Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Lit-Major’s Game

When I was whiling away a couple of years at Cal State, earning a professionally useless but amusing degree in English, my classmates and I used to entertain ourselves by working out what certain towering figures in literature would be doing, if they were professionally functioning in the arts and letters of the present- or just the last quarter of the 20th century. What would they be writing, and what sort of writing— and given that movies and television would be in the mix— what variant of creativity would be within the scope of time-transplanted literary talent?
There aren’t any definitive answers, of course; the only requirement is to be able to extrapolate amusingly. Herewith some of the proposed 20th-century career paths:

William Shakespeare: Actor turned writer; the movies, of course. Wildly popular, prolific and all over the map, quality-wise, over a long, long career.

Mark Twain: Reporter and writer of very fine magazine articles on popular culture and commentary, and the occasional book. Pretty much what Tom Wolfe, or PJ. O Rourke does now.

Henry James: Still a novelist, producing exquisitely wrought and finely detailed novels. Very high-brow, lots of literary prizes, but not very widely read. Never an Oprah Book Club selection.

Edith Wharton: Ditto.

William Thackeray: Witty, roman-a-clef novels, about people on the fringes of power in various establishments. The public is vastly amused with every one, trying to figure out who they “really” are about. Threatened with legal action on occasion, which just boosts sales figures.

Charles Dickens: Writer and producer of very long, and involved, and wildly popular TV series/miniseries. All of them have long story arcs, many eccentric characters, and enough turns and twists to keep the audiences’ attention riveted for years.

Rudyard Kipling: Also a newspaper reporter turned novelist, poet and short story writer, and entertainer. Doing what Garrison Keillor does now, even to the radio show.

Sir Walter Scott: Enormously popular writer of historical adventures based on historical figures. James Michener, only shorter.

Louisa May Alcott: Empowering chick-lit. Frequent Oprah guest, and Book Club selection.

Jules Verne: Science fiction, of course— but through the medium of interactive video games.

And to cross over into classical music, Richard Wagner would be doing movies too: very elaborate, special-effects laden, Kubrick-ish blockbusters, with thunderous musical scores and eye-catching set-pieces. They would be very popular, and the critics would come away from press showings bubbling over with ecstatic praise, even though they wouldn’t quite understand a lot of it.

Add your own, elaborate on or propose alternatives for mine: just be creative and above all, amusing.

(originally posted at The Daily Brief)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Standardized Writing

Lately, when I ask my fifth grade students to get out their materials for writing class, I hear terrible sounds. Groaning. Sighing. Slumping. (And if you don’t think slumping has a noise, then you haven’t been in a fifth grade classroom.)

It didn’t use to be that way. My students used to enjoy writing. Fifth grade is a fantastic grade to explore creative and stimulating writing projects. In the past, my students have written clever mysteries, ghoulish ghost stories, and fantasies modeled after their favorite novels. They have written fictional letters to relatives, pretending to be survivors of the Johnstown Flood in 1889. They have written journal entries in which they imagined themselves aboard ship with Columbus or Magellan. And they have written magazine articles in which their future selves were proclaimed Person of the Year for Time Magazine.

But that was before No Child Left Behind. That was in the heyday of imaginative cross-curricular projects, when a teacher could allow students to follow their interests and choose their own topics in an atmosphere of collaboration. That was before states enacted standardized testing models and determined exactly what students should be taught to write. After all, in this great nation, we wouldn’t want some students to learn one thing while others were learning something completely different.

On our state test, students are required to produce writing samples in two out of three eligible genres: a personal narrative, an expository essay, and a persuasive essay. This year, my school decided to combat mediocre writing scores with intensive instruction in these three types of composition. We began the year with six weeks of instruction on writing personal narratives. That was followed by six weeks of instruction on expository essays. The next six weeks? Persuasive essays, of course. What else could we do? This is what our state government says the students should be learning, and our school’s funding partly depends on good scores.
It doesn’t sound that bad, until you find yourself going into the third or fourth week of writing nothing but expository essays: Write an essay about your favorite season. Write an essay about your favorite sport. Write an essay about your favorite essay topic. Along about the fifth week of this—as I listened to the groans, the sighs, and the slumps—I realized I was killing any love of writing my students might have had. And there were seven or eight weeks of test preparation yet to go.

Since the standardized tests of NCLB have become the sole and unassailable assessment of all instruction in the nation, teachers have begun to lose their perspective. I admit it; we’ve gone a little crazy. I now hear colleagues talking about something called “the five paragraph story.” That’s right. Take your basic five paragraph essay, make a few adjustments, and train your students to write a story that fits right into this structure.
Paragraph one introduces the setting and the characters. The second paragraph reveals the problem. The third paragraph discusses various attempts to solve the problem, which is resolved in the fourth paragraph. The fifth paragraph sums everything up, possibly with a nice moral. Ready to teach voice and style? Just get the students to make one personal comment somewhere in the story, and add two similes and a metaphor. Ta-da! The standardized story. The Stepford Student story.

What about those fifth grade gems of the past with titles like The Beautiful Unicorn? The Alien Invasion? The Day I Woke Up and Switched Places With My Dog? I don’t know when I will get to read stories like those again.
I miss them.

And I wonder—who will be the writers of tomorrow after we have standardized the fledgling authors of today?


Sunday, April 20, 2008

N Yr Bkstorz

And whittling away at your client base, is the meaning that I take away from this imbroglio, as reported by member Lynn Osterkamp on her blog, Populist Publisher. I’d love to make $15-20,000 from any of my books in one fell swoop, even if it was as a ghost-writer for someone embarrassing like Paris Hilton or whoever has racked up enough notoriety for the panjandrums of the literary-industrial complex to think it worth a contract and a fat advance. Money is money, even if it is for the labor of transforming a sows’ ear into a best-selling silk purse. It’s being paid for writing, for pete’s sake. Working from home, in a pair of sweats; sure as hell beats telemarketing or digging ditches.

Ghost-writers like the Penn Group are doubtless seeing their source of income threatened – at some remove, admittedly – by the ability of anyone who thinks they have something to say choosing to spend their money on a POD edition and a little free-lance publicity. It’s change, change in the way things have always been done; always threatening to someone with an investment in things continuing as they are. Kind of stacking the deck, though – in picking four not very appealing books and presenting them as ‘typical’ POD productions. Ah well, no one has put any comments on the Penn Group blog post about this matter, so that indicates something.

That, and Harper Collins new imprint, doing something a little like the typical POD publishing house: no advance, royalties only, non-returnable, on-line sales. Presumably they will be a little less focused on the celebrity and mega-established-writers. (more discussion here and at Populist Publisher

Signs of the times, signs of the times. Slowly and almost imperceptivity, the publishing world is changing, and changing in a way that is to our advantage.

Friday, April 11, 2008


(Although the following appears with my name on it, ths is actually a guest-post by another IAG member: Michael S. Katz is an attorney, editor-in-chief of Strider Nolan Publishing, board member of the Independent Authors’ Guild, and author of the comedy novel Shalom On The Range.) recently announced a new policy requiring all Print On Demand authors to use Amazon’s own printing company, Booksurge, in order to be sold through Amazon. Many POD authors and publishers are understandably upset by this, as this can only serve to cost the authors money, and cost the printing companies business. But in terms of Amazon’s market share, how much business are we actually talking about?


Sales of books totaled $2 billion in 2000, at which time on-line sales made up between 7.5% and 10% of that total.1 Amazon and now account for more than 85% of online book sales.3 Recent data shows that Amazon’s book sales are approximately four times that of,4 and Amazon has a 70% share of the Internet book market, so this translates into a 15 to 17.5% market share for

Amazon’s total sales in 2006 were $4.63 billion, but this includes books, music, and various other items, including a lot of high-end electronics, jewelry, and the like. Barnes & Noble actually outsold them at $4.68 billion (and they were basically limited to books, music and movies), but their on-line presence had only $477 million in sales. Why are people flocking to Amazon over


A lot of it has to do with programming. Amazon has a reputation for being the best at tracking customer habits, having collected information longer and used it more proactively. Over the years they have collected detailed information about what its customers buy, considered buying, browsed for but never bought, recommended to others, or even wished someone would buy them.10 Amazon uses this information to calculate recommendations that boost sales.

In the entertainment industry, recommendations are a remarkably efficient form of marketing, as they enable films, music and books to more easily find the right audience.9 For example, the book Touching the Void, a tale of a mountain-climbing tragedy, was released in 1988 to good reviews but modest success. In 1998, the book Into Thin Air, about another mountain-climbing tragedy, was released and became a bestseller. All of a sudden, people began buying the older book again. Touching the Void began to be displayed side by side with Into Thin Air, and actually wound up outselling the newer book. How did this happen? Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, attributes this to recommendations. Amazon’s programs note buying patterns and suggest similar books to readers. Some people follow the suggestion, enjoy the book, and post excellent reviews. These purchases and reviews lead to more sales, more recommendations, and the cycle continues.9

Readers’ reviews also stimulate sales, although moreso on Amazon than One study (Chevalier and Mayzlin) examined how sales on both sites correlated with number of reviews and customers’ ratings.12 They determined that a good review will increase the number of books sold, although with much greater effect on Amazon than A bad review has a greater effect than a good one, based on the assumption that many 5-star reviews are believed to be “planted,” whereas 1-star reviews are seen as more legitimate.12


How do prices compare between the big two? A study (Chevalier and Goolsbee) collected Amazon and data for 18,000 different books during three different weeks in 2001. They determined that there was significant price sensitivity for online book purchases at both sites. But the demand at was much more price sensitive—both to its own prices and to Amazon’s prices—than at Amazon.4

A one percent increase in a book’s price at Amazon reduced sales by about 0.5 percent at Amazon but raised sales at by 3.5 percent, implying that (based on the 4-to-1 ratio in sales) every customer lost by Amazon instead bought the book at Conversely, raising prices by one percent at reduced sales about 4 percent but increased sales at Amazon by only about 0.2 percent.4 Therefore, a customer lost by Amazon would usually wind up buying the book at, whereas a customer lost by would not necessarily go to Amazon. If keeps its prices right, they can steal away a lot of Amazon traffic.


So how much traffic are POD authors talking about? Amazon’s book ranking system can be used to estimate the number of copies a book sells.

47.9% of Amazon’s sales consisted of titles ranked better than (under) 40,000. 39.2% of their sales were books ranked between 40,000 and 100,000.5 Titles ranked between 100,000 and 200,000 accounted for 7.3% of sales, while titles ranked from 200,000 to 300,000 accounted for only 4.6% of sales.5 Anything above that accounts for only 1% of sales.

Researchers at MIT (Brynjolfsson, Yu and Smith) studied publisher-provided data of one publisher’s weekly sales for 321 titles, and compared the figures to Amazon’s sales rankings for the same week. The observed weekly sales of these books ranged from 1 to 481 copies and the observed weekly rankings ranged from 238 to 961,367.5 Morris Rosenthal of Foner Books also analyzed performance based on a brand new book he published. 11 Combining the information culled from both studies, if a book is ranked 100,000 you’re looking at selling about 1 copy per day. At a ranking of 30,000 it’s averaging between 1 and 2 copies per day. The 10,000 ranking calculates to 2 copies a day. The 1,000 ranking is estimated at 11 sales that day.11 A book with a rank of 10 is estimated to get 700 sales a day.5

Keep in mind that a ranking at any single point in time is not indicative of actual sales. Selling two copies of a title, regardless of whether it has ever sold before, will propel it into the top 50,000 for at least a few hours. If the same book otherwise sells very rarely, or never, it will drop 100,000 rankings the next day, 400,000 rankings over the course of the week, another 200,000 rankings the next week, and so on. Eventually it will hover around 2,000,000.11

We can estimate sales figures for the majority of POD books using these rankings. Not to be insulting to anyone, but odds are that most POD books will fall within the over-100,000 rankings, which means less than one copy a day while the ranking stays close to 100,000. So it’s reasonable to assume that most POD books are selling very few copies on

Another calculation we can do is by using market shares. As of a few years ago, 2 billion books were sold overall.5 On-line sales accounted for less than 10% of the book sales market, so:

10% x 2 billion books = 200 million books sold on-line.

Since 70% of all books sold on-line were sold by Amazon,

70% x 200 million books = 140 million books sold by Amazon.

As previously mentioned, 13% of books sold by Amazon were ranked worse than (higher than) 100,000. This amounts to:

13% x 140 million = 12 million books sold ranked above 100,000.

Divide this by the number of titles that are available (there are more than 2.3 million books in print and many more that are out of print but still sold on Amazon5), and the average number of books sold by a POD author on Amazon are relatively small potatoes.


If sales of POD books are so small, why should any company bother to sell them at all? Because the sales add up and can bring in big money.

With no shelf space to pay for, no exterior costs, and minimal distribution fees, all books are equally worthy of being carried.8 Internet retailers have a nearly unlimited inventory, thanks to centralized warehouses and drop-shipping agreements with distributors.

And if 13% of Amazon’s book sales are in more obscure titles (ranked over 100,000), that’s still millions of dollars in sales. This is known as the long tail, referring to items available for sale that may not sell in large individual quantities but will still add up to some serious financing. The long tail has been estimated at 20%-30% of book sales.9, 11 Not a segment that would be economically wise to ignore.


Let’s face it. The big publishing companies are going to advertise books written by best-selling authors to the hilt, and people are going to continue to buy those books based on name recognition alone—even though they are often books that are ghostwritten. But a bookseller who will do right by the lesser-known authors whose books comprise the long tail can still make a pretty penny.

So what is the correct response to Amazon’s new policy of forcing POD authors to use Amazon’s printing company? Start pushing people toward Barnes & Noble and hopefully will take notice. It couldn’t hurt if they were to use their brick-and-mortar stores to draw attention to obscure titles. Amazon can’t really do book signings, now can they? Barnes & Noble could do multiple author signings to increase reader interest, like theme nights, and they’d sell a lot of coffee in the process.

Furthermore, this isn’t a two-horse race. There are lots of other on-line stores with reputations for excellent service. If competitors can make inroads in price, selection, service and other benefits (such as reviews and recommendations), they can make inroads into Amazon’s sales. If Amazon is going to put the pinch on POD books, then another retailer stands to make a lot of money if they do right by this segment. This is especially so were Amazon to stop carrying titles that would then only be available elsewhere.

(Well, you know he's a lawyer - so here's all the references and footnotes! - CH)

1. American Booksellers Association, Industry News, “Overall Book Sales Up Slightly for First Six Months of ‘01,” November 1, 2001,


2. Clay, Karen, Ramayya Krishnan, and Eric Wolff, “Pricing Strategies on the Web: Evidence from the Online Book Industry” (November 19, 2000).

3. Nielsen Net Ratings.

4. Chevalier, Judith and Goolsbee, Austan, “Measuring prices and price competition online: Amazon and Barnes and Noble” (April 2003).

5. Brynjolfsson, Erik, Jeffrey Hu, Michael D. Smith, “Consumer Surplus in the Digital Economy: Estimating the Value of Increased Product Variety at Online Booksellers” Management Science, November 2003.

6. Brynjolfsson, Erik, Michael D. Smith, Frictionless Commerce? A Comparison of Internet and Conventional Retailers (Management Science Vol. 46, No. 4, April 2000 pp. 563–585).

7. Smith, Michael D. and Erik Brynjolfsson, “Consumer Decision-making at an Internet Shopbot” (July 23, 2001).

8. Italie, Hilltel, "Amazon's Bottom 10: Not Exactly Page Turners," Chicago Sun-Times, August 17, 2001.

9. Anderson, Chris, “The Long Tail,” Wired (2004).

10. Linn, Allison, “ Knows, Predicts Shopping Habits,” Associated Press, March 28, 2000.

11. Rosenthal, Morris, and

12. Chevalier, Judith and Dina Mayzlin, “The Effect of Word of Mouth on Sales: Online Book Reviews,” September 2005.

13. Rosenthal, Morris,

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Joy of Lex

Odds on, the first thing that anyone walking into any of the various places that I have lived- starting with the enlisted barracks in Japan in those dear distant days when female troops lived in a female-only dormitory was something along the lines of “Gosh – have you read all of those books?” To which the answer was some kind of polite rephrase of “Of course I bloody have! Did you think I had put them up as decorating elements?!!”

Yes, I have books. Lots of books; books in the bedroom, books in the den, books in the hallway, books in the living room and even a shelf of them in the kitchen – what better place for the cookbooks, pray tell? There aren’t any in the bathroom; first of all, the light isn’t that good and secondly there isn’t any place for shelves.

I used to buy books that I liked, just so that I could have copies of my own, which I could read any time I felt like it. Then I wound up overseas, where English-language bookstores were few and far between, and the Stars and Stripes Bookstore was pretty limited; if you saw it there and thought you might want to read it - better buy it quick, because it wouldn’t be there next time, and even though the base library did their best – well, there were other seriously committed readers out there. (When I moved from Spain, the packing crew had a pool going, on how many boxes of books there would eventually be; 63 and no, I don’t know what the winner got. Probably had many cervezas bought for him, after they finished nailing up the packing crates.) And then I came home, and discovered second-hand stores and services like Alibris, and the online behemoth which must not be named because they are behaving like total d**ks in regard to POD publishers… oh, off-topic. Never mind. Books, the topic was books, the love for (or addiction to!) and constant acquisition of such.

Now, I review books, for Blogger News Network, and for iUniverse Reviews, with the result that I get a constant trickle of books from other writers asking for reviews through the Daily Brief or the IAG. But writing books myself is another splendid excuse for buying more; for the research, you see. The shelves of my writing desk (built by Dad for Blondie’s use, but too big for her room) are now crowded with Texiana and various books on aspects of the Old West. I had a fair number of them already – it’s as if I knew there would be an eventual use for that Time Life series about the Old West. It’s not so much the text in that case, but the pictures.

Blondie and I went to the library book sale on Saturday, at the Semmes branch on Judson road. There’s always a crowd for this, the room where the sale is set up almost instantly achieves a ‘black hole of Calcutta’ degree of heat and overcrowding. Fortunately, most of the people lined up for admittance –many of them armed with large plastic tubs and canvas shopping bags - are intent on the novels or the children’s books. I am on the lookout for more Texiana and western stuff – especially with illustrations, especially with contemporary – that is contemporary 19th century artists. I need pictures of all sorts of things; horses and wagons, of old forts and plains river valleys covered with buffalo herds, of buildings and animals and people, something for my imagination to fix upon, so that I can build all the other living elements around it.

I scooped up a couple of prizes almost at once – Don Troiani’s American Battles and a thick coffee-table treasure-trove called “The Art of the Old West: From the Collection of the Gilcrease Institute” which has color plates of practically everything, and a collection of Frederic Remington’s black and white magazine illustrations – all for considerably under 20$.

There’s enough pictorial stuff in those books alone to start me off with ideas for another book of my own. My only problem is that I am running out of shelf-space for all of my necessary research materials - but it’s a happy problem.

(Cross-posted at The Daily Brief)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Rockin' at Far Rockaway

(Shamelessly cut and pasted from Stuart Mirsky's news release)

On Sunday, June 8th, 2008 more than 40 authors will gather on the Rockaway peninsula to talk about their works, do book signings and participate in a series of planned panel discussions about books and writing, in southern Queens at Gateway National Park's Ft. Tilden. An evening film festival, presented on both Saturday and Sunday evenings (June 7th and 8th), will round out the planned event.

Author panel discussions will cover a variety of topics including mystery writing, historical fiction, the challenges of local journalism, staying young, the Holocaust experience, choosing wines and spirits for your table and much, much more. Films will include documentaries and features by locally based artists.

The Written Word

Irish novelist Tom Phelan will talk about his latest work and describe the plight of Ireland's WWI soldiers while authors from the newly published Queens-based anthology, Queens Noir (Akashic), will discuss the challenges of writing dark fiction. Jill Eisenstadt, a novelist who grew up on the Rockaway peninsula and whose first book, From Rockaway, captured the eighties beach scene contributed to Queens Noir and will join a panel led by editor Robert Knightly that includes authors Jillian Abbot, Maggie Estep (Flamethrower) , Alan Gordon (The Fools Guild Mystery series), Patricia King, Liz Martinez, Kim Sykes and K. J. A. Wishnia (23 Shades of Black).

Rockaway resident and popular thriller writer Thomas O'Callaghan (Bone Thief, The Screaming Room) will lead a second panel of mystery and thriller novelists including Alison Gaylin (Trashed), California-based author and former Rockaway resident Aileen Barron (The Gold of Thrace, The Torch of Tangier), and returning author Jay Lillie
(Pacific Rebound, Havana Passage).

Other participating authors will discuss how their fiction intersects their lives and the importance of developing fully realized characters. Darcy Steinke (Easter Everywhere: A Memoir, Milk: A Novel) will join returning author Ellen Meister (Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA), along with Helen Schulman (A Day at the
Beach), William Frederick Cooper (There's Always a Reason), Anne Landsman (The Rowing Lesson), David Evanier (The Great Kisser) and Anya Ulinich (Petropolis) in two panels which will be moderated, respectively, by Carol Hoenig (Without Grace) and Pamela Popeson, a Rockaway playwright whose most recent full length play, What Comes Next, was recently performed Off-Off Broadway at the Access Theater.

Historical novelist Stephanie Cowell (Marrying Mozart) will join Mina Samuels (The Queen of Cups -- a novel about the wife of famous American philosopher C.S. Peirce) to discuss the historical experiences of women married to well known, but often difficult, men, in a discussion moderated by Pennsylvania based author and former
Rockawayite Dr. Steven Porter (America's Dying Democracy, Hannes Klar).

The Holocaust experience will be discussed by survivors and others who have written about it. Former Rockaway resident and Brooklyn College professor Tibbi Duboys (Teaching the Holocaust) will join current Rockaway resident Miriam Sorger (A Raft on the River) and past Rockawayite Rena Bernstein (Bitter Freedom), along with novelist Cheryl Pearl Sucher (The Rescue of Memory), to discuss the impact of the Holocaust on their own lives and on those around them.

The Broad Channel based writing team of Dan and Liz Guarino will be on hand to talk about their own new book, Broad Channel: Images of America, and discuss the special factors involved in joining words with pictures. Fellow panelists will include Breezy Point-based Kenneth Hogan (America's Ballparks, The Old Firehouse), Brooklyn-
based Ben Gibberd (New York Waters) and New Jersey-based Brian Yarvin (Farms and Foods of the Garden State).

A panel on the challenges of aging well will include Heather Hummel (Gracefully: Looking and Being Your Best at any Age), Rockaway writer Renee Lee Rosenberg (Achieving the Good Life After Fifty), and former Rockaway resident Alan Geller (Scary Diagnosis). It will be moderated by Rockaway-based health writer Nancy Gahles.

The challenge of writing for locally based newspapers will be discussed by local newspaper staff, including Rockaway Wave editor Howard Schwach and Rockaway Point News editor, Noreen Schram in a panel led by Queens Ledger reporter Arlene McKanic. A workshop on breaking into print for new and aspiring writers will be presented by returning author Carol Hoenig (Without Grace) and Beverage and Media Group Editor Perry Luntz, author of Whiskey & Spirits for Dummies, will speak to attendees on the finer points of selecting liquor and liquers.

Music, poetry and dramatic readings will occur throughout the day and will feature popular WFUV disc jockey Pete Fornatale, talking about his new book, Simon and Garfunkel's Bookends.

Winners of a peninsula wide school based student writing contest will be recognized in a special ceremony and given the chance to discuss their work while younger children will explore their own creativity under the supervision of arts professionals in a specially designated "kids' area".

The Big Screen

Flanking the literary event, on the evenings of June 7th and 8th, festival organizers will present a series of films by local artists. Saturday evening's feature is award-winning director/producer and Rockaway resident Brett Morgen's The Kid Stays in the Picture, about the producer of Chinatown and The Godfather Robert Evans' seduction of Hollywood. Morgen's feature will share Saturday's bill with
Westchester- based filmmaker David Baugnon, whose special on artists who fought and painted their way through World War II (Art in the Face of War) will kick off the evening. Returning filmmaker Mark Street's new documentary, Hidden in Plain Sight, capturing the street life of four major cities around the globe, will complete Saturday evening's fare.

On Sunday evening, following the literary festival, Rockaway auteur Kevin Breslin's The Other Side of the Street, a short homage to Jimmy Breslin, will be shown. This will be followed by award winning Rockaway filmmaker Bob Sarnoff's new entry, Dispatch, viewing the world from the dashboard of a local car service. Sarnoff's earlier films include the well received Irish Ropes which was shown widely last year at film festivals around the country and on TV.

Rockaway-based playwright Pamela Popeson will present a short video from one of her stage plays and, at 8:25, the evening's feature, The Limbo Room, by Rockaway filmmaker Debra Eisenstadt, a comedic, existential look at the life of an off-Broadway understudy, will be shown.

The evening will conclude with an offering by Rockaway based filmmaker Yisrael Lifschutz presenting his new documentary, The Jewish Basketball Hall of Fame.

Admission to all showings and panel discussions is free.

Food and refreshments will be available on-site from the newly opened Belle Harbor-based restaurant at B. 129th Street, Rockaway Seafood.

Books will be offered for sale throughout Sunday's book festival by Manhattan-based bookseller Mobile Libris with authors available to talk about and sign books for interested readers.

The Rockaway Artists Alliance and the Rockaway Theatre Company have generously assisted in making this weekend cultural event a ground-breaker for Rockaway and all of Queens.

The Gateway National Recreation Area's Ft. Tilden can be reached by public transportation from Manhattan (#2 or # 5 trains to Flatbush Avenue, transfer to the Q35 bus to Ft. Tilden, or by the A Train headed south to Rockaway Park at B. 116th Street, transferring there to the Q22 bus to Ft. Tilden). The fort can be reached by car via the Belt Parkway to Rockaway where it is located just across the Marine
Parkway Bridge (bearing right, following the signs).

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Round Two of the Great Amazon Imbroglio

Well, this is getting interesting – last weekend the writing world – or that portion of it that doesn’t have a pen-name which oft frequents the New York Times best-sellers list - was all agog over’s fiat that all books sold through Amazon must be printed by it’s POD subsidiary, Booksurge. (Gruesome details here in my post of Sunday last).

Many of us ink-stained scribbling wretches are being advised to A-remain calm, it is not the end of the world as we know it and B- that Amazon doesn’t own the bloody world yet, anyway so change over all of your links to Barnes and Noble and sit tight.

Angela Hoy at Writers Weekly has the latest development here; yes, a couple of POD firms have caved, given yesterdays deadline to stand and deliver, or else their authors ‘ buy buttons’ be disabled on Amazon’s website. Angela has some shrewd guesses about why and how this is all going down the way that it is, as well as a link to further developments – and the cheery news that no buttons have actually been turned off or harmed in the making of this power-grab/controversy.

The Independent Authors’ Guild forum has been all of a twitter though: what would Ingram/Lightning Source do about this? (Break out the terrible swift sword and start trampling those grapes of wrath, would be a nice idea!) How would the various POD firms react ? (Stand tall and tell ‘em “Nuts!”, some of us hoped!) And how would the general public react? A volcanic outburst of rage would be nice, but perhaps a little much for us mere scribbling mortals to hope for. Some of us still have day jobs, you see, Although book-blogger PODdy Mouth has a nice takedown here, including a number that can be called…

OMG Amazon has a actual telephone number for people to talk to a real live human?

Well, OK, you'll probably connect with some poor barely-minimum-wage call center drone, so keep it civil and dignified, people. It isn’t their fault; the guys whose bloody brilliant idea this was are well beyond being reached by a phone call. Maybe not beyond subpoena… eh, call me a dreamer. It goes with the territory, I write historical novels and would like to make a living from it, for heaven's sake!

Given that there are so many lawyer-bloggers, perhaps some searching analysis of whatever basis there might be for anti-trust action? All well and good; and this sort of controversy is bread, butter and circuses to the blogosphere.

But I have long predicted that the towers of the literary industrial complex would totter, crumble and fall when a certain technological point was reached – when there was a desktop gadget that would print and bind a nice little paperback or hardbound book. Even if it was so expensive to buy that only places like Kinkos would have them, even if it could only crank them out one or two at a time, even at a individual unit cost substantially above that of one of those industrial print shops that could churn out a thousand in a minute – it would mean the end of the literary-industrial complex. Anyone could take their book content and cover file, with ISBN and everything, down to the corner copy place, pay them to print and bind a couple or three or half-dozen copies of your book… and you could mail them to whoever had bought them. Or who you wanted to send them! That’s the future, and according to this release, may be here already, in the form of the Espresso Book Machine. Think of this as Ingram/Lightning Source looking across the poker table with a steely gaze and saying, “raise.”

“It’s always been the holy grail of the book business to walk into a store and get any book,” said Kirby Best, president and CEO of Lightning Source. With the signing of today’s strategic agreement with On Demand Books, proprietor of the Espresso Book Machine, Best sees that goal coming a little bit closer.”

And savor the discription and call me a prophetess: “We’re building a new machine that’s much smaller that can be mass produced, version 2.0,” said cofounder and chairman Jason Epstein. Neller adds that a beta machine, which will be the size of a copier at Kinko’s (3’ X 2-1/2’ for the finishing unit with another 2’ for a duplex printer), will be ready in the fall. If all goes well, a less expensive model will begin leasing in 2009. “The point of this machine is to represent the ultimate in POD,” said Epstein, who sees it as the best way to preserve backlist. If the machines catch on and proliferate like so many Starbucks outlets, the marketplace would become radically decentralized and book distribution would require simply an Internet connection.”
Oh, yeah… definitely we’re into round two. Pass the popcorn.

(Cross-posted to The Daily Brief)