Posts by Cheryll Barron

Notes from the post-print transition, 3: can members of a cooperative be ‘more equal’ than others without turning it into Animal Farm?

Poldo, MIL22

clouds, morselising 1

‘Morselizing’ (see below) – photographs: MIL22 (vanishingly small dog); postgutenberg[at]gmail.com

Generals only ever exist as temps in Switzerland, in the army in which all Swiss men must do a stint of compulsory training and service. As the Wikipedia explains:

General (Gen) – General (Gen); général (gén); general (gen); generale (gen): The rank is only assigned during time of war, when the Federal Assembly chooses one general to command the entire Swiss military. Otherwise the word “general” is not used.

This convention seemed worth drawing attention to after we read late last month, in The New York Times, about research confirming what everyone knows: that while people think equality ideal, they quake at the prospect of dispensing with a hierarchy. They fear that it amounts to inviting in chaos with open arms. This clichéd view of flat organisations — and of cooperatives — will soon look fuddy-duddyish and irrelevant, as young innovators we have mentioned here fashion tools to make collaboration and collective decision-making swifter and less fraught.

The second half of Matthew Hutson’s article – ‘Espousing Equality, but Embracing a Hierarchy’ — showed that other organisers have the same idea as the Swiss military of using transitional hierarchies as means to particular ends.

Increasingly, companies are valuing diverse input and turning to flatter structures. But even companies that supposedly deplore the value of hierarchy have status and power differentials, formally or informally.

The video game company Valve seems like a symbol for the flat organization. Valve posted its handbook for new employees online in 2012. “We don’t have any management, and nobody ‘reports to’ anybody else,” it says. […] Yet Valve has temporary team leaders who help coordinate projects, and employees rank one another when calculating compensation.

The design firm IDEO also aims for flatness but retains an element of verticality. “The idea of a flat hierarchy is a little bit of a myth that we even tell ourselves within IDEO,” Duane Bray, a partner, told me.

For instance, employees progress through four “levels of impact”: At the “individual” level they focus on their core skill set; at the “team” level they start to have responsibility for others; at the “portfolio” level they look at how collections of projects come together; and at the “enterprise” level they connect globally and take all of IDEO into account in their decisions.

Cameron Anderson, a psychologist at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, has written about the dysfunctions of hierarchy and encourages his M.B.A. students to pursue flatness — but not to its ultimate end. “It’s often useful to have at least one person who serves a role of leader,” he said, “even if that role is more of a coordinating function.”

Making the pigs temporary hierarchs in Animal Farm – to do particular jobs or serve particular functions with an expiration date, then revert to equality — could have dispensed with this objection of T. S. Eliot’s when he, like other top-tier publishers, rejected George Orwell’s manuscript: Animal Farm- TS Eliot And that is all we have to say in this entry – using the slow season to experiment with ‘morselizing’ thoughts, research findings and arguments, a neologism apparently invented by a wonderfully named Canadian professor of media studies, Sidneyeve Matrix.

That seems exactly the right prescription for our new attention spans, shorter than the life of a firefly, and our endlessly interrupted reading — about which Tim Parks was recently complaining in The New York Review of Books. 'morselizing'- SIDNEYEVE MATRIX slide

Notes from the post-print transition, 2: astonishing confirmation — from medicine — that cooperatives fit the 21st-century’s zeitgeist

postgutenberg@gmail.com
Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 23.22.56

Media resisting the unavoidable bow to the democratic future of media ownership are being shown up in Britain by, of all people, the bean-counters of medicine — the traditionally conservative, cautious and slow-moving top managers of the country’s most cherished public institution, the roughly £100 billion ($171 billion) National Health Service.

The pinch-me-I’m-dreaming headline at the top of The Independent’s home page on Monday read: ‘New government policy for the NHS could allow doctors and nurses to “own” hospitals’.

Before we get to the reasoning behind that proposal, let us quickly say that inviting readers and commenters – reader-commenters — to become part-owners of media organisations through subscriptions that would also be financial shares — making them small-scale co-owners – is an actual need in this sector, though not in British medicine. The flow of cash into the NHS is assured. It comes from taxpayers. But, as last week’s entry in this blog noted, the advertising revenue on which print journalism depends to pay its bills looks increasingly shaky as a supreme cash cow for online publishing, as it elbows print out of the way.

Moving towards co-ownership — or ‘mutualisation’ — is the one step that the boldest experimenters with new media structures are resisting. Declining to go that far, we pointed out last month, is the single disappointment in the otherwise wildly impressive reports about De Correspondent – the new Dutch publishing enterprise putting commenters at front and centre-stage in its publishing scheme. Nick Denton, the serial online media entrepreneur – most famous for co-founding Gawker in 2003 with Elizabeth Spiers – has perfectly expressed what we also believe, in describing his many excellent adventures in media redesign to Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab:

“Publishing should be a collaboration between authors and their smartest readers. … And at some point the distinction should become meaningless.”

These smartest readers are most likely to devote all the time they can to the success of an online publishing enterprise – whether a startup or a famous name in the news business ‘flipping’ co-ownership of a part or the whole of its web site to commenters – if they can justify that to themselves with the hope of sharing in its financial success, some day. Denton’s schemes allow reader-commenters to share the stage with professional writers and journalists. They are designed to make readers feel part of a larger family or club, and – as in the De Correspondent plan — to improve the quality of information disseminated on his sites, and the range of expertise on which it draws.

Giving performance and efficiency a gigantic boost is the ambition behind the remarkable news about the proposal for British medicine:

Ministers are drawing up plans to allow doctors and nurses to own and run the hospitals they work in as part of a radical blueprint to change the way the NHS is run.

Under proposals to be floated tomorrow, staff could be able to take over hospitals and other NHS responsibilities and run them as new mutual companies in the style of the department store chain John Lewis.

Staff would then become “shareholders” in the new company with the power to dismiss the chief executive and board members as well as set policy and targets for the new organisation.

Ministers are not ruling out the possibility that staff could even be given a financial stake in the organisations for which they work – sharing bonuses if their hospital makes a profit on NHS work. The new policy comes after an independent review, led by the independent think-tank the King’s Fund, found what it described as “compelling evidence” that NHS organisations with high levels of staff engagement delivered better quality care. […] Ministers have been particularly taken by the success of Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire, which had been losing £10m a year and had very low levels of patient satisfaction until taken over by the private provider Circle, which manages it for the NHS. Circle is owned jointly by the staff who work for it and private-equity funders.

… We hope that the people in charge of making the rules for the ‘mutualised’ British hospitals will take care to head off any possibility of repeating one grave mistake in American medicine — allowing doctors to invest in medical testing laboratories, rightly blamed for countless unnecessary tests ordered by many of those doctors. These are notoriously a large part of the explanation for America’s expensive and inefficient health care.

The chief fear for the democratic redesign of media is that it will lead to the collapse of cultural standards; that it will usher in a depressing age of mediocrity. Again, the right rules have to be drafted to ensure that this does not happen. Who says that any such effort would lack supporters? Who says that the least talented co-owners of a media enterprise will not wish to celebrate and promote their most talented comrades, attracting honour, fame and new members?

A few weeks ago, there was news of opera-lovers panicking about performances in some places accompanied not by live musicians but digital recordings. A New York Times reader said, in a letter to the editor:

Live music is being performed by an ever-shrinking elite corps of musicians. This trend cannot be reversed. But it will bottom out. There will always be a market for elite musicians … On some level we want to see humans demonstrating their mastery.

 Who would disagree?

Notes from the post-print transition, 1: the advertising moonshot of Google’s Larry Page and Private Eye’s meerkat phobia

Meerkat to the Eye: ‘You surely don't mean, me?’ - postgutenberg [at] gmail.com

Meerkat to the Eye: ‘You surely don’t mean, me?’
- postgutenberg [at] gmail.com

Anyone sensible who, for decades, has bought nothing expensive without consulting Britain’s Which? (owned by the Consumers’ Association) or Consumer Reports in the U.S. (owned by Consumers Union) can understand Larry Page’s apparent belief, over a decade ago, that conventional advertising would soon be obsolete.

Advertising equals lifeblood in the traditional economic model for newspapers and magazines – the scheme that will soon look pre-historic. In a splendid Business Insider profile, in a section about the early years of the company Page co-founded with Sergey Brin, a far-out idea – known as a moonshot, at the search engine colossus — is described:

… [A]fter Google had become the Internet’s most successful advertising business, Page decided the company should destroy the advertising agency industry. To his thinking, it was obviously a highly inefficient system that could be erased with the help of technology. Not only did the company opt not to take on this battle, but [other top Google executives] did their best to make sure none of Google’s many important ad-agency clients caught wind of Page’s ideas on the topic.

His seems like a straightforward, logical conclusion to anyone who believes – as we do at post-Gutenberg – that

… the perfect search engine would understand whatever your need is. It would understand everything in the world deeply [and] give you back kind of exactly what you need.

That is also a quotation of Page, in the same article.

Private Eye — writing more frankly than any other print publication about the hopelessness of trying to carry the advertising-dependent print model for economic survival into the digital future – has had riveting news in recent ‘Ad Nauseam’ columns, information we have seen nowhere else. … Essential reading, even if the last snippet seems proof of a bizarre phobia at the indispensable satirical magazine – or, possibly, a regrettable instance of inter-species prejudice:

- from Private Eye, No. 1367, 30 May – 12 June, 2014:

The latest digital advertising medium to have its efficacy questioned is video ads.

Recent research suggests that nearly 60 percent of them are never seen by a human being, which does rather post the question as to what media buyers are actually paid for.

- from Private Eye, No. 1369, 27 June -10 July 2014:

Facebook recently admitted what everyone in advertising had already twigged – that no one is reading anything brands put on Facebook any more.

The company posted a long explanation for this, protesting loudly against the idea that it could possibly have anything to do with selling more ads, suggesting instead that it was a problem of there simply being too much ‘branded content’ on the platform. This is all well and good, except a) that problem is entirely of Facebook’s making, given that it has spent seven years telling all brands they have to be on there (without adequately explaining why); and b) all its solutions for brands to get over this issue involve, er, buying more adverts.

- from Private Eye, No. 1367, 30 May – 12 June, 2014:

The latest terrifying vision of the future comes via Personal Neuro, a company which is working with Google Glass to produce wearable technology, which can monitor a wearer’s brainwaves, gauge their mood or state of mind – and feed adverts directly into their eyeballs based on that data!

Welcome to a future in which you will never be able to escape that bloody meerkat, however hard you try

If Personal Neuro is real, not just a vision that came swimming into editorial brains at the Eye after a lavish liquid lunch, why does a Google search turn up no information about this Canadian startup in any other well-known print organ?

A surprising — but long overdue — condemnation of censorship by the press from The Guardian … and summer sign-watching

- postgutenberg [at] gmail.com

CENSORS in THE PRESS

‘Comment is free’, 30 June 2014

Let us hope that the admirably honest George Monbiot, with his huge following, can get this subject the attention it deserves. Regular readers have seen almost everything in his Guardian blog post on Monday here on post-Gutenberg.com — and his concluding sentence, two years ago, in ‘Censorship by the Press‘. We wrote that after some frustrating months of drawing attention to this problem:

Why is The Guardian censoring debate about press reform and ignoring the Lord Chief Justice’s endorsement of citizen journalism?

The solution proposed by the commenter ‘Natacha’ in her reaction beneath the Monbiot piece defines this blog’s very raison d’être: censors IN the press - NATACHA See:

Loomio: open-source tools from young New Zealand techies to make the dream of practical, efficient, sexy cooperatives come true

Just a short post, for today. We have been on the road, watching for signs – and here is one of our rewards: SIGN w freeway postgutenberg@gmail.com get happy 3

- photographs: postgutenberg [at] gmail.com

– photographs: postgutenberg [at] gmail.com

On media’s stage, a scenery shift: De Correspondent shows off thrilling new props verging on a ‘keiretsu-cooperative’; a NY Times columnist tugs the curtain on the old set

android dec 2011 to nov 2012 035

Betwixt and between: stage hands at work - postgutenberg [at] gmail.com

Betwixt and between: stage hands at work
- postgutenberg [at] gmail.com

A group of Dutch media innovators – inevitably, young, as noted here last week – has created an actual, working prototype of what we expect to be a popular style of organisation for publishing in the near future. It has no advertising. It is financed by reasonably-priced subscriptions. Most important of all, it puts commenters on articles – the people it prefers to refer to as ‘contributors’ – at the centre of its enterprise, treating them as honoured extensions of its founding family. Wondermooi. That is exactly what we recommended in 2010 when, in keeping with the fuzzier usage of the time we referred to this same constituency as ‘bloggers’ — or ‘blogger-commenters,’ after a critic rightly demanded a clarification.

We did not foresee a big, ambitious media venture being able to do without advertising so soon. Nor did we anticipate that one would launch itself with crowdfunding, which Kickstarter was just beginning to turn into a household word four years ago. De Correspondent raised a breathtaking $1.7 million between March and September last year. In a post in April on the site of Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, Loes Witschge reported a remarkable feat in a country with a population of just 16 million:

On March 18, [Rob] Wijnberg, former editor-in-chief of the young-adult-targeted newspaper nrc.next, proposed his idea for a new online journalism platform on Dutch national television. Within 24 hours, his team had raised half its goal, and after eight days, Wijnberg got an earlier than expected go-ahead: 15,000 had subscribed, and many had added donations on top of their subscription fee. In just over a week, in a small country, the Dutch crowdfunding project De Correspondent had raised over €1 million (about $1.3 million).

By this spring, the group had 24,000 subscribers – the proportional equivalent of 450,000 in the US, Wijnberg says — each paying roughly $80 (€60) for the privilege.

Now this, you might agree, is seriously important news. Print media are desperate for a viable new economic model. So, has The New York Times written about De Correspondent? Er, … no, unless we’ve been using the wrong search terms, hunting for evidence. The Guardian, another of the most-visited sites on the net? The Telegraph? The Independent? The Economist? Apparently not – and anyone who has proof to the contrary must please leave a comment with appropriate links beneath this post. … Oh, and there is no point in trying to look up its history on the Wikipedia for anyone irritated by having to make do with a machine translation from Dutch.

We only learnt of De Correspondent’s existence in checking that search engines were keeping up with our last entry on post-Gutenberg, using, for search tags, ‘new media’ and ‘business model’. Its own site is naturally the best guide to its modus operandi, but the applause it richly deserves is to be found exclusively on new media sites of the likes of Journalism.co.uk, Gigaom and MediaGazer. On the Medium blogging platform, Ernst-Jan Pfauth , another founder, explains under the headline ‘Why we see journalists as conversation leaders and readers as expert contributors’:

Every reader is an expert at something

Lately, there has been a lot of talk about news sites shutting down their comments sections, since readers’ contributions are often too obtrusive (read Mathew Ingrams excellent post about this).

Here in Amsterdam, we sincerely regret these developments, since we believe that modern journalists shouldn’t see their readers as a passive group of annoying followers. Instead, they should regard readers as a potential gold mine of expert information. That’s why, at De Correspondent, we encourage our journalists to function as conversation leaders and our members as expert contributors.

At De Correspondent, we owe our very existence to our members, since we launched our Dutch ad-free journalism platform after raising a total of 1.7 million dollars with a world record breaking crowd-funding campaign. We encourage our correspondents — who all have their own niche — to tell the stories that they feel are important, instead of just following the hype cycle of the news.

He also said:

We end every article with a question to our members

In our custom-built editor Respondens, we have a special field called ‘Oproep’ (which translates to ‘Call-up’). Correspondents can use that field to make explicit what they would like to know from their readers. The call shows up underneath the article and steers the contributions in the direction the correspondent finds journalistically most relevant.

We invite members to write guest articles

We continuously invite our members to write guest posts. […]

There is no mention of turning those subscribers into shareholders and running De Correspondent as a cooperative – yet. That might be an idea for another group to try, one we hope will give us the sort of laugh these Dutchmen did in setting out their names — well-established in Netherlands media before they banded together — as follows: Rob Wijnberg (1982), Harald Dunnink (1981), Sebastian Kersten (1976), and Ernst-Jan Pfauth (1986).

Advertising their birth years, you might suppose, amounts to a sign reading, Oldies Keep Out. But, not quite. The first part of ‘the keiretsu-cooperative’ in the paper that started this blog in 2010 referred to the Japanese name for a network of firms collaborating as trading partners, in a proposal for a news site (long-established or new) sharing the initial expense of starting and running a subscriber-owned cooperative with a partner in, say, book publishing. De Correspondent says it is working with:

De Groene Amsterdammer (founded in 1877) … a weekly magazine of ideas and opinion; it is perhaps best comparable to the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books[…] De Groene Amsterdammer will share some of its content as well as its editorial and investigative resources with De Correspondent.

… and …

Momkai (founded in 2002) … an independent, digital creative agency in the Netherlands that is renowned for its ability to combine conceptual thinking, design and technology in the creation of online formats and campaigns. Momkai is founding partner and responsible for the brand, the website, the identity and the campaigns. Momkai also created a new publishing framework and editor for De Correspondent called Respondens.

… Well, well, well – we thought, spotting Monday’s column in The New York Times by its media correspondent, David Carr: this De Correspondent has not been born a moment too soon. Snippets that stood out in the column, a review of a new book — a roman à clef about New York newshounds by Michael Hastings, a journalist killed tragically young in the 2003 Iraq war:

… [P]oliticians and journalists are now neck and neck in a race to the bottom of public trust. According to a poll released by Gallup last week, fewer than a quarter of news consumers trust what they read, watch or click on, a historic low.

… Much has changed since the period Mr. Hastings chronicles, most notably that the audience has fled established print outlets …

… The public is less prone to the allure of Great Men pontificating from inside a magazine, the television or behind a lectern at a news conference. The jig is up.

The public is ready to share the stage, onto which De Correspondent has invited it to step up and join fully in the action. Bravo for the courage to try out a new idea — never mind if the degree to which it has succeeded so far is hard to judge for those of us who cannot read in Dutch. And a hat tip to David Carr for facing the facts, refusing to bury his head in the sand, and telling us what he sees — truthfully.

The components of the next media ‘business model’ are ready: dewy-eyed newcomers, not media’s Old Guard, will do the essential assembly and testing

august 2013 lolling nymphs circular balcony DSCF1026

The old classic forms for media are broken: their replacements are coming from young explorers open to the magic of possibility and experimentation - photographs of the Villa Borromeo: MIL22

The old classic forms for media are broken: their replacements are coming from young explorers open to the magic of possibility and experimentation
– photographs of the Villa Borromeo: MIL22

Though Larry Page, the Google co-founder, has a thatch of grey hair, we know he is still only forty-one. His baby face reminds us that he was twenty-five in 1998, when he hatched a search engine with Sergey Brin. We also know that Jimmy Wales was thirty-five when he launched the Wikipedia in 2001, and Jeff Bezos a mere thirty at the founding of Amazon.com in 1994.

So, why are we looking to today’s old media leaders to reshape the way we get news and commentary through them? Google, Wikipedia and Amazon — three inventions that have made done more than any others to re-shape the habits of those of us who used to be called bookworms — should have made it pointless for anyone to expect the big names in print media, whose chiefs are nearly all middle-aged or old, to build the bridge to future economic survival for their enterprises.

Three identifiers of the most promising scheme for publishing – called a ‘business model’ – look more practical and likely than ever:

Some form of collective ownership and management – which, for some new publishing groups, would mean replacing the old idea of ‘reader subscriptions’ with small ownership stakes for audience members who want a say in drafting rules and setting policy.

Consultative decision-making on strategic and policy matters helped by free, ‘sharable’ software tools designed to streamline collaboration — the kind being developed by New Zealand’s Loomio cooperative (the most sophisticated of which might include software tailored to deal with particular kinds of conflict).

Vast aggregations of micropayments making up the financial lifeblood of media collectives – from selling access to certain kinds of information or entertainment (though most of this would be free); or in-payments for the privilege of stakeholding, and outpayments when there are profits to be distributed.

Most of the worker-bees driving the creativity at Loomio and the micropayments innovator Flattr are decades younger than the old media leaders in continental Europe interviewed last week by The Guardian about their struggle to adapt for digitisation. The limit of bold and adventurous thinking by these appears to be a subscription club – similar to the plan described by Mario Calabresi, editor-in-chief of Italy’s La Stampa , in which most of its offerings would continue to be free …

… while holding back some premium content in order to be able to offer more in-depth information to those who want it. Around this premium content we are building a club-like structure, which brings together our keenest readers and offers them exclusive tools with which to understand the world.

Club, yes; but stake, no – and that is surely a mistake. Giving readers the chance to own a financial stake, even a small one, in drawing more traffic to a media site would encourage more of them to linger to chat with other readers – regularly log on to comments sections, treating them like virtual pubs or coffee-shops for relaxing sessions of teasing, information-sharing, debating and flirting anonymously and pseudonymously as well as in the prosaic guise of being, as on Facebook, simply themselves. One commenter on the Guardian survey of European papers had the media enterprise of the future exactly right:

ringodingo

13 June 2014 11:03am

… Newspapers, tv etc have to accept that media is now two-way.

So Guardian etc should become more like a social media site?

To an extent they already involve the readers with the comment threads.

Or, as the 2010 paper that this post-Gutenberg blog extends said, if we may be forgiven for the unpardonable sin of quoting ourselves:

New communication technologies have created a karaoke world. … Practically no one is content any more to be just a spectator, reader, passive listener or viewer. Audience participation as well as the right to talk back – which includes non-expert reviewing of works or performances by trained and seasoned professionals — have become absolutely essential.

That La Stampa understands this is clear. Calabresi said:

We are drawing on user-generated content, seeking to unite and integrate it with our quality journalism. On social networks we are working to increase reader engagement in order to make them key players in the debate on our content.

He sounds remarkably like The Guardian’s own editor, Alan Rusbridger, telling an American interviewer that

We are putting our commentators in the same space as all our readers and letting them fight it out. … [R]eally, in this community of Guardian readers, there are a lot of intelligent, well-versed people actually traveling. So let’s open it up to them.

But those are just words, mere sentiments, at present. Until they are offered a financial stake and the possibility, some day, of sharing in any profits, those readers contributing comments and reporting to ‘opened up’ papers are simply supplying unpaid labour. Not, in our view, an operating scheme with much of a future.

When will some newspaper like La Stampa or The Guardian test the idea of sharing ownership and decision-making on a strictly experimental section of its site – as this blog has suggested before, more than once? They might take a cue from the adventurous ‘skunk works’ at the Harvard Business School testing online education.

One European interviewed by the London newspaper about the digital future, Stefan Niggemeier – an ex-Spiegel staffer who has worked both as an editor and publishing innovator — is part of a group of twenty-five German investigative journalists playing with financial schemes that do not rely on advertising: ‘We want to see if there’s a way of establishing a non-advertising-based model. Whether it will work, I don’t know, but I know it’s right to try it, even if it fails.’

Rusbridger is sixty. Niggemeier and Calabresi are both in their mid-forties. Even they might not be young enough to translate proposals and hypotheses into media’s clicking and whirring fully operational future.

What should a writer’s position be on the battle between Amazon and the Hachette publishing conglomerate? Let’s have some basic information, for a start

alley

– photograph by MIL22

As print publishing firms competing with digital rivals have less than ever to give the majority of writers – who have no record as best-sellers — where should scribblers’ sympathies lie in the fight between the Hachette publishing empire and Amazon?

The essential details of what they are quarrelling about are being hidden from us on grounds of commercial secrecy — as noted in one report after another**. These are negotiations conducted down dark alleys. Without those details, we can only puzzle over the tones of ringing certainty in which newspaper commentators have unanimously been denouncing Amazon – although the bookselling giant was plainly wrong to punish Hachette and its authors in these ways noted by The Los Angeles Times:

Amazon is subjecting many books from Hachette to artificial purchase delays. Books that had been available for next-day delivery now take 2-5 weeks to ship. Some titles don’t surface in search as they should. … As a result, Hachette will sell fewer books.

Strangely absent from coverage of the war is an eye-popping point for writers made by a sharp-eyed reader of The New York Times:

To the Editor:

Neither Amazon nor the publishers are pure of heart. Amazon is facing serious pressure on the profitability front from investors, so it is looking to increase margins and reduce costs.

The publishers see e-books as their largest profit area. A Publisher’s Lunch article last year showed the profit breakdown for HarperCollins:A $27.99 hardcover provides a $5.67 profit to the publisher and a $4.20 royalty to the author; a $14.99 e-book provides a $7.87 profit to the publisher and a $2.62 royalty to the author.

While the publishers are making a claim to a noble struggle against Amazon’s efforts to devalue publishing, they are also seeking to protect their higher profits on e-books, not higher royalties for writers. While Amazon claims to want to offer readers the best pricing, Amazon has no qualms about using its powerful market leverage to get what it seeks while inflicting collateral pain on readers to boost its profits.

The two players that are suffering in this situation are the authors (book sales delayed or prevented, dramatically lower royalties) and the consumers, many of whom have invested heavily in the Kindle-based environment.

CHRIS WATSON

Barrington, R.I., May 31, 2014

For authors to extract a bigger share of e-royalties, we are guessing that more scribblers with market power ranging from middling to great will have to start publishing e-books on their own, and do well at it. What advantages of being conventionally published do they give up, when they take the indie road? Fewer and fewer. Many more authors who have tried both the old route to being published and the new say exactly what this Guardian reader did last month, reacting in the comments section of a blog post about self-publishing:

remittancegirl

29 May 2014

I’m not a fan of self-publishing, but I don’t think this article addresses some of the salient reasons for its rise. Nothing is mentioned of the radical shift in traditional publishing to put marketing efforts into nothing but established writers with blockbuster track records, or its abandonment of a good editorial process.

Having been one of those writers who did get published by a major publisher, it quickly became obvious that it was a waste of time and financially costly. The royalty rates offered (especially on electronic sales) are, frankly, laughable. There is no effort at marketing. As a new author, you are expected to do all the publicity and marketing for yourself anyway. The least one might expect was a decent line edit, but the book I published through a major house was published with typographical errors aplenty. So, exactly how does it benefit new writers to even consider submitting to a traditional publisher?

Forget the money. What about the cultural landscape? Are publishers are lining up to publish radically new forms of narrative? No. In fact, the chances of you getting a publishing deal for your book depends, most notably, on how much it resembles another book that’s done well.

And if a writer opts for self-publishing and does well with it, there is a far better chance of having a major publisher will pick you up, republish your work, offer far better terms, better editors and some marketing – now that you no longer need it.

… [T]he disdain in this article for the self-published work doesn’t take into account what is driving many authors to circumvent the publishing apparatus altogether.

The Independent noted,

At least one author, Barry Eisler, is standing up for Amazon, saying: “More people are buying more books than ever and more people are making a living by writing them. Why do millionaire authors want to destroy the one company that’s made this all possible?”

The problem for many in publishing is that the dominance of this one company, with its Kindle store, keeps growing. It is estimated that e-book sales will soar to almost $9bn this year in America, while print book sales fall below $20bn, down from $26bn in 2010.

Yes, it’s clear from those numbers that Amazon has too much power in e-publishing. But to see what can be done about it, let’s have some more information about precisely what terms it was arguing about with Hachette.

Transparency, please.

** For instance, although The Los Angeles Times’s handy summary of the dispute is highlighted as an instance of ‘an unusually public battle’ — in ‘Amazon and Hachette: The dispute in 13 easy steps,’ — its step 6 says:

Amazon has not commented to The Times regarding this dispute other than to point us to a message-board posting in the Kindle discussion forums on its site. There, it explained that Hachette was one of its 70,000 suppliers and that the two had been unable to reach acceptable terms (without disclosing what was being negotiated).