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Monday News: Amazon v. Hachette redux, historians editing Wikipedia, YouTube and...

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

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

9 Comments

  1. Cynthia Sax
    May 26, 2014 @ 06:58:23

    I love writing under a pen name (and I fully support a reviewer’s right to review under a pen name also).

    There are so many reasons to write under a pen name — the awesome superhero secret identity buzz, the ability to separate myself from my stories which makes reviews and critiques easier to take, the illusion that no one knows who I truly am so I can write balls to the wall, a thin layer of protection from not-so-sane people who might not like my stories or guys who think I’m the heroines in my erotic romances, did I mention the secret identity buzz? (grins)

    I often wonder why anyone would choose to use their real names! Pen names are so much fun!

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  2. Sandy James
    May 26, 2014 @ 08:20:26

    It’s extraordinarily difficult to even try to view the fight between Amazon and Hachette impersonally since what Amazon is doing is affecting me (and other Hachette authors) so profoundly. My new series is from Forever Yours, and up until Amazon started their “punishment” of Hachette, my second and third in the series were available for pre-order. Both were doing very well, but now they’re in limbo. The first in the series is available, but above that book is a banner listing “Similar Items at a Lower Price” to entice readers away from my book.

    Makes it very difficult to maintain any sort of unbiased view of the whole situation…

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  3. Liz H.
    May 26, 2014 @ 09:53:37

    Although the Forbes articles can certainly be described as impersonal, I was hoping for an additional adjective, such as informative. The WSJ article it links to (if you google it you can read it w/o the pay block- WSJ Amazon-Hachette Dispute Heats Up: Publisher Says Online Seller No Longer Letting Customers Preorder Titles) is far more helpful and includes facts/figures.

    What neither article attempts to analyze economically? through a market lens? (scientifically?) is the impact this will have on consumers in the long term. Obviously it’s something no one knows for sure, but surely some kind of analysis can be attempted. “Let the market play out” and see what happens is an Econ 101 cop-out.

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  4. Persnickety
    May 26, 2014 @ 10:34:38

    Interesting. Although hachette has been on my do not buy list for a few years now, so not difference to me. Their ebook prices were way too high, and to buy the equally high priced physical versions seemed counter productive. So I stopped buying any hachette published books ( and yes I looked up all of their imprints) and resorted to second hand and libraries. So that point in the article about whether books are a replaceable good does hold water.
    This is not against the authors who publish with hachette but rather against the publishers business practices and their poor response when I raised these issues. I am not overly fond of amazon either but so far their customer service response has been better.

    Books are a discretionary spending item. I adjust my buying to focus on the publishers who appreciate me as a customer

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  5. Darlynne
    May 26, 2014 @ 12:12:58

    Speaking of companies who appreciate readers: Amazon has been discounting Big 5/6/whatever titles (5.99 instead of 7.99, forex). Do we know why Kobo still doesn’t allow the use of coupons for those same publishers? Isn’t that against the terms of the settlement (she asks, hopefully)?

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  6. AJ
    May 26, 2014 @ 14:12:08

    Re: Pen names. I don’t mind authors using pseudonyms, but as long as they do, online readers and reviewers should be allowed to so so as well. It really irritates me when authors, who write under pen names, get hot under the collar about readers who use pen “user” names when reviewing their books at online sites.

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  7. Greg Strandberg
    May 28, 2014 @ 15:43:56

    I have a feeling many historians are still viewing Wikipedia as a threat. Don’t forget that many of those cozy offices have professors in them eagerly engaged in writing encyclopedia entries at a good price. They’ll also do journal articles and such. All of these things aren’t nearly as referenced or sought out as they once were, and therefore those folks might not be getting paid as much each year.

    I’ve written 3 books on Montana history and have compared the secondary source books to their respective entries on Wikipedia. Often Wikipedia has more detailed analysis and more facts than some of the books, although if I were to take about 2 to 3 books I might be able to get it all.

    At this point in time the smart students should know that Google books and their keyword searches are much better at producing the kinds of papers they need, and with appropriate citations (hint, hint).

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  8. Sunita
    May 28, 2014 @ 16:10:15

    @Greg Strandberg:

    I have a feeling many historians are still viewing Wikipedia as a threat.

    No.

    Don’t forget that many of those cozy offices have professors in them eagerly engaged in writing encyclopedia entries at a good price. They’ll also do journal articles and such.

    Again, no. Encyclopedia entries don’t pay particularly well, and “journal articles and such” have nothing to do with Wikipedia. They’re non-overlapping categories.

    At this point in time the smart students should know that Google books and their keyword searches are much better at producing the kinds of papers they need, and with appropriate citations (hint, hint).

    I have no idea what you’re hinting at (unless it’s “buy my book” in which case, please stop), but students: under NO circumstance should you follow this advice. Google Scholar is great, so is JSTOR (you get access through your university), but if someone besides you, the student produces “the kinds of papers they need,” we WILL figure it out, and the consequences are definitely not worth it.

    Signed,

    An Actual College Professor (who has no qualms about referring her students to Wikipedia as appropriate)

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  9. Greg Strandberg
    May 28, 2014 @ 18:42:34

    Glad I’m not in your class, Sunita.

    ReplyReply

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