As in Guillotine: 12/1/22
"Those questions aren't monetizable."
As promised, five things of interest, every other Thursday. If you like it, click the like button, leave a comment, reply via email, or share it on your favorite social network. If you don’t, no worries; unsubscribing is the right thing to do.
NOTE: I'm excited to be participating in Portland State University's latest Transmit Culture event on Friday, 12/2, 3pm ET, for a panel discussion about the role of libraries in the publishing ecosystem in 2022 and beyond. It’s moderated by Rachel Noorda, and it's free and virtual, so join us!
In Praise of the Worker-Owned Company (OR: What to Do About Simon and Schuster) | Nick Fuller Googins
“Our nation’s third-largest publisher doesn’t have to be owned by a mass media conglomerate or a private equity firm. There exists another option, one that would bring much-needed democracy to publishing by putting decision-making power into the hands of the very people who know books best: let the employees of Simon & Schuster purchase Simon & Schuster. They do the work, after all. Let them own their company. Let them call the damn shots.”
While I was glad to see the DOJ win its case to stop Penguin Random House from acquiring Simon and Schuster, which would have resulted in a Big One trade publisher that would have been bad for way more than just big advances, it was a bit of a Catch-22 scenario as PRH was arguably correct that they were the best option. Of course, that’s only if you believe annual growth and increased profitability are more important than stability, diversity, and equitable wages, and that never-ending consolidation is the only way to succeed.
I don’t foresee the other big corporate publishers testing an emboldened DOJ with their own acquisition attempt, and Paramount has made it clear they’re going to sell S&S no matter what, so the worst-case scenario looks like a strong possibility: private equity. A PE buyer will surely run the usual playbook, saddling their acquisition with significant debt, which gets paid off through layoffs (which PRH had already prepared for in what would likely be a less aggressive approach) and divestments of key assets. In that scenario, PRH, Harper Collins, and maybe Hachette cherry pick the best of the backlist, staff, and distribution clients, leaving a diminished S&S no longer one of the Big Five. Zombie S&S then most likely heads to bankruptcy after a few lean years where the rest of the industry will scavenge through the leftovers.
While I don’t believe Goggins’ proposal has any real shot of happening, the model itself isn’t unrealistic, with Norton being the best-known example, as noted. Belt Publishing and Microcosm Publishing, both of which I frequently reference as good examples of many things, are two others I’m aware of. Slightly more realistic and way more interesting, perhaps, would be S&S employees buying key imprints to take them independent after the initial feeding frenzy is over — something I didn’t realize was a possibility with Writers Digest until it was too late, a few years ago when its parent company, F+W Media, was purposefully driven into bankruptcy — although even that feels like wishful thinking.
As I wrote back in 2019, bristling over the mishandling of F+W’s last gasps, the whole system is bankrupt. If S&S doesn’t exist five years from now, it really won’t be a surprise.
And the Participation Award Goes To...| Omar Sakr
"Is it really 'resistance' to stay generating content and activity that ultimately benefits a billionaire sociopath who is actively promoting racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia?"
It’s been a month since I officially took a break from Twitter, and after a week of light withdrawal pains (offset by missing the Election Day Discourse), I’m not only glad I did it, but I’m increasingly annoyed that I still have to be engaged there for the day job. I’m slowly filling the important parts of that hole through Mastodon and Feedly, and after settling into a new instance (think Geocities Neighborhood), I’m finding new and interesting people who wouldn’t have crossed my previously overcrowded radar.
Sakr’s post caught my eye on the zirk.us local feed, which I casually check in on a couple of times a day, and he offers some thoughtful insights on Qatar and the World Cup; the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement; and the various challenges of ethically engaging on an internet largely owned by a few unscrupulous billionaires.
FWIW, my ambivalence about the World Cup was easily resolved because Fox is one of the few streaming services I don’t subscribe to and I’m still in no mood for the faux nationalism that comes with supporting the USA team. As for Twitter, it’s going to be easier for some than others to go cold turkey, or even diminish their presence enough to become an unprofitable user, but at this point, everyone should be working on a Plan B.
Is DC Universe Infinite Ultra a game-changer for comics streaming platforms? | Sam Stone
"The majority of the books that will get read in that format will be books readers didn’t plan on buying in the first place."
True Confession: Despite working with digital comics for 2.5 years now, I'm still not a big fan of ebooks and will blow good money on print editions of comics I have free access to via the day job. This is probably no surprise to most decent comics publishers, either.
Back in my Digital Book World days, which actually made me even more cynical about ebooks, I praised comiXology as one of the few apps that lived up to the hype surrounding the iPad’s otherwise overrated impact on publishing. Unfortunately, in the years after, I never grew to like reading ebooks at all, comics or otherwise, even when doing so would save me space and money. Fast forward to 2022, even with literal thousands of comics available to me via Comics Plus, I only use it to sample titles I’m not familiar with and can’t find on the shelves at my local comics shop or B&N, which is most of them.
That said, I don't think DC is taking a huge risk with their latest incremental move towards embracing digital comics even further. “Ultra” subscribers will be a subset of voracious DC Comics readers — themselves a tiny subset of overall comics readers — who will also continue to buy print editions of their favorite comics every Wednesday at their local comics shop. It's also why comiXology's extremely troubled relaunch / Kindle integration didn't worry, nor affect, publishers too much.
NOTE: Webcomics are a huge exception to everything comics-related, and Everything is Fine remains a favorite of mine on Webtoon.
Amazon Alexa is a “colossal failure,” on pace to lose $10 billion this year | Ron Amadeo
“Not many people want to trust an AI with spending their money or buying an item without seeing a picture or reading reviews. The report says that by year four of the Alexa experiment, ‘Alexa was getting a billion interactions a week, but most of those conversations were trivial commands to play music or ask about the weather.’ Those questions aren't monetizable.”
Ebooks weren’t the only thing my time with Digital Book World made me cynical about; it made it easier to see through the smoke and mirrors of so many other overhyped technological “advancements” in search of nonexistent or innocuous problems to solve. From the ridiculous vaporware of “enhanced ebooks” to the credulous obsession with voice assistants, “smart” devices, and the “internet of things,” I’ve found myself frequently humming my favorite Barnum tune over the years: There Is a Sucker Born Ev'ry Minute.
Ironically, Digital Book World was acquired a few years ago by a company focused on voice and AI, and its latest iteration (returning to NYC and its original slot in the calendar) looks like DBW and Tools of Change — our primary competitor when we launched in 2010 — had a potentially interesting baby. It's a solid mix of experienced speakers and practical topics (OG DBW) with a liberal splash of vendors and futurist vaporware (TOC), but several of the latter sessions may need to be rethought in light of this news about Alexa.
How Therapists Are Using Tabletop Games to Help People | Kam Burns
“‘Trauma disconnects us from ourselves, and one of the first things we get disconnected from is our imagination and creativity,’ Walker says. Tabletop games allow their clients to reconnect with their imaginations, as the structure of the games provide some comfort and encourage people to start thinking about what could be rather than what is.”
Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs were a key part of my teenage years, although I definitely spent more time reading the books and creating characters and backstories than I did actually playing the games. I was in my late 30s when I finally played a sustained campaign with a consistent group of friends, and every now and then I get an itch to do it again.
Learning that games are successfully being used in therapeutic settings is simultaneously not surprising and thrilling. Knowing what it takes to manage a traditional campaign with a group of players who often have different opinions of what makes it fun, I can only imagine the dedication it takes to pull it off as a therapist!
"Nascent Web publishing efforts have their genesis in a burning need to say something, but their ultimate success comes from people wanting to listen, needing to hear each other’s voices, and answering in kind."
Guy LeCharles Gonzalez
Guy is an old/new media pragmatist; sometimes loud, formerly poet, always opinionated. Learn more at loudpoet.com, including which social networks he’s currently on.
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