April 26, 2009

Espresso (Book Machine) Anyone?

Tomorrow, on April 27, Blackwell, one of the largest booksellers and distributors in the UK and the world, will launch a three month trial of the Espresso Book Machine, in its Charing Cross Road branch in London.

The Espresso Book Machine

This is a "Print-on-Demand" service for shoppers in an effort to consign to history the idea that you can walk into a bookshop and not find the book you want.

The idea is, that you can choose from any of some 400,000 titles and print the one(s) you choose right on the spot. Blackwell's goal is to extend this to a million titles by the summer, and to spread out more machines to the rest of its sixty stores once it works out pricing.

Currently, they charge shelf price for in-print books, and 10 pence per page for those out of print (about $55 for a 300-page book), but are analyzing customer behavior to get a better pricing model. Says Blackwell chief executive Andrew Hutchings: "This could change bookselling fundamentally. It's giving the chance for smaller locations, independent booksellers, to have the opportunity to truly compete with big stock-holding shops and Amazon ... I like to think of it as the revitalization of the local bookshop industry."

Their website notes that in addition to getting books printed in-store, in the future you will be able to order titles via their site too. (They also mention that one of the titles you can print is the 1915 Oxford Poetry Book, which includes one of Tolkien's first poems, "Goblin's Feet.")

Just as importantly, you'll also be able to bring in your own book to print from two PDF files, one for the book block and one for the cover. That should get your penmanship going!

April 14, 2009

Eating My Words - Thanks "Weev!"

So it goes...Amazon has been right...sort of...this big brouhaha about gay and erotic books losing their sales ranks was either/or:

1. The doing of the (by now) infamous Internet "troll" calling himself "Weev." This is a link to his Monday Live Journal blog posting, written by him or someone claiming to be him.

Short quote:

"Here's a nice piece I like to call 'how to cause moral outrage from the entire Internet in ten lines of code.'"

2. Not to be outdone, Mike Daisey, a theatrical monologuist and author of 21 Dog Years about working at Amazon, says the Sales Rank yank was the result of a French employee of Amazon confusing the codes for "adult," "erotic," and "sexuality."

This, however, doesn't completely explain why books about straight pornography were unaffected. Daisey says "the Amazon [editing] system is mostly hand-built, and often super idiosyncratic, very Millennium Falcon meets Battlestar Galactica."

Either/or, I'm eating my words. Sorry, Amazon, about falling for this gripe storm!

April 13, 2009

Amazon's GBLT and Erotica “Glitch”

As you probably know by now, Mark Probst's post -- he is an Amazon Advantage publisher like us -- on a Live Journal blog about the disappearance of the Amazon sales ranking for two recently-released gay romance books, has created a virtual netstorm. Probst also posted the explanation, received from Amazon Advantage Member Services representative Ashlyn D: "In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude 'adult' material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature."

As word spread via blog postings and Twitter (where #amazonfail became the top "trending" topic), people asserted that sales rankings and other search-matching features had disappeared from what appeared to be many gay and lesbian books on Amazon, as well as erotica/erotic romance titles. (Without a sales rank, a title cannot appear on a category bestseller list, and it is said to inhibit other kinds of search matching and recommendations as well.)

However, such anti-Semitic texts as Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion remain within the ranking system while much less offensive books like the ones named above, are considered too "adult." In other words, if you're a writer who has written openly about sex, gays, and gay sex, Amazon considers you worse than an anti-Semitic writer who helped initiate pogroms and concentration camps.

Yesterday evening Amazon spokesman Andrew Herdener responded, "We recently discovered a glitch to our Amazon sales rank feature that is in the process of being fixed. We're working to correct the problem as quickly as possible...things will go back to how they were before."

Disbelievers nevertheless continued "tweeting" on Twitter (adding the hashtag #glitchmyass), while others have been looking closely at Amazon metadata for clues. Over at Dear Author they have deduced that "it appears that all the content that was filtered out had either 'gay,' 'lesbian,' 'transgender,' 'erotic' or 'sex' metadata categories."

Raging, the culture war still is!