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

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

Tuesday News: Fake memoirist must pay back publisher; made-to-order libraries; preserving digital books; and 100-year old how-to manuals

Tuesday News: Fake memoirist must pay back publisher; made-to-order libraries; preserving...

Author of fake Holocaust memoir ordered to return $22.5m to publisher – In another chapter of the strange case of Misha Defonseca, the author of the fake Holocaust Memoir has been ordered by a judge to return $22.5 million that she won in another suit against her US publisher. Defonseca’s bestselling book was even made into a film, and the story of a little Jewish girl who was raised by wolves after losing her parents captivated readers all over the world. When Defonseca’s claims were found to be false — including her insistence that she was Jewish — she defended herself by asserting that “it’s not the true reality, but it is my reality”, and “there are times when I find it difficult to differentiate between reality and my inner world.”

Before the fabrications were exposed, the author and her ghostwriter Vera Lee had won $32.4 million from her US publisher Mt Ivy and its founder Jane Daniel after bringing a copyright case against them. Daniel went on to appeal the ruling, and to conduct her own research into the story, discovering documents revealing Defonseca’s date and place of birth, and that rather than “running with the wolf pack”, she was actually “enrolled in a Brussels school in 1943″, reported Courthouse News. –The Guardian

‘Your collection of books says a lot about you’: meet the creators of the bespoke library – Speaking of false fronts, here’s an article on a company that will build a library for you — for a mere few hundred thousand dollars, of course. Referring to the well-stocked library as “intelligent luxury,” Ultimate Library works with a lot of hotels to create beautiful library spaces that are meant to convey an upscale appeal. On the one hand, these folks create some stunning private libraries, but I find it sad that in some ways these are more about creating the appearance of something than actually building that thing as an authentic collection of hand selected books.

Next, the team analyses the kinds of people who are likely to stay at the hotel, their interests, how long they will spend there, where they come from and their language. Finally, Ultimate Library looks at the décor and how the books will complement the interior design brief of the hotel.

“We understand and can advise on library set up and layout, and much more importantly we understand where to go and buy fabulous books that will give that layer of intelligent luxury. We build a library that doesn’t look like it was bought off a shelf in April 2014 – it looks like it has been built up over time and has a sort of depth and longevity to it.” –Spear’s

The fight to save endangered ebooks – While some still view physical libraries as symbolic of being “civilized,” actual research libraries are working on the preservation of digital books, a process that may sound counter-intuitive, but one that is essential to the perpetuation of this rapidly growing segment of the book market. Of course, DRM and other legal obstacles problematize this essential undertaking, and, in the process, endanger the long-term survival of our digital resources. A really fascinating article, and one anyone who appreciates books in any format should read.

“You’re speaking to an institution that is in its birth pangs,” says Library of Congress project manager Carl Fleischhauer of digital preservation. He and Lynch are both preoccupied with technical questions as well as legal ones. The Library of Congress works with publishers to get DRM-free files that can be migrated to different formats over time, a luxury that rules against breaking copy protection can make dicey. It also works on developing tools to prevent content from being degraded or corrupted, including a piece of software called BagIt, which wraps content into self-contained, folder-like digital “bags” complete with a manifest listing everything that should be preserved.

As troublesome as preserving text-only files can be, it’s relatively straightforward compared to what ebooks could one day become: interactive pieces of media that blur the line between website, game, and database. Even mathematical symbols have turned out to be hard to format correctly. “Culturally, we still seem to have this sort of dichotomy in our heads,” says Lynch, between ebooks and other digital artifacts like websites and games. “We’re having a terrible time intellectually, as well as technically, understanding what preservation means for this latter menagerie of things in the digital world.” –The Verge

8 How-To Books From 100 Years Ago That Are Still (Sort of) Useful – And if you have any lingering questions about why we need to be preserving today’s books for many tomorrows, maybe some of these century-old books will convince you otherwise. Or maybe not. Personally, I think the one on how to make a shoe could be a bestseller today, and I’m especially curious to read the 1901 how-to on how to write a novel.–Mental Floss