Archive for the ‘Publishing’ Category

The Enjoyment Ratio: T-Shirts vs. Books

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Forget the stupid coffee. Now it’s Books versus T-Shirts!

15.00 for a t-shirt (Because I am NOT paying $25.00 for a t-shirt–I wait for a Woot-off.)

Wear it once a week for 1 year (assuming 12 hours of wear-time per day) = 624 hours of enjoyment!

My T-shirt costs me $0.02 per hour of enjoyment. Admittedly, some T-shirts last a LOT longer than a year. I still have and wear T-shirts I bought when I was in college.

I can read a 100,000 word novel in 8 hours, more or less, assuming I am captivated enough to finish it.

Let’s compare that to T-shirt enjoyment at $0.02 per hour

The comparable Book price should be …..

$0.19!

You’re welcome.

 

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Author Fascism

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

[Comments temporarily closed for this post.]

I didn’t pay much attention when Ann Rice went off on a high profile rant about anonymous reviewers. That’s been done, and I’m kind of tired of it.

But Rice gets big press and the Change.org petition she signed suddenly became high profile.

The gist of it is this: Authors get hurt by people who post reviews that are mean, personal, not about the book, threatening, and/or vile.

The solution requested by the signatories is that Amazon require reviewers to post under their real names. And now there are authors who are continuing the campaign.

Part of me wants to go off on a rant about this, and maybe that will be another post. But actually, this is a serious matter.

I am appalled that authors would suggest this is an appropriate solution.

Here’s the Rant after all

We cannot carve out spaces that look like this:

Novel writing space: Write whatever you want, however distasteful to some sensibilities. Pen names OK! Registration of copyright under a corporation OK!

Review writing space: [Rules defined by authors.] Must review under your real name.

Let’s try an experiment.

Jane Doe has a full time job teaching 4th grade. She also writes erotic novels in her spare time. She writes under a pen name because she feels it’s important for her day job and her writing to stay separate. She might lose her job, otherwise. Her students might Google her, find out what she writes, see covers inappropriate for their age, and perhaps even find an excerpt, and that would not be good. At all. For any reason.

Jane Doe has a full time job teaching 4th grade. She also reads and reviews erotic novels in her spare time. She posts her reviews under a pen name because she feels it’s important for her day job and her writing to stay separate. She might lose her job, otherwise. Her students might Google her, find out what she reads, see covers inappropriate for their age, and perhaps even find an excerpt, and that would not be good. At all. For any reason.

Explain to me why Jane Doe author can be anonymous but not Jane Doe reviewer?

Anonymous speech makes it easy for an asshole to be an asshole.

Anonymous speech makes it possible for people to speak out against moral wrongs.

Anonymous speech exposed criminal wrong-doing by a sitting President of the United States of America.

To argue that we should do away with anonymous speech is to argue that it’s better for wrongdoers to get a pass than it is to allow speech that some may find offensive.

If reviews must be accompanied by a real name, then there are reviewers who will no longer be able to post reviews for reasons that have nothing to do with mean, hateful, or threatening content in a review.

Perhaps the reviewer has a sensitive job but enjoys reading and reviewing sexually explicit books.

Perhaps the reviewer has a violent ex and is attempting to establish an online presence that her ex does not know about.

Perhaps the reviewer used to read and review Dino-Porn but now feels that she must leave Dino Porn behind because she has undergone a moral change and wishes to live a life free of Dino-Porn.

Perhaps the reviewer’s home address, phone number, and names of her children were posted to a website by an author.

Perhaps the reviewer has been threatened by an author.

That Solution is Not the Problem You Were Looking for

Every one of these arguments has a corresponding flip side.

Taking away anonymity of reviews would have far more devastating consequences than seeking a solution that deals with reviews that are out of bounds — supposing we can or should arrive at such a definition. I don’t believe we should, by the way.

It’s far harder to seek a targeted solution that deals with the actual problem– assuming there is such a problem– than it is to seek a solution that affects 100 percent of reviewers.

If you go around proposing jackbooted solutions to speech you don’t like, you run the risk of some wag inventing the phrase Author Fascism.

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The Cone of Silence Is Lifted

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Today, I received my reversion of rights for my historicals Scandal and Indiscreet. I haven’t been able to talk about the situation with these books for over a year. I could only apologize to everyone who couldn’t get the books. And now I can tell you what happened and why I had to wait until today to talk about it.

I signed a two book contract with Berkley in 2007. Scandal and Indiscreet were published in 2009. Berkley only had North American rights to those books. From 2007 to about 2011, that didn’t really matter. There wasn’t anything I could do about that.

Then indie/self-publishing came along and it did matter. In 2012, I finally realized (doh!!) that I could publish all four of my Berkley Historicals wherever I had rights — everywhere except the US and Canada. I also realized, after I’d put out my versions, that Berkley had Scandal and Indiscreet on sale where they did not have rights.

And so my agent and I asked Berkley to stop selling the books where they did not have rights. And Berkley eventually complied.

By taking their books off sale EVERYWHERE at EVERY VENDOR. Including the US and Canada.

Soon after, a disappointed reader alerted me that there was no Kindle version on Amazon. So yeah. Between then and February 2013, my agent sent three different written requests to Berkley alerting them to their mistake and asking them to put the books back on sale. That’s in addition to phone calls.

After the third notification with no response, I told my agent that we should stop trying to get Berkley to sell the books again. The next royalty statement would show 0 books sold, and we could request reversions.

And so…there began a rather tense time. I was losing money while the books were not on sale in North America. But indeed, the next royalty statement showed 0 eBook sales for those titles, and with print sales being more or less dismal, we requested reversions. And we waited some more…. I was worried that when they saw the royalty statement with 0 sales, someone might think that was odd and take a look.

But, as it turns out, no worries! No one looked because today, the reversion letter arrived. More than a year from the time the books were mistakenly taken off sale.

Now they are mine, and I can get them on sale EVERYWHERE!!!

To all the people who have been asking me, this is what happened and why, and I’m sorry you could not buy the books, but SOON you can.

Files are actually already populating out, but it will take a bit before I have links to give you all. I don’t even have to do DMCA take downs, because there are no files to take down. That’s pretty convenient!

It’s a shame that no one at Berkley followed up on their mistake. It doesn’t say much about their internal organization and any checks and balances. If it’s just the case that no one cared because my sales were never good enough to make them care, then it’s a bigger shame that I had to wait more than a year to get my rights back. Nobody was making any money on those books during that year and a few months.

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Dueling Data Where, Again, the Point is Missed

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

[Edited to add: Please carefully read the comments to this post. There are remarks from people with expertise in data analysis. I would also urge everyone to read this post at Dear Author. Note as well that my expertise is in building databases. On a daily basis, I see how bad data architecture renders data untrustable. This is related, but not the same as, expertise in conducting a study and analyzing the results.

Basically, we have three flawed "studies" and my argument here is that publishers and authors alike may be missing the point.

Here's another post to take a look at: from Courtney Milan - who also has the data analysis expertise.]

So, Digital Book World did this study of authors and income from writing.

Then Beverly Kendall did a study …

Then Hugh Howey sponsored a study.

I would like to observe that Beverly Kendall’s study was closer in type to the DBW study but a girl did it so nobody cares about the results — except the mostly women who understand the point very well, thank you.

The DBW study polled authors. Anywhere from 30-60% of whom were unpublished.

Beverly Kendall’s study polled self-published authors (some of whom still traditionally publish) 100% of whom had at least one book on sale.

The Howey study grabbed 24 hours of Amazon sales ranking data, so it’s not really the same as either of the other two studies. With the Howey data, there are several weaknesses: 24 hours of data is not a basis for extrapolating future performance. You’d have to gather the data over a period of time before you could say much about trends, for example. From what I could see, the data analysis did not account for the fact that a price could, theoretically, change during the 24 hours polled. (A book could go on sale at 10 AM PST such that from 00:00 to 10:00 PST the book sold at price x and from 10:01 PST to 23:59 PST the book sold at price y.)

What’s clear from the Howey data is that Indie books are a significant presence in the top 7000 books.

KERFLUFFLE!!!

And now the DBW and Howey camps are all arguing and missing the point, which I will make for everyone in just a bit. For once, a DBW data analysis post was reasoned — because it was written by the data guy. His points about the flaws in his own data and the flaws in the Howey data are well taken. NOTE: I am NOT a statistician.

THROW DOWN!!!

DBW insists: authors as a whole just don’t make very much money. (DON’T LOOK AT BELLA ANDRE!!!)

This is true.

DBW suggests that the authors who are making money are the elite. The authors of the Howey 7000 (titles) are the elite, trad pubbed or self-pubbed. (Nice. Let’s just define authors who make money out of the analysis. Because that leaves you with the ones who are aren’t.)

The DBW/Trad pubbed camp continually harps on the fact that most authors (where you define “author” to include “anyone who wants to write even if they have no books on sale”) don’t make very much money.

The not-so-subtle subtext behind an observation framed in this way is this: why self-publish when you can trad-publish and have all the hard work of covers, editing, and marketing done for you! LOOK AT NORA!!! — And STILL make not very much money, but whatever.

Allow me to make the point

The point is NOT that as an aggregate, authors don’t make much money.

The point is that if you define author as “someone who has at least one book on sale” AND it is true that the author writes well enough that a traditional publisher would pay them to write for their house, the data from the Howey 7000 AND the Kendall 100% points to a very different conclusion.

The conclusion is that such an author has compelling reasons to choose self-publishing over traditional publishing.

Beverly Kendall’s data shows quite clearly the set of conditions that lead to making money as a writer, but that’s the girl talking and as usual, the boys can’t hear her.

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Oh! A Rumor! Do TELL!!

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Yes, I know that headline exceeds the ! point limit. Deal.

Here’s a rumor I’ve been hearing:

Traditional publishers are having a harder time finding good projects. Some are opening up to unagented submissions after years of being closed. And, for the projects they’re getting, they’re not as good as they used to be. The quality is lower.

It’s a rumor, so who knows. But if it’s true, you know why? Because the midlist has walked in numbers sufficient to have an impact. Authors good enough to sell a project to NY are looking at the numbers and terms and saying, why would I do that?

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Kerfluffle!!! In Publishing

Monday, January 20th, 2014

So this author posted about how much money she made with her debut traditionally published novel. (TL;DR: Not very much) Rumor is her publisher immediately asked her to remove the post, which she did.

Then Courtney Milan posted about how (in Romance) the performance of books with non-white protagonists is blamed on the non-white protagonists when, in fact, books with white protagonists have had the same poor performance. She provided print numbers and pointed out some facts about the apparent value of a print deal.

Also, Steven Zacharius of Kensington Books wrote an article for HuffPo where he trotted out a lot of misinformation and bad statistics about self-publishing. He also appeared in the comments at a noted site-scraper and defended his position. Kudos to him for mostly keeping a cool head in a highly charged environment. He also appeared at Joe Konrath’s blog and did much the same.

::hand waving and babbling!!!!:::

Traditional Publishers LOVE to trot out bad studies and then make the wrong conclusion from them. A recent poll (by either Writer’s Digest or the ALA, I can’t remember which, though they both suffer from the same issue…) concluded that most self-publishers make less than $500.

::more hand waving and babbling!!!! Authors should be not leaving us!!!!!:::

Well, one of those studies included authors who have yet to self-publish anything.

Edited to add: Annnddddd, here’s a link.

Digital Book World interviewed almost 10,000 traditionally published authors,self-published authors, authors who are both traditionally published and self-published, along with aspiring authors. (Emphasis added.)

Carolyn’s projection: Writing income for an author who has nothing on sale: $0

Edited to add: WHY the hell would you include aspiring authors in a “study” on author income?

Neither study managed to reach a single Romance author. Everyone on the major email lists for self-publishing Romance authors had this reaction: What study was that?

Zacharius asks, among other things:

1. If self-publishing is so great, why aren’t the big authors leaving?

Answer: Where they can, they are. (Stephanie Laurens, Theresa Maderios, Lara Adrian to name just three.) Besides, a lot of authors, big and little, are constrained by the terms of the contracts they signed. Some of them can’t leave. Yet.


Carolyn’s thought bubble: That YET should scare the pants off NY.

2. What do self-publishers have to do to promote themselves? (With the usual implication that a traditional publisher will do MORE and BETTER!)

Answer: EXACTLY the same thing we have to do when we traditionally publish, which is just about ALL the promotion. Furthermore I was present at a Kensington RWA panel where the Kensington employees actually said they don’t so the same promotion for everyone. Already best-selling authors get MORE promotion.

God, this is just so tiring. Publishers continue to conflate print distribution and reader reach with income. As an author, naturally I want readers to find me. But as a self-published author I make more money on fewer sales.

I give up.

If they want to hold tight to bad math, bad statistics, and this belief that what they do for best-selling authors applies to ALL their authors, they can go right ahead.

And lots and lots of Romance authors will continue to self-publish and make a hell of a lot more than $500.

Carolyn’s Thought Bubble: Watch the hell out if offset printing becomes cost-effective for self-publishers.

Edited to add:What’s the old saying? If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

Traditional publishing is busy baffling us with bullshit.

Jan/21/13 Edited to add: The lastest DBW nonsense is this $295 report “What advantages do Traditional Publishers Offer Authors” which was described thusly in my daily “get carolyn enraged email” :

The author community is abuzz with news of self-published authors who are making very good money by going indie. With the stigma diminishing, this alternative mode of publishing has become increasingly attractive to both new and seasoned authors. However, the 2013 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey found that despite the excitement about self-publishing and complaints about traditional publishing, authors held a strong preference to publish with traditional publishers.This report seeks to understand why.

What advantages do traditional publishers offer authors? The 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest author survey was designed specifically to compare the perceptions, experiences, and economic returns to authors associated with traditional publishing and self-publishing respectively. In this report, we take a close look at the case to be made to the author community in favor of traditional publishing as well as the areas where traditional publishers might enhance what they offer their current and prospective authors.

When I saw that today, I tweeted this: Because they don’t know any better. #MotherofAllSubtweets

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Irony Chickens? Smashwords, Scribd, and Piracy

Friday, December 27th, 2013

So there’s Scribd. Trying to reinvent itself. It’s a site that was trying to be Wattpad before there was a Wattpad and it’s not still clear from either site whether there’s a business model there. I suppose there’s something– ad revenue? I don’t know. Anyway, both sites allow anyone to upload documents. Any documents. And there have been legitimate uses of that. Court filings, for example. Other documents in the public domain or uploaded by the actual author. But not always, and now there’s a clear case of Irony Chickens coming home to roost as Smashwords, Scribd and piracy collide.

And then, as just about anyone could foresee, there is lots and lots of pirated material.  Books. Lots of novels. Lots. The DMCA says Scribd and other such sites are not responsible for that contact, the user who uploads it is. All Scribd has to do is take down the content when sent a DMCA notice. That’s the state of the law. It is, on the one hand, fair. Because it IS the user who is engaging in the pirating. Scribd merely provides file space.

Speaking not at all about piracy, but only about the DMCA and the ecosystem of pirated content, the problem with DMCA take-down notices is this:

If you’re an author concerned about pirated content, the more popular you are, the more your content is out there. There are authors who have THOUSANDS of pirated copies of their books on Scribd (as an example) and the DMCA says the author must send a URL to each and every allegedly infringing instance. Obviously, this becomes impossible to comply with. No one author has the time to do this. And Scribd, like every other similar site, is not required to self-police or in anyway assist with what becomes an impossible task for an author.

Scene set. Ready?

So now Scribd wants to become a subscription reading service. A publisher or author agrees to have their books posted on the site and readers (subscribers) will pay a modest sum per month to read all they want. From what I hear, the plan is to pay authors for full and even partial reads, if the readers progresses beyond a certain point. Sounds kind of interesting if that’s the way it works.

What I find more interesting is that if you visit the Scribd site, it’s easy to find out what subscribers will get in return for their money.

If you’re an author, however, there’s only a contact form. “We’d love to hear from you!” And you fill out a form where you tell them the number of books you have available, the genre and the format. That’s it. Classic gatekeeper.

In our quest to ensure Scribd subscribers never run out of great books to read, we’re constantly looking to expand our digital library. Please contact us if you’d like to make your ebooks available via our subscription offering. Our content acquisition team would love to talk to you.

There’s NOTHING at the site that tells me, an author, why I would want my content in their subscription service.

I find this language alarming. I think it’s an indication that Scribd sees the author as a resource to be consumed by them, not a business partner. Otherwise, wouldn’t there be something there that says, Hey, Author! Here’s what’s in it for you! That contact page, which you can only find if you clicked on the subscription FAQ and scrolled down a lot, makes it pretty darn clear that Scribd isn’t thinking of authors as potential partners.

If I go to any eBook vendor, I can find out what’s in it for me if I make my books available through them. I know how and when I get paid.

Other than the rumors flying around, where is Scribd telling me how and why I would benefit? If the answer is “Readers!” that’s not good enough. That’s more of the baloney along the lines of “We can’t afford to pay authors, but you’ll get exposure” and someone gets free professionally written content for their website. Or free graphics. Or what have you. If you think you have a service where my books will make you money, then you should tell me how that happens and why and how it makes money for me, too.

I’m getting to the chickens.

Smashwords, a company that allows authors to self-publish books and then sell from the site as well as distribute to other vendors, recently sent a letter informing Smashwords authors that they had a deal with Scribd and that beginning January 1, content would automatically be enrolled in Scribd’s subscription offering. What became apparent when authors went to look was that books were ALREADY opted in and being made available. (That was true of my books.)

It’s my belief that no book distributor should opt-in automatically to some other vendor. This should NEVER happen without the author’s explicit consent and review. First, the distributor does not have rights in the content. The author does. The author elects where that content is distributed. There are cases where authors do not have ALL rights. There are cases where an automatic opt-in could put an author in violation of the terms of a contract.

Further, it’s not cool to automatically opt-in content under terms that may be less favorable than if the author, if she wanted to be there at all, went directly to the vendor. Because, really?

This automatic opt-in by Smashwords is a major misstep.

Pirate Chickens.

Authors are well aware that Scribd hosts a massive amount of pirated content. And there are authors who feel strongly that pirated content should be taken down wherever it exists. (It happens that I am not one of those authors, but that has nothing to do with the authors who do feel that way.)

So. Smashwords just opted those authors into a service they know nothing about at a site that hosts THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of pirated copies of their books and gave them no opportunity to think and consider.

Some authors objected to that. They wanted nothing to do with what they consider a pirate site. And they appear to have been told–quite bluntly and directly, “opt-in to this service and Scribd will take care of the piracy problem for your books.” Otherwise, too bad.

That is fucking ballsy.

What the hell did Scribd think would happen? They have a piracy problem. Lots of authors are upset about piracy (again saying nothing here about whether there’s actual harm). Scribd wants to sell subscriptions to books while at the same time continuing to permit users to upload documents where hundreds of thousands of those documents are pirated books.

Did they really not anticipate that authors might say, well, eff you? Because that’s what’s happening.

It’s what you call chickens coming home to roost. I’m sorry, but this was completely foreseeable.

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Amazon, Publishing, and the Future

Friday, October 25th, 2013

A while back, Amazon made it clear it wanted to compete with NY publishers in the print space as well as digital. They hired a lot of NY editors and opened an office in NY.  Now we hear that Larry Kirshbaum, the man who headed this publishing arm, is leaving and that that editors have been laid off. There were some high profile non-fiction books that were mostly considered failures because Amazon could not get print editions into stores.

I have some thoughts about this that cover several areas, with respect to fiction. I don’t know enough about non-fiction to have an informed opinion.

Same Old Same Old

When I heard that Amazon was hiring NY folks into these positions, one of my thoughts was that all they were doing was bringing the same moribund thinking into their publishing arm. I think that’s a part of the problem.

What self-publishing has proved: Traditional publishing rejects stories that are commercial. It also insists on editorial changes that make stories less successful.

I have heard Amazon authors complain about editorial policies that imposed the same notions about what’s commercial and what will sell. This is no surprise because Amazon hired NY editors who either brought all their traditional mores, if you will, or remained unable to let the author decide because of pressure from the top.

What I think should happen: Publishing needs to take more risks with books and they need to trust their authors more. I’m not saying abandon editorial input. I’m saying let the author take risks.

Print Still Matters

There’s no question print still matters. Self-published authors are frustrated by the roadblocks to print. If the publishing system weren’t fundamentally broken, it would be possible for any reader to buy a print version through a physical store. This is not possible in part because of the returns issue, but also because there is significant ill-will against Amazon.

Amazon Dug Its Very Own Hole

Almost from the get-go, publishers and bookstores expressed a deep and abiding hatred for Amazon. Hatred might actually be too weak a word. Amazon does itself no favors in the way it conducts business with publishers and bookstores.

The bigger deal here is Amazon’s relationship with physical bookstores. If you want bookstores to carry your books, then it’s pretty important to have a relationship that is mutually beneficial. From everything I hear, Amazon has done the exact opposite in this respect. What I hear from booksellers is that they would gleefully refuse to do ANYTHING that would benefit Amazon, and they would do it even if it means forgoing an otherwise profitable arrangement. THAT is some serious hate.

Unless Amazon is betting on the disappearance of bookstores, this is a relationship they should be looking to repair.

Updated 2013.11.07: Indie Booksellers appear to be turning away from Amazon’s offer of 2 year cut of every book purchased from a Kindle bought through that store. While this is an obvious strike at Kobo and its current deal with indie bookstores, it’s also mystifying to me why Amazon thinks booksellers will jump at this. Amazon appears not to understand that they have burned some bridges.

A Clear and Present Danger

Here’s what really worries me.

I see people in publishing saying “See? Print Matters! Amazon isn’t such a big deal.”

This ignores a pretty scary circumstance.

Amazon wants to play in the print distribution world.

The strategy for stopping that relies on distributors and bookstores refusing to distribute Amazon’s products or carry them in stores.

For publishing, this has eventual failure written all over it. If does nothing to address the real danger, which is Amazon finding a way around that. Legal action might be one way. I’m not a lawyer so maybe that’s all fine and dandy. But hmm.

Another might be mending fences with Indie bookstores or even mending fences with B&N. From everything I’ve heard, B&N is in a precarious financial position. Suppose Amazon made B&N an offer too good to refuse. Or even took a stake in B&N?

All Amazon needs is some set of physical bookstores that WILL take the product. Someone, somewhere, will crack.

But is that even necessary? Baker & Taylor will distribute self-published titles under the right circumstances. What happens if those circumstances expand?

The Easy Way or the Hard Way

Amazon has tried the easy way: acquiring books by authors they hoped were big enough that physical stores wouldn’t refuse to carry them. Not a bad strategy. Amazon just seems to have misjudged the animosity toward them.

What’s the hard way? Buying a presence. Paying BIG Co-op to get their books present in Indie stores. Taking a stake in B&N. Solving the returns problem on their own. Waiting to see if someone else solves the POD and returns problem. Waiting for the desktop edition of the Espresso Book machine. (GAME OVER.)

Forming their own distribution company and contacting Airports, drugstores, gas stations, Wholesalers, libraries and schools. “We’ll pay you for rack space in your store, and you keep x% of all sales. Here’s your free desktop edition of a book printing device.” Call up a few professors and say, hey, publish your next textbook with us and we’ll give Universities a better deal than they get now.”

Ultimately, publishers do not own the Point of Sale. They can’t stop Amazon from innovating and/or playing the long game on this issue either.

Publishers could, however, attempt to innovate and problem-solve on their own. They could, perhaps, treat authors a little more fairly so we don’t look to Amazon as the place where we’ll maximize our earning potential.

Who’s Looking Pretty?

Quite possibly authors.

Think about this: If the biggest selling Romance authors left their publishers to self-publish, what do you think bookstores will say when those authors want their print books in their stores?

Pretend it wasn’t just the midlist walking away but the upper-midlist. Lead authors. NYT bestselling authors. Pretend it was oh, say, Theresa Medeiros or Stephanie Laurens and others like them.

Do you see the risk?

It’s the author’s decision where to go, and if authors are getting a better deal elsewhere, and if the print distribution problem is solved in some ingenious fashion by Amazon or someone else, what happens to publishers who took no steps to be viable in that world?

It worries me that publishers might actually be saying, the current print world isn’t going away so we don’t have to innovate, because, what if they’re wrong?

We already know they were wrong about digital, wrong about new genres, and wrong about genre backlist.

3-D printers used to be Science Fiction. Then then were too damn much money. Now they’re something a lot of us could buy right now.

That’s going to happen to book printing.

Updated 2013.11.07: Lookie here: Espresso machine in a Drugstore. Via The Digital Reader.

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During the Medireview Period Castles were Built of Stone

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Yah. So today the kerfluffle hit the backstop at 110 MPH. (Look, that’s the closest I can come to a baseball analogy.) Whoosh! Swing and a MISS!

Over across the pond, Waterstones WHSmith made the mistake of using the entire Kobo book feed without thinking about what happens if you don’t have good filtering on searches for children’s books. Since I happen to believe Kobo’s search is fundamentally flawed, I also think this is a Kobo issue as well. Some REALLY inappropriate books showed up in searches for books for children. Erotic books with ::ahem:: covers and ::ahem:: content. According to at least one person in my twitter stream, this was happening at least 4 months ago.

As any adult Romance reader is likely aware that some of the ::ahem:: books feature things like sex with dinosaurs, or lactating woman as cows, or books that include/refer to/thinly disguise sex with the underage and/or incest.

As a parent, I would not want my underage child coming across any of those ::ahem:: books, covers or content. That just seems pretty freaking obvious to me. The solution is pretty much what Amazon has been doing. Restricting that content from general view. (But not ALL view.) Because hey ANYBODY with a computer and internet access can get to Amazon, unless they’re in China, I guess. So yes, we really do need to make sure ::ahem:: content does not show up when someone is searching for Goodnight Fluffy Bunnies of the Pleistocene.  You could restrict behind the scenes (which Amazon does)  and start giving authors a hard time about racy covers (which Amazon does) Or, oh, say,  have a “show me the racy stuff” button. Or a “safe search” mode ala a Google image search.

Once you’ve discovered the hard way that you should have been doing something like that probably at least 4 months ago, you should do everything in your power to make it so.

But Kobo’s response has been to remove ALL self-published books (at least in the UK). Amazon got in on the frenzy, too, and exactly as you’d expect with a knee jerk reaction, they both got the “Medireview Effect.

I hereby dub this result the “Medireview Effect” because it’s what happened to the word “Medieval” on a historical romance Yahoo list when Yahoo thought changing ALL occurrences of “eval” to “review” would prevent malicious javascript code from executing. Which I guess it did.

Edited to add: “eval” is a key word in Javascript that can execute code. Good code. Or Bad code.

In the meantime, during the Medireview period, castles were built of stone.

So, as you can expect, ham-handed and poorly thought out attempts to root out “Daddy” pr0n have had many unintended consequences, Many books that would be just fine for kids have been deleted. Many books that are not self-published, but are still inappropriate, remain.

On December 10th, Mark LeFebvre of Kobo was on the Self-Publishing Podcast, and he said that Kobo had split out their database so that children’s books were a completely different database. That was 4 days ago. I only listened to the podcast yesterday, but I remember thinking this:

1. That’s hard.

2. This is a db that set ISBN as a primary key. I don’t think they have the expertise to make that happen the way they want.

Totally not easy to split off a db that way. Not in four days. I think today proves I’m right.

(I happen to know about the ISBN as a primary key because LeFebvre said as much at RWA — in response to a question I asked. Take it from this DBA, ISBN is not selective enough to make a good primary key. A unique index, sure, but not a primary key.)

Dear Kobo: If you let me work from home, I would quit my day job in a heartbeat and help you fix your mess and scale it out, too.

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Eff Yeah-DBA!

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

In my day job, I’m a SQL Server DBA which means databases and data. At the enterprise. I know, most people find this mind-numbingly boring.

You all remember the Goodreads debacle? Where GR decided, without warning, to delete content they’d deemed inappropriate? They gave no notice to the user whose content it was, they just deleted it.

When I first heard the news, the DBA in me said, “I hope they just have a flag to set  rather than an actual deletion.” And also “I hope they took a backup first.”

I actually felt kind of sick, because 1) the data deletion in this case was so obviously the wrong way to go about this that recoverability should have been step 1. One of the primary rules of databases is you don’t delete content without being damned sure it MUST be deleted and that you can get it back if it turns out you’re wrong. Every DBA alive has done a data delete based on a business user’s insistence that YES! They have given you the correct information! And you say, OK, and five minutes later they say, “oh, wait.”

That’s why a good data architect, which happens to be a lot of my job right now, will often build in bit fields that represent something like Active/Inactive. That way, you can disable content without deleting it. Depends on the need, of course.

Data deletion can cause serious problems. Data integrity problems. History problems — like when someone asks, what did the data look like a week ago? That’s a question that often needs to be answered.

So, I’d been thinking all along that no sane DBA would actually do the deletion without making a backup first, if not of the database, at least of the affected tables, or, even, just the deleted data. SELECT * INTO [SOME TABLE] [CRITERIA].  (FYI, Goodreads is a SQL Server shop)

I have been in production emergencies where people are deciding things very quickly, and boy, all I can say is most DBAs I know would have done some kind of backup first. But maybe the boss was standing over the DBA’s shoulder saying, do it. Now. Or you’re fired.

That said, I find it interesting that GR is saying they are going to backups to get the data. Transactional databases are backed up on a schedule such that you can restore to a point in time. All GR would need is the backup sets for the day before and then, to do it right, the transaction logs up to the time right before the deletion. That’s the only way to guarantee you’d get all the data as it existed prior to deletion. We’re now 12 days out so they’ve probably had to go to offsite storage to get the old backups, though maybe they have that much on hand.

Or else the DBA has quietly said, “Here’s the data I backed up before we did this.”

Fuck Yeah, DBA.

Please remember to thank the DBA.

Edited to add: I should have mentioned, that here, they’d just restore to another server, or another instance of the DB, because they’re not restoring the deletions into prod, they’re giving the user the data that was deleted. The two letters I’ve seen all saw, “you still can’t post or re-post data that is in violation of the TOS” which I took to mean, if you want to re-post do so from the data we’re sending you.”

There are a bunch of ways to restore objects or deleted rows into current production, but it wouldn’t be easy and you’d probably need a 3rd party tool. Which is why, if I’m right, they’re sending the data to the user and letting them decide whether to re-post.

 

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