Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Corruption vs. Wealth

It's passe, and even risible, to claim that America is the hope of the world. That idea died with Reagan, and his 'shining city on a hill'. Even Superman recently questioned the 'American Way' he once fought for (as his old TV show claimed).

It's not just from the left that one hears this relentless drumbeat, either. Jim Rogers, a staggeringly wealthy (by most standards) investor, uprooted his family from America, where he made his reputation and fortune, to China. China, he has often said, is the future.

At right is a chart from a very insightful website indicating the state of the world's corruption. What stands out to me is that the poorest countries are the most corrupt, with Africa the clear 'winner'.

From the site: 'Petty bribery increased the most in Chile, Colombia, Kenya, FYR Macedonia, Nigeria, Poland, Russia, Senegal and Thailand. And bribery was most often an activity of the poor and the young.'

Furthermore, the most corruption - hands-down - stemmed from representatives of political parties. As was once observed by The Sopranos - 'these guys make us look like amateurs'.

Also note that this chart holds that Asia has over twice the incidence of corruption as the US.

What does this mean? To me it means that wealth has an inverse ratio to moral (however you choose to define that) corruption. The more dishonest a society is, the poorer it will be.

We get quite an earful about the Bernie Madoffs of this world. But such headlines don't offer a clear indication of where a society is headed, because people like that have always existed. What matters is the integrity of a society, and what it truly believes and honors - not what it pays mere lip service to.

Our true societal values are masked with a flimsy cloak of political correctness. It's wrong to hate (at least openly) Jews or 'minority' races. But it is permissible, and even encouraged, to hate designated strawmen. Sarah Palin, for example, is someone for whom various forms of hatred are often expressed. It is likewise permissible, and encouraged, to hate those who do not conform to whatever is currently 'politically correct'.

In the end, the most decent, just and honorable societies will triumph. If that is China, so be it, but it is far from proven that a still-totalitarian state can lead billions to a higher moral level. If it's the USA, we have some soul-searching (and a lot of re-inventing) to do.

If it's some other nation that's destined to rise up and become 'the shining city' that leads the world, there are an awful lot of people right now who are wondering where on Earth that might be.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Riding the wave: Making a living as a novelist

On Facebook, James T. Jordan pointed out how far Patriots would have to go to catch the Suzanne Collins sales phenomenon Hunger Games.

True dat. But indie novels are sailing along on a great confluence of events right now (a subject for a subsequent post), and one does not need to launch quite the high-octane rocket that Collins (or John Locke or Amanda Hocking or Kerry Wilkinson... etc.) did in order to earn a decent living.

Authors with decent books who work effectively (and hard) at promotion are not necessarily making headlines, but they are making a living.

Newly-minted romance author Theresa Ragan regularly publishes sales reports. Releasing six books over the course of a year, she sold nearly 200,000 copies.

From this thread I teased out a few more stories:

Traditionally-published romance author Bella Andre was dropped by S&S. She went indie and sold 265,000 self-published e-books between the Spring of 2010 and the end of October 2011. (She later added that the total had spiked past 400,000 by Feb 17, 2012.)

It was 'smiles all round' at Jake Barton's place last year: "There’s no disputing Jake Barton, the alleged writer, has had a good year... just over 66,000 paid sales in the UK alone..."

J. Carson Black recounts her rise: "Darkness On The Edge Of Town was listed in June 2010 – and sold only one book. The following month, two books were purchased. It took eight months to hit sales of 100; with 137 in February 2011. Then things began to change. In March sales hit 1,280, and in April, I sold a staggering 10,000 books. If this wasn’t enough to make me scream with joy, in May sales hit more than 70,000 books. I was selling 2,000 books a day. Now Amazon’s mystery and thriller imprint, Thomas & Mercer, has signed me to their growing team of authors. To date (November 2011), I've sold over 300,000+ copies."

From the December 9, 2011 Wall Street Journal: "This past May, Ms. Chan decided to digitally publish [her book] herself, hoping to gain a few readers and some feedback. She bought some ads on Web sites targeting e-book readers, paid for a review from Kirkus Reviews, and strategically priced her book at 99 cents to encourage readers to try it. She's now attracting bids from foreign imprints, movie studios and audio-book publishers, without selling a single copy in print. The story of how Ms. Chan joined the ranks of best sellers [it has sold over 400,000 copies] by brand-name authors like Michael Connelly, James Patterson and Kathryn Stockett... is as much a tale of digital marketing savvy and strategic pricing as one of artistic triumph. Her breakout signals a monumental shift in the way books are packaged, priced and sold in the digital era." (Worth reading in its entirety.)

David Dalglish says he has sold over 175,000 of his books.

"It’s been one crazy year for two debut novelists writing under a new name, Saffina Desforges. Last Christmas [2010] the brand was completely unknown. Their book, Sugar & Spice, was barely a month old on Amazon and had sold precisely nothing. Not until February, three months after we launched, that we even made double figures!  It seemed the gatekeepers who had turned us away were right. Weeks became months. March became May. We were selling nothing. But by late summer, Sugar & Spice went on to break the 100,000 sales barrier."

E-book rock star Tina Folsom: Including my latest release, I've self-published eight full-length novels [since 2010], three novellas and three short stories, so 14 titles in total. In the last 12 months, I've sold over 300,000 copies of my books, and that excludes any freebies. My novels generally cost around $4.99-$5.99, my novellas $2.99 and my short stories 99 cents. The majority of those 300,000 units sold is attributed to my novels.

San Francisco Bay Area Author Barbara Freethy has sold over one million units of her self-published titles in 2011.  Unlike independently published authors who publish at the $0.99 price point to fuel sales, Freethy's books are primarily priced between $2.99 and $5.99. Her self-published books come from her extensive backlist, whose rights were reverted after the books went out of print. Freethy repackaged the books and put them on sale again, finding gold in books that had been taking up space in her closet.

Gemma Halliday Sells Her 1-Millionth Self-Published Ebook!!! 

Stephen Leather: "After selling close to half a million eBooks over the past twelve months I’m now taking a step back from self-publishing."

Victorine Lieske is a best-selling author and self-published her first book, Not What She Seems, in April of 2010.  In March of 2011 the book hit the New York Times best-selling ebook list, where it stayed on the list for six weeks. By May 2011 she had sold over 100,000 copies.

Terri Giuliano Long: Now, seven months after my discouraging conversation with the agent, my book has been in the Amazon top 200 for over five months – and sold over 80,000 copies.

You get the idea. Skipping the dues-paying tales and self-congratulations, the bottom line is that there are suddenly dozens of authors who have sold, according to Amazon, 50,000 or more books during 2011. Most of these folks you've never heard of - and probably will never hear from again, either, after the e-book bubble bursts. Some of the authors listed below, however, will by then have established their careers on this beachhead.

Rachel Abbott - Only the Innocent has been shifting more than 3,000 copies a day on Amazon.  
Susan Alison - over 50,000  
Dani Amore - 50,000
Bella Andre - over 400,000 as of Feb 17, 2012
Melody Anne - over 150,000  
Jake Barton - over 66,000 paid sales in the UK alone
Robert Bidinotto - 58,260
J. Carson Black - over 300,000
Cheryl Bolen - 145,000 
Catherine Bybee - 50,000 
Sarra Cannon - 50,000
Karen Cantwell - 50,000
Ruth Cardello - 50,000
Darcie Chan - over 400,000 copies
Mel Comley - over 50,000 since Sept 2011  
Blake Crouch - 50,000
Chris Culver - 50,000
David Dalglish - around 175,000
Carol Davis Luce - 50,000
Susan Denning - 50,000
Saffina Desforges - over 100,000
Mainak Dhar - almost 100,000  
Mark Edwards & Louis Voss - 50,000
Ellen Fischer - over 100,000  
Penelope Fletcher - over 50,000
Tina Folsom - over 300,000
Marie Force - 200,000 in the past year
Melissa Foster - 50,000
Barbara Freethy- over one million
Debora Geary - 50,000
Lee Goldberg - 50,000
Denise Grover Swank - 50,000
Allan Guthrie - over 63,000     
Gemma Halliday - over 1 million
Ruth Harris - 50,000
Liliana Hart - "should hit 100,000" in about a month  
Michael Hicks - 50,000
Amanda Hocking - Over the past 20 months she has sold 1.5m books and made $2.5m.
Debra Holland - 50,000
Sheila Horgan - well over 80,000
Hugh Howey - over 50,000  
Nancy C. Johnson - 50,000
Ty Johnston - over 60,000
Heather Killough-Walden - 50,000
Selena Kitt - half a million ebooks sold in 2011
J.A. Konrath - over 500,000 ebooks
Laura Landon - 50,000
Eve Langlais - over 56,000
Stephen Leather - close to half a million eBooks over the past twelve months
Jason Letts - almost 50,000  
Victorine Lieske - she self-pubbed her first book, Not What She Seems, in April 2010.  In March of 2011 the book hit the New York Times best-selling ebook list, where it stayed for six weeks. By May she had sold over 100,000 copies.
John Locke - more than 1,100,000 eBooks in five months
Terri Giuliano Long - my book has been in the Amazon top 200 for over five months – and sold over 80,000 copies.
Carol Davis Luce - 120,000 sales for 6 suspense novels in 6 months
CJ Lyons - 230,000 copies of one book in only two months and in almost a dozen countries. In addition to her six traditionally published novels, CJ now has nine books self e-published with sales of almost half a million books in 2011 alone.
H.P. Mallory - over 200,000 e-books in less than one year.  
KC May - 50,000
Bob Mayer - 347 eBooks in January 2011. By July, I was selling over 65,000 eBooks a month. By year's end, I had sold over 400,000 eBooks.
David McAfee - 50,000
Stephanie McAfee - my e-book sold 145,325 copies from January to August 2011
Courtney Milan - 50,000
Rick Murcer - 135,000 copies of two ebooks in 4.5 months
Scott Nicholson - 50,000
Anne Marie Novark - over 75,000     
Shayne Parkinson - over 50,000
Michael Prescott - 995,000
Rose Pressey - over 54,000 since April 2011  
Michael Prescott - 50,000
T.R. Ragan - in 10 months, she's sold over 160,000 books
Terri Reid - 60,000 ebooks in her first year
Adam Rendon - over 100,000
Lexi Revellian - 50,035 as of Feb 17, 2012
Shadonna Richards - 50,000
Imogen Rose - 50,000+
Nick Russell - 50,000      
L.J. Sellers - 50,000  
Michele Scott - Over 100,000 books in two months
Tori Scott - 50,000
LJ Sellers - 50,000
Christopher Smith - 50,000
Katie Stephens - 50,000  
Michael J Sullivan -Over 90,000 copies of five books     
Laura Taylor - 50,000
Vicki Tyley - 50,000
Michael Wallace - 50,000
Kathleen Valentine - nearly 50,000
Heather Killough-Walden - her series of four books sold over half-million copies.  
Michael Wallace - over 80,000
Kerry Wilkinson - his Jessica Daniel detective novels sold over 250,000 copies
Rachel Yu - over 60,000  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Corruption is largely a matter of opportunity

One of the contentions of Patriots is that human corruption is largely a matter of opportunity. "The 99%" aren't less corrupt than "the 1%", the opportunity for grant theft simply does not ordinarily present itself to most folks.

I was reminded of this by today's article re a lottery winner who cheated his co-workers out of their share of the winnings. But scroll down and see the stories of other lottery winners.

This was a central facet of the box-office blockbuster The Dark Knight, in which white-knight Harvey Dent - who could live freely and openly - was demonstrably 'corruptible', whereas Batman - who had to operate in secret - was not.

The Zen of Steve

"...Jobs’ chutzpah as the Valley’s most dramatic and effective showman was inspired... by the mythical Zen rogues who drank sake, caroused with whores, shunned temples, mocked hollow rituals, sat zazen in caves, and turn out to be the only ones worthy of inheriting the old master’s robe and bowl by the end of the story. Zen flourishes in irreverence, subversion, inscrutability, and self-mockery — all words that describe Jobs’ style but the last."

More and better insight into Steve Jobs than you'll find in that overblown biography: 'What Kind of Buddhist was Steve Jobs, Really?'

How to get removed from my Twitter feed

Post sensationalistic (and completely untrue) headlines like this one to sell your wares: "Amazon to stop selling books". (The link contains an ad for his book.) Besides being a complete waste of my time, it's disgusting, sleazy, and cheap. Good Riddance to "John Cox" or "Paul Dorset" or whatever this one's calling itself today. Ugh.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Public altruism: The refuge of scoundrels and thieves

We've all seen the impassioned Kony 2012 pleas. Got one posted to my front page on Facebook the other day, in fact. Well, I worked in New Jersey's political coal mines a few years. I've seen fraud and I've known more than a few phonies. I don't mean the pols - you expect it from them - I mean the 'reformers' elected via baldfaced vote fraud, the 'waterfront activists' in bed with developers, and of course the media looking steadfastly the other way, lest they tell an unpopular story.

I've smelled frauds before, and 'Kony 2012' had a familiar whiff. So I waited. And watched.

Sure 'nuff. Here's something posted a few days ago by someone else with a well-developed olfactory sense:

Scott MacDonald
"Taking down Kony is a good cause, but the group behind this video isn't all sweetness and light.
If you have a Facebook account, you've seen it by now: Make Him Famous: Kony 2012. Over the past few days, the 30-minute YouTube video has gone way past the tipping point – eight million page views and counting – to become a social-media tsunami... Taking down Kony is certainly a cause worth getting behind, but if the millions of people currently "liking" Kony 2012 spent just five minutes Googling Invisible Children, they might not be so full of liking anymore. The group has been criticized for years – most recently by Foreign Affair and The Independent – for manipulating the truth, directing donations to questionable recipients, using the bulk of the donations to support their own activities, and more."

The piece goes on to dissect the problem. But all this was written before the flying, flaming clown running this show pulled a PeeWee Herman:

Jason Russell, 33, the filmmaker behind the very viral “Kony 2012” campaign, was allegedly found masturbating in public and vandalizing cars...

No doubt there's more to come - and it won't get any better, either.

Thought I smelled somethin'.

Relationship between shutdowns of file-sharing sites and torrents

The evidence appears overwhelming: The recent shutdown of file-sharing sites seems to have had a direct correlation with a sharp uptick in torrents.

What's working (and what's not) on Pinterest

It's still growing like a weed. The quality of the images found on the top pinners' sites is only improving, and expanding nicely in its variety. But Pinterest does not do nearly enough to ensure that the original posters (both those who bring the images inside Pinterest as well as the original 'outside' posters) are properly linked and credited. There is technology that could improve this, but Pinterest is not employing it, at least not yet.

More thoughts here.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Google+'s inherent - and inherited - problem

Recently, Virginia Postrel threatened to take her business elsewhere if Facebook forced Timeline on her. Though her friends voiced support, the fact is that folks resist uprooting and re-establishing themselves on another social network without 'sufficient' cause, and Timeline is almost certainly an insufficient reason.

Google+ has been attempting to establish itself as FB's main rival. This is not an incidental effort on Google's part, but critical to its future growth. Yet despite Google's institutional muscle, the effort is a relative failure.

Various explanations have been offered for this, but I have found none of them satisfactory - until today. This piece from Nick Bilton's 'Bits' column for the NY Times, IMHO, nails it.

What do Bilton's conclusions mean for the future of Google+? Can they 'fix it'? Not really - the problem is inherent within the nature of the institution that is Google. Can 'the institution' be fixed, then? Our own history insists that broken or obsolete institutions periodically need to be 'altered or abolished'. Ask Linda Stone, sometime, about her efforts to change Microsoft's culture from the inside out.

If Google can't do it, can ANYone overtake the Facebook juggernaut? History tells us that it's not only possible, but eminently likely. It was not so long ago that AOL ruled the 'social media' scene, and thereafter it was MySpace. Both have long since fallen on hard times.

Could Google simply acquire the strongest FB competitor and win the social media wars that way? Again, the historical record speaks to us. This time it tells us that the answer is yes... and no. 'Yes', Google could certainly acquire an up-and-comer, and Yahoo once did with Flickr. Yes, start-ups need sugar daddies. But no, this strategy does not win the day for Google. Yahoo's wet-blanket corporate culture killed the spirit of innovation at Flickr, which could have evolved offshoots like, for instance, Instagram. The writing was on the wall when Flickr's founders walked away in frustration.

The real solution here lies in recalling just what it is Google really needs from Google+, which is: User information. Facebook won't give it up to Google, so Google attempted to build its own social network. And it failed - at least, it failed in terms of the scale it needs to achieve going forward. But that's not to say another emerging social network might not be able to reach an innovative accommodation with Google that gives the search giant much of what it needs without surrendering to a corporate kiss of death.

This is not just a 'possible' outcome, but a 'likely' one, and as such it's well worth keeping an eye out for.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Shift Happens"

We are in the middle of the biggest boomlet in publishing since the mid '30's innovation of the paperback novel, which gave rise to the term 'pulp fiction' for cheap books that were quickly-wrought (but poorly done) so as to take advantage of the explosion. Bookstores closed in droves, and the dimestore novel (so-called because it was sold in 5-and-dime stores) reigned supreme. This period of great literary expansion gave rise to a few writing careers, particularly Kurt Vonnegut's. He was the dimestore paperback king in his early days, and from there fought his way to widespread recognition. 

Using App-Store Apps for Book Promotion

Today I received this thought-provoking piece by one of the many promo gurus around these days. I ignore most of them, as few have much that's original to say, but Aggie Villanueva's been doing this awhile. She says authors almost completely ignore apps as a means of promotion. I think she's right about this - it's certainly not something I've heard many (any?) authors talking about. Not that I need or want another promotional task to perform, but she makes a compelling case. One point stands out: Your promo blog has a MUCH better chance of being found among all the apps in Apple's store than it does among all the sites on the web. Can't argue there!

Patriots of Mars cover under review today

This site specializes in reviews of cover art. Today it's featuring The Patriots of Mars.

While I'm at it, I should mention the first 'review' of the book itself which appeared about a week ago. Although, the book in fact has not yet been released, so this is - what, a pre-review? A run-up to the release? A teaser, maybe?

Once a few reviews of the finished product have appeared there will be a list-link reflecting on them, but you never forget your first. And this one was especially memorable, as Candice went well out of her way to not only review the book but to dig up information (mostly from this site) to frame her questions intelligently. She took a lot of trouble for someone she barely knew, and I felt touched and honored by that.

Thank you, Candice.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Imminent changes to design of Pinterest pages

News re changes to the layout of Pinterest's pages and some insight into the company's (brief) history, here. Worthwhile for anyone interested in this burgeoning social platform.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Free Irish ditties for St. Patrick's Day (just get Spotify)

Here, I've loaded up more Irish music than you can shake a Shillelagh at. You just need to install Spotify and click the link. (Or punch in "Irish" in the upper-left search box of the Spotify app for a tsunami of more tunes.)

I've been experimenting with Spotify, which for anyone unaware of it is a relatively new music service. Here's what I've found so far: 

(1) You can tell it's a new service - 2/3 of my [80,000+] songs they don't have licenses for, and therefore I can't post them. 

(2) Many of the songs they DID post for me now (one day later) 'cannot be found', and the service is asking me to 'try again'. Thanks a lot, boyos. 

(3) There's a world of 'net piracy trying to swoop down on these guys, and that is partly why many artists are hesitant to participate. (For example, The Beatles won't sign up.) 

(4) The main reason artists won't sign, though, is that they misunderstand the mindset of most fans. The thinking is, "Why would they buy our music if they can get it on Spotify for free?" Of course, that was once the 'music industry's' argument against radio. (Not to mention the handwringing and all-out war over recorded music in theaters! Which spelled the end of economic viability in the musical arts, exactly as forecast by music industry execs of an earlier era. Yessir.) 

What listeners today really want - and the late, great Steve Jobs got this - is to 'own' and control their music. Mainly, they want to build their own playlists, and Spotify (wisely) stops just short of allowing that. 

Despite the still-considerable issues the service has, 'social' music should take off. Whether Spotify will continue to lead the charge is unknown (remember, MySpace was once the king of social media, as was AOL before it. Today's leader is tomorrow's also-ran.). But the concept has now been demonstrated to be viable and vital. 

The great advantage of 'social music' for music lovers is the casual and immediate discoverability Spotify offers. It presents an opportunity to discover music through the ears and experience of people whose musical tastes you respect. Now - odds are, there are few people you think of that way, but with Spotify you'll find 'em, and fast.

This is what Apple wanted their 'Ping' to become, but the sticking point for them was dealing with Facebook, which is where the majority of listeners they want to reach hang out. Steve Jobs found Facebook's terms of engagement 'onerous'. Even after Ping's launch, things got even more fractious between the two companies -- Ping started out with the option to add friends using Facebook Connect, but Facebook blocked access when it discovered that Apple wasn't playing by the rules. FC is actually an open service - unless Facebook decides that it isn't -  and apparently it decided Apple's Ping network was an unwelcome guest. Apple removed the service from Ping, but you'll still see some notes around suggesting you can bring in friends from Facebook.

Facebook claimed the problem was that Apple would have simply sent them too much traffic, which seems suspicious. Some observers believe Facebook (i.e., Zuckerberg) was simply lying.

At the same time, since 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend', one can only wonder why Apple didn't turn immediately to MySpace. On the surface it would seem the two would have seen the mutual opportunities - and Apple already had a strong relationship with MySpace's owner at-the-time, Rupert Murdoch, who had recently launched a newspaper specifically for the iPad. (Murdoch, in fact, has lately admitted that on his watch 'they screwed up MySpace', and the new ownership says a vast remodeling is underway. So Apple may yet cut a deal that could torpedo the fledgling Spotify.)

Anyway, Spotify was leaner and hungrier than Apple. (Almost any company on the planet is leaner than Apple.) They agreed to whatever 'onerous' terms Zuckerberg dished out. The downside for users is that Spotify lacks Apple's clout in the music biz, and so the rollout of this service is likely to remain painfully slow. 

Despite the drawbacks and occasionally spotty service, I've downloaded about as much of my library onto the service as it will allow. Prior to this, I relied largely on the vast wealth of mostly-Blogspot blogs out there to discover new and/or forgotten music (especially 50's-era jazz). Now the opportunity looms for a broad and more-immediate wealth of experimentation. Or at least it does if Spotify gets its act together. They have a LOT of work still do do, and have barely scratched the surface of their true potential. Here's hoping. But if Apple/MySpace manage to come together and build a more compelling service, I'm there. The concept works - in theory. Now it's a question of who will MAKE the concept work, and from there become a dominant force in the music industry. My bet is it'll be the company who's there in the thick of things already, and holding more ready cash than the entire US government. 

Three guesses.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

You have to fight to do what you love

You have to fight your worst tendencies, you have to fight for resources, and you have to fight for your rights. By Paul Graham, Steve Jobs, Robert Krulwich, Lewis Hyde, Hugh MacLeod, Alain de Botton, and the Holstee Manifesto, all wrapped up in a bow. 'Cause, you know, freedom isn't free.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Inside Pinterest's numbers

Despite the company's reluctance to release numbers, studies of Pinterest's external and internal behavior are coming to light.

The most revealing stat was something I had anticipated, and so was gratified to see confirmed: Over 80% of all pins (images collected by users) are re-pins (images found from within Pinterest, rather than from outside sites).  This means that new content is brought into the 'Pinterest Community' by only 20% of its users. The remaining 80%, in effect, 'vote' on how popular and viral that content will become.

A small minority, then, controls what the majority sees. But the majority does decide what of that content will rise to the surface. (See related: Pinclout)

It is also being demonstrated that the Big Kahunas of the Pinterest Community are its early adopters. Newer members are not showing the same commitment. There will be exceptions to this, of course. Despite this, Pinterest users in the aggregate show a level of continued involvement well above that of the average user of other social tools (Twitter, etc.).

Another stat that stands out is the tremendous breadth of linkage that comes out of Pinterest. Esty gets the lion's share of links, and this is understandable. Many artisans and small businesses who use Esty to sell their wares are setting up shop on Pinterest. After that comes Google Image Search, which is again understandable. Google is the prime means of finding images today, though eventually I expect Pinterest to reach a point where it supplants it. After that come Flickr and Tumblr, both geared to the aggregation of visual content.

Yet none of these major, well-known sites has more than 3% of all Pinterest's links. This is truly a long-tail phenomenon that reaches deep into the web.

Source: RJ Metrics