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Monday News: Massachusetts finally criminalized upskirting, more on Harlequin’s troubles, a personal reflection on sheikh romances, and @GSElevator loses his book deal

Monday News: Massachusetts finally criminalized upskirting, more on Harlequin’s troubles, a...

Massachusetts bans ‘upskirt’ photos, closes Peeping Tom loophole – A mere two years after the original criminal charge was filed against a man for taking upskirt photos on public transit, the Massachusetts legislature managed to re-write the law so that it explicitly applied to these types of situations. I know people have been cheering the legislature for its allegedly quick response, but if you look back to 2004-2005, you will see that the state had an example of a federal peeping tom law to work from, which explicitly targeted upskirt photos, among other forms of electronic surveillance and image capture. I also find it interesting that the Senate President focuses on the moral dimensions of upskirting, essentially saying that the law jails people for immoral behavior. While there are definitely ethical issues here (and upskirting would certainly qualify as a crime of moral turpitude), can’t we just focus on the idea that women have a reasonable expectation of privacy under their clothes, and that it should be and now is illegal in Massachusetts to deprive them of that?

“We are sending a message that to take a photo or video of a woman under her clothing is morally reprehensible and, in Massachusetts, we will put you in jail for doing it,” Senate President Therese Murray said in a release. –Reuters

Love Affair With Digital Over For Romance Publisher Harlequin? – A more extensive analysis of the declining revenue story about Harlequin, including an interview with Harlequin CEO Craig Swinwood. Swinwood claims that the company is “in transition,” which I sincerely hope is true. As I’ve remarked before, Harlequin’s focus on and willingness to sell directly to readers has made it a valuable player in the Romance publishing marketplace, and I believe that the continued viability of that market depends on the vitality of the greatest diversity of writing and publishing players.

A decade ago, publishers like Harlequin only had to compete among themselves to attract and retain authors; now they have to compete with the option to self-publish, too. For its part, Harlequin, like many other publishers, is scrambling to offer authors more and better service. Swinwood pointed out to me Harlequin’s Author Network, a dashboard where authors can check sales, get market intelligence and have all their questions answered by a concierge service. –Forbes

The Sheikh’s Prize Is Usually White by Natalie Storey – An interesting, honest, and very personal contemplation from a white reader of skeikh romances that does not shy away from the more difficult issues of race, culture, and constructions of the exotic. The way she touches on the problematic fact that the white woman becomes the cultural outsider in these books made me think of Reina Lewis’s wonderful Gendering Orientalism: Race, Femininity and Representation, and Jennifer DeVere Brody’s fantastic work in Impossible Purities: Blackness, Femininity, and Victorian Culture.

But my interest in sheikh romances doesn’t end simply with wanting to believe in their depictions of cross-cultural love. I had never read any of the books before I traveled to Jordan, but their stories were so recognizable to me that I began to wonder if their narrative is so pervasive that it influenced the way I lived and loved without my knowledge or consent. I’m sure this suspicion developed from reading romance novels alongside Orientalism and other writings by Edward Said, which show how some cultural narratives are so deep-seated that we hardly notice them for what they are or whom they misrepresent. But there’s a difference between Said’s orientalism and that in the romance novels. Orientalism demonstrates how stereotypes of Muslims and Arabs have been embedded in popular culture and academia and how they continue to circulate, perpetuating fear and racism. The romances cope with the stereotyped images of fear and hatred of Muslims and Arabs in the popular media by reversing them to love. I think the romance novels’ reaction to hate bears some similarity to my desire to understand the Middle East for myself, the desire that propelled me to Jordan, helped me learn Arabic, and led me to begin a relationship with a Jordanian man. The romance novels seem to contain a positive message, but their reactive love relies too much on a fantasy of racial and cultural difference. Exoticism, in the end, objectifies others as much as hate.–Los Angeles Review of Books

Book News: @GSElevator Author Loses Book Deal - Despite the fact that Simon and Schuster admitted that it knew about the fiction that was @GSElevator’s twitter experiment, Touchstone has cancelled publication of his book. There’s an interesting email from LeFevre posted on the NPR blog, but no real explanation for the cancellation. –NPR

Friday News: The “Average” Barbie, the dark side of Kickstarter, the art of re-reading, and Harlequin’s declining revenues

Friday News: The “Average” Barbie, the dark side of Kickstarter, the...

The New Barbie: Meet the Doll with an Average Woman’s Proportions – Remember the artist’s rendering of what an “average” Barbie would look like? Well, Nickolay Lamm decided to take his vision and make it a reality, raising $95,000 on Kickstarter to design and manufacture his own doll. to be advertised with the slogan, “Average is beautiful” (do you think we could circulate something similar for three-star reviews?). Lamm has the backing of the former vice president of manufacturing of Mattel, the company that has long made the Barbie, whose sales are currently in decline, and that connection will hopefully pair Lamm with a manufacturer who can produce a high quality doll. Frankly, I hope the Lammily kicks Barbie’s artificially skinny ass.

In a recent interview with Fast Company, Barbie lead designer Kim Culmone vigorously defended the dolls ridiculous measurements, arguing not only that it wasn’t responsible for instilling negative body images in young girls but also that it was necessary to get clothes on and off the doll’s body with ease. “I’ve heard that argument before but I find it odd,” Lamm said. “There are female action figures who are full bodied, and clothes fit fine.” –Time

Kickstarter Fail: Artist Raises $51K to Publish Books, Burns Them in Alley – And now we peer into the dark side of Kickstarter, with the story of John Campbell, a webcomic artist who raised more than $51,000 for a book based on his online comic, “Pictures for Sad Children.” Campbell did, in fact, produce the books, at a cost of about $30,000, but apparently did not have the money to ship them all, and in addition to having some of the Kickstarter money go to the IRS for back taxes, had to spend more of the money on a plastic-bound dead wasp for the inside of each book. Reading Campbell’s story, it sounds like this is more than a failure of money or Kickstarter, but it’s also a reminder that a Kickstarter investment is largely speculative.

Campbell said he successfully mailed 750 to 800 books, while another 150 were undeliverable and returned to him due to old addresses. He plans to burn the rest of the books that have been sitting in his apartment in boxes for over a year.

Two weeks ago, the stress of not being able to afford to mail the books prompted Campbell to burn 127 books behind a dumpster in an alley behind his apartment.

Campbell said burning the books was “like a weight lifted off of me.” –DNAinfo Chicago

Re-reading: The ultimate guilty pleasure? – This is a nice piece on the art of re-reading, from its changing pleasures as we get older, to speculation about its intellectual and emotional benefits, to the question of how many people do and don’t re-read, and why. Is re-reading only habitual among genre fiction readers? I hadn’t really thought about re-reading as something to remark and reflect on until I read this article. Playwright Samantha Ellis has even written a book, How To Be A Heroine, based on her longtime interest in Wuthering Heights.

Scientists have weighed in, too, citing the mental health benefits of re-reading. Research conducted with readers in the US and New Zealand found that on our first reading, we are preoccupied by the ‘what?’ and the ‘why?’. Second time round, we’re able to better savour the emotions that the plot continues to ignite. As researcher Cristel Russell of the American University explained of re-readers in an article published in the Journal of Consumer Research, returning to a book “brings new or renewed appreciation of both the object of consumption and their self”.  –BBC Culture

Revenue Declines Continue at Harlequin – Revenues at Harlequin have been on the decline for the past five years, and profits declined 27% from last year. Given Harlequin’s range of books/lines and perception of the reader as their customer, this is not great news. Harlequin has blamed competition in digital book pricing, but I’m thinking the crappy royalty arrangements can’t be helping, either, especially as more Romance authors turn to self-publishing.

In its report, Harlequin blamed ebook prices in North America, specifically, “increased discounts being offered on digital sales of other publishers’ bestselling titles.” Outside of North America, “growth in digital revenue was insufficient to offset print declines.” –Digital Book World