Monday, July 30, 2012

Imagine There's Profit In Creativity

Where would retired politicians be without speaking engagements and the income they produce? Yet you know that it's the same speech being given, again and again, to a different audience.

So why all the fuss about Jonah Lehrer recycling his words for profit?

The New Yorker got worked up because the author repeated things he'd written before and presented as fresh. But if Bill Clinton can do it with the spoken word, it seems unfair for Mr. Lehrer to suffer.

From there, however, Mr. Lehrer went a step too far into the world of fiction, and he has now resigned from the magazine.

A journalist cannot make up quotes, you see, because that is a serious violation of ethics that not even a politician would consider....except maybe John Edwards, but we all know what happened to him and it wasn't pretty.

Jonah Lehrer not only recycled pieces from articles, but he wrote an article about the science of creativity and fabricated quotes from Bob Dylan. And then he turned his article into a full book.

A full book that HMH has now pulled from its catalog. Because it's supposed to be non-fiction but it's pure fiction. Well researched, perhaps, but it isn't all real.

Imagine how creativity works and you might imagine how Mr. Lehrer came to create quotes that did not exist, and then put them out in public as if no one would notice.

So Bob Dylan and all those associated with him would never think to read the New Yorker? Never do a Google search to see what's being said about the musician?

The author has apologized, but it's a fair bet that HMH will be looking for a return of the advance and royalties paid to Mr. Lehrer, who did not deliver the manuscript he promised but something not suitable for publication. And it doesn't have any of the elements of a good novel, so it can't just be shelved in the fiction division.

It isn't the first time that a journalist has made up stuff. It won't be the last. 

But can we please not be subjected to another "memoir" from the perpetrator of the hoax?

Going For Silver...Gold...Pounds?

If you're in the running for medals in the Olympic Games, you're expected to compete to the best of your ability.

Go for the gold, silver or bronze.

In the case of Peter O'Leary, it might be a case of going for the gold in the form of British pounds.

The Irish sailor is part of a team on which Ireland has pinned its medal hopes. Mr. O'Leary is in a bit of hot water (and we're not talking about the Irish Sea here) over a case of youthful exuberance from his first Olympics in 2008.

It's come out that Mr. O'Leary placed a bet on a sailing race in which he was competing. However, he bet against himself and for his competitor, which would be an easy bet to win if you were better than your rival and then you dogged it so you'd lose.

You pick up a profit of close to 4,000 British pounds and go home ahead of the game, to buy round after round for your mates...or to put towards a better boat for the next race.

The issue isn't so much that he placed a bet in that way, but that such gambling was banned by the Olympic Committee at those same Beijing games.

Mr. O'Leary figured that since he wasn't in a medal race, where was the harm. He had nothing to gain, but he could create a benefit by placing a couple of bets with his bookie. He might not have known about the rule against wagering.

Except that all participants were supposed to have signed a contract in which they agreed not to gamble against themselves. Infractions are punishable by a permanent or a temporary ban.

It's the ban that's got sailing enthusiasts nervous. If Mr. O'Leary is punished in 2012 for a foolish mistake made in 2008, there goes Ireland's best hope for a medal.

The Committee is investigating.

Mr. O'Leary is keeping a low profile.

And his bookie is wondering if he'd been had back in 2008 when he took a bet from a man who was participating in the event in which he'd bet that he'd lose.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Power Of The Irish Voting Bloc

When the Irish came to America, they were freed from the restrictions that British placed on Catholics in their colony.

One of the first things the Irish did was to dive into politics, with an exuberance that reflected a pent-up desire to control one's destiny via the ballot.

The Irish voting bloc became powerful and politicians wishing to be elected had to cater to Irish needs and demands. Before long, cities like Boston, New York and Chicago had so many Irishmen in office that some Anglo-Saxon Protestants felt that they were losing their country to a foreign invasion that would forever change the nation.

More than a century later, you would expect that the Irish voting bloc would have dispersed by now, melted into American society and no longer of great importance.

Apparently not.

In a recent campaign advertisement, President Obama blasted his rival for investing in "tax haven" countries like Bermuda (lovely climate), Switzerland (impressive scenery) and....Ireland.

Excuse me? Enda Kenny was there.

If you happen to run across the advert, you'll find that Ireland is no longer a tax haven, but a "low-tax country".

The Irish Embassy leveled a complaint, but if Ireland were of no importance to the election, why would the Obama campaign have bothered to alter their copy? Are they concerned with insulting the Irish diaspora that's spread all over the fifty states?

And this coming right before Mr. Mitt Romney meets with An Taoiseach Enda Kenny to discuss all things economic. Many photos will be taken, and used in campaign literature targeting the Irish-American voting bloc that still carries a love of the auld sod in its heart.

Such a small country, but still very special.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Getting Old, Getting Happy

Fans of the Twilight films are aghast.

Their beloved Kristen Stewart has admitted to an affair a much older man, and this while she was romantically linked to her Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson.

She's gone all apologetic over it, with much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

All she really needs to do is come right out and say it. She's not getting any younger. She could be dead in five or ten years, so she might as well be happy.

At least that's the excuse that former royal son-in-law Mark Phillips used when he got caught with a younger woman.

The ex-husband of Princess Anne is going to get divorced yet again, and he's not apologizing for anything. You won't hear him bemoaning the hurt put on his soon to be ex-wife.

The only bemoaning you're hearing is Captain Phillips grumbling about the Puritanical mindset of the equestrian set that he was hired to coach.

Timing isn't the best for the Captain's revelation that he's leaving the old bag for a newer model, someone who is 35 as compared to 58 years of age. He's bringing the U.S. Equestrian team to England for the Olympics, and there has been a call for his resignation in the face of conduct unbecoming a horseman.

Like Kristen Stewart, Mr. Phillips succumbed to the charms of someone he was working with. Mrs. Phillips Number Three is a member of his coaching staff.

At the age of 63, Mr. Phillips is planning to retire from the U.S.equestrian team anyway, to spend more time at his home in Gloucestershire. He will not quit early, he will not abandon his team on the verge of Olympic competition, and he doesn't give a rat's arse what anyone thinks of him.

In fact, he's criticized his critics for not supporting him in his efforts to bring gold back to the States.

After the drama of Kristen Stewart's announcement, it's refreshing to hear the opposite approach. Enough of taking the blame. We need more self-serving conceit. At least it's honest.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

You Can't Eat That Around Here

Looking for Chick-fil-A in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago?

Sorry. You can't eat that there. You have to join in the boycott of the Southern fried fast food emporium because the alderman has decided that for you.

Somewhat like the way the city council decided that Wal-Mart couldn't open stores within the city's borders because they were anti-union. Kept all those non-union jobs out of the city, and allowed other competitors to move in.....Oh, right. No jobs came at all.

A Chick-fil-A franchise opened at Loyola University's downtown campus, but that was before the recent dust-up. Chicagoans discovered the tasty sandwiches and there are new franchisees who would like to take advantage of the demand.

The reason that Mr. Joe Moreno wants to ban Chick-fil-A from his ward is because the company's president has come out of the closet and declared that he is not a proponent of gay marriage.

Like so many Southerners, Dan Cathy arises from a conservative, somewhat fundamentalist religious background, and that religion colors his outlook on life.

Have you ever tried to shop at Hobby Lobby on a Sunday? Well, don't expect to buy a breaded, fried piece of chicken on Sunday either. Both companies are rooted in Bible-based teachings and they make sure their employees can keep holy the Sabbath.

It's an attitude that makes Chick-fil-A and Loyola University a good fit. The Catholic Church isn't a proponent of gay marriage either, and the Vatican has long been promoting monogamy and fidelity and the traditional nuclear family.

But Alderman Moreno isn't of like mind. As far as he's concerned, Chick-fil-A discriminates against gays because the president spoke out against a gay marriage.

Did you think that you could speak your mind freely and not be punished? Did you think that you could actively practice your religion without repercussions?

Not in Chicago you can't.

So Mr. Moreno intends to block the zoning changes needed for Chick-fil-A to build their new store on busy Elston Avenue. He's stated quite clearly that the reason is because of an anti-gay marriage stance.

In which case, Chick-fil-A just might see the City of Chicago in court. And the taxpayers of the city will all get to pay for Mr. Moreno's big mouth.

All he had to do was work on a ban on excessive MSG in fast food, and that would be the end of Chick-fil-A in the city. There's no free speech infringement there. But there's no opportunity to grandstand for your many gay constituents, either.

Monday, July 23, 2012


You will be told not to write what is currently selling, because the books coming out now were put into process as much as two years ago.

It takes time to write a book, yes, but it takes time to edit and publish it as well. Hence, the advice. Write what is coming, what isn't there yet. For an author, it's a suggestion to look into the future and predict.

Not even the publishers can do that.

Certainly not the venerable Simon & Schuster.

The publisher paid $750,000 for a manuscript back when Joe Paterno was on track to be a legend in college football coaching.

On went the process, from acquisition to final review, all typos corrected. Joe Posnanski had a last chance to verify his content, approve the cover art, and read the flap copy that the marketing department prepared.

And while all this expensive work was in motion, one of the assistant coaches at Penn State was charged with child molestation.
The Grand Experiment, Joe Posnanski's biography of Joe Paterno, was quickly renamed. It would be, simply, Paterno. The release date of the book was shifted from Father's Day 2013 to early August of 2012.

Already, the bean counters could see that a manuscript purchased under one set of assumptions was going to sink under unexpected revelations. What else could be done but to get the book laid down before former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky went to trial and the atmosphere became even more negative?

The printing presses were running as allegations against Joe Paterno trickled out.

Yesterday, officials at Penn State had the statue of Joe Paterno removed from its place of honor and put into storage.

Mr. Posnanski's book, already on its way, cannot be sent back for a re-write. It's too late for the author to edit his manuscript, to add a final chapter about the failings of a man the author was lauding. To erase some of the more positive phrases and harden the overall tone.

The book will come out quietly, with book tour appearances getting cancelled and some stores refusing to carry the book at all.

While Simon & Schuster bemoans the strange twists of fate that will cut into the bottom line, the author can only curse the Fates. His work will be ignored, criticized or mocked, and when he started writing, Joe Paterno was a legend, in his final season as coach at Penn State, and on track to post the most wins in the sport.

Now that the book is ready to be released, Paterno is toxic. All the hard work that went into the writing and research is not going to be rewarded because every reviewer will be compelled to note that Joe Paterno did nothing while little boys were being molested by one of his coaches but the author failed to heap scorn. So the book, therefore, is no good.

Simon & Schuster will lose money, perhaps $1 million. Joe Posnanski could see his valuable reputation as a reporter tarnished, and all because of unfortunate timing.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Back To The Other Side

From time to time, someone in publishing decides to become a literary agent.

They have dreams of bringing great books to the public, but as publishers they didn't feel they were getting all those great books. Stories worth telling weren't being told, because literary agents weren't querying the book that would be Caldecott worthy..

So they became agents, working directly with the writers who had those stories and wanted to tell them.

Then the newly minted literary agent discovered that their former colleagues in publishing didn't agree with them as to what constituted a manuscript worth buying. What the agent fell in love with didn't meet the acquisitions editor's desires.

And so, from time to time, someone who left publishing for agenting goes back to the other side, to be the one to buy the manuscripts and try, once again, to realize their dreams.

Writers House is saying good-bye to Kenneth Wright, who used to be in publishing and is going back.

He represented children's books as an agent, and he's going to be a vice president at Viking Children's division.

When he was a literary agent, did he try to sell a manuscript that he was sure was the next Ludwig Bemelmans or Robert McCloskey, only to have the manuscript rejected?

Is he returning to publishing because he has an idea of how to do things better than what's being done now?

Mr. Wright will start in at the end of August, searching through manuscripts delivered by literary agents who hope he'll fall in love with a story the way they did.

With several years of agenting under his belt, he'll have a very good understanding of what that love is like.

Unfortunately, if you were thinking of sending him a query letter, it's too late. He's going back to the other side and the only way he'll consider your manuscript is if a literary agent queries him. Perhaps Tracey Adams would be interested?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Life After Borders

Four former Borders employees were tracked down by Ben Freed, to see what they were up to after losing their jobs one year ago.

What does a person do when their career has revolved around books and there isn't much need for such work skills in the world?

If you're Peter Drogaris, a veteran of Waldenbooks before moving over to Borders, you don't have a full time job. Twenty years at Borders. It gives you a hint as to his age, which isn't twenty-something.

Older people, especially those in their fifties, simply haven't had any luck landing jobs because no one wants to invest in training, only to have the new employee retire a few years down the road. He is a member of the demographic that is hurting in the downturn, those who haven't looked for a job for decades because they thought they were secure.

Susan Aikens used to buy books for the Borders chain. She would have been courted by publishers who wanted their titles in the shops, the one who made the decisions on which children's books would be available and which would not.

Now she's buying camping gear for Dunham's. The new job isn't easy. She knew books, of course. She had to learn about camping gear, and learn fast. Imagine the stress of such a job, after losing the previous one. The fear of making mistakes, of getting fired, again, and there's the unemployment rate in Michigan above the national average.

Her husband, also once with Borders, landed a spot with a firm that connects farmers with consumers in an "eat local" movement. Unfortunately, their jobs are miles apart and Ms. Aikens faces a commute that can consume four hours of her day.

What is life like after Borders? A lot like any life after a company goes out of business. A lot like life for so many people, over 300,000 per week, who have to start over and oftentimes re-invent themselves.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pearson Takes It To Amazon

So the gatekeepers that are literary agents and acquisitions editors are keeping the gate closed just a bit too much.

With the likes of Amazon's CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing, with Barnes & Noble operating PubIt, to say nothing of Smashwords, there have been a few books published via these self-publishing venues that have become hits.

That means there were books available to the gatekeepers but they didn't see what the reading public came to see, and that means income lost to the traditional publishing house.

How to capture that niche, in which the author takes on all the work and the publisher has minimal risk?

Pearson has acquired Author Solutions, a self-publishing platform based in Indiana. Already it is touting itself as a member of the Penguin Publishing Group, lending a certain cachet with ties to a major player in the book world.

The merger will increase business at Author Solutions because writers know they will have a chance, albeit a wee tiny one, to maybe achieve their goal of getting a publisher's attention.

While Author Solutions will be useful to Pearson in the areas of online marketing and the like, Pearson will be of more use to Author Solutions just by allowing the firm to paste the name Penguin all over its promotions.

Increasing traffic to Author Solutions will increase the odds that a break-out novelist will come into the fold, in which case Penguin Publishing can pick up that author under its own terms. Said author is half way in the door, so to speak, and won't be eager to let that door hit their arse on the way out if they aren't completely in love with the contract terms offered by Penguin.

By acquiring Author Solutions, Penguin is adding a new gatekeeper to the acquisition process. The reading public will become part of the selection process, with the author becoming their own marketing department (at their own expense) to reach that public.

Even without a gem mined from the slushpile, it's all about profit and Author Solutions brings income to Pearson. Those who self-publish will usually market their book to family and friends, who make purchases out of love, rather than a desire to read the book. What matter is that they buy, and pay, and like the average supermarket, Pearson can turn a profit on slim margins through quantity.

So Amazon will find more competition on its pitch.

They've shown how it can be a profitable venture, to offer both hard copy and e-book publishing with a portal to the market.

Now Pearson will take Amazon's example and run with it, in their own direction, and hope to find more financial success than can be had under the old model.

The publishing industry is changing, but where the carousel stops is anyone's guess. But you have to get on and ride if you're to get anywhere at all.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

From The World Of The Thoroughbred

Maybe all you know about the thoroughbred horse industry is what you pick up from watching the Kentucky Derby.

There's a lot of money in thoroughbred horses, as you might guess from observing the owners at the iconic race.

It is an industry with its own language and rules. Did you know that all horses are born on the first of January? Even if they actually drop to the ground on the fifteenth of February, or the sixth of June, they are yearlings on the following New Year's Day.

A yearling that is actually one year old is more valuable than one that is chronologically six months old. A buyer can better judge an animal's physical attributes when it's had a chance to grow a bit.

The problem is, the industry conducts yearling sales on a given date, and if your foal isn't as big as that other fella's, you'll go home with less money.

Brood mare owners are known to rush the breeding season by tricking the mares into thinking it's later in the year than it is. Mares are in tune with day length, so when it's the middle of December, with the shortest days, they aren't about to go into estrus.

Hence the use of artificial light, with the girls kept indoors so they think it might as well be spring when it isn't. Naturally, the use of lighting requires electricity which costs money, and maintaining horses indoors requires bedding and stable-mucking, adding to the breeder's costs that have to be recouped at the yearling sale.

Little wonder that veterinarian Barbara Murphy won Enterprise Ireland's One to Watch award for her brilliant invention that will surely revolutionize the thoroughbred industry.

She has invented the Equilume light mask that does what all those artificial lights are meant to do, but the horse wears the little thing while it's out frolicking in the paddock. For the breeder, it will be a cheaper alternative to indoor lighting, more efficient and easier to induce estrus.

With the financial backing of Enterprise Ireland, Dr. Murphy plans to start up a company to manufacture and market the device.

She hopes to have the item available in time for the 2013 breeding season, and being knowledgeable in the horse breeding industry, she'll be selling the Equilume masks in Kentucky and Ireland---where the finest thoroughbred horses are found.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Complexity Of An American South's Editor

Back in 1992, Marc Smirnoff decided to publish a magazine that would focus on the American South, an area considered complex and vital by Mr. Smirnoff. Hence, a magazine dedicated to all things Southern.

The Oxford American enjoys a fine reputation, never creating any controversy in the quiet publishing stream.

So it comes as a huge surprise to learn that Mr. Smirnoff was given the sack.

The founder. The editor. Shown the door.

Managing editor Carol Ann Fitzgerald joined her boss in the departure. No surprise there. They dated and lived together. Might as well get fired together.

In the meantime, publisher Warwick Sabin will sit in as editor to keep the magazine running, with the existing contingent of interns putting things together so that the 1 September issue can be published on time.

Why were two key employees let go so abruptly? Considering that Mr. Smirnoff is the only editor that the Oxford American has ever had, it is particularly shocking.

It's all confidential, according to Mr. Sabin.

Employees noted that something was up when they found their office at the University of Central Arkansas locked. As far as anyone knows, some sort of personnel audit was underway, but what that might mean exactly is anyone;s guess.

And it's a situation that's ripe for guessing.

Mr. Smirnoff thinks he's been set up by a disgruntled former employee seeking payback. He bases his assumptions on the sort of questions he was asked by the Oxford American Literary Project board at a recent hearing. It was after that hearing that he was summarily sacked.

Mr. Smirnoff and Ms. Fitzgerald have hired attorneys to fight back for them in what they see as an unfair dismissal.

The case will drag on, of course, as legal cases do, and accusations will fly. Reputations will be sullied.

And the entire scenario will demonstrate the complexity and vitality of university politics in the State of Arkansas, in the heart of the American South.

But we all love a good scandal, wherever we may live.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Even Microsoft Has Bailed

It's the low budget cable news station that everyone likes to mock, and a rather popular portal for news content online.

It's the polar opposite of Fox News, in political spin and ratings.

And now, it's not part of Microsoft any more.

MSNBC has lost the MS and become, for now, plain old NBC News.

Comcast, which owns NBC, will buy Microsoft's share for $300 million, according to reports, and leave the computer software pioneer behind. It was a fairly long relationship, going on 16 years, but the online news industry has changed over that time period. Everyone has a site, every newspaper and every local station and if you want it organized for easier viewing there are countless compilation sites.

Microsoft wanted some of that sort of variety, and it became an issue.

Microsoft was not happy to be locked in to NBC's content, but the marriage did not allow for outside interests to have a place on the website. Over the years, NBC gradually shifted into a position as the anti-Fox News, which made for an increasingly liberal bias that did not sit well with the less than left-wing corporate types in Redmond, Washington.

Corporations don't want to be seen as having any political leanings at all, because that's the easiest way to lose half the clients. Being tied to a website that was seen as far left became a detriment, rather than a positive way to market Microsoft and keep its name out in front of the public.

The fact that Microsoft plans to launch its own web portal is a strong indication that the firm wants to have a presence, just not one tied in to any particular leanings.

NBC says they are happy to be quit of Microsoft because they can now tie in with all their affiliates, which was an issue when Microsoft was on board. At the same time, Microsoft is sounding confident about their new site which will have the variety of content the firm wanted all along.

Who will win and who will lose?

There's the gamble that is the free market.

Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch's little news empire keeps on keeping on, sailing along at the top of the television news ratings heap. Making money. Which is what it's all about, isn't it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

It Is Illegal To Look At Nuns

The Carmelite nuns don't want to be seen, even by someone over one hundred meters away, and an Irish judge has found in their favor.

The cloistered Sisters sold off a portion of their real estate in Stillorgan, County Dublin back in the 1970's. Like so many religious groups, they were running short of funds and what better way to raise capital than to part with unused ground?

When the property was sold off, it was known that it would be used for housing. But the nuns also wanted to maintain their privacy. You aren't supposed to see one of them. That's how the Carmelites operate. So forty years ago, they arranged things to suit their unusual rules.

Houses are bought and sold over the years. John and Ita Murray came to own one of the homes that happened to back up to the Carmelite property.

Like so many homeowners, they modified their digs to suit their lifestyle. They tacked on an addition to enlarge their living space, and they came up against restrictions and covenants that they didn't know existed.

Forever and into perpetuity, no home could have a window more than ten feet above grade if said home were overlooking the convent grounds. Unfortunately for the Murrays, their remodeled space included a master bedroom with a window on the upper floor...looking out upon the convent's property.

God in Heaven, the eyeballs of the laity!

It was off to court, to put an end to the horror of possibly being seen.

Mr. Murray knew nothing of the covenant. No one picked up on the restrictions when they granted him permission for the construction. He wasn't interested in looking at cloistered nuns when he had the window installed, either. It's the only source of light for the en suite.

No matter. A binding covenant is a binding covenant.

The judge has ordered the Murrays to block up the window. Mr. Murray has noted that by blocking up the window, he is in violation of the fire codes, and cannot use the room for anything besides storage.

Couldn't the Murrays just agree to don blindfolds when entering their bedroom? Wouldn't that accomplish the same thing?

How about if they draw the curtains? Or build a very, very, very tall fence?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Taking A Page From The Catholic Playbook

The report on the Pennsylvania State University child abuse scandal repeats what the Irish people have heard before.

Those in positions of authority stood by and did nothing.

Change "university leaders" to "Vatican leaders" and it's the clerical sex abuse scandal in a track suit. Change "Jerry Sandusky" to "Father Sandusky", change "Joe Paterno" to "Bishop Paterno", and it's the same cast of characters.

Consideration was given to afford the abuser a level of humane consideration. A coach? A priest? The same concern for the perpetrator runs like a common thread.

Investigator Louis Freeh didn't have to go far in determining who knew what, when and who failed to act.

He had only to peruse some existing reports that were prepared by the Ferns diocese and the Dublin archdiocese to get a complete blueprint.

Sadly, what Mr. Freeh has revealed is nothing new.

There was no concern for the children, who were troubled or marginalized by society. Like the countless children who were cycled through the industrial schools or the enormous population of women who were locked away in Magdalene laundries, the victims of abuse were of little or no importance to those who were supposed to be protecting them.

Calls resound for an end to the sports program that employed the pedophile. Threats of lawsuits spring up, accompanied by concern for the financial stability of a fine institution.

The victims of clerical sex abuse in Ireland have yet to be compensated. The women from the Magdalene laundries can't even get a pension in their old age, because they were slave laborers and the Church didn't pay into the pension fund.

The concern is often voiced that the Catholic Church cannot afford to pay compensation. The financial stability of a fine institution is at risk.

Some people are considered untouchable. A priest. A bishop. A coach.

But not the children.

Education Is A Losing Proposition

With the recent bankruptcy proceedings of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, you might think that there's no money to be made in education.

Back in the bad old days when they were publicly struggling, there was talk of splitting off the trade division and selling it as a going concern to raise funds to keep the conglomerate afloat.

Now McGraw-Hill has gone and split off their educational publishing division, to keep it separate from the non-fiction and financial publishing. What's the point of that? The stockholders don't like how education is looking these days. There's just no money in it.

As HMH showed us, the market for textbooks is down. School boards have to pare expenses, and there isn't much room to maneuver. Teachers, janitors and lunchroom monitors are holding to their contracts, so there's no cutting of salaries. It's the supplies that have to go, and that includes books.

Now comes word that the spin-off isn't so much a spin off as a split, the sort of thing that HMH considered but dropped because trade publishing was making money.

McGraw-Hill may be planning to dispose of the drag on the bottom line that is educational publishing, assuming that someone would want the thing.

Certainly Barry O'Callaghan might have lusted after it at one time, but his little minnow of an educational publishing materials company choked to death and the dream of building the world's biggest education publisher expired.

Given what happened to Houghton Mifflin, Harcourt, Riverdeep, Greenwood, et al., you'd think that hedge fund managers might be hesitant to dip a toe into such dangerous waters.

Even if countless synergies were realized (countless employees shown the door), could McGraw-Hill's education unit be made profitable enough to appeal to investors? Is it really worth $3 billion, given the decline in sales?

All you hear about these days is that textbooks and other educational materials are going digital, getting downloaded onto e-readers and iPads and tablets. The book is going the way of the dinosaur.

There's something in that notion. The public's appetite for new, updated textbooks every couple of years has declined and isn't likely to build any time soon. Why not just download the new material and be done with it?

The buyers are looking to save money, while the likes of McGraw-Hill are looking to make money. If an investor could find the place where the two conflicting notions meet, the education division could make it.

But the return on investment won't be high.

There's just no money in education.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

It's Not The Writing, It's The Story

Even after you've done all that you are supposed to do to make your manuscript marketable, you'll be rejected.

It's not your writing. It's your story.

Publishers want to buy manuscripts for things that they believe will sell. Which is why avid readers start to think that they are reading the same thing over and over, as publishers pick up the same story over and over because that's their business model.

When it comes to fiction, they can be right as much as they are wrong. Considering the decline in book sales, they've been mostly wrong of late.

But sometimes, the big publishing houses get it right.

In the case of Rielle Hunter's tell-all memoir, the majors didn't want anything to do with it. They didn't think it would sell.

And they were spot on.

There are a lot of women in publishing, and all those ladies recognized the animosity that the average female book purchaser would feel towards a woman who carried on an affair with a married man whose wife was dying of cancer.

Of course Ms. Hunter justified her reasons in her book, but her lame excuses weren't going to win readers to her side. The proof lies in the sale of 8,000 copies sold to date. It's no blockbuster.

The critics largely panned it, citing the memoir as a string of excuses for conduct that is seen as morally reprehensible. 

BenBella Books took a chance but they paid out a pittance of an advance. Even they didn't expect much return on a book with a limited market.

The brief book tour is done. The round of talk shows has been completed, and all those appearances did nothing to boost sales for a book that nobody much wanted to read. It's back to obscurity for Rielle Hunter, published author with a poor history of sales.

Of course, there's always the fiction market to be cracked. It's just a matter of finding the right plot and then getting the manuscript to a literary agent at the right time, who will then deliver it to an acquisition editor in need of that particular story at just that very time.....

Or maybe she should get herself an MFA.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Giving It All Away

Chuck Feeney made a fortune in duty free shops.

Literally a fortune.

At the same time, he lived modestly. No big mansion, no expensive fleet of cars. His neighbors would have thought him to be an average man, and he was of blue-collar stock.

No one heard much about Chuck Feeney of the Asian string of duty free shops. He wasn't in the newspapers, being seen at fabulous parties surrounded by celebrities.

What does a man do with a fortune, if he's not spending it?

He could leave it behind to ungrateful relations, of course, or he could leave it behind to charities and hope that it's distributed as planned.

Instead, Mr. Feeney decided to make his donations while he was living, to put money where he saw the biggest need. And he saw that need in his ancestral homeland.

To date, the Irish-American billionaire has given over one billion euro to improve third level education and promote the cross-border peace process.

His charitable organization, Atlantic Philanthropies, has nearly completed the task of relieving Mr. Feeney of the burden of his wealth. The group plans to shut down by 2012 after disbursing the remaining funds.

In the Bible it says that a wealthy man will find a difficult time of it, trying to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Give away all you have, Jesus said, and there's Chuck Feeney following the suggestion that few, if any, could actually do.

And he's done it without making big announcements. The charity has been done quietly, without the donor seeking anything beyond the satisfaction of knowing that he's doing the right thing for those who need help. He doesn't need public acclaim or accolades or a trip to the White House to receive some honorarium.

Just under 2 billion euro remains, and Mr. Feeney plans to target his giving to areas he feels are most keenly in need.

Quietly. Without fanfare.

A rare man indeed.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Authorities Suspect Drink Was Involved

The party was held on an exclusive estate in a very posh area of New York, where publishing moguls like to relax on a hot summer weekend.

Security was tight. Access to the fete was closely guarded. No one who was not invited was to be allowed in.

How then is one to crash such a doing?

David Fink and Simon Kinsella were familiar with the area. They realized that there was one access point not so tightly controlled, and they wanted to get in.

Not that they were on the guest list. The two men in question wanted to barge into Mitt Romney's fundraiser in East Hampton and create mayhem. So clearly, they are not not supporters of this particular candidate.

Off they went in a boat across Georgica Pond, putt-putting over water towards the estate of cosmetics mogul Ronald Perelman.

Hearts beating with excitement, breathless with anticipation, they imagined what they might do with their protests against all things Republican. So close to their goal. Almost there.

And then...

Security personnel aren't so dense as all that. The police had their own boats out there on Georgica Pond, and they intercepted the crafty boatmen well before they could reach their destination.

Mr. Fink and Mr. Kinsella did their best to evade capture, but alas, they ended up running into a police boat which was not a wise maneuver on their part. Authorities reported that one of the miscreants attempted to swim for it, but one man's Australian crawl is no match for a motor.

The lads have been charged with resisting arrest (see running into police boat), along with disorderly conduct (that would be attempting to crash a party to which they were not invited).

A pair of eejits, you say? Thinking that they could sail into a party with tight security?

Authorities ought to do a quick blood alcohol test on these two. A sober man would never have come up with such a stupid idea, and it would require a big feed of drink to encourage someone to even attempt such a scheme.

There'll be a fine paid, and Mr. Fink and Mr. Kinsella will return to their friends as heroes, to a hero's welcome. Will there be toasts and more drinks, so?

Saturday, July 07, 2012

A Book Trailer Falls In The Forest And...

...does it make a sound if no one is there to hear it?

Publishers advertise their wares to entice readers to buy their books. It's basic business.

Keep your eyes open on Twitter and you'll find all sorts of give-aways of books about to be laid down. You'll be directed to websites for the author being hyped, to the publisher's website where you can read a sample chapter, and on and on and on.

Often, you'll be given a link to a book trailer.

It's a commercial, in essence, the sort of thing you'd see on television if you weren't clicking past it to avoid the annoyance of watching commercials when all you want to see is The Mentalist.

So why would a publisher spend money to produce a commercial when people don't want to watch commercials? Does anyone really pay attention to book trailers? Has anyone thought to do a market survey to find out if a book trailer helps to sell books?

Nina Metz thinks people would watch them, if the trailers were done well.

The problem is, they're not much to look at. Marketing budgets are small, and when a publisher is throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, there isn't a lot of cash in the kitty to produce something that's more along the lines of a well-crafted music video.

But even if production quality was high, would a visual help to promote a product that has to be filtered through the reader's imagination?

As Ms. Metz has noticed, book trailers aren't a big part of book promotion. You get the sense that publishers are going through the motions, not convinced that the bright young lights in marketing really know what they're doing, but maybe they do, because they're young and in touch with their demographic so let's try it.

A video can't show you an author's voice. Nor can it create the feeling a reader has when absorbing prose and developing a personal picture of the characters and the setting.

As readers, do we really want someone else doing that for us? How often have you been disappointed by Hollywood's treatment of a book you've read? Not how you pictured the room, the character's reaction, the dress---that's part of the beauty of reading.

The few book trailers I've seen have done nothing to inspire me to go out and pick up a particular novel. It's the book itself that does the selling, the opening pages or the jacket copy.

A commercial for a book?

No thanks. We're used to cable television. We don't watch commercials anymore.

Friday, July 06, 2012

First You Say You Will, Then You Say You Won't

So much for secrecy.

HBO was said to be picking up an option on an unflattering biography of Roger Ailes, the man who put Fox News on the map. Gabriel Sherman already made his name as an Ailes nemesis with "The Elephant In The Green Room". HBO's special was said to be based on a biography that Mr. Sherman was writing, to be published by Random House (not owned by Rupert Murdoch. Yet).

Then words trickled out about the project, about who was producing, about their current employer being MSNBC. And then HBO said they wouldn't be making that HBO special about Mr. Ailes after all.

It didn't help HBO that they're affiliated with CNN, which is losing badly in the 24-hour news ratings.

Critics would be quick to dismiss the Ailes event as highly partisan and largely fictitious, a product of jealousy and liberal bias from producers Joe Scarborough and Mike Brzezinski. Critics on Fox News, which has the largest audience, would certainly make a great deal of who was behind the program, and that wouldn't do much to bring in an audience.

Who would want to sign up for HBO with their cable provider, just to get a show that's been lambasted and mocked? Given the current state of the economy, HBO wouldn't much want the more conservative customers cancelling their subscriptions, either.

According to reports from those who were trying to put the deal together with HBO, the cable movie channel was doing its best to keep things quiet. Then they could spring this program on the public at just the right time in the election cycle, and make people think that Fox News isn't all that so turn your dial to MSNBC or CNN.

Some have suggested that HBO pulled the plug without first telling the MSNBC-affiliated producers who thought they had a brilliant plan to undermine their chief competitor.

No matter.

It's all about the money, and HBO would have carried on if they could have scored a ratings winner and turned a nice profit.

Think Boardwalk Empire, but news instead of booze.

Instead, the Ailes bash started looking like a potential fiasco that would have lost money, a bad deal, and that's the end of it.

Given that MSNBC is on a tighter budget than HBO, it's not likely that they'd produce the biopic.

Maybe someone at Cinemax would take it on? If the writers can put in a little more skin, maybe? How about Showtime, anyone there up for a movie treatment that's already gotten some negative publicity?

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Online Advertising And Profits

Given the chance, you'll click to skip an online ad. If you can't skip it, you might just open another window and go somewhere else while the commercial is running.

It's people like you (okay, like all of us), not paying attention to the online ads, who have caused Microsoft to take a hit on their investment in online advertising.

I'm sure that when aQuantive was invented, there was all kinds of hype about the vast sums of money to be made in product promotion on the Internet.

Huge audience, easy access to market share, get your stuff out there in front of countless eyeballs....but no one ever thought to consider human behavior when it comes to advertising.

No one will watch an ad if they can avoid it, and with a computer, it's easy to avoid.

Microsoft got burned so badly on their acquisition of aQuantive that the write-down on the loss will wipe out the corporation's profits for the year. That means that Microsoft spent big to get the best of Google, and it lost big. Lost it all. aQuantive ended up having no value.

What would anyone expect, considering how poorly Facebook has done?

The money-making potential of Facebook rested in its advertising revenue, but it hasn't taken long for vendors to realize that their ads are ignored there and they're throwing away money in marketing campaigns without an audience.

Google sells ads and makes money, but if you're looking for something and the vendor selling that something pops up, you'll click on it. You are a more active participant when you use a search engine. The rest of the time, it's too much like television commercials.

Sadly, even the Bing search engine isn't generating the revenue that Microsoft had hoped for. It can't beat out Google, hasn't gotten any traction, and may be a drag on Microsoft's bottom line as well.

Oh, and Microsoft's writedown? $6.2 billion. So they're still making money at what they do best. It's the expansion element that's a struggle. But then again, that's the free market at work.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

When The Moment Arrives

Those of us lucky to still have jobs find that we are working more than before. Or so it seems.

At any rate, whether the hours are up or down, there are not enough hours in the day to work full time and put as much time into writing as is needed to accomplish anything.

That being the case, I have some bonus time that I will gather up and hoard today. I can write for a full hour, with no interruption. Guarantted.

I'm off to work on a manuscript of my own, to lose myself in the past.

There's a manuscript to be edited for Newcastlewest Books, but that feels too much like work and this is my hour to not work.

Go read a book.

And don't forget the big sale going on over at Smashwords. Use that 50% off coupon and get some intriguing fiction that you won't be able to put down.

Enter offer code SSW50 and take advantage of a deal that's running through the month of July.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

It's For The Children, Is It?

What do you do when the government sends you free money?

You go out and spend it.

Yes, but, that money they've given you is to be spent on the children. It's the Children's Allowance that's arrived.

So it's not to be spent on beer, no matter what it says in the sales flyer from Centra.

Centra has been made to apologize for their latest advertising campaign, which features a variety of foods that are marked down in price to celebrate Benefit Day.

It looks bad, to put beer into the mix when every responsible shop owner should be promoting the use of government funds to benefit the children, as intended.

Just because it's Ireland doesn't mean that the under-16s are drinking beer instead of milk. Although in some homes, it's certainly possible. And I'm not referring to the use of Guinness as an iron supplement, either.

What Centra's ad has done is to point out the fact that once the government lets go of the money, the recipient is free to spend it as they wish. All the fuss and flutter about cutting the benefit allowance as part of an austerity budget becomes a comedy when the taxpayers can point to the Centra advert and claim that the cuts are justified.

People don't work hard at their jobs to have their money given away to slackers for beer, when those hard-working taxpayers can't afford to buy beer themselves.

Regina Doherty, Fine Gael TD from Meath East, is upset with the advertisement, choosing to blame the industry. They've ignored the standards set by the government, she says, and implies that further regulation may be needed.

But consider the fact that it's the adults who have to go into a shop to buy the food that's being paid for by the benefit allowance. What shopkeeper doesn't know that you have to attract the adults, and not the children?

What vendor isn't aware that the adults don't spend every penny of the allowance on the children, but use some of it for themselves because there's nothing to stop them from doing so?

When the children are the ones to take responsibility for their own food purchases, Centra can be castigated for promoting cheap beer. But if children are taking responsibility for their own food purchases, it speaks of a far graver problem than an advertisement aimed at their parents.

Monday, July 02, 2012

The Expense Of A Grand Gesture

The household charge that is part of the new austerity budget in Ireland is, as you would imagine, highly unpopular.

Who has a spare hundred euro to toss back at the State that needs the extra money because it was reckless?

Socialist Party member Clare Daly has certainly been vocal in her opposition to the new tax. So vocal, in fact, that she had to travel around the country to express her opposition.

At taxpayer expense, of course.

Ms. Daly claimed she was over 22,000E out of pocket for all her many travel expenses, and she doesn't see why her expense claims should be investigated, let alone questioned.

It's important work she's doing, campaigning against an unpopular tax. She's entitled to be compensated in this quest, undertaken not as a private citizen but as a sitting member of Dail Eireann.

And all this travel, the equivalent of a salary for someone laid off because the government can't afford to employ everyone due to the need for austerity, is to be compensated so that Ms. Daly doesn't have to pay for her official duties out of her official salary.

No, she wishes to turn over a large part of her salary to the Socialist Party so that they can further their advance into Irish government and one day create the People's Republic of Ireland! Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but....your hard-earned income. Hand it over so Ms. Daly can roam the country without having to use her own hard-earned income. It's for your own good. Ms. Daley and her fellow socialists know what's best. Don't question.

Hasn't socialism worked well every place else it's tried? For those who are in charge it has, and there's Clare Daly leading the troops to march against the household charge that's been levied because the non-People's Republic of Ireland is skint.

And why should the Socialists be pushed away from the trough when Sinn Fein's Pearse Doherty has been gorging himself on taxpayer money? He claimed travel expenses for the cost of renewing his driving license. For the tires on his car. For the oil.

How is that those who are the loudest in barking about the worker and worker's rights and entitlements are those who feel most entitled to help themselves while the rest can go hungry?

None so blind as those who will not see, or something along those lines.