Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The author and the audience

In an earlier post, The Player and the Audience, I linked to a 2008 post by animator Mark Mayerson on The Final Customer. Here’s a digest version of what he had to say:
When you get your hair cut, you are the final customer. You’re not getting your hair cut so that you can somehow resell it to someone else. But many of us work for companies whose customers are not the final customer. If you work in animation, your company’s customer may be another studio, TV broadcaster, film distributor, or retailer. They are the people who ultimately sell your work to the audience. If any of your customers misread the market, your company will suffer and you may be laid off as a result. The people working in animation production are helpless to control their fates.
Animation artists are too far down the supply chain. We are dependent on too many people between us and the audience. In the next year or two, we are going to see many companies shrinking their workforces and others disappearing all together. Many unemployed artists will struggle to survive until companies start expanding again, at which point they will be happy to return to work. The smart ones will try and figure out a way to sell something to the final customer, because that’s the most secure place to be in the long run.
To produce animation independently is particularly demanding, but writing is more usually a solo pursuit. The current issue of The New Yorker has an article by Ken Auletta about the changes facing the book publishing business, and about Apple’s iPad and Amazon’s Kindle in particular. It’s a piece that gets more interesting as it goes on. After going through all the stuff on techy platform battles, and publishers arguing price levels with online retailers, it gets to the vital point:
Amazon seems to believe that in the digital world it might not need publishers at all. In December, the Simon & Schuster author Stephen Covey sold Amazon the exclusive digital rights to two of his best-sellers, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and “Principle-Centered Leadership.” The books were sold on Amazon by RosettaBooks, and Covey got more than half the net proceeds. One publisher said, “What it did for us was confirm that Amazon sees itself as much as a competitor as a retailer. They have aspirations to be a publisher.”
A close associate of Bezos puts it more starkly: “What Amazon really wanted to do was make the price of e-books so low that people would no longer buy hardcover books. Then the next shoe to drop would be to cut publishers out and go right to authors.”
Any author or rights holder can self-publish on the Kindle. The contract is non-exclusive, so a book can also be made available for other devices, and the agreement can be terminated at any time by either party. The self-publisher sets the list price (within certain restrictions) and receives a 35% royalty.

Not every book will be well suited to reading on electronic devices. One of the people quoted in the New Yorker article is Jason Epstein, former editorial director of Random House. In a TV interview earlier this year he made clear that his preferred digital future was one where the words still ended up on paper, via print on demand, and he’s involved in such a business. This version of the digital future holds most of the same implications for big publishers as the e-book future: companies without need for warehouses, without teams of reps touring bookshops hawking their wares, and without the same status as gatekeepers to the market. Epstein has set out his thoughts on this in greater detail in The New York Review of Books.

As well as describing how he imagines the future of publishing, Jason Epstein also gives a useful short analysis of the reasons for the shift in recent decades from reliance on backlist sales to emphasis on short term bestsellers. The biggest factor in selling a book today is retail visibility, but the majority of books in print have little high street visibility. The future of bookshops seems more difficult to imagine than the future of publishing mechanisms. Although some of the difficulties of distribution will ease, most authors will still face the familiar problem of finding an audience willing to pay. An unknown book sitting in an electronic catalogue will sell just as few copies as an unknown book taking up space in a publisher’s warehouse.

Time to try on the flamenco dresses, boys.

And don’t forget to buy my book!

What Shuggy said

Honestly - you can’t say anything about bigots these days. It’s political correctness gone mad, I tell you...
The rest.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Peggy’s pictures of Spain

A tree in Ronda.

Peggy’s flamenco dress. She got it in Córdoba, but identical children’s flamenco dresses were for sale in souvenir shops at nearly every place we visited.

As well as the Velasquez paintings in the Prado, we saw lots of figurines based on his portraits for sale in Madrid. One window had unpainted figurines that you could decorate yourself, which would have been perfect for Peggy, but it was Sunday and the shop was closed. She already has a small collection of princesses and fairy figures that she’s painted, as well as a plaster Jesus and a BVM that her grandparents brought back from Mexico. Jesus looks so sweet and feminine that he’s joined the princesses, and we haven’t bothered to correct her. She’s improved the paint scheme considerably; she noticed the original painter had been very clumsy with painting the fingernails, leaving big red marks on the palms of the hands.

A playground in Bilbao, near the wobbly silver building and the dog from Koons the Florist.

Monday, 26 April 2010

The player and the audience

In the street in Córdoba, we saw an extraordinary looking man, a big man, a black man, wearing cap, t-shirt, jeans, and a big billowing dusty flamenco dress. He was working the cars at the traffic lights, selling air fresheners I think. I saw a smartly dressed woman on a scooter give him a big smile and a greeting. But scooters don’t need air fresheners. As the bus moved on towards the railway station we saw another man doing the same routine at the next junction, also in a flamenco dress.

The night before in Córdoba we’d taken the kids to a flamenco show, past their bedtime, in a funny colourful place, first drink included in the price, a small audience of tourists already there, some of them also with children. The group on stage would do a wordless number, then a pause, come back with a singer and do a song, a pause, come back with a different singer, pause, come back with a dancer, and so on. One singer particularly gave it the whole arm, breaking heart, breaking voice, blood, sweat and tears. Then in the next pause he started working the tables. The patter about the flamenco group, no — the flamenco family. The price of the CD, the tape, the DVD. Signed by the whole group. Dedicated to the children. Of course we bought a CD. Resent it? I loved it. That's how it’s done. Tear your heart out for them and then get the money before they can look away.

Earlier in Ronda, we’d visited the bullring. The children played in the dust of the arena. The bullring museum included photos of one their most famous 20th Century bullfighters posing with various unnamed characters, recognisable amongst them Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles. Outside the bullring stood a man and horse, both in full costume, posing for photos with tourists for a fee.

From Ronda to Córdoba, from Córdoba to Madrid.

Coming out of the Madrid metro into Puerto del Sol on a sunny afternoon, we were disoriented and overwhelmed, and in the noisy crowded square a toreador, a woman dressed as Hello Kitty, and other costumed photo opportunities for sale. Also a mariachi band. Street sellers hawking sunglasses and twinkling knick-nacks. Everything here and now all pressing into the hot square between the tall, tatty, city buildings. Exhausted as we were, we fled, but it’s that part of the city I most want to revisit.

We were booked into a hostel on a street off the square, booked on the internet, in a hurry, last minute. There was a small doorway. A bell gave access to the dark narrow hallway lined with postboxes, leading to a small old lift. I can’t remember what floor reception was on. The fourth? Everything was brown. The one sign of the 21st Century was the coin-operated internet terminal. Our hearts sank. But now I can at least say there weren’t fleas in the beds, unlike the earlier hotel in Ronda which put on a much flashier front.

In our room, the noise rising from the street was as loud as if we were still down there. We could hear an incessant squeaking noise, lots of shouting and laughter. I did my best to ignore it, dizzy from lack of lunch. The children ran round the room, bouncing on beds, antic kittens, leaning over the balcony rail — a clown! It was a clown in the street, speaking in squeaks and mime. Our son got the phone to take a picture, over the railing, visions of it being dashed on the pavement several stories down. The clown was playing tricks on passers by, swapping his bag for theirs, hopping onto one for a piggyback ride, jumping into the street in front of a bus and refusing to let it pass. And finally throwing down his cap and gesturing for applause, then gesturing for money.

Though it didn’t end as simply as that — the business of harvesting payment was as big a performance as the rest. Once the crowd had put money in the hat he did a whole bit of business sitting on the pavement to count it, then looking up to count the crowd, then pursuing someone he suspected of not paying. And when the clown got a coin from this fellow he bit it of course, pulled a disgusted face and mimed shoving it up his bum. Then a woman came to give him more money. He smiled, she didn’t have to, he had so much already, but when she then walked off without giving it to him he pursued her, desperately making clear he really did want her money.

Below is a clip of Orson Welles, via Cartoon Brew, from some years after he was photographed at the bullring in Ronda, talking about performers and audiences, and why a television studio audience is not a real audience: because they haven’t payed. He maintains that the real audience is becoming extinct - an exaggeration, though it’s true that many performers now work without direct contact with their ultimate audience, and have a much less tangible relationship with them than the clown in Madrid or the Córdoba street seller. This has economic as well as cultural importance, as Mark Mayerson describes in a post from 2008, The Final Customer,  on the distant relationship between most commercial animators and their audience.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Above Grazalema

Monday, 5 April 2010

Liberté ou la Mort

There was a story in the paper last week about the discovery of a copy of Haiti’s Declaration of Independence from the original printing in 1804, found in the British National Archives by Julia Gaffield of Duke University. Their website has more details on the document, including a full translation.

The declaration came after over a decade of war in the French colony of St Domingue, from the slave rebellion of 1791, through the rise of Toussaint L’Ouverture as their leader, fighting against the slave-holders and the French Republic in the war with Spain, then after the abolition of slavery in 1794 on the side of the Republic against Spain and Britain, then against internal rivals for power, and finally against Napoleon as the Emperor sought to reintroduce slavery to the island. In 1803 Toussaint L’Ouverture died imprisoned in France, as the more radical Dessalines led the war of independence in St Domingue.

From The Black Jacobins, by C.L.R. James, Chapter 13:
On November 29th Dessalines, Christophe, and Clairveaux (Pétion was ill) issued a preliminary proclamation of independence, moderate in tone, deploring the bloodshed of the previous years. On December 31st at a meeting of all the officers held at Gonaïves the final Declaration of Independence was read. To emphasise the break with the French the new State was renamed Haiti.
The first draft of the proclamation handed to Dessalines at the Congress was rejected by him as being too moderate. The second, which met with his aproval, struck the new note, ‘Peace to our neighbours. But anathema to the French name. Hatred eternal to France. This is our cry.’
Typophiles will note that the document was set in a French typeface designed by Firmin Didot.

Throughout C.L.R. James’s book runs an account of the interactions between principle and pragmatism, so much so that the book could be a response to The Prince, though Machiavelli is never mentioned. In parts the book is as much argument as history. It all seemed very relevant to some of the conversations over at Bob’s place, on idealism versus realism, and on Orwell, nationalism and patriotism.

My attempt at a concise conclusion:
- Pragmatic realism is necessary in the most idealistic fight.
- Realistic understanding of international relationships must look not just at governments’ views on national interest, but at entire societies and the shared and conflicting interests they contain.
- Nationalism, as Orwell used the word, interferes with such understanding.

I also have something inconclusive and less concise to say on all this, but it will have to wait, if I can keep it in mind at all that is.

Extra: Haitian history on the radio, from PRI’s The World.

Extra extra: Abu Muqawama strives for a more realistic realism: On the Relative Strength of Horses.

‘Liberty or death’. . . somebody, I can’t remember who, said something like: ‘It’s not or death. It’s always and death.’

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Amnesty International and Gita Sahgal update

From The Hindu, Row over support for ‘defensive jihad’:
LONDON: Leading South Asian rights campaigners have accused Amnesty International of “undermining'' the rights movement, especially the campaign against sex and gender discrimination, by working with extremist — often misogynist — groups engaged in what they claim is “defensive jihad''.
The row follows remarks by Claudio Cordone, its secretary-general, that “defensive jihad” was not “antithetical” to human rights. He made the comments in response to a Global Petition from rights activists questioning Amnesty's alliance with Cageprisoners, founded by Moazzam Begg, an ex- Guantanamo Bay prisoner and dubbed “Britain's most famous supporter of the Taliban” by a former Amnesty official.
“Moazzam Begg and others in his group Cageprisoners hold…views which they have clearly stated, for example on whether one should talk to the Taleban or on the role of jihad in self-defence. Are such views antithetical to human rights? Our answer is no, even if we may disagree with them …,” Mr Cordone wrote. 
The initiators of the petition — Amrita Chhachhi, Sara Hossain and Sunila Abeysekera, all prominent women's rights activists — have called Mr. Cordone's remarks “shocking and incredible”.
“If this is the official position of the world's leading human rights organisation, this would gravely undermine the future of the human rights movement,” they argued.
Read full article. Via Butterflies and Wheels. More at Human Rights for All, including full text of Claudio Cordone’s letter, and the full text of the response by Amrita Chhachhi, Sara Hossain and Sunila Abeysekera.

Also at Human Rights for All, Gita Sahgal and Amnesty International: Are Women’s Rights Still Human Rights? By Meredith Tax. She also has more to say about it on her blog.

And finally, a letter in yesterday’s Guardian, Criticism does not exclude Muslims from the political process, via Harry’s Place.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Women, Weddings, War and Me

On BBC iPlayer for the next few days, Nel, a young woman from here in North London, takes a trip back to Kabul and on to Herat. Highly recommended. From the BBC programme page:
21-year-old Nel has lived in Britain since she was six, after her family fled war and violence in Afghanistan. Despite respecting her parents' decision to leave, Nel has always felt a strong connection with the country and longs to know what her life would have been like if she'd stayed and grown up there.
This documentary tells the intimate story of a young woman returning to Afghanistan. In Kabul, she sees the modern face of the country through her cousin - one of only a handful of female lecturers at Kabul University. But even her cousin accepts that her marriage will be arranged.
Outside the capital, behind the closed doors of hospital wards and prisons, Nel soon discovers a world of extreme violence against women and gains a new understanding of why her family decided to leave.

Related, from Akinoluna: Afghan Girl.

Related, from Terry Glavin: ‘Orientalist’ Schoolgirl Effortlessly Crushes Gruesome Bloated Zombie Witch Creature, with worthwhile comments. Ophelia Benson on same here and here and here.