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Monday News: Kindle Unlimited, the local value of libraries, Japanese artist arrested for obscenity, and the ‘sassy black sidekick’ stereotype

Monday News: Kindle Unlimited, the local value of libraries, Japanese artist...

With Kindle Unlimited, Amazon Makes Bid for Amazon Prime Customers – Well, it’s a few days into Kindle Unlimited, and the world still seems to be more or less intact. Slate has an interesting perspective on the service, which is that it’s a strategy for Amazon to get more money out of Prime Members, who already pay $99 for pretty extensive privileges. To some degree, there is clearly duplication and/or overlap between the Prime Lending Library and KU. However, the addition of audiobooks is what drew me, a Prime member, to KU. Still, perhaps the ability to borrow audiobooks through KU could make a service like Audible, which has a basic monthly fee that is about 1.5 times that of KU, less appealing. Or maybe there’s a long-term strategy to drive more customers to Audible, which Amazon also owns, to purchase audiobooks either beyond what is available in KU, or to purchase audiobooks for truly unlimited listening enjoyment. In the meantime, people seem to be having a good time trying to figure it all out.

From a customer’s perspective, is Kindle Unlimited a great deal? Price-wise, it’s more or less on par with similar services such as Oyster ($9.95 a month for access to more than 500,000 titles) and Scribd ($8.99 a month for access to more than 400,000 titles). In fact as Gizmodo astutely points out, the biggest competition for Kindle Unlimited right now might be Amazon itself. Current members of Amazon Prime can check out one book a month from the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library (selection: more than 500,000). Prime, of course, also includes free two-day shipping, streaming movies and TV shows, and streaming music. At $9.99 a month or about $120 a year, Kindle Unlimited is $20 more expensive than Amazon Prime. And while it might have a slightly bigger selection of books, it comes with a lot fewer other perks. –Slate

Resisting Amazonification – I’ve had this article waiting to post since last week, and this seems like the perfect time, given the library-type environment Amazon seems to be creating with Kindle Unlimited. University librarian Barbara Fister is arguing that one of the strengths of a common-use library is a reinforcement of the local and the public, as opposed to the multinational, corporate, and private. I don’t think Kindle Unlimited has confused this distinction, at all; in fact, I think Fister’s piece is a good reminder that there are still many differences between what Amazon is engaging in and, say, spending a day at your local public community or university library. In any case, I think it’s a nice piece.

There is an alternative to this kind of corporate data-sucking dominance, and it scales, but it’s not without barriers. Yochai Benkler calls it “commons-based peer production.” To participate you need to have some skills, some free time, and some connection to the common project – because it won’t be linked from everywhere as Facebook is and it’s doubtful all of your relatives and friends and your ninth grade English teacher are already there urging you to connect. Instead of handing over personal information to fund the platform, you contribute time and some work, and you trust that the piece you work on will become integrated with the whole, which requires a stable and transparent governance system of some sort. Wikipedia is a great example of a massive peer production project, but its platform isn’t as intuitive as it could be, its governance culture is unwelcoming to many, and its rules can be labyrinthine. OpenStreetMap is a collaborative peer project to share and build on map data; OpenLibrary aims to create a web page for every book ever published – but neither is as well-known as Google Maps or Amazon. Yet they do demonstrate that we don’t have to surrender our lives and attention to mega-corporations to do cool and useful things together online. –Inside Higher Ed

Vagina selfie for 3D printers lands Japanese artist in trouble – File this under WTF – a Japanese artist who created a “pussy boat” based on the contours of her own vagina was arrested last week, and under Japanese law, she could be jailed for up to two years and/or fined 2.5M yen (approximately £14,300 or USD 24,500). The arrest stems from the fact that Megumi Igarashi, aka Rokudenashiko, who crowdfunded the project, sent data to people who could use it to produce the boat with a 3D printer. So while there was no actual image of her vagina sent, the data was considered obscene by Japanese authorities. This, folks, is patriarchy.

Commentators have pointed out the hypocrisy of her arrest, which comes soon after Japanese authorities resisted pressure to banpornographic images of children in manga comics and animated films.

The activist Minori Kitahara said police raided Igarashi’s office and seized 20 of her artworks. “Japan is still a society where those who try to express women’s sexuality are suppressed, while men’s sexuality is overly tolerated,” she said. –The Guardian

Not Your Sassy Black Sidekick – We talk a lot about both stereotypes in the Romance genre and a lack of broad-based diversity. Characters of color (and gay men from any ethnic background) are often featured in secondary roles, and their presence may be to represent ‘truth-tellers’ to the white, straight protagonists, or to provide witty observations and comebacks (often in a ‘truth-telling’ way). This short but pithy piece from For Harriet gives a cogent overview of why these stereotypes are problematic, and why they can make it more difficult to realize authentic, meaningful diversity in the genre.

What is a sassy black sidekick? Past and present television shows have used this trope to relegate black women to a sidekick position whose primary function is to entertain, act as the butt of a joke, or be an accessory.

If the black character expresses emotions of her own, it is portrayed as comic relief from the more serious issues facing the “dominant” character. Plainly, the issues of the black woman are trivialized and reduced to a punchline in the media, as well as reality. –For Harriet

Monday News: Memorial fund for Jackie Barbosa’s son, Buzzfeed’s new film critic, the Vatican Library’s digitization project, and a cool, rare book

Monday News: Memorial fund for Jackie Barbosa’s son, Buzzfeed’s new film...

Memorial Fund for Jackie Barbosa’s Son – As many of you already know, Romance author Jackie Barbosa’s 17-year old son, Julian, was killed in a head-on collision while driving to school on Thursday, March 20th. In response to this tragedy a memorial fund has been established, and there are plans to create a scholarship fund in his name. The link above leads to a Paypal account set up by Beverly Kendall, who is a close friend of the family and is coordinating donations on their behalf. All of us at Dear Author extend our thoughts and prayers to Jackie and her family during this extremely sad and difficult time. –ABC News

BuzzFeed’s New Critic Will Be the First Staffer to Actually Criticize Things – Although I’m not convinced, given the comments below, that Buzzfeed has a handle on what critical discourse is (and isn’t), and why it can’t legitimately be so narrowly defined, it’s good to see that the site is at least inching away from their ridiculous “no haters” policy. I have to say that I’m curious about this shift, though, especially given the recent announcement that the site has also recently acquired (now) former Hairpin contributor and academic Anne Helen Peterson as a full-time features writer. I so totally get wanting a paid gig, and certainly the visibility at Buzzfeed had to have enormous appeal, but I’m curious to see how someone who’s been trained to view critique as the lifeblood of public discourse is going to do there.

But don’t expect this to lead to sweeping changes for the BuzzFeed approach. In today’s interview, Lacob attempts to downplay Willmore’s difference from her co-workers. “‘No haters’ doesn’t mean ‘no negative criticism,’” Lacob said. “What it means, however, is that we’re not going to approach criticism from a place of knee-jerk snarkiness.” Willmore, too, draws a line between “empty snark” and what she will be doing as a film critic. –The Wire

Vatican Library to digitise archives with Japanese support – Home to 82,000 manuscripts, totaling more than 40 million pages, the Vatican Library is hoping to digitize its entire collection, starting with 3,000 documents over the next four years. Japanese company NTT Data is providing the more than $20 million to fund the project, which works out to about, what, fifty cents a page? Not too bad, considering the value of those documents.

“The manuscripts that will be digitised extend from pre-Columbian America to China and Japan in the Far East, passing through all the languages and cultures that have marked the culture of Europe,” said Vatican’s librarian Monsignor Jean-Louis Brugues. –BBC News

A Very Rare Book Opens 6 Different Ways, Reveals 6 Different Books – Given the focus on rare documents in the previous story, this piece on an unusual and unusually beautiful book from Rogge Library in Strängnäs seems appropriate. The artifact, a 16th century collection of German devotional tracts, is an amazing piece of art and spirituality, as each different opening reveals a new book. –Visual News