“I am writing to inform you of the exciting release of Bowker Manuscript Submissions,” writes Natalie Piccotti. “a new online service allowing authors to submit their manuscript ideas to a number of publishing houses from one central location.

BowkerManuscriptSubmissions.com will be featured at Book Expo America in May 2010, and will officially launch in June 2010.”

The initiative is designed to “streamline the process of sorting through an overwhelming volume of unsolicited manuscripts publishers receive. Built off the success of Christian Manuscript Submissions, Bowker will now provide a similar service to the trade and higher education publishing communities.”

For an annual fee of $295 the program will…

* Sort by subject of choice and submission date
* Search by keywords in title, description and topic
* Identify proposals that have been professionally edited
* Cut down on wasted time – our system remembers your last date of entry so you do not read previously reviewed manuscripts
* Contact the writer directly
* Find proposals by author’s name
* Review an author’s publishing history, book summary, and writing style in one step

Before literary agents’ noses go out of joint, the announcement reassures them that the submission program will enable them to promote their services and match their clients’ ideas to the best possible publisher.

Our nose remains in place (though permanently deviated 5 degrees by a football injury), but we suspect many an agent will wonder if the program can substitute for or even supplement a lifetime of knowledge and wisdom, experience and cultivation of relationships.  Will Bowker Submissions know if the science fiction list of Publisher A is inventoried, or the romance editor of Publisher B just jumped to Publisher C, or if Publisher D just acquired the same idea from another author six months ago?  Will Bowker Submissions buy us lunch? Will it hold an author’s hand when her idea has been shot down at ten houses?

These mean-spirited observations aside, we welcome the program as an interesting attempt to offer vital information for authors and agents.  And here’s the best part – if Bowker makes a match between an author and a publisher, it won’t ask the agent to split a commission.

Richard Curtis

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A Halfway House for Returnability Addicts

As we recently wrote, today’s publishing model based on the returnability of unsold books is no longer viable. (See A World Without Inventory Part 1 and Part 2). The digital revolution has created a highly successful, efficient new model relying on pre-ordered and prepaid books printed on demand.

You would therefore think that we ardently advocate doing completely away with the old system. In fact there are many compelling reasons why we would hate to see that happen.

Publishing pundit Mike Shatzkin has put his finger on them. In his blog Shatzkin offers several cogent arguments, and we urge you to read them. In essence, 1) overprinting can actually be profitable for publishers and authors even with high returns; and 2) without return privileges, publishers might simply decline to publish many books that they now accept.

Shatzkin gets no argument from us.  But it’s worth reminding readers that in the waning years of the 20th century the returnability privilege was manipulated by chain store operators who discovered that they could overorder without penalty, use returns as a form of currency to order more books, and delay settlements to publishers.  The havoc created by this abuse has been incalculable, driving cash-starved publishers into mergers with or acquisition by bigger publishers. The roll call of wonderful houses that succumbed is sad, and it is arguable that the only thing that put the brakes on this predatory behavior was the advent of a powerful rival – Amazon.com.

So yes, we’d love to see a reasonable, fair and reliable retailing model based on return privileges.  But e-books and print on demand now have an increasing grip on book retailing and, in Thomas Wolfe’s immortal phrase, you can’t go home again.

Richard Curtis

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Reading Ghost Stories is Great. But Living One…?

D. J. MacHale fans who were dying to learn what he would do when he finished the Pendragon series have found out – with a vengeance!  It’s a new trilogy called Morpheus Road, and the launch novel, The Light , is guaranteed to grip you ’til your eyeballs bulge.

Marshall Seaver discovers that something beyond our world is after him. The eerie clues pile up quickly, and when people start dying, it’s clear whatever this is, it’s huge.

Marshall has no idea what’s happening to him, but he’s soon convinced that it has to do with his best friend Cooper, who’s been missing for over a week. Together with Coop’s sister, Marsh searches for the truth about what happened to his friend, ultimately uncovering something bigger than he could ever have imagined.

You can buy The Light at Amazon or your local bookstore.  Visit D. J.’s website, see what he’s up to and explore his other books.  And if you want a ghostly experience, this video will transport you directly to a bookstore.

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Cory Doctorow Boycotts the iPad

“Does the company that makes your toaster get to tell you whose bread you can buy?”

That’s just one of a series of inspired metaphors employed by Cory Doctorow to express his irritation with e-book manufacturers employing Digital Rights Management, those proprietary restrictions on distribution of e-books (“DRM” for short).

His current target is Apple, whose iPad he believes is an “attempt to shackle your readers to its hardware.” His denunciation may  be found in his most recent monthly column in Publishers Weekly devoted to monitoring his thought processes as he prepares his book With a Little Help for self-publication. “Has there ever been an ‘appliance’ with the kind of competitive control Apple now enjoys over the iPad?” he asks (knowing the answer full well).

The iPad’s DRM restrictions mean that Apple has absolute dominion over who can run code on the device—and while that thin shellac of DRM will prove useless at things that matter to publishers, like preventing piracy, it is deadly effective in what matters to Apple: preventing competition.

Though Apple is the object of his ire this time, in the past he’s also taken a stick to Amazon, because what’s really bothering him is not device-specific.  It’s the underlying DRM that places authors, publishers and customers in an untenable position. “Devices like the iPad and the Kindle are a wholly new kind of thing—they function like bookshelves that reject all books except those the manufacturer has blessed…Having too much of your business subject to the whim of a single retailer who is out for its own interests is a scary and precarious thing.”

How scary and precarious? Enough to make him hold his books back from the iPad and urge us to do the same. “Just tell Apple it can’t license your copyrights—that is, your books—unless the company gives you the freedom to give your readers the freedom to take their products with them to any vendor’s system.”

Cory Doctorow is a good old-fashioned freedom fighter, which comes as no surprise given his activism on issues like nuclear disarmament and the environment. Here’s his PW article in its entirety:

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by Publishers Weekly.

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Bush Memoir Coming, But Where’s Cheney’s?

Crown, a division of Random House, has announced that former President George W. Bush’s memoir Decision Points will be released on November 9.  With its list price of $35 we are falling all over ourselves to reserve a copy.

But we are utterly mystified about the status of Dick Cheney’s memoir, long ago signed by Simon & Schuster, and we’re beginning to wonder if the company is getting cold feet about the explosive contents of the former Vice-President’s story.  If that is the case, E-Reads would be more than happy to reinstate the offer we made last May inviting Mr.Cheney to publish his book with us. For those who missed it we reproduce it below:

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Dear Mr. Cheney:

I read today that you are seeking a publication deal for your memoirs. E-Reads, a ten-year-old publishing company of which I am president and CEO, invites you to consider bringing your book out under our imprint. We offer a number of advantages over conventional publishers, particularly instant release of your book in both e-book and print on demand format.

We are prepared to offer a substantial advance and an unprecedented royalty percentage for the privilege of publishing your story. If you require the services of a professional co-author we have access to many superb professional writers with ghost-writing or co-writing credentials.

Naturally, before we sign a binding commitment it would be mutually beneficial for us to spell out the content and “voice” of your book. A paramount consideration is the degree to which you can be candid about your personal life and political career. Though I realize you’re a newcomer to the publishing process, I’m sure that as a businessman you will appreciate that the more frank you can be, the higher the commercial value of your book. A memoir perceived as self-serving (such as public statements you have made since leaving office, if I may be so frank) will simply not enable us to recoup our investment. I’m afraid we can’t count on foreign rights revenue as responses to feelers made by our agents abroad have not been encouraging. It seems that the willingness of the Coalition of the Willing does not extend to acquiring rights to your story.

If however you are prepared to produce a forthright account of your term in office, we are prepared to demonstrate our earnestness with a compensation package far beyond the $2 million you are reported to be seeking.

As for the contents, I’ve made some notes about topics that we would like to see covered in your book. Here’s a partial bulleted list:

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

As I stated at the outset, if this book is to succeed commercially it must be completely candid. If you are uncertain about the meaning of that term, let me recommend a book that might serve as your model. I’m thinking of The Surrender: An Erotic Memoir by former dancer Toni Bentley whose candor about her sex life was painfully frank. In particular she rhapsodized about anal intercourse. We don’t feel that discussions about your sex life are necessary to make this book a success (though, needless to say, if there were any revelations of that nature that you were willing to share with your readers “it wouldn’t hoit!” as they say). Nevertheless, you might find anal intercourse to be an effective metaphor for your conduct as Vice-President. I don’t want to put words in your mouth but if you were willing to talk about giving it to the American people “in the ass” we would probably raise our first printing another 100,000 copies in the blink of an eye.

In the hope that we’ve persuaded you to cast your lot with us, we’d like to discuss titles, and I think we’ve got one you’re going to love. Ready?

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

We’ve already picked out some great cover photos for you to review and we’ve even taken the liberty of producing a sensational Web promo built around your priceless “Go Fuck Yourself” pronunciamento. We’re dummying up a book jacket with some great graphics spun off that theme and I guarantee it’s a knockout.

Please get back to me with your response to our proposal, and, if you agree to our approach and are confident you can deliver a truthful account, have your authorized representative contact me to hammer out details. I look forward to hearing from you and, I hope, working with you.

Yours Truly,

Richard Curtis
President and CEO
E-Reads

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Richard (Curtis) and Richard (Nash) Webcast

Digital Book World will conduct a free webcast pairing agent and E-Reads publisher Richard Curtis with Richard Nash, a former publisher and now consultant. The dialogue will be hosted by F+W’s Guy Gonzalez and will take place on Tuesday April 27 2010 at 1PM East Standard Time/10 AM PDT. Visit the DBW website to tune in.

Writes Gonzalez:

“The publishing industry is undergoing an extreme transformation, and there are many innovative thinkers challenging traditional thinking and helping push that transformation forward.

DBW Conversations pairs two respected thought leaders for a 60-minute discussion on the future of the publishing industry, and what they’re doing to ensure they have a place in it.

DBW Conversations: Richard Curtis & Richard Nash.

* Richard Curtis, president of Richard Curtis Associates, Inc., is a leading New York literary agent; founder of E-Reads, an electronic book publisher; and a well-known author advocate. He is also the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction including several books about the publishing industry and is a former president of the Association of Authors’ Representatives.
* Richard Nash ran Soft Skull Press, now an imprint of Counterpoint, from 2001 to 2007 and ran the imprint on behalf of Counterpoint until early 2009. He’s now consulting for authors and publishers on how to reach readers and developing a start-up called Cursor, a portfolio of niche social publishing communities, one of which will be called Red Lemonade. He was named one of “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World” by Utne Reader, and one of “15 Twitter Users Shaping the Future of Publishing” by Mashable.com.

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Random Returns Sabre to Scabbard in Styron E-Book Standoff

After warning e-poachers to keep their mitts off its books (see Random House Serves Notice on Would-be E-Interlopers) Random House agreed to let the William Styron estate place e-book rights to some of the late author’s books with recently formed independent e-book company Open Road Integrated Media.

It was speculated that Random’s threat last winter, advising authors they were “precluded from granting publishing rights to third parties that would compromise the rights for which Random House has bargained,” had been provoked by Open Road’s announcement that it had reached agreement with the Styron estate. So it is puzzling that Random yielded to the very same company without a fight. Motoko Rich, writing the story up in the New York Times, seems to suggest that the accommodation was achieved by friendly persuasion stemming from warm feelings between the company and the estate.

Random’s Stuart Applebaum, however, asserted that “The decision of the Styron estate is an exception to these discussions. Our understanding is that this is a unique family situation.” Whether the publisher will be moved by similar auld lang syne appeals from other authors is an intriguing question. But Random has not made it easier on itself by making an exception to its own stern rule.

Read Rich’s story in detail: Random House Cedes Some Digital Rights to Styron Heirs

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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Ethicist Revisited. Same Result

About three weeks ago Randy Cohen, the Sunday New York Times columnist who guides the morally perplexed in a feature called “The Ethicist”, told a supplicant that there was nothing unethical about downloading a pirated e-book version of a Stephen King novel so that he would not have to lug the heavy hardcover around on a journey.

Cohen’s grounds for blessing the customer’s patronage of the pirate site were that the legitimate e-book version was not yet available, and besides, the customer had paid for the hardcover and was therefore entitled to help himself to whatever e-book was at hand, which in this case happened to be a stolen one.

Though we think of ourselves as judicious we reacted to Cohen’s advice with unwonted intemperance. We were almost unanimously supported by a host of indignant people, many of them authors who had no need of an ethics counselor to distinguish between right and wrong. However, one author, John Scalzi, took exception and defended The Ethicist. Scalzi’s rationale goes like this: “You bought the book once and I got paid once; after that if you get the book in some other format for your own personal use, and I don’t get paid a second time, eh, that’s life.”

We’ve had three weeks to review all the comments and reflect on the position put forth by the Cohenim and Scalzistas in the hope of finding some redeeming values that we overlooked in our initial hotheaded reaction. We’re sorry to report that we have found nothing to alter our sense that their views are pernicious and stupid. (Oops! There we go being intemperate again.  There must be something about apologists for piracy that brings out the mean spirit in us.)

Our feelings about all this were reinforced by an eloquent comment submitted by Tony Burton, a writer and publisher of Wolfmont Press. As we’re not content to let this issue disappear from our front page we’re printing it in full below with Mr. Burton’s permission.

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My first thought is, if this is an ethicist speaking, then the blind truly are leading the blind.

Situational ethics. It’s OK to do something wrong in certain situations. So, it’s OK to speed way over the posted limit if… what? If you are late for an appointment? If you are fleeing from a raving lunatic? If you have to catch a plane? Breaking the law, breaking the established rules, just because it makes life more convenient for you is unethical. As someone else noted, just because I have purchased a ticket to see a movie does not make it legal or ethical for me to secretly videotape the movie while I am in the theater.

As to the comment that “you’ve done no harm or so little as to meet my threshold of acceptability,” what malarkey. Then again, perhaps not. Perhaps the level of acceptability of “the Ethicist” is so low that just about anything meets it, as long as apparent and immediate harm are not seen. It’s not unethical, then, to throw a single candy wrapper out the window. And if everyone who eats a Snickers bar thinks that way, the landscape will be plastered with wrappers. It is an insidious way of thinking, that “it does no apparent harm, or so little harm, so if it is convenient for me it must be OK even if it is illegal.”

It’s OK to steal a little bit. It’s OK to tell just one racist or homophobic joke, every once in a while. It’s OK to view child pornography in the privacy of your own home because, hey, you didn’t pay for it… just managed to find it on a file-sharing network and after all, it’s not YOU who coerced that child into doing those things, and even if you hadn’t downloaded it, the child would already have been molested anyway, right?

Yes, I’m being extreme. I’m being extreme because it’s too easy to accept unethical behavior when you candy-coat it. Call it what it is: dishonest, immoral, illegal, and UNETHICAL. That anyone intelligent is able to rationalize it into something else is somewhat frightening, because it is so easy to move from this sort of “harmless” theft to something worse, and every time you succeed in convincing yourself that you are OK, that you are in the right, it just makes it that much easier to do something more heinous. And that someone in such a position, writing for the NYT where so many thousands of people can use his words to justify their own unethical behaviors… it is reprehensible.

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101 Uses for a Failed Author

Paper Man, a movie starring Jeff Daniels as a terminally blocked novelist, has opened in general release. Every author should go see it.  By presenting a copy of

your remaindered, out of print literary debacle at the box office plus the full price of a ticket we guarantee you will be admitted.

The film’s fictional author, completely unhinged by the cartons of unsold copies of his flopperoo piled up in his cabin, finds creative ways to sublimate his angst such as fashioning the pages of his novel into origami animals, and building a couch out of copies. You can see the actual piece of furniture in Filmmakers Turn Old Books Into a Couch as reported by Penelope Green of the New York Times. The one upper right is not in the movie but looks like the perfect place to lose yourself in a book.

Further inquiry yielded a home that looks like stacked books, where you will also see that the bedroom activities of the owner, a sculptor, are truly an open book.

RC

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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