Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue

06/29/2013

Social Media Sites to Become “Personalized Newspapers” – Elsewhere, Market Caps for Current, Fading News Sources


The ‘print publishing industry’ is a phrase used by some in the field to refer to the old newspaper game. And it’s a game undergoing some dynamic shifts and adjustments — due mostly to falling subscriptions and advertisements — the financial numbers depicting this follows in tonight’s post.

This adjustment/survival mode being entertained by the major print news giants such as New York Times and News Corp has opened up new inroads for innovative companies to deliver more frequent and customized news (and news feeds) to more demanding and sophisticated customers.

And just who are these innovative ‘white knight’ companies who will charge in and take up the banner of global news delivery? Social media sites, that’s who — Facebook and LinkedIn, to be specific. Others are sure to follow.

Facebook is developing a service called ‘Reader’ that will reveal news content to its users and LinkedIn just bought ‘Pulse’, a mobile application that enables users to create custom news feeds. The service is similar to Facebook’s Reader.

Imagine being able to immediately tap into news feeds that old print newspapers used to get the stories they published the next day or later? All kinds of interesting things are brewing and possible in the future of news and news delivery 🙂

From the Insider Monkey by The Motley Fool:

Facebook Inc (FB), LinkedIn Corp (LNKD): Two Companies That Will Grow In a Declining Publishing Industry

The invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440 revolutionized the world, reducing the price of printed goods and enabling the materials to be mass-distributed. Now, technology is doing the same. Established publishing companies are facing challenging times, while social media firms like Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) andLinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD) are poised to capitalize within a new market.

A dying model

Newspapers generate their revenue primarily from subscriptions and advertisements. And with both decreasing in recent years, the industry is under major reconstruction. For example, according to The Wall Street Journal, The Newspaper Association of America estimated that U.S. print advertising fell 55% in the past five years. Further, Magna Global expects print ad revenues to drop 6.8% in 2014, and Zenith Optimedia anticipates print ad spending to drop 8% in coming years.

Entrenched players are adjusting to stay alive

The New York Times Company (NYSE:NYT) publishes national and regional newspapers and “owns eight network-affiliated television stations, two New York radio stations and more than 40 web sites.” However, to diversify its portfolio and focus its strategy, it plans to sell The Boston Globe and related assets.

The transition comes as New York Times wants to expand its international reach. With current assets just under $1 billion as of the first quarter, and liabilities exceeding $2 billion, the cash generated from the potential sale will help the publisher to remain competitive by paying down debt, moving into new markets, and holding a cash reserve for future use.

On Friday, conglomerate News Corp (NASDAQ:NWS) will officially spin off its publishing and newspaper assets. It wants its two major business units to function independently and to encourage growth, especially with its entertainment division. This segment will be named 21st Century Fox, and will continue to operate major news and television studios, along with major broadcasting networks.

News Corp’s publishing spin-off is valued at $9.1 billion, about one-seventh the value of 21st Century Fox. However, by market cap, it is still the largest print media firm in America.

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04/30/2013

Mix Newspapers + Digital + Metered Paywalls and Shake Well! – Hot Mixture or Not?


Newspapers have danced with ups and downs in the past few years. But, as I have posted on periodically in the past, this segment of publishing was one of the first to analyze its options in the new tech environment, embrace change, initiate appropriate training and launch new business models that have included digital and associated mobiles, etc.

This brought about a big learning curve (that is still active) – but, what has shaken out thus far looks promising and has resulted in positive growth in digital circulation and stopped the bleeding in print circulation and even turned print around a little.

Now, let’s drill down and get into some numbers provided by AAM (Alliance of Audited Media) that will tell us for sure if the ‘newspapers + digital + metered paywalls’ mix is a hot mixture or not.

Matthew Flamm reports on the semi-annual newspaper AAM numbers for Crain’s New York Business:

 

New York Times overtakes USA Today as No. 2

The Grey Lady gains 18% in circulation in the past year as metered paywall pays off. The Wall Street Journal jumps 12% in the much-anticipated semi-annual industry audit.

The New York Times has moved into the No. 2 spot in newspaper circulation, ahead of USA Today, as the addition of more than 300,000 digital subscriptions gave the paper an average weekday circulation of 1.9 million print and digital copies in the six months ending March 31.

The number marked a nearly 18% circulation gain compared to a year ago, with digital gaining enough to more than offset print losses, according to the Alliance of Audited Media, which released its semi-annual newspaper survey on Tuesday.

The alliance includes in its digital count subscriptions to the online paper distributed to tablets, iPhones and through its website. 

The Wall Street Journal, in first place, was up 12% in combined weekday circulation, to 2.4 million print and digital copies. Both papers relied on digital circulation for growth. The Journal‘s print edition fell 5% to 1.5 million copies, while the Times‘ slid 6% to 731,000. 

USA Today dropped 8%, to 1.7 million copies, of which only 250,000 were digital.

On Sundays, the Times remains the clear No. 1, with total circulation of 2.3 million copies, up 16% from a year ago. Its print edition slid less than 1% to 1.25 million copies.

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04/18/2013

Digital Disruption Continues To Reshape the Publishing Market — E.G.: If an Author Self-Publishes, What Is the Role of a literary Agency?


Digital Disruption (DD) – As formidable as a DD cup 🙂

What is the role of a literary agent? Well, I’ll tell you — it’s changing, as most other publishing functions are, due to digital disruption — literary agencies are becoming self-publishing service centers in addition to representing author clients to traditional publishers.

Why? SS (simple survival).

Yes! Digital has, INDEED, caused disruption in the publishing industry. Actually ‘disruption’ is too minor, ‘rebirth’ is more apropos — It has forced a totally inefficient system to not only think, but ACT, outside the proverbial ‘box’  in order to survive — resulting in innovative, improved and more efficient publishing procedures (still in progress by the way) — AND a fairer, more level playing field for authors, with more control where it should be: with the actual creators/writers.

All the events causing the underway publishing transformation has also caused literary agencies to ‘be all they can be’ as they have adopted self-publishing options for their author clients blessed with established contacts and negotiated contracts for same.

Interesting excerpted disruptions from tonight’s discussion for your preview and titillation:

– Self-publishing becomes more attractive to established authors.

– Romance novelist Eloisa James says that published authors talked about the “self-pubs” all the time and had learned a lot from those writers’ efforts. “They treat it like a small business,” she said, “and they are geniuses at discoverability.”

– Mr. Harris, co-director of ICM’s literary department, said self-publishing “returns a degree of control to authors who have been frustrated about how their ideas for marketing and publicity fare at traditional publishers.” Both Mr. Harris and Mr. Mamet, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and author, said that the big publishers focused mostly on blockbuster books and fell short on other titles — by publishing too few copies, for instance, or limiting advertising to only a short period after a book was released — “Particularly for high-end literary fiction, their efforts too often have been very low-octane,” Mr. Harris said of the traditional publishers.

– Interesting thought: If an author self-publishes, what, then, is the role of a literary agency? Mr. Gottlieb of Trident said it made sense for his clients to self-publish through the agency, which charges a standard commission on sales, instead of going directly to Amazon themselves because the agency brought experience in marketing and jacket design. It also has relationships with the digital publishers that give their clients access to plum placement on sites that self-published authors can’t obtain on their own.

– Self-publishing now accounts for more than 235,000 books annually, according to Bowker, a book research firm. Big houses like Penguin and Harlequin have opened their own self-publishing divisions because they see it as a profit center of the future.

– “… publishing is like Hollywood — nobody ever does the marketing they promise.”

– Then there is the money. While self-published authors get no advance, they typically receive 70 percent of sales. A standard contract with a traditional house gives an author an advance, and only pays royalties — the standard is 25 percent of digital sales and 7 to 12 percent of the list price for bound books — after the advance is earned back in sales.

Enough titillating highlights 🙂 These details from The New York Times by Leslie Kaufman:

 

New Publisher Authors Trust: Themselves

When the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and author David Mamet released his last book, “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture,” with the Sentinel publishing house in 2011, it sold well enough to make the New York Times best-seller list.

This year, when Mr. Mamet set out to publish his next one, a novella and two short stories about war, he decided to take a very different path: he will self-publish.

Mr. Mamet is taking advantage of a new service being offered by his literary agency, ICM Partners, as a way to assume more control over the way his book is promoted.

“Basically I am doing this because I am a curmudgeon,” Mr. Mamet said in a telephone interview, “and because publishing is like Hollywood — nobody ever does the marketing they promise.”

As digital disruption continues to reshape the publishing market, self-publishing — including distribution digitally or as print on demand — has become more and more popular, and more feasible, with an increasing array of options for anyone with an idea and a keyboard. Most of the attention so far has focused on unknown and unsigned authors who storm onto the best-seller lists through their own ingenuity.

The announcement by ICM and Mr. Mamet suggests that self-publishing will begin to widen its net and become attractive also to more established authors. For one thing, as traditional publishers have cut back on marketing, this route allows well-known figures like Mr. Mamet to look after their own publicity.

Then there is the money. While self-published authors get no advance, they typically receive 70 percent of sales. A standard contract with a traditional house gives an author an advance, and only pays royalties — the standard is 25 percent of digital sales and 7 to 12 percent of the list price for bound books — after the advance is earned back in sales.

ICM, which will announce its new self-publishing service on Wednesday, is one of the biggest and most powerful agencies to offer the option. But others are doing the same as they seek to provide additional value to their writers while also extending their reach in the industry.

Since last fall, Trident Media Group, which represents 800 authors, has been offering its clients self-publishing possibilities through deals negotiated though online publishers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, in a system very similar to the one ICM is setting up. Robert Gottlieb, chairman of Trident, says that 200 authors have taken advantage of the service, though mostly for reissuing older titles, the backlist.

Another literary agency, InkWell Management, has helped the romance novelist Eloisa James reissue many of her backlist titles, as well as her newer books overseas, this way. She usually turns out her best sellers through HarperCollins, and in a telephone interview she said she would not leave Harper completely because she loves her editor. But she added that published authors talked about the “self-pubs” all the time and had learned a lot from those writers’ efforts.

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02/09/2013

Publishing’s Past Not So Hot – Let’s Take a Peek


What am I going to do with all these damn books?

Many people often lament the ‘good old days’ of this or that (publishing being the key word tonight). You know what I’m talking about. These types are usually victims of what I call ‘stunted time warp’. They remember a time that was simpler (and clearer) to them — not because it really was, it just seemed that way to them because they were too young, naive and had no accountability to understand what was truly occurring in the underbellies and backrooms to make things appear perhaps more simple, righteous and clear-cut on the surface (for the uninitiated) — AND as they physically grew and aged, their mental understanding and education RE those specifics did not. They are ‘stunted’ and therefore believe in things that live in the fantasies of their own minds and were never reality in the first place.

This post takes a little insightful look at the small (and not so small) publishers of the so-called ‘golden age’ of publishing and resurrects some literary works that have been forgotten, out of print or never appreciated as much as they should have been in the past due to draconian shortcomings in the so-called traditional publishing (TP) system.

Just what are these draconian shortcomings? The main ones, in this writer’s humble opinion, were and still are:

1) Continuously undermanned  (even the big houses) to handle the awesome workload of incoming manuscripts (both talented and not so talented) from millions of submitters. This is evident by the numerous and often rude original rejections received by tons of later-famous authors for their exact, later-published manuscripts. 

2) Assuming the reading public were/is too stupid to know what they wanted or needed to read or would enjoy.

3) Having the audacity to assume a ‘gatekeeper’ role to protect the reading public from what they considered ‘bad literature’. This is actually a form of censorship — And just where did these self-appointed ‘gatekeepers’ receive their God-like abilities? I was unaware of any universities awarding degrees in supernatural powers 🙂

4) Nonexistent to poor marketing for contracted newbies. (This one never made sense to me as the more invested in marketing the more return realized).

5) Promulgating, perpetuating an unsustainable publishing model for years.

6) Denying most authors a semblance of fair profit margin (except in rare cases).

7) Denying most authors a proper say in literary rights.

What model/system solves these problems and empowers writers? Digital (and POD for those who enjoy print more) self-publishing, of course.

Is this model perfect? Not yet; but, it is evolving more perfect everyday. (Was TP ever perfect?)

Does this new publishing and literary openness and freedom scare some? Of course. Especially those victims of ‘stunted time warp’ as mentioned above.

Will they adjust to modern publishing? Those that are true writing professionals will — just like those in the past have survived past publishing milestones that stunned publishing in totally new directions.

David Streitfeld , The New York Times, writes this:

Publishing Without Perishing

In the old days, life for small publishers was a hassle. The economics were such that copies got dramatically cheaper when printed in bulk, but then the books had to be stored, which was expensive. Finding an audience was the hardest part; some independent presses took years or even decades to sell out a modest print run.

Now books can be efficiently printed in small quantities, like one copy. Amazon, meanwhile, is happy to do the job of fulfilling orders. The stage is set to allow everyone to become his own Alfred Knopf.

James Morrison, a 36-year-old editor and graphic designer in Adelaide, Australia, is an old-fashioned book enthusiast, with around 10,000 books in his personal library. In 2007 he began a blog, Caustic Cover Critic: One Man’s Endless Ranting About Book Design, which showcases and evaluates new jackets. Like any inveterate reader, Mr. Morrison would stumble across obscure books practically begging to be reprinted. For instance, he read an account by the historian David S. Reynolds of “the largest monster in antebellum literature,” which was “the kraken depicted in Eugene Batchelder’s ‘Romance of the Sea-Serpent, or The Ichthyosaurus,’ a bizarre narrative poem about a sea serpent that terrorizes the coast of Massachusetts, destroys a huge ship in mid-ocean, repasts on human remains gruesomely with sharks and whales, attends a Harvard commencement (where he has been asked to speak), [and] shocks partygoers by appearing at a Newport ball.”

Mr. Morrison concluded that “the audience for an 1850 book-length Monty Python-style doggerel poem about a socially aspirant sea serpent is probably just me,” but how could he be sure? The Internet is all about weaving people together with even stranger tastes.

The critic has published about a dozen out-of-copyright volumes using Lulu, which does the printing, and Amazon, which does the selling and shipping. He dubbed his venture Whisky Priest in homage to Graham Greene, himself an enthusiast of uncommon and unjustly forgotten literary efforts. On the Whisky Priest list are the Batchelder book; a collection by Edith Wharton; “Artists’ Wives,” Alphonse Daudet’s stories about the war between the sexes; and Storm Jameson’s “In the Second Year,” a prophetic look at fascism.

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01/29/2012

Barnes & Noble’s Company Value is $719 million & Amazon’s Value is $88 billion — But …


William J. Lynch Jr., CEO of Barnes & Noble, with a wall full of e-readers at its site in Silicon Valley, where 300 employees are building the company's digital side.

It’s ironic that Barnes & Noble, the bookstore chain that put a lot of indie bookstores out of business (and pissed off many), just may be the new savior of bookstores as we know them from complete annihilation at the hands of the new takeover bully on the block, Amazon!

Read this intrigue by Julie Bosman in The New York Times:

The Bookstore’s Last Stand

IN March 2009, an eternity ago in Silicon Valley, a small team of engineers here was in a big hurry to rethink the future of books. Not the paper-and-ink books that have been around since the days of Gutenberg, the ones that the doomsayers proclaim — with glee or dread — will go the way of vinyl records.

No, the engineers were instead fixated on the forces that are upending the way books are published, sold, bought and read: e-books and e-readers. Working in secret, behind an unmarked door in a former bread bakery, they rushed to build a device that might capture the imagination of readers and maybe even save the book industry.

They had six months to do it.

Running this sprint was, of all companies, Barnes & Noble, the giant that helped put so many independent booksellers out of business and that now finds itself locked in the fight of its life. What its engineers dreamed up was the Nook, a relative e-reader latecomer that has nonetheless become the great e-hope of Barnes & Noble and, in fact, of many in the book business.

Several iterations later, the Nook and, by extension, Barnes & Noble, at times seem the only things standing between traditional book publishers and oblivion.

Inside the great publishing houses — grand names like Macmillan, Penguin and Random House — there is a sense of unease about the long-term fate of Barnes & Noble, the last major bookstore chain standing. First, the megastores squeezed out the small players. (Think of Tom Hanks’s Fox & Sons Books to Meg Ryan’s Shop Around the Corner in the 1998 comedy, “You’ve Got Mail”.) Then the chains themselves were gobbled up or driven under, as consumers turned to the Web. B. Dalton Bookseller and Crown Books are long gone. Borders collapsed last year.

No one expects Barnes & Noble to disappear overnight. The worry is that it might slowly wither as more readers embrace e-books. What if all those store shelves vanished, and Barnes & Noble became little more than a cafe and a digital connection point? Such fears came to the fore in early January, when the company projected that it would lose even more money this year than Wall Street had expected. Its share price promptly tumbled 17 percent that day.

Lurking behind all of this is Amazon.com, the dominant force in books online and the company that sets teeth on edge in publishing. From their perches in Midtown Manhattan, many publishing executives, editors and publicists view Amazon as the enemy — an adversary that, if unchecked, could threaten their industry and their livelihoods.

Like many struggling businesses, book publishers are cutting costs and trimming work forces. Yes, electronic books are booming, sometimes profitably, but not many publishers want e-books to dominate print books. Amazon’s chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, wants to cut out the middleman — that is, traditional publishers — by publishing e-books directly.

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09/30/2011

A Lionhearted Library


A sign at the front desk solicits donations to help run the struggling Adams Memorial Library in Central Falls, R.I.

We’ve all read stories where the protagonist stands up against overwhelming odds, never gives up or stops searching for the way to victory … Well, I’ve just learned of a grand old library in Central Falls, R.I. that is crying out with every fiber “never say die!”

This from Dan Barry’s This Land column in The New York Times:

The Money May Be Lacking, but a Library Refuses to Go Quietly

If you were to assemble a city from scratch, you would need a few things to make this place of yours more than just a functioning municipality; to make it a community. So, along with a City Hall and a few schools, you would have a building where an elephant king named Babar rules, where it is a sin to kill a mockingbird and where everyone from Homer to Snooki has a story to tell.

That is, you would need a library.

But in the losing battle of the square-mile city of Central Falls to avoid bankruptcy this year, parts of what made this municipality a community became expendable, among them: the Adams Memorial Library, a handsome Greek Revival building that for a century has been an intellectual refuge amid an urban expanse of triple-deckers and old mills.

In July, a state-appointed receiver closed the library to save money. The six staff members lost their jobs, while residents lost access to the statewide network that allowed them to borrow from the libraries of other towns. The handsome building went dark, its books unread, its videos unwatched, its computers unavailable to those looking for jobs.

But some people refused to close the book on a place that deeply mattered to this financially poor, ethnically rich city. Central Falls has more than enough boarded-up buildings; no need to add its library too.

The library’s survival hinged on the fact that while its operating costs are covered by the city, the building itself is owned by a private trust. Seizing the moment, the trust’s board of directors used this enforced downtime to make repairs in the old building and to install a library card system for Central Falls alone.

A month later, on Aug. 1, the Adams Memorial Library reopened with limited hours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Its reference and checkout desks are now staffed by a rotating band of volunteers, including Jerauld Adams, 41, the board chairman of the library trust, and Thomas Shannahan, 68, a board member and former director of the library. They hung a sign on the front door that said, with some defiance:

“Welcome to YOUR library.”

Mr. Shannahan, bearded and wiry, ran the library from 1989 until 2004, when he resigned amid some political strife; in Central Falls, it seems, there is always political strife. He grew up a couple of blocks from the library, in a building that included the family residence, a rooming house, his father’s bar and a cocktail lounge called the Nut House — at one time a “jumping joint,” he said.

The bar and cocktail lounge are gone, as are the Holy Trinity Catholic church and parochial school that Mr. Shannahan attended as a boy. But the library is still here, he said with pride, as he walked past several patrons hunched before computers aglow with Facebook chatter.

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09/19/2011

07/17/2011

Columbia Publishing Course Slow to Respond to Current Realities


I didn't know digital was the coming new wave

Who said the Ivy League colleges are the first with innovation and other learning prowess? A very debatable point, indeed (always has been since their birth, truth be known).

A case in point is illustrated in this article from the New York Times by Julie Bosman: 

E-Book Revolution Upends a Publishing Course

FOR decades, even after it was renamed and relocated from its original home at Radcliffe, the Columbia Publishing Course seemed unchanging, a genteel summer tradition in the book business, a white-glove six-week course in which ambitious college graduates were educated in the time-honored basics of book editing, sales, cover design and publicity. Not this summer.

With the e-book revolution upending the publishing business, Madeline McIntosh, the president of sales, operations and digital for Random House, stood at the lectern on the opening day in June, projecting a slide depicting the industry as a roller coaster, its occupants frozen in motion at the top of a steep loop.

“You might be wondering if this is the moment where we’re at,” Ms. McIntosh, a tall figure in a slim navy dress, said with a smile, as dozens of students with plastic name tags hanging around their necks watched raptly.

So the summer session began with a focus on “The Digital Future.” Students were schooled in “Reinventing the Reading Experience: From Print to Digital” by Nicholas Callaway, the chairman of a company that produces book apps for children. Managers from Penguin Group USA explained how to master “e-marketing,” and a panel of digital experts talked about short-form electronic publishing — not quite a magazine article, not quite a book — which is so new, the genre doesn’t really have a name.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” Carolyn Pittis, the senior vice president of global author services at HarperCollins, told a packed room of students several days into the course. “So it’s very exciting for those of us who spent many years when a lot of things didn’t happen.”

As the students scribbled in notebooks and clicked on laptops, Ms. Pittis recounted some of the biggest developments in the industry so far in 2011. The proliferation of e-readers and the growing digital market share of Barnes & Noble. Amanda Hocking, a formerly self-published author, making a book deal with a traditional publisher. J. K. Rowling’s selling her own “Harry Potter” e-books online. Even the surprise success of “Go the — to Sleep,” a hilariously vulgar children’s book parody that rose to the top of best-seller lists after being widely pirated via e-mail for months.

In the past year, e-books have skyrocketed in popularity, especially in genre fiction like romance and thrillers. For some new releases, the first week has brought more sales of electronic copies than of print copies.

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05/07/2011

The First Ultimate Online Book Site Has Arrived!


Bookish.com will be the ultimate site for all things literaryThree major publishers…Penquin, Hachette Book Group and Simon & Schuster…have committed to financing a one-stop book marketing and selling site.

The site will be called Bookish.com and will be operational late this summer.

“The site intends to provide information for all things literary: suggestions on what books to buy, reviews of books, excerpts from books and news about authors. Visitors will also be able to buy books directly from the site or from other retailers and write recommendations and reviews for other readers.”…Julie Bosman , NYTimes.

From Julie Bosman:

Publishers Make a Plan: A ‘One Stop’ Book Site

Publishers have spent a lot of time and money building their own company Web sites with fresh information on their books and authors. The trouble is, very few book buyers visit them.

In search of an alternative, three major publishers said on Friday that they would create a new venture, called Bookish.com, which is expected to make its debut late this summer. The site intends to provide information for all things literary: suggestions on what books to buy, reviews of books, excerpts from books and news about authors. Visitors will also be able to buy books directly from the site or from other retailers and write recommendations and reviews for other readers.

The publishers — Simon & Schuster, Penguin Group USA and Hachette Book Group — hope the site will become a catch-all destination for readers in the way that music lovers visit Pitchfork.com for reviews and information. The AOL Huffington Post Media Group will provide advertising sales support and steer traffic to the site through its digital properties.

“There’s a frustration with book consumers that there’s no one-stop shopping when it comes to information about books and authors,” said Carolyn Reidy, the president and chief executive of Simon & Schuster. “We need to try to recreate the discovery of new books that currently happens in the physical environment, but which we don’t believe is currently happening online.”

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03/27/2011

Do Books Exist in Alien Worlds?


Aliens Dialing Up an E-Book on Their Palms!

Ever wonder about that? Ever wonder about the very existence of alien intelligence? (Hell, I wonder about it’s existence here on this planet!)

“Nature is often richer and more wondrous than our imagination”…Excerpt from referenced article below. 

One thing’s for sure, with the ever-increasing discoveries of other planets and stars in completely new and larger galaxies utilizing more and more sophisticated technical equipment, we are feeling smaller and smaller and smaller…You do realize, of course, that our little planet is peanut-sized when compared to other planets within our own earth’s galaxy (look at galaxy as a celestial neighborhood). Damn, man, we are not even the biggest planet in a smaller galaxy!

Talk about NOT being the biggest fish in the pond…

Pretty damn insignificant are we…AND, we can’t even seem to live together in some kind of semblance of peace on this peanut planet in this peanut galaxy…much less accept a pretty puny new tech format in e-publishing!…We in bad shape, Kimosabe.

I thought everyone would enjoy this insight from a New York Times article by Ray Jayawardhana, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Toronto AND the author of “Strange New Worlds: The Search for Alien Planets and Life Beyond Our Solar System.”:

Alien Life, Coming Slowly Into View

I REMEMBER the first time the concept of another world entered my mind. It was during a walk with my father in our garden in Sri Lanka. He pointed to the Moon and told me that people had walked on it. I was astonished: Suddenly that bright light became a place that one could visit.

Schoolchildren may feel a similar sense of wonder when they see pictures of a Martian landscape or Saturn’s rings. And soon their views of alien worlds may not be confined to the planets in our own solar system.

After millenniums of musings and a century of failed attempts, astronomers first detected an exoplanet, a planet orbiting a normal star other than the Sun, in 1995. Now they are finding hundreds of such worlds each year. Last month, NASA announced that 1,235 new possible planets had been observed by Kepler, a telescope on a space satellite. Six of the planets that Kepler found circle one star, and the orbits of five of them would fit within that of Mercury, the closest planet to our Sun.

By timing the passages of these five planets across their sun’s visage — which provides confirmation of their planetary nature — we can witness their graceful dance with one another, choreographed by gravity. These discoveries remind us that nature is often richer and more wondrous than our imagination. The diversity of alien worlds has surprised us and challenged our preconceptions many times over.

It is quite a change from merely 20 years ago, when we knew for sure of just one planetary system: ours. The pace of discovery, supported by new instruments and missions and innovative strategies by planet seekers, has been astounding.

What’s more, from measurements of their masses and sizes, we can infer what some of these worlds are made of: gases, ice or rocks. Astronomers have been able to take the temperature of planets around other stars, first with telescopes in space but more recently with ground-based instruments, as my collaborators and I have done.

Two and a half years ago, we even managed to capture the first direct pictures of alien worlds. There is something about a photo of an alien planet — even if it only appears as a faint dot next to a bright, overexposed star — that makes it “real.” Given that stars shine like floodlights next to the planetary embers huddled around them, success required painstaking efforts and clever innovations. One essential tool is adaptive optics technology, which, in effect, takes the twinkle out of the stars, thus providing sharper images from telescopes on the ground than would otherwise be possible.

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JOHN’S NOTE: So, are there books out there in galaxy-land where no man has gone before?…I believe so.

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