Seven-and-a-half days of conference programming coming up during 4 days in January

Blog posts have been scarcer for the past couple of months because I’ve been so engaged with a major responsibility: putting together what amounts to 7-1/2 days of conference programming that will be presented on four days next month in New York City.

As most readers of this blog probably know, we’re responsible for the programming of the two-day extravaganza that is Digital Book World. DBW 2013 — taking place on January 16 and 17 at the Hilton New York Hotel — will be the fourth iteration of the event, which aims to explore the commercial challenges facing trade publishing in the digital transition. DBW is not about technology per se; it is about the business problems publishers must cope with in an age of technological change.

DBW’s main two days are divided between morning plenary programming — all 1500+ people in one big room — and afternoon breakouts. We’ll have up to five simultaneous breakout sessions in each of three slots each day. So we have what amounts to 4-1/2 days of programming in the breakouts plus one on the main stage.

Because people really do come from all over the world to attend DBW, we were delighted to agree when they asked us at Publishers Launch Conferences (the conference business I own with Michael Cader) to add a show on each side of theirs to build out a week of programming. (The team at DBW itself are also putting together some pre-conference workshops that will run on Tuesday.)

So on Tuesday, January 15, we’ll do our second annual “Children’s Publishing Goes Digital” conference at the McGraw-Hill Auditorium (put together with the invaluable assistance of our Conference Chair and close friend, Lorraine Shanley of Market Partners). And on Friday, January 18, we’re presenting (in conjunction with the DBW team) a new program called “Authors Launch“, a full day of marketing advice for publisher-published authors. (Self-published authors are welcome and will learn a lot, but the program is framed for authors who are working with publishers, not looking for ways to avoid them.)

Programming the “Children’s Publishing Goes Digital” show revealed what we think will be the most important theme in the children’s book space for the next few years: the development of  digital “platforms” that, like subscription offerings (which some, but not all of them, clearly are), will “capture” consumers and make them much less likely to get ebooks and other digital media from outside of it. The list of platform aspirants in this space is long and varied: Storia from Scholastic; RRKidz from Reading Rainbow (the TV show brand); Poptropica from Pearson (which launched Wimpy Kid before it was a book); Magic Town; Disney; Capstone; and Brain Hive. All of them are presenting, as well as NOOK, which, like Amazon Kindle, has announced parental controls on its platform that encourage parents to manage their kids’ reading experience there.

There are other big issues in children’s publishing, particularly the creation of original IP by publishers so they can better exploit the licensing opportunities that follow in the wake of successful kids’ books. We’ll have data presentations from Bowker and from Peter Hildick-Smith of Codex to help our audience understand how kids books are found and selected outside the bookstore in today’s environment.

But we know that the digital discovery and purchase routines will be markedly affected by the platforms as they establish themselves. Publishers are faced with an interesting conundrum. They can’t reach the audiences that are loyal to a platform without going through the platform. But it is the presence of many publishers’ books that strengthens the attraction of the platform and, once it gains critical mass, the value of the content to it (and probably what it will be willing to pay for the content) is reduced. So publishers licensing content to these platforms may be strengthening beasts that will ultimately eat them. I think the roundtable conversation Lorraine and I will lead at the end of the day, which will include publishers Karen Lotz of Candlewick, Barbara Marcus of Random House, and Kate Wilson of Nosy Crow, will have interesting things to say about that paradox.

We’ve developed some “traditions” in the four years we’ve been doing Digital Book World. As we’ve done the past two years, the plenary sessions will open on Tuesday with the “CEOs’ view of the future” panel organized and moderated by David Nussbaum, the CEO of DBW’s owner F+W Media and the man who really dreamed up the idea of this conference. David will be joined this year by Marcus Leaver of Quarto, Karen Lotz of Candlewick, and Gary Gentel of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. And Michael Cader and I will — as we have every year at DBW — moderate a panel to close the plenaries, “looking back and looking forward” with agent Simon Lipskar of Writers House; Harper’s new Chief Digital Officer, Chantal Restivo-Alessi, and Osprey CEO Rebecca Smart.

Among the presenters on the main stage who will be unlike what our audiences usually hear at a digital publishing conference will be Teddy Goff, the digital director for the Obama campaign, who will talk about targeting and marketing techniques that might serve us well in the publishing world; Ben Evans of Enders Analysis in London, who will tell us how publishing fits into the strategies of the big tech companies (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft) that he tracks regularly*; ex-Macmillan president and now private equity investor Brian Napack, talking with Michael Cader about the investment climate in publishing; and Michael D. Smith, Professor of Information Technology and Marketing from Carnegie-Mellon, talking about a study he and his colleagues have done on the real commercial impact of piracy.

(We’ve also scheduled a breakout session for Teddy Goff so he can talk more about the Obama campaign for those in attendance who want to learn more of its lessons to apply.)

We’re also delighted to have gotten Robert Oeste, Senior Programmer and Analyst from Johns Hopkins University Press, to deliver his wonderfully insightful, entertaining, and informative presentation on XML, the subject so many of us in publishing need to understand better than we do. And we will after he’s done. (We’re also giving Oeste a break-out slot to talk about metadata which I’ll bet a lot of our audience will choose to attend after they’ve heard him on XML.)

(*Late edit: Ben Evans had to cancel.)

Some authors have had remarkable success without help from publishers in the past year, but few or none more than Hugh Howey, the author of “Wool”, who has just signed a groundbreaking print-only deal for the US with Simon & Schuster. His dystopian futurist novel has sold hundreds of thousands of self-published ebook copies and rights all over the world and to Hollywood. We’ll have a chat with Howey about how he did it and we’ll be joined by his agent, Kristin Nelson, for that dialogue. Kristin will stick around to join a panel of other agents (Jay Mandel of William Morris Endeavor, Steve Axelrod, and Jane Dystel from Dystel & Goderich) to talk about “Straddling the Models”: authors who work with publishers but are also doing some things on their own.

We will have several panels addressing the challenges of discovery and discoverability from different angles. One called “Closing the New Book Discovery Gap” teams Patrick Brown of Goodreads with three publishing marketers — Matt Baldacci of Macmillan, Angela Tribelli of HarperCollins, and Rachel Chou of Open Road — and is chaired by Peter Hildick-Smith. That will focus on what publishers can do with metadata and digital marketing to make it more likely their titles will get “found”. Barbara Genco of Library Journal will share data on library patron behaviors and then helm a panel discussion with Baker & Taylor, 3M, Darien Public Library, and Random House exploring the role of libraries in driving book discovery and sales. Another session called “Making Content Searchable, Findable, and Shareable” introduces three new propositions from Matt MacInnis of Inkling, Linda Holliday of Citia, and Patricia Payton of Bowker, along with SEO expert Gary Price of INFODocket. Publishing veteran Neal Goff (who is also the proud father of Obama’s digital director) will moderate that one. MacInnis, Holliday, and Payton offer services that will help publishers improve the search for their books. Price will talk knowledgeably about how the search engines will react to these stimuli.

We’re covering new business model experimentation (with Evan Ratliff of The Atavist, Brendan Cahill of Nature Share, Todd McGarity of Hachette, and Chris Bauerle of Sourcebooks) where publishers discuss ways to generate revenue that are not the old-fashioned ones. We’ll underscore the point that we’re about changes caused by technology rather than being about technology with our “Changing Retail Marketplace” panel, featuring publishers and wholesalers talking about the growth of special sales (through retailers that aren’t bookstores and other non-retail channels).

The future for illustrated books will be discussed by a panel with a big stake in how it goes: John Donatich of Yale University Press, Michael Jacobs of Abrams, Marcus Leaver of Quarto, and JP Leventhal of Black Dog & Leventhal. Two publishers who have invested in Hollywood — Brendan Dineen of Macmillan and Pete Harris of Penguin — will talk about the synergies between publishing and the movies with consultant Swanna McNair of Creative Conduit.

We will have major US publishers and Ingram talking about exports: developments in the export market for books — print and digital. And we’ll have some non-US publishers joining Tina Pohlman of Open Road and Patricia Arancibia of Barnes & Noble talking about imports: non-US publishers using the digital transition to get a foothold in the US market.

One session I think has been needed but never done before is called “Clearing the Path” and it is about eliminating the obstacles to global ebook sales. That one will start with a presentation by Nathan Maharaj and Ashleigh Gardner of Kobo where they will enumerate all the contractual and procedural reasons why ebooks are just not available for sale in markets they could reach. And then Kobo will join a panel conversation with Joe Mangan of Perseus and agent Brian Defiore to talk about why those barriers exist and what might be done in the future to remove them.

Oh, yes, there’s much much more: audience-centric (what I call “vertical”) publishing; the changing role of editors; the evolving author-publisher relationship; and a conversation about the “gamification” of children’s books. David Houle, the futurist and Sourcebook author who wowed the DBW 2012 audience, will return with his Sourcebooks editor, Stephanie Bowen, to discuss their version of “agile” publishing: getting audience feedback to chunks before publishing a whole book.

We will also do some stuff that is more purely “tech”. We have a panel on “Evolving Standards and Formats” discussing the costs and benefits of EPUB3 adoption, which will be moderated by Bill McCoy of IDPF. Our frequent collaborator Ted Hill will lead a discussion about “The New Publishing IT Department”. Bill Kasdorf of Apex will moderate a discussion about “Cross-Platform Challenges and Opportunities” which is about delivering content to new channels.

But purely tech is the exception at Digital Book World, not the rule.

And purely tech won’t show up at all at Authors Launch on Friday, January 18, the day after Digital Book World.

Authors Launch is what we think is the first all-day marketing seminar aimed squarely at authors with a publisher, not authors trying to work without one. It is pretty universally taken as a given that authors can do more than they ever have before to promote themselves and their books and that publishers should expect and encourage them to do that. But, beyond that, there is very little consensus. What should the publisher do and what should the author do? That question is going to be addressed, in many different ways, throughout the day.

The Authors Launch program covers developing an author brand, author involvement and support for their book’s launch, basic information about keyword search and SEO, use of metrics and analysis, a primer on media training, when and how to hire a publicist or other help, and a special session on making the best use of Goodreads. We’ll cover “audience-centric” marketing, teaching authors to think about their “vertical” — their market — and understand it.

The faculty for Authors Launch includes the most talented marketers and publicists helping authors today: Dan Blank, co-authors MJ Rose and Randy Susan Meyers, journalist Porter Anderson, David Wilk, Meryl Moss, Lucinda Blumenfeld, agent Jason Allen Ashlock, and former Random House digital marketer Pete McCarthy.

We have assembled a group of publishers and an agent to discuss how an author should select the best places to invest their time from the staggering array of choices. (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, etcetera.) That panel will include agent Jennifer Weltz of The Naggar Agency as well as Matt Baldacci of Macmillan, Rachel Chou of Open Road, Rick Joyce of Perseus, and Kate Stark of Penguin. Matt Schwartz, VP, Director of Digital Marketing and Strategy for the Random House Publishing Group, will conduct the session on metrics.

A feature of both our Kids show on Tuesday and the Author show on Friday are opportunities for the audience to interact with the presenters in smaller groups so each person can get his or her own questions answered. At Kids we’ll do that at lunchtime, seating many of our presenters at tables with a sign carrying their name so our attendees can sit with them and engage. At Authors Launch, we’ll be conducting rounds of workshops, crafted so that the authors can get help in their own vertical (genre fiction, literary fiction, topical non-fiction, juvies, and so forth), and on the topics of greatest need for them.

We are sure the week of January 15-18 will prove to be an energizing and stimulating one for all of us living in the book publishing world. We hope you’ll join us.

Digital Book World Week | January 15-18, 2013

Children’s Publishing Goes Digital | Tuesday, January 15, McGraw-Hill Auditorium
DBW Pre-Conference Workshops | Tuesday, January 15, Hilton New York Hotel
Digital Book World Conference + Expo | January 16-17, Hilton New York Hotel
Authors Launch | Friday, January 18, Hilton New York Hotel


Amazon as a threat to steal big titles from big publishers is still a ways off

When Larry Kirshbaum, the longtime head of TimeWarner Publishing (purchased right after he left in 2007 by Hachette and now the company called Hachette Book Group USA) joined Amazon many people thought — I among them — that Amazon was about to become a threat to take big titles away from the major publishers and, by doing so, also put pressure on competing retailers who would either have to buy from Amazon or do without major books.

An article last week in The Wall Street Journal spells out just how futile have been Amazon’s efforts so far to upend the Big Six. Their two biggest headline acquisitions — a celebrity bio from actress Penny Marshall and the latest from bestselling non-fiction writer Tim Ferriss — are achieving paltry sales outside Amazon as measured by BookScan.

Michael Cader does some deeper digging to suggest that the high-profile books are not the place to be looking for the successes in Amazon’s publishing. They’re publishing lots of genre fiction and buying up some backlists.

Yet, I can’t believe that the high-profile output from the New York office meets Amazon’s original expectations or Kirshbaum’s. If they miscalculated the impact they could make, maybe it was for the same reason I did. An abrupt slowdown in ebook switchover took hold at about the same moment the Kirshbaum era at Amazon began. Big publishers are reporting that ebook sales are now approaching 30% of their revenue, which is about a 50% increase from what they said last year. That follows several years when ebook uptake increased by 100% or more.

(It is important to note here that the reported figures are a percentage of all revenue. Many titles are not “ebookable”: they’re illustrated books or little kids’ books and, if they have ebook equivalents at all, they don’t sell nearly that percentage. So the digital sales of immersive reading would constitute a somewhat higher percentage than that.)

Amazon as a publisher has advantages and disadvantages against more traditional competitors. They have the advantages of direct customer contact, which pay off in two ways. They can send you an email pitching a book as the logical next one to the one you just read; general publishers can’t do that. And, as the publisher, they have more margin to either pay the author more or charge the customer less, which, either way, increases an author’s revenue through online channels.

But their disadvantages are also significant. For most books, and particularly non-fiction (as both of which the high-profile releases the Wall Street Journal wrote about are), more than half of the sales still come from brick-and-mortar stores. Despite their attempt to secure that exposure by a licensing deal with Houghton Harcourt, the resistance to Amazon from Barnes & Noble and many independent stores and mass merchants has curtailed that distribution.

Apparently Amazon led at least some people to believe with their success on the recent Barry Eisler book that they could sell more copies through their own channels than big publishers could through the entire network. The claim that they had outsold all his previous NY Times bestsellers was made to literary agents in a letter that also cited other great successes, all with genre fiction. Without questioning anybody’s numbers, I was skeptical about the significance of the relative Eisler sales because, it seemed to me, whatever they could do for Eisler (whom they published) they could do for any other book they wanted to, whether they published it or not. So it seems illogical to me that they would somehow magically sell more than the whole trade combined on a book because they were publishing it.  It seems apparent that Amazon isn’t succeeding at persuading agents that the Eisler case, even if it is as portrayed, is replicable.

I saw reports of bitter comments from Tim Ferriss, complaining about Barnes & Noble’s apparently-effective boycott of their competitor’s publishing program. Maybe he would be doing that even if Amazon is selling more than his conventional publishers did before. But I doubt it.

This is not a final answer. Amazon’s share of the trade market — ebooks and online print combined — is still growing and shows no sign of abating. Most publishers would still report that Amazon is their fastest-growing account.

But shelf space erosion — a metric with no reliable index anywhere — seems to have slowed down. That means that, at the moment, we have a more stable book trade than we’ve had for at least five years. It is smaller, but it is more stable. In the US at least, our market of three big ebook players (Amazon, B&N, Apple) and two sturdy and persistent upstarts (Kobo and Google) is still welcoming some new entrants. Zola eBooks, promising some interesting merchandising innovations, and Bookish — the repeatedly postponed effort from three major publishers — are expected to join the fray soon. Sony and Copia and Blio are still trying to gain traction, but they’re also still here.

Amazon definitely has the most advantages. Their Kindle ecosystem is still the best-functioning, deepest in title selection, and benefits in numerous ways from having more readers and selling more ebooks (and books, for that matter) than anybody else. The growth in their genre title base that Cader points out increases their market share of dedicated genre readers, who read other things too. They have the most self-published titles and the best ecosystem for self-published authors to make money. And the big title growth enables them to build subscription or subscription-like capabilities like KOLL (Kindle Owners Lending Library) which do take customers out of the game for everybody else.

As their share of the market grows — as long as it continues to grow — their argument to authors to cast their lot with them gets stronger.

But, for now, it would seem that B&N definitely did the right thing for their own good by boycotting Amazon’s titles. And, for now, it would seem that most of the authors Amazon will get for their general list will be those who are annoyed at the publishing establishment like Konrath and Eisler or curious about working with a tech-oriented publisher like Ferriss.

Authors who want bookstore exposure or to maximize their total sales across the US bookselling universe will remain hard to persuade for the forseeable future. But probably a little less so with each passing day.

I note with sadness the passing of Senator George McGovern. I am proud to have worked on all three of his presidential campaigns: 1968 at the Democratic National Convention working for Pierre Salinger, two years on the 1972 campaign, and a weekend in New Hampshire trying to light a fire in 1984.

What motivated us to join Senator McGovern was primarily his opposition to America’s involvement in Vietnam, but his personal and political appeal went far beyond that. He was extraordinarily decent and straightforward. In my stretch of two years working for him in the early 70s, it was remarkable how consistently he took issue positions we young idealists could be proud of. A poorly-vetted choice for vice-president will always be part of the explanation for why he was crushed, but my friend Professor Wade — one of McGovern’s top strategists — told me years ago that it was the assassination attempt that crippled George Wallace that actually was responsible for the defeat. 

Nixon had won the 1968 election with a little over 40% of the vote. Wallace had taken a share in the high teens. The McGovern planning from the beginning assumed a similar race in 1972. When Wallace was eliminated by the assassination attempt, Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” made him the heir to the Wallace vote and a landslide victory.

In the end, of course, it was Nixon’s vice-president, Spiro Agnew, who went to jail and his administration that ended in disgrace. McGovern was always gracious and never bitterBut, as a country, we’ve never spent enough time contemplating how different things could have been if Bobby Kennedy hadn’t been shot in 1968 or if McGovern had won in 1972.


Royalty Share CEO Bob Kohn alleges DoJ violates the Tunney Act

According to Bob Kohn, an attorney and the CEO of Royalty Share, the Tunney Act very clearly requires that the Justice Department publish (and it was thought originally that this meant “print”) all the public comment they got within the alloted comment period. Kohn says that’s what the law states clearly, as upheld in a prior Court decision.

That period ended on June 25, a deadline which the government missed. Kohn wrote a letter to the court on Monday to keep the DoJ accountable to the public. It looks like the DoJ backed down yesterday, asking the Court to give them until July 20 to publish comments, at least two weeks before the government files a motion with the judge on August 3. This was acceptable to Kohn, as it was consistent with what he asked for. But he still maintains that the DoJ has been in violation of the law since June 25.

To DoJ’s response that what is asked is too demanding — that they need time to review the responses and prepare them for publication — Kohn says “the DoJ can’t have their cake and eat it, too.” He points out that the law allows an extension for DoJ to publish the responses, but only by asking for and receiving an extension in the public’s time to submit responses. If the DoJ didn’t like the law as drafted, Kohn says, they have had 30 years to ask for changes in the law and they never have.

Since it appears that the vast majority of the 800 letters received came near the end of the public comment period, it would seem that an extension might have served the public interest.

But it wouldn’t have served the DoJ’s interests. And it wouldn’t have served the interests of those who want to use what looks to me like a trumped-up allegation of collusion to ratify the settlement agreed to by three companies (two of which have parent companies that own TV stations and have very good reasons to avoid picking fights with the government that licenses them).

(At the time of a publishing industry fundraiser for Obama on June 18, it had been reported that there were 150 responses. Reasonable people at the event disagreed about whether that number was impressively large or not. That apparently four times that many came in during the last week should grab anybody’s attention.)

I said a “trumped-up allegation” of collusion. Two points stand out to me in making that characterization.

One is the inclusion — nay, the trumpeting — of the Picholine dinner in September 2008 as evidence of the conspiracy to implement agency pricing. The evidence in favor of DoJ’s contention is that all six big publishers were in the same room. But the evidence against it is that, at that time, nobody except perhaps a small number of people at Apple knew there would be an iPad, an iBookstore, and an agency model implemented 18 months later. In a word: this “evidence” is ridiculous.

The second is the juxtaposition of the fact that Apple told the publishers “unless there are four, there will be no store” (my attempt at memorable phrasing) with the “allegation” that publishers were asking (and telling) each other whether they were in or not. If Apple told them that — which I contend was only revealing to trading partners a pretty obvious and sensible business decision — then the publishers had no need to confer with each other. So suggesting these reports of what one publisher might have said to another proves “collusion” is only slightly less ridiculous than the Picholine “evidence”.

Since these two elements comprise the most frequently-reported and -cited elements of the collusion case, I think the characterization of the collusion case as “trumped-up” is a reasonable one

Perhaps it is because I’m a Democrat, but I don’t see “collusion” between DoJ and Amazon as the most likely explanation for the suit and the disaster the settlement could engender. What I see is a failure of understanding of what the publishing business is and does, the role publishers and retailers play in it, the impact the Internet is having on it, and what the inevitable impact of forbidding publisher-set pricing will be.

I tried to lay that out clearly in a talk I gave last Monday at George Washington University’s fifth annual Conference on Ethics and Publishing. I think the slides are pretty self-explanatory. I hope you’ll give them a look.

I want to repeat only one point from that speech here. Amazon’s behavior is self-serving, but it is not evil! It is both futile and wrong to blame something in Amazon’s character for the industry’s troubles. Amazon’s shareholders are not primarily interested in the health and well-being of the book publishing ecosystem; they are primarily interested in the growth of Amazon’s value. It is the job of everybody working there to do what they can to enhance it, within the limits of the law and their interaction with their trading partners.

But it is our job as a society, and the DoJ’s job, to think about what the rules of the road should be to deliver what is best for all of us. I have no doubt that if the rules, for example, required retailers to respect all publishers if they wanted to sell on the Agency model and not pick and choose which ones can, Amazon would still do fine.

If this settlement is accepted, I’m pretty sure very few of their trading partners or competitors will.

There’s a lot at stake. It is bad enough that DoJ has pushed the industry in a direction that strengthens the strongest player. It is worse that they’re doing it in a way that is tending to stifle and reduce the impact of public comment. And if, as Kohn alleges, they are doing it in a manner that clearly violates the letter of the law, that would be adding considerable insult to devastating injury.

We had our first free Publishers Launch Conferences webinar yesterday previewing our Publishing in the Cloud conference that will take place on July 26. What was really cool was that a huge percentage of our audience stayed through the entire hour. That tells us that the subject of cutting costs and extending capabilities through Cloud service offerings is one that many in publishing need to know more about.

We’re still offering a deep discount ($150 off the $495 full price) through the end of the day on Friday. An impressive roster of speakers and sponsors, most of whom will be available for the “Conversations with the Experts” session, means that all our attendees will be able to get personalized answers about whatever is their concern.


Auletta’s New Yorker piece is good orientation for thinking about the DoJ case

Writing about the lawsuit the DoJ has instituted against Apple and five leading publishers is very hard. It’s a big issue and doing it justice requires navigating two very large and complex bodies of knowledge: anti-trust law and the trade book publishing business. Whenever I write about it, I feel handicapped because I don’t know much except what I’ve read lately about anti-trust law.

I just know the industry. And I know the arguments for “collusion” or “conspiracy” are mostly built on illogic or misunderstanding of what is called “evidence”.

And I know that all prosecutors have the right and responsibility to decide what cases are worth making. It is on that basis that I think the DoJ is terribly wrong in pursuing this case, that the consequences of doing this will be dire for the industry and the reading public, and — again apologizing for not knowing anything about anti-trust law — that this action will lead directly to a real and obvious monopoly which will have to be addressed at some future time.

Except then it will be too late to undo the damage or to rebuild what will have been destroyed.

The June 25, 2012 issue of The New Yorker has an article by Ken Auletta called “Paper Trail” which is a sympathetic synthesis that untangles and clarifies a complex web of law and behavior. Except for a single sentence where Auletta attributes Microsoft’s investment in a new venture jointly owned with Barnes & Noble to be primarily driven by the desire “to produce a more popular tablet computer” (I think there were other motivations that were more important), I don’t take issue with his presentation of the facts.

(Bob Kohn, the founder and CEO of RoyaltyShare, who is a lawyer experienced and knowledgeable about the issues and who filed his own comments with the DoJ, provides an alternative view to those of the legal experts chosen from academia by Auletta. He is surprised that Barry Hawk of Fordham Law School failed to come up with the well-known 1979 BMI v CBS case, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, as a relevant precedent, and that Tim Wu of Columbia Law School could not understand the obvious point that Amazon was selling the ebooks at a loss to lock people into their ecosystem, where prices could obviously be raised later. But I’ll leave it to the lawyers to argue the law. On the business side, Auletta’s facts were solid and his choice of interviewees on all sides, quite aside from yours truly, was excellent.)

Reading Auletta inspires me to extend or re-emphasize a few things he said or touched on, some of which I learned from his piece.

I perhaps should have known, but didn’t, that Hachette USA had lobbied the Justice Department to examine Amazon’s predatory practices. (And frankly, had I known, I would never have reported it. I’m not a reporter; I’m an independent synthesizer, analyst, and articulator. There’s a difference.) Auletta reports that Hachette made what should be the very powerful argument that their copyrighted material was being used to sell Kindle devices and “drive bookstores out of business”. The point is accurate (and since Auletta’s reporting on an appeal that was made in 2009, also prescient) but elides an even bigger one.

Kindle was locking people into the Amazon purchasing ecosystem. What publishers saw, very early in the game, really, was that Amazon was aggregating customers that would soon find it difficult to get an ebook from any other source. In the parlance: their switching costs would be high. And they were the industry’s best customers.

(I mean, imagine this! “They’re locking customers into their platform with our books by selling them at a loss!” How would any business react? And do you think you need to “collude” with your competitor to come to the same conclusion? Give me a break.)

I was at the least reminded by Auletta’s piece, though perhaps I should already have been aware, that Apple had stipluated to all the publishers that they wouldn’t open iBookstore unless four of the Big Six were on board. That fact gives rise to a series of obvious observations that surely haven’t been mentioned often enough.

1. If that’s true, then all the chatter about publishers discussing their intentions to proceed is one very large and very red herring. Apple had made it clear that there would be four or no store. That’s all any of them needed to know.

2. How could Apple have proceeded any other way? As it was, the biggest of the Six (Random House) holding out really handicapped iBookstore and the Agency Five. Not only did it give Random House (and Amazon) a whole lot of price-advantaged brand-name-author books (with Random House also collecting the higher wholesale-pricing cut from the retailer), it kept those many desireable titles out of the iBookstore.

Most of the other publishers seemed unimpressed with the share iBookstore took of sales in 2010 even though the Random House books weren’t competing. But everybody was delighted with the additional reading screens delivered by iPads that brought them, as well as Random House, a lot more ebook sales through the other ebook retailers.

I don’t think that iBookstore would have been viable for Apple without four of the Big Six. It was perfectly reasonable for Apple to have made that business determination. It would have been irresponsible of them not to have done the calculation. Is Justice saying that, knowing that, they shouldn’t tell a potential trading partner if they were asked?

If the law actually prohibits this, which seems impossible, please change the law. And if you can’t change the law and if you have to choose which one is a smart one to enforce, this is a good “skip”.

3. A lot has been made of the fact that Apple has required the publishers to let them price-match. Now we know that Apple drove the deal. They said to the publishers, “we’ll let you set the price. as long as you don’t make us look like monkeys in relation to the print book price. But, of course, you can’t require us to sell at a price disadvantage, so you have to allow us to match any lower price.” How could Apple, or anybody else, do it any other way unless they were fools? They couldn’t allow themselves to be locked into a price that made them look extortionate to the consumer. They were proposing the terms on which they’d provide their proprietary access to their devices. Isn’t this a reasonable demand?

If the law prohibits this, please change the law.

I really liked the fact that Auletta emphasized, for the first time in any widely-distributed story I can remember, that the publishers going to agency sacrificed significant revenue by doing so. He quoted agent Simon Lipskar praising them for being far-sighted, willing to accept a hit on their watch to build a sustainable ecosystem. He quoted a CEO who estimated that $100 million was the aggregate hit to profits in a year.

Part of the $100 million that publishers lost provided some of the $200 million that Auletta reports Nook invested in delivering and launching the Color Nook. That’s a consumer benefit provided by the competition that is provided by agency pricing. The same is true of Kobo devices and Amazon devices, which are getting better and better and cheaper and cheaper thanks to the subsidy provided by the sale of publishers’ content.

If the law prohibits this, please change the law.

The most poignant part of the piece to a relative insider was Auletta’s reporting on the much-derided Picholine dinner in September, 2008. David Young of Hachette is reported to have organized it to welcome Markus Dohle, the new CEO of Random House, to New York. Anybody who knows David Young, as I am very pleased to have done for years, will recognize this immediately as the friendly and gracious behavior that is entirely characteristic of him.

As Auletta makes clear, this dinner took place before Apple had even announced it was going into the book business. In fact, I think it was still in the period when the Jobs pronoucement that “people don’t read books” was the prevailing wisdom from Silicon Valley.

And if the law prohibits this, and makes it part of a conspiracy, you’re making me happier than ever that I wrote a book on the New York Knicks instead of going to law school.

Auletta’s piece concludes on a telling, and chilling point. John Sargent spells out how small publishing is in relation to the giants now influencing its fate, which Auletta identified as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. Their strategies all involve the book business in some way. Sargent’s observation that books, by which he means the book publishing ecoystem that has built up around paper over the past 300 years, could become “roadkill in a larger war” gives pause.

It is increasingly easy to imagine. And it is worth considering seriously before it is a fait accompli.

It isn’t Amazon’s job to figure out what the book business needs to look like. They’re doing their job, which is to maximize the opportunities for their business as they see them within the rules of the game and the limitations imposed by competition and their trading partners.

Seeing that it isn’t their job means recognizing that it is everybody’s job. A lot of people need a better understanding of what publishing does and is for that to happen. I think the DoJ is making it very clear that smart people with a lay knowledge of the publishing industry routinely misapply what they think they know from other places.

Publishing one book is complicated, although a bit simpler if digital only. Publishing 200,000 books a year, which is what the industry does, is infinitely more complicated and made only more so by digital opportunity. Nobody from some other place — any other place — has entertained equivalent workflow, operational, administrative, and financing complexity.

I think the Auletta piece is valuable because it exposes the lie in the cartoon picture of “Greedy Big Publishing” stiffing the poor novel-reader while the selfless heroes at Kindle fight to save them two or three bucks a book. (And never mind that the price of your reader dropped by 50% because the guys across the street are offering one too.)

It isn’t Amazon’s job to do the PR for the other guys either.

I am speaking on approximately this topic at the 5th Annual GW Ethics & Publishing Conference at George Washington University on Monday, July 9th. 


A Mother’s Day Tribute to My Mom: Elky Shatzkin

I’ve written several times about my father’s life in the book business, which shaped quite a few careers, including mine. Here’s one. Andanother. This post, for Mother’s Day weekend, is about my father’s other great passion: my mother.

Eleanor Oshry Shatzkin — Elky to everybody who knew her — was the first woman to graduate from the engineering school at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie-Mellon), earning her degree in physics in 1941. She was, in a way, a management consulting pioneer, running the consulting operation for the accounting firm J.K. Lasser and Company from 1957-1962. For a dozen years after that, until Dad dragooned her into the family book distribution business, Two Continents (the place where I really learned about the trade), Elky ran her own consulting company. She was a “better, faster, cheaper” consultant: a designer of systems and the rigorous author of “procedures” (as workflow documentation was called then.) Her clients included substantial law firms, for which she designed billing systems in the days before computers, and the Young & Rubicam Advertising Agency.

One of Mom’s clients for many years was The Longacre Press, a printer of book jackets based in Mt. Vernon, New York. Among other things, she designed a scheduling system for them. Working for Mom on that project was a critical piece of my early education in the book business.

She was a feminist before Betty Friedan wrote “The Feminine Mystique”, although she explicitly resisted the label. But she was so totally devoted to my Dad that there were aspects of her capabilities and personality that we didn’t see in full flower until after he died when they were in their 80s.

Elky Shatzkin grew up in Pittsburgh, the younger child and only daughter of a dyed-in-the-wool Socialist family. Her father, Sam Oshry, sold life insurance in the mountains of western Pennsylvania. It was family lore that when Sam encountered a person begging for money for a meal, his frequent response was to bring them home for dinner. Mom’s older brother, Howard, was her intellectual inspiration (before she met my Dad) and since he became a physicist, her inclination was to follow in his footsteps.

Elky and Len got married in Harlem in 1940 (Len’s family lived in New York) and went back to Pittsburgh for their senior year at Carnegie Tech, living together at the Oshry home. Their marriage was not announced on campus to protect Elky’s scholarship, but they were serving together on the school paper, the Carnegie Tartan: Len as editor-in-chief and Elky as managing editor.

In the winter of that year there was a strike at Kaufman’s Department Store in Pittsburgh and scabs were hired to break the strike. Len wrote and published an editorial castigating that practice in the Tartan; the problem was that the Kaufman that owned the store was a regent of the university. About two months later, the administration used the claim that an April Fool’s issue that imitated past practices of lampooning faculty and staff was in bad taste as the excuse to fire Len from his position. My mom, his secret wife, took over as editor for the balance of the school year and, in effect, nothing changed. That incident characterized their 62 years of marriage: they had each other’s backs.

During World War II, Elky worked for Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, doing pioneering work with radioactive isotopes. In early 1943, she was getting bored with the job and she went to Columbia University to apply for another position. It didn’t sound appealing to her, so she decided to decline it by saying she expected Len to be drafted soon and she expected to be going to wherever he was in basic training and interrupting her career. “What does your husband do?”, she was asked. “He’s a printer,” she said. Len was then Production Manager for House Beautiful magazine. “Where is he?” “He’s waiting for me downstairs.”

This led to Len being interviewed and hired to work on the Manhattan Project, which kept him out of the war. But while the war was going on, he didn’t tell Elky what he was doing. The secrecy requirements were stringent and she would have understood that and not pressed him.

About a year later, Elky and Len went to the theater with a woman friend who had a loud voice and a vivid imagination. Len had to visit the draft board every six months to get his deferment renewed, and that was the night, so he didn’t arrive at the theater until the intermission. While they were outside between acts, friend Florence said, “I know what you’re doing, Len. You’re working on that new atomic bomb!”

Elky jumped in immediately. “Oh, no, Florence. Of course, he isn’t. We discussed the possibility of an atom bomb in my senior class in physics at Carnegie Tech. It’s simply not possible to gather enough fissionable uranium to create a chain reaction. You can’t make an atomic bomb.”

Elky could never have told a lie. If she didn’t believe that to be true, she wouldn’t have said it!

After the war and after my sisters and I were born, she got a job, with her physics background, working for the Picker X-Ray Corporation in White Plains. In short order, she was reorganizing their files and systems. That piqued her interest in management consulting and she was lucky enough to get a meeting with Peter Drucker for career advice. He hooked her up with a consultant named Bill Porter, who took her in and trained her. That led to her consulting career.

Aside from being a devoted wife, career woman, fantastic hands-on mother (she created a Benjamin Franklin costume for me on Halloween in 1957 that was definitely the coolest one in the entire village of Croton-on-Hudson that year), and running a complicated house that always had guests coming and going, Elky was a very active “citizen.” For example, she went by herself to the March on Washington in 1963 where Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech. (I never really got the story about why she went and Len didn’t and we didn’t and now it is too late to ask.)

Elky’s greatest civic achievement was the Croton Shakespeare Festival, which she organized in 1962 with two other local Moms and which ran every summer, introducing the Bard and theater skills to local students and their parents, for 25 years. The full story of the Festival could take a book, let alone a blogpost, but it was a product of her boundless energy, unbelievable organizational skills, and public-spiritedness.

Over the years, Mom mentored countless young people. I have many childhood memories of the children of her friends coming to our house to be tutored in algebra. My sisters and I have many contemporary friends who learned office and organizational skills working for Elky. She was a tough boss: a perfectionist who never tired of making you go back and do it again to get it right. She could yell and scream at you too, and she terrified some people. But you found out pretty quickly that she had a heart of gold and unlimited generosity and, in fact, her demanding perfection of you was a compliment, because she knew you could do it.

For the last few years before Len died in 2002, Elky’s singleminded focus was helping him maintain a high quality of life as congestive heart failure progessively weakened him. They didn’t cut back much on their lifelong habit of traveling as often and as broadly as possible. In the last two decades of Len’s life, they traveled to every continent and spent months at a time living and doing volunteer work in Brazil, Venezuela, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Russia, India, and other places too numerous for me to recall. They maintained a wide circle of friends the world over.

When Len died, Elky lost the focal point of her life, but it didn’t slow her down for very long. A month or two later she was bouncing back, joining a weekly vigil and protest of America’s impending entry into Iraq. In 2004, she spent the last week before the election walking the precincts of Florida, trying to get John Kerry elected.

In the winter of 2006, Elky discovered a Democratic Congressional candidate in her local (always Republican) district named John Hall. She quickly “sold” him to my activist sister Nance (whose family had lived since 1990 with Elky and Len in the house we grew up in) and they joined the campaign. Elky didn’t let the pancreatic cancer diagnosis she got six weeks before Election Day slow her down; she ran phone banks and volunteer operations for Hall right up until Election Day. And the very last trip she took was to Washington in January, 2007, to be in Hall’s office to congratulate him when he came off the House floor after being sworn in. She died about two weeks later.

My mother was a great person, a great teacher, a fabulous parent. She didn’t teach me as much about the book business as my Dad did, so she doesn’t show up on this blog as often, but she sure taught me as much about life.


Not all the victims of Hitler died before he did

To regular readers of this blog: I know I haven’t posted much lately, and this post has almost nothing to do with publishing (although there’s a book link in it!) I’m in London on my way to the Frankfurt Book Fair as I write it. I will resume more regular contributions to the dialogue about publishing and digital change, but posts may remain sparse for a couple more weeks…

Last weekend, the New York Times carried an obituary of a Polish cardiologist, socialist, and Warsaw Ghetto survivor named Marek Edelman. One untold part of his life story touched my family.

Marek Edelman was one of the leaders of what were (according to the Times) 220 armed fighters who constituted the Jewish resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April 19, 1943. Two of the others were a man named Friedrich (whose first name I’ve forgotten if I never knew…and, as you’ll see, I’m running out of people to ask who might remember) and another named Bernard Goldstein. Goldstein came to the US in 1948 and I knew him well in my early youth; Bernard died on December 7, 1959, which was the only day of my childhood when I remember seeing my father cry.

Friedrich was credited with being the man who followed the tracks out of Warsaw that carried the railroad cars that took Jews being removed from the ghetto to an unknonwn destination. Friedrich reported back that the destination was a concentration camp where the Jews were being exterminated. For that effort, and for his part in the doomed uprising of April 19, he was deemed a hero by the survivors after the war, particulary those in the Jewish Socialist Bund, which also claimed Edelman, Goldstein, and my grandparents on both sides as members.

Friedrich had a daughter named Elsa, born on December 18, 1936. Elsa was smuggled out of the Ghetto to live in hiding with a Catholic family in about 1941. Thus she escaped being killed when the Jews in the Ghetto were virtually exterminated during and after the uprising.

As the Ghetto was burning, Friedrich and Edelman were on a rooftop watching the final carnage. Friedrich extracted the promise from Edelman that if Edelman survived the war and Friedrich didn’t, Edelman would take guardianship of Elsa.

And, indeed, that came to pass. Elsa had been about 5 years old when she was “adopted” by the Catholic family, and although she recalled the necessity of concealing her story during the war, she was apparently happy in her new home. So when Marek came and took her away from her familiar and comfortable surroundings, honoring the promise he’d made to her father, it was a wrenching experience for a child then only about 9 years old.

The global organization of the Bund knew about Friedrich and knew about Elsa’s circumstances. They considered it anathama that the daughter of a hero could be consigned to such a bleak future, growing up in poverty-stricken, anti-Semitic Poland, even as the control of the hated Soviets (the socialists were very anti-Communist) was being established in the country.

So, using their power as a global organization, the Bund hunted for an American family that would take Elsa in and raise her in this country. My father’s parents, Julek and Helen Shatzkin, agreed to accept the responsibility. They were then in their early 50s; my father and his younger brother, Uncle Sock, were both in their 20s, married, and starting their own families. My grandparents moved from New York City, where they had lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn since arriving as immigrants in 1920, to northern Westchester. They built a house and prepared for a new life, raising a daughter in suburban post-World War II America. The political clout of the Bund found sympathetic help from New York Republican Senator Irving Ives, who sponsored the special legislation that allowed Elsa to immigrate legally to the United States.

Elsa was a girl of great talent: very beautiful and also brilliant. She was also always troubled, always haunted by the lives (intentionally plural) she had left behind. The spiritual gap between this young woman striving to be a “normal” American and my grandparents, who were culturally still very Old World, created strains. My grandmother was never particularly comfortable with the arrangement; my grandfather was smitten with his new daughter and wanted to spoil and indulge her. From the perspective of her 10-1/2 years younger nephew (which I was), Aunt Elsa was hip and pretty and virtually unapproachable for most of my childhood.

In the mid-1950s, Elsa graduated from Lakeland High School and went off to Cornell, majoring in English, from which she graduated in about 1957. She went on to study for a master’s at Columbia, where she met and fell in love with ayoung historian named Robert Dallek. They got married in about 1958. By that time, Elsa had changed her name to Ilse. I remember that Robert always pronounced it as she spelled it; she remained Elsa to the rest of us.

In about 1960, Ilse had a nervous breakdown. I remember visiting her in a mental institution of some kind (once again; I’m short of surviving family old enough to give me more details.) But she got out, ostensibly recovered; her marriage to Robert resumed. He continued to study for his PhD and she for her master’s.

Bernard Goldstein, like Marek Edelman, was a leader of the armed resistance. For the ten years I knew him in my childhood, he was much like a 3rd grandfather. My father had translated his memoir into English and it was published by the house Dad worked for, The Viking Press, as The Stars Bear Witness in 1948. (We have a copy of The Wallinscribed to Dad from John Hersey because Bernard’s book was critical research material.)

Elsa was always very uncomfortable in Bernard’s presence, which was very painful for him. He wanted to relate to her affectionately; he had known her father; to him, she was a flower that had amazingly survived the conflagration of Warsaw. But to her, he was a reminder of the beginning of her traumatic life and the loss of her real family. These perspectives could never be reconciled.

I remember spending the night at the apartment of Aunt Ilse and Uncle Robert in my early teens along with my friend,Tony Klein (now a Vermont State Legislator), after a rained-out Yankee game we had intended to go to. Ilse was then in her mid-20s. She and Robert came in from an evening out and Ilse proceeded to change into short shorts and start cleaning up the apartment. Tony was agog. This is your aunt, he said? His aunts were all old and dowdy; mine was young and vital and attractive. And tortured.

In October of 1962, Ilse committed suicide. She checked into a hotel on the upper west side, near where she and Robert lived, and took an overdose of sleeping pills. Apparently she left a note; I never saw it. My father got the task of identifying the body at the morgue. My grandfather went into an immediate depression; the pain of losing an adopted daughter he loved was compounded by the feeling of having failed in a political responsibility to the Bund. The electro-shock treatments prescribed at that time to snap him out of it were blamed by my family for the blood cancer that ensued and killed him in November of 1964.

In college, Ilse’s best friend was a woman whose married name was Faith Sale; her husband was the historian and social thinker Kirkpatrick Sale. Faith became an editor at Putnam. She died, much too young, of cancer a decade ago. Before Faith died, I had lunch with her to talk about my Aunt. This was more than 30 years after Ilse’s death, but Faith was still touched to uncontrollable tears by recalling the tragedy and pain of her friend’s existence.

In 1980, my parents’ proclivity for going where the revolutions were (a story that requires some research for another blog post some day) took them to Poland, where Solidarity was leading the change which ultimately swept across the Soviet-dominated countries. Marek Edelman, by then a prominent cardiologist, was a key player in Solidarity. He and my parents connected.

As I understood it from Dad, Edelman regretted that he had ever taken Elsa from her Polish Catholic family. He had done that to honor the commitment he had made to her father, and then he relinquished her to the Bund’s equally well-intentioned and equally ill-fated desire to find her a better life in America. He felt pain similar to my grandfather’s. He had tried to save this girl, but the demons within her played cruel tricks with those intentions.

There are few of us left to remember Elsa: my Uncle Sock’s widow; my sisters; and my cousins in Sock’s family. What we’re left with is the lesson that great tragedy can come from the best of intentions, and the fact that some victims of Hitler died two decades after he did, my aunt and my grandfather being among them.


Google settlement opponents need to be careful how they win

The debate about the Google settlement, like most of any consequence or intellectual interest (what the government should do about health care or energy, for example) actually engages a wider range of knowledge than most of us have. But we feel comfortable having an opinion about what we should do about health care or energy without necessarily knowing much about the logistics, requirements, actual state of affairs, or cost-value relationships of what we favor or oppose.

We each start with a general position. For example, mine on health care is that government intervention is required to make sure everybody has a minimum reasonable standard of care. On energy I believe government policy should encourage energy development and consumption that is efficient and unwasteful while increasingly substituting renewable energy for resource-consuming energy.

My personal political positions are directional, not very specific. Others, perhaps because they’re better informed, have more aggressive and articulated views. I know people who think health care isn’t worth fighting for unless it is single payer; that anything else could make matters worse. I am sure there people that hold similar positions on energy that I would deem “perhaps desirable, but not politically achieveable at this time”. They’re my allies unless their idea of “perfect” blocks my idea of “better”.

And then there are others, of course, who aren’t allies at all: people who believe that market forces can be trusted with social challenges or simply resist the idea of any expansion of government or increase in taxes.

But when it comes to the details of legislation, most of us just plain citizens are pretty helpless even to have an informed opinion, let alone to have any influence. The staffs of our legislators are hearing about the details from the experts representing doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, drug companies, left- and right-wing lobbyists. If Charlie Rangel says that a very modest tax increase on people making over $350,000 or $500,000 a year will bring the costs into line with the parameters President Obama says are economically necessary. Assuming there is no chorus of objections from sources I trust (Krugman), I’ll just accept that as fact. It advances my philosophical position and I tend to trust him. I mean, who really “does the math” for themselves on things like this? Without being a professional, how could you?

The Google settlement might not be as complicated as health care or energy, but the debate about it also revolves around a lot of unknowns. Although the argument between those who say “approve it” and those who say “reject it” or even, “reject it if you can’t change it” is superficially waged on the “merits” and on the words in the settlement, I believe most of us come to this extraordinarily complicated question with a position and then put each new piece of information (or argument) into a “context” that won’t require us to change that position. And since we’re dealing with a lot of unknowns, that’s not really very hard to do.

My dominant prejudice I bring to this conversation is a belief that copyright laws have been extended so that they are abusive to the public interest and result in a lot of intellectual property being walled off from use for no good commercial reason. With that as a background belief, I saw what Google did (scanning all the work) as cutting a Gordian knot. Others come to this discussion with a dominant concern of respect for copyright or a dominant concern of bullying monopolies. Their prejudice might lead them to be against the settlement while mine pushes me to favor it.

Today’s post is not to argue that the settlement should be approved, but to consider what the situation will be if the settlement is rejected. The proponents and opponents of the settlement certainly seem to differ on what the world will look like if the settlement is approved; might there be somewhat greater agreement between the sides about what the world will look like if the settlement is rejected?

To me, it looks a short story.

The consequences of the settlement being rejected seem catastrophic to settlement opponents if it is turned down because the litigants are deemed not to fairly represent the classes (that is: the judge buys into the the idea that foreign authors, contributors, and orphans and perhaps others are “left out”). If the class representation is overturned or curtailed, it would be somewhere between difficult and impossible for these lawsuits to go on (and there are two lawsuits, even though there is one settlement.) If the settlement is rejected for some other reason (perhaps: the judge agrees that it can’t be allowed because it grants Google what would be a monopoly), then presumably the litigation could go on.

If rejection of the settlement is because the AAP and/or AAR don’t represent the class, Google would be in a stronger position than they were before the suit. There would be no database of orphan works to sell litigation-risk free, but the scans for search and returning of snippets would just continue. Authors could individually sue for copyright infringement if they wanted to try. Nobody would be any more tempted to “compete” with Google by scanning in-copyright works than they are now. And Google would have the benefit of having smoked out a lot of potential litigants because the faux settlement got a lot of copyright holders to come forward.

A little-known fact is that most of the value of the database Google was going to sell was in the in-copyright works that would have been ceded to the database. (This came up obliquely because these are the copyright holders who are going to get bonus revenue from the money earned by the page views on orphans, a fact settlement opponents have raised.)

That being the case, somebody will want to distribute that database, even without the orphans. That somebody will have to negotiate with Google to get the digital files and then with each of the publishers for their rights, without a BRR to help them. A pain in the neck, but in a few years it would probably happen.

If the settlement is rejected for some other reason, all of the above (except the part about still selling that database, since the copyright owners would still be in litigation with Google over this scanning and their lawyers would advise them against it; they can’t license a use for the scans they want to say Google shouldn’t have!) remains true and the AAP and the AAR get to decide whether to continue to fund the suit for the next several years while they and Google keep talking, presumably, about something that would satisfy the court (a bit odd, since they already satisfied each other!) If that were to happen, would the opponents of the settlement somehow help them carry on? Or step in to litigate in their stead?

If this analysis is right (and I float it with all humility: IANAL), then the opponents of the settlement walk a fine line. They want it rejected, or remanded to the litigants with some instructions they can actually follow. But they don’t want the plaintiffs discredited as representatives of the class. It would be the height of irony if Google, which probably had foregone challenging the standing of the AAR and AAP at the beginning to avoid antagonizing two organizations they ultimately need to work with, gets a court victory they didn’t seek handed to them by people motivated to make their lives more difficult. This could end up being a textbook demonstration of “unintended consequences.”


Verticalization in action

Michael Wolff has written in Vanity Fair about Politico, which demonstrates many of the priciples of verticalization that I have written about often on this blog. He begins with a summary of a startlingly prescient piece Michael Crichton wrote in the fourth issue of Wired Magazine. Wolff writes:

“In the fourth issue of Wired magazine, in the fall of 1993, just as the Internet was entering public consciousness, Michael Crichton, the author of The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park, wrote an essay arguing that newspapers were doomed because they were too dumb. As information became cheaper, more plentiful, and easier to get, consumers, he argued, would become ever more immersed in their specific interests and understand that their more generally oriented paper—at least in the matter of a reader’s special interest, but also by inference everything else—had no idea what it was talking about.”

As for Politico:

They are narrow and deep.

They have established a brand that trumps, or soon will trump, the formerly established brands in their niche.

They built an “Internet-first” model, but they have a “spinoff” print product that is a major contributor to their revenue.

They’re (apparently) profitable.

And if you publish a book on politics. I guarantee you’ll be knocking at their virtual door.

Have a great 4th of July weekend!


Politics, not publishing, today

This is a post about New York State Democratic politics but not about the coup this week in the State Senate, which is a rapidly-developing story being covered by reporters on the scene. Comic operas could certainly be written about either New York or California state politics without having to change a single fact.

Like most liberal Democrats who have been frustrated for most of the last 40 plus years, with a very brief respite for Jimmy Carter and some years of sympathetic agony with Bill Clinton, I’m a huge fan of President Obama (and his whole family.) Whatever compromises he’s making with what would seem to be liberal principles are dwarfed by the enormous strides he is taking to make America a fairer and more equitable society.

But I’m also a New Yorker and being a Democrat in New York carries its own set of frustrations. We haven’t elected a Democratic mayor in New York City since the kind but feckless David Dinkins 20 years ago. We replaced the brazenly imperious Giuliani with the more gently imperious Bloomberg, and we seem stuck with Mayor Mike for as long as he cares to pay to stick around.

But it is at the state level that the annoyance is greatest. There was cause for great optimism when we followed three terms of Pataki by electing crusading Attorney-General Eliot Spitzer by a record 70+% majority in 2006. Even before his weakness for paid sex became public, Governor Spitzer had stamped himself as an even more arrogant tyrant than Giuliani himself (although Spitzer’s public policies were more socially conscious and at least he paid for his own out-of-wedlock dalliances; Giuliani used city funds to “protect” his paramour and now wife while he was still married to Donna Hanover, the woman he got elected with.) And meanwhile we found out that the State Comptroller we elected, Alan Hevesi, was abusing the public trust as well and was forced out of office.

What a mess. But it got worse. David Paterson, whose limitations were not readily apparent when he was the Minority Leader of the NY State Senate, replaced Spitzer as Governor and has demonstrated almost daily that he’s not up to the job. Among the many things he did that we might wish he hadn’t was to appoint a relatively conservative upstate Congresswoman, Kirsten Gillibrand, to replace Senator Clinton when Hillary became Secretary of State. The calculus, apparently was “upstate” and “female”, and that narrowed the choices to a second term Congresswoman whose family is at least as Republican as it is Democratic and whose Palin-like credentials included that she and her husband slept with a gun by their bed to ward off possible intruders.

Now here’s where I part company with my new President.

It is a reality of New York State Democratic politics that, in a statewide primary where there is a clear liberal and a clear “moderate” (we NY Democrats don’t do “conservative”), the liberal will always win. This rule was formulated by my late friend, Professor Richard Wade, who demonstrated it by helping Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo to the governorship. Carey defeated the highly favored (and more “moderate”) Howard Samuels in the primary in 1974; Cuomo knocked off favored NYC Mayor Ed Koch in 1982.

In fact, just about any clearly-liberal downstate Democrat would beat Gillibrand in a primary in 2010.

The New York Democratic establishment, which now consists primarily of Senator Chuck Schumer but also includes the Clintons, is supporting Gillibrand. I don’t know their reasons. The White House is involved too, putting pressure on potential opponents in the 2010 primary to stay out of the race. They were successful in persuading Congressman Steve Israel to withdraw. Congresswoman McCarthy from Long Island, who isn’t that liberal on many issues but is a champion of gun control (as is Schumer, for that matter), has also pulled her hat out of the ring. So now the one chance we have to knock off this faux Democratic senator foisted on us by a weak Democratic governor is that NYC Representative Carolyn Maloney will take her on. Congresswoman Maloney is my representative in Congress and I fervently hope she’ll make the attempt, even though the White House is strongly discouraging a race.

From the President’s perspective, he is just seeking peace within the Democratic Party. I am sure he — and his political strategist, Rahm Emanuel — thinks that avoiding primaries makes the party stronger. So he’s also trying to prevent new Democrat Arlen Specter from having to face a primary for his Senate seat in Pennsylvania.

But I think that notion is just plain wrong and Obama need look no further than his own election last year to prove it. Primaries energize the Democratic Party. They bring in new blood and they inspire volunteer effort. Congressman John Hall in the Hudson Valley, who won his seat in 2006 at the same time Gillibrand was winning hers, had to beat several candidates in a Democratic primary. Without the several-month organizing runway that primary fight gave him, he wold never have beaten 6-term Republican incumbent Sue Kelly in November.

If Maloney opposes Gillibrand, she’ll beat her. And Maloney would be a stronger candidate against the Republicans (not that we need it; any Democrat will win) in November because she’ll have an enthusiastic party behnd her. Similarly, if Congressman Sestak beats Specter in Pennsylvania, he’ll beat whatever arch-conservative the Republicans nominate on their side.

So if the White House would just stay out of these battles, they would end up with stronger support in the Senate in 2011. Primaries in the Democratic Party are far more likely to build the party than to weaken it.

For you publishing junkies, my apologies for staying clear of it today. But remember that from this Friday morning, June 12, until Monday morning, June 15, the full video of my “Stay Ahead of the Shift” speech will be linked from this site for anybody to see. For those of you who are subscribers to PublishersMarketplace.com, you don’t have to wait. That’s where it lives.

No Comments »

On my friend, Professor Richard C. Wade

Richard C. Wade is credited with inventing urban history as a field of American history. He taught at the University of Rochester in the 1950s, at the University of Chicago in the 1960s, and became — along with Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. — one of two Distinguished Professors of History at the City University of New York Graduate Center in 1971. He died last July.

I delivered this eulogy to Dick to a small group of historians who were in New York for a convention in early January. These were the people in his field, some of whom hadn’t met him; they just knew him as a titan in his field. Many knew nothing, or very little, about what you’ll read in my eulogy. I found that stunning.

But when I bumped into PBS pundit Mark Shields at the newsstand on Sunday morning and asked him, “Did you know my friend Professor Wade?”, Shields lit up and said “yes, wonderful man.” I think if you could ask George McGovern, Ted Kennedy, Hugh Carey, and Mario Cuomo, among those still alive, they’d tell you the same thing.

St. Patrick’s Day is the right day to do this post.

I met Professor Wade in August 1968 at the Democratic convention in Chicago. George McGovern had become the replacement candidate for Robert Kennedy, who had been assassinated in June. McGovern had three heavyweight political operatives working for him there. I was working as an assistant to Pierre Salinger; of course everybody knew Frank Mankiewicz, who had been Bobby Kennedy’s press secretary. And then I met Dick Wade, at the time a Housing Commissioner in Chicago under Mayor Daley and a historian on the faculty of the University of Chcago.

In March of 1971, the 1972 McGovern campaign kicked off with a full-page ad in the New York Times with the headline: “I’m tired of old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.” And one of the four signers of the ad was Professor Wade, who had just become a Distinguished Professor at City University Graduate Center in NY. I went to work as a volunteer on that campaign and began a friendship with Dick Wade that was one of the most important in my life until his passing last summer.

Dick and I shared love for American history, liberal politics, baseball, and urban living. I was his eager acolyte, lending a hand to any political effort he tapped me for and constantly interviewing him about his own life. I want to share a few of the things I learned about him FROM him over our nearly four decades of conversation. Dick was very modest about his involvement in history, almost as if he felt it would compromise his credentials as a historian to write himself into the story. Well, I have no credentials as a historian to sully; I’m just Dick’s friend. This is what I know.

Dick grew up near Chicago, a White Sox fan because Democrats were White Sox fans. William Wrigley, who owned the Cubs, was both a Republican and a Klan sympathizer. Dick was also a superior athlete, a Junior Davis Cupper in tennis and a football player. He enrolled at the University of Rochester just before World War II; I don’t know if Dick was pulling my leg when he told me that HE thought he was going to Rochester, Minnesota right up until he got his train ticket to go to college.

The way Dick told it, he wasn’t much of a student his first three years. But in his senior year, he suffered a serious football injury. He never actually said so, but he led me to believe that injury turned his hair gray and made him unable to father children (although he did a great job with two he adopted.) While he was recovering, he had to sit around for the first time in his life. “First I taught myself to smoke a pipe,” he told me. “After that, I was looking for something to do while I smoked the pipe and I read the first book I had ever read without it being required of me. I loved it.” And that, he would have had me believe, was how he discovered that he wanted to be a scholar.

In 1946, Dick was a graduate assistant at Harvard when young John F. Kennedy came by looking for support in his first race for Congress. That began a friendship which lasted until JFK’s tragic death and an association with the Kennedy family that was one of the defining aspects of Dick’s life.

Dick had two fabulous stories about 1948. I can’t remember all the details, but at an ADA convention, he ended up being put up in an extra room in Eleanor Roosevelt’s suite. His story about that was he was awakened by the sound of the typewriter well before dawn, as she wrote her daily newspaper column. That same year, Dick wrote the famous civil rights speech delivered by then-Mayor of Minneapolis Hubert Humphrey at the Democratic Convention. Dick said that if that speech had been delivered at a time other than the middle of the night, it would have been the end of his political career. As it was, it was the start.

Dick was at the University of Rochester in the 1950s, deeply involved in the New York Stevenson campaigns in 1952 and 1956. In 1954, Dick collaborated on the history brief for the historic Brown versus the Board civil rights case.

In 1960, he was an important player in JFK’s successful run for the White House. Dick had a story about working in West Virginia and complaining at one point to Robert Kennedy about the lack of contact between the West Virginia campaign and the national office. RFK’s response was to give Dick a roll of dimes and to tell him to call whenever he needed to check in.

What proved to be one of the most dazzling demonstrations of Dick’s insight and prescience came at a Yankee-White Sox doubleheader we went to during the summer of 1971. While we watched the full two games, Dick laid out the McGovern strategy to get the 1972 nomination. Dick said we would come close in New Hampshire which would take the shine off Muskie’s inevitability; New Hampshire was a home state for a Maine senator. Then we’d win the Wisconsin primary, which would knock Muskie out because his top-down campaign couldn’t run without a constant flow of money.

The key to understanding how this could work, the Professor explained, was to know that polls were meaningless in primaries because of low turnouts — 10% or 15% was not uncommon — and that, with our superior canvassing and volunteer operation, we could drive up the turnout among OUR supporters to achieve what we needed in New Hampshire. We needed about 20,000 votes to do it. This was in July, and the New Hampshire primary was eight months away. McGovern at that point ranked last or near last in every national poll, registering about 2% support. But Dick’s explanation made the challenge seem manageable, which it was. And his scenario played out precisely. 

What I think was the most sensational achievement of Dick’s political career came in 1974. Howard Samuels had co-chaired McGovern’s post-convention NY State Campaign, alongside Dick’s good friend, ex-Mayor Robert Wagner. I don’t know exactly what the root of the problem was, but I do know Dick and Samuels didn’t like each other. This was a unique situation; I am not aware of Dick having animus like that for anybody else, but he didn’t like Howard Samuels.

In 1974, Samuels had an apparent hammerlock on the Democratic nomination for Governor. He had the designation of the State Democratic Party. There was a challenge from Brooklyn Congressman Hugh Carey, but the polls showed Samuels in the lead by 30 points or more and, with Carey having no money or statewide name recognition, it looked like Samuels would coast to the nomination.

Dick had always told me that he’d never lost a contested Democratic primary. In July of 1974, with the primary about 8 weeks away, he called me and asked for the phone numbers of a couple of people upstate, which had been my territory during the 1972 McGovern campaign. I gave him the information he needed and asked him “does this count?”, meaning “does this count as a contested primary? Are you risking your perfect record?” He knew what I meant and said, “I’ll tell you after the weekend.”

And after the weekend, he said “yes, it counts.” He had engineered a coalition among Carey, attorney-general candidate Robert Abrams, and lieutenant-governor candidate Maryann Krupsak to share poll coverage on election day. And all three of them swept to victory; Howard Samuels never had any power in state politics again.

One lesson Dick taught me, applied in 1974, was that in a statewide Democratic primary in New York, if you can establish that one candidate is clearly the liberal and another the moderate, the liberal will always win. I used that knowledge to win quite a few bets in 1982, when Mario Cuomo, again with Dick’s help, defeated Ed Koch for the gubernatorial nominantion in a result not expected by anybody except Dick Wade and the people who learned their politics from him.

For the last several years, even though his health had been in a gradual decline for more than a decade, we kept up having lunch every few months. Most of the recent times, I would go visit Dick with Ed Rogoff, whom I met on the NY McGovern campaign. Our last visit with the Professor was in June when we discussed the happy prospect of an Obama presidency. Dick’s comment on Obama was the hushed, almost reverent observation: “he has made so FEW mistakes!”

Right after we saw Dick, I read two books, both called “The Last Campaign.” The first one was about Truman’s 1948 race and in it were a lot of things I needed to ask Dick about. The book reported that it was the ADA that did the work for Truman of painting Wallace as too close to the communists, and Dick was a charter ADAer. I know he would have had interesting things to say about that.

But the second one was about Robert Kennedy’s 1968 campaign, and Dick was all over it. I had known that Dick had a lot to do with Richard Hatcher’s election as mayor of Gary. But I did not know that Dick had — according to this book — led a faction in the RFK campaign that said “keep campaigning among the black voters and keep talking about civil rights” that was opposed by another faction that said “we have the black vote wrapped up; let’s just go after the white voters and not take chances alienating them.” According to this book, Ted Kennedy was the leader of the cautious faction.

I was reading this book in London. I emailed Ed and said, “we have to go visit the Professor as soon as possible. We have to ask him about the things in this book.” Ed reached out immediately, but was told by Dick’s wife, Liane, that he was not up to a visit. We should try again next week. And the next week he died.

Dick Wade was a great man. He spent decades close to power and the powerful, but he never wanted anything except what was right for the country. For him, race was America’s exceptional challenge and devotion to civil rights was every citizen’s greatest responsibility. He was also fun, witty, kind, and a great storyteller. His loss is irreplaceable. It was an enormous privilege and joy to have been his friend.