Has ‘Silicon Valley-style Startup Disruption’ Arrived for Book Publishing?

The Baffler says a new publishing house launched earlier this month “brings Silicon Valley-style startup disruption to the business of books.”

Authors Equity has “a tiny core staff, offloading its labor to a network of freelancers,” and like a handful of other publishers “is upending the way that authors get paid, eschewing advances and offering a higher percentage of profits instead.”

It is worth watching because its team includes several of the most important publishing people of the twenty-first century. And if it works, it will offer a model for tightening the connection between book culture and capitalism, a leap forward for the forces of efficiency and the fantasies of frictionless markets, ushering in a world where literature succeeds if and only if it sells….

Authors Equity’s website presents its vision in strikingly neoliberal corporatespeak. The company has four Core Principles: Aligned Incentives; Bespoke Teams; Flexibility and Transparency; and Long-Term Collaboration. What do they mean by these MBA keywords? Aligned Incentives is explained in the language of human capital: “Our profit-share model rewards authors who want to bet on themselves.” Authors, that is, take on more of the financial risk of publication. At a traditional publishing house, advances provide authors with guaranteed cash early in the process that they can use to live off while writing. With Authors Equity, nothing is guaranteed and nothing given ahead of time; an author’s pay depends on their book’s profits.

In an added twist, “Profit participation is also an option for key members of the book team, so we’re in a position to win together.” Typically, only an author’s agent’s income is directly tied to an author’s financial success, but at Authors Equity, others could have a stake. This has huge consequences for the logic of literary production. If an editor, for example, receives a salary and not a cut of their books’ profits, their incentives are less immediately about profit, offering more wiggle room for aesthetic value. The more the people working on books participate in their profits, the more, structurally, profit-seeking will shape what books look like.

“Bespoke Teams” is a euphemism for gigification. With a tiny initial staff of six, Authors Equity uses freelance workers to make books, unlike traditional publishers, which have many employees in many departments… Their fourth Core Principle — Long-Term Collaboration — addresses widespread frustration with a systemic problem in traditional publishing: the fetishization of debut authors who receive decent or better advances, fail to earn out, and then struggle to have a career. It’s a real problem and one where authors’ interests and capitalist rationalization are, as it were, aligned. Authors Equity sees that everyone might profit when an author can build a readership and develop their skill.
The article concludes with this prediction. “It’s not impossible that we’ll look back in twenty years and see its founding as auguring the beginning of the startup age in publishing.”

Food for thought… Pulp-fiction mystery writer Mickey Spillane once said, “I’m a writer, not an author. The difference is, a writer makes money.”

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Spotify Tries To Win Indie Authors By Cutting Audiobook Fees

In an effort to appeal to indie authors, Spotify’s Findaway audiobook seller “will no longer take a 20 percent cut of royalties for titles sold on its DIY Voices platform — so long as the sales are made on Spotify,” reports The Verge. From the report: In a company blog post published on Monday, Findaway said that it would “pass on cost-saving efficiencies” from its integration with the streaming service. While it’s free for authors to upload their audiobooks onto Findaway’s Voices platform, the company normally uses an 80/20 pricing structure — where Findaway takes a 20 percent fee on all royalties earned. But that fee comes after sales platforms take their own 50 percent cut on the list price. So under the old revenue split, an author who sold a $10 audiobook would have to give $5 to Spotify and $1 to Findaway. But moving forward, that same author will no longer have to pay the $1 distribution fee to Findaway when a sale is made through Spotify.

The margins on audiobooks are exceptionally high, much to the chagrin of the authors. For example, Audible takes 75 percent of retail sales (though it’ll only take 60 percent with an exclusivity contract). Many authors share royalties with their narrators and have to pay production fees — meaning they get an even smaller share of royalties. The move by Spotify and Findaway is likely a bid to draw more indie authors from Audible, which is currently its biggest competitor. But Spotify’s audiobooks business — which it launched last fall — still has a long way to go. Unlike music or podcasts, most audiobooks on Spotify must be purchased individually, and sales are restricted to its web version. Even CEO Daniel Ek admitted that the current process of buying an audiobook through Spotify is “pretty horrible.” “We at Spotify are just at the beginning of our journey supporting independent authors — we have many plans for how to help authors expand their reach, maximize revenue, and ultimately build a strong audiobooks business,” said Audiobook’s communications chief, Laura Pezzini.

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Steve Jobs Has a New ‘Memoir’, to Be Published More than 11 Years After His Death

An anonymous reader shares this report from the Washington Post:

Steve Jobs never lived to be an old wise man.

But running Apple and Pixar, tumbling and thriving, earned him a lot of wisdom in his 56 years. Now, a small group of his family, friends and former colleagues have collected it into “Make Something Wonderful: Steve Jobs in his own words,” available free to the public online starting on April 11. Somewhere between a posthumous memoir and a scrapbook album, it is told through notes and drafts Jobs emailed to himself, excerpts of letters and speeches, oral histories and interviews, photos and mementos. (Some physical copies are being produced for Apple and Disney employees, but that format won’t be for sale to the general public.)

“Imagine yourself as an old person looking back on your life,” Jobs wrote in a June 2005 email to himself as he was preparing to give the Stanford commencement speech. “Your life will be a story. It will be your story, with its highs and lows, its heros and villains, its forks in the road that mean everything.” The book, published by the Steve Jobs Archive, will be released on Apple Books and the Steve Jobs Archive website. The fact that it aesthetically resembles an Apple product — mostly gray and white, minimalist — is no coincidence: It was designed by LoveFrom, the firm founded by Jony Ive, Apple’s former chief design officer.

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Douglas Adams was Right. Science Journal Proves 42 Is the Address of the Universe

Slashdot reader Informativity writes: First published in Jan. ’21, a new publication entitled Measurement Quantization affirms the #42 is the address of our universe (Appx. AC), a distinguishing feature of our construct that ultimately answers the question to life, the universe and everything – from a physicist’s point-of-view. Importantly, the International Journal of Geometric Methods in Modern Physics – is a top-tier journal indexed to NASA’s Astronomical Data System (ADS), the after peer review version of arXiv.org. With just over 500 equations, the paper resolves a comprehensive physical description of dark energy, dark matter, discrete gravity, and unification. Resolving over 30 outstanding problems in modern physics, the paper derives the physical constants from first principles, demonstrates the physical significance of Planck’s units, resolves discrete versions of SR and GR, derives the equivalence principle, presents a parameter free description of early universe events, discovers a new form of length contraction not related to Einstein’s relativity and identifies the discrete state of our universe – 42. Forty-two is what defines our universe from any other version of a universe. It also determines the rate of expansion and the ground state orbital of an atom, thus reducing the number of stable universes as we understand them to just a few. So, while Douglas Adams may have just been randomly picking numbers when writing Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, perhaps we also live in a universe that likes to humor itself.

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Can Talking to Strangers Make Us Smarter?

Smartphones “have made it easier than ever to avoid interacting with the people in our immediate environment, writes New York City-based author Joe Keohane.

But is that always good? “Some social scientists believe teaching kids that literally everyone in the world they hadn’t met is dangerous may have been actively harmful.”

For several years, I researched why we don’t talk to strangers and what happens when we do for my book, The Power of Strangers: The Benefits of Connecting in a Suspicious World. This effort put me in the company of anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, political scientists, archeologists, urban designers, activists, philosophers, and theologians, plus hundreds of random strangers I talked to wherever I went. What I learned was this: we miss a lot by being afraid of strangers. Talking to strangers — under the right conditions — is good for us, good for our neighborhoods, our towns and cities, our nations, and our world. Talking to strangers can teach you things, deepen you, make you a better citizen, a better thinker, and a better person.

It’s a good way to live. But it’s more than that. In a rapidly changing, infinitely complex, furiously polarised world, it’s a way to survive….

Talking to strangers can also make us wiser, more worldly, and more empathetic, says Harvard University professor and MacArthur “genius grant” recipient, Danielle Allen. When she was teaching at the University of Chicago, Allen was repeatedly warned by colleagues to stay away from the poorer side of town. She believes that this “fear of strangers was actually eroding a lot of [her peers’] intellectual and social capacities”. She declined to stay away, and did some of her most admired work in those neighbourhoods. She has since devoted her career to fostering connections between people and groups that otherwise would not interact. “Real knowledge of what’s outside one’s garden cures fear,” Allen writes, “but only by talking to strangers can we come by such knowledge.”

By talking to strangers, you get a glimpse of the mind-boggling complexity of the human species, and the infinite variety of human experiences. It’s a cliché, but you get to see the world from the eyes of another, without which wisdom is impossible…. When these interactions go well — and they generally do — the positive perception of the stranger can generalise into better feelings about people. For me — and many of the respected experts and complete strangers I’ve spoken to — it comes down to a question of data. If I based all my perceptions of humanity on what is available through my phone or laptop, I would have a fantastically negative view of most other people.

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Kindle Scribe Brings Writing To Amazon’s Popular E-Reader

[T]he Scribe brings something altogether new to the line: writing. For the first time since the first Kindle was introduced in late-2007, Amazon’s added the ability to write on-device with a stylus. TechCrunch reports: Amazon’s entry in the space has a 10.2-inch screen and a design partially reminiscent of the premium Kindle Oasis, include a large side bezel (no page turn buttons, unfortunately) you can hold onto while reading. It has a battery the company rates at “weeks,” keeping in line with its fellow readers. At 433 grams, it’s (predictably) the heaviest Kindle, which could put a bit of a crimp in those bedtime reading marathons. The device ships with its own stylus, which magnetically snaps on the side — similar to what you see on a lot of tablets. The stylus doesn’t requiring charging, and instead relies on EMR (electro-magnetic resistance) — that means, among other things, that other styli will likely work with the Scribe, though the company cautions against that (naturally), stating that their own is tuned specifically for work on the Kindle.

A more premium model will also be made available with a built-in button for quick actions. These styli allow for a variety of different line styles, though the tips are permanent, so that’s happening through the on-board software accessible via a software toolbar. The company says it specifically designed the display/stylus combo to mimic the feel of a pen on paper. […] Strangely, handwriting recognition will be missing at launch, though the feature is almost certainly on the company’s roadmap. It will, however, have a newly Streamlined software offering, allowing files to be shared off the device through the Kindle app, a web browser or email. The company also says it has updated the notoriously outdated Send to Kindle feature to help remove some of the friction from the process. Meanwhile, a deal with Microsoft will bring Word functionality to the product at some point early next year. […] Preorders for the $340 device start today, with shipping expected before the holidays (think November). Amazon announced more than ten new products at their event, including four new Echo devices, a new TV, and sleep tracker. CNBC highlights the biggest announcements in their report.

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‘Linux IP Stacks Commentary’ Book Tries Free Online Updates

Recently the authors of Elements of Publishing shared an update. “After ten years in print, our publisher decided against further printings and has reverted the rights to us. We are publishing Elements of Programming in two forms: a free PDF and a no-markup paperback.”

And that’s not the only old book that’s getting a new life on the web…

22 years ago, long-time Slashdot reader Stephen T. Satchell (satch89450) co-authored Linux IP Stacks Commentary, a book commenting the TCP/IP code in Linux kernel 2.0.34. (“Old-timers will remember the Lion’s Unix Commentary, the book published by University xerographic copies on the sly. Same sort of thing.”) But the print edition struggled to update as frequently as the Linux kernel itself, and Satchell wrote a Slashdot post exploring ways to fund a possible update.

At the time Slashdot’s editors noted that “One of the largest complaints about Linux is that there is a lack of high-profile documentation. It would be sad if this publication were not made simply because of the lack of funds (which some people would see as a lack of interest) necessary to complete it.” But that’s how things seemed to end up — until Satchell suddenly reappeared to share this update from 2022:
When I was released from my last job, I tried retirement. Wasn’t for me. I started going crazy with nothing significant to do. So, going through old hard drives (that’s another story), I found the original manuscript files, plus the page proof files, for that two-decade-old book. Aha! Maybe it’s time for an update. But how to keep it fresh, as Torvalds continues to release new updates of the Linux kernel?

Publish it on the Web. Carefully.

After four months (and three job interviews) I have the beginnings of the second edition up and available for reading. At the moment it’s an updated, corrected, and expanded version of the “gray matter”, the exposition portions of the first edition….

The URL for the alpha-beta version of this Web book is satchell.net/ipstacks for your reading pleasure. The companion e-mail address is up and running for you to provide feedback. There is no paywall.

But there’s also an ingenious solution to the problem of updating the text as the code of the kernel keeps changing:

Thanks to the work of Professor Donald Knuth (thank you!) on his WEB and CWEB programming languages, I have made modifications, to devise a method for integrating code from the GIT repository of the Linux kernel without making any modifications (let alone submissions) to said kernel code. The proposed method is described in the About section of the Web book. I have scaffolded the process and it works. But that’s not the hard part.

The hard part is to write the commentary itself, and crib some kind of Markup language to make the commentary publishing quality. The programs I write will integrate the kernel code with the commentary verbiage into a set of Web pages. Or two slightly different sets of web pages, if I want to support a mobile-friendly version of the commentary.

Another reason for making it a web book is that I can write it and publish it as it comes out of my virtual typewriter. No hard deadlines. No waiting for the printers. And while this can save trees, that’s not my intent. The back-of-the-napkin schedule calls for me to to finish the expository text in September, start the Python coding for generating commentary pages at the same time, and start the writing the commentary on the Internet Control Message Protocol in October. By then, Linus should have version 6.0.0 of the Linux kernel released.

I really, really, really don’t want to charge readers to view the web book. Especially as it’s still in the virtual typewriter. There isn’t any commentary (yet). One thing I have done is to make it as mobile-friendly as I can, because I suspect the target audience will want to read this on a smartphone or tablet, and not be forced to resort to a large-screen laptop or desktop. Also, the graphics are lightweight to minimize the cost for people who pay by the kilopacket. (Does anywhere in the world still do this? Inquiring minds want to know.)

I host this web site on a Protectli appliance in my apartment, so I don’t have that continuing expense. The power draw is around 20 watts. My network connection is AT&T fiber — and if it becomes popular I can always upgrade the upstream speed.

The thing is, the cat needs his kibble. I still want to know if there is a source of funding available.

Also, is it worthwhile to make the pages available in a zip file? Then a reader could download a snapshot of the book, and read it off-line.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Are Plants ‘Intelligent’?

Long-time Slashdot reader Dr_Ish writes: It is not too common for the world of academic philosophy to be changed by a new discovery, or innovation. Perhaps the last time this happened in a major way can be traced back to Turing’s famous (1950) “Computational Machinery and Intelligence” paper “Mind,” where Turing proposed that computational systems could exhibit mind-like properties. However, it appears to be in the process of happening again.

In a series of recent papers and a book that was published last week, philosopher Prof. Paco Calvo from the University of Murcia, has made a compelling case that plants exhibit cognitive properties, such as memory, planning, intelligence and perhaps even numerical abilities… His book, Calvo, P. with Lawrence, N. “Planta Sapiens: The New Science of Plant Intelligence was published in the UK last week. It will appear in North America in March next year.

From the Guardian’s review of the book:
Calvo writes that intelligence is “not quite as special as we like to think”. He argues that it’s time to accept that other organisms, even drastically different ones, may be capable of it….

In the course of his book, Calvo describes many experiments that reveal plants’ remarkable range, including the way they communicate with others nearby using “chemical talk”, a language encoded in about 1,700 volatile organic compounds…. Other studies show that some plants retain a memory of where the sun will rise, in order to turn their leaves towards the first rays. They store this knowledge — an internal model of what the sun is going to do — for several days, even when kept in total darkness. The conclusion must be that they constantly collect information, processing and retaining it in order to “make predictions, learn, and even plan ahead”.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

How the Higgs Boson Particle Ruined Peter Higgs’s Life

93-year-old Peter Higgs was awarded a Nobel Prize nine years ago after the Large Hadron Collider experiments finally confirmed of the existence Higgs boson particles he’d predicted back in 1964. “This discovery was a seminal moment in human culture,” says physicist Frank Close, who’s written the new book Elusive: How Peter Higgs Solved the Mystery of Mass .

But Scientific American reports there’s more to the story:
For years, the significance of the prediction was lost on most scientists, including Higgs himself. But gradually it became clear that the Higgs boson was not just an exotic sideshow in the particle circus but rather the main event. The particle and its associated Higgs field turned out to be responsible for giving all other particles mass and, in turn, creating the structure of galaxies, stars and planets that define our universe and enable our species… Yet the finding, however scientifically thrilling, pushed a press-shy Peter Higgs into the public eye. When he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics the next year, Higgs left his home in Edinburgh and camped out at a pub across town on the day of the announcement so the prize committee wouldn’t be able to reach him.

Physicist Close shares more details in an interview with Scientific American:

Close: One of the biggest shocks I had when I was interviewing him was when he said the discovery of the boson “ruined [his] life.” I thought, “How can it ruin your life when you have done some beautiful mathematics, and then it turns out you had mysteriously touched on the pulse of nature, and everything you’ve believed in has been shown to be correct, and you’ve won a Nobel Prize? How can these things amount to ruin?” He said, “My relatively peaceful existence was ending. My style is to work in isolation and occasionally have a bright idea.” He is a very retiring person who was being thrust into the limelight.

That, to my mind, is why Peter Higgs the person is still elusive to me even though I’ve known him for 40 years…

Higgs had spent two to three years really trying to understand a particular problem. And because he had done that hard work and was still trying to deepen his understanding of this very profound concept, when a paper turned up on his desk posing a related question, Higgs happened to have the answer because of the work he’d done. He sometimes says, “I’m primarily known for three weeks of my life.” I say, “Yes, Peter, but you spent two years preparing for that moment.”

Q: The discovery of the Higgs boson came nearly 50 years after Higgs’s prediction, and he said he never expected it to be found in his lifetime. What did it mean to him that the particle was finally detected?

He said to me that his first reaction was one of relief that it was indeed confirmed. At that moment he knew [the particle existed] after all, and he felt a profound sense of being moved that that was really the way it was in nature — and then panic that his life was going to change.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.