Sunday, January 24, 2010

Media Week 2 (Vol3): Holmes, Death Booths, War of The Worlds, Education

In the NY Times this morning they come out against extending copyright terms and use Sherlock Holmes as an example (NYTimes):

Sherlock Holmes is a vivid example of what happens when copyright is repeatedly extended. In 1976, an extension of the term of copyright for intellectual property gave Conan Doyle’s daughter an opportunity to recapture the right to her father’s legacy in America, which would otherwise have entered the public domain. The term has since been extended further, and there is every prospect of more battles to keep extending it. The reason might simply be called “The Adventures of the Cash Cow.” The various claimants to the Conan Doyle estate argue that they are protecting the Holmes legacy.

But you have to look no further than the local movie theater, where the new “Sherlock Holmes” is playing, to realize that the real goal is protecting a lucrative franchise. The movie is a lot of fun, but Holmes himself — the master of the cerebral has been turned into a brawling action hero — could not be more irreverently served if he were already in the public domain.

(He could be a vampire...)

Also in the NYTimes an article on the industry that is James Patterson (NYTimes):
ACCORDING TO FORBES magazine, Patterson earned Hachette about $500 million over the last two years. Hachette disputes the accuracy of these numbers but wouldn’t provide me with different ones. Regardless, it seems safe to assume that Patterson, who puts out more best sellers in any given year than many publishing houses, is responsible for a meaningful portion of the company’s annual revenues. “I like to say that Jim is the rock on which we build this company,” David Young told me in his office one recent morning.

Like movie studios, publishing houses have long built their businesses on top of blockbusters. But never in the history of publishing has the blockbuster been so big. Thirty years ago, the industry defined a “hit” novel as a book that sold a couple of hundred thousand copies in hardcover. Today a book isn’t considered a blockbuster unless it sells at least one million copies.

The story of the blockbuster’s explosion is, paradoxically, bound up with that of publishing’s recent troubles. They each began with the wave of consolidation that swept through the industry in the 1980s. Unsatisfied with publishing’s small margins, the new conglomerates that now owned the various publishing houses pressed for bigger best sellers and larger profits. Mass-market fiction had historically been a paperback business, but publishers now put more energy and resources into selling these same books as hardcovers, with their vastly more favorable profit margins. At the same time, large stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders were elbowing out independent booksellers. Their growing dominance of the market gave them the leverage to demand wholesale discounts and charge hefty sums for favorable store placement, forcing publishers to sell still more books. Big-box stores like Costco accelerated the trend by stocking large quantities of books by a small group of authors and offering steep discounts on them. Under pressure from both their parent companies and booksellers, publishers became less and less willing to gamble on undiscovered talent and more inclined to hoard their resources for their most bankable authors. The effect was self-fulfilling. The few books that publishers invested heavily in sold; most of the rest didn’t. And the blockbuster became even bigger.

And again in the Times, Motoko Rich realizes that bookclubs aren't for everyone (NYTimes):

There is a different class of reader, though. They feel that their relationship with a book, its characters and the author is too intimate to share. “The pursuit of reading,” Virginia Woolf wrote, “is carried on by private people.”

Ms. Stead remembers having had especially intense feelings about books when she was young. “For me, as a kid, a book was a very private world,” she said. “I didn’t like talking about books with other people very much because it almost felt like I didn’t want other people to be in that world with me.”

Particularly with the books we adore most, a certain reader wants to preserve the experience for reflection, or even claim the book as hers and hers alone. Lois Lowry, an author of books for children and a two-time winner of the Newbery for “Number the Stars” and “The Giver,” said she recently read that Katherine Paterson, also a two-time Newbery winner and now the national ambassador for young people’s literature, had named “The Yearling,” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, as the most influential book of her childhood. “I felt a twinge of ‘no fair, that’s mine!’ ” Ms. Lowry said. “I hastily backed off from that feeling because I know and love Katherine, and it’s O.K. that we share the same book.”

Martin Amis in what could be the most extraordinary link you will ever find on this blog is calling for euthanasia booths - "death booths" in common parlance I expect. (Telegraph):
Martin Amis, the novelist, has compared Britain's fast-growing population of elderly people to "an invasion of terrible immigrants", as he called for ‘death booths’ to be placed on street corners so they can kill themselves.
...
He did not think it would be "too hard" to have some sort of test that established a person's capacity to decide their own fate, he said.

Larger point may be valid...not sure about the tactics.

Penguin has asked authors to select their favorite classic from their list and thus, Will Self on War of The Worlds (Times):
For a modern reader the initial impact of the story is lessened by a sense of scientific anachronism. Unlike Wells, we can’t give any significance to the Italian astronomer Schiaparelli’s observation of canali on the Martian surface (famously mistranslated as “canals”, though he meant “channels”). Certainly, we know — or think we know — that Mars cannot support sentient life. In fact, if there is any life on Mars, it’s more likely to be the kind of microscopic bacteria that in Wells’s book eventually eliminate the invading Martians, despite the vast technological superiority of their teetering tripods, their death rays, their poison gases and their form of biological warfare — the invasive “red weed”.

Yet such is the genius of Wells’s storytelling that it doesn’t take much suspension of disbelief before you do begin finding The War of the Worlds horribly credible. Wells knew how to ground the fantastic in the mundane — and what can be more mundane than the late-Victorian Surrey commuter belt? His descriptive skill lay in juxtaposing death rays with dahlias, and milk churns with the aliens’ giant spaceships. As the Martians proceed to lay waste to London and its environs, Wells seems to take a positive glee in this privet-lined Armageddon, a glee never more to the fore than in the book’s two great set pieces.

From The Twitter last week (@personanondata)

TeleRead references a on last weeks Google Book Search settlement workshop, by Paul Biba (Teleread)


A report on how Online Learning Is Revolutionizing K-12 Education and Benefiting Students (HeritageFoundation):
Virtual or online learning is revolutionizing American education. It has the potential to dramatically expand the educational opportunities of American students, largely overcoming the geographic and demographic restrictions. Virtual learning also has the potential to improve the quality of instruction, while increasing productivity and lowering costs, ultimately reducing the burden on taxpayers. Local, state, and federal policymakers should reform education policies and funding to facilitate online learning, particularly by allowing funding to follow the students to their learning institutions of choice.
Felix Salmon: The Economics of the NYT Paywall (SeekingAlpha):

The way that it seems the NYT paywall is going to work, visitors to nytimes.com will have a free allowance of n articles per month. To read the n+1th article, they will have to pay a subscription fee F. After that, they can read as many articles as they like for the rest of the month.

If a visitor to nytimes.com normally reads N articles per month, then the key number in their mind will be N-n. If reading that number of articles is worth more to them than F, they’ll pay the fee. If on the other hand N-n is small, or perceived value-per-article is small, then they won’t pay. Specifically, if the average value to the reader of any given article is v, then they’ll pay the fee when v(N-n)>F.

Two presentations:

The ALA Top Tech Trends Panel Focuses on End Users and Ebooks (Library Journal)

Social Media, Libraries, and Web 2.0: How American Libraries are Using New Tools for Public Relations and to Attract new Users - Second Survey November 2009 (SlideShare)

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