Friday, July 28, 2006

Media coverage of "Minutemen"

It's been a hectic week over here with the launch of Minutemen: The Battle to Secure America's Borders by Jim Gilchrist and Jerome Corsi. Here's a quick round-up of some of the coverage that their book has received:

Book review by Human Events
Biased hatchet-job by Reuters
Rebuttal to the hatchet-job on WorldNetDaily
Excerpt: "The Reconquista Movement"
Summary of Hannity & Colmes appearance
Author editorial on the Senate undermining the border fence


Monday, July 24, 2006

Will they call it an iBook?

Engadget writes that multiple sources indicate Apple is working on a new version of iPod that will allow users to read e-books. Given iPod's popularity and Apple's reputation for consumer-friendly products, this might be a positive step toward solving the oft-discussed consumer experience problem that has thus far hampered e-book adoption.


Friday, July 21, 2006

DeBrecht warns of online predators

Here is the transcript for "Help! Mom!" author Katharine DeBrecht's recent appearance on "The O'Reilly Factor" were she discusses how kids imitating suggestive celebrity poses are making themselves vulnerable to Internet predators.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Interview with new Borders CEO

The NYT just published Gary Jones's first interview since assuming the top spot at Borders. A couple of his comments suggest that he's open to making significant changes to their stores, even though he has no specific plans to do so at the moment.

One area where he sees opportunity, he said, is in translating the time consumers spend inside Borders stores into more dollars spent. “Our customers on average spend a lot longer in a store than what I’ve been used to,” he said. But, he added, “they like our stores; they’re staying there, but they’re not spending as much as they could.” ...

He declined to say how Borders might distinguish itself from Barnes & Noble, but he said that while “people in our company can easily go in and tell a lot of differences between a Borders and a Barnes & Noble, I wonder how many of the average customers might tend to get them confused.”


You're so vain, you probably think "Da Vinci Code" is about you

Simon & Schuster is publishing a novel by a woman named Kathleen McGowan who claims to be a descendant of the "sacred bloodline" of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. (It goes to figure that she's from L.A.)

USA Today points out with a straight face that this nutty Dan Brown-esque hypothesis is "a concept many Christians reject." Thanks for clarifying that, guys. No word as to whether or not McGowan has been asked to blurb the Pope's new book.


"Help Mom" author on O'Reilly Factor

Katharine DeBrecht, author of the Help! Mom! series of children's books, is scheduled to appear on Fox's O'Reilly Factor tonight. She'll be discussing how children are using MySpace to post provocative pictures where they try to emulate celebrities in sultry poses.

Kudos to Katharine -- this is an important issue. While I would caution against calling for government involvement in policing sites like MySpace, it is critical for parents to be aware of how their kids are influenced by the mass media is influencing and in turn use the new media.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Pope writing new book on Christ

Reuters reports that Pope Benedict expects to finish writing a new book on Jesus by the end of this summer. The article says that the book "focuses on Jesus, the human race and Christianity's relationship with other faiths."


Ingram purchases electronic publishing company

Ingram, the nation's largest book wholesaler, has acquired Vital Source Technologies, a company which according to PW "develops software that allows publishers to publish book content in a variety of electronic formats."

Ingram plays a vital role in the retail process, and therefore is a key partner for publishers. They act as an intermediary who gets books into the hands of retailers, supplying independent bookstores and also the chains when their supplies run low.

Given this purchase, I would guess that Ingram is looking to position itself for the digital distribution of content, as well. It's yet another sign about the way the industry believes technology -- and reading habits -- are headed.


Email is the new snail-mail?

So claims a Berkeley researcher and numerous 20-somethings in this AP article. Apparently text and instant messaging, as well as social networking sites and the blogosphere, have turned email to an outdated and uncool medium for younger professionals.

Remember when people were concerned that Sesame Street's use of short segments was destroying the national attention span? Now that seems so long ago...

Monday, July 17, 2006

Internet reading habits

Research suggests that Internet readers view news stories in "bursts" following periodic periods of inactivity. This gives online articles a longer shelf-life (36 hours on avg.) than previously expected since readership is staggered.

What could this mean for publishers? My guess is that "burst" reading is not very conducive for books, hence the limited uptake the industry's seen for online e-books. It makes me think that the importance of developing new hardware for an e-book reader is going to be key for driving the widespread adoption of digital content.


Friday, July 14, 2006

Valerie Plame sues Cheney, Rove for "destroying career" -- and signs a book deal

Former super-duper-top-secret agent Valerie Plame is suing Dick Cheney and Karl Rove because, in the words of the AP, "they engaged in a 'whispering campaign' to destroy her career." The distraught wife of Joe Wilson noted at her press conference : "I'd much rather be continuing my career as a public servant than as a plaintiff in a lawsuit."

That's understandable. Her position as a CIA bureaucrat allowed her to ship that dolt of a husband out of the country on fool's errands at the agency's expense. Fortunately, with her Simon & Schuster book deal that was announced yesterday, she should still be able to afford to send Joe away once in a while. (Will S&S set the pub date for the opening of the court case?)

Hat tip to Stephen Spruiell at NRO's Media Blog for reminding all of us to keep on donating to Plame's legal fund.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Video of tunnel under U.S. border

More footage from Minutemen authors Jim Gilchrist and Jerome Corsi. Very disturbing.

Book Standard doesn't (heart) Ann

This was the top headline on the Book Standard's weekly "Chart Alert" email today: Cedar Rapids 'Gazette' First to Give Ann Coulter the Boot. An entire week's worth of publishing industry news, and this is their lead story.

More liberal schadenfreude? (Hint: Trade journals don't give a darn about any place outside of Manhattan, much less Cedar Rapids -- unless it gives them an excuse to take a swipe at a conservative.) Given that UPI has joined Random House and vouched for Coulter against plagiarism charges, Godless has sold about a quarter-million copies, and 100 other newspapers nationwide still carry her column, it's a pretty lame cause for celebration.

P.S. So when will the Book Standard investigate the motivation behind the iThenticate allegations?


Rice launches all-digital university press

Rice University is re-launching its university press after a hiatus of 10 years. The big news is that it will be 100% digital. The Journal reports that it will make all of its titles available online for free, charging readers a small fee for downloads and offering an option to purchase a print-on-demand version of the book.

This is a pretty innovative move in the sleepy world of university publishing, where niches are often much smaller than those commercial publishers target. It's also potentially a viable model for commercial publishers looking to expand their product lines or offer targeted content.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Surprise! Liberal book reviewers (heart) liberal books

Tell me how an essay that casually states "the [Bush] administration may be remembered as the worst in American history" as undisputed fact can be called a book review and not an editorial. And yet this is Kirkus's hard-hitting, critical "evaluation" of Frank Rich's forthcoming screed.


The PayPal diaspora

Forbes just published an article on the exodus of talent from PayPal that quotes me. It mentions World Ahead and many other ventures (e.g. YouTube, Room 9 Entertainment,, LinkedIn, The Founders Fund, SpaceX, Clarium Capital, and Slide, among others) started by PayPal alumni.

What an amazing group of people. I was truly blessed to work with them.


Manipulating Amazon rankings

More on Amazon... There's an amusing account in today's NYT by an author who became obsessed with manipulating her book's Amazon ranking. From what I've heard, her method shouldn't impact their ranking algorithm, but then again no one outside of Amazon knows what the algorithm truly is.

Fortune bemoans media choice, "extinction of mass culture"

Marc Gunther writes in Fortune that the "advent of 300 channels and the Internet has fragmented audiences - explosion of choice has left us poorer." Three-quarters of the way into his article he explains some reasonse as to why he thinks this is the case:

"...there is more information available to us than ever, but I don't think we are better informed. Niche media will, inevitably, continue to weaken mass media."

"...the moderate and responsible (okay, bland) voices of the MSM get drowned out by partisan, opinionated cableheads and bloggers. Politics in America has become polarized for many reasons, but a big one is the fact that people can now filter the news and opinion they get to avoid exposure to ideas with which they disagree."

So evidently the good ol' days when thoughtful, responsible grown-ups like Dan Rather, Walter Cronkite, and Helen Thomas got to decide what the little people heard, read, and saw were preferable to having information decentralized.

New e-book option: Amazon Upgrade

Amazon's new "Upgrade" service is in the process of being rolled out. I alluded to this in a prior post discussing digital content, but I thought it was worth ellaborating on now that the program is ready to become widely available.

Amazon Upgrade allows purchasers of regular books to add a digital copy of the book for an extra 5-10% of the sale price. Consumers exercising this option will then immediately have access to the entire book in an online library via their Amazon account. This lets buyers access content even before their book arrives in the mail (a feature which college students working on last-minute essays will no doubt appreciate) or look up key passages in a book they own when they're away from their personal library.

While many in the industry still harbor suspicion or even hostility toward digital content, Amazon has shrewdly implemented safeguards to protect publishers and authors. Amazon Upgrade files cannot be downloaded and can only be accessed via logging in to an Amazon account (preventing file-sharing), and the number of pages that can be printed out is limited to about 30% of the book's length. But the service still sounds relatively user-friendly, as it lets consumers bookmark, highlight, and add notes to their online books.

I hope this program turns out as good as it sounds. I've just signed up World Ahead for participation, so hopefully this feature will be turned on for our books within a few weeks. In the meantime, if anyone (readers or publishers) has tried out this feature, please let me know how it worked for you.


Conglomerate publishers embrace religion (sort of)

Blame it on Rick Warren, the Chronicles of Narnia, or the gradual realization that Red States aren't just "fly-over country" -- Christian publishing is a hot sector in this industry. Even the left-leaning NYC publishing conglomerates are getting in on the act.

Publishers Weekly reports that Random House is buying Multnomah Publishers, "the Oregon-based evangelical Christian house." Simon & Schuster is launching a new "mini-imprint" called Touchstone Faith. And Warner Book Group announced a couple of weeks ago that they're retooling Warner Faith imprint, renaming it FaithWords and inking bestselling pastor Paula White to a deal.

Of course, a leopard can only change its spots so much. PW also just ran an article claiming that "Fall books bring evidence of a backlash against faith." Included on that list is "Michel Onfray's Atheist Manifesto (Jan. 2007), which accuses Judaism, Islam and Christianity of a multitude of sins against humanity."


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Borders to name outsider as CEO

Borders will name George Jones, the former head of department store retailer Saks, as their new CEO. Jones is considered an innovator for making a lot of changes at Saks during his tenure, including the installation of manicure bars and putting greens. His appointment comes after Borders' current chief Greg Josefowicz announced his pending retirement earlier this year.

Hopefully Jones knows he's getting into a tough industry. Borders has done well recently but they missed expectations earlier this year. The chain still trails rival Barnes & Noble, which had about 690 superstores compared to around 500 for Borders as of a year ago (don't have the most recent figures).

Given his background at Saks, it will be interesting to see what changes Jones brings about to Borders' stores. Hopefully he'll keep in mind that that bookstores are currently sales channels fraught with risk for publishers. The average chain store carries over 100,000 titles, and returns of hardcover books often exceed 30%, making them a very uncertain channels for launching new books. (And 12% of Borders' revenue comes form music sales, so calling their stores "bookstores" might not even be accurate.)

Borders is a good partner for us and a giant in this industry, so on behalf of World Ahead and all the other publishers out there, I wish Jones the best of luck.


Star-Telegram profiles Rep. Granger's book

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram just published a nice profile of Rep. Kay Granger and her reasons for writing What's Right About America. Here's one passage from the article that gets to the heart of why this book needed to be published -- and why I'm proud that World Ahead was able to collaborate with the Congresswoman on it.

“We should be talking about the good things of America,” she said. “If we don’t talk about it here, they’re not going to talk about it in other parts of the world.

“This is not a political book. This is not a partisan book,” she said. “This is what’s good about America.”

Monday, July 10, 2006

Debating Google Book Search & free content

Last Friday the Book Standard ran an article (oddly titled "Bookseller Editor Predicts Popular Digital Reading Device in Five Years") that discussed the current debate within the publishing industry over digital content. It quotes editor Joel Rickett from The Bookseller as worrying that Google's ambitious program to make library content available online will hurt publishers, while Penguin CEO John Makinson sees it as increasing distribution channels for publishers.

There are a lot of things to criticize left-wing Google for (e.g. see my prior post about Chinese censorship), but the availability of digital content probably isn't one of them. With media fragmentation going on, being able to reach your niche (or, in the case of Google, having your niche reach you) is critical. Reasonable limits on the availability of commercial content that are coupled with buying opportunities for the consumer should be sales-additive for publishing.


Novels go niche

The WSJ reports that fiction publishers are increasingly targeting niche markets, the reversal of a decades-old trend of emphasizing famous authors and mass market novels.


Video of "Minutemen" authors along US/Mexico border

Here's a short video of Minutemen authors Jim Gilchrist and Jerome Corsi at the border just outside of Campo, CA. It starts out with some footage of the wide open border (which is very shocking if you haven't seen it before) and features the authors discussing Washington DC's refusal to fund the Border Patrol.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Random House stands by Coulter

Random House's Crown Forum is dismissing the plagiarism charges against Ann Coulter. NewsMax quotes Steve Ross, SVP of the Crown imprint, as saying, "We have reviewed the allegations of plagiarism surrounding ‘Godless’ and found them to be as trivial and meritless as they are irresponsible."

While it's understandable why liberals and left-leaning publications like Editor & Publisher would want to discredit Coulter, I'm most curious to learn how iThenticate fits into all this. The publishing industry desperately needs IP (intellectual property) software like this. Did the software return a false positive, indicating that it's not ready for prime time? Were its results being manipulated by a left-winger to score partisan points? Or a PR-hungry executive, hoping to get his startup's name in the papers?

Let's hope that Ann and her fans pursue this point. It's not only important because of her reputation, but also because the rest of us in this peculiar industry need to know if tools like iThenticate are something we can rely on.

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Friday, July 07, 2006

NY Press excerpt from "Minutemen"

The New York Press ran a brief excerpt from Jim Gilchrist and Jerome Corsi's upcoming book Minutemen: The Battle to Secure America's Borders entitled "The 21st Century Slave Trade."

The book is being published by World Ahead. It hits bookstores nationwide on July 25th.


Thursday, July 06, 2006

Coulter plargiarism dispute escalates

The controversy surrounding Ann Coulter's latest bestseller continues to escalate. Last week the NY Post quoted John Barrie, creator of the iThenticate plagiarism-probing system, as claiming that parts of Coulter's Godless as well as several of her syndicated columns were not her own. Now Editor & Publisher reports that her syndicate, Universal Press syndicate, has asked Barrie for the evidence upon which he's basing his claims. Meanwhile, Coulter is hitting back at the Post's credibility.

It's still too early to know what will come of this, but I hope there's no truth to the charges -- both for her sake as well as the publishing industry's.

Coulter is good for publishing. Nielsen BookScan has clocked 171,000 sales for Godless, and given Nielsen's systematic undercounting I'd guess the true number is closer to 225,000 to 250,000. In a tough industry with few growth segments, Coulter is a star and one of the few authors who can bring people into bookstores looking for her latest. Her books make news and influence the rest of the media.

Publishing needs that. What it doesn't need is another scandal like the "memoir" promoted by Oprah's book club or that Harvard student's chic lit rip-off.

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My interview with Tom Peters "Cool Friends"

In case you haven't come across it before, here's my interview with "Tom's Cool Friends," a feature on the website run by legendary author and management guru Tom Peters.

I suppose I don't get called "cool" too often, so it counts double coming from someone like Tom Peters.


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Proposed Chinese media censorship law

The WSJ reports that a measure to censor media coverage of emergencies being considered by China's legislature is drawing unprecedented public scrutiny. This is portrayed as a sign of increasing openness in a country ruled by an oppressive communist regime, since until recently newspapers needed to ask the gov't for permission to publish editorials on legislation being debated by this non-elected body.

Let's hope it is. But there's a long way to go before advocates of freedom can proclaim that any kind of "Beijing spring" is under way.

Unfortunately, while some "old media" companies like the WSJ and even the NYT have stood their ground against Chinese censorship, many "new media" firms like Yahoo and Google have instead chosen to openly collaborate with China's nouveau fascists by censoring web searches. If pundits are willing to proclaim that a few local newspapers in China writing coy condemnations against draconian legislations is progress, imagine how effective it could be if the most powerful media companies in the world used their bully pulpits to shine a light on Beijing.