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10Feb/110

The new agents of change

The case of Wael Ghonim is an instructive example of just how much internet-savvy democracy activists are putting on the line for change. Ghonim, the Google engineer who helped organize some of the first mass-protests in Egypt via Facebook, was arrested by the police and detained for 12 days, forced to stay in a solitary cell blind folded for the duration. Fortunately, he managed to survive his ordeal and was released a couple of days ago.  And though he seems to be a very humble guy and would probably shun the description, he has emerged as a perfect example of an effective, 21st century democracy advocate. The kind of person who can match technical know-how with a passion for doing what’s right.

Shortly after the demonstrations erupted in Tunisia and Egypt, a lot of people started wondering people living under other repressive regimes and how they might be reacting to the events in north Africa. Since we’re publishing a book this spring by internationally beloved Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez (Havana Real: One Woman Fight to Tell the Truth about Cuba Today), I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Cuba.

As if on cue, last week the following video surfaced of a cybernetic specialist in counterintelligence in Cuba warning about counter-revolutionary bloggers, taking great pains to convey a special sort of disdain for Yoani (FYI: it’s long and in Spanish with no subtitles).

La ciber policia en Cuba from Coral Negro on Vimeo.

In the video, he lays out an elaborate conspiracy in which the US government is secretly supplying Cuban bloggers and democracy advocates with money and technical support to foment a counter revolution. In his speech–which has been translated by the blog Translating Cuba and can be found herehe gives a pretty hilarious explanation of what Twitter is and singles out Yoani as a particular threat:

This is what I am showing you—I won’t ask you to understand it, but to inform yourselves on how Twitter works, if you have the access—these are the profiles of four people on Twitter. Twitter is a network for short messages, 140 characters, and there we find Yoani. Twitter works in such a way that I follow You, and You follow Me. That is: I follow people, people follow me.

Whatever people I follow reach me, and the people that follow me, whatever I write reaches them. According to Yoani’s profile on Twitter—this is from today at 1:30 PM—she has 52,946 people following her on Twitter. Each time Yoani says anything, at least 52,000 people in the world get the message.

But to each of these 52,000 followers that she has, the message will reach them, and it’s like a spider that threads a web, and sometimes we say: Why is it anything Yoani says, someone who is nobody here, the whole world knows about it?…

…What are we talking about here? The same thing I was explaining a while ago in Iran. To say “Tweeters, rise, let’s do it, let’s go… let’s meet at…” and so that is how she is going to set off the spark to start a conflict.

With her perceptive eye and typically biting wit, Yoani responded thusly:

Are you one of those who fabricates the lies? Or one of those who believes them? I would like to ask this question of the speaker who deploys a complicated conspiracy theory in this video. If it’s someone who is just sending a message, then the answer is simple: the falsehood is concocted higher up and he is just the messenger. But I fear that part of what he is expounding in front of those grim soldiers — with a constellation of stars on their uniforms — is  his own production, cooked up by himself. His lengthy presentation, punctuated with words such as “enemy,” “operative,” and “the evils,” shows me what can happen when one talks about the most modern of technologies using old-fashioned language. He doesn’t seem to understand the affinities and ties that link sites like Facebook and Twitter, but applies a prism of his own making to them, rather than recognize that individuals make their own decisions to join them and — horrors! — jump the ideological barriers. Although he might be a brilliant computer scientist, this young man failed social sciences.


27Jan/110

Publishers and agents differ on ‘fair’ e-book royalty rates

EBookNewser has a report on an ongoing disagreement between publishers and agents as to the nature of a “fair” e-book royalty percentage. It seems publishers think that the percentage is 25%, while many agents think it should be 50%.


This comes by way of a survey presented yesterday at Digital Book World by Mike Shatzkin of the Idea Logical Company and Constance Sayre of Market Partners International. Apparently as many as 1/3 of agents claim to have negotiated 50% royalty deals. Furthermore, 90% of agents have clients who are potentially interested in self-publishing.

Certainly, authors such as J.A. Konrath who self-publish through Amazon can end up with 70% royalty rates, which isn’t too bad at all—though it does require the writers to do a lot more work on their own than they would have to do with a publisher’s backing.

Nice as it would be for authors to get higher royalties on their books, I have difficulty imagining most publishers being too happy about letting that camel’s nose into their tent. After all, the industry is struggling right now as it is, and e-books are only going to make up a greater and greater percentage of sales—and thanks to agency pricing, publishers are getting considerably less for an e-book sale than for a paper one already.

But who knows. I suppose it’s always possible that publishers might be able to figure out some way of producing books more efficiently in order to stay afloat—but then again, there’s considerable incentive for them just to go ahead and keep that extra money.

25Jan/110

Digital Book World: New models for agents

Emily Williams, BSIG, moderator; Jim Levine, Levine/Greenberg Literary Agency; Scott Waxman, Waxman Literary Agency; Steve Ross, Abrams Artists Agency

Williams: publishers not buying as many books and on the other side have self-publishing upsurge. Agents getting squeezed. Traditionally the agent gets paid only if the author gets paid. With alternatives is no advance so how does an agent get paid when the agent does the functions that the publisher used to do, i.e., editing, pr, etc.

Levine: combined agency and author services for the last 20 years. Not a publisher but think of themselves as multi-media producers. Not just the agent role of making deals, but orchestrating the talent and finding the money to make the project work. Found, for example, an author trying to sell a book but it really worked best as an app. Took it to Vook and they published it. Maybe a book will come out of it later. For each project try to figure out which media, what timing; for example, sold a business book which will come out first as an ebook, then 6 months later as a trade book and then later as an app. As agents use straight 15% domestic, 20% foreign. On new projects try to figure out who does the work, who takes the risk and adjust accordingly. Very much based on trust and will vary from project to project. If they fund it, for example, they get more. Gone back and chery-picked backlist multi-media rights to see what rights are available to see if they can do it or go to the publisher and make him do it.

Waxman: Traditional agency. Wanted to explore the opportunities in publishing electronically. Set up a system to do a full publishing process for client’s electronic books. Fair amount of trial and error. Need to have authors that are flexible and experiment with you because this is a completely new area. Not every author wants to do things the same way. Some authors want to be involved and maybe even pay for part of the process so they get one deal, other authors don’t want to do anything and so get a different financial deal. The authors who are most involved in the marketing of their own books should be the first choice to try to do this because they understand how to reach an audience. Deals with other agents as well and work with them to help them publish the book. Authors can get more revenue than from traditional methods. Used to be a very firm business model for being an agent. Now need to be very flexible and when find new opportunities beyond the traditional book deal need to devise compensation on an individual basis. No one has figured out how to sell books online yet. Social media has a long ways to go. It isn’t yet worth spending a lot of money to market ebooks online yet. The big challenge is to figure out how much to invest.

Ross: an agent for about 6 months. Work for a talent agency who handles media people. Director of book division and provides a consulting services. Fewer titles being published, many editors, marketers and publicists out of work. With publisher consolidations agents can’t sell products to companies. Self publishing on the rise. Decided to set up a consulting service for self-published authors and within 10 days had more clients than could handle. On services side clients pay him by the month to guide them through the process: introduces them to editors, designer, marketers, etc. On the agency side provides agency services to existing Abrams clients. Sometimes, with the same client, goes from being a consultant to a traditional agent and vice versa. In this time of rapid change need to be fluid in the use of options. Role has a lot of “career management” to manage client’s exposure and brand. Deals are done client by client. Uses a single page, very loose written agreement.


23Dec/100

New survey of US literary agents – a preview

images.jpegPublishing Trends has a preview of an invitation-only survey of US literary agents which was done by the Idea Logical Company and Market Partners International. Here’s a snippet. The full survey will be presented at Digital Book World. More details in the article.

50% think “the overall impact of e-books and their royalties” are helping their authors’ income on backlist contracts. 25% say e-books are helping earnings on new contracts.

A third have no preference for the “agency” versus “wholesale” model, while 27% have a preference for agency, and 17% prefer wholesale.

Two-thirds believe that if e-book rights are not specifically granted in the contract, they are reserved by the author for exploitation, regardless of any non-compete clause.

A majority believe 50% (or more) is the “fair” e-book royalty, and over 80% believe there will be an increase from the 25% standard over the next three years, with 25% of those believing it will “rise sharply.”

Over a third say they have negotiated e-book royalties of over 25%, including escalators and bonuses, on new contracts with major publishers.