This blog has moved

Please head on over to its new home at my website-and-blog combo. Love to have your feedback.


What price quality?


The Washington Post, one of the most influential publications in the world with a track record of quality journalism and 47 Pulitzer Prizes, is worth $250 million. Tumblr, the microblogging site on which users republish other people’s mildly amusing pictures and vast amounts of pornography, went for $1.1 billion. Price is not the same as value.

Simon Allison in his Daily Maverick ‘First Thing‘ newsletter.

Indie publishing secrets of success

ImageI’ve not read any of Barbara Freethy’s fiction. Before today, I had no idea who she was – this despite her being a no 1. New York Times best selling author with more than 30 novels (where’ve I been?) to her name. But I like her already – a judgement based simply on some recent blog posts of hers in which she gives advice to other writers from a grounded and extremely modest perspective. That without downplaying her incredible success.

And it’s success by many measures:

* Numbers: 2.7 million ebooks sold since January 2011.

* Lifestyle: writing full-time about subject and characters that interest her

* Accolades: rave reviews, awards and editors’ picks

So, what’s her advice? 

1. Write lots: “My best advice, having watched how my books have performed the last two years, is to write a lot of books! I’ve discovered that every new book raises the tide on sales for the previous ones.”

2. Don’t get sucked into the marketing and forget you’re a writer: “I honestly think writing the next book is a more important and a better use of your time than investing too many hours or too many dollars into promotion. I do still believe in Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest and other social media experiments but only on a limitied basis. Don’t spent all your time tweeting! Author newsletters are also great so that you can alert your readers to a new book.”

3. Envisage a longer term strategy: “I hope writers will think of self publishing (or traditional publishing) as a career. You’re not going to write just one book, you’re going to write many! And anyone who reads your first book and loves it is going to want to read the second. Plus, from a practical standpoint it is easier to promote and sell books when you can offer a sale price on the first book in a series or even just to another book you’ve written.”

4. Be professional. “Hiring the right team of editors, artists, marketing, whatever you need to put out a professional product, is very important. The readers can be harsh in their reviews. So you want to put out the best book you can. There are a lot of great freelancers available for anything you need. Take advantage of them!”

And why indie publishing rather than traditional (she’s already had dozens of books published by traditional publishers)?

“While I’ve enjoyed my experiences with traditional publishing, I’m currently pursuing my own path. I enjoy the freedom to write what I want and publish as frequently as I can, so that my readers will no longer have to wait a year in between books for the next installment in a series.”

And finally, let’s be honest. What are the downsides of self- or independent publishing?

“It is a tremendous amount of work. A self publisher has to wear many hats, not just writer, but editor, proofreader, technical formatter, cover designer, marketer, pricing expert … it’s exhausting. But it’s also very rewarding. There is a bigger piece of the pie for self published authors in terms of royalties, but there is a trade off in the amount of work the self publisher has to do.”

Barbara Freethy has an FAQ section on her website in which she gives more advice, as well as background on where her ideas come from, and resources on offer to book clubs (now there’s a great marketing idea we can learn from!)

Plus she elaborates more on how she achieved her success in this Kirkus Review.

The Nonviolent Method For Teaching English (via Avy Around the World)

Great blog! Is this travel writing or social commentary or a letter home? It is literature, I think. It is everything I love about The (New) New(est) Journalism. It is a simple story, told with flair, that transcends the mundane boundaries and definitions of genre. Good on WordPress for picking it up as a ‘Freshly Pressed’ select.

Die is a verb. Shoot, stab, kill: all verbs. I die, but he dies. Yesterday, we all died. Good job, David. David is the kid's English name. He laughs every time I try to pronounce his real name, but he can't say mine, either. And besides, he's the one killing me off on a regular basis. At first it was “teacher die.” After weeks of hard work, though, he's grasped that teacher dies. The 's,' David, remember the s! Recently he's gone so far as to exp … Read More

via Avy Around the World

BBC News – Google enters digital books war with launch of Editions

By Maggie Shiels Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley Amazon Kindle Amazon’s Kindle is currently a market leader.

Google is set to launch its own online e-book store in 2010.

Google Editions books will not be tied to a specific device, unlike rival e-book company Amazon.

The Amazon Kindle is linked to books from the company’s own store and similarly with Apple’s iBookstore.

“It is a different approach to what most readers today have and the vision is to be able to access books in a device agnostic way,” said Google spokesperson Gabriel Sticker.

To date Google has scanned over 12 million books, both in-print and out-of-print, giving it a greater selection of material than either Apple or Amazon.

Analysts at the Yankee Group have predicted that the US ebook reader market is “about to catch fire sparking from $1.3bn (£0.86bn) in revenue in 2010 to $2.5bn (£1.65bn) by 2013”.

Now other industry watchers have said Google Editions will boost those figures further still.

“Anything that puts more kinds of art in people’s hands in a way that fosters competition, innovation and creativty is good,” said Whit Andrews, a senior vice president of research for Gartner.

Fierce battle

With books accessed through Google Editions readable on any web enabled device from a mobile phone to a netbook and from a tablet to a desktop, the implications are clear for e-book stores tied to a single device.

In particular researchers point to trouble ahead for Amazon which, despite not releasing any specific figures, has been the leader in the market.

Google books Google’s plans to digitize millions of books have been controversial.

Earlier this year the e-tailer said that throughout 2009, the Kindle was the most popular present in Amazon’s history and that it had sold more e-books than physical books on Christmas day.

Ahead of Apple’s iPad coming on the block analysts predicted pain for Amazon.

“Going forward, we can envision a scenario where Apple, Amazon, and Google eventually split the market,” Spencer Wang with Credit Suisse wrote in a report earlier in the year.

“Therefore, we expect Amazon’s share of e-books business to fall from 90% currently to about 35% over the next five years.”

Garnter’s Mr Andrews warned that Amazon has a lot to lose in this scenario.

“No company nor industry can see this Google entry as trivial. Anytime Google goes into business in your balliwick you had better be ready for a fierce battle,” he told BBC News.

He also said that while Amazon faces the biggest challenge a lot of its market share will be cushioned by the fact more people will be buying ebooks.

Credit Suisse figures estimated that while Amazon might lose its dominant position, the dollars generated from e-book sales will jump in the next five to six years to $77m (£51m) from $248m (£164m), as the market for e-books goes mainstream.


At this stage Google has not revealed how much it will charge users to access digital books through Google Editions.

In an interview with the New Yorker magazine, the company revealed the books will be purchased directly from Google and also from retailers who will keep the majority of the money earned.

Continue reading the main story

Plans for Google Editions will happen independent of whatever the settlement agreement is

Gabriel Stricker Google

“It’s much more of an open ecosystem, where you find a way for bricks-and-mortar stores to participate in the future digital world of books,” said Dan Clancy, Google engineer.

“We’re quite comfortable having a diverse range of physical retailers, whereas most of the other players would like to have a less competitive space, because they’d like to dominate.”

Google confirmed to the BBC that Google Editions will not be affected by the firm’s present legal troubles over trying to digitise millions of out-of-print books.

“Plans for Google Editions will happen independent of whatever the settlement agreement is,” said Google’s Mr Stricker.

The search giant’s efforts to create the world’s biggest digital library have been mired in legal action for the last couple of years.

Critics have long claimed Google’s deal with US publishers and authors would give them a monopoly over online book sales.

Google said it would make “millions of books searchable via the web”.

A ruling on the issue is due soon.

Wow, so the pace of change is hotting up! I’m loving seeing how easy it is to buy books these days. I’m loving how easy it is to read books these days – any time, anywhere. And I believe that really is good for writers.

Another one bites the dust – this time it’s digital

The future of Dirck Halstead’s ‘The Digital Journalist’ is threatened, and the December issue looks to be the last for a while. I have quoted from this resource a number of times previously, usually finding at least one powerful, thought-provoking idea in each issue. Yes, last month’s editorial piece which decried the continued investment in print to the detriment of online should have alerted me to the level of desperation that these online journalists were feeling. But my heart sank nonetheless when I read the news. 

And therein is the issue at the heart of online: here’s a resource that I found invaluable. Yet it was a one-way relationship: I gleaned a great deal from the publication; it received no reimbursement from me. Now, in a last-ditch attempt to save the publication, Halstead is asking for donations. But how sustainable is this? Sitting here in South Africa, I am keen to support the future of this publication, but until PayPal allows my country into its fold, it won’t be very easy to act on the impulse to give. Perhaps I’ll do it once, but will I continue? 

And of course, if Halstead, an industry expert, can’t make it sustainable, what are the chances of others doing so? Very sad. And of course part of that sadness is the way in which this reinforces the notion that altruism doesn’t pay. The way it dashes the good old-fashioned belief that if we create a good product, it will find a market.  For I had often wondered how on earth Halstead made this work financially. I was intrigued as to what his business model was. Felt he must have some great secret. But alas, a lack thereof.

Here’s Halstead’s announcement: 
“As many of you on our mailing list know, The Digital Journalist has been online producing our monthly magazine, about visual journalism, for 12 years. During that time we have presented the memorable work of some of the greatest photojournalists in the world, while offering opportunities for publication to many new photographers. Our columns and reviews have taken a 360-degree look at the industry, and predicted much of the upheaval that has taken place as the media around us have been buffeted by the shifting winds of technology, and now, a crippling economic downturn.

We have also sponsored over 37 Platypus Workshops around the world, which have taught photojournalists how to cope with and adapt to these industry changes.

Unfortunately, our principal sponsor, Canon, whose market has also been impacted by these turbulent times, has decided they can no longer afford to provide their financial backing to The Digital Journalist. We are very grateful for the generous support they have given us over the years.

Even before Canon’s decision we were planning to reorganize. We are aware of how seriously a lot of our readers, who make their living from photojournalism, have been hit by the recession through the failures and cutbacks of countless publications, magazines and newspapers, as well as TV and cable. Our reorganization goal is not only to continue publishing The Digital Journalist, but to provide funding in order to send photographers out into the world to do their work, documenting the important stories that shape our lives and history.

Such an ambitious undertaking requires serious fundraising efforts on our part. So we are asking you, our loyal readers, numbering more than 10,000, to help us raise these funds. Effective immediately, we have set up a PayPal link on The Digital Journalist ( ) and urgently ask for your pledges so that we can continue the work which will help us all. We have never solicited paid subscriptions, but these dire times call for dire measures. If you value The Digital Journalist, this is the time to step up and make a pledge. If enough people do, we may be able to keep The Digital Journalist — and video journalism — alive. Consider it as an investment in yourself, and the future.

Thank you all for your loyalty over the past years. We appreciate your continued support, and look forward to seeing you on the Web.

Dirck Halstead
Editor and Publisher

Tools for ‘the rich soil of life’

The Globe And Mail, Saturday April 14th, 2007

On March 28th, 2007, at 3 pm, I was sitting in the Visitors’ Gallery of the House of Commons, I and forty-nine other artists from across Canada, fifty in all, and I got to thinking about stillness. To read a book, one must be still. To watch a concert, a play, a movie, to look at a painting, one must be still. Religion, too, makes use of stillness, notably with prayer and meditation. Just gazing upon a still lake, upon a quiet winter scene—doesn’t that lull us into contemplation? Life, it seems, favours moments of stillness to appear on the edges of our perception and whisper to us, “Here I am. What do you think?” Then we become busy and the stillness vanishes, yet we hardly notice because we fall so easily for the delusion of busyness, whereby what keeps us busy must be important, and the busier we are with it, the more important it must be. And so we work, work, work, rush, rush, rush. On occasion we say to ourselves, panting, “Gosh, life is racing by.” But that’s not it at all, it’s the contrary: life is still. It is we who are racing by.

I was thinking about that, about stillness, and I was also thinking, more prosaically, about arts funding, not surprising since we fifty artists were there in the House to help celebrate the fifty years of the Canada Council for the Arts, that towering institution that has done so much to foster the identity of Canadians. I was thinking that to have a bare-bones approach to arts funding, as the present Conservative government has, to think of the arts as mere entertainment to be indulged in after the serious business of life, that—in conjunction with retooling education so that it centres on the teaching of employable skills rather than the creating of thinking citizens—is to engineer souls that are post-historical, post-literate and pre-robotic; that is, blank souls wired to be unfulfilled and susceptible to conformism at its worst—intolerance and totalitarianism—because incapable of thinking for themselves and vowed to a life of frustrated serfdom at the service of the feudal lords of profit.

Just so that you know: the parliamentary appropriation this year for the Canada Council for the Arts is $173 million. Next year it will be $182 million. Does that sound like a lot? Let me put it into perspective. A budget of $182 million translates to $5.50 per Canadian per year. Most Canadians I know spend more than that in a week on parking, some in a day on coffee. Sure, the federal government supports the arts in other ways, too, through industry-support grants and the funding of cultural agencies such as the CBC, the National Gallery, the Museum of Civilization, the National Arts Centre, Telefilm Canada, and so on, but these are institutional venues. Only the Canada Council for the Arts sustains our living arts of today and tomorrow where it really counts, at the level of the individual artist. And they’re supposed to do that on $5.50 a year per Canadian.

The moment had come. Question Period was over and we were now going to be officially acknowledged by the House.

The Honourable Bev Oda, Minister for Canadian Heritage, whose seat on the government benches is as far away from the Prime Minister’s as is possible for a member of the cabinet, rose to her feet, acknowledged our presence and began to speak. We stood up, not for ourselves but for the Canada Council. Her speech was short. There was a flutter of applause. Then Minister Oda sat down, our business was over, MPs instantly turned to other things, and we were still standing. That was it. Fifty years of building Canada’s dazzling and varied culture, done with in less than five minutes.

We should have been prepared. How many Members of Parliament do you think showed up at a reception the previous day on Parliament Hill meant to be a grand occasion on which the representatives of Canada’s people would meet the representatives of Canada’s artists? By my count, twenty, twenty-five—out of 306—with only one cabinet minister, the one who absolutely had to be there, Bev Oda. There we fifty stood around, for two hours, waiting. Each one of us was a symbol for one year of the Canada Council’s fifty. I, for example, represented 1991, the year I received a Canada Council B grant that allowed me to write my first novel. I was 27 years old and the money was manna from heaven. I made those $18,000 last a year and a half (and compared to the income tax I have paid since then, an exponential return on Canadian taxpayers’ investment, I assure you). By comparison, the equivalent celebration of a major cultural institution in, say, France would have been a classy, flashy, year-long, exhibition-filled affair, with President Chirac trying to hog as much of the limelight as possible. No need to go into further details. We all know how the Europeans do culture. It’s sexy and important to them. The world visits Europe because it’s so culturally resplendent. Instead, we milled around, drank our drinks and then petered away in small groups.

So we should have been prepared for this perfunctory salute in the House of Commons. Nonetheless, I was surprised. Even embarrassed. Not for myself. I mean for all artists, from Jean-Louis Roux, great man of theatre, electrifying doyen of the fifty celebratory artists, to Tracee Smith, a young aboriginal hip-hop dancer and choreographer, recipient this year of her first Canada Council grant, to unknown emerging artists throughout this country. Do we count for nothing, you philistines, I felt like shouting down at the House. Don’t you know that Canadians love their books and songs and paintings? Do you really think we’re just parasites feeding off our fellow citizens? Truly I say to you, there are only two sets of tools with which the rich soil of life can be worked: the religious and the artistic. Everything else is illusion that crumbles before the onslaught of time. If you die having prayed to no god, any god, one expressed above an altar or one painted with a brush, then you risk wasting the soul you were given. Repent! Repent!

But I have no talent for spontaneous prophecy. Besides, guards would have landed upon me like football players and I would have been hustled out, bound for Guantanamo Bay. Instead, I focused on one man.

The Prime Minister did not speak during our brief tribute, certainly not. I don’t think he even looked up. The snarling business of Question Period having just ended, he was shuffling papers. I tried to bring him close to me with my eyes.

Who is this man? What makes him tick? No doubt he is busy. No doubt he is deluded by that busyness. No doubt being Prime Minister fills his entire consideration and froths his sense of busied importance to the very brim. And no doubt he sounds and governs like one who cares little for the arts.

But he must have moments of stillness. And so this is what I propose to do: not to educate—that would be arrogant, less than that—to make suggestions to his stillness.

For as long as Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada, I vow to send him every two weeks, mailed on a Monday, a book that has been known to expand stillness. That book will be inscribed and will be accompanied by a letter I will have written. I will faithfully report on every new book, every inscription, every letter, and any response I might get from the Prime Minister, on this website.

Yann Martel is the author of the Man Booker Prize winning novel Life of Pi. He lives in Saskatoon.


My favourite part of this: “there are only two sets of tools with which the rich soil of life can be worked: the religious and the artistic. Everything else is illusion that crumbles before the onslaught of time.”
I am inspired by Yann Martell’s list and the generosity of spirit that creates a new work of art (this list) from the works of others.