Tuesday News: Oyster, Apple, book covers, and desert romance
Oyster, a Netflix for Books, Is Shutting Down. But Most of Its Team Is Heading to Google. -Oyster announced yesterday that is going to be shutting down its subscription service “over the next several months.” News spread quickly that Google had purchased Oyster, although Google apparently does not want the story told that way. Instead, they are paying for staff. In the end, it may not matter, especially if what the Oyster folks are “excited” about isn’t a new subscription service at Google Play Books.
Those opportunities may happen at Google. A rep for the search giant confirmed that “a portion” of the Oyster team has joined Google Play Books, its online store for books. People familiar with the company say that CEO Eric Stromberg and co-founders Andrew Brown and Willem Van Lancker are part of the team joining Google.
Google is resistant to the notion that it bought Oyster. But sources said it will end up paying investors, who put a reported $17 million into the company, for the right to hire some of its staff. In other words, this is an acqhire.–Re/Code
Why does this brilliant, bestselling book have such a cheesy cover? -So the crappy part of this story is that some readers are apparently upset with Elena Ferrante’s book covers because they look like “cheap” Romance novels. *sigh* So let’s get past that to the more interesting part of the article, namely that the covers are actually aiming for “vulgarity,” which is apparently not vulgar enough for American readers, who find them to be, well, amateurish. So beyond some cultural differences around book covers, there’s an interesting debate here about how difficult it can be to brand an author in a way that matches the author and publisher’s vision for the books. And how, perhaps, the proliferation of self-published books has influenced the way American readers, in particular, interpret cover images.
But Sandro Ferri, Europa Editions’ publisher, says the covers were not an accident of too many cooks in the design kitchen, but rather a conscious choice. Writes Ferri in an email to Quartz, “The ‘vulgarity’ is our intention. We don’t want to make the typical ‘literary’ cover designed for an audience of ultra-sophisticated readers. … Ferrante’s novels are a mix of popular literature and highbrow, intellectual writing. We want to communicate this though our covers as well.” . . .
Though Ferri says that the intended irony is evident to fans, it appears to be lost on an American audience, for whom the cover designs evoke the aesthetic of Lurlene McDaniel or Danielle Steel. If the intention was irony, says Heller, “They’re not vulgar enough. They’re generic. They look like stock photographs.” Says Carter, “If they’re trying to be ironic, it would have to go further. It would have to be ten times cheesier than they are. These are the most generic, standard thing possible.”–Quartz
What Apple’s ad blocking fight is really about -An interesting article on the way Apple’s new ad-blocking functionality undermines the indirect revenue generation advertising facilitates, not only as a means to satisfy user frustration with more and more ubiquitous and intrusive advertising (and possibly stick it to Google), but also as a salvo in the battle over how best to make money (paywalls, anyone??).
But there’s a reason advertising has been the dominant model for so long. Information-based products have some unusual economic properties that make it both difficult and counter-productive to charge users directly. Like other so-called “public goods,” the cost of producing valuable information is entirely up-front, in its creation. That’s especially true for digital content. The cost of broadcasting the signal or serving up the bits to you — what economists call the marginal cost — is essentially zero. In the case of the Internet, you pay for the device and the network connection.
That means content producers have little reason to spend money trying to exclude non-paying customers, and, indeed, some powerful incentives not to. Not only is the marginal cost of supplying additional viewers zero or close to it, but another economic principle makes information more valuable the more it’s used. Media that is popular exhibits a kind of gravitational pull, accelerating its appeal in what is known as a “network effect.” Allowing if not begging users to share links through social media for the material they like — a virtual water cooler — helps that content find its largest and most interested audience.–Washington Post
New Texts Out Now: Amira Jarmakani, An Imperialist Love Story: Desert Romances and the War on Terror – Very provocative interview with Amira Jarmakani, whose new book on desert Romance novels and the “war on terror” takes on the relationship between desire and cultural hegemony. We’ve talked about this more generally in terms of how Romance so often ends with marriage and children, perpetuating a specific model of family as a the nucleus of society. Jarmakani is an Associate Professor at Georgia State University and the interview includes an excerpt from her book.
Desert romances are overwhelmingly set in fictionalized Arabia, a landscape I describe as “Arabiastan” for reasons explained in the book. As if to corroborate the argument that desert romances bear no relation to actual events, virtually every novel takes place in a country invented by the author, and the creation of fictional settings is one of the key tactics authors use to circumvent the surfeit of reality that threatens the viability of the sheikh-hero. Another tactic the authors employ is to use distinct ethnic, cultural, and religious markers to exoticize sheikhs without overtly racializing them or associating them with terrorists. Consequently, desert romances speak directly about race, gender, and religion, even as they claim to be universal and “color-blind” fantasy stories.
Desert romances therefore offer a unique perspective on the war on terror through their development of an under-analyzed figure: the liberal-enlightened Arab leader who chooses to ally with the US in the war on terror. Precisely because desert romances must combat what the general reader thinks she already knows about the reality of the Middle East in order to operate as fantasy narratives, they demonstrate how desire—at the collective, social level—mobilizes and animates contemporary US hegemony. As fantasy narratives that nevertheless obliquely reference reality, desert romances serve as immensely useful indirect articulations of the way that desire motivates contemporary technologies of imperialism mobilized in the war on terror. Focusing on the three specific imperialist technologies of security, freedom, and liberal multiculturalism, An Imperialist Love Story demonstrates romance to be a salient lens through which to understand how the war on terror works, and how it perseveres.–Jadaliyya