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Friday News: Amazon’s wacky algorithms, Fandom and corporate publicity, writers v. copyists, and a real life interracial historical romance

Friday News: Amazon’s wacky algorithms, Fandom and corporate publicity, writers v....

The (Unintentional) Amazon Guide to Dealing Drugs – For those of you who routinely give the side eye to Amazon’s algorithms, here’s a true story that is both absurd and frightening. It seems that a pattern of purchases for a certain scale has resulted in a recommended buying list that amounts to what Alexis Madrigal refers to as a “quickstart kit for selling drugs.” That’s the absurd part. The frightening part is that Amazon does not make clear in its TOS how it responds to requests from law enforcement for customer information.

So, how long until police departments find an AWS-100 scale and request account information from Amazon?
. . .
Privacy, such as it is on the web, is collective. Beware who you share purchases or click-patterns with. –The Atlantic

Inside the corporate fandom marketing machine – As I was reading this piece on the way fantoms are being tapped to produce free publicity — often spontaneously produced content that is exploited by publicists and other corporate marketers to promote their media products — I couldn’t help but think of some of the debates we’ve had in the Romance community about the way reader-produced content can serve as publicity for an author or publisher, even though the reader did not produce the content for that purpose. There’s very much a question here, of who’s controlling whom, though, because fans can drive the popularity of a movie or television show or book, or their voices can be used by corporatized media to build popularity.

During the two- or three-month media tour for a big movie like Avengers, every interview will be copied onto YouTube, discussed on social media, and GIF-ed and quoted across Tumblr and BuzzFeed and a thousand other sites. The machine of audience-driven Internet publicity isn’t just dedicated to the hardcore fans who work their way up the Hunger Games Explorer leaderboard, it also includes everyone who casually retweets a Tom Hiddleston GIF. This kind of thing is easier to consume than a 10-minute segment on Jimmy Kimmel, and it’s far more likely to reach that all-important early adopter audience of social media addicts. –Daily Dot

Are You Really a Writer … Or Just a Copyist? – As I read through this piece, I could actually feel my jaw dropping. It sets out to distinguish what it means to be a “real writer” from a mere “copyist,” culminating with a set of criteria for one to define themselves as an actual “author.” Copyists, for example, are not passionate about writing, don’t read for pleasure, don’t write in their free time, and are not proud of their writing — among other things. Authors, by contrast, love reading, research, and following trends, have a professional portfolio of published work, and have “original thoughts” to offer. As much as I would love it if everyone writing was doing so out of a passionate commitment to the written word and to all that entails, this feels a little to much like trying to identify the artiste as distinctive from the commercial writer, in the most insulting way.

A copyist can be defined as a person who:

  • Wants to be paid to write a certain number of words
  • Is drawn to writing as a job, not as a calling
  • Is not trained or highly experienced in any specific writing style
  • Doesn’t have any industry specializations
  • Doesn’t have a unique perspective to share
  • Isn’t expecting to be highly compensated as they don’t expect to provide high-quality work

Merriam-Webster defines a copyist as “a person who transcribes” or “an imitator.” –Copyblogger

Belle: A Lesson About British Slavery Buried in a Love Story – For everyone who thinks that historical Romance set in 19th C Britain has to feature white protagonists, here’s a true story for you: Dido Elizabeth Belle, whose mother was a slave and whose father was a British Royal Navy officer, was raised by her great uncle, the first Earl of Mansfield. The same man who adjudicated the famous Somerset case, in which a slave who escaped in England sued for his freedom on the basis of English common law. “Belle,” the film produced on the basis of the story, will be released in the US in May.

Somerset was freed. Though Mansfield could have gone further in his decisions, both laid legal groundwork for the abolitionist movement and eventually led to the slave trade being outlawed in Britain in 1807 and slavery being abolished in the British Empire in 1833. And as the filmmakers and many historians argue, Dido Elizabeth Belle must have had an impact on Lord Mansfield’s thinking. He didn’t have children of his own and had afforded Belle what was an unheard-of degree of privilege and status for an illegitimate black child at the time. –The Root

Friday News: HP’s bribery and money laundering, Amazon’s acquisition of ComiXology, the Dublin Literary Award’s shortlist, and Ireland’s singing priest

Friday News: HP’s bribery and money laundering, Amazon’s acquisition of ComiXology,...

Hewlett-Packard Admits to International Bribery and Money Laundering Schemes – Okay, let’s start with the bad news. If this were April Fools’ Day, I’d say this has got to be a joke. Sadly (or for those reading The Will, alas), HP “has admitted to creating and using slush funds for bribes, money laundering, and clandestine “bag of cash” handoffs in order to profiteer off of lucrative government contracts in Russia, Poland, and Mexico.” Apparently they have already pled guilty, which will result in a $108 million penalty (probably petty change when compared to the contracts), criminal fines, and DOJ forfeitures. American HP executives have, thus far, escapes prosecution, but considering that the SEC, FBI, and IRS all collaborated in the investigation, I wouldn’t be surprised if individuals are soon charged. If you want a sense of how this works, check out some of the details of their Russian operation:

Beginning in the late 1990s, HP’s Russian conspirators concocted a sophisticated scheme to bypass internal controls and falsify records in order to siphon cash into a secret slush fund — eventually totaling about $10 million. Partly used for bribes and kickbacks to Russian officials, the money was aimed principally to grease the wheels for an approximately $48 million technology contract that HP ultimately won. The vast majority of that cash was laundered through off-shore bank accounts and ultimately deposited into shell accounts, some directly held by Russian officials. –VICE News

AMAZON.COM TO ACQUIRE COMIXOLOGY – I’m not sure whether this is good news or bad news. Amazon and ComiXology honchos seem to be pretty happy about the deal, the terms of which have not yet been made public. There are references to “reinventing reading in a digital world” and growing the market for comics and graphic novels. ComiXology’s Guided View technology creates what the company describes as an “immersive experience” for readers, and it’s obvious that Amazon is interested in capturing a wide swath of readers, especially in the context of their recent introduction of Kindle Worlds.

Founded in 2007, comiXology offers a broad library of digital comic book content from over 75 of the top publishers as well as top independent creators. Following the acquisition, comiXology’s headquarters will remain in New York. –ComiXology Unbound

Ten books shortlisted for the 2014 Award – In what is apparently the most valuable annual literary prize in the world for a work of fiction published in English, the shortlist for the€100,000 Dublin Literary Award has been announced. Featuring titles like A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard, The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng, and Traveler of the Century by Andrés Neuman, books were nominated by 110 library systems in 39 countries. Despite the language requirement, half of the books were originally published in languages other than English, and they represent an international literary perspective.

The titles on this year’s shortlist were nominated by public libraries in Australia, Croatia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, South Africa and The Netherlands.

The five member international judging panel, chaired by Hon. Eugene R. Sullivan, will select one winner which will be announced by the Lord Mayor of Dublin and Patron of the Award, Oisín Quinn on Thursday 12th June in a morning announcement. –IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

Is this the best singing priest ever? – You may be one of the 7 million or so people who have seen this video, but check out the story of this singing Irish priest, who surprised a couple who were not from his parish with an amazing rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (slightly customized to fit the couple he just married). The sound wasn’t great on my computer, but I can’t tell how much of that is my speakers and how much is the recording. Hopefully you can hear it clearly, because Father Ray Kelly has quite the pipes. –The Guardian