22 January 2010


One large internet sausage link (with bite-sized nuggets in it!) and a few others...

  • One of the main principles of debate is that you need to state the name of your opponent correctly. Apparently, that news has not filtered through to Kevin Weiss, the CEO of Author Solutions (the vanity press operation)... because he'd like to engage in a dialog with the Science Fiction Writers Association regarding purported "publishing" opportunities. I'm sure that he means the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. and its (jointly operated with MWA) anti-scam committee Writer Beware.

    Then, too, he might want to try getting his facts straight before he engages in a debate with commercial writers. In no particular order, the video in which he calls for "a direct conversation" with organizations that have objected to his company's deceptive acts and practices makes more than a few verifiable factual errors:

    • Amazon is not "the world's largest book distribution company," and did not "create" the purported $9.99 ceiling for e-books.
    • If you're going to quote the US president of Harper-Collins, try quoting the entire statement. And then stop to think about whether even that soundbite is an accurate representation of anything; after all, there are a helluva lot of mass-market-paperback originals out there that seem quite successful for both authors and publishers that never reach as high as that $9.99 "ceiling." Of course, that also assumes that Harper-Collins takes "a chance" on new writers in hardcover publishing in the first place... and the statistics over the last decade have shown overwhelmingly that it does not, has not, and will not in fact significantly change its practices regarding putting "new writers" into initial hardcover editions anyway.
    • A "traditional" publisher is a vanity press. That's what John Locke and his colleagues were fighting against to create the first modern copyright statute, the Statute of Anne, in 1710. The contemporary commercial publishing industry did not really begin until after the American Revolution, as the courts in the UK struggled over the statutory v. natural-right meme for copyright; and commercial publishing as we know it did not become the dominant model — in the UK, the US, or in Europe; the rest of the world is such a mess that it (arguably) still is not dominant — until the 1870s. So we're comparing a little over a century against a little over a millennium... I'll vote for the millennium as marking "traditional."
    • Regardless of Mr Weiss's own lack of knowledge of the history of his own industry, he engages in another little bit of deception by grouping vanity publishing with commercial publishing and calling that chimera "publishing." The irony that the word "publish" comes to us from Renaissance-era defamation law, and not from any description of books or commercial activity, is beside the point... for the moment. If what he means is that he wants everyone to have equal opportunity to libel anyone else, that's what we've got the Internet to do!
    • Similarly, calling we'll-vanity-publish-your-rejected-slush arrangements between Author Solutions and commercial publishers "partnerships" stretches the meaning of "partnership" well beyond what any reasonable person might expect... or, for that matter, any reasonable lawyer (despite looking, I've found no documentation that these relationships are legally partnerships).

    OK, I hear you. That all sounds rather nitpicky — it's not, but someone will no doubt claim so through failure to understand that context matters — so I'll turn to substance.

    • Author Solutions does nothing to "advance the cause of the[] members" of SFWA, RWA, and MWA "on a daily basis," for the simple reason that Author Solutions is a vanity press... and the membership of SFWA, RWA, and MWA is restricted to commercially published authors. That is, the contribution of a commercial author is limited to intellectual property; it does not include monetary capital, which is a core requirement of the Author Solutions "business model." Mr Weiss, you don't get to repaint reality like that without criticism; I've seen more-honest appeals from televangelists.
    • Claiming that the December 2009 discounting "contest" among Amazon, Wal-Mart, and Target for what even Mr Weiss admits was a "handful" of bestselling hardcovers constitutes an "attack" on "traditional publishing" is more than a bit disingenuous. For one thing, "handful" is probably an overstatement of the number of titles; for another, most of those titles had an extended unit cost to the publishers of around $1.75, and author compensation from sales (which, by the way, appear to have been nonreturnable, so there isn't even a returns issue!) would have been around $2.50, so that "contest" represents at worst a squeeze on margins... for books that were already assured of being profitable. Then, too, there's the myth of "cover price" as having much — if any — relationship to reality...
    • My jaw really hit the floor when Weiss asserted that traditional publishing companies need to change so "they can get back in the mode of thriving as companies and not shrinking." Umm, no. With the two exceptions of Tyndale Press (via Left Behind) and the UK's Bloomsbury (via Harry Potter), virtually all company growth in publishing since the 1950s has been via either mergers and acquisitions or expansion into new subject areas (e.g., computer books). Conversely, the history of publishing companies since the rise of the commercial publishing model in the 1870s has been dominated by failure, not thriving; only during the dominance of the vanity press — and, in particular, the period prior to the final victory of statutory author's copyright in 1789 — did the industry as a whole "thrive as companies" rather than shrink... particularly on a literate-population-adjusted basis.

    Don't try to convince me of your rectitude with deception, half-truths (or ten-percent-truths), and self-serving misstatements; or, to quote Judge Judy, "Don't pee on me and tell me that it's raining."

  • Antisemitism is alive and well in the US, and there's something that all Caucasian-Americans need to remember: Both Jews and Arabs are Semites.
  • As much as I enjoy watching college football, I'm offended by SI's summary of one of the "top 100 high school recruits" lists, as much for what it doesn't contain as anything else. Not one candidate on this list has data concerning:
    • ACT or SAT scores, even in a general sense ("45th-55th percentile")
    • Anticipated program in college (just how many PE and "broadcast communications" majors are not scholarship athletes these days?)
    • Whether they're qualified for admission to the colleges on their respective "wish lists," even generously measured against the 25th percentile
    • Whether they're even going to graduate from high school on time (not a trivial issue for at least a couple of these "blue-chippers" every year)

    And all this in an era in which leading universities are being forced to give faculty members furloughs... yeah, they've really got their priorities straight.

  • Beer as the foundation for agriculture and civilization? Perhaps if they're talking about German beer; not if they mean Bud, or Miller, or anything like that.