Barnes & Noble vs. Amazon, Round Bazillion

With PubIt!, their new self-publishing system, Barnes & Noble goes after the wee amounts of cash produced every time someone sells their unedited Vampire Elf Unicorn Romance novel via BN’s ebook system. Amazon’s version went live about three and a half years ago.

They’re selling it to readers as “an exciting world of innovative writing” (O INDEED) and to would-be authors as a way to “live your dream and sell your books with the world’s #1 bookseller.”

Screencap of PubIt! ad

Here’s what makes me sad: as with every other self-publishing system, a handful of people will make actual money while the rest wear themselves out spamming bulletin boards when they could be learning to write better books. That “live the dream” business sells false hope to people who are putting hundreds or thousands of hours of their time into a dead end.

Would you like fries with that? For free? Delivered?

In the meantime, Amazon carries on doing what it does best these days, which is eating Barnes & Noble’s lunch. I ordered a book late last Friday evening with free two-day shipping through Amazon Prime.

They couriered the book to my apartment door on Saturday. For free.

Granted, I live in Manhattan, but for comparison, the only time I’ve tried to use BN’s same-day courier service in Manhattan, my books took five days to arrive, and that was after I had to call their customer service line and go through a bizarre order-adjustment process wherein some of my items were deleted. I have never, ever had to call Amazon.

Since Barnes & Noble and Amazon have, between them, killed off most indie stores, I have a reason to want BN to survive—they’re the only place in many neighborhoods and towns where you can actually leaf through books and buy them on the spot. But right now, they’re not looking so lively.

Wired: Willfully Stupid or Just Cynical?

So the Wired Death of the Web issue finally came out, and as Tim Meaney has noted, the lead article is so poorly formatted online as to be nearly unreadable.

But just for starters, let’s talk about the bizarro chart that begins the article:

Chart from Wired showing internet data use

I stared at this for about three minutes because I couldn’t believe that an semi-responsible journalist would use a chart in such a blatantly misleading way, but there it is. As far as I can tell—and I’m left guessing because they haven’t cited their sources in any useful way—this is a graph of data use. It indicates that people are now downloading files that are big, presumably because they have faster net connections.

Chris Anderson is showing you a picture that demonstrates that O HEY VIDEO AND PIRATED MEDIA FILES ARE REAL BIG-LIKE, Y’ALL and claiming that it says something about how people view and use the web.

Let me rewind that one more time.

By using this chart, Anderson is claiming that because people now download big media files in addition to tiny HTML files, the web is dead, when the chart actually casts zero light on web use from any meaningful human (non-file-size-centric) point of view.

And Wired, in addition to having the (web) design sense of a drunken baby rabbit, apparently thinks we’re too dumb to tell the difference.

I want a tiny stormtrooper marionette more than I can say.

Google vs. NYT: Close Reading

The Times wrote:

Google and Verizon, two leading players in Internet service and content, are nearing an agreement that could allow Verizon to speed some online content to Internet users more quickly if the content’s creators are willing to pay for the privilege.

and:

The charges could be paid by companies, like YouTube, owned by Google, for example, to Verizon, one of the nation’s leading Internet service providers, to ensure that its content received priority as it made its way to consumers. The agreement could eventually lead to higher charges for Internet users.

Note that the Times didn’t write “could allow Verizon to speed Google content…” or “the charges would be paid by YouTube.” They used YouTube as a hypothetical example.

Google tweeted:

@NYTimes is wrong. We’ve not had any convos with VZN about paying for carriage of our traffic. We remain committed to an open internet.

Consider that “an open internet” can mean just about anything, and that the Times never suggested that Google had worked out a deal to pay Verizon for carriage of “their” traffic. 

Consider also that none of this wording, on either side, is arbitrary or unconsidered.

So far, the Times' spokesperson is correct in claiming that “Google’s comment about The New York Times story refutes something The Times story didn’t say.”

A Half-Goat Named Toast

In July of 2000, a journalist filed a fluffy science story with the BBC, describing the birth and behavior of a rare goat-sheep hybrid in Botswana; such hybrids normally die in utero, so the appearance of this apparently healthy specimen attracted international scientific attention. The story doesn’t include an official name for the animal, though it mentions that he received the nickname “Bemya,” which the BBC article translates as “rapist,” for his tendency to attempt to mate with both ewes and does, whether or not they were in heat.

Photo of half-sheep, half-goat hybrid

Sometime during the publication process, someone at the BBC wrote a headline for their article about the animal and used a common figure of speech: “‘Funny creature’ toast of Botswana.” In 2006, it seems that someone read the article, interpreted the headline literally, and created a Wikipedia page about the animal. The page currently begins:

The “Toast of Botswana" is the name of an unusual case of a sheep-goat hybrid that was reported by veterinarians in Botswana in 2000. The animal was born naturally from the mating of a female goat with a male sheep that were kept together.

Its sole citation? The BBC article, listed by its title.

A Google search for "Toast of Botswana" currently yields about 2,800 results, over 2,000 of which seem to be about a hybrid animal (or, alternately, a kind of hybrid) named “Toast.” Many of the listed pages are copies of the Wikipedia article being scraped and republished as Googlebait, but many feature “original content,” mostly in the form of lists of odd animals or funny-sounding terms for hybrid creatures.

And none of the writers, editors, Wikipedians, or bloggers who published content about the half-goat with the funny name paused to consider whether it was worth checking to make sure that The Toast of Botswana was, in fact, a name. 

As a symbol for our particular editorial moment, we could do worse.

“They really hate [it] when you actually read their content. That’s what they’re communicating by distraction-oriented design: “We don’t respect you, and we’re trying to aggravate you as much as possible, but not quite enough that you’ll stop coming.””

The Fall of Rome

 The piers are pummelled by the waves;
In a lonely field the rain
Lashes an abandoned train;
Outlaws fill the mountain caves.

Fantastic grow the evening gowns;
Agents of the Fisc pursue
Absconding tax-defaulters through
The sewers of provincial towns.

Private rites of magic send
The temple prostitutes to sleep;
All the literati keep
An imaginary friend.

Cerebrotonic Cato may
Extol the Ancient Disciplines,
But the muscle-bound Marines
Mutiny for food and pay.

Caesar's double-bed is warm
As an unimportant clerk
Writes I DO NOT LIKE MY WORK
On a pink official form.

Unendowed with wealth or pity,
Little birds with scarlet legs,
Sitting on their speckled eggs,
Eye each flu-infected city.

Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.

W H Auden