May 20th, 2011

AAP numbers, Amazon announcement

I posted nothing yesterday because I was otherwise occupied. R. and I went to Bull Run in Shirley for lunch, which was truly excellent. Lots of fresh, locally sourced vegetables in the hummous wrap and spring roll appetizers and R.'s prime rib sandwich had a generous amount of meat in it. The fries were tasty, too, without any of that weird batter crap that keeps popping up at restaurants. Between that and a trip up to the midwives for a well-woman visit and to drop by the house in Mayberry, I didn't have a ton of time to blog. Not really happy about the visit to the house: lots of expected issues, but I'm feeling a little pissy about having to get the well cap fixed _again_ and I'm worried about the damage the tree took when someone clearly ran a vehicle (probably the U-Haul) into it and scraped a bunch of bark off.

On Wednesday, I asked where the AAP numbers were and on Thursday, when I wasn't blogging, they were released. Also on Thursday, Amazon put out an announcement about ebooks. Here are the press releases:

AAP

http://www.publishers.org/press/32/

Amazon

http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=176060&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1565581&highlight=

I don't think I chopped off Amazon's URL but who knows.

Anyway. AAP's release was a combination of the March 2011 numbers and an announcement:

"Next week, a new annual survey capturing the size and scope of the total U.S. publishing industry will be unveiled. The first-ever report, produced from net sales and unit data provided by more than 1100 publishers, reflects the transformational changes in the dynamic industry and has been designed to support publishers’ strategic priorities."

This is underlined in the press release and there's an advisory at the top about it as well. Next week = May 24, the same day B&N is set to announce a new e-reader, all associated with BEA. (If you're having trouble keeping up, AAP is a trade association of publishers. B&N is Barnes & Noble. BEA BookExpo America, a book publishing/selling trade show, formerly known as ABA.)

Amazon's numbers are very simple to summarize.

"Since April 1, for every 100 print books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 105 Kindle books. This includes sales of hardcover and paperback books by Amazon where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the number even higher."

The AAP numbers emphasize seasonality of ebook sales:

"According to publishers, these figures are consistent with seasonal buying patterns; in particular, a return to print editions after the post-holiday period of buying, or “loading,” of e-Books into e-reader devices."

Extracting additional information from earlier press releases, here's what I get in round numbers (millions):

2010 2011

Jan 32 70
Feb ~30 90
Mar 28 69

I'm prepared to believe I made an error; if you find one, please tell me so I can correct it.

These numbers do depict seasonality in ebook sales over the time period in question (first quarter of the year). But if I were focused on print publishing, it is not a seasonality I would find particularly reassuring. I believe that coverage which reproduces the assertion of seasonality without pointing out the _wild_ distortion of 2011 compared to the quite mild perturbation of 2010 is crappy coverage: it's press release journalism, where you just let the interested party write your article for you and slap your name on it and move on to the next item.

Every month I look at this stuff, I'm more and more tempted to try to get the full data set for the last couple years. It _looks_ like paper books are enjoying a small portion of the slow economic recovery, however, it looks to me (based on the limited numbers the AAP chooses to release) like publishing is so sensitive to the effects of individual best sellers that it's hard to know for sure.

Comparing Amazon's April numbers to AAP's March numbers is not something I'm prepared to do. I'll be interested to see the April numbers out of AAP in 3-4 weeks to make the comparison then. I'll probably also feel compelled to say something about the May 24 release from the Book Industry Study Group, but I won't be happy about it.

Defending DSK: Ben Stein, Economists, Violent Sex Crimes and Fact Checking as a Sport

I was watching the Daily Show coverage of people trying to defend DSK. Passing quickly over the really obviously dumb arguments (maids arrive in rooms in pairs in NYC and he's too short-fat-old to have done the alleged deeds), Stewart arrived at one worthy of some fact checking.

Here is what Ben Stein wrote:

http://spectator.org/archives/2011/05/17/presumed-innocent-anyone

The relevant passage:

"Can anyone tell me any economists who have been convicted of violent sex crimes? Can anyone tell me of any heads of nonprofit international economic entities who have ever been charged and convicted of violent sexual crimes? Is it likely that just by chance this hotel maid found the only one in this category? Maybe Mr. Strauss-Kahn is guilty but if so, he is one of a kind, and criminals are not usually one of a kind."

An astonishing number of people have produced a really impressive list of people who meet some or all of these patterns.

Randall Munroe at XKCD points to Paul Bernardo:

http://blog.xkcd.com/2011/05/18/answering-ben-steins-question/

Here's another list that Munroe points to:

http://jamesurbaniak.tumblr.com/post/5586097856/oops

This blogger notes that not _all_ of the cases are violent.

What did The Daily Show come up with?

Richard Nyamwange (former ESU business professor sentenced to state prison for sexual assault)

http://www.poconorecord.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080201/NEWS/80201019

Robert von der Ohe (former Rockford College economics professor pleads guilty to sexual abuse)

http://www.wifr.com/news/headlines/111151514.html

Robert Maubouche: French economist, worked at World Bank, convicted in 1997 for sexual assaulting a housekeeper.

http://www.gazette.net/gazette_archive/1997/199725/potomac/news/a58087-1.html

While Stewart is clearly being humorous when saying economists are the "rapiest" profession going, Stein's clearly wrong in suggesting this is somehow a one-of-a-kind event and therefore, on the basis of that, probably not true.

I've been very cautious about what I've written about this whole incident. I've been really pleased and outspoken that I am pleased by our willingness as a culture to believe a maid (an immigrant maid, an immigrant African maid, an immigrant African single-mom maid), even when that maid accuses someone who would ordinarily enjoy substantial immunity from the repercussions of bad behavior. I agree that a person is "innocent until proven guilty", and I further believe that that's a _legal_ construct, not a social/gossip/whatever you want to call news-culture construct. I don't have a problem with seeing DSK "paraded in handcuffs" or kept at Riker's (hey, that's what we do to all the other people accused of rape in that jurisdiction, why should he be any different?). While Stein is free to say what he thinks in forums he can get access to -- a soapbox on the street or a column at The Spectator or a letter to a friend or whatever -- I'm overjoyed to see an enormous pile-on to tell him what a fucking jackass he is and how instead of successfully defending DSK or the legal construct of innocent until proven guilty, he's just making it clear to everyone paying attention that he's the kind of guy who would disbelieve an accusation of serious crime just because someone's the head of an "nonprofit international economic" entity and that strikes him as unlikely. Oh, and along the way, he's actually discrediting the idea of innocent until proven guilty by associating it with all the other attributes of sweeping-something-under-the-rug.

Not all judicial systems are based on the idea of a presumption of innocence (and not all of them are adversarial in nature, either). Whatever may or may not be the case with a judicial system, however, the details of the structure of that system DO NOT and SHOULD NOT dictate what can or should be said in the political or social culture of the society it is ONE attribute of. You want to talk about "chilling" effects on free speech or infringing freedom of speech? Telling everyone they can't talk about what some guy is accused of doing strikes me as being _very_ chilling and _very_ infringing. We do have to be clear that this is an _accusation_, and anyone participating in the judicial process (a juror or attorney or whatever) has to abide by the rules of that process.

But that's got nothing to do with the rest of us.

The Maubouche coverage I linked to above is interesting to me because it revolves in part around the complicated terrain that is "consent". An older belief in our culture -- one still held by more conservative participants such as Stein when he suggests that DSK was too short-fat-old to commit rape -- is that it isn't rape if she doesn't fight back. Another belief is that it isn't rape if the rapist has received consent in the past from the victim. The DKE incident was a form of activism in support of these beliefs: No Means Yes is "if she doesn't beat you senseless, what you did was okay". Yes Means Anal is "if she says yes to anything, she's said yes to everything". The young men were out there advocating for an interpretation of consent and a use of language that I find reprehensible and they were doing it in a context in which "freedom of speech" has significant limitations (a college campus which receives federal funding, thus subject to Title IX requirements regarding sexual harassment and hostile environment and so forth). I was pleased to see those limitations enforced meaningfully and overjoyed that some Very Bad People were punished.

These may be "words", but these are not "just" words. Saying "just" words implies that all words are roughly equivalent and/or roughly unimportant. But they are not. Words are how we communicate who we are and what be believe and how we want our world to be. Anyone who uses arguments like the ones Maubouche's attorney uses, or who argues that the Dekes should be allowed to say what they said where and how they said it is _explicitly advocating_ that our society should condone sexual abuse, in particular, sexual abuse by men of women and by people in a position of power of those whose ability to say no is compromised by economic dependence, and that it's okay to tolerate a dangerous environment where young people go to get an eduction.

If the allegations against DSK fail to hold up, nothing I've said will change. I'll still be happy we believed the maid. I'll still be fine with having put an innocent man -- who happened to enjoy a high position -- accused of Very Bad Things in Riker's for a while. We've done that to lots of poor innocent men (and women) and we'll do it again. We lock people up after they've been accused but before they've been tried because we've decided, on balance, that we'd rather be safe than sorry. I'm also happy that the bail negotiations revolved not exclusively around money, but on a way to give DSK a little more liberty while respecting concerns about risk to self-and-others and flight. I hope we'll see more of this in our justice system in the future.

French coverage of DSK scandal and Lawyers on internal governance issues

The comments thread is really interesting.

You can run it through an auto-translator; the gist comes through really well.

http://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/politique/la-descente-aux-enfers-de-dsk_993476.html

What I'm looking for is the full text of the Piroska Nagy letter. (She was the subordinate in the 2008 scandal.)

The excerpts are very clear on three points:

(1) She's fine with the severance and so forth of her departure. ("Les circonstances de mon départ et le montant de mon indemnité de licenciement sont un non-sujet"
(2) DSK abused his position/she felt coerced. ("Je pense que M. Strauss-Kahn a abusé de sa position dans sa façon de parvenir jusqu'à moi. Je vous ai expliqué en détail comment il m'a convoquée plusieurs fois pour en venir à me faire des suggestions inappropriées.")
(3) She said he wouldn't do well running an organization in which he had to work with women. ("Je crains que cet homme ait un problème pouvant le rendre peu adapté à la direction d'une institution où des femmes travaillent sous ses ordres.")

I _heard_ (on Bloomberg) that the reason the IMF said it was consensual and he got the "error in judgment" label was because Nagy declined to testify because she didn't trust the process, however I'd be a lot happier if I saw it written down somewhere so I could source it better because I may have misheard that.

[ETA: Here's the Bloomberg piece:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-05-20/strauss-kahn-imf-probe-aborted-in-2008-as-alleged-victim-wouldn-t-testify.html

Relevant quote: "“Because I did not fully trust the internal processes at the fund, I declined to cooperate with the fund’s initial investigation,” Nagy wrote on Oct. 20, 2008, just days before Smith concluded his investigation."

I think it's all the same letter, but I am not sure.

]

Here's one place I have found excerpts from the letter:

http://www.linternaute.com/actualite/politique/rumeurs-dsk/piroska-nagy-2.shtml (that's where the quotes in parentheses came from).

Some commenters at the L'Express (wow, that sounds weird in my head with the double article) article attack the Socialist Party for being willing to put DSK forward given all the problems they knew about.

In the L'Express article and in the comments thread associated with it are remarks about how puritanical the US may or may not be, and the desirability of similar standards being applied in France/to Frenchmen. Meanwhile, over here:

http://volokh.com/2011/05/16/dsk-international-organizations-and-internal-personnel-governance/

This is a discussion of some problems of internal governance of international organizations that are very disconnected from their surrounding communities thus making dating/marriage/reproduction outside the work-circle difficult-to-impossible. If you can't ban internal relationships, managing conflict that arises from them is necessary, and the idealism associated with international organizations tends not to produce the kind of process oriented people that would be good at managing that conflict even-handedly. I liked some of the insight into why this is a problem; I don't want anyone to think that I agree with the more detailed opinions of the author or other authors at that blog.

Dvorak at PC Magazine accuses Amazon of "cooking the books"

Hey, call it what it is, right? Dvorak is accusing Amazon of lying in their recent press release.

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2385683,00.asp

Here are some of his arguments:

"Of all the people I know, only two have Kindles. I never see them on airplanes, and I check every time I fly."

Makes you wonder, right? Is he walking up and down the aisle inspecting everyone's devices? Polling flight attendants?

He asks Amazon to release further details, "numbers". I'm not sure how this would help; he doesn't believe what they did tell him, so why would further data from a source he doesn't trust change things? Here's why he's asking:

"This all looks like a publicity stunt if you ask me. The numbers should have been released since this is a major shift in societal trends.

It would affect the reading public, printing companies, book publishers, Amazon competitors, corner bookstores, public libraries, and schools. If it's true, everything will change. But where are the numbers?"

First, duh, it's a publicity stunt. This is the week leading up to BEA, you silly man. It's a _press release_. It's for _publicity_. However, that does not mean it's not true. I _love_ the argument that if it is true, Amazon has some sort of moral? ethical? common interest? reason to divulge details -- "since this is a major shift in societal trends". I haven't figured out where I'm going to recycle this argument, but I'll think of something, I'm sure, and I'll make a point of citing Dvorak when I do. You have to tell me! It means there's a major shift in societal trends!

I was astounded that the column actually got sillier as it went along. He asserts that people are using the contents of their ereader to seek status, and that the 50-100 books they display are largely unread.

He saves the best for last:

"But if Amazon is selling more ebooks than print books and if I were a big brand publisher, I'd be jumping out of a window right now. I do not see that happening either."

Here, I'll break it down for you.

The US is a huge fraction of the world book market. Amazon is a huge fraction of the US book market. Amazon says more than half of its sales -- by units not revenue -- is now ebook. If I were a publisher and this were true, it would be my Doom. That conclusion is unacceptable, therefore, Amazon is lying.

Denial in action. It's a beautiful, scary, dangerous, hilarious and wonderful thing.

A Change in the Narrative of eBooks

Well, it was all kinds of fun to take a poke at Dvorak for accusing Amazon, but the real story here is that a press release saying Amazon sold 105 ebooks for 100 pbooks appears to have not just generated significant buzz (surely a major goal of the press release) but also to have dramatically changed the narrative of ebooks. While the book huffers have been gone for a while, the it's-only-some-tiny-fraction-of-the-market storyline replaced it. You can see it in Dvorak's dismissive "niche" remark at the end of his column. You can hear an echo of it in some of the older researchers being quoted saying the ebook market is still "only" 14% or whatever of book sales.

The new narrative is very different. It isn't, I like paper. It isn't about not being impressed by a minority share of the market. It is, we are in the middle of a transition from pbooks to ebooks, and this announcement by Amazon was inevitable.

Inevitable. Wow.

Here's a very succinct version of it:

http://content.usatoday.com/communities/technologylive/post/2011/05/amazon-now-selling-more-e-books-than-printed-versions/1

"It had to happen sometime,"

Now, instead of ebooks being the niche, pbooks are being depicted as the niche: "But when it comes to childrens books, reference materials, and serious use in academia, I think that print books will be dominant for a long while." That's from Alex Knapp at:

http://blogs.forbes.com/alexknapp/2011/05/19/what-do-amazons-e-book-sales-mean-for-the-future-of-books/

FWIW, he's completely wrong. I totally agreed with him on childrens books a little over a year ago, for exactly the reasons he gives (drooling and chewing), but a year of buying ebook apps on the iPad for a couple of preschoolers has completely changed my mind. I quit buying reference materials in book form long before the kindle arrived on the scene; online databases were much more likely to have what I wanted and be kept up to date (I personally pay for access to some of them and others I access using my library card, if they aren't available to the general public). "Serious use in academic" is a tricky assertion, because it's hard to know how to interpret. What I do know is that a lot of the details he gets into for why textbooks are tough in eform will likely seem very, very funny in a matter of a small (single digits) number of years.

But regardless of the details, the shift in the narrative is striking. The punditry now seems to be viewing ebookery announcements through a lens of "industry in transition, e-form will predominate inevitably", rather than a lens of early adopter/gadgetry/the annoyance of format changes.

Bowker released numbers on Wednesday

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/print-isnt-dead-says-bowkers-annual-book-production-report-122152344.html

Gotta love a Bowker _press release_ which feels compelled to headline "Print Isn't Dead". Ouch.

First, some explanation. Bowker does "Books in Print" (and some other periodical references) which is what it sounds like it is: a list of books that are currently in print, along with enough information to identify them and order them. There's an obvious question here about a certain internet bookstore and what it uses to put its catalog together and the answer is, no, they don't use Bowker's Books In Print as a source and yes, in fact, that catalog constitutes a de facto competitor to Bowker, in that a lot of small operations that want access to information about books no longer felt compelled to pay Bowker when they could get comparable information for free instead. If you think of bibligraphic information (what it's named, who wrote it, who published it, etc.) as the "front end" and delivering the book the "back end", Bowker is purely a front end source (albeit a really comprehensive one. So comprehensive they consistently list books that do not actually exist). When they list numbers, they are talking about distinct ISBNs, not about how many books are printed much less how many make it to a retailer certainly not how many are bought by someone who might then read it or at least keep it around the house for a bit.

So when their press release says this:

"In 2008, the production of non-traditional print-on-demand books surpassed traditional book publishing for the first time and since then, its growth has been staggering. Now almost 8 times the output of traditional titles, the market is dominated by a handful of publishers. In fact, the top three publishers accounted for nearly 87% of total titles produced in 2010."

What they mean is that if you took the entire list of _distinct_ ISBNS (and yes, Virginia, that means a book with a hardcover, a trade paperback and large print edition gets counted three times), 3 publishers covered 87% and none of those three are in the Big 6 (or whatever the number is this week).

"BiblioBazaar 1,461,918
General Books LLC 744,376
Kessinger Publishing, LLC 462,480"

Kessinger isn't familiar to me; the previous two are publishers I avoid because in my head they are tightly associated with customer reviews saying their OCR scanned public domain editions are really awful. More familiar author-service houses do make an appearance further down the list.

A long tail indeed. FWIW, BiblioBazaar, General Books and, IIRC, Books LLC have a ton of overlap in their OCRd public domain titles.

Wikipedia entries:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kessinger_Publishing
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibliobazaar (says Bibliobazaar = Nabu, which explains a lot)

According to this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Books_llc

Books LLC = General Books LLC, which would make #2 and #4 on the list the same operation, but would still list it at #2 in the revised list.

I can't help but feel like what these operations have done is parasitic and unhelpful, and the impact on Bowker's information feels very spam-y to me. But Bowker is so damn irrelevant, it probably doesn't matter to anyone anyway.