Monday News: Amazon v. Hachette redux, historians editing Wikipedia, YouTube and crowdfunding, pseudonymity and creativity
The Real Story Behind The Amazon v Hachette Fight – So here’s a pretty impersonal take on the Amazon v. Hachette battle, which is mighty difficult to find online right now. This whole thing reminds me of the battle over so-called agency pricing (and remember how awful Barnes and Noble was not so way back when???), except that I’m kind of surprised at how, despite all the changes that have happened in self-publishing over the past few years, a lot of the same dynamics seem to be playing out. For example, I was surprised by Lilith St. Crow’s unqualified defense of Hachette; as a pretty seasoned author who says she has published in every venue, her response to people who pointed out that Hachette is not blameless took me aback. Anyway, I’m not personally endorsing the Forbes piece, but I’m glad to see a de-personalized approach to the conflict, especially because I think it’s important to remember that neither publishers nor distributors care about readers and authors in any sentimental capacity.
The real economic story behind that lovely fight that’s going on between Amazon and Hachette that is. What we’re really seeing is a battle between the people who make the product and the people who distribute it as to who should be getting the economic surplus that the consumer is willing to hand over. Like all such fights it’s both brutal and petty. Amazon is apparently delaying shipment of Hachette produced books, insisting that some upcoming ones won’t be available and so on. Hachette is complaining very loudly about what Amazon is doing, entirely naturally. The bigger question is what should we do, if anything, about it? To which the answer is almost certainly let them fight it out and see who wins. –Forbes
Improving Wikipedia: Notes from an Informed Skeptic – A really interesting piece by historian Stephen Campbell on some of the challenges and opportunities that Wikipedia represents. We all know that one of the biggest problems with Wikipedia is that anyone can contribute to the resource, which can give the weight of authority to things that are flat-out incorrect or misrepresented/misinterpreted. On the other hand, as Campbell points out, Wikipedia does have guidelines that are meant to weed out uninformed opinion, and because the resource belongs to the public domain, it remains a living, evolving resource that can provide good supplementary information (and should never be used as the only or primary source of research).
Perhaps no other issue has proved more controversial than Wikipedia’s foundational pillar of neutrality. Skeptics wonder if this goal is even possible or desirable.3 In describing its policy, which dovetails with the interlocking emphases on “verifiability” and “no original research,” Wikipedia states that it aims to describe debates, but not engage in them. Here is where historians balk. The moment we select a research topic and array certain facts together in a particular order, we have unwittingly engaged in a debate. In addition, facts themselves are never truly neutral since they are always understood within a larger ideological context.4
What is most surprising among Wikipedia’s policies, however, is how the site takes a sophisticated approach to many of these philosophical issues. Wikipedia editors emphasize that neutrality is not the same as objectivity. The site eschews pseudoscience, avoids false equivalency and upholds the standards of peer review, and in assessing the validity of competing arguments, it considers the argument’s prevalence in scholarly sources, not among the general public. Wikipedia’s policy even recognizes that we cannot take neutrality to its fullest possible extent because attempts to eliminate bias completely may sacrifice meaning.5 These are all standards that academics should applaud. Wikipedia’s editors eventually responded positively to Messer-Kruse’s complaints, and while it may never adequately incorporate the latest, cutting-edge research known among scholarly circles, the beauty of the site is that it contains the tools for its own improvement. –Perspectives on History (AHA)
YouTube wants to take a page from Kickstarter with crowdfunding tools for video producers – Oh, look, here’s a surprise: YouTube is getting in on the crowd funding craze. And it’s likely to provide details at VidCon. Yippee.
YouTube made the announcement on Friday with a blog post and video that also previewed a few other creator-focused initiatives, including crowdsourced captioning and a mobile analytics app. –Gigaom
WHAT’S IN A PEN NAME? – An amusing, insightful, and provocative look at why an author might adopt a pseudonym for writing fiction. His rationale is creative rather than practical, which came across as “pretentious” to one commenter, but also raises interesting points about how writing is performative and appropriative by nature. How appropriative, and to what ends are not considered in the essay, but they’re certainly present as broader implications.
Much as I might agree, my own case strikes me as having more in common with that of Toby Forward, the Anglican vicar who, in the nineteen-eighties, wrote a series of stories posing as a teenage girl by the name of Rahila Khan. Defending his motives in the scandal that eventually resulted—his stories had been published in a series specifically intended as a platform for young immigrant voices in Thatcher-era England—Forward insisted that the Khan stories had not been meant as a hoax, declaring that his pseudonym “released me from the obligation of being what I seem to be so that I can write as I really am.” I differ from the good vicar on a few minor points (I don’t think anyone writes as they “really are,” for example, since all style is either learned or invented), but I agree about the “release from obligation.” That’s as close as I can come to my own reason for having chosen to write as John Wray, and for continuing to do so, in spite of the obvious drawbacks. I’ve discovered that working under a name other than the one in my passport—while an undeniable hassle in airports, hotels, and banks—is a marvelous way to dodge my inhibitions. It doesn’t say much for human psychology, I suppose, that such a simple-headed trick should work so well, but I’m in no position to be fussy. Writing is hard enough without the sin of pride. –The New Yorker