Rocket Bomber

The Real Story is better than the Movie, and it was a pretty good movie

I’m not sure exactly where or why I came across Almost Famous again this week — the click trail on that one has to be convoluted, because for the most part I was researching bland mass-consumption European Pop of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.

Having happened upon the movie again, though, it seemed like an excellent topic for an extended YouTube excursion, especially with the Academy Awards tie-in:

Cameron Crowe accepts the Oscar® for “Almost Famous”

The moment we all remember is the solo-slow-clapper of music videos, Tiny Dancer

Cameron Crowe interview (ignore the French subtitles)

The great thing about “Almost Famous” is that it’s based on a true story, which you might have heard once or twice a dozen years ago and then promptly forgot. The band ‘Stillwater’ in the movie is a fictionalized composite, I’m sure, or at least will always be presented as such for legal reasons, but the band I think Crowe used as his primary inspiration when writing the script has to be the Allman Brothers. Here, read the article yourself, from the December 6, 1973 issue of Rolling Stone, The Allman Brothers Story

Allman Brothers Band – Live- 2-11-70 Fillmore East (audio only) (1hr11min)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1XfYC9Dq1I

Allman Brothers – Live – 9-23-70 Fillmore East (33.8min)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eqSFMOZxeY

Since the point of the exercise is to feature some great music documentaries, here’s the great music documentary: History of Southern Rock (1hr4min)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_E1I-ERdJYU

If you only have enough time to watch one video, I’d make it that last one.



Amazon, the Book Utility Company

filed under , 1 March 2014, 11:07 by

“Therein lies the rub. Publishing on your own website is still just too damn geeky. The siren-call of the silos is backed up with genuinely powerful, easy to use, well-designed tools. I don’t know if independent publishing can ever compete with that. In all likelihood, the independent web will never be able to match the power and reach of the silos. But that won’t stop me (and others) from owning our own words. If nothing else, we can at least demonstrate that the independent path is an option—even if that option requires more effort.”
In dependence : Jeremy Keith, 28 December 2013, Adactio.com

“I made a million dollars last year from self-publishing. I’ve found that, without gatekeepers, I can reach readers much easier. And readers are much more eager to buy me when I control cover, cost, and jacket blurbs, as evidenced by the fact that I’ve made 8x as much as a self-publisher as I did with my legacy contracts.
“Readers don’t care who the publisher is. They don’t care if the work is agented. They care about quality and price, and are able to find books they like without any gatekeepers other than each other and the increasingly adaptive ability for websites like Amazon to understand readers’ tastes.
“As an agent, you could be helping your clients make important decisions about self-publishing. That is, if you are pro-client. That might mean advising them to pass up a bad deal and go solo.”
Questions for Literary Agent David Gernert : Joe Konrath, 24 January 2014, jakonrath.blogspot.com

Neither online sales nor ebooks were original to Amazon, but Amazon has had a lot of success selling their brand to the public and have gained mindshare that in a way is even more important than their market share.

Amazon’s user base makes it a default social media site, smaller than Facebook or Twitter but more important because every Amazon account has a real name, address, and credit card attached — and that’s even before we consider Amazon also knows every shopper’s browsing and buying history.

“One-third of consumers now begin their online shopping expeditions on the site, comparing models, specs, prices and customer reviews for an expansive assortment that spans not just Amazon’s inventory but that of its more than 2 million third-party Marketplace affiliates, which comprise nearly 40 percent of the company’s unit volume. Other features like one-click ordering, tailored product recommendations, a no-hassle return policy and free two-day shipping with a $79 membership in the Amazon Prime program has made it the go-to merchant for more than 200 million regular shoppers worldwide.”
Amazon.com Growth Creating New CE Retail Paradigms, Challenges : Alan Wolf, 2 June 2013, Twice Magazine

“Combine the 2 formats and Amazon may have a market share for some categories of books over 50%. And that market share will continue to grow as more and more books are sold in electronic form, since Amazon’s market share for ebooks is even greater than for print. So we should not be surprised to wake up one day to find that Amazon is responsible for the sale of as much as two-thirds of all the books sold outside of libraries in the U.S. (Note to DOJ: I said ‘wake up’ for a reason.)
“A rival to Amazon will be hard to come by.”
Who Can Rival Amazon? : Joseph Esposito, 22 January 2014, The Scholarly Kitchen

“Amazon has succeeded building an ecommerce and customer relationship platform that customers love. It’s a combination of a superb user interface, extraordinarily skilled analysis of customer data and a genius logistics system.
“The comment in the article about ‘the tools of ecommerce’ being readily available for competitors reflects a lack of understanding about how hard it is to do what Amazon does. Randy Penguin doesn’t have the money or talent to do it. Neither does Apple. (Yes, PG knows Apple sells a bazillion apps and songs each year, but do you really think iTunes is even in the same universe as Amazon’s store?)
“Nobody in the publishing business can displace Amazon at this point and probably forever. The intellectual and technical bandwidth is just not there.”
Commentary on the Scholarly Kitchen post above, at The Passive Voice

“8. It has been happening quietly but it has been happening: we increasingly have two separately-operating book businesses: Amazon’s and everybody else’s. This starts with the numbering system: Amazon uses its own ASINs, rather than depending on everybody else’s ISBNs. It extends to the titles available: Amazon has an untold number, but certainly hundreds of thousands, that it either publishes exclusively or which authors or small presses publish exclusively through them. And it has service offerings from Kindle Owners Lending Library to its recent Matchbook offer to pair ebook and print sales, which range from ‘extremely difficult’ to ‘impossible’ for any other publisher-retailer combination to match. How far can this go? Can Amazon create a closed world which is more profitable for an author or publisher than the whole world that includes everybody else? Or have they already?”
Nine places to look in 2014 to predict the future of publishing : Mike Shatzkin, 1 January 2014, The Shatzkin Files www.idealog.com/blog
“1. What’s going to happen with retail shelf space for books? The market for the kind of narrative reading that comprises the bestseller lists has gone anywhere from half to three-quarters online, ebooks and print combined. The rate of movement has slowed, but it hasn’t stopped. It has now been two full years since Borders shut. Barnes & Noble continues to close stores as leases expire. Independents are, anecdotally, reported to be holding their own, but they’re definitely challenged to deliver on the online component and, so far, the successes have depended on individual entrepreneurs running good local stores, not any formula that is replicable or scalable. When will we see a stable ‘floor’ for bookstores, a sustainable foundation from which year-to-year fluctuations won’t persistently be down? I don’t think it will be in 2014, but it’s the most important bunch of tea leaves to read for some segments of the business.”
ibid.

“There’s this tendency among advocates to compare the absolute worst of the enemy with the perfect, best case scenario on your own side. The crowd that is hostile to self-publishing often likes to compare the worst dinosaur porn (which still sold, though, and made more money than many other titles) to one of those wonderful, Never-Neverland publishing companies that to this day invests massively in editors, doesn’t use exploitative covers, spends its untold riches on making the book’s typography absolutely perfect, has a workflow that spits out beautiful, error-free ebooks with ease, gives every author a personal PR rep, and has a multi-million dollar marketing budget for every title.
Of course self-publishing looks bad when you compare it with a piece of fiction that’s less realistic than the more deranged parts of Alice in Wonderland.
“The reality is that book retail has been steadily deteriorating over the years and publishers themselves have been compromised by decades of cost-cutting. Most book sales are online. Titles today get much less editorial attention than similar titles did years ago. Covers have always been completely disconnected from the book’s actual content.
“In terms of marketing, quality, distribution and design the difference between a competently published book and a competently self-published one is now less than you think. Competent self-publishing is getting easier every year as tools and services improve. Publishers offer less and less as they try to stay competitive through cost cuts and ‘optimisations’. Over time publishers seem to be devolving into self-publishing services that offer little but demand everything.”
Except, except, except : Baldur Bjarnason, 23 January 2014, Studio Tendra

We may already be at the point where Amazon is Too Big To Fight. Not that it can’t be done; I’d be willing to bet most stupid/funny t-shirts are sold from non-Amazon sites and iTunes (which truly and horrifically sucks) still beats Amazon in music sales. Freedom is still possible even under the Eye of Bezos, so long as his attention is elsewhere.

“Amazon is the largest online retailer globally, and it got to be that way because of books. Jeff Bezos started Amazon in 1994 after identifying a market that was poorly managed by traditional stakeholders, and made it more convenient for consumers to access the products they wanted. Early investment in the Kindle platform, consisting of ereading devices, tablets, and apps, took foresight that was lacking in the traditional book industry and helped Amazon come to dominate the ebook market worldwide.”
Comment: How I learned to stop worrying and love Amazon : Anne Treasure, 21 November 2013, sbs.com.au

The Authors Guild Should Embrace Amazon as a Friend to Writers and Readers. Until publishers make these changes, the Authors Guild should be celebrating Amazon for increasing readership, increasing the diversity of published voices, lowering prices for readers while also increasing royalties for writers, and revolutionizing reading in a way that keeps it relevant. Blaming Amazon for the move of goods out of physical stores and onto online stores is ridiculous. This is the inevitable result of the creation of the internet. This is the freedom of shoppers to choose. It was going to happen, no matter what. And here’s something that I doubt has been said before: Thank God it was Amazon.
“Think about it for a moment. It could have been WalMart or Costco or a number of other massive retailers who began shipping books at a discount through an online portal. It could have been a retail giant that sells everything that began to sell books online. Instead, it was an online bookseller who branched out into other products. There is a massive difference. The love of books remains at the heart of Amazon. Those who have worked with the people behind that smiling logo know this. From Jeff Bezos (who married a writer and started out by selling books out of his garage) down to the people I met on the factory floor of the CreateSpace printing facility, I’ve never been around a group who loves books more. The Authors Guild should be championing Amazon for what they’ve done for readers and writers. The pressure for fairer contracts and wages is coming primarily from here. The champion for the status quo and more abuses is coming from the guild of my profession. Dystopian novels can’t satirize this sort of thing without being mocked for being ridiculous.” [emphasis in original]
Bread and Roses : Hugh C. Howey, 24 January 2014, hughhowey.com

To Howey’s point, Bezos may love books; I have no way of confirming or denying that. But my bet is that Bezos loves money more.

“I have seen the future of Amazon.com, and it looks like Wal-Mart. This may come as a surprise to those who are accustomed to thinking of Amazon.com as a bookstore. After all, books are what the company is known for, and Amazon.com promotes itself as ‘Earth’s biggest bookstore.’ But books are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s widely known that founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, when he was starting out, made a list of products that would be well-suited to Web sales. Books topped that list — but they’re clearly not the only things on it. In fact, Amazon.com’s recent acquisition of Junglee Corp. (announced as this column went to press) confirms the bookseller’s intention of getting into a broader retail market: Junglee makes software agents that facilitate online shopping. Why do you think Bezos chose a generic name like ‘Amazon’ anyhow? It’s sheer size that Bezos cares about, not just books.”
No mere bookstore, Amazon.com wants to be an online retail giant : Dylan Tweney, 10 August 1998, Net Prophet [dylan.tweney.com]

[blockquote]

“Amazon had three things going for it in the early days (four, if you count the drive and ambition of Bezos): Books already had a computerized database (since 1986 in fact), books already had a nation-wide distribution network built to service bookstores (Ingram et al., op. cit.), and one of those book warehouses (one of the largest) was just six hours away in Oregon.
“Amazon’s twist on book delivery was the cash conversion cycle: they sell you a book, then they buy it and ship it, then they charge your card, and only at some later date do they lazily get around to paying their source for the book. (standard payment terms on books used to be 90 days – plenty of time to deliver book, claim payment, and then sit on that cash or park it in a short-term CD.)
“Amazon didn’t even need a lot of inventory to launch (they used a garage) because of this neat trick — and of course I know they do things differently now, with distribution centers all over the place and same-day delivery in some markets (integrated verticals are more efficient, and cost effective) — but this is how they built an empire on nothing. Well, not nothing nothing, I mean: Bezos was a former investment banker (presumably not worrying about rent or groceries) and was able to tap his Dad for a quarter million. (well, that’s not quite true: $100,000 came from his dad, the other $145,000 came from his father’s trust fund — the more I dig into this the more it spikes my blood pressure)
“So Amazon was a truly Great idea (though not 100% original) and had some really great implementation — but the ‘great idea’ wasn’t the website or the back-end software or servers, or even the product. Amazon succeeded because of timing, luck, starting with ‘a’ (a big deal in the pre-Google Yahoo Directory days), and most importantly: because of creative accounting. Amazon was not launched by a genius and engineeer who invented something amazing — Amazon was not a new iteration of an old service, computer-aided and internet-enabled, to add value to an older sales model — Amazon was not the obvious and organic outreach of a bookseller determined to reach all readers, no matter how isolated —
“Amazon was the brainchild of a banker, and exists to make money. (Extra points go to Bezos for figuring out how to make money without returning any to his shareholders.)”
[/blockquote]
Let’s Talk About The Business, Then. : Rocket Bomber, 8 May 2013 — minor edits for clarity.

“Back in 1994, Jeff Bezos was a young senior vice president on the rise at a thriving Wall Street hedge fund. But when the explosive growth of the World Wide Web caught his eye, he saw an even bigger opportunity: online commerce. Two years later Bezos, CEO of the Internet bookstore Amazon.com, is one of a crew of young entrepreneurs using cyberspace technology to steal real-world customers from traditional businesses with strong consumer and industrial franchises.”
The Next Big Thing: A Bookstore? Amazon.com is leading a wave of digital shops out to invade established industries. : Michael H. Martin, 9 December 1996, Fortune Magazine archived at money.cnn.com

“Bezos first got the idea to start an Internet enterprise in 1994. While surfing the Internet in search of new ventures for D.E. Shaw & Co. to invest in, he came across the statistic that World Wide Web usage was growing by 2,300 percent a month. Bezos immediately recognized the expansive possibilities of selling online and began exploring the entrepreneurial possibilities of developing an Internet business.
“He drew up a list of 20 potential products he thought might sell well via the Internet, including software, CDs and books. After reviewing the list, books were the obvious choice, primarily because of the sheer number of titles in existence. Bezos realized that while even the largest superstores could stock only a few hundred thousand books, a mere fraction of what is available, a ‘virtual’ bookstore could offer millions of titles. The die was cast. Bezos passed up a fat bonus, packed his wife, MacKenzie, and their dog, Kamala (named after an obscure ‘Star Trek’ character), and headed for Seattle.
“For Bezos, Seattle was the ideal city for his new business. Not only was it home to a tremendous pool of high-tech talent, it was also in close proximity to Ingram Book Group’s Oregon warehouse. While MacKenzie drove, Jeff spent the trip pecking out a business plan on a laptop computer and calling prospective investors on a cell phone. With $1 million raised from family and friends, Bezos rented a house in Seattle and set up his business in the garage.”
Jeff Bezos: The King Of E-Commerce, unattributed and undated (from ’5 years ago’) article at Entrepreneur Magazine’s website [entrepreneur.com]

I Don’t Hate Amazon. No, really. I’m coming to terms with them, and of course, like everyone else, I’m an Amazon customer. [primarily for MP3 music files; iTunes sucks.]

But is Amazon a “savior” of authors and readers, rescuing us from the predations of the Evil Publishing Companies and leading us to the promised land?

“Amazon achieved the position it has in the book ecosystem through a combination of brilliance, execution, natural forces, and some good luck but, above all, focus. It had to take some big chances with pricing and margin to get where it has gotten, but that’s not really necessary anymore. Doing some very logical and natural things, like the new Matchbook program and rolling out more subscription and pricing offerings (like their new ‘Countdown Clock’ discounts for new Kindle titles) will keep their share growing and their competitors scrambling. They will also almost certainly be coming after publishers for more margin (as will their equally dominant counterparts on the store side, Barnes & Noble), but it would seem unlikely that they’ll see the need to extend themselves to sign up authors or build out their ability to distribute print to other people’s stores.

“[T]he good news for publishers is that the business they now have will look less and less appealing compared to other worlds Amazon might conquer. That should save them from having a bulls-eye on their backs, but it will remain a very challenging environment where their biggest customer is the most powerful force in the marketplace and growth outside that customer is harder and harder to achieve. The publishing activities of Amazon will continue to get bigger; the industry of other publishers will continue to get smaller. But we are probably in for a period of slow and steady shifts rather than cataclysms.”
Amazon might lose interest in total hegemony over the book business before they achieve it : Mike Shatzkin, 5 November 2013, The Shatzkin Files www.idealog.com/blog

“I think printed books and eBooks will exist side by side for a long time yet, even as LPs are still around alongside the iPod. And they will definitely come in handy after the zombie apocalypse, because they don’t require batteries. Just be careful with your glasses, Burgess. There’s no adjusting the font size on paper.”
Scott Pearson, 3 November 2013 : Enemy Lines: Dispatches from a Cranky Writer scottmpearson.tumblr.com/

“Still, I don’t think it’s really fair for publishers to blame Amazon for the fact that people like to do their shopping online, and that easily-digitizable content is going to exist mainly in a virtual world rather than the real world. Indeed, there’s an argument that Amazon has saved the publishing industry from going the way of the record labels — that it’s made buying e-books so easy that the number of free pirated versions out there is still tiny. (Amazon has made it easier to find second-hand books, which publishers don’t directly benefit from, but at the same time it’s at the forefront of pushing e-books, which can’t be resold after you’ve bought them. Net-net, let’s call that one a wash.)
“Publishers have always been conservative, and Amazon represents a massive change in their industry. What’s more, the move from small booksellers to B&N to Amazon has been a move where the booksellers have ever-increasing amounts of leverage over the publishers; it’s understandable that the publishers don’t like that. But I just can’t believe that Amazon is, or would ever want to be, an existential threat to the publishing industry.”
Is Amazon bad for publishers? : Felix Salmon, 3 November 2013, Reuters Analysis & Opinion blogs.reuters.com/us/; Felix Salmon blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/

“Amazon has always been about disintermediation and squeezing margins. What better way to do so than by cutting out one of the foodchain’s biggest pieces, the publisher. Horror stories have always been told of how certain bestsellers were rejected by editors from multiple publishing houses. And just how much value does the typical publisher add to a book these days? That’s become a very difficult question for publishers to answer, especially in light of all the self-publishing options that offer significantly higher royalty rates. Amazon continues creating new imprints and adding staff. Don’t let flops like Tim Ferris’ latest book throw you off; Bezos always takes the long-term view, so a few high-profile disappointments won’t deter Amazon’s plans.”
Kindle Singles and the future of ebooks : Joe Wikert, 21 October 2013, jwikert.typepad.com

“In an Amazon world, particularly with free Prime shipping, the idea of a shopping trip begins to feel inefficient. If you think of something you need, just pull up Amazon and order it, then get on with more important things in your life. PG routinely orders all sorts of non-book things from Amazon that he formerly bought at various retail stores.
“If you hear about an interesting book (or, more likely, read about one online), why worry about making a mental note to look for it out the next time you visit a bookstore? Just download the sample and check it out at your next break. Watching TV and see someone talking about an interesting book? Pick up your tablet and download a sample or buy the book if it really sounds great.
“Browsing for books is something PG sort of does all the time, not just when he’s visiting a bookstore. For him, serendipity happens constantly and almost everywhere.”
The Absence Of Serendipity, Or, Why I Hate Shopping At Amazon : 22 November 2013, The Passive Voice

The Guardian reported that 98 UK publishers went out of business over the past year, an increase of 42% over the year before

“Indeed, as the paper points out, it is ‘niche academic and educational publishers’ that are ‘particularly vulnerable,’ because their business model is under attack by digital piracy as well as secondhand book sales on sites like Amazon Marketplace. Cork said, ‘The arrival of Amazon has transformed the secondhand book trade from a fairly minor nuisance to a serious threat. Where once you had to trawl the secondhand bookshops if you wanted to get hold of a cheap hardback or academic book, you can now be fairly certain of getting hold of what you want at the click of a button, and the publisher will not make a penny.’
“Another factor, of course, is the explosive growth in sales of ebooks, whose lower price has also helped to undermine publisher’s margins.”
What’s Driving UK Publishers Out of Business? : Dennis Abrams, 8 November 2013, Publishing Perspectives : The Guardian article cited is “Ebooks and discounts drive 98 publishers out of business”, 4 November 2013

“After writing more than 20 books, with major publishers behind them, I have found it increasingly difficult to get new ideas accepted. It is also frustrating as a writer to have a non-fiction book that is up-to-the-minute when ‘completed’, only for it to come out maybe nine months later and seem slightly dated.
“So I have ventured into the self-publishing ebook market with Breaking the Silence: The Films of John Pilger. My original book about the journalist’s documentaries was published by Bloomsbury in 2001, but that was 12 years ago and Pilger is still going strong, with an even greater body of work. Suggestions that the book might be updated have been declined – the general feeling of publishers seems to be that it has ‘been done’.
“In setting about doing the job myself, I soon discovered some major advantages. Once written, an ebook can be published at the click of a computer’s mouse. When I started, Pilger was making his latest documentary, Utopia (in cinemas now and on television and DVD next month), and I have been able to give the book added impact by tying in with its release. How many of the big publishers can do that?”
Fact: Self-publishing my non-fiction as ebooks makes sense : Anthony Hayward, 19 November 2013, The Guardian online, books section http://www.theguardian.com/books

“A friend of mine who is a longtime independent sales rep says that even the successful indies are finding it necessary to sell books and other things — cards, gifts, chotchkes — to survive. The mega-bookstore with 75,000 or 100,000 titles or more was a magnet for customers in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. It isn’t so much anymore because the multi-million title bookstore is available through anybody’s computer. This is a fact that makes the number of successful stores a weak indicator of the distribution potential available to publishers. If replacement stores carry half the inventory of the ones that go out, we can have a lot of indie retail success stories but still a shrinking ecosystem into which publishers distribute their books.”
The future of bookstores is the key to understanding the future of publishing : Mike Shatzkin, 23 January 2014, The Shatzkin Files www.idealog.com/blog

“And there’s one presumption that seems like a real doozy: Knowing that a large portion of book sales are still in paper, Howey assumes the continued existence of bookstores. These days, that seems like a very shaky assumption. Recently, Jeff Jordan, formerly CEO of OpenTable and now an investor at the firm of Andreesen-Horozwitz, declared that the tipping point for e-commerce, particularly for media, has been reached. This is not a particularly data laden or insightful declaration; his post includes unsurprising monotonic trend lines for digital sales for consumer goods categories. However, Jordan is right to point out the inexorability of this transition: conversion to digital commerce is likely to be a unidirectional phenomenon, because at heart, digital distribution is cheaper.”
Been Down So Long : Peter Brantley, 25 January 2014, PWxyz blogs.publishersweekly.com/blogs/PWxyz/

“Here’s the hard truth about bookstores — and yes, I need to write a long post on this — no bookstore carries every book published that week, let alone that month or that year. When I was travelling last week, I stopped in bookstore after bookstore, from Hudson News to Powell’s to some other indies whose names my tired brain can’t remember, and none of them had one of my favorite mystery author’s latest book. He’s a New York Times bestseller and his book came out the day I left. I had special-ordered a copy, and figured I would regret it, because I’d see it everywhere. Instead, I saw it nowhere.
“That’s pretty common these days. Not even the Times bestsellers are getting physical shelf space.
“Why? Because bookstores now have virtual catalogs, and the authors their customers buy less frequently aren’t on the shelf, but in the virtual catalog.”
The Business Rusch: Pricing Part 2 Or (Discoverability Part 7 Continued) : Kristine Kathryn Rusch, 22 January 2014, kriswrites.com

“This has really been Amazon’s secret sauce from the beginning. The book publishing industry scratched its collective head for years as Jeff Bezos and his crew grew a giant online bookseller without keeping much margin and had Wall Street shovel money at them to grow and invest. The widespread wisdom in publishing in the late 1990s was that Amazon was performing some kind of parlor trick that would shortly come to an end. Instead, they built on their customer base, their tech, and their reputation for service to expand way beyond book retailing. And today they can afford to run a profit-less book retailing and publishing operation (if they want to; I have no evidence that they don’t make profits and don’t claim to know), taking the margin out of the game in a way that would squeeze any competitor trying to make a profit from book retailing.”
Book publishing may not remain a stand-alone industry and book retailing will demonstrate that first : Mike Shatzkin, 29 January 2014, The Shatzkin Files www.idealog.com/blog

Of course, I’m sure I’m just overthinking it.

“In the old days things were much clearer. All you had to do to call yourself a writer was publish a book, which meant you needed someone else to publish it – and someone else to buy it. It may have been a myth that published authors were making money out of writing, but the illusion left the word ‘writer’ meaning at least something. If the cosy settlement that existed for a while between copyright law and the printing press was ‘just a blip’, as Neil Gaiman suggests, if the prospects for making a living out of storytelling are as bleak as the surveys report, then we can’t expect to reserve the term ‘writer’ for authors who have found commercial success.
“Maybe we should just admit defeat. Maybe the digital revolution has simply revealed the tensions in a concept that exploded into meaninglessness long ago. Maybe we should abandon the idea of a class of people who are different, a class of people who are ‘writers’, and just get on with the glorious, messy business of reading and writing.”
Does digital publishing mean the death of the author? : Richard Lea, 23 January 2014, The Guardian online, books section http://www.theguardian.com/books



B&N's Nook as differentiator

filed under , 28 February 2014, 10:13 by

B&N is clinging desperately to Nook.

Not as a hedge against Amazon (a battle that has been lost, I think) or in any sort of attempt to compete with Google, Apple, or Samsung — even with the balls and ego that B&N Chairman Leonard Riggio still has (at 73) I don’t think he’s delusional.

B&N needs Nook as a way to differentiate themselves from books-at-Costco and the remaining independent booksellers, and as a bulwark or backstop against the decades-long slide in reading.


[data from The Consumer Expenditure Survey that I last futzed with back in 2011; no, I’m not going to do a new chart. Per the source, aggregate spending on reading in 2012 was $13.6 Billion, so the trend line holds]

It’s not about competing with Amazon — instead, it’s about retaining the physical book fans.

Having a digital option for their customers, even a piss-poor implementation like Nook, is magnitudes better than not having a digital option. B&N is the largest bookseller (physically, if not in absolute terms anymore) so as the leader, they need to offer something more. Appearances count more than the reality of the situation, and B&N’s target customers are the ones that won’t convert to digital. Even if no one buys the Nooks (and the sales numbers point in that direction), the Nooks are there — given prominent placement in the front of the store — and lend the impression that B&N is doing something about digital and so the I-only-buy-REAL-books-customer feels better about the chain and their physical book purchases.

Many book customers know they’re luddites, and perhaps take some pride and enjoyment from the fact, and from their bookshelves, and from the whole tactile and physical aspects of their hobby — even if, when one is lost in a book, it all fades to the background anyway. This customer may not want an e-reader device, even if they are otherwise technically savvy — but since they are technically savvy, they also appreciate a bookstore that speaks to that part of themselves as well. Yes, I’m cutting an awfully fine distinction here; let me phrase it in the form of a question: Do you buy build-it-yourself furniture from Target and Walmart, or do you drive to Ikea and get something with a fake-Swedish name? Perception of the brand has a lot to do with customer decisions, whether the customers admit it or not.

Every book store occupies a niche — you can be small and artisanal, like the corner bakery serving up cronut knock-offs. You can be warm and neighborly, like the little sandwich shop that has great coffee and nice tables. You can be hip and trendy, like the pizza parlor that always experiments.

Or you can be big. Most of us buy food in a grocery store. The supermarket has a deli, bakery, and pharmacy — and a meat department because no one can go to the local butcher any more, and a produce department because no one even knows what a ‘green grocer’ used to be. We don’t all live within walking distance of a corner cafe or bistro — or indie bookseller — but we all know where the local supermarket is.

Barnes & Noble has to be the book supermarket, and that means departments, and that means DVDs and CDs, board games and jigsaw puzzles, blank books and bookmarks, cheap gift crap that no one buys — and yes, Nook.

[Would B&N do better if they got rid of the crap and just sold books? Gods, yes, I’ve been making that argument for years. But B&N sees more of a future in the crap than in the books, and the idea of being a department store is perhaps anchored deeper in their big-box-DNA than the books themselves are.]

B&N needs Nook, because they need the stage prop, the show of being Amazon’s equal.
I’m not sure if this propaganda effect is worth $60M or $100M or $200 Million a year (~$1.4 Billion to date) but B&N certainly thinks so, and is set to release yet another tablet.



How to Build a Better Block

filed under , 27 February 2014, 11:34 by

It is with some sadness that I relate the ‘death’ of an online video: previously hosted on Vimeo by The Municipal Art Society of New York (where there is still some great video), I regret to inform you that The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces – The Street Corner from William H. Whyte (author and pioneering urbanist) was taken down following a copyright claim.

Ordinarily, it wouldn’t matter (even to a ‘fan’ like me) but I had embedded the video in a past blog post and used it to illustrate several arguments on how people actually use public space.

Fortunately, I was able to track down a pair of YouTube videos that, while lacking the charm of Whyte’s 1980 film, managed to communicate the same points. I very rarely edit six-month-old posts—heck, I’m hard-pressed to do more than fix typos—but the “Lifestyle Destination” post is one of my longer essays (and one that still gets incoming traffic off of Google) so I felt it needed the addition-slash-correction.

Since you’re not necessarily going back and reading my archives, though, I thought the new videos might be worthwhile to pull into a post of their own:

George C. Stoney’s How to Live in a City (1964), “architectural critic Eugene Ruskin guides us through unique locales which illustrate the fine line between organic and sterile urban spaces. It all depends on a place’s ability to attract and sustain, even if only momentarily, a sense of community.” (18.3min)

George Morris, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, Market Square (12.2min)

I only used those two to plug the gap — but why stop there? This may come as a shock for those who think YouTube is only a resource for skit comedy, cat videos, and music*, but at this point everything is on YouTube — well, everything except 1980’s The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces – The Street Corner by William H. Whyte. And Game of Thrones.

While I was on the urban-studies-kick, here are some other short films, presentations, and documentaries I found:

Urban Design for Successful Cities: Alexandros Washburn, September 2012 TEDx talk (25.4min)

How To Build a Better Block: TEDxOU – Jason Roberts, January 2012 TEDxOU talk (18.2min)

- great title. you might have noticed, I stole it.

A City Is (Not) A Tree: New Models of Urban Space, Gino Zucchi, April 2013 (1hr57min)

Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with Nature – Douglas Farr, 2009 (1hr20min)

* Isn’t it amazing that the most popular and widespread ‘digital music service’ is actually YouTube, and it’s free? I know because I spend *hours* on YouTube looking for music – it’s like a research tool — strike that, it *is* a research tool, as this post and others of mine capably prove.



Donald Fagan, Jazz Piano

filed under , 27 February 2014, 10:50 by

This “Sunday Morning Music Docs” mini-feature (Yes, I know it’s Thursday, but I’m playing a bit of catch-up here) was posted to my twitter a few weeks back — it’s not a long, multiple-video slogfest with commentary like the last two outings I reblogged here for your enjoyment, but it is 126 minutes of shop talk and piano jazz featuring Donald Fagan (of Steely Dan).

Not everyone’s cup of tea (or slug of whiskey) but for those who like this sort of thing: well, we like this sort of thing -

Donald Fagen Concepts For Jazz/Rock Piano

Steely Dan & Marian McPartland – Piano Jazz (audio only)



The Fallacy, and the Truth, of "Big Publishing"

filed under , 25 February 2014, 20:35 by

[blockquote]

“In the last 20 years, two multi-billion-dollar bookstore chains rose — and one fell. A hell of a lot has changed in 20 years.
“In 1994, Viacom owned Simon & Schuster and was buying Macmillan USA; now in 2014 Macmillan (via the original UK root) is back in the US book business – but under the imprimatur of privately-held German firm Holzbrinck. Viacom spun off S&S, as the publishing arm of CBS. Hachette Book Group USA (Hachette Livre being the bookish face of French multimedia conglomerate Lagardère) was born in 2006 with the French purchase of Time Warner Books — and more recently Hachette has also added on Disney’s Hyperion. (Hyperion, I’ll remind you, was built by Disney from scratch in 1990.)
“Rounding out “The [old] Big Six” – HarperCollins is only 25 years old, assembled from parts by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation over the course of the 1990s. And everyone is shadowed by the Randy Penguin merger: the imprints of Random House already read like a directory of 1947 New York publishing houses; added to Penguin’s haul the new Penguin Random House is set to publish half of all adult trade books (or more). That merger isn’t even a year old yet.”
[/blockquote]
Forbes: Please Hire Someone Who Understands Books, or Math, or Both : Rocket Bomber, 11 February 2014

Up until last year, we used to talk about The Big Six – the six largest US publishers: Random House, Penguin, Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan — In 2013 The Big Six became The Big Five (or alternately, Randy Penguin and the Following Four) after Bertelsmann and Pearson came to an agreement to merge their subsidiaries (incidentally, the two biggest US publishers), Random House and Penguin Putnam.

OK, first: Randy Penguin and the Following Four is a great band name. But more importantly: what [now] gets referred to as The Big Five are just the publishing arms of major international multimedia conglomerates — so far in this post I’ve name-checked Viacom, CBS, Holzbrinck, Lagardère, Time Warner, Disney, News Corp, Bertelsmann, and Pearson — the publishing houses get handed around like poker chips by media giants who [editorializing here] just don’t give a shit about print anymore, but hey, it’s still a multi-billion-dollar industry and everybody else has one “so I guess we need a publishing arm, too”

Publishing is worth (rough numbers) $27 Billion, but that’s only in the very-low-two-digit-billions, so to a Viacom or 21st Century Fox or Time Warner, the whole book thing just isn’t worth futzing with. Each of those entities has—when given half a chance—sold, spun-off, or otherwise dumped a “Big Six” publisher and retained the ‘real’ media assets … in 2013 Disney bought Marvel (technically a publisher) but the $4 Billion price tag was for characters and “IP” and what is now a blockbuster movie studio, not the floundering funny-book business. The year after Disney bought Marvel, you might have noticed they sold off their actual book division, Hyperion, in favor of concentrating solely on ABC/Disney (and soon-to-be Marvel and Lucas) tie-in product. Fox has similarly shed its News Corp skin, taking the TV and Movie studios and leaving the publishing behind. CBS is stuck with S&S only because they were cast aside with them back when Viacom split. Time Warner (which has been Time Warner since 1990) (and which sold off Little, Brown and Time Warner Books in 2006) even has plans to spin-off the Time Inc. magazine distaff branch and soon (mid- to late-2014) the last vestige of dirty, dirty print will be purged from Warner Brothers’ balance sheet — except for Batman and the other ‘DC Entertainment’ characters.

##

From 1989 to 1998, if you mentioned “the Big Six” to someone working in publishing in New York, they’d assume you were talking about accounting (or maybe poetry). The Big *whatever*, as a term, is too recent — and definitions are fluid.

[source: Google Ngram]

“New York Publisher” was (and occasionally still is) the disparagement of choice when talking about corporate inflexibility, but more and more we were actually talking about media giants and corporations, not about publishers per se. The Big Six emerged in the late 90s (note, not a historic and ever-present phenomenon) and were part of the larger media consolidation then taking place between movies, TV, cable… and yes, the internet and video games, too: AOL Time Warner and Vivendi Universal, anyone? Man, the aughts were weird. Book publishing, as ‘ur-content’, got swept up into the whole mess. The fit was often bad.

Books, newspapers, comics and magazines—what we call publishing—are the red-headed stepchildren of media, of note only in context. HBO gets all credit for Game of Thrones, Harry Potter is a Warner Brothers property, Lord of the Rings is New Line Cinema, Walking Dead is an AMC TV show. Marvel Studios had an immaculate conception in 1996, springing forth from nothing, whole and wholly-formed, into a super-hero movie desert and eventually becoming so popular that there were even popular comic book adaptations of the movies.

On the TV side, we also have Justified, Bones, Orange Is the New Black, and House of Cards — and hell: Roots, Shogun, this is nothing new. Masterpiece Theater has the occasional original story (nod to Downton) but for decades its bread-and-butter was literary adaptation.

This is a looooong aside (and trivial, or trivia, or both – you can skip it), but having done the research I had to include it: Two-thirds of all books that hit #1 on the bestseller list for the past century were made into movies — another 10% made the jump to TV, so three-quarters have been adapted.

The exceptions are kind of fun to note:

  • Mr. Britling Sees It Through by H. G. Wells, 1917
  • Strange Fruit by Lillian Smith, 1944 (eventually, an Oscar® nominated short in 1978, but not a feature-length adaptation)
  • The King’s General by Daphne du Maurier, 1946
  • The Source by James A. Michener, 1965
  • Trinity by Leon Uris, 1976
  • Chesapeake by James A. Michener, 1978
  • The Covenant by James A. Michener, 1980
  • The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum, 1979 (…is in development hell – though at one time both Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington were attached)
  • The Partner by John Grisham, 1997 (optioned)
  • The Testament by John Grisham, 1999 (optioned)
  • The Litigators by John Grisham 2011 (optioned)

There’s a batch that haven’t been adapted, but we could argue that doesn’t matter because others in the series* have been:

  • The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien, 1977
  • The Mammoth Hunters by Jean M. Auel, 1985
  • The Cardinal of the Kremlin by Tom Clancy, 1988
  • The Plains of Passage by Jean M. Auel, 1990
  • Desecration by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, 2001

And the TV movies and mini-series:

  • Wheels by Arthur Hailey (Book 1971, on TV in 1978)
  • Centennial by James A. Michener (1974, TV 1978)
  • Noble House by James Clavell (1981, TV 1988)
  • It by Stephen King (1986, TV 1990)
  • The Tommyknockers by Stephen King (1987, TV 1993)
  • Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley (1991, TV 1994)
  • The Street Lawyer by John Grisham (1998, TV movie 2003)
  • For One More Day by Mitch Albom, (2006, TV movie 2007)

The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub (1984) was being developed as a mini by TNT but never made it to air

Out of the whole list (and for more info on that, I’d direct you to Matt Kahn and his site, where he not only lists the Publisher’s Weekly #1 Bestsellers for each year, he’s also slowly reviewing each and every one) there are only four I couldn’t find more information on:

  • The Brethren by John Grisham 2000
  • The Summons by John Grisham 2002
  • The Broker by John Grisham 2005
  • The Appeal by John Grisham 2008
    …but it’s Grisham, so I’m sure these have been optioned even if it wasn’t internet-link-generating-news at the time.

And of course, there are the pair of bestsellers from the early 1980s: the bestselling book in each of these years were novelizations of movie scripts: E.T., The Extraterrestrial in ’82 (by William Kotzwinkle) and Return of the Jedi in ’83 (by James Kahn). If pressed for a date when publishing died, I’m picking 1982.

My point — yes, I had one — is that books and publishing are, in the corporate view, just the minor leagues. Even big names like Stephen King, John Grisham, and J.K. Rowling are just the ‘farm team’ for the real business, which is making movies and TV. Books are a static property to be strip-mined, not a resource to be conserved — or hell, a vibrant product that can be nurtured and will multiply if given even the slightest bit of care and feeding. The major media companies, and the publishers they’ve hobbled, can’t be bothered.

Amazon gets some credit here. But…

Well, Amazon gets credit for throwing Miracle-Gro® on a field of weeds and wildflowers — the seeds were there already, there was even some minuscule growth — indeed, this was a field that used to be tended by the pulp magazines and rack paperbacks.

[And honestly, I’d feel better about e-books and the new self-publishing Revolution if it were like the pulps of decades past and not a wholly-owned subsidiary of Conglom-o. But that’s my bias…]

##

We talk about Traditional Publishing like it’s a single thing, a single model, or a single company. It’s not. To claim that all publishers are the same is to equate The Big Five with Osprey, Harlequin, Regnery, and Soft Skull. The big “New York” publishers are actually run out of Gütersloh, London, Paris, and Stuttgart — of the two remaining “New York” publishers, one is more concerned with their (Hollywood-based) TV programming and the other’s major asset is financial information firm Dow Jones.

If anything, Amazon has managed to flourish because first, consolidation squeezed the publishing industry practically dry, and then the new corporate owners criminally neglected it.

##

For perspective, check out Publishers Weekly’s list of The World’s 60 Largest Book Publishers, 2013 – which not only is a global list but also incorporates the huge educational/textbook and financial reporting sectors (Reed Elsevier, ThomsonReuters, and Wolters Kluwer are the major players you’ve never heard of, each with about ~$5 Billion in revenue — not gross sales, revenue) — and we really should be talking about Scholastic as one of the [new] Big Six — and Europe and Japan are massive book markets, and the eventual digital book solutions in both might impact the digital book market in the US. Of Course Amazon is a player, but not the only one. (The side battle in Brazil is also of note)

I’d love if some of the “new book” self-publishing evangelists addressed the Fall of Publishing (1982-2006) in their arguments, and perhaps would explain why their new corporate overlord is in any way better than the old ones. It would be one thing if we were advocating for a creators’ collective to advocate rights for all designers/producers/writers against the many companies and web sites who seek to exploit authorship – but instead I only see efforts to pit the new model against the old one for internet ‘points’.

Who owns a kindle ebook? More importantly: what happens to a kindle ebook if Amazon stops hosting it? Prodigy and CompuServe were the shit in 2000, and in practical terms, were also ‘the internet’ for their user base. Amazon seems different (but awfully similar) but once again we’re looking at a walled garden and 2015 in practice isn’t all that different from 1985.

Dollars are great, I need more myself. But if the discussion is about business models and propagation of books, I need more than hagiographies of KDP and some by-the-way statistics based on web-scraping. Let’s talk about the future of publishing, not the panning-for-gold in the effluvia of a commerce-site-cum-social-network. Talk to me about how this all works in 2024, or 2034. Amazon is Fantastic, but can’t be the only player: tell me what’s next, and how to participate.

If your imagination fails at KDP, then your imagination fails. If “big publishing” is what you’re against, then tell me what you are for. Howey, what’s next?



Post-instrument Music

filed under , 23 February 2014, 11:45 by

[This batch features creative personalities & modern music, so fair warning: occasional bits of NSFW language are lurking in the links ahead. Don’t play YouTube videos at work.]

Once upon a time, I was a snob — still am in some ways, about some things — but the starting point for today’s excursion is the bias I used to have for “real” music, over electronics and sampling.

From the age of seven, I studied music. I wasn’t all that serious about it, and I wasn’t overjoyed about practicing, but I took lessons for 4 years until I was old enough for the school’s band program, and then I was a band geek for 14 years (yes, that includes 5 years of college). I play saxophone (I started on violin, but that’s a different story) and from jr. high on I played in jazz band and started a parallel ‘education’ by listening to the original versions of the swing hits and jazz standards we were murdering in class. Once you start digging, Jazz is deep – and Jazz also didn’t stop in 1958 or 1962 or whatever, it kept going (and keeps going). Jazz left the small smoky clubs, went back to the dance floor, responded to the rock-music-thing, picked up some R&B, and became Funk.

You can argue with me on that one, I guess, but it’s true. Free doctoral thesis here kids: Listen to anything with a horn line, and that music is a direct descendant of 30s swing – the instrumentation is the same, the only thing that changed was the definition of ‘popular dance music’.

Anyway – I was a musician, and kinda proud of it even though I’d never be a professional, and I like the output of other musicians. I listened to a lot of Soul, and Funk, and when some of the first Hip Hop albums came out, with the scratching and snipped-bits and ‘recycling’ and I thought, “Hell, there are a lot of session musicians out there, why don’t they hire some already? It can’t be that hard to get some guys into the studio for an hour to lay down some tracks to rap over.”

I was so wrong about the music, and where it was coming from. I feel so white.

##

In the 30s, there wasn’t recorded music in clubs, they needed live music. So you could pick up a cheap horn in a pawn shop and get some gigs (no matter how bad you were) and learn on the job and if you were good enough, you could eke out a living.

In the 50s and 60s, you could pick up a cheap guitar in a pawn shop, learn 4 chords and fool around, maybe fool around with friends in your garage and form a band and try playing the tracks you heard on the radio.

Imagine being so poor you can’t afford a guitar. Imagine living in a highrise or brownstone and not having a garage to practice in. Imagine living in a neighborhood so poor your schools don’t have music programs, and in 80s Reagan America where no one gives a flip about how poor your schools are. Imagine loving music and not having an outlet for it.

All you have is excellent taste, a huge stack of your parents’ 60s soul and 70s funk records, and a turntable. You become a DJ, spinning the old tracks of other people — because the clubs still need ‘live’ music even if they don’t need the big band anymore. And then, over time, and with the introduction of the crossfader — we see the invention of a new ‘musical’ instrument.

Even if you’re biased for ‘real’ music from ‘real’ instruments and see Hip Hop as derivative, merely recycling the best bits of older, ‘better’ music — the best bits of the music are still there and if you open your ears and listen you’ll find the art in the transformation. If you go see a live DJ, there’s no mistaking that what these musicians are doing on the turntables is a performance.

Add in some new electronic tools and digital sampling technology to automate some of the ‘loops’ and now we can really stack and rock it: Two turntables and a drum machine become a freakin’ orchestra. Layering tracks in a studio or on a laptop may be more like composing music, as opposed to playing it, but there’s no denying the music part.

I used to be a snob. I came back around. Enough of me talking about me, though: Let’s check out the music.

##

I’m going to ramp you into this slowly

Early, 1988 Documentary about Sampling (8.6min) – YouTube source is apparently Aussie TV, but I hear Kurt Loder so we can be pretty sure this was originally produced for MTV News and might predate ’88 by a year or two:

If there is such a thing as ‘Sampling 101’ the first class of the course is on the Amen Break, “the world’s most important 6-sec drum loop” (18min)

A short track (3.5min), Eclectic Method’s Brief History of Sampling, with plenty more examples — inputs and outputs from several decades and genres

Still up for more?

Scratch, “A feature-length documentary film about hip-hop DJing, otherwise known as turntablism. From the South Bronx in the 1970s to San Francisco now, the world’s best scratchers, beat-diggers, party-rockers, and producers wax poetic on beats, breaks, battles, and the infinite possibilities of vinyl.” (1hr28min) — it’s the longest documentary in this post but if you only have time to watch one, watch this one:

The skills of the DJ are more than just scratching, something that gets glossed in the Scratch doc; it actually starts with beatmatching, syncing two tracks (adjusting speeds/tempos and matching bar patterns) so one can be played seamlessly into another, or in the case of a mashup, one played over another (which, with skill, can be done live — the mashup was born in the dance club, not on YouTube).

Quick Beatmatching – DJing For Dummies (5min)

The Scratch doc led me to a new appreciation for what the DJs and turntables can do, and the amount of work, preparation, and music education required — oh, it’s not about reading music anymore, you have to know the music. Following a few more links, I found a YouTube show called Crate Diggers — the folks from Fuse get a DJ, get them talking about the music, get them talking about the records, and follow them around inside their vinyl collection.

I couldn’t pick just one. Have five:

Evidence (12min)

DJ Babu (12min)

DJ Toomp (13min)

RJD2 (17.5min)

DJ Jazzy Jay (15min)

Thanks for reading. Hope you liked. One more video to play us out — Eclectic Method again — this track is called Cultural Funking Overload



"Do you miss being a bookseller?"

filed under , 20 February 2014, 20:56 by

“Do you miss being a bookseller?”

I miss the books. I miss the stacks and stacks of new books, the bookcases, the odd-and-original finds that can only happen when you’re surrounded by 50,000 titles and even though you’ve worked there for years you still haven’t quite seen everything yet.

I miss my co-workers: booksellers are the most interesting people. Some of them are so introverted you have to practically corner them to get a conversation started; others are so extroverted you can’t get them to shut up. But they all have something to say, something to add, and they all read books.

On rare occasions, I miss the customers.

But do I miss the business of bookselling? Hell no.

##

Ah. One other thing I miss is the income. And searching for a job in this economy is still rather difficult.

[if you have any leads, please drop something in my email inbox.]



Not sure about some of the casting choices in this Firefly reboot

filed under , 19 February 2014, 15:27 by

Still not sick of this joke yet.

Eventually, someone with access to sources will do an official mashup of these two – well, I take that back: after 8 seconds I found a way to download the Marvel trailer, and even I could do a simple mashup given YouTube’s built in video editing tools, but then I’d have the Disney Evil Empire breathing down my neck for posting an unauthorized trailer. So no.

Edit: OK, so I went ahead and did it anyway:

original post follows, because like I said: I expect this mashup to be short-lived on YouTube

Until someone else does it, we just have to double up:
[for best result, I recommend muting or turning the volume way down on the Marvel trailer]

YouTube Doubler

Have a link to share : http://youtubedoubler.com/bKss



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