Archive for September, 2011

PART TWO – I went to a Digital Publishing Conference at the European Parliament

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Click here to read PART ONE.

As I opened my mouth over the microphone, I thought, Trouble’s my name, danger’s my game. First things first. I was about to say No to Power. All while surrounded by powerful people who could legislate. I figured what I was about to say would be a sort of conference suicide and that I’d be burning up any future dance cards to the EU. But I had squirmed enough, and those fidgety movements had corkscrewed right up into my brain. Listening to people with one quarter of the story speak as though they knew knew the whole story pushed me to open my mouth.

I began saying there seemed, unkindly, to be a lot of 19th thinking, but to be generous changed this to 20th century thinking going on in the room. I hadn’t heard a single positive comment or view on who these people, these thieves, these consumers, who these ungrateful readers were. Or any ideas on why this was thieving was going on. I trotted out the obvious. That a lot of the internet was about manuevering around institutional power and multinational breakwaters. In fact, much indie digital publishing was going around what was going on in that room.

I continued. Saying that that while they were setting up conferences to discuss and figure out what to do about This Digital Publishing thing, whole online societies and communities had formed and were forming that were not and would not pay attention to much of what they did or had to say. That as soon as MEPs instituted any control, those in the online world would find ways around it.

Mention by the Head Guy had been made of the music industry that had suffered a financial “catastrophe” when illegal downloading began, and that that Must Not Happen to the Publishing Industry. I explained in my most mild, vaguely rabble-rousing mode (where no rabble existed to be roused) that these folks, these citizens, were busy demanding from publishers How They Wanted The Books They Wanted to Read to be Delivered. Stale news that needed repeating here: The Internet was not top down management of product, services and customers, but bottom up: people told manufacturers how they wanted their books (music, whatever).

An official photographer who had been lazily snapping photos of one and all, got excited and pointed his lens in my face. Snap, whirl, snap, whirl. One by one, big wide faces turned from their pens and paper and toward me. Who’s This? expressions hijacking their shiny faces. The most gratifying sight I witnessed, I willingly confess, was when I saw the Head Guy up there on the dais with his head in hands, rubbing his bald patch over and over while I continued speaking. (That’s your lesson here, Big Guy. Never call on someone who’s not a MEP and whose cheek you have not kissed.)

I had a lot more to say, but did not want security men to come tap me on the shoulder and whisper, “Come with us quietly, please.” So I ended replying to the “sharing” question that had gathered such nodding support. Said most publishers simply weren’t engaging with the readers (while acknowledging that yes, there are thieves out there—gasp, horror—as there were everywhere for everything). Gave them a personal example. I “share” all the time. I give away stories, videos, book chapters, and what happens? Some people out there in Internet Land who liked them would blog about my writing, review some of it, and in turn their readers seek and purchase some my books. I “shared” and they shared right back at me. (Here’s an author who has sold 100 million books and is sharing big time.) It was all about engagement with real live people not benighted with the term consumers on a one to one basis. Not mass media. This is not something multinational publishing organizations are built for. Large companies and institutions aren’t constructed for listening to those outside the building Then you get surprised when they take matters into their own hands.

I had three other subjects in my mind, but finished with, “What I have heard here reminds me of what Marshall McLuhan said, ‘We go into the future looking in a rear view mirror.” (Actually, got it wrong. It’s: We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.) I sat back and let the rest of my thoughts fade gently into my gray matter. There was so much more to address but the Head Guy had rubbed his head raw.

Hearing my sudden silence, he looked up, this Head Guy, the man of “Let’s debate, let’s dialogue” and said, “Well we won’t re-open that debate and yes, sir, you wanted to say something?” He pointed out the lone guy from Google in the room, and the Google Guy and Head Guy and the Author-Publisher and MEP people bantered, power-to-power, and the circle re-closed.

While the final French Author-Publisher team had their speaking moments, quickly moving minions came round to each and every MEP, and only to the MEPs, to place free books from each author before these vote possessing people, sealing the deal on the lobby party masquerading as a digital environment dialogue.

The Head Guy had left before the French began speaking, saying he had to catch a train to Paris because he was on the Board of Something Really Important and He Had a Busy Schedule. I shuffled my few papers together while the French spoke. When they finished, no further question session occurred, an MEP wound up the conference and people applauded. I was ready to stand and go, leper-like, through the dispersing crowd. When one person approached.
Then another person.
Then a third.
A Four.
They came to where I sat and looked at me, and I looked at them.

(Click her to read Part Three)

PART ONE – I went to a Digital Publishing Conference at the European Parliament

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

I don’t particularly enjoy writing about book publishing, its production and the shake, rattle and roll of what’s going on in digital media. I’d rather write another book, make another video, edit my on-going audio books. But I do know publishing, live it, work it, study it, know it. Same with social media. There’s just not much teacher type in me, so Explaining Things in essay form is like kicking hard dirt.

But. That word that makes me go back on personal inclinations. So. Recently I attended a conference at the local European Parliament called “Publishing in the Digital Environment: First Dialogues “Author-Publisher.” I knew a lot about this; I wanted to see whether they knew something new.

After arriving at the European Parliament and being lead, with others, up escalators, across interior bridges, into elevators that didn’t work because there was an unknown emergency and so up some stairs and down some corridors, then landing us in The Location where free sandwiches and drinks waited for mouths. Also, the conference room where “Author-Publisher” event was to occur had been double-booked. So we needed to wait while the conference group inside finished a presentation, after which they were hustled out and our group was then allowed in. We took our places in an expensive, imposing conference-happening type structure. Some of the panel took their slightly more fancy seats up front. We were then informed that the European Commissioner who was supposed to be there and moderate this conference wasn’t going to because he had to be somewhere else in another country. Good scheduling skills. So far so not so good.

Some other male who would be the Head Guy would moderate. I didn’t retain his name because I was there for the publishers and the authors and not the bureaucrats. His opening remarks briefly mentioned the theme of the conference before he launched into higher pitched oratory concerning VAT and income tax and how it was imperative to make certain this “new” digital world needed to be legislated into obedience on this. People were making a living in the digital world without contributing to paying his salary and the upkeep of this conference hall (VAT is what keeps this EU universe functioning). Then a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) made some introductory comments that left little impact on my brain as the thoughts were rather generic and dusty. She did state that this was to be the first of many dialogues and debates on this matter. I was going to find that “dialogues and debates” was going to be an intention rather than a reality.

Val McDermid, who, according to the hand-out material I was given, has sold over ten million books and is thus a millionaire, spent a little time on the Author-Publisher relationship, basically saying her books were only so good and she needed a trusted editor to make them better. Only twice in her publishing life did her novels not need heavy editing and rewriting. So after confessing that she could not write her books without help, she launched into pointed remarks about digital theft. “Thieves take my ebooks without any payment and say they are sharing them as they make them available for free, but they don’t share anything with me in return.” I began my first squirming in my seat. Her Little-Brown publisher earnestly spoke of the need of putting protections in place for established publishers in this undisciplined digital world.

After that, the Head Guy—an older guy nearing retirement, slicked back hair, jowly—sitting up there on the dais with the speakers then opened the floor to the first “dialogue” part of the conference. He pointed to a member of the audience seated a row or two before me. She proceeded to thank the author and the publisher for their comments. Especially on the matter of “sharing”, which they, the MEPs, would keep front of mind. The Head Guy then pointed at another woman, next to the one who had spoken. She said more or less the same thing. A third one, a little to the left of me, was called upon. She repeated the thankful mantra that had been established. I got it. Those being called upon for “dialogue” were MEPs, and they all agreed with one another.

My butt squirmed some more. I have friends and acquaintances who work, or have worked, in or with the various European Institutions. Know some writers for various publications covering the European Institutions, even some lobbyists. I also know a number of non-EU connected people who gossip and moan about how the EU Institutes have too much money, too much power, just generally too much. Others believe the EC and the Parliament have simply turned into Institutional Power speaking primarily to Commercial Power. I was now wondering, sitting there, whether this dreaded scenario was being acted out right before my eyes and ears.

Then the German Author-Publisher tag team began to have their similar say. I turned and looked around. One after another of the audience members were taking notes. Without exception, from my vantage point, each and every one was putting pen to paper. I’ve been to enough trade fairs, digital and otherwise, such as the London Book Fair and I’d say at these conferences over 70% of the audience made their notes using mobile phones, iPads, portables devices generally. They actively twittered to online audiences from these conferences. Yet here we were, supposedly discussing the budding digital environment, and everyone was functioning in a pen and paper era. Not awful, just indicative.

Talk went on of saving the world from the bad writing and bad books the unregulated digital world was creating (as we all know, commercial multinational publishers never allow bad writing/books out into the world). Further urgent words were spoken on the controls needed for digital publishing.

So far this author-publisher dialogue was mainly concerned with profit protection, taxes and a legislative control of the digital publishing landscape. What was weirdly missing was any hint of enthusiasm for the rich spread of ideas digital media now allowed, or the power digital publishing opened to individuals. Sure, the corporate publishers said that the digital world opened many challenges and revenue opportunities … but only if the correct protections were in place. Now I was wondering if this conference was orchestrated by publishers so MEPs would hear their legislative concerns. Was this just one big lobbying effort?

Meanwhile, something odd happened. While the Germans were speaking, our moderator, the leader of the conference, the Head Guy, left his chair at the front, and came down to the audience. He made for the front rows right before me. He had a big smile on. He began greeting and cheek kissing the MEPs he knew and had just called upon for remarks.. A hello, a cheek kiss, a few murmured words, kissing the hand, then on to the next MEP, all women. He worked the room while the conference continued with his back turned to it.

Once returned to the dais just as the Germans completed their comments, he asked for more questions, to “continue the dialogue”. Again, he selected one of the MEPs he had just cheek kissed. She began by agreeing with everything that had just been said.

As yet, I could detect no debate or any dissent. Statements were being made by corporate publishers and MEPs agreed with them. My squirming increased. So, when the MEP before me concluded, and the Head Guy in front warmly smiled at her, I popped up my hand, which he could not fail to miss, since from his point of view my arm probably seemed to come out of her head.

He smiled, less sweetly, and indicated I could go ahead. I leaned forward and bent the microphone toward my lips.

(Part Two will be posted tomorrow.)

Losing a Glove – Jeannette Cook reads her poem

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

I a have poet friend. Of some years standing. She wrote a poem I liked, and she agreed to allow me to put together a video of it.

The poem is called “Losing a Glove.” The poet is Jeannette Cook.

I took a year to take the photos.

The incidental music is by Bjork, from the CD Volta (track “pneumonia”).

You can see and hear it by clicking right here.

I’ll be posting another version, with my reading the poem, shortly.

We did this before, with a poem called Button.

Thanks for coming by. – Vincent

Story – Dolly, et al.

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Bernard took the car out of the garage and rolled it slowly backward, looking left and right and checking in his rear-view mirror, then sped up slightly and ran over four cats, two dogs, one puppy, three hamsters, a frog and fourteen confused snails.

This was a pain. Because it meant Bernard would have to get out of his car, get the hose, turn it up full blast and wash down his driveway. Aiming the water, he watched the dogs, puppy and cats turn limp somersaults moving toward the gutter.

Then, inevitably, the neighborhood kids came to gather round to look. Some pointed their phones to take photos and send them to their friends with remarks like, “Cooooool.”

Then one kid pointed and sobbed, “My dog Fido!” Another kid screamed, “Dolly! Dolly! Dolly!”

Soon parents gathered around to make caustic remarks.

“You can’t keep doing this,” one said to Bernard.
“I don’t mean to,” Bernard answered as two of the dead cats finally made it to the gutter and flopped over into it and out of his sight. “They all just rushed under my tires I backed out.”
“You said that yesterday,” said another parent, not believing a word.
“And the day before that,” reminded another.

“Dolly!” bellowed the kid again and again.
A damp, fur-matted dog disappeared over the curb.

“I check,” Bernard said. “Every day, I check. Is there another animal out there, is there something I don’t see? The driveway is always empty when I roll out. Then, all of a sudden, they are there, diving under my tires. It happens so fast I can’t stop in time.”
The frog fell on top of the dog.

The last dog fell into the street gutter, then a cat. Barnard was going to be late for work again.

Three parents crossed their arms tight over their chests.
“So you’re saying you think this is some sort of unexplained natural phenomenon where domestic animal life commits suicide under your car wheels?”

Bernard turned off the water, tossed the hose aside. “I didn’t say that.” The animals were gone from his property now, bodies resting floppy and over-flowing in the gutter. “But I wouldn’t rule that out.” Most traces of the animal blood was also gone from his driveway. “I don’t know, really. It just happens.” He got into his car.

“Dolly….” It was more a whimper now, the boy already half-wondering whether his mother would buy him another dog. Bigger. So it wouldn’t get run over so easily.

“You like to kill animals,” someone shouted.
Bernard rolled down his window. “Maybe they are not happy.”
“Who isn’t happy?”
“Your pets.”
“What are you talking about?”
“So they come over here and kamikaze themselves under the wheels of my car day after day.”
“You saying we’re lousy pet lovers?”
“I’m saying maybe you should try feeding them better food on a regular basis. Talk to them more often. Pet them. Be better humans.”
“Damn! He’s lecturing us and he’s the murderer.”

Bernard shouted as he drove off, “And how many pets do you people have, anyway? I’ve run over at least eighty this month!” He glanced at his watch. He was going to be twenty minutes late. Again. He rolled up the window, swerved around a cat that threw itself in front of his car, and started making good time as soon as he left his neighborhood behind.