Almost the same moment I saw my first Little Free Library, I decided that I wanted to host one of my very own, so I registered with the intent of building one in my free time. The registration arrived and I’d drafted some very serious custom plans, but just never gotten around to purchasing the supplies and building it.
Recently I saw something a bit more quirky and interesting than my original plans that I could up-cycle, so I made the purchase (happy belated birthday to me)! It’s got two spacious shelves with two doors including a glass fronted one, and it’s got the capacity for at least 6 linear feet of books. We’re nearly ready to go.
I’m hoping to get some mounting materials and have the library up and running soon. My plan is to specialize in literary fiction, though I’m sure we’ll also stock a fair amount of popular science and non-fiction as well as thriller, mystery, and suspense as well.
Invitations to the “launch” party should be coming shortly! If you’ve got some books you’d like to donate toward the cause, let me know in the comments below. Be sure to include a Book Crossing ID number on them if you’d like to track where your favorite objects head off to in the future.
Dearth of (Great) Textbooks on The Entertainment Business
In having previously taught several classes on the business of the entertainment industry, I was never quite able to pick out even a mediocre textbook for such a class. There are a handful that will give one an overview of the nuts and bolts and one or two that will provide some generally useful numbers (see the syllabi from those classes), but none comes close to providing the philosophy of how the business works in a short period of time.
A Short Term Solution
To remedy this problem, I was always a fan of producer and ex-agent Gavin Polone, who had a series of articles in New York Magazine/Vulture. I’ve recently gone through and linked to all of the forty-four articles, in chronological order, he produced in that series from 9/21/11 to 5/7/14.
I’ve aggregated the series via Readlists.com, so one can click on each of the articles individually. Better yet, for students and teachers alike, one can click on the “export” link and very easily download them all in most ebook formats (including Kindle, iPad, etc.) for your reading/studying convenience.
My hope is that for others, they may create an excellent starter textbook on how the entertainment business works and, more importantly: how successful people in the business think. For those who need more, Gavin is also an occasional contributor to the Hollywood Reporter. (And, as a note for those not trained in the classics and prone to modern-day stereotypes, I’ll make the caveat that I use the title “Machiavelli” above with the utmost reverence and honor.)
I’m still slowly, but surely making progress on my own all-encompassing textbook, but, until then, I hope others find this series of articles as interesting and useful as I have.
Gavin Polone is an agent turned manager turned producer. His production company, Pariah, has brought you such movies and TV shows as Panic Room, Zombieland, Gilmore Girls, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Follow him on Twitter @gavinpolone.
At the end of April, I read an article entitled “In the Margins” in the Johns Hopkins University Arts & Sciences magazine. I was particularly struck by the comments of eminent scholar Jacques Neefs on page thirteen (or paragraph 20) about computers making marginalia a thing of the past:
I actually think that he may be completely wrong and that current technology actually allows us to keep far more marginalia! (Has anyone heard of digital exhaust?) The bigger issue may be that many writers just don’t know how to keep a better running log of their work to maintain all the relevant marginalia they’re actually producing. (Of course there’s also the subsequent broader librarian’s “digital dilemma” of maintaining formats for the future. As an example, thing about how easy or hard it might be for you to read that ubiquitous 3.5 inch floppy disk you used in 1995.)
A a technologist who has spent many years in the entertainment industry, I feel compelled to point everyone towards the concept of revision control (or version control) within the realm of computer science. Though it’s primarily used in tracking changes in computer programs and is often a tool used by large teams of programmers, it can very easily be used for tracking changes in almost any type of writing from novels, short stories, screenplays, legal contracts, or any type of textual documentation of nearly any sort.
Example Use Cases for Revision Control
As a direct example, I’m using what is known as a Git repository to track every change I make in a textbook I’m currently writing. I can literally go back and view every change I’ve made since beginning the project, so though I’m directly revising one (or more) text files, all of my “marginalia” and revisions are saved and available. Currently I’m only doing it for my own reference and for additional backup not supposing that anyone other than myself or an editor possibly may want to ever peruse it. If I was working in conjunction with otheres, there are ways for me to track the changes, edits, or notes that others (perhaps an editor or collaborator) might make.
In addition to the general back-up of the project (in case of catastrophic computer failure), I also have the ability to go back and find that paragraph (or multiple pages) I deleted last week in haste, but realize that I desperately want them back now instead of having to recreate them de n0vo.
Because it’s all digital, future scholars also won’t have problems parsing my handwriting issues as has occasionally come up in differentiating Mary Shelley’s writing from that of her husband in digital projects like the Shelley Godwin Archive. The fact that all changes are tracked and placed in a tree-like structure will indicate who wrote what and when and will indicate which changes were ultimately accepted and merged into the final version.
Screenplays in Hollywood
One particular use case I can easily see for such technology is tracking changes in screenplays over time. I’m honestly shocked that every production company or even more likely studios don’t use such technology to follow changes in drafts over time. In the end, doing such tracking will certainly make Writers Guild of America (WGA) arbitrations much easier as literally every contribution to a script can be tracked to give screenwriters appropriate credit. The end results with the easy ability to time-machine one’s way back into older drafts is truly lovely, and the outputs give so much more information about changes in the script compared to the traditional and all-too-simple (*) which screenwriters use to indicate that something/anything changed on a specific line or the different colored pages which are used on scripts during production.
I can also picture future screenwriters using services like GitHub as platforms for storing and distributing their screenplays to potential agents, managers, and producers.
Redlining Legal Documents
Having seen thousands of legal agreements go back and forth over the years, revision control is a natural tool for tracking the redlining and changes of legal documents as they change over time before they are finally (or even never) executed. I have to imagine that being able to abstract out the appropriate metadata in the long run may actually help attorneys, agents, etc. to become better negotiators, but something like this is a project for another day.
In addition to direct research for projects being undertaken by academics like Neefs, academics should look into using revision control in their own daily work and writings. While writing a book, paper, journal article, essay, monograph, etc. (or graduate students writing theses) one could use their own Git repository to not only save but to back up all of their own work not only for themselves primarily, but also future scholars who come later who would not otherwise have access to the “marginalia” one creates while manufacturing their written thoughts in digital form.
I can easily picture Git as a very simple “next step” in furthering the concept of the digital humanities as well as in helping to bridge the gap between C.P. Snow’s “two cultures.” (I’d also suggest that revision control is a relatively simple step one could take before learning a particular programming language, which I think should be a mandatory tool in everyone’s daily toolbox regardless of their field(s) of interest.)
Start Using Revision Control
“But how do I get started?” you ask.
Know going in that it may take parts of a day to get things set up and running, but once you’ve started with the basics, things are actually pretty easy and you can continue to learn the more advanced subtleties as you progress. Once things are working smoothly, the additional overhead you’ll be expending won’t be too much more than the old method of hitting Alt-S to save one of your old Word documents in the time before auto-save became ubiquitous.
First one should start by choosing one of the myriad revision control systems that exist. For the sake of brevity in this short introductory post, I’ll simply suggest that users take a very close look at Git because of its ubiquity and popularity in the computer science world and the fact that it includes a tremendously large amount of free information and support from a variety of sites on the internet. Git also has the benefit of having versions for all major operating systems (Windows, MacOS, and Linux). Git also has the benefit of a relatively long and robust life within the computer science community meaning that it’s very stable and has many more resources for the uninitiated to draw upon.
Once one has Git installed on their computer and has begun using it, I’d then recommending linking one’s local copy of the repository to a cloud storage solution like either GitHub or BitBucket. While GitHub is certainly one of the most popular Git-related services out there (because it acts, in part, as the hub for a large portion of the open internet and thus promotes sharing), I often recommend using BitBucket as it allows free unlimited private but still share-able repositories while GitHub requires a small subscription fee for keeping one’s work private. Having a repository in the cloud will help tremendously in that your work will be available and downloadable from almost anywhere and because it also serves as a de-facto back-up solution for your work.
I’ve recently been playing around with version control to help streamline the writing/editing process for a book I’ve been writing. Though Git and it’s variants probably seem more daunting than they should to the everyday user, they really represent a very powerful tool. I’ve spent less than two days learning the basics of both Git and hosted repositories (GitHub and Bitbucket), and it has been more than well worth the minor effort.
There is a huge wealth of information on revision control in general and on installing and using Git available on the internet, including full textbooks. For the complete beginners, I’d recommend starting with The Chronicle’s “A Gentle Introduction to Version Control.” Keep in mind that though some of these resources look highly technical, it’s because many are trying to enumerate every function one could potentially desire, when even just the basic core functionality is more than enough to begin with. (I could analogize it to learning to drive a car versus actually reading the full manual so that you know how to take the engine apart and put it back together from scratch. To start with revision control, you only need to learn to “drive.”) Professors might also avail themselves of the use of their local institutional libraries which may host small sessions on learning such tools, or they might avail themselves of the help of their colleagues or students in the computer science department. For others, I’d recommend taking a look at Git’s primary website. BitBucket has an excellent step-by-step tutorial (and troubleshooting) for setting up the requisite software and using it.
What do you use for revision control?
I’ll welcome any thoughts, experiences, or additional resources one might want to share with others in the comments.
With a slight nod toward the Academy’s announcements of the Oscar nominees this morning, there’s something more interesting which they’ve recently released which hasn’t gotten nearly as much press, but portends to be much more vital in the long run.
As books enter the digital age and we watch the continued convergence of rich media like video and audio enter into e-book formats with announcements last week like Apple’s foray into digital publishing, the ability to catalog, maintain and store many types of digital media is becoming an increasing problem. Last week the Academy released part two of their study on strategic issues in archiving and accessing digital motion picture materials in their report entitled The Digital Dilemma 2. Many of you will find it interesting/useful, particularly in light of the Academy’s description
If Leonard Riggio, Barnes & Noble's chairman, joins Liberty Media's proposed buyout of his company, the board needs to decide how to handle his 30 percent stake before shareholders vote on the deal.
This story from the New York Times’ Dealbook is a good quick read on some of the details and machinations of the Barnes & Noble buyout. Perhaps additional analysis on it from a game theoretical viewpoint would yield new insight?
Profound as it may be, the Internet revolution still pales in comparison to that earlier revolution that first brought screens in millions of homes: the TV revolution. Americans still spend more of their non-sleep, non-work time on watching TV than on any other activity. And now the immovable object (the couch potato) and the irresistible force (the business-model destroying Internet) are colliding.
For decades, the limitations of technology only allowed viewers to watch TV programs as they were broadcast. Although limiting, this way of watching TV has the benefit of simplicity: the viewer only has to turn on the set and select a channel. They then get to see what was deemed broadcast-worthy at that particular time. This is the exact opposite of the Web, where users type a search query or click a link and get their content whenever they want. Unsurprisingly, TV over the Internet, a combination that adds Web-like instant gratification to the TV experience, has seen an enormous growth in popularity since broadband became fast enough to deliver decent quality video. So is the Internet going to wreck TV, or is TV going to wreck the Internet? Arguments can certainly be made either way.
This brief overview of IPTV is about as concise as they get. It’s recommended for entertainment executives who need to get caught up on the space as well as for people who are contemplating “cutting the cable cord.” There’s still a lot of improvement the area can use…
The article covers most of the story fairly well, but leaves out some fundamental pieces of the business picture. It discusses a few particular cases of some very well known authors in the publishing world including the likes of Stephen King, Seth Godin, Paulo Coehlo, Greg Bear, and Neal Stephenson and how new digital publishing platforms are slowly changing the publishing business.
Indeed, many authors are bypassing traditional publishing routes and self-publishing their works directly online, and many are taking a much larger slice of the financial rewards in doing so.
The article, however, completely fails to mention or address how new online methods will be handling editorial and publicity functions differently than they’re handled now, and the future of the publishing business both now and in the future relies on both significantly.
It is interesting, and not somewhat ironic to note that, even in the case of this particular article, as the newspaper business in which it finds its outlet, has changed possibly more drastically than the book publishing business. If reading the article online, one is forced to click through four different pages on which a minimum of five different (and in my opinion, terrifically) intrusive ads appear per page. Without getting into the details of the subject of advertising, even more interesting, is that many of these ads are served up by Google Ads based on keywords, so three just on the first page were specifically publishing related.
Two of the ads were soliciting people to self-publish their own work. One touts how easy it is to publish, while the other glosses over the publicity portion with a glib statement offering an additional “555 Book Promotion Tips”! (I’m personally wondering if there can possibly be so many book promotion tips?)
Following the link in the third ad on the first page to its advertised site one discovers it states:
Although I find the portion about “baby steps” particularly entertaining, the first thing I’ll note is that the typical person is likely more readily equipped with the ability to distribute and market a children’s book than they might be at crafting one. Sadly however, there are very few who are capable of any of these tasks at a particularly high level, which is why there are relatively few new childrens’ books on the market each year and the majority of sales are older tried-and-true titles.
I hope the average reader sees the above come-on as the twenty-first century equivalent of the snake oil salesman who is tempting the typical wanna-be-author to call about their so-called “Free” Children’s Book Publishing Guide. I’m sure recipients of the guide end up paying the publisher to get their book out the door and more likely than not, it doesn’t end up in main stream brick-and-mortar establishments like Barnes & Noble or Borders, but only sells a handful of copies in easy to reach online venues like Amazon. I might suggest that the majority of sales will come directly from the author and his or her friends and family. I would further argue that neither now nor in the immediate or even distant future that many aspiring authors will be self-publishing much of anything and managing to make even a modest living by doing so.
Now of course all of the above begs the question of why exactly is it that people need/want a traditional publisher? What role or function do publishers actually perform for the business and why might they be around in the coming future?
The typical publishing houses perform three primary functions: filtering/editing material, distributing material, and promoting material. The current significant threat to the publishing business from online retailers like Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Borders, and even the recently launched Google Books is the distribution platforms themselves. It certainly doesn’t take much to strike low cost deals with online retailers to distribute books, and even less so when they’re distributing them as e-books which cuts out the most significant cost in the business — that of the paper to print them on. This leaves traditional publishing houses with two remaining functions: filtering/editing material and the promotion/publicity function.
The Los Angeles Times article certainly doesn’t state it, but everyone you meet on the street could tell you that writers like Stephen King don’t really need any more publicity than what they’ve got already. Their fan followings are so significantly large that they only need to tell two people online that they’ve got a new book and they’ll sell thousands of copies of any book they release. In fact, I might wager that Stephen King could release ten horrific (don’t mistake this for horror) novels before their low quality would likely begin to significantly erode his sales numbers. If he’s releasing them on Amazon.com and keeping 70% of the income compared to the average 6-18% most writers are receiving, he’s in phenomenally good shape. (I’m sure given his status and track record in the publishing business, he’s receiving a much larger portion of his book sales from his publisher than 18% by the way; I’d also be willing to bet if he approached Amazon directly, he could get a better distribution deal than the currently offered 70/30 split.)
What will eventually sway the majority of the industry is when completely unknown new writers can publish into these electronic platforms and receive the marketing push they need to become the next Stephen King or Neal Stephenson. At the moment, none of the major e-book publishing platforms are giving much, if any, of this type of publicity to any of their new authors, and many aren’t even giving it to the major writers. Thus, currently, even the major writers are relying primarily on their traditional publishers for publicity to push their sales.
I will admit that when 80% of all readers are online and consuming their reading material in e-book format and utilizing the full support of social media and cross-collateralization of the best portion of their word-of-mouth, that perhaps authors won’t need as much PR help. But until that day platforms will significantly need to ramp it up. Financially one wonders what a platform like Amazon.com will charge for a front and center advertisement for a new best-seller to push sales? Will they be looking for a 50/50 split on those sales? Exclusivity in their channel? This is where the business will become even more dicey. Suddenly authors who think they’re shedding the chains of their current publishers will be shackling themselves with newer and more significant manacles and leg irons.
The last piece of the business that needs to be subsumed is the editorial portion of the manufacturing process. Agents and editors serve a significant role in that they filter out thousands and thousands of terrifically unreadable books. In fact, one might argue that even now they’re letting far too many marginal books through the system and into the market.
If we consider the millions of books housed in the Library of Congress and their general circulation, one might realize that only one tenth of a percent or less of books are receiving all the attention. Certainly classics like William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens are more widely read than the millions of nearly unknown writers who take up just as much shelf space in that esteemed library.
Most houses publish on the order of ten to a hundred titles per year, but they rely heavily on only one or two of them being major hits to cover not only the cost of the total failures, but to provide the company with some semblance of profit. (This model is not unlike the same way that the feature film business works in Hollywood; if you throw enough spaghetti, something is bound to stick.)
The question then becomes: “how does the e-publishing business accomplish this editing and publicity in a better and less expensive way?” This question needs to be looked at from a pre-publication as well as a post-publication perspective.
From the pre-publication viewpoint the Los Angeles Times article interestingly mentions that many authors appreciate having a “conversation” with their readers and allowing it to inform their work. However, creators of the stature of Stephen King cannot possibly take in and consume criticism from their thousands of fans in any reasonable way not to mention the detriment to their output if they were forced to read and deal with all that criticism and feedback. Even smaller stature authors often find it overwhelming to take in criticism from their agents, editors, and even a small handful of close friends, family, and colleagues. Taking a quick look at the acknowledgement portions of a few dozen books generally reveals fewer than 10 people being thanked much less hundreds of names from their general reading public – people they neither know well, much less trust implicitly.
From the post-publication perspective, both printing on demand and e-book formats excise one of the largest costs of the supply chain management portions of the publishing world, but staff costs and salary are certainly very close in line after them. One might argue that social media is the answer here and we can rely on services like LibraryThing, GoodReads, and others to supply this editorial/publicity process and eventually broad sampling and positive and negative reviews will win the day to cross good, but unknown writers into the popular consciousness. This may sound reasonable on the surface, but take a look at similar large recommendation services in the social media space like Yelp. These services already have hundreds of thousands of users, but they’re not nearly as useful as they need to be from a recommendation perspective and they’re not terrifically reliable in that they’re very often easily gamed. (Consider the number of positive reviews that appear on Yelp that are most likely written by the proprietors of the establishments themselves.) This outlet for editorial certainly has the potential to improve in the coming years, but it will still be quite some time before it has the possibility of totally ousting the current editorial and filtering regime.
From a mathematical and game theoretical perspective one must also consider how many people are going to subject themselves (willingly and for free) to some really bad reading material and then bother to write either a good or bad review of their experience. This particularly when the vast majority of readers are more than content to ride the coattails of the “suckers” who do the majority of the review work.
There are certainly a number of other factors at play in the publishing business as it changes form, but those discussed above are certainly significant in its continuing evolution. Given the state of technology and its speed, if people feel that the tradition publishing world will collapse, then we should take its evolution to the nth degree. Using an argument like this, then even platforms like Amazon and Google Books will eventually need to narrow their financial split with authors down to infinitesimal margins as authors should be able to control every portion of their work without any interlopers taking any portion of their proceeds. We’ll leave the discussion of whether all of this might fit into the concept of the tragedy of the commons for a future date.
There are many in the industry who have Twitter and Facebook accounts, but generally they shy away from using them, particularly when it relates to their daily workflow. Naturally there are instances when representatives and business affairs executives will post the occasional congratulatory emails, but typically nothing relevant or revealing is ever said.
But tonight Twitter began to change the landscape of how Hollywood, and in particular the representation segment, does its day-to-day business.
It began with the news that Alyssa Milano’s ABC series ROMANTICALLY CHALLENGED, which premiered on April 19th earlier this year, had been cancelled. Michael Ausiello of the Ausiello Files for Entertainment Weekly broke the story online at 7:44 pm (Pacific) and tweeted out the news. Alyssa Milano saw the news on Twitter about an hour later, and at 8:45 pm, she tweeted out her disappointment to the world.
Her agent/manager is going to have a fire to put out tomorrow, if it doesn’t burn itself into oblivion tonight! If anything, her agent typically could have or should have been amongst one of the first to know, generally being informed by the studio executive in charge of the project or potentially by the producer of the show who would also have been in that first round to know about the cancellation. And following the news from the network, Alyssa should have been notified immediately.
Typically this type of news is treated like pure commodity within the representation world. If a competing agent, particularly one who wanted a client like Alyssa, to move to their agency, they would dig up the early news, call her at home, break the bad news early and fault the current representative for dropping the ball and not doing their job. Further, the agent would likely put together a group of several new scripts (which the servicing agent either wouldn’t have access to or wouldn’t have sent her) and have them sent over to her for her immediate consideration. Suddenly there’s an unhappy client who is seriously considering taking their business across the street.
The major difference here is that it isn’t a competing agent breaking the bad news, but the broader internet! Despite the brevity of the less than 140 characters Ms. Milano had, it’s quite obvious that she’s both shocked and a bit upset at the news. We cannot imagine that she’s happy with the source of the news; it’s very likely that her representation got an upset call this evening which they’re currently scurrying to verify and then put out the subsequent fire.
Beyond this frayed relationship, there is also the subsequent strain on the relationships between representation and the overseeing studio executive(s), studio/network chief, and potentially further between the Agency and the Network over what is certain to be one of the more expensive television talent deals in the business right now.
We’re sure there will be a few more agents, managers, and attorneys who sign up for Twitter accounts tomorrow and begin monitoring their clients’ brands more closely on the real-time web.
[As a small caveat to all of this, keep in mind that the show was picked up in early August last year and only aired four episodes premiering in April of this year, so from a technical point of view, the show’s cancellation isn’t a major surprise simply given the timing of the pick-up and the premiere, the promotional push behind the show, or the show’s ratings. Nevertheless, this is sure to have an effect on the flow of business.]
The student-run SNARK film series will screen a sneak
preview of the soon-to-be-released Michael Douglas-Annette Bening
film, American President, in the newly refurbished Shriver Hall
Theater at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 14. The auditorium, which
seats 1,100, was recently outfitted with a new screen, 35-mm
projectors and soon-to-be-installed Dolby sound system in part to
accommodate student organizations, which promised to bring to
Homewood sneak previews of major Hollywood films.
SNARK director Chris Aldrich says the free tickets are
available at the Levering Hall Student Union desk beginning at