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Publetariat Dispatch: Will Book Publishers Become Irrelevant?

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!
In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, Smashwords founder Mark Coker shares his NPR interview about the current and possible future state of commercial publishing.

(updated) I was interviewed today on NPR’s All Things Considered by the amazing Audie Cornish.  We talked about how the rise of ebook self-publishing will transform publishing for the benefit of writers and readers.

I shared how when we launched Smashwords five years ago, self-publishing was seen as the option of last resort, and today it has becoming the option of first choice for many writers.

But what about publishers?  Where do they fit in the future landscape? I expressed my view that in publishers’ attempt to acquire books that they think have the greatest commercial potential, they are excluding many of the potential breakout bestsellers. These authors will find their way to market via ebook self-publishing platforms, and once they learn they can do it better, faster, more profitably and more enjoyably on their own, it’ll be tougher and more expensive for publishers to win them back.  For this reason, I said, “over the next few years, traditional publishers are going to become more and more irrelevant.”

At the end of the interview, they interview Michael Pietch, the current top Editor of Little Brown, and the incoming CEO of its parent company, big 6 publisher Hachette. He takes issue with my comment about the future relevancy of publishers.  He says:

I think Smashwords is an amazing opportunity for people who want to publish themselves.  I love the diversity of the publication that is possible now, but I object strenuously to the notion that publishers are irrelevant because publishers are doing things now that are extraordinarily complex [and] exciting.  The ways that publishers can work to connect readers with writers now are the kinds of things that publishers have dreamt of doing since Gutenberg first put down a line a type.

It’s a cool comment, and I don’t disagree with him.

It’s tough to capture my complex thoughts about publishers in a five minute interview.  I don’t want to see publishers suffer as the industry evolves over the next few years.  I think the world is a better place with publishers, especially if publishers can do for authors what they can’t do for themselves.

Will publishers become irrelevant?  No, I don’t think so, and I hope not.  In the future I see, indie authors and publishers will co-exist and co-mingle along the publishing spectrum.   Four years ago, here on the blog, I wrote a piece titled, Why Book Publishing is Like Venture Capital. It’s starts with a summary of how VCs aren’t as necessary for some Silicon Valley startups as they once were, and it ends with a word game you can play with your word processor.  If you’re writer, the game is fun.  If you’re a Big 6 publisher, not so much, because the transition will be difficult.

Publishers once controlled the printing press, the access to retail distribution, the knowledge of professional publishing, the access to professional editors, and the marketing capacity to give their books merchandising advantage in stores.  These advantages are dissolving.  The playing field is leveling, readers are propelling indie ebook authors to the top of the charts, and the field is tilting to the indie author’s advantage.

If you like interview above, please share it with your friends, embed it on your blog or on Facebook, and share your views about the future of publishing.

FEB 5 UPDATE: The next day on All Things Considered, Mr. Pietch shared his perspective on the future of publishing, and why he thinks publishers will remain relevant.  It’s a great interview.  I like that Hachette is putting a former editor in charge.  Editors are the heart and soul of good publishers.

This is a reprint from the Smashwords blog.


Publetariat Dispatch: The Future of Libraries (Infographic)

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!
In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, OpenSite shares an interesting infographic about libraries in the digital age.

We’re glad to be able to share this excellent infographic from Open Site, which has generously released it under Creative Commons licensing.

The graphic shows some very interesting statistics about library usage, demographics and how technology is being used in libraries. It should be of interest to authors and publishers everywhere.

If text in the image below is difficult to read, click here to view the infographic in a larger format on Open Site.


Publetariat Dispatch: E-Ink Devices – The Fastest Invention In History To Become Old-Fashioned

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!
In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author and publisher Alan Baxter muses on the disruptive speed of technological advances in books and publishing.

I’ve been noticing that more and more people are reading e-books from  tablets and fewer people are buying e-ink devices like the original  Kindle. When I straw-polled this perception on Twitter, it seemed that I  was right. While we are seeing more Kindles and Kobos than ever, the  number of iPads and other tablet devices seem to far outstrip the e-ink  growth.

Further chatting and some links supplied by friendly  tweeters backed this up. When I tweeted: “I predict that e-ink devices  could be the fastest invention in history to become old-fashioned”,  futurist Mark Pesce replied:

@mpesce: They’re already charmingly quaint.

From  a shiny new technology to obsolete and replaced in very short order.  Already, the Kindle is “charmingly quaint”, like a gramophone player or a  phone with a cord and dial. I’m a bit disappointed about this, because I  love my Kindle. The thing I like most, apart from the very easy on the  eyes e-ink screen, is that it’s a dedicated reading device. No  distractions. It holds books and other documents that I need to read and  that’s all. There are enough interruptions everywhere else – I don’t  need them in a book too. Plus, the battery lasts literally weeks.

But  I do have a slight issue in that I love my comics. I’ve read comic  books forever and still buy several titles a month. I’d be happy to move  to reading those digitally, but for the colour and graphic delivery I’d  need a tablet like an iPad. I’ve yet to be able to justify the expense  of an iPad purely for reading comics. But if it was for all my  e-reading… And that doesn’t even begin to address the multi-media  reading experience, with linked footnotes, video content and so much  more that tablets make so easy.

But here’s where another problem  presents itself. Reading novels (or other straight, unadorned text) from  a tablet is problematic at the moment. It’s hard to see outside in the  sunshine. The tablet has a terrible battery life, compared to the weeks  and weeks I get from my Kindle. The backlit display is more tiring for  the eyes. And herein lies the reason tablets are taking over – all those  things are being addressed and improved at a furious rate. The tablet  is starting to achieve all the positives of a dedicated e-ink reader,  along with all the other things it does, making the strengths of e-ink  irrelevant.

It’ll be a while before the tablet screen, ink, battery life and so on are as good as, say, a Kindle, but not that long a while. It will happen.

What  this boils down to is actually something bigger. The device itself is  becoming irrelevant. The beauty of the tablet is that it is a convergent  device. You carry one thing and it does everything you need – reading,  writing, web surfing, social networking, etc. This leads to a paradigm  shift in content creation and delivery. As Eoin Purcell said on Twitter during last night’s conversation:

Things will be sold, but selling will take different forms. Subscriptions, memberships, ads, events, readings etc.


His  point being that the content will be in the cloud, the creators and  publishers will earn through the things he mentions in the quote above  and that content will be consumed on a variety of devices. The device  itself becomes irrelevant – all it needs is access to the cloud and a  comfortable reading experience. That’s the tablet with the battery life,  screen resolution and daylight clarity I talked about above. The  implication here is that not only does the device itself become  irrelevant – as long as you have one, any one will do – but the concept  of an ebook is also irrelevant. You don’t buy a book. You subscribe to a  publisher and access their content, whenever, wherever. I’m not  entirely sure how I feel about this…

So the dedicated e-reader,  like the Kindle or Kobo, is already dead. It just hasn’t stopped kicking  yet. Amazon know this, so they’ve released the Fire, which is a tablet  device. Others are following suit. For those of us who prefer a  dedicated e-ink device, we should make the most of it now. Before long  we’ll be the hipsters of the digital reading world, congregating like  those people in record stores who still buy vinyl and talk about what  stylus they prefer. I wonder if half the people reading this even know  what a stylus is.

(For further reading, I’d recommend this article on the subject by Eoin Purcell. Interestingly, this article is already more than two years old.)


This is a cross-posting from Alan Baxter’s The Word.


Publetariat Dispatch: Can the Subscription Model Work For Trade Publishers?

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!

In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, Publetariat founder and Editor in Chief April L. Hamilton wonders if a subscription model, such as that employed by Netflix and Gamefly, could work for trade publishers where ebooks are concerned.

I recently read a Slate article about how the film industry is repeating the DRM and business model mistakes of the music industry, and of course saw many parallels with, and implications for, trade publishing in it. But unlike the film and music industries, Big Pub has plenty more market and cultural shifts to contend with these days than just the rising popularity and availability of digital media.

The once-mighty Borders has failed, proving once and for all that brick and mortar is no longer the ace in the hole it once seemed for trade publishers. Authors, established and aspiring alike, are seeing fewer and fewer reasons to partner with trade publishers now that it’s become clear they can get their work to a readership more quickly, keep control of their intellectual property rights, and earn higher royalties to boot by going indie. As if to add insult to injury, Amazon seems poised to eat whatever’s left of Big Publishing’s lunch after everyone else has had a go at the trough. But it occurred to me that there may yet be some unexplored and promising territory for Big Pub, if they’re willing to entertain an unorthodox idea: a subscription model of ebook content delivery.

Much like Gamefly and O’Reilly’s Safari Books Online, major publishers could offer a monthly, flat-fee subscription service for

book-at-a-time access to all their ebook titles in various ereader formats. Note that I said access, not ownership. It would be a rental-type paradigm, and like Gamefly and Netflix could be offered at various pricing tiers according to how many titles the consumer is allowed to have checked out at any given time. Such a plan would enable publishers to maintain steady, ongoing revenue streams in addition to their existing sales channels, and would allow publishers to do an end-run around Amazon, B&N’s Nook store, and Apple’s iBookstore, too.

Perhaps just as importantly, it would allow publishers to gracefully exit the ebook pricing, DRM and staged release debacles of the past, and finally be seen as offering a valuable service to consumers instead of being the big, greedy bad guys.

Gamefly charges the equivalent of the cost of one new game at retail prices for its basic subscription; trade publishers could do the same. At $10 – $15 per month I think plenty of avid ebook readers would be willing to sign up, because they’re probably already buying at least one ebook at retail prices each month.

There are only 5 major players left in trade publishing, so even if you had to ‘subscribe’ to all 5 of them individually (since it’s not likely they’d form some kind of collective service), you’re still only talking approximately the same monthly fee as what plenty of people are already paying for their Gamefly accounts.

While publishers would lose money on accounts signed to voracious readers who currently buy numerous ebooks every month at retail prices, those folks are outliers. Most people I know don’t buy ebooks at that rate, and most people I know don’t read more than one book a month, either. Also, there would surely be a large contingent of people who sign up fully intending to wring their money’s worth out of the subscription fee, but ultimately end up ‘checking out’ a book only every second or third month. Once you know the books are there for the taking any time, there’s no urgency.

If you subscribe to Netflix, Gamefly or even a health club, you’re probably personally acquainted with this phenomenon. I say this while gazing ruefully at the Netflix DVD I’ve had checked out for nearly four months now. Yep, I’ve paid the monthly fee for that movie three times over, and in fact could’ve bought the DVD for less than I’ve paid for this rental by now. But I still have no intention of cancelling my Netflix subscription because it’s a convenience I’m willing to pay for. And maybe someday I really will end up checking out a new movie every few days, like I imagined I’d be doing when I first signed up.

Yes, there are technological hurdles to be overcome. And yes, there will be some considerable startup effort and investment. But those things are true of any new business model trade publishers might try to adopt. And heaven knows, the model they’ve currently got is no longer working so they’re going to have to try something.  

This is a cross-posting from April L. Hamilton‘s Indie Author Blog.

Publetariat Dispatch: Game Changer – JK Rowling’s Pottermore & Ebooks Without A Publisher

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!
In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, Alan Baxter takes a closer look at JK Rowling’s new Pottermore undertaking, and what it could mean for the future of publishing and sales of ebooks.

The internet has been abuzz lately since mega-billionaire-super-author, J K Rowling (of Harry Potter fame, in case you’ve been a monk in a cave for more than ten years) announced Pottermore. In a nutshell, it goes like this:

After seven books and eight films and more merchandising than you can fit in George Lucas’s ego, Rowling has now announced a website which will be a complete interactive experience for all ages based on her stories. Along with that she’s announced that for the first time ebook editions of the Harry Potter series will be made available. Well, legal ebook editions that is. Rowling truly is the master at monetising her ideas and characters, having turned some books about wizards at school into an international behemoth across all media.

With Pottermore, as the press release says:

For this groundbreaking collaborative project, J.K. Rowling has written extensive new material about the characters, places and objects in the much-loved stories, which will inform, inspire and entertain readers as they journey through the storylines of the books. Pottermore will later incorporate an online shop where people can purchase exclusively the long-awaited Harry Potter eBooks, in partnership with J K Rowling’s publishers worldwide, and is ultimately intended to become an online reading experience, extending the relevance of Harry Potter to new generations of readers, while still appealing to existing fans.

It’s a pretty inspired concept. Of course, Rowling with her riches and business partners is the kind of author with the kind of clout you’d need to make something like this happen.

The real game changer among all this, however, despite the partnership comment above, is that the ebooks will be essentially self-published. Her publishers, Bloomsbury, Scholastic, etc., don’t own the eletronic rights – and I bet they’re really happy about that. So Rowling is planning to make the ebooks available directly through Pottmore. Of course, when Rowling self-publishes, she’s has a team of people behind her and her own company on the case, so it’s not like she sits there on her own and uploads files to Amazon. But the key here is the lack of a third-party publisher.

The Kindle will accept epub format ebooks soon and the announcement that the Harry Potter ebooks will be available from October seems to fit in with that, so it’s likely the books will be in epub. That certainly does seem to be the prominent format and, aside from Amazon’s mobi format, has been the industry leader all along. Once the Kindle accepts epub too, we have the first stage of industry standardisation and that’s a good thing for all of us. Perhaps we have Rowling to thank in part for forcing that change – who knows who talked to who while this was getting off the ground.

Authors leveraging their existing print success to manage their own ebook releases is nothing new – just see J A Konrath’s example for one. But nothing on this scale has happened before and we can see things shifting a little more on the axis. I’ve said it before – we’re living in exciting times in writing and publishing and the ride ain’t over yet. I wonder how many kids will get an ereader with a set of Harry Potter books on board for Xmas this year? This will be a big step in mainstreaming ereaders, which are becoming more and more mainstream anyway. On a recent flight to Melbourne I noticed several people reading from Kindles and Sony Readers while waiting for my plane.

The kind of cross-media storytelling and promotion which Pottermore represents is certainly not new, but we’ve seen nothing on this scale before. Just the official announcement video is better than any book trailer a lowly author like myself could hope for. I wonder where we go from here?

Here’s the official release video from Rowling herself.

And here’s the Pottermore site.

Interesting times indeed. What do you think? Is this a good thing or not? Where do things go from here?

This is a reprint from Alan Baxter‘s The Word.

The Real Story Behind Those Single-Digit Kindle Margins: Amazon Has Positioned Itself for a 50% Overall Market Share in the U.S. Book Business by the End of 2012

Amazon’s report of quarterly earnings last Thursday was greeted widely as an indication that the company can’t generate sufficient margins with Kindle devices and content. That interpretation has been reasonably straightforward, with strong echoes of sentiments that characterized critics’ views of Amazon during its early pre-profitability years in late 1990s and into the 21st century:

Despite rapid growth in Kindle hardware and content sales [the thinking goes], the combination of competition and Amazon’s penchant for pursuing loss-leader strategies to capture market share have forced Kindle-associated margins so low that, as the Kindle portion of Amazon’s overall business grows, it will lead inevitably to erosion of profits.

Due in part to this interpretation, Amazon’s share price, which closed Thursday within 3 percent of its all-time trading high, dipped dramatically in after-hours trading that day and has gained back only a fraction of those losses since.

But the low-margins interpretation misses another, much more dramatic story:

The big story is that in just three years Amazon has positioned itself to triple its overall share of the U.S. book business for all formats. Before the end of 2012, Amazon could own more than half of the U.S. book business across all formats.

How stunning a development would that be? Prior to the launch of the Kindle in 2007, Amazon was widely considered to account, at most, for somewhere around 15 percent of all U.S. book sales in all formats by all retailers.

Amazon has not reached 50 per cent yet, and is still far from that range where all titles are concerned. But one of the most reliable crystal balls for determining future bookselling trends is to examine and parse developments as they play out with inpidual bestsellers in the overall book marketplace, when numbers are available.

Room author Emma Donoghue

Last week both Amazon and one of its most consistent publishing business critics, paid subscription site Publishers’ Marketplace, shined their respective spotlights on sale trends that have been playing out with a single bestselling novel, Emma Donoghue’s Room. (Room was published September 13, 2010 and became a breakthrough bestseller for the Dublin-born Canadian transplant Donoghue. Room currently stands at #26 among ebooks in the Kindle Store despite its agency-model price of $11.99. The hardcover, discounted by Amazon to $14.41 (20 percent higher than the Kindle edition), is #43 in the main Amazon store. It is #13 among far fewer available bestsellers listed in the iBooks store, and #35 on the Nook. Importantly for these discussions, the book has also been on the IndieBound bestseller list for independent brick-and-mortar booksellers for the past 20 weeks, and currently stands at #4.)

Helpfully, it turns out that we know a lot about Room sales, thanks to Amazon and Publisher’s Marketplace.

Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s vice-president for Kindle Content,told a Digital Book World conference last week that, for Room, “total Kindle sales are equal to 85 percent of Nielsen BookScan’s print sales number.” Publisher’s Marketplace then performed some very helpful extrapolations and further calculations arriving here:

If the BookScan number is 80 percent of the print sales total, then Kindle sales here would 68 percent of all print. More importantly, though, to calculate what percentage of the book’s total sale was on Kindle, you need to add Kindle + BookScan + that other 20 percent together and look at Kindle as a percentage of that sum. So it’s 68 over 168, meaning that Kindle sales were 40 percent of the total sale in all formats for ROOM.

But it doesn’t end there. Grandinetti and other Amazon spokespersons said repeatedly last week that Kindle editions were currently outselling Amazon sales of their hardcover counterparts by a 3-to-1 margin, which means that Amazon hardcovers equal about 25 per cent of combined sales for these titles. Even if hardcover sales of Room fell short of this and constituted only 20 percent of Amazon’s combined, this would mean that total Amazon sales of Room constitutes about 50 percent of the total sale in all formats for ROOM.

It’s just one title, but what we’ve been seeing quite often with Amazon and the Kindle over the past few years is that what happens first with one title happens subsequently with more titles and then, ultimately, with most titles. It was a big deal in 2009 when Kindle sales of The Lost Symbol outstripped Amazon’s hardcover sales right from the drop, and a little over a year later Amazon announced that all Kindle editions were outselling hardcover units for the same titles, across the board.

But there are other forces at play, and I’m not just talking about the fact that Room is one of the strongest sellers over the past five months for indie booksellers. Back on January 5 when USA Today reported that 19 of the top 50 titles on its bestseller list had sold more ebook than print copies for the previous week, publishing industry insiders blamed Santa Claus and downplayed the significance.

“What’s most interesting is what happens next week or over the next month. About 3 million to 5 million e-readers were activated last week. Will the people who got them keep downloading e-books, and at what rate?” asked Publisher’s Marketplace founder Michael Cader. Bowker’s Kelly Gallagher, too often a cheerleader for the status quo in publishing, was quoted saying that the surge in e-book sales “is not a sustainable trend.”

Right. Well, that was January 5. Now it’s February 2, and that trend, far from declining, has actually become stronger. On USA Today’s most recent bestseller list, for the week ended January 23, the number of titles with greater ebook sales than print sales had grown from the 18-19 range for the first three weeks after Christmas to 23 of the top 50.

There is a wide range of factors that are likely to push the velocity of change even faster for ebook sales specifically and Amazon’s share of the overall bookselling market in general, but the fact that brick and mortar bookstores are closing at a faster rate than ever, from local indies to chains, is bound to contribute to a snowballing effect. The imminent bankruptcy of the Borders chain is this week’s headline, but it’s just the headline. And despite the recent fuss about the new partnership for ebook sales between Google and the American Booksellers Association, it is inevitable that as ebook sales rise, brick-and-mortar stores will decline and publishers will gradually lessen their investment both in the bookstore-based physical distribution network and in print editions.

Finally, there’s Amazon’s not-so-secret weapon for building retail market share for its Kindle and print content sales: direct publishing, Amazon exclusives, and indie authors. Recent developments in this area deserve a post all their own, but for now we’ll just note that 36 of the top 100 bestselling ebooks in the Kindle Store are published either by indie, direct-to-Kindle authors or by Amazon publishing subsidiary programs such as AmazonEncore, AmazonCrossing, or Kindle Singles. The vast majority of these titles are either not listed or not selling at any appreciable level on any other retail venue, and they are not yet included on any bestseller lists other than Amazon’s own, although their sales would in many cases justify such inclusion. But the sales are there, the profits are there, and once again Amazon has positioned itself to dominate the market share for this, the fastest growing sector of the fastest growing sector in bookselling.

Which brings us back to Amazon executive Grandinetti, and his summary point in last week’s discussions: “However fast you think this change is happening, its probably happening faster than you think.”

Whatever the rate of change, and whatever the velocity of change, most of the other players in the book business and many of Amazon’s market analysts and investors may be missing the point as to exactly where this change leads. AMZN is not a day-traders’ stock, but for investors who take a long view it may have just moved into a new and very positive category.

If Amazon has decided to accept single-digit margins during this Kindle “investment phase,” and the result is that the company has set itself up to own a 50 per cent market share of the entire U.S. book business by the end of 2012, there will be no shortage of happy investors — and devastated competitors — at that point in the relatively near future.

With “Kindle Singles,” Amazon Shows Off Its “Harvard Degree” in eBook Pricing

Other bloggers and journalists have joined Amazon’s own press office this week in making a big deal of Amazon’s “brand new” initiative called “Kindle Singles,” and I think it’s a big deal, too.

But brand new? Not so much.

First, let’s take a straight-on look at Amazon’s press release announcement of Kindle Singles, on Wednesday, January 26: Priced between $0.99 and $4.99, at a length “typically between 5,000 and 30,000 words, each Kindle Single is intended to allow a single killer idea — well researched, well argued and well illustrated — to be expressed at its natural length.” Nothing cheesy about that, right?

And despite grousing from some quarters that Kindle Singles are just a way to increase the cost-per-word for Kindle customers (I disagree), the initial launch of 22 Kindle Singles titles has done very well. The day after launch various Kindle Singles offerings dominated the Kindle Store’s Movers and Shakers list, and as of Saturday afternoon January 29 all 22 titles were in the Kindle Store’s overall top 4,000, 16 were in the top 1,000, and two are in the top 100. That’s actually a brilliant launch for such a diverse array of 22 titles by authors who, with a few notable exceptions like Jodi Picoult and Pete Hamill, are not bestsellers.

But here’s what I found a little amusing: 

Amazon has been down a path very similar to this one before, almost exactly a year ago. On January 25, 2010, Amazon issued a press release for a new venture called “Harvard Business Review Short Cuts.” There are differences, of course. Few of the Short Cuts authors had any name recognition at all, their Short Cuts were nothing more than repurposed chapters, and they were all priced at $3.99 each. Even though Amazon says that Kindle Singles will be “priced between $0.99 and $4.99,” all 22 of the initial offerings are priced between $0.99 and $2.99, and the average price is just $2.22. They are a diverse group of offerings, topics, and genres, and many of the authors are well-known in one field or another.

At the earlier $3.99 price point, the “Harvard Business Review Short Cuts” program was a pretty dismal failure. Indeed, back on July 12, 2010 the program was Exhibit A for my post entitled “Pricing to Fail: Case Studies in Dumb Pricing – Harvard Business Review Short Cuts, the Irrelevance of Cost Issues,” in which I described the program’s January 2010 launch and then wrote:

Six months later, the initiative looks like a failure, despite heavy promotion by Amazon and the valuable imprimatur of the Harvard Business Review Press. Most of the titles are languishing far out the “long tail” in Kindle Store sales rankings, i.e., over 70,000 in most cases. Part of the problem, it seems likely, is that the “Short Cuts” series is overpriced, with a list price currently set at $3.99, discounted 20 percent by Amazon to $3.16. Even at $2.99, a reader wanting to work through all eight to 12 chapters of the full books from which these short-form ebooks are drawn would have to shell out roughly $25 to $35. One would think that anyone with the wherewithal to be able to digest Harvard Business School materials with his morning coffee would also be capable of the number-crunching necessary to determine that the convenience of bite-size ebook chapters is more than offset by the high price. At $1.49 to $1.99 each, “Short Cuts” might well be a winning proposition.

So, kudos to Amazon, for it is clear that they went to school on the pricing issues that made the Harvard collaboration a loser and came back with the combination of content and pricing required to make Kindle Singles a brilliant success. Here are the first 22 offerings, with introductory text from Amazon:

Each Kindle Single presents a compelling idea–well researched, well argued, and well illustrated–expressed at its natural length. From an elaborate bank heist in Lifted, to Congolese rebel camps in The Invisible Enemy, to Jodi Picoult’s moving portrayal of family in Leaving Home, they offer nuanced journeys of both fact and fiction. This first set of Singles was selected by our team of editors, and includes works by Rich Cohen, Pete Hamill, and Darin Strauss. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we have.

The Real Lebowski

The Real Lebowski by Rich Cohen. He wrote the first draft of Apocalypse Now. He discovered Arnold Schwarzenegger. He wrote Clint Eastwood’s “Go ahead, make my day.” The Vanity Fair writer and author of Sweet and Low trails tough-guy screenwriter/director John Milius as he fights to find his place in a transformed and unwelcoming movie business.

The Invisible Enemy

The Invisible Enemy by Jonathan Littell. On assignment from Le Monde, the acclaimed novelist (The Kindly Ones) chronicles a forgotten war–the Lord’s Resistance Army’s terrorist campaign in Congo–and its devastating effect on innocent families.

Leaving Home: Short Pieces

Leaving Home: Short Pieces by Jodi Picoult.  The deep pains and powerful pleasures of parenting: those are the extremes explored here by the extraordinary novelist Jodi Picoult. In three short pieces that display her wide emotional range, Picoult weaves together stories of love and loss with heartbreaking simplicity.

They Are Us

They Are Us by Pete Hamill. From the eminent journalist and novelist comes a common-sense plea for a new immigration policy, one that asks America to embrace its illegal-alien population, not condemn it. Hamill advocates a fresh look at amnesty and pardon policies, offering illegal immigrants a “hand of welcome.”

Octomom and the Politics of Babies

Octomom and the Politics of Babies by Mark Greif.  Eight babies. A financial crash. The porn offers. The infant formula. How one woman became a scapegoat for America’s troubles–but taught us how both the mighty and the powerless are gaming our system. This comic, provocative, wittily argued essay from n+1 suggests that the real meaning of Octomom reflects the way we all live now.


Lifted by Evan Ratliff . The thieves had a handpicked crew, a stolen helicopter, a cache of explosives, and a plan to rob a $150-million cash repository. The Stockholm police had a tip-off. Ratliff, a writer for Wired and The New Yorker, recounts the inside story of an audacious 2009 bank heist, and the race to solve it.

Pakistan and the Mumbai Attacks: The Untold Story

Pakistan and the Mumbai Attacks: The Untold Story by Sebastian Rotella/ProPublica.  The latest reporting from ProPublica, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom, reports on the U.S. investigation of the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai and provides a detailed picture of the ties between Pakistan’s intelligence service and a leading militant group.


Darkstar by Christopher R. Howard. In this pre-apocalyptic love story, Sailor, a homeless Irish teenager who’s haunted by a diabolical voice, seeks to reunite with a soul mate he hasn’t seen since boyhood, as a cosmic event threatens to extinguish life on Earth. Howard’s fiction has appeared in McSweeney’s, and his first novel, Tea of Ulaanbaatar, comes out this May.

How To Not Succeed In Show Business By Really Trying

How To Not Succeed In Show Business By Really Trying by Claudia Lonow.  The road from Knots Landing actress to success as a Hollywood TV writer proved a bit bumpy for Claudia Lonow. It involved a high school crush accused of murder, includes unfortunate professional encounters with Michael Keaton and Mary Tyler Moore, and culminates in a boyfriend-bonding experience at a Van Nuys sex club.

Long Island Shaolin

Long Island Shaolin by Darin Strauss. Karate belts are for losers. So novelist (and 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award finalist for his memoir, Half a Life) Darin Strauss discovered as a teenager growing up on Long Island, during a brief brush with Kung-fu mastery, suburban-style. One handy lesson learned: if two lions meet, they don’t have to fight.

Rescuing Evil: What We Lose

Rescuing Evil: What We Lose by Ron Rosenbaum. The author of Explaining Hitler and the forthcoming How the End Begins explores the controversial use of the term “evil,” in a provocative analysis that leads from Hitler to a psycho serial-killer cabbie in London. Rosenbaum makes a powerful case for the connection between evil and free will.

Chinese Dreams

Chinese Dreams by Anand Giridharadas.  After six years exploring his parents’ native India, Anand Giridharadas–a young technology columnist for the New York Times and International Herald Tribune and author of India Calling–returns to China to measure a vast, troubled nation’s accomplishments and dreams.

The $500 Diet

The $500 Diet by Ian Ayres.  What if every pound you lost also saved you some hard-earned cash? When Ian Ayres, a law professor at Yale, wanted to drop from 205 pounds to 180, he put his money where his mouth was. And it worked. The author of Carrots and Sticks shares his unique, incentive-based plan for losing weight.

Piano Demon

Piano Demon: The globetrotting, gin-soaked, too-short life of Teddy Weatherford, the Chicago jazzman who conquered Asia by Brendan I. Koerner.  At age six, Teddy Weatherford was working in a Virginia coal mine. Two decades later, he was the jazz king of Asia. Koerner, a Wired contributing editor and author of Now the Hell Will Start, tells how a piano legend in a sharkskin suit lived the American Dream by leaving it behind.

Journey to the Edge of the Light: A Story of Love, Leukemia and Transformation

Journey to the Edge of the Light: A Story of Love, Leukemia and Transformation by Cristina Nehring.  At what should have been one of the happiest moments of her life–on the eve of a rave review of her 2009 book, A Vindication of Love, on the cover of the New York Times Book Review–Cristina Nehring learned that her young daughter had leukemia. There began a journey through the medical world, and into her little girl’s heart.

Beware Dangerism!

Beware Dangerism! by Gever Tulley.  Don’t let your kids climb on a jungle gym, eat bugs, or lick batteries. These are just a few of the standard-issue warnings that Gever Tulley, co-founder of the Tinkering School, tells us to ignore in this counter-intuitive essay. His basic message is both empowering and fun: Do try this at home.


Reboot-enanny by Rebecca Huval.  A young woman with dreams of a songwriting career finds friendship–and an audience–among a group of 1960s folk musicians who still live and thrive right where it all began, in Greenwich Village.

The Business of Media

The Business of Media by Larry Dignan. For journalism students, writers, and aspiring media moguls everywhere–a guide to navigating the brave new world of the media, circa 2011. Larry Dignan, editor in chief of ZDNet, parses the past and forecasts the future for a media universe that seems to re-invent itself almost daily.

The Dead Women of Juárez

The Dead Women of Juárez by Robert Andrew Powell.  It sounded like one of the great murder mysteries of our time: who was killing the women of Juárez? Journalist Robert Andrew Powell went to the Mexican border town to investigate, and separates fact from myth in a saga that eerily echoes the plot of Roberto Bolaño’s epic novel 2666.

Days of Thunder

Days of Thunder by Thorsten Schier.  Ever hear of the New York Thunder? Didn’t think so. They’re New York’s number-two pro basketball team. Maybe you should try rooting for them. They could use the help. Thorsten Schier spends a season inside the (rented) Thunder locker room.

The Happiness Manifesto

The Happiness Manifesto by Nic Marks.  Modern research proves the ancient wisdom that “money can’t buy you happiness.” But then why do our governments see their main task as simply growing GDP? Nic Marks, the founder of the London-based Centre for Well-Being, sets out an ingenious new way of defining national goals, and in the process reveals five ways people can nurture their own happiness.

Homo Evolutis

Homo Evolutis by Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans.  Enriquez and Gullans–two eminent authors, researchers, and entrepreneurs–explore a world where humans increasingly shape their environment, their own selves, and other species. They envision a future in which humankind becomes a new species, one which directly and deliberately controls its own evolution and that of many other species. One of the inaugural TEDBooks.