Monthly Archives: April 2012

Innovating from betwixt and between

Peter Brantley -- April 29th, 2012

As a relative outsider to publishing, I am still often surprised by how difficult business transformation can be for some organizations. I am a member of the Project Muse Advisory Board, and I’ve just emerged from their board and publisher meetings. Project Muse is a journals publishing platform; it aggregates journals in digital form and sells content packages to university and college libraries, research centers, and similar organizations. Muse is also making a significant entry into the higher education ebook market by providing access to publishers’ lists. Our meeting was energetic, and focused at a conceptual level on the challenges of delivering new types of services while transitioning away from more traditional aspects of journal publishing.

What was striking for me was not my anticipated discussion of content management systems that supported a wide range of data queries, might be more semantically aware, and capable of supporting a wide range of interactive media; indeed, these are today’s currency of the realm. Rather, it was the more basic conundrum of being caught between different kinds of customers: publisher suppliers, who are also customers, in a sense; and institutions, who buy their product.

The core conundrum for Project Muse, as with all platform providers, is that they can easily come into conflict with the priorities of the university presses and scholarly societies that provide them with content. For example, one opportunity discussed widely today in academia is creating “push to publish” services that are much closer to the user, often utilizing approachable tools such as WordPress; these services would be at home in library publishing units. If an existing platform provider tried to deploy such a lightweight and configurable publishing system, it could siphon audience away from constituent publishers. In fact, most new services that leverage internet technology and network-scale data sharing and computation end up being ones under consideration as well by university presses and scholarly societies.

The underlying issue is that the suite of possible new publishing services is within reach of multiple levels of the publishing field: university presses could make a go at putting broad net-scale services like PLoS One out of business just as easily as Muse or JSTOR, which operate at a higher level of aggregation. If a small press or society is willing to go through the significant tumult of re-inventing itself, it can reach the global community of scholars just as easily as Elsevier.

What that made me realize is that if you designed a publishing enterprise to support scholarly communication de novo, aggregating content from a range of sources but also developing direct publishing and reader/writer services, you could do it with very different constraints than Muse, JSTOR, and other platform providers have to grapple with. A new entrant, not unlike the Public Library of Science, could actually turn its back on existing publishing practice and design a direct-to-faculty or direct-to-discipline infrastructure that was wholly divorced from existing players.

That kind of disruption hasn’t happened much yet outside of science, technology, and medicine, but it is likely that it will, unless existing platforms quickly manage to figure out ways of innovating themselves into a new content environment while bringing their publishing contributors and constituents along with them, benefitting from the same new services platforms are designing for a broader audience. There may even be some unique advantages in sustaining those relationships, if they can be successfully leveraged.

The coming change in how we publish the humanities and social sciences, and in fact, what we can publish, could be even more transformative than the re-invention of STM. Building a new digital humanities infrastructure will mean interacting with visual interpretations of historical sites, hearing ancient or less common modern languages in linguistic treatises, and grappling with philosophical quandaries in a gaming environment with virtual goods. Ultimately this may reshape how faculty think about doing their research, as well as how it is communicated.

What Are the 10 Most Popular “Collected Stories” Books?

Gabe Habash -- April 26th, 2012

PWxyz isn’t quite sure how Amazon’s search formula is determined, but it’s probably not as complex as half the stuff we have going on in our headquarters, which looks like this. But we thought it was interesting to see what writers came up when you typed “collected stories of” into Amazon’s search bar, and we were more intrigued when we went back a day later and saw that the names had shifted. Here’s what we found–before you look at the results, test yourself and see how many you can get without looking!

No category selected (searching in all categories) on April 25:

1. John Cheever (sales rank #36,019)

2. John Cheever (“In Books”)

3. Eudora Welty (#39,915)

4. Arthur C. Clarke (#56,042)

5. William Faulkner (#27,601)

6. Katherine Anne Porter (#416,810)

7. Richard Yates (#256,531)

8. Joseph Roth (#437,899)

9. Colette (#449,212)

10. Lydia Davis (#36,045)

No category selected (searching in all categories) on April 26:

1. Cheever

2. Cheever (“In Books”)

3. Welty

4. Davis

5. Clarke

6. Faulkner

7. Porter

8. Yates

9. Amy Hempel

10. Roth

Oddly enough, when you select “Books” as the category to search, you get a slightly different top 10:

1. Faulkner

2. Cheever

3. Porter

4. Welty

5. Clarke

6. Davis

7. Isaac Bashevis Singer (#42,299)

8. Jean Stafford (#665,904)

9. Robert Silverberg (a number of “collected stories,” the highest ranked of which is #585,838)

10. Flannery O’Connor (#3,755)

And Google’s top results:

1. Faulkner

2. Cheever

3. Welty

4. Lydia Davis

Also interesting: if you just type in “collected stories” (drop the “of”), both Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Roald Dahl appear, as the titles of their books are just titled Collected Stories, rather than the more common The Collected Stories of

Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’ Typewriter Sells for $8,281

Gabe Habash -- April 25th, 2012

The personal Smith Corona typewriter of Truman Capote, and likely the one he used to write In Cold Blood, has been sold on eBay for $8,281. The auction drew two bidders and three bids, and the winning bid was considerably higher than its $7,000 starting price.

From the seller, a friend of Capote’s:

All of these personal things were given to me by Mr. Capote. I picked him up from the airport in Kansas City, Missouri several times and drove him to Holcomb, Kansas. Mr. Capote was getting information on a crime that took place there for a book he was writing.

At WhatSellsBest.com, James Massey writes that Capote liked to write a draft of his books and then a revision longhand, before ever using a typewriter.

It’s Not So Easy Giving Away Books: World Book Night US

Judith Rosen -- April 24th, 2012

In principle what could be simpler than handing out a free book, no strings attached. Just read, enjoy, and pass to a friend. In reality, not so much. It took me 50 minutes to hand out 20 copies of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried to commuters in Central Square Cambridge, Mass., as they wended their way home from work. Maybe I should have taken the morning’s pouring rain as an omen, or the person who told me on my morning walk, “You’ll have trouble giving out 20 books. I’ll take what you can’t hand out and give them to my charity.”

I started to worry as I reread the opening of the book on the bus to Central Square. I had forgotten that in the first few pages there’s sex, drugs, and death. O’Brien doesn’t hold anything back from the get go. What if people are offended before they even get started on one of the best books about the Vietnam War, about writing, about life?

I should have made a sign. But I didn’t realize that until I put down my books and realized that people just thought I was loitering. So I held up three books and used them as a sign and called out, “Free books. World Book Night.” Not a single person had heard of World Book Night, including those who stopped to talk with me. Then, as a young woman explained to me, they look like religious books. That’s why everyone’s averting their eyes, she said.

Two well-dressed 20-somethings in business attire ran up to me, as much as you can run in high heels, excited because they thought I was doing an advance promotion for a reading by O’Brien. When they found out I was giving out the book, they walked away. They’d already read it, they said. So had a few other people; it’s a good book, they said. The FedEx driver didn’t like it. She probably had to read it for school and write an essay about the things she carried. Anyway, UPS co-sponsored World Book Night, no worries.

My first taker was a security guard from CVS, who said he would read it that evening. Number two was a gray-haired lady who thought World Book Night, after I explained it to her, sounded great, kind of like the walk to raise money for a chorale society that she had just heard about. I never did get that connection, but she was very happy to have a brand new book. So was another woman, but I almost had to ask her to give it back once I found out she’s a reader. She reads a book a week, and had read almost every book being given out across the country last night. Although she prefers physical books, it’s hard to move them when she changes apartments. Her husband likes her to buy books on the Kindle.

Make eye contact, I reminded myself. Someone wants a copy of this book. One man tapped his breast pocket; I have a Kindle. Two people in scrubs walked by smoking intently as if that would protect them from me and my free books. A short woman in a brown wig stopped in front of me. Rose. I hadn’t seen her since my father-in-law died just over a year ago. She had been his caretaker. We talked briefly. I forgot I was still holding the books. She asked if she could have one. Yes.

Some people walking in pairs took only one book. One man from Russia wasn’t interested in Vietnam. Do you have something on World War II? One woman was flustered that she couldn’t make a donation. The last book went to a youngish man. Will it tell me more about World Book Night if I read this? Yes, I said. It will tell you how to get more information. But it’s simple really. It’s about getting people reading. I hope he likes it and passes it on to a friend. That’s really what World Book Night is about. And it doesn’t hurt if it encompasses sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, and a generation, too, all in one short book.

100 Books Called ‘The Man Who…’

Gabe Habash -- April 23rd, 2012

If you’re writing a book and want to title it some iteration of The Man Who…, that makes you the man or woman who titles your book like everyone else. That’s because typing in “the man who” into a Goodreads search yields 2,567 results–and that’s not including titles that being with “the man in” (The Man in the High Castle, The Man in the Iron Mask). The only title template more common is “_____ & _____” (War & Peace, Sense and Sensibility). But PWxyz will admit a soft spot for a book named The Man Who Loved Clowns.

The Man Who Was Thursday

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

The Man Who Had Everything

The Man Who Ate Everything

The Man Who Ate the 747

The Man Who Couldn’t Eat

The Man Who Ate His Boots

The Man Who Ate the World

The Man Who Cycled the World

The Man Who Sold the World Continue reading

The Unbelievably Bad-Looking ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ Movie

Gabe Habash -- April 20th, 2012

In case you don't like Lincoln axe-brooding in a parlor, you can have Lincoln axe-brooding in the woods.

We’re going to show you this trailer for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter because it looks really, really bad. Fascinatingly bad. Director Timur Bekmambetov is capable of making pretty decent movies (Night Watch series) and abominable movies (Wanted), and, unless the trailer here is completely misrepresenting the film’s tone, it looks like this one will be comfortably situated at the latter end of the spectrum. Bekmambetov, the actors, writers, wranglers and caterers of the movie all seem to think it’s a good idea to make a straight-faced film about Abraham Lincoln killing vampires even though it’s a movie about Abraham Lincoln killing vampires. For the love of Pete, it looks more serious than Van Helsing! The lack of any sort of self-awareness or tongue-in-cheekness, the fact Johnny Cash’s voice and Inception orchestral blares are in this and there’s not one wink–the fact that Abraham Lincoln chops a tree in slow motion with so much force it flies up–is enough to make you uncomfortable. It’s the same feeling you get when you see someone making a very bad mistake they don’t know they’re making. They played the trailer for this before a showing of Cabin in the Woods this past weekend, and the audience was dead silent for its duration. But when the title came up, there was a mixture of groaning and laughter, but mostly, there was the verbal equivalent of cringing. I don’t think anyone’s shocked that the movie’s being made–it’s sold close to 300,000 copies in print according to the outlets that report to Neilsen BookScan–but that it looks as humorless as J. Edgar is…alarming. Watch the thing below.

Can You Guess These Classic Books From Their Phantom Covers?

Gabe Habash -- April 19th, 2012

PWxyz thinks you should play this game where we vacuumed up the words from the covers of famous books and you have to guess the book just by the art. Special bonus points if you can get #10. Actually, if you get all 10, we’ll write a song for you and it’ll be super heartfelt. We like to use falsetto.

Answers at the bottom!

1.

2.

3.

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A List of Good Books the Pulitzer Didn’t Pick

Gabe Habash -- April 17th, 2012

Some reactions following the announcement that the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction was a head fake:

“Shocked…angry…and very disappointed.”

-Pulitzer fiction juror Susan Larson

“Honestly, I feel angry on behalf of three great American novels.”

-Pulitzer fiction juror Maureen Corrigan

“I was so thrilled for Karen,” Ms. Pavlin said. “Then my second response was, what a shame, because the committee had it within their power to do something so wonderful for any one of those novelists. And they, for whatever reason, chose not to.”

-Swamplandia! editor Jordan Pavlin

According to the Pulitzer’s site, the award is “for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.” But no book, apparently, was distinguished enough.

There are a lot of people who lose out with this decision, the largest group of which is the reading public, who, as the Washington Post‘s Ron Charles tweeted, “would have been directed to a good novel.” Larson said the fiction reading community hopefully will now be encouraged to “read three books instead of one,” and we couldn’t agree more. That’s why we’ve put together some good books from last year that the Pulitzer didn’t think were worthy.

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

The Call by Yannick Murphy

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock

Changó’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes by William Kennedy

We the Animals by Justin Torres

Open City by Teju Cole

Someday This Will Be Funny by Lynne Tillman

I Married You for Happiness by Lily Tuck

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

Ghost Lights by Lydia Millet

A Moment in the Sun by John Sayles

My New American Life by Francine Prose

Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta

The Submission by Amy Waldman

Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman

The Angel Esmeralda by Don DeLillo

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

Serving a public that knows how to copy: orphan works and mass digitization

Peter Brantley -- April 14th, 2012

Marxchivist, Indigent Orphans

Flickr, CC-BY, @Marxchivist


The UC Berkeley Center for Law and Technology (BCLT) is among the most eminent study centers for intellectual property (IP) law. Coordinated by Professor Pamela Samuelson, this last week it pulled together approximately 200 highly accomplished and well-spoken legal scholars, practitioners and librarians in a small conference on orphan works, “Orphan Works and Mass Digitization.”

Obstacles and opportunities.

The conference started with a series of talks on the dysfunctions of current copyright law, with its propensity to generate orphans. The overall consensus, most succinctly aired by Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive, is that the the problem is so pervasive and the barriers to a comprehensive resolution so high — while networked communications make sharing ever more straightforward — that institutions are increasingly prone to adopt a “Damn the torpedoes” approach. For these panelists, the prospect of new legislation attempting to facilitate use of material with dim rights status is often scarier than the status quo given political deadlock; further, uncertainty over the use of these materials is endemic but the risk is fairly low, in part because libraries, archives, and museums (LAMs) are respectful and conservative. At the same time, the cultural value is often tremendous.
Continue reading

Poll: Who’s Your Favorite Infinite Jest Character?

Gabe Habash -- April 13th, 2012

For the past two weeks, PWxyz has been devoted to Infinite Jest, giving specific reasons for our love for its characters, and counting down our top 10 favorites. But now it’s your chance to let us know the characters that made the book most memorable for you. Below, we’ve listed basically all characters of consequence in the book. And because it’s unfair to ask you to pick just one, we’ve opened the voting up to five selections per voter. And be sure to let us know why in the comments below. May the best character win.