Wednesday, November 26, 2008

100 Percent Free Books

Here's something that fits right in with the current move toward greater freedom of expression and fewer restrictions on creative work: a print book publishing company that literally gives away its books. (Note that it publishes literary fiction only.)

The publisher is named Concord Free Press. Located in New England, their "About" page maintains that "... our books don’t generate traditional profits, they create real value." Of course, publishing for profit creates real value, too But this approach allows writers to get their work out without depending on a judgement of whether the market will welcome it. However, some judgment as to quality must be exercised, because the company can publish only so many books.

Concorde cites foreign and film rights and other sub-rights as potential sources of income for writers who donate their books. I can't see this, unless an author can engage a foreign rights or film specialist. (Out of 43 books I've seen 11 foreign-language sales, for which I'm grateful. Plus three foreign pirate editions. Flattery. I think I'm in a minority.)

In any event, Concord Free Press may be a way for new (unpublished) writers to validate their work and encourage themselves. And established writers might want to have a book to give away as a means of publicizing other books.
--Mike On the Way to the Web

Online Sex, Divorce Scandals Nothing New

The recent Second Life Divorce Scandal has people buzzing all around the world. But it’s been done before, as with so many things that seem new today. Women and men have been catching their significant others in hot chats with online sex objects since the early 1980s. (I use "sex objects" because what else can you call an animated construct and words you can't touch? I dunno ... self-directed sex videos with subtitles?)

A quarter-century ago, the venues were CompuServe and other dialup online services that provided realtime chat services--what people call IMs or IRC today, we called “chat” or “CB” back in 1983. The medium inspired quite a few marriages, the first one that was documented took place in ’83. But, divorces were probably inspired by online sex before that.

It went down in the 80s pretty much the same as today, sans graphics. Either someone got caught, or the typing whizzes decided run off together. The only difference was who would be the first to realize divorce was on the horizon.

Oh, man--think how difficult online sex was back in those days! Uphill both ways, and all you had were typed words on a monochrome screen. Imagination was important. Literacy was vital, although at the penultimate point it was often crippled by fading concentration and the temporary loss of one typing hand.
--Mike, still On the Way to the Web

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

New Ruth Lyons Biography

I've received many questions about the publication date for my biography of Ruth Lyons, titled Before Oprah: Ruth Lyons, the Woman Who Created Talk TV.

The title was originally scheduled for October (I completed the manuscript several months ago). But the publisher has decided to wait until May, in order to allow more time for production and promotion. So, the book will be released on Mother's Day, though you can order it now.
As noted before, the book has quite a bit of information about Miss Lyons that has never been published. A good number of photos will be in the book, a number of them not previously published, as well.

My apologies to those of you who had planned on it being published last month. And thanks to those in Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, Indianapolis, West Virginia and southern Michigan for your patience!
--Mike http//

Monday, November 24, 2008

More on Book Reviews

I figure the second biggest reason for books not getting noticed is because there are so many of them. We're over 40,000 for new books published every year, and some PR people and authors send out books to anyone and everyone--even inappropriate review venues.

(I still figure that the "biggest" reason for books not being reviewed is the lack of advertising support, as discussed in the preceding post.)

A tactic I use before a new book comes out is to contact everyone who might receive or want a copy for review. It's obvious, but some people don't use it. And, perhaps as evidenced by the preceding post, it doesn't always work--which may be a result of the "too many books" problem. Even though an editor or reviewer knows a book is on the way, she may be deluged by so many books (and accompanying announcements, email, etcetera) that the idea of the book is displaced from her thoughts.

At the same time, those operating in the more popular review venues (say, the New York Times) may rely on a rigid system or may have their review choices dictated to them.

Does Anyone Review Books for Magazines or Newspapers Nowadays?

I used to review books quite frequently, and my own books--fiction and non-fiction were reviewed almost as often. But my two most recent titles have seen little coverage in print media. Both received excellent reviews from bloggers and other readers (posted at Amazon, for example). But none have turned up in magazines for either book. I can't quite figure it out. Certainly Blogging Heroes appeals to a specialized audience, but the magazines that interest bloggers weren't reviewing it. Neither were publications about politics (a topic in which Blogging Heroes often ranks high on Amazon) or small business.

Same-same with On the Way to the Web. I have excellent reviews from readers at booksellers' sites and on blogs. But no magazine or newspaper reviews. It's not that magazine reviewers didn't receive copies; they did--nearly 100 were sent out for one book, and I've sent out more. Come to think of it, while my book Crosley got several print media reviews, I had to work hard to encourage editors to review the book.

What's up? There are always magazines and newspapers who don't notice a book coming in because they get so many of them. A Certain Midestern Daily is bad for that; in fact, one staffer told me they pretty much lose all the books they receive because they're just tossed into a closet, out of the way. Presumably the closet gets cleaned out periodically, and staffers who like to read get bonuses. (Drop me a line if you want to know the name of the paper.)

But that doesn't answer to the majority of instances. I think what's happening is something I've seen occur in the past: magazines and newspapers aren't reviewing books because book reviews don't generate advertising. The attitude appears to be "Forget the readers who might be interested in these books; we're not mentioning a product unless we get paid!"

This is nothing new. Elsewhere in this blog, I've related the story of the magazine editor who pressured me to write a negative review of a product because the advertiser reduced the frequency of his full-page ads. Obvious cause-and-effect. Yeah, "We'll punish them because they are not giving us enough money" sounds childish (or like interntational politics). But it happens all the time.

It happened back in the 1920s and 1930s; newspapers refused to run stories about radio unless radio manufacturers, retailers, or broadcasters bought advertising. When industrialist Powel Crosley, Jr. bought a Lockheed Vega and put WLW and Crosley Radio on the wings, and then hired Ruth Nichols to set records in it, every newspaper in the country covered the big stories. But nearly every one ran tight, cropped shots of the Crosley airplane and did not mention Crosley as the sponsor--because they weren't getting advertising money from Crosley and, besides, radio was the enemy, stealing advertising from honest newspapers--so there!

Granted, print magazines and newspapers are hurting nowadays. Advertising revenue is declining. But there's a good possibility that some quality editorial matter of interest to readers and not tied directly to advertiser topics could attract more readers--and advertisers.

So, much good information do we miss because of various media policies (informal or not) that bar or admit coverage of facts based on whether money is paid for advertising? A lot. Read Crosley or my upcoming biography of Ruth Lyons for some examples. (As the Lyons book will illustrate, some advertisers play the same game. "Say something about a competitor, and we'll cut you off!")

It even makes one wonder how much we can trust the information that magazines, newspapers, and electronic media provide. In additional to personal bias getting in the way of straightforward coverage (and it always does), economic bias both shapes and forces out facLinkts. (If you can review One the Way to the Web or Blogging Heroes for a magazine, drop me a line at bookrevs overat aol dot com.)

(Addenda: I've done a guest editorial for the "Classics Rock" topic at Tech Republic, on the subject of cloud computing. For those of you who have books out or on the way, note that this is a promotional, unpaid contribution to TechRepublic. It's not material from the book, but it is closely related. The posting carries a tagline and link to On the Way to the Web at Amazon.)
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Why Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Write for Low-Paying Magazines

Science fiction magazines are notoriously low-paying. It's in part a tradition from the pulp era (when pay was as low as a quarter-cent per word) and in part due to the low percentage of ad content versus editorial content. All-fiction magazines (whether they are SF, mystery, weird tales, or general fiction) have always aimed to present as much fiction as possible, in order to pull newsstand sales and maintain subscriptions. If you published an all-fiction magazine with 40 pages of advertising and 50 pages of fiction, those 50 pages had better be by known writers--who, along with production, printing, and distribution would probably cost more per issue than the advertisers bring in.

What do they pay? Right now, Analog is at less than 10 cents per word. Which comes to $250 for an average short story. The most I've been paid by the magazine was 15 cents per word, well over a decade ago, when print magazines were still selling well.

Why write for low-paying magazines? Having written for both Analog and Asimov's SF (first story in 1978), and served as assistant editor for Baen's New Destinies in the early 1980s, I can answer that question.

Getting published in Analog, Asimov's, F&SF, the late Galaxy and other "pro" SF/F magazines yields all sorts of benefits beyond the money, if you're a social person. Free drinks and free dinners at cons, maybe romantic companionship at cons if that's what you seek, watching people who ignored you before at cons sidling up to get in on your conversation--and all sorts of other egoboo. (SF fan lingo for "ego boost.")

You'll never get those fringes with literary mags that pay 5 or 10 cents per word. (And if you're an editor--look out! It's a whole new level.)

Besides, where else are you going to get those weird (though professional) stories published? And then there's the fact that published short fiction gets you noticed and can help sell novels.

There's lots of comeradship on tap, too--again, if you're a social person. The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA--it was too hard to pronounce with effs) is a grand ol' club of well over 1,000 members that provides newsletter-type publications, selected author services, contact with other writers who can't stop, and venues for endless argument and other entertainment. Check it out!

Oh, yeah: Sometimes you get money for years after a story is published. My second short story in Asimov's was reprinted four times, earning twice as much in reprint as the original sale. And all I had ot do was sign the checks.
--Mike On the Way to the Web

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fair Use and Unfair Use

There is much talk among the intelligentsia who know what is good for us of the perversity of the current copyright law. One of the elements being attacked is the Fair Use provision. Because of the strident voices of people such as Lawrence Lessig and Kembrew McLeod (in his book Remix), many, many people are taking objections to the limitations on Fair Use as a license to take "Fair Use" into the realm of unfair use. That is, to copy and share nearly whole chapters from books, complete short stories from anthologies, songs from CDs, and so on.

No, neithre Lessig nor McCleod are telling people to steal and share music, videos, etc. But the buzz about the work of each has transformed the claims against copyright law from just attacks on the evil establishment's unfair regulation into attacks on individual artists. And Lessig & Co. do nothing to discourage this. They throw up corporate greed as examples, obscuring recognition of the invidual artist's right to compensation. (Often the copyright holder is the artist, not a coporate entity.)

Meanwhile, the artists aren't consulted and often some potential for just compensation for their work is destroyed.

In many ways, the attack on copyright is a "Remix" of the 1960s revolution, although--weekend hippies that they probably were in the 1970s--people like Lessig seem to miss the fact that the only people who attacked individuals during the Sixties revolution were the crazed and criminal: the Charles Manson gang and the bombers whose explosions killed innocents.

But, what do I know? I'm not one Who Knows What Is Good For Us. I don't even have a degree. Besides, I digress ...

Getting back to Fair Use, asking permission for Fair Use is not a simple technical consideration. Nor is defining Fair Use an unfair, arbitrary limitation on freedom of expression. It is, first and foremost, a professional courtesy among writers, to let them know their ideas are useful or worthy of critical remark, and are being spread. It is appreciated. Often the quoted writer will buy a copy of the book that contains the quote. And this way, using someone else's work to make a point is honest and in the light, rather than being a furtive, clandestine activity.

The specific (or interpreted) limitations on Fair Use weren't intended to stifle free expression. Rather, the intent was to ensure against diluting the value of a book or other work to the point where no one would need or want to consult it.

Postscript: One wonders why Lessig's and McCleod's books even have copyright notices. For that matter, perhaps they ought to be free downloads, or given away by the Concord Free Press, which makes books available to bookstores and other outlets at no cost, to give away.

Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks, On the Way to the Web

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Why Some Print-Turned-Web Magazines Can't Last

Yesterday, I wrote about print magazines turning to Web-only publishing. It must seem like a good idea at first. You don't have to pay for printing and deal with distribution. That gets rid of a lot of salaries--not to mention the cost of paper/printing, shipping, etc.

And of course conventional wisdom has it that everything is going to the Web. Well, that last isn't true. For reasons I'll cover in a later post.
Many, many magazines aren't going to be able to survive on the Web, for two reasons. First, as more advertising venues appear, the money is going to get thin in many places. Advertisers are cutting back and will continue to reduce spending over the next couple of years, and there won't be enough ad money to support everyone.
The magazines will last longer because of the print-cost savings, but you'll see mergers, bankruptcies, and overnight disappearances of print-gone-Web magazines as those advertising dollars shrink.
Second, magazines won't retain their readership after moving to the Web. Why not? For the same reason they've been losing readers in print: reduced quality. Readers are in the habit of expecting something extra online, or at least quality, and in the cost-saving mode of moving to the Web magazines are not going to increase content quality. I don't think a majority are prepared to accept the Web as the sole source; we've been conditioned to think of anything on the Web as "rightfully" free, and a magazine Web site with no magazine ... ?
What happens after that? I have some ideas ...
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

PC Magazine Goes Web-Only, No More Print Copies

PC Magazine (to which I was a contributor in its glory days) is about to go to Web-only publication, just like the Christian Science Monitor. It's a bit of a surprise. The magazine certainly has a good heaping quantity of ads, online and off, though it's nothing like the 400+ pages it used to put out. And perhaps they need to cut costs to maintain income growth. (Growth forever, not incidentally, is an absurd fantasy that corporations indulge in--growing each and every year--and which eventually gets them into trouble.)

As more than one reader has pointed out, the reason for the magazine's non-growth could be poor content. I do see PC relying in part on "user-generated content" (and I have a real flamer of a post coming up about that--as soon as its progenitor appears in a magazine). Which bolsters the idea that they've cut their spending on content too heavily. Which translates to poor content. You can get only so much quality material for nothing--just like in the real world.

Does that mean Christian Science Monitor, U.S. News & World Report, and other magazines going non-print have poor content? Not necessarily, though U.S. News over-heavy emphasis on health was wearing, and I discontinued a subscription. (It felt kinda like when Reader's Digest switched from being general-interest to elderly-interest. From there they commenced toward tabloidishness ... but I digress.)

Good content or poor, I think all the magazines that are leaving the real world are just the beginning of a trend having to do with advertising. Check here tomorrow (Thursday, November 20) for the explanation.
Copyright © Michael A. Banks, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

Copy Protection

Dick Margilus has a good idea for copy protection of books and magazines--a means of rendering scanners and copiers incapable of copying pages. Click here to read all about it (and remember: you saw it there first).

I've been wondering whether some new material or form will make books uncopyable. There was a time that the price for copy equipment (and, for that matter) printing equipment discouraged copytheft. The labor that had to go into the effort also dissuaded potential book thieves (imagine standing at a photocopier to copy a 500-page book).

Perhaps a material that degrades over time will be tried in lieu of paper.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Michael Crichton, Carl Sagan, and Next

It was quite a surprise that Michael Crichton passed away. He and his writing were always so vital. I remember reading The Andromeda Strain when and because I heard it was going to be a film. It was interesting to note how closely the film followed the book, unusual as that is.

A few years later, re-reading the book inspired me to write to Carl Sagan to query about the possibility of microbiotic life that might live in Mars' upper atmosphere being carried to the planet's surface by the Viking I Mars lander. Sagan wrote back with a term for what I was asking about: "back-contamination." His response to the question was to tell me in effect that nothing could be done to prevent it, so they'd just have to take the chance.

There continues to be speculation about microscopic life forms from elsewhere making it to the Earth's surface. Lots of scenarios are offered--there's even a theory that life on Earth might have evolved from microscopic life forms or the spores thereof that arrived inside meteorites. (Or maybe there was some "back-contamination" from the Earth's upper atmosphere.)

In any event, I was looking forward to what Crichton would write next. I remember reading that he maintained his medical practice in New York, and whenever he worked out an idea for a book he traveled to a condo in Florida and wrote the book in six weeks. I envied that! (He gave up medical practice in the Seventies.)

Crichton’s most recent novel was not well-received. I enjoyed it, though the technique was bothersome. It was a good book, though I believe that some reviewers panned it in knee-jerk fashion; they couldn't get past their feelings that anything that didn't toe the so-called "politically correct' line had to be bad. Some felt obligated to toe the line, themselves. Perhaps Crichton knew that global warming was a reality, in which case he took on the more difficult path in writing Next. (I hope there is at least one more novel waiting in the wings.)

Re-read Next. Suspend your belief in the tenets of global warming, and I think you'll find it an entertaining read.
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Monday, November 10, 2008

Cloud Computing in the 1980s

I don’t remember the last time I took a vacation trip without working. Sometimes I was up against a deadline that didn’t allow me to take a few days off. If I didn’t have a deadline, I couldn’t resist working on a new idea or an old manuscript. I remember hauling a typewriter along with me on vacation as far back as 1978, though I limited work to evening hours. (I had to have it with me; I compose at the keyboard because handwriting is too slow.)

Lugging a forty-pound electric typewriter wasn’t easy, but technology would soon change that. In the early 1980s I bought a TRS-80 Model 100. It was an excellent companion, lightweight and requiring 80 percent less space than the typewriter. The keyboard was as good any you can find today, and it was easy to adjust to working on a 40-character wide display with 8 lines.

The Model 100 came with built-in firmware applications: text editor, calendar/scheduler with an alarm clock function, BASIC, an address book, and terminal program. It required little in the way of support; four AA cells powered it for about 20 hours. 8 extra batteries would see me through most any trip.

The Model 100’s only shortcoming was storage. Mine had just the basic 8K of memory, which didn't quite hold 12 pages of text. So I needed external storage. A cassette interface made tape storage possible, but it wasn't always perfect. Besides, that would have meant hauling along a tape player that weighed more than the computer. Being me, I would have lost or damaged at least one tape on every trip. A Model 100 disk drive presented the same lug-along problems as the cassette, and it was too expensive anyway.

But I didn't need any kind of portable storage, not with the Model 100's built-in modem and an online service account. I used DELPHI (and later CompuServe) as a virtual hard drive. For all practical purposes it provided an infinite amount of storage space.

Such was cloud computing, circa 1984.

Granted, the programs weren’t on a server, but they were fast, and I needed only minimal hardware on my end. If I shut down the computer while working, the document would be available exactly as I had left it the next time I turned the computer on. It was possible to buy additional apps, such as spreadsheets, and of course email and FAX service waited on DELPHI and CompuServe, along with news, encyclopedias, and other resources.

The combination of the little slab computer with online services wasn’t quite Google Apps. But it offered everything a writer could want. And its minimalist requirements of cheap batteries and a common telephone line made it possible to get to work in seconds no matter where you were.
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Online in Europe Before the Web

Each of the logos in the collage to the left represents a European online service. While (and before) consumer services such as CompuServe, The Source, and AOL were growing in the U.S., Prestel, CEEFAX, and ITV Oracle were online. In Germany. Bildshirmtext (literally "picture screen text") was providing computer owners with service in German. And before anyone else, France's Minitel reached into millions of homes with email, news, weather, telephone lookups, and premium services.

These are all covered in On the Way to the Web: The Secret History of the Internet and Its Founders. Along with these are services such as Eunet, Telset Finland, CIX in England, Japan's Junet and NHK, NABU in Canada, T-Net from Deutsch Telekom, and several more. You'll also learn about regional and often obscure online services around the U.S., such as INDAX, Electra, Covidea, California's Gateway, Keycom, and a bunch of others. Check out the book and see everything that was happening online during the Micro Decade.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Language Fun! Draw Your Own Conclusions:

"It's a new paradigm for marketing legacy equipment to enterprise!" Schuyler exclaimed. "It leverages your capital--which effectively doubles the company's capital, freeing it to drive new projects. Hence you will be in line for a correspondingly higher residual."

"It's a new approach to sell our old computers to small businesses. Your money enables it," Schuyler explained, "leaving ours to power other investments. You will, of course, receive a larger share than otherwise."

"I got a great idea: We can sell the old shit to idiots desperate for computers, and," Schuyler laughed, "we use your money to do it! If we make anything, you get half."
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Sunday, November 02, 2008

"The Father of ..."

This will probably fit into a standup comedy routine somewhere.

We frequently see historical and contemporary figures as "the father of" this or that. "The father of our country," "The father of television," "The father of the telephone," and so on.

A few years back, it occurred to me that when anyone or anything is fathered, someone gets screwed.

Definitely a literal truth if it involves business.