Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue

03/19/2016

Did the Cuban Sanctions Ban the Export/Import of Books?


havana_books

Books in Havana

Did the U.S. REALLY ban all book exchanges between Cuba and the United States? Not completely, it seems — Oh, and I, as well as many other regular, uninformed citizens, I suspect, did not even realize that books were a part of any such sanctions!

At any rate, researching this article (when the headlines caught my attention) uncovered a few informative tidbits:

One, that OFAC stands for the ‘Office of Foreign Assets Control’ and is part of the Department of the Treasury, which administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions. How about that?

Two, there is an information exception in the Cuban sanctions, called the Berman amendment, that states that the import of books from, and the export of books to, Cuba is permitted and may not be forbidden by OFAC.

Three, the group of publishers who petitioned the U.S. Government to “End the Book Embargo Against Cuba.” should have hired a professional writer to research the sanctions and word the petition in a clear, concise manner!

More details Re amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, movie, television and record companies and how they are now allowed to go hog-wild in Cuba, hiring Cubans to work on “filming or production of media programs (such as movies and television programs), the recording of music, and the creation of artworks in Cuba,” (leaving book publishers behind in the dust?) can be found in the following article from Lexology. Lexology collaborates with the world’s leading lawyers and other thought leaders to deliver tailored updates and analysis to the desktops of business professionals worldwide on a daily basis:

End Book Publisher Illiteracy on Cuba Sanctions

 

 

 

 

07/17/2015

Is It Possible That Amazon Is Not ‘All’ Bad News For Publishers?


Might Amazon’s debilitating effect on local shops be about to change?

For the past 20 years Amazon has disrupted the publishing industry from stem to stern. Could it be that much of the resulting adaptation and metamorphosis has actually been good news for publishers?

Depends on what you consider. What kind of publisher? What kind of book? Book audience location. Book platform. Book distribution system access. Digital technology, etc., etc.

Hell, many of these considerations weren’t even in existence 20 years ago! And while Amazon didn’t create or discover all of the above mentioned ingredients, they were the first to mix them in a masterful menu – creating a smorgasbord of possibilities – the understanding of which is still being deciphered today.

Tonight’s topic will discuss the how’s and where’s of some of the possible positive changes that Amazon has wrought within the publishing industry and the reaction/attitude of the big five publishing houses as well as others (Bowker’s, etc.) in the overall industry.

Key excerpts from tonight’s research/resource article:

“It has been presented as a David and Goliath battle. This is despite the underdog status of the largest publishing houses in the world. As Amazon has become the primary destination for books online, it has been able to lower book prices through their influence over the book trade. Many have argued that this has reduced the book to “a thing of minimal value”.”

“Despite this pervasive narrative of the evil overlord milking its underlings for all their worth, Amazon has actually offered some positive changes in the publishing industry over the last 20 years. Most notably, the website has increased the visibility of books as a form of entertainment in a competitive media environment. This is an achievement that should not be diminished in our increasingly digital world.”

Presenting:

Amazon is 20 years old – and far from bad news for publishers

By , as published in The Conversation (UK). Academic rigor, journalistic flair  

It has now been 20 years since Amazon sold its first book: the titillating-sounding Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies, by Douglas Hofstadter. Since then publishers have often expressed concern over Amazon. Recent public spates with Hachette and Penguin Random House have heightened the public’s awareness of this fraught relationship.

It has been presented as a David and Goliath battle. This is despite the underdog status as the largest publishing houses in the world. As Amazon has become the primary destination for books online, it has been able to lower book prices through their influence over the book trade. Many have argued that this has reduced the book to “a thing of minimal value”.

Despite this pervasive narrative of the evil overlord milking its underlings for all their worth, Amazon has actually offered some positive changes in the publishing industry over the last 20 years. Most notably, the website has increased the visibility of books as a form of entertainment in a competitive media environment. This is an achievement that should not be diminished in our increasingly digital world.

Democratising data

In Amazon’s early years, Jeff Bezos, the company’s CEO, was keen to avoid stocking books. Instead, he wanted to work as a go-between for customers and wholesalers. Instead of building costly warehouses, Amazon would instead buy books as customers ordered them. This would pass the savings on to the customers. (It wasn’t long, however, until Amazon started building large warehouses to ensure faster delivery times.)

This promise of a large selection of books required a large database of available books for customers to search. Prior to Amazon’s launch, this data was available to those who needed it from Bowker’s Books in Print, an expensive data source run by the people who controlled the International Standardised Book Number (ISBN) standard in the USA.

ISBN was the principle way in which people discovered books, and Bowker controlled this by documenting the availability of published and forthcoming titles. This made them one of the most powerful companies in the publishing industry and also created a division between traditional and self-published books.

Bowker allowed third parties to re-use their information, so Amazon linked this data to their website. Users could now see any book Bowker reported as available. This led to Amazon’s boasts that they had the largest bookstore in the world, despite their lack of inventory in their early years. But many other book retailers had exactly the same potential inventory through access to the same suppliers and Bowker’s Books in Print.

Amazon’s decision to open up the data in Bowker’s Books in Print to customers democratised the ability to discover of books that had previously been locked in to the sales system of physical book stores. And as Amazon’s reputation improved, they soon collected more data than Bowker.

For the first time, users could access data about what publishers had recently released and basic information about forthcoming titles. Even if customers did not buy books from Amazon, they could still access the information. This change benefited publishers as readers who can quickly find information about new books are more likely to buy new books.

World domination?

As Amazon expanded beyond books, ISBN was no longer the most useful form for recalling information about items they sold. So the company came up with a new version: Amazon Standardized Identifier Numbers (ASINs), Amazon’s equivalent of ISBNs. This allowed customers to shop for books, toys and electronics in one place.

The ASIN is central to any Amazon catalogue record and with Amazon’s expansion into selling eBooks and second hand books, it connects various editions of books. ASINs are the glue that connect eBooks on the Kindle to shared highlights, associated reviews, and second hand print copies on sale. Publishers, and their supporters, can use ASINs as a way of directing customers to relevant titles in new ways.

Will Cookson’s Bookindy is an example of this. The mobile app allows readers to find out if a particular book is available for sale cheaper than Amazon in an independent bookstore nearby. So Amazon’s advantage of being the largest source of book-related information is transformed into a way to build the local economy.

ASINs are primarily useful for finding and purchasing books from within the Amazon bookstore, but this is changing. For example, many self-published eBooks don’t have ISBNs, so Amazon’s data structure can be used to discover current trends in the publishing industry. Amazon’s data allows publishers to track the popularity of books in all forms and shape their future catalogues based on their findings.

While ISBNs will remain the standard for print books, ASIN and Amazon’s large amount of data clearly benefits publishers through increasing their visibility. Amazon have forever altered bookselling and the publishing industry, but this does not mean that its large database cannot be an invaluable resource for publishers who wish to direct customers to new books outside of Amazon.

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12/04/2012

“This is Fuckarama Calling Literary Award – Come Back”


 

E.L. James: Author of Fifty Shades of Grey

E.L. James: Author of Fifty Shades of Grey

“Author EL James has been named the publishing industry’s most influential figure of 2012 for making ‘erotic fiction hot’.” – Natasha Wynarczyk.

Yes indeedy, an unknown talented writer wrote an  independently published erotic e-book, it went viral and she got a great book deal and probably some fantastic future film contract offers — AND, she has just received Publisher’s Weekly prize for publishing person of the year! 

Good for her 🙂

But, this award has upset a lot of folks, it seems — because of unseemly content ?

After many personal worldly travels, I’ve come to the belief that America has always been eons behind in adult sexual knowledge and sophistication — childlike, really (but that’s another story).  

But, whether the literary blue bloods (?) disagreed with the award due to my discussion above or some other literary hype or smoke and mirrors — I personally think the award is warranted due to a fact nailed in the second to the last paragraph in the following article by Natasha Wynarczyk for Marie Claire (of course it has to do with staggering money return and exploding print sales in book stores):

EL James wins publishing industry prize for making ‘erotic fiction hot’

Fifty Shades of Grey author EL James has been named the publishing industry’s most influential figure of 2012 for making ‘erotic fiction hot’.

The British novelist won the American-based Publishers Weekly prize for publishing person of the year, but it turns out many people in the sector were displeased with the result.

The New York Daily News went as far as to say ‘civilisation ends’, while the LA Times said: ‘James wrote fan fiction, she got it independently published by a micro e-press, it went viral, she got a book deal, she started collecting serious paychecks.

‘All that is great news for an individual author, but it hardly justifies making that individual the Publishing Person of the Year… It’s really impossible to say that James has done much more than get very, very lucky, although PW tries to make that case. Someone who stumbles across a jackpot is certainly fortunate, but should they be anointed with an industry’s laurels? Maybe someday, PW will find a person in publishing who is doing something, rather than having something done to them, and name the individual Publishing Person of the Year.’

Even the site’s commentators were very unimpressed, with one person saying: ‘I want to die. Or kill. Or just eat some cake until this literary pain goes away’.

Another wrote: ‘Seriously? Is this the best you guys can do? Hilary Mantel becomes the first woman to win the Booker Prize twice and you pick EL James? Lay off the eggnog and rethink your decision.’

However Publishers Weekly defended the decision by citing the staggering 35m sales of the erotic novel in the US alone and noting James’s influence.

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11/07/2012

Obama and the Publishing Industry


Obama tinkering with publishing?

Tonight a little fun publishing prognostication tied to the 2012 never-ending presidential campaign and final election. 

What are some of the plausible impacts to the publishing industry resulting from Barack Obama’s reelection?

Jason Pinter, bestselling author of thrillers, writing on Huff Post Blog, throws out some immediate and longer term Obama publishing industry influences:

How Barack Obama’s Reelection Will Affect the Publishing Industry

No doubt the reelection of Barack Obama as President of the United States will have tremendous impact on numerous industries. Here are my predictions as to how Obama’s second term will impact the book publishing industry, which Nate Silver has said are 90.9 percent accurate. (OK, maybe not, but I’m pretty certain of at least most of these guesses.)

1) Obama the Moneymaker. With his reelection, Obama has solidified himself as a self-sustaining cash cow. Obama’s first two books, Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope, have sold well over four million copies. A second term means his books will continue to backlist strongly, whereas a defeat would have made his books more of a curio as the country shifted to a Romney presidency. It also means that, when Obama leaves office, he will do so having served eight years, and depending on how his second term plays out, permanent devotion from a large portion of the country. Jimmy Carter, the Democrat’s last one-term president and frequent GOP punching bag, has published numerous bestsellers since leaving office, including a novel (!), and it’s safe to say that if a post-presidency Obama wants to stay in the public eye as an author, he’ll see strong success and sales. He is already rumored to be writing his next book with cherished Jewish activist Elie Wiesel.

2) The New Blood. With eyes already looking towards the 2016 election, a bumper crop of (relatively) new Republican faces will likely publish books as primers on their positions and sales tools for their backers. Depending on their individual ambitions, I would expect new books by Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal among others to hit shelves in advances of the 2016 primaries in order to make cases for their next prospective office. On the other side, with a new Democratic candidate needed for 2016, I wouldn’t be shocked if we see books from possible frontrunners Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Andrew Cuomo, Antonio Villaraigosa, Deval Patrick and even stalwarts Hillary Clinton and possibly… Joe Biden?

3) Conservative domination. There’s always been more money in opposition rather than the status quo, and Obama’s first term brought massive sales from books by conservative political pundits. Glenn Beck and Mark Levin broke the million-copy barrier with their respective releases, while Michelle Malkin, David Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham and Dinesh D’Souza all had their own #1 bestsellers. And Bill O’Reilly has reinvented himself as political historian, with Killing Lincoln breaking a million copies and Killing Kennedy well on its way. Books by the opposition always sell well regardless of president, case in point Michael Moore’s huge #1 bestseller Stupid White Men and Al Franken’s Lies, both published during the George W. Bush presidency. Even comic behemoths Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert saw their newest releases, published under the Obama administration, fall far short of their tallies during the Bush years. Though Beck’s sales have dropped since moving from his television perch at Fox, it can be expected that these same commentators and more will continue to garner support from the loyal opposition at the cash registers.

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02/16/2012

History Says: Book Publishing Will Survive Digital Age


Book Publishing Survival?

How many times have you heard the old adage ‘if history is any indication …’

Well, I found a little history and intrigue RE the publishing industry that points out its numerous fights for survival against medieval digital-age-like challenges 🙂 The results of these scrimmages may point to a future outcome a little different than envisioned by some today enamored with all things digital. 

From Bloomberg.com by Ellen F. Brown:

Why Book Publishing Can Survive Digital Age

Word on the street is that the publishing industry is under attack by technology. Amazon.com Inc. has launched a bare-knuckled assault against independent bookstores. Print-on-demand firms make it possible for anyone to get his work on the market, and thus threaten to render agents and editors obsolete. And with e-books priced so low, how can authors and booksellers earn a decent living?

Yet the publishing industry has a long history of weathering these sorts of challenges, and its past offers some optimism for the future.

In the 1920s, drug, grocery and department stores gave booksellers fits by offering popular titles at cut-rate prices. An old industry yarn tells the story of a flapper looking to buy lipstick. She walks into a bookstore and excuses herself when she realizes she had made a mistake. “I’m sorry,” she says, “I thought this was a drugstore, I saw books in the window.”

Also problematic was the Book of the Month Club, a distribution company founded in 1926 that sold inexpensive hardcover versions of popular books through mail order. Within 10 years of its founding, the club had almost 200,000 members. Ten years later, there were more than 50 imitator clubs in North America with more than 3 million participants.

And, of course, there was the ultimate competitor to bookstores: public libraries. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, communities across the U.S. funded the construction of facilities where books could be had for free, albeit only on loan.

Then came the “paperback revolution.” According to Publishers Weekly, word spread at the 1939 American Booksellers Convention that “some reckless publisher” was going to bring out a series of paperback reprints of popular novels to be sold for only a quarter a piece. The industry was equal measures aghast at the nerve of such a plan — American readers had proved notoriously resistant to paperbacks — and terrified that it might succeed. Major publishers fretted that, if the books proved popular, the reprints would kill hardcover sales of the featured titles. Most booksellers refused to stock the series, unwilling to compete with their existing inventories of full-priced books.

Undeterred by the negative buzz, publisher Robert de Graff advertised his New Pocket Books directly to readers with a mail-order coupon system and to wholesalers who sold magazines to newsstands and grocery stores. He touted his books as small enough to be carried in a pocket or purse and “as handy as a pencil, as modern and convenient as a portable radio — and as good looking.”

The industry watched with amazement when the books sold like wildfire. Skeptical publishers couldn’t remain aloof for long in the face of such obvious success and rushed to produce their own lines of paperback reprints.

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