By Porter Anderson | @Porter_Anderson
From March 15, 2012
Part of my series of columns on publishing, Writing on the Ether, appearing Thursdays at the invitation of Jane Friedman at JaneFriedman.com
The noble Brutus hath told you
Caesar was ambitious.
But, of course, today, the 17th Earl of Oxford would have Marc Antony say:
Caesar was disruptive.
We like that word now, don’t we? Disruptive. Oh, yes, we do. Not for nothing did Gayle Feldman, covering the American Association of Publishers for TheBookseller quote one publishing executive saying, “things are going to get ugly” as the US Department of Justice circles with warnings of a collusion suit.
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
Whoa, wrong play. How disruptive of me. See?
This mortal house I’ll ruin,
Do Caesar what he can.
Right Antony, wrong script. Disruptive. Actually, the library didn’t have the ebook edition of JC, damn it, so I ended up with A&C, so sue me. No, sue the DOJ. No, sue the authors, isn’t it time we made it all their fault again?
But look where sadly the poor wretch comes reading, and on an evil Kindle, that whoreson jackanapes.
Speaking of whom, has anyone seen these two together??
Meet me on the steps of the Senate, Brute. I’m in.
Homeless Hotspots is a very real — and very earnest — initiative, imported to Austin for this week’s South by Southwest Interactive festival by BBH Labs, the skunkworks-y innovation unit of the marketing firm Bartle Bogle Hegarty.
Having read Megan Garber when she was still at Nieman Journalism Lab, I was glad to find her at The Atlantic, writing up the strangest story coming out of confab-choked Austin. In Wi-Fi Hotspots Made of Homeless People: Not as Horrible as They Seem, Garber explains how a so-called “charitable experiment” from BBH Labs of the marketing firm Bartle Bogle Hegarty was set up:
Participants in the program carry MiFi devices with 4G connectivity. “Introduce yourself,” BBH explains, “then log on to their 4G network via your phone or tablet for a quick high-quality connection. You pay what you want (ideally via the PayPal link on the site so we can track finances), and whatever you give goes directly to the person that just sold you access.”
When I first saw this … I was like WHAT THE HOLY F**K?!?! Then I followed a few links, got some background, read the organizers’ rationale, calmed down a bit, and am now… completely flustered.
I’m still “flustered,” what a strangely apt word here, and that’s after a couple of days of reading widely on the matter.
Gonzalez links to the producers-on-the-defensive. Their own explanatory Homeless Hotspots: a charitable experiment at SXSWi includes several points genuinely worth noting:
+ We are not selling anything. There is no brand involved. There is no commercial benefit whatsoever.
+ This is a test program that was always scheduled to end today (there’s no 2-week payment cycle)
+ Each of the Hotspot Managers keeps all of the money they earn. The more they sell their own access, the more they as individuals make.
And such a Texas-size range of responses, too.
Think about all the companies involved in one way or another in SXSW who did absolutely nothing at all for Austin’s homeless population. How much condemnation did they get? None. BBH’s stunt here offends our sense of human dignity, but the real offense is that people were languishing in such poor conditions that they would find this to be an attractive job offer.
By contrast, I’ll leave you with Tim Carmody at Wired in The Damning Backstory Behind ‘Homeless Hotspots’ at SXSW. He raises some badly “flustering” questions that just don’t get easily answered.
This is my worry: the homeless turned not just into walking, talking hotspots, but walking, talking billboards for a program that doesn’t care anything at all about them or their future, so long as it can score a point or two about digital disruption of old media paradigms. So long as it can prove that the real problem with homelessness is that it doesn’t provide a service.
I’m going to name my first child Amazon. I’m incredibly grateful to them. There’s no other way to put it but that working with Amazon totally changed my life for the better.”
Not only is author and bassist Mishka Shubaly talking openly about his estimated $129,544.82 in Amazon Singles royalties…not only is he understandably happy about how good the whole gig has been for him…but he’s also been allowed by Amazon Kindle Singles Editor David Blum to reveal his sales figures. One of his three Singles, Are You Lonesome Tonight?, has racked up 60,567 copies.
The person who brings us this and a lot more information is somebody Ethernauts know well. Not a week goes by when I don’t quote one or another bit of copy from Laura Hazard Owen at paidContent. This week, she hit it out of the park.
Her two-parter on Amazon Singles — Exclusive: Amazon Has Sold Over Two Million Kindle Singles and Exclusive: How Much Do Kindle Singles Authors Make? – is, for my money, the most revealing of Amazon personnel and of some numbers (Amazon numbers!) we’ve had yet. Have I read all things Amazonian? No. But of what I’ve read, this trumps the pile, not just for numbers but for the frank, straight-ahead commentary the company permitted. Take care to note, Amazon specifically allowed these writers to break their confidentiality agreements. Even if grudgingly, you have to admit, this was cool.
For my money, reading Tony Award winner Frank Gilroy’s comments alone is a high. This is the playwright of “The Subject Was Roses.” And I’m linking you there to the IMDB listing because — ready for it? — Amazon doesn’t carry a copy of his Pulitzer Prize–winning script. You can get the Samuel French edition through other sellers. But maybe Blum will be good enough to see if Amazon wouldn’t like to offer that important script, itself, say, to highlight Gilroy’s upcoming second Single?
Disclosure: David Blum was Editor in Chief with the Village Voice. I was a theater columnist and critic for Ross Wetzsteon at the Voice for several years, shortly after Euripides premiered Medea.
Check out some of the candor here. This is author Oliver Broudy, who has two Singles out and reports some $65,241.16 in royalties to date from them:
Dave Blum lost significant money on the second single because of the advance that he gave me, which I needed because the book required some travel. But he still signed me up for a third with the same advance. The loss they sustained on my last single is nothing to them, nothing. They don’t care. They’re trying to develop an editorial brand here, and this is the price they’re willing to pay, much as they’re willing to take a loss on e-books because they want to sell Kindles. There’s definitely a literary culture within the Kindle Singles program, and that’s a very good thing. Once they have total market saturation, then promoting this kind of literary culture may cease to be a priority, but that remains to be seen.
Predictably, some people focused on the overall numbers of the 14-month-old Singles program. It wouldn’t do to be too impressed by anything Amazonian, of course.
Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch, for example, gently pooh-poohed the numbers overall, in Beyond the Biggest Authors, Amazon Admits “Singles” Sales Are Quite Low.
The six bestselling Kindle Singles titles are in fact all non-exclusive works from established authors: Lee Child, Stephen King, David Baldacci, Dean Koontz.…Two exclusive works from established authors, Karin Slaughter and Jodi Picoult, occupy the next two slots, and seem to account for another 250,000 units (or) more, while the remaining 4 titles on the top 10 list look to comprise another 200,000 units or so. (This) leaves the bulk of the Kindle Singles list–155 titles–racking up sales of around a million units, or an average of 6,500 units each (good for $6,500 to $19,500 in gross sales). And that’s with significant site promotion and their own dedicated bestseller list.
Right. And authors may find more to appreciate than early sales figures here, particularly in the honest comments of author Will Bunch saying:
One thing I learned the first time around: Amazon’s not a traditional publishing company so they don’t really have proofreaders. I’m a terrible proofreader myself, and after the first one, ‘October 1, 2011,’ we had to go in after a couple of days and fix a fair number of mistakes. The second time, I made sure other people read behind me and proofread it for me.
Gracious, telling comments, both glowing and cautionary. Real chat, made possibly by Seattle’s willingness to give Owen this kind of access. I congratulate Owen on “obtaining some general statistics,” as Cader refers to them, yes, and some highly specific insights that we simply haven’t had on this operation. Owen’s conclusion:
Kindle Singles allows Amazon to draw in authors who deem the program low-risk because it’s not in conflict with other publisher relationships they may have. Those authors may then stick around, especially if they believe that doing a full-length project with Amazon has the potential to be as lucrative as Kindle Singles have been for many of them.