Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The WWW (wild wacky world) of publishing

I don't care what subject material is involved, publishing is an interesting business. Even if an author is wholly committed to self publishing (I haven't yet gone down that road), it's a business to which he must pay attention.

Hugh Howey is an author who is, at least in large part, committed to self-publishing -- and he's been very successful at it. (If his name isn't familiar, check out his dystopian novel Wool. It's excellent.) A few months back Howey posted an interesting essay contrasting the economics of self-publishing with that of traditional publishing. His essay opens:

It’s no great secret that the world of publishing is changing. What is a secret is how much. Is it changing a lot? Has most of the change already happened? What does the future look like?

The problem with these questions is that we don’t have the data that might give us reliable answers. Distributors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble don’t share their e-book sales figures. At most, they comment on the extreme outliers, which is about as useful as sharing yesterday’s lottery numbers [link]. A few individual authors have made their sales data public, but not enough to paint an accurate picture. We’re left with a game of connect-the-dots where only the prime numbers are revealed. What data we do have often comes in the form of surveys, many of which rely on extremely limited sampling methodologies and also questionable analyses [link].

Of course, if books don't survive, it won't matter if the medium was print or electronic. The Washington Post had an interesting essay on that very topic, at "Books are losing the war for our attention. Here’s how they could fight back." Among other things, it speaks of new technology to make ebooks easier to read:

Spritz is a Boston-based start-up devoted to making reading easier and faster. Its focus is on-the-go reading. Words flash rapidly, which helps hold the attention of readers. Our eyes are naturally drawn to movement and change. Plus, because words are flashing faster than the rate most people read at, we should all be able to get more reading done ...

... Words are positioned on the Spritz display so that the optimal recognition point remains steady, so our eyes never have to move. Waldman points to a 2005 research paper, which said for languages that read from left to right, the optimal viewing position is between the beginning and middle of the word. The positioning of words means time isn’t wasted scanning for the optimal recognition point of the next word to be read.

To go the traditional publishing route implies making a sale to an editor. SF author C. C. Finlay found his first stint as an editor -- guest editing an issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction -- to be an eye opener. He blogged about his experience in "Nectar for Rejectomancers." 751 submissions over two weeks ... room in the issue for around a dozen ... no slush reader. In a word: yikes.

Then there's journalistic writing. Journalists are supposed to check out stories before publishing them. The problem is when they don't. As the Washington Post points out:

It’s one thing for an Iranian news agency to mistakenly cite as fact a piece in The Onion, a satirical humor publication, as actually happened in 2012 when the Fars News Agency referred in all seriousness to an Onion story about a  Gallup poll that supposedly showed more rural white voters in America would rather spend time with then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than with President Obama.

And it’s pretty much the same thing when the official Chinese newspaper, the People’s Daily, reported in all seriousness about an Onion story that declared North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as the 2012 Sexiest Man Alive , succeeding The Onion’s 2011 Sexiest Man Alive, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, who himself succeeded Bernie Madoff as The Onion’s 2010 Sexist Man Alive.

But, as the Gawker reported here, it’s another thing when a respected publication, in this case Science News, falls victim to The Onion. That happened in this story, “Schadenfreude Starts Early,” which was about a new study showing that children as young as 2 can enjoy others’ pain. The story also linked to a Dec. 7, 2009, Onion story titled “New Study Reveals Most Children Unrepentant Sociopaths,”...

Check out the whole article at "Respected science publication is fooled by The Onion."

Any good choices here?
Finally (and, okay, stretching a point theme-wise, but wholly apropos for this blog), there's publication of software and its updates. I've commented on several occasions about computer-security issues and about Microsoft's ending support for Windows XP. And so I found fascinating, from PC World, that "Enthusiast developer keeps Windows XP alive with unofficial 'Service Pack 4":

Windows XP users may now download a fourth service pack for the 13-year-old operating system, but it isn't coming from Microsoft.

Instead, this Windows XP “SP4” comes from a single developer, who claims to have rolled up every official Microsoft update into an unofficial package. Windows XP Unofficial SP4 is now in its third beta, with work on a release candidate in progress.

... Service Pack 4 includes additional security fixes that aren't technically part of Windows XP proper, but are instead intended for ATMs and point of sale machines still running a variant of the aging OS. As discovered in May, it's possible to keep getting these security updates through a registry hack, but Unofficial SP4 enables this hack by default and bakes in all of its previous fixes. 

A single, obscure developer. Fixes from a variant of the operating system. What could possibly go wrong?

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