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4.05.2011

Is Traditional Publishing Headed for a Blow-up?

A stereotypical caricature of a pirate.Image via Wikipedia

The sales of e-books  have outpaced printed books for the first time this year at Amazon, the number one on line bookseller in the world. People are talking about the digital revolution being something as big, nay, BIGGER than Gutenberg's invention of the printing press around 1440.  We're into a new age, the possibilities are infinite, everything will change!

Does that mean that the printed book is dead and that traditional publishers are on their way out?

No, I don't believe so. I am convinced the future of publishing is anything but bleak! By the way, I'm looking at it as an economist and political analyst - not as an aspiring fiction writer (which I also happen to be, but that's incidental - for that matter, I'm also a painter - which has nothing to do with the argument at hand...).  I just wanted to point out that I'm trying to evaluate the situation in a detached, scientific way (hum, gasp, cough).

The first thing to realize is that e-books are NOT going to eat into the current market. The pie, with the advent of digital titles, will expand. E-books will add to the book market in general, bringing in lots of new readers - people who after a first jolly experience on their i-pad or kindle will go on to buy paper books for the first time in their lives! And remember, digital editions are forever. They're not like printed books, sitting on your local bookstores shelves for a few weeks and then gone. E-books are FOREVER! Which means they are accessible, ready to be downloaded on your e-reader anytime. You don't have to go to the book store to order and then wait for the book to be sent by mail. No, e-books are just a click away!

Second, as with any BIG change in an industry's parameters, expect a wave of bankruptcies and consolidations. The biggest bookstore in the US, Borders, has gone into receivership which means, inter alia, that traditional publishers have lost miles of physical shelf space for their books. Talk of a tsunami! You can expect that over the next few years, even the Big 6 (the main American publishers) will have to reconsider their marketing strategies, their costs and do everything they can to ensure their survival - perhaps even move out (gasp!) of Manhattan! And expect some to go under. That may not be fun for those involved, but it's physiological. When structural change comes to an industry, only the fittest survive.

Bookstores, however, are at this moment taking the brunt of the storm (as shown by Borders). They need to react ASAP and become more imaginative to turn themselves into welcoming places, like Starbucks and provide coffee to attract clients or organize conferences and local contests to engage the community. There are a number of bookstores of that sort in Europe, places that straddle the Internet and offer a haven to the local community, and they seem to prosper.  Advisory services could also be provided to their clients, things like advice on e-readers, the best apps, and help them locate interesting stuff to read on Internet - that is, turn themselves into "gatekeepers" of sorts, to guide people in the jungle of e-books.

Because it's fast becoming a jungle: there are lots and lots of titles out there. If you look at the top 100 best-selling titles on Kindle, you'll be amazed at the BIG proportion of self-published books - I didn't count, but at a glance, it's much more than half! To find "good" authors (in the sense of "good read") is becoming a well-nigh impossible enterprise. I know because I do that repeatedly for my mother who's 97 and an avid reader (she loves her Kindle). You get the feeling that the famous "slush pile", all those manuscripts rejected by publishers and literary agents as "unfit to print", all of them are suddenly on sale. And, perhaps more surprisingly, they are finding customers! Yes, people do buy these books! Sure, they're priced at $O.99 so that's probably why people buy them. But the more successful e-authors who started at that price, have found they could jack up their price to $2.99 and more (but always well under the $9.90 borderline established by traditional publishers) and still make money...in spite of the lack of editing, poor plot structure and typos... Which goes to show that a good yarn sells more easily than "literature".

That may be a depressing thought for some but it's definitely a golden opportunity for others: with the expansion of the book market, a lot of "unsophisticated" first-time readers have been drawn in, and they're the sort of people who enjoy a good story and don't care too much about how it's told. 

This means that one of the traditional roles of publishers of printed books, i.e. being "gatekeepers" to ensure a "minimum" level of "quality", has been seriously weakened and others could jump in the void. Magazines and papers and blogs with a big following that review books are doing that job now, but why not bookstores? And the big bookstore chains could consider providing print-on-demand services for all things digital. Indeed, that's where the real competition for printed books might yet come from...

To sum up: with the digital revolution, everybody's role is changing, and it's not just bookstores that have to rethink themselves. Publishers also need to reconsider their role. They often give the impression of being on the defensive as they progressively tighten their contracts with writers and lower advances. Six-digit figures are a rarity nowadays. Publishers even cut advances up in 4 parts, meant to follow the different stages in the publishing process, and that means you  get only 1/4th of your "advance" upon signing the contract.  Sure, this is a tough business, they try to get the most out of every deal. But writers are publishers' natural allies: writing is the source of their business. So publishers need to realize that if they stop scraping authors naked, and instead treat them right, they will make of them faithful allies. I am willing to bet that the first publishers who realize this will see their prospects turn for the better real fast. And the first thing they should consider doing is giving authors a better deal on e-book royalties and making a better job of providing supportive book marketing. Because in this Internet age, the buzz word is king, and authors, through such important blogs as Writer Beware learn real soon who are the publishers to avoid...

Because e-rights are forever and more and more writers are realizing this. And more and more are unwilling to give up returns on their books forever  when all the publishers have done is a one-time investment in them. After all, the money you have to put up front to get yourself e-published is relatively small - just about anyone can afford to do it. Of course, not everyone has the necessary on line presence and the desire to spend all that time into marketing one's book.

Most writers would still prefer to spend most of their time writing...

So there's a glimmer of hope for traditional or "legacy publishers". There will be more Amanda Hockings who after establishing themselves as self-published wonders (she made one million dollars in her first year of digital self-publishing), will be coming back into their fold. And there will be probably fewer Barry Eisler walking away from them. Remember him? He is that feisty writer who refused a $ 500,000 advance from St.Martin's Press for two books. But then, on closer examination, it wasn't really such a good deal: $250,000 per book minus the 15% going to his agent, plus the fact that he'd get next to nothing for his e-rights. And, remember, e-rights are forever!

The real challenge for legacy publishers will be the midlist authors who can make a big buck turning their back list into e-books. Joe Konrath's success is an example for all midlist writers. Publishers will just have to figure out a way to get into that juicy market - and they won't get into it unless they bend their position on e-rights. They want too much for far too long. They really should consider another model, for example putting a time frame on e-rights and allow authors to regain them after, say, 5 years, but - and that's an important "but" - with a renewal clause for another 5 years on condition that the publisher agrees to engage in some additional marketing. That would encourage writers to sign up with them rather than go the self-publishing e-route.

AND they need to provide a service of value to the authors, in particular marketing support (that's something writers normally don't like to do: if you're a writer, let's face it, you're an introvert, you really don't have a salesman personality...) Publishers could easily make sure their authors get reviews, and not any kind of reviews, but good ones from respected reviewers with a known and proven following.

And they could consider doing something else too, something no one talks about much because it's scary: I'm referring to piracy. Yes, publishers could try and provide more effective means to fight off piracy. Individual authors are not well-placed to defend themselves and few are internet-savvy. To fight off piracy requires experts. Pirates - I mean hackers - are getting better all the time and a lot of people out there, a writer's regular readers, don't even think that downloading a book for free is a form of criminal offense. The author has sweated over writing his book and deserves a fair $ return for his pains. Let's face it, pirate are pirates and should be jailed. Now, in the digital world, that's hard to do and it requires huge means to properly police the Internet. And it means publishers and e-book sellers will have to work together.

Because, let's face it, the biggest danger the digital revolution brings to the publishing industry is PIRACY! It might yet bring together everybody: Amazon.com, traditional bookstores, e-book platforms and publishers, both those into "legacy" publishing and e-books, for the greater good of authors and their readers...But then I'm an incorrigible optimist!

 PS: I apologize to my readers for my silence this week-end: I was away at a fabulous writers' 4-day retreat  in Matera, an amazing art town you should visit on your next trip to Italy. The retreat, aptly named "Brainstorming at the Spa" because we were lodged in a lovely hotel with a thermal pool, was organized by Elizabeth Jennings , an energetic lady who happens to be both a successful romantic suspense author and founder of the Women's Fiction Festival in Matera, the best writers' conference on continental Europe. Imagine me with 18 fellow writers, some newbies like me and others who are respected veteran published authors with more than one pen name hanging from their belt (one pen name for each genre published, like Elizabeth Edmondson and Rosemary Laurey - and to think I'm only on my first pen name!).

There we were, all day long, huddling together in a honey-colored, vaulted troglodyte cave, brainstorming about our WIP (jargon for "work-in-progress", the novel each of us is writing), under the benevolent eye of dynamic, market-savvy agent Christine Witthohn of the Book Cents Literary Agency. (Click here for pictures). I know each of us walked away enriched by that experience, with a clearer idea of where we are heading, and strengthened by the wonderful new friendships made (yes, a writer's life can be very lonely indeed...)

Let me hasten to add that the article I wrote above is entirely my own and reflects what I think will happen at this most dangerous moment for the publishing industry. So please, those of you who disagree with me, do come forward and make comments! I'd welcome a rousing discussion on where YOU think the publishing industry is headed! 
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3.30.2011

PROTEST MARCHES: SHOULD CHILDREN ACCOMPANY THEIR PARENTS?

Protest March (Afghanistan 2009)  oil on wood by Claude

Should children accompany their parents on protest marches?

I guess the answer would be: "it depends". Yes, on whether there is any danger or not. That seems fairly obvious. Yesterday, on the small island of Lampedusa, the local population (5,000) beset by waves of immigrants that are now more numerous than they are (over 6,000), decided to protest. They stormed public buildings and blocked the road to the port. Women and children joined the protesters. One can understand them: so far the Rome government has done precious little, the local structures for welcoming immigrants have collapsed long ago, and there are reports that over a thousand immigrants are going hungry because there's not enough food for them on the island! Today, Berlusconi is reportedly taking a trip to Lampedusa to survey the disaster in person. He really could have done that a little sooner, and more importantly, not wait yet another day (till tomorrow, for the Council of Ministers) to take a decision and start solving the problem.

Yet in spite of the mess in Lampedusa, security conditions were not really (or not yet) an issue. So it made sense for women and children to join in with their protesting husbands, brothers and fathers.

It would seem equally logical and a no-brainer to argue that children should not be involved if there are risks of violence. Yet, people in Egypt and Tunisia - the "early Arab Spring" countries - took that risk and nothing happened. It seemed that no child got hurt. Now that we are in a "late Arab Spring", violence has increased, and as you may have probably noticed, there are no children involved in the current demonstrations in Syria or Yemen - at least, none that I noticed. Bahrein seemed to have been an in-between case: there were children at first, particularly when people camped out on Pearl Square through the night, but none in the last days of protest, since the army kicked in - including troops from Saudi Arabia . And of course I'm not mentioning Libya here, that's a case apart.

So, in general, parents are responsible and concerned about their children's safety. But...There's always a but! Is it fair to involve children in an adult political issues, including hot ones like revolutions and regime changes?

I am not so sure. The spectacle of children screaming slogans along with their fathers disturbs me. What do they know or understand about this? Aren't the parents turning them into instruments of their protests? To protest is a quintessentially adult thing to do. You have to understand the ins and outs of a problem, evaluate the solution and make a decision which could have consequences - a decision that could change the life of your family. How can you involve your children in this? Is it fair to them?

All those questions were at the back of my mind when I painted the protest march (picture above). That's why I picked the purple color as a background - to me purple is a complex color and vaguely menacing. I also zeroed in on the child riding his father's shoulders and made sure the child was screaming harder than his father. Actually, I'm quite certain he is enjoying the ride and the importance his father is giving him.

But is that enough to justify taking children along on protest marches? What do you think?



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3.29.2011

ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS ARE INVADING EUROPE!

The south coast of LampedusaSouth Coast of LampedusaImage via Wikipedia
Italy is at the forefront of the Tsunami of illegal immigrants invading Europe as a result of the "Arab Spring". That was the immediate unwanted effect of the upheavals in the Middle East (from Europe's point of view).

The small Italian island of Lampedusa - the nearest to North Africa, off the coast of Sicily - is particularly hit by this new wave of immigrants: as I write, the island's native population - some 5,000 people - are up in arms blocking the port where immigrants are landing. Since the start of the year, some 20,000 immigrants have arrived and there are more immigrants milling about on this rocky island than there are residents. Just last night 1,973 new immigrants landed! No wonder they are fed up! The local people are panicked: their touristic season about to begin with the warm season - the main source of income besides fishing - is clearly at risk.

Since about two days, the Rome government has made a small move to help (very small): it is now sending a ship everyday, capable of transporting up to 800 immigrants on each trip to the mainland. Clearly not enough. Tomorrow the government will have a "council of ministers" (read a meeting with Berlusconi, at which the President of the Sicilian Region is expected to attend) that will decide on measures to take. Not a minute too soon! In principle, it is expected that more ships will be used for transporting the immigrants to more refugee camps strewn about Italy, including near Pisa and possibly some other place up North. But most of them are still in Sicily and the South that is left essentially alone to bear the brunt of the new arrivals. And southern Italians aren't too happy about this. Speak of Italian Unity after the recent 150 years celebration! Berlusconi, who is a northerner, has been remarkably slow to move and help the southerners' plight. For those of you who speak Italian, check this blog: it will give you the flavor of the bad mood that is gripping the South...

And it is a perfect reflection of the bad mood that is gripping Italians when they consider how indifferent the rest of Europe is to their plight. Since the start of the "Arab Spring", Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini has warned of a coming "exodus of biblical proportions". The United Nations refugee agency added its own grain of salt, predicting a wave of 350,000 immigrants about to flood Europe. Others in the media even spoke of ONE MILLION refugees!

Big numbers, supported by the notion that since Italy and Libya had signed an agreement in 2009, Qaddafi effectively policed the Mediterranean and prevented immigrants from fleeing. With the battle for Libya this would stop and open the gates to flows of immigrants - and that was something Qaddafi repeatedly threatened would happen.

Did it happen? Not quite. Of course an immigrant wave did hit Italy and also Malta and Greece - while the rest of Europe looked on, or rather keeps looking away, busy with its own local elections. With both Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel's parties losing ground, much to the delight of the left (socialists and Greens), northern Europeans are much more interested in their own little problems than in waves of illegal immigrants descending on Europe.

Yet they're wrong. The French are particularly wrong: most of these immigrants are Tunisians who (being French-speaking) have but one goal, reach France and work there.

Because that's the BIG surprise: in spite of what Qaddafi said, most immigrants are NOT Libyans. So far, there has been an "exodus", not doubt about it, but the "biblical proportion" applies to Tunisians: they started arriving en masse about a month ago. Up to now (but of course that may not last), only some 500 Libyans have arrived - perhaps less ( of course, it's always hard to figure out who's who since they land without passport). Most of those coming from Libya in fact are not Libyans at all. For the most part they are complete foreigners to the region (mostly black Africans) who held menial jobs in Libya and are now escaping (after their Libyan bosses threw them out - most of these poor souls have lost all their savings while waiting for a boat to sail out, and none of those arriving in Lampedusa had any intention of seeking work in Europe). One may assume that Libyans are presently busy liberating their country from Qaddafi, taking advantage of the no-fly zone and related bombings from NATO/coalition forces - I've added "coalition" here since it has support from some Arab League members - including Qatar that notably joined France in recognizing the CNT, the new government of the Libyan rebellion.

So what happened? Why so many Tunisians? You would think that fewer would try to escape Tunisia since they kicked out Ben Ali, the hated tyrant, and succeeded in establishing a more open regime that should eventually lead, on hopes, to a working democracy with freedom for everyone. Right? Wrong. What happened of course is that the border controls put in place by Tunisian authorities under Ben Ali's rule collapsed. Desperate young men in search of a job jumped aboard ships, paying anywhere between $2,000 to $5,000 to try and land in Europe. Yes, because the Arab Spring has a lot to do with the Big Recession and the huge level of unemployment in the Middle East - and may have more to do with that than all this wonderful talk about democracy.

Have you ever wondered how come the young in all those countries - Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrein, Jordan, Syria etc - had so much time on their hands to go out and protest in the streets, day after day for a whole month or more? It's because they're unemployed, that's why! And of course, understandably angry at the lack of future for them when they see their governing elite basking in luxury and privileges...

A couple of days ago, the Italian Foreign Minister Frattini, accompanied by Interior Minister Roberto Maroni offered help to the Tunisian government in return for the re-establishment of border controls. He was fairly generous, offering to help the Tunisian government fight illegal migration with aid of nearly 80 million euros ($113.3 million) and setting up Tunisian border guards. In addition, credit lines of 150 million euros would be extended to help revive the Tunisian economy. And finally, Frattini aired the idea of giving immigrants who had landed in Italy a bonus in cash - up to €1,700 - to agree to return home . That was something you will recall that had been done with the Roms who left France last year. In fact, as Frattini pointed out, it is a European policy even though Bossi, the head of the Lega Nord, immediately cried foul, and demanded immigrants be kicked back home without a cent. He and others on the right clamored that if we gave in to this kind of policy, we'd soon be faced with a tourism of premium-seekers, going back and forth across the Mediterranean.

Quite frankly, I don't think that will happen. Premium seekers? Only a tiny minority, if at all. Overall, I think it's a pretty neat idea.

But it's only half of an idea. Much more ought to be done to try and genuinely kick-start those North-African economies. Italy's proposal to extend a credit line to Tunisia is a good idea, provided one has a clear idea of what the credit is for. Lady Ashton's proposal to support the Egyptian move to democracy with money - a sort of mini Marshall Plan to create jobs in Egypt - is probably also a very good idea.

But - and it's a big but!- we're facing there, in the Middle East, the same problem we have here at home with our own youth: an unbelievably high level of unemployment. Have you noticed? On average the young are twice as likely to be unemployed as the rest of the working population in any given country.

Why is that? All sorts of reasons, not least of them an education system that's too academic and doesn't correctly prepare one for working in the real world. And an economic system that does not favor innovation and start-ups. Politicians talk a lot about giving support to medium and small-size enterprises but actually do very little that is actually effective and likely to be a game changer. For example, a tax holiday would be a great game-changer for a start-up but what is our political class doing about it? Talking about curbing budget deficits, that's what! The idea that government should help young entrepreneurs is anathema to them. Just listen to Cameron and Osborne: these guys are convinced that if they cut back on government, the private sector will take over and solve everything. For the moment, all we see is a UK economy in free fall...

Let's face it, we don't have the answers to solve their economic problems since we're not even able to solve our own. We don't have job openings for 350,000 immigrants, it's as simple as that. Europe is still in recession for Goodness' sake, and Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain (not to mention Italy and the UK that are a little better but not much) are struggling!

What should we do? Well, it's a little late in the day, isn't it? The amazing thing is that anyone could see this immigrant tsunami coming - actually it's been coming on and off, big waves followed by smaller waves, over the past twenty years or more. How come no one has come up with a solution? Well, no use crying over spilled milk, no one has - that's how imaginative and provident our political class really is. Awful. And giving illegal immigrants a bonus for returning home is only an emergency solution.

Long-term, we ought to do something more and better. Like:
(1) invest over there to help them develop their economy and create jobs for their own citizens (everybody agrees on that one, though little is actually done and what is done rarely give the expected results...);

(2) check out what jobs are available in Europe that no European wants (nobody discusses this nor does it, yet it would be of immediate effect). Indeed, it would be both helpful and relatively easy to do: check out the immigrants' education and skill levels and match them with available job opportunities. For example, nursing of the aged: that's an area where there's rising demand in a fast-aging society such as ours, yet available nurses are scarce and perhaps some of the immigrants may have medical or nurse training. There are probably other areas. I remember here in Rome a baker who was lamenting to me the fact that he couldn't find a young man willing to get up in the middle of the night to work on the dough - yet that's the only way to bake good bread (other bakers have solved the problem using industrial frozen dough - very much the case in France where bread has become as a result very, very mediocre, believe me). Related to this, one could envisage providing complementary training whenever necessary to bring their skill level up to (European) par. And I don't mean big training: just short stuff, like recycling and refresher courses.

(3) Make job information widely available to the public so that everyone becomes aware of job opportunities - not only Europeans but also people abroad who think they can come to Europe and find a job.

Illegal immigrants are desperate people who live by myths, and one of their undying myths is that economic well-being is to be found in Europe for anyone willing to take the risk to cross the water. That myth needs to be re-dimensioned. Indeed, it should be killed with a serious information campaign across all of Africa (and other places in the developing world). It's a myth that misleads people, causes them to squander their savings and take unwonted risks with their lives. So many have died in the pursuit of that myth! It's just not fair and we should invest all our energies in spreading around credible, trustworthy information about the real job situation in Europe. And stop that myth of an Europa felix once and for all.

What do you think? What should we do in your opinion?

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3.27.2011

Warning: Digital Tsunami Over the Publishing World!

Digital RevolutionImage by charlesdyer via Flickr
This week NYT bestseller author Barry Eisler walked away from a $500,000 advance from his publisher, St. Martin's Press, because he's going to self-publish his next book (one of a successful series) in digital form. And within days, famous indie publisher Amanda Hocking who made more than one million in self-publishing her YA paranormal trilogy on Kindle and other e-readers, got an advance of over $2 million for her next 4 books from... guess who? The St. Martin's Press.

That caused an unprecedented tsunami both in the printed media and the blogosphere. All aspiring writers and newbies are salivating and publishers are pulling their hair. I've listed some of the more interesting blogs and articles below, and here is my own take on it.

Can publishers prevent the likes of Eisler from walking away? No, I don't think so. Is this a real problem? Probably not. Let's face it, not too many authors are like Eisler. You can walk away ONLY IF you have an ESTABLISHED MARKET for your books, in short lots of fans that make it worthwhile for you to walk away.The rest of us, especially newbies that have no particular presence online (or elsewhere) will always need to go the "legacy publisher route", at least for their first few novels.

Non-fiction is another story: if you have a good "platform" (for example, you're a university professor, a well-known researcher,a successful actor, in short an authority or a celebrity), you can jump straight into e-book self-publishing.

Does that mean it's the end of legacy publishers? Not at all. Setting aside for a moment our fascination for all things digital, let's remember that traditional books in paper have several advantages over digital books, and will retain them FOREVER:
1. they're nice objects to own and decorate your home with (they feel good to hold in your hands, they can have pretty covers); you can take them with you in your bathtub;
2. you can use them for gifts; you can get them signed ;
3. they're much easier to share with friends and family than e-books;
4. they're testimony to your tastes and show everyone who you are through what you read; nobody can bandy about e-books and for some people that's a distinct disadvantage for the digital;
5. they're easy to use as reference: just flip the pages and come to your favorite quotation, or (woe!) write in the margins, underline, stick a note in, fold the corners; this is especially true for non-fiction but even "great" novels are nice to have around for easy reference...

Publishers (and literary agents) take heart, your days aren't over yet! And look at Amanda Hocking: here is a tale to warm your hearts. Like in the song "Pretty Woman", she's walked by you, but no, there she stops and changes her mind: "Yeah! She's walking back to me!!!"

So we get to the next big question: can we expect unpublished authors, i.e. newbies with no legacy and zero Internet presence, to earn more money going the self-publishing route? No, I don't think so.

Indeed, I am convinced e-publishing is a lure, a mirage, a false promise and newbies should beware!

Consider those who've "made it" digitally: they are either (at a minimum) so-called "mid list authors", i.e. people who have published fairly successful books without ever reaching top rankings but who, overtime, have developed a loyal following of readers and managed a fair online presence; or extraordinary, meteor-like new authors that punch through unexpectedly, like Amanda Hocking. But Amanda Hocking is a self-confessed avid Twitter! She has a big on line presence! People who make it this way all have a strong online presence and, above all, Internet social networking savvy. These are people who blog, face-book and twitter all day long (or seem to). Hardly ordinary folks!

Sure, if you're a successful blogger, twitter etc, you can make it.

But what, at a minimum, can be considered a "successful blogger"? Look at Nathan Bransford's blog numbers, and you'll get an idea. See how many fans he's got (and had before he became a YA author himself). Ok, you don't need as big a blog as his - and indeed Google gives you an idea of what size needs to be reached to "have an online presence". Along with their Adsense (a gadget to allow advertising on their site), they give out numbers that are very interesting: from them, it is possible to evince that a blog makes a (small) amount of advertising money only if it reaches 1,000 hits a day! So, all ye bloggers out there and would-be authors, get ready to reach 1,000 hits a day! Btw, that means having at least 100 pageviews a day - a different statistic: it means people have actually stayed on your site and read something! And out of those 100, not everyone will go out and buy your book...

Just thought I'd mention those numbers to make it clear how difficult it is to emerge from the mass of e-book publications: it's already a tsunami out there (Kindle alone has well over 500,000 titles!)

Then there are other necessary strategies to "make" it into digital publishing: (1) pick a genre that sells well and stick to it; (2) be ready with more than one title - five or six is best! Amanda Hocking started with a clear successful genre and had a trilogy going just for starters; (3) work out a pricing strategy: $0,99 to launch the book, then raise the price up incrementally to around $4 and then lower again if your perceive your sales slowing down...You have to be real good at gaging what the "traffic will bear".

Hey, newbie, are you ready with all that? And its a lot: you need to belong to a fast-selling genre, to have half-a-dozen books ready, to have a fair and rising on line presence, to exercise marketing control over your sales...I can't say I am!

Do check out the following posts and articles on the subject that are all extremely illuminating:
1. Jane Friedman's:
2. The Shatzkin files
3. Zoe Winters on e-book pricing
4. Mary Kole (Andrea Brown Literary Agency) on role of literary agents
5. Carolyn McKray's Tips for making your book a success on Amazon
6. New York Times article: Amanda Hocking sells book series to St. Martin's Press
7. What it takes to become a brand name: Wall Street Journal The Case of the Best-selling Author
8. Dean Wesley Smith: Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: the Myth of Security

Happy reading!
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3.25.2011

The Chinese on Nuclear Energy: Ahead of Everybody!

Never forget ChernobylImage by freestylee via Flickr
Nuclear energy has taken a beating since Japan's Fukushima crisis. Most political leaders in Western democracies, reacting to a panicking public opinion, have declared some form of moratorium on nuclear energy plans. With the exception of France of course, the only Western country truly committed to nuclear energy.

But there are others who are quietly moving ahead, first and foremost Russia, busy selling its technology around the world, claiming to all and sundry that it has learned from its Chernobyl disaster and knows how to make "safe" reactors. Hardly a convincing argument, mostly because the technology it promotes is the standard 1970s one. Russia even plans to build a nuclear plant in Kaliningrad, right in the heart of the Baltic. It will be interesting to see how countries around it - the Baltic states, Finland, Sweden, Poland and Germany - will react.

Actually, there is a rather wide range of countries in the Third World that are not deterred by the Fukushima crisis, including Turkey and China. Turkey is like Europe 30 or 40 years ago: in love with its economic boom, enamored with consumerism and blind to nuclear energy's dangers. And China? Well, the population has little say as we all know, and the Chinese authorities are determined to solve their energy problem at all costs. They plan to build some 50 nuclear plants over the next ten years, more than the whole world combined. And public opinion be damned!

Most of these plants will be of standard design - except two that will be radically different, as reported today by the New York Times (do check out the article here, it's fascinating!). They will use uranium-enriched "pebbles" coated with protective graphite rather than rods as is currently used in nuclear reactors, such as those in Fukushima. This makes it  easier to control reactors in case of accident in the cooling system, as the pebbles, whose radiations are better controlled, cool down automatically and on their own. It also makes it easier to store after use, thus (partly) solving the long-term storage problem, one of the biggest issues of nuclear energy. In short, it appears to be a truly innovative, "third-generation" type of nuclear energy. One up to the Chinese!

What is interesting is that the Chinese have revived a technology first developed by Germany... in the 1960s (yes, that long ago!). The Germans hit a snag in the 1980s when a pebble jammed. Then they abandoned it after the public outcry caused by Chernobyl. The US did likewise, because of the Three Mile Island nuclear incident, although some American labs continue to work. South Africa ditto, because the research into it proved to be too expensive. The Chinese, of course, have been careful to develop a design for their new pebble-bed reactors where pebbles won't jam.

Meanwhile, the Chinese, ever excellent tradesmen, are pushing their old 1970s nuclear technology around the world, and have just signed an agreement with Pakistan to build two new old-style plants...

Let's hope that the Chinese will soon share their advanced design with the rest of the world, so that we can all at last enter into a nuclear-safe age.

Bottom line, the problem here is that it is a political one - not an economic one. It would be important to consider pebble-bed reactors seriously and in particular those against nuclear energy should do so. I would make that call to the Greens everywhere. It's no use pushing for the abandonment of nuclear energy: that will NEVER happen. The world is too far gone into nuclear energy, there are already way too many plants built and functioning (some 500) and more plans to build them all over the planet.

Nuclear energy, no matter how many Fukushima will occur, is here to stay with us.

But it's up to all of us to demand that it be made SAFE!
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3.23.2011

The Battle for Libya: Everyone Involved has Different Motives!

The Arab LeagueArab leagueImage via Wikipedia
Five days ago, it looked like the international community had a clear idea about what UN Security Council Resolution 1973 was all about: protecting the civilian population in Libya. It said so in so many words, there could be no misunderstanding. And none either regarding the means to be employed: that's what the no-fly zone was supposed to do, and any additional measure needed to achieve civilian protection was permitted, bar the sending of ground troops.

All simple and clear? No!

Within a day of the start of operations, the Arab League which had been a prime promoter of the no-fly zone relented. Remember, operations were started by French planes who took off late in the afternoon of Saturday 19 March, right after the "coordination" meeting at the Elysée in Paris called for by Sarkozy and which was attended by, inter alia, Amr Moussa, the Arab League's Secretary General. Remarkably, rather than shelling the Libyan radar bases strung along the coast - something the Americans and English did later with about 100 missiles sent out to hit 22 targets - those plane took direct aim at Qaddafi's advancing tanks and other military vehicles. His forces were about to enter Benghazi, and got as close as 2 kilometers from the rebels' headquarters! Only those last-minute French bombardments convinced them to desist and retreat.

The perplexities expressed by the Arab League opened the door to a wave of criticisms from around the world: the African Union, Russia, China, Turkey, Venezuela and others - even though Amr Moussa softened his position explaining the League's main concern was that no civilians should be hurt, implying the League remains behind the establishment of a "strict" no-fly zone, but not more than that.

Why this sudden change of heart when Qaddafi is obviously intent on pursuing violent repression of opponents to his regime? What is behind the criticisms are a cocktail of reasons, nearly all of them of an "internal" nature. This is not surprising: after all, politicians expressing themselves on international issues (such as Libya) are also catering to their own audience back home. Surely that was the case of Sarkozy: France had badly handled the events in Tunisia and Egypt and was bent on not "missing out" on the next Arab Spring manifestation. And Sarkozy needed a positive action to help improve his own popularity at home and regain votes from Marine Le Pen's right.

Likewise, Germany abstained on the UN Resolution because Merkel (whose popularity is shaky) needed to cater to the Germans who are fed up with having to spend money "in the south". The Germans don't want to hear anything about helping Greece - imagine how they feel about Libya! Amr Moussa himself, who is Egyptian may have been responding to his own political agenda. He has already announced he will run for president in Egypt, and that may now happen very soon - in about 3 months - since the referendum for constitutional reforms quickly cobbled together by the Egyptian Army, was just approved. His vigorous stance on limiting military intervention in Libya with a view to protect the civilian population could well be interpreted as the opening salvo of his own soon-to-be-launched presidential campaign.

Other countries criticizing the action in Libya tend to have in common governments that are autocratic and could hardly be expected to appreciate the concept of  an international community enacting measures to protect civilians oppressed by their government. This is obviously the case of many African countries, Russia, China and Venezuela - none of them champions of democracy. In the case of Russia, there was a somewhat amusing "pas de deux" danced by the regime's strongmen, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Medvedev. Criticisms were first expressed by Putin who drew a damning parallel with the Crusades - a line used by Qaddafi himself. Medvedev was quick to call a press conference in which he muted that criticism, saying that any reference to the "clash of civilizations" was unhelpful - as indeed it is. Did this signal a rift between the two men? Apparently not, because no more about the matter was said the next day and presumably the two men are buddy-buddy as before, with only one problem to solve between them: who will run for what role in the next presidential election.

Critics like Turkey, India and Brazil are also responding to their own agenda. Turkey is bent on promoting itself as a role model in the Middle East and as an intermediary between the West and the Muslim world. When Sarkozy failed to invite Turkey at its Saturday meeting at the Elysée, he did a big mistake: he hurt their feelings and insured that they would come out against the intervention (and against the use of Nato for coordinating military activities - though that might have played in his hands because France doesn't want Nato either). Turkey also worked closely with Brazil in an attempt to solve the international stalemate on Iranian nuclear ambitions - an attempt that notoriously failed, but does indicate where both countries stand.

As to India, who is an Arab League Observer, it has always liked to show itself as a leader of the Third World - if I may be allowed to use this term. Have you noticed how rarely it is used nowadays? This is not surprising since the Second World (the Soviet Union) collapsed  and so many of those developing countries - chief among them China, Brazil and India - have now emerged as economic powerhouses. But a country like India still pursues a foreign policy where it sees itself as a prime intermediary between the two worlds. It is therefore only natural for India to criticize the West - even if it would surely agree that it cannot condone Qaddafi's oppressive regime.

Most pro-intervention officials - and those directly involved in military operations - publicly deny that the intervention in Libya is aimed at removing Qaddafi from power - even Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of  the Joint Chiefs of Staff did so. Which seemed to fly in the face of what Obama had said when he mentioned that Qaddafi's regime had lost all legitimacy and that was why he had given the go-ahead to America's participation.

So what is the intervention really about if it is not aimed at removing Qaddafi?


Those in the interventionist camp will tell you that they hope for a levelling of the playing field, with the Libyan rebels themselves ousting Qaddafi out. No doubt that is what the rebels hope too. So a side-effect of the military intervention should be the fall of Qaddafi.

What if it doesn't happen? A lot of people are talking about a possible "stalemate" - as if that was something terrible. A stalemate would mean that Libya would be divided into two autonomous regions, East around Benghazi and West around Tripoli. I don't see anything wrong with that, provided this is a political solution with strong federal structures holding the country together.

Is it too much to hope that the rebel and pro-Qaddafi forces will be able to negotiate something like this? But one must remember that much of Libya's oil wealth is in the hands of the rebels - so Qaddafi has every reason to fight as hard as he can to lay his hands on it. Because this battle which started with the rebels' demand for democratic freedom has turned into a battle for oil.

At the negotiating table, Qaddafi (or if he steps down,  whoever replaces him, perhaps one of his sons) could have the upper hand if the international community does not follow France in recognizing the rebels' transitional government (CNT). Politically, it would be important not to lose too much time in officially recognizing them.

If we don't want a long drawn-out war, with the enormous cost for the Nato and Arab countries involved of having to maintain a no-fly zone, it would be essential to get to a negotiated solution as soon as possible.

What do you think? Would it really be bad for Libya to become "regionalized"? Couldn't this be achieved through maintaining a federal identity? I'd love to have your views on this!



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3.21.2011

The Battle for Libya: Protecting the Civilians is NUMBER ONE Objective!

The Ottoman Turks conquered the country in the...Image via Wikipedia
A no-fly zone is not an objective per se: it  is merely a means to an end. So what is the objective? Protecting the civilian populations, stoopid!  In fact, the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is clear on that point: it allows for all "measures necessary to protect the civilian population".

I felt like saying "stoopid"  yesterday at my television set as I watched the unfolding battle for Libya and heard the comments. Perhaps the most surprising, and politically disturbing comment came from the Arab League, when its Secretary General, Amr Moussa, suddenly came out against the military intervention, lamenting the (mostly French) bombardments around Benghazi.

Those who surely didn't lament the bombardments were the opponents to Qaddafi's regime. You could see hundreds of cars streaming out of Benghazi on Sunday morning, bringing locals to stare at the bombed out  military vehicles along the road and gloat over them. They touched the twisted metal in awe and jumped on the tanks, waving flags. Those were a truly happy bunch of people! Because that is the first and foremost effect of the establishment of military intervention (even one such as this, where ground troops are specifically banned by the UN Resolution). It had the immediate effect of giving a psychological uplift to the Beghazi population put under siege by Qaddafi's troops.

The next day, at a press conference with UN Secretary general Banki Moon, Amr Moussa retreated from his earlier position but was at pain to underline that what the League wanted was NO bombardments on civilians.

Indeed, we all hope that there will be no civilian deaths. In two days, it would seem that the military intervention has already achieved its first main goal, the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya. It would also appear that there has been some sort of balancing between the forces in presence: the opponents to Qaddafi's regime to the East, i.e. in Cyrenaica, and his supporters to the West, in Tripolitania. Because - this may come as a surprise to some - Qaddafi does have some supporters and not all his soldiers are mercenaries (even though a lot are - and no wonder, considering he pays them $1,000 a day!). As to the third region of Libya, Fezzan to the south, nobody for the moment seems to be interested: it is largely a large, empty desert and (possibly) a political vacuum.

What will happen next? It's really up to the Libyans. A lot of talk is bandied about Libya as a "state" whose "unity" should be defended - I'm not sure why, because, historically, Libya is really made up three distinct regions (see map). And different tribes: yes, this is still a tribal country. The main tribe supporting Qaddafi is in Tripolitania (called al-Qaddafi) to which a couple more have added their allegiance. But the break with Qaddafi came mid-March when one of the more important tribes, the Warfalla who had been supporting him, declared Qaddafi was "no longer a brother".

Given these stresses and wide tribal differences, why shouldn't a Libyan federal solution be envisaged? I suppose such a solution might leave Qaddafi still in place, but in a much more restriced area, mostly around Tripoli. Now, that solution is not likely to please him since most of the oil fields - and oil wealth - are to the east, in Cyrenaica...So, although Qaddafi strenuously denies it and claims this war is the doing of foreign "crusaders", in actual fact it may well be a war he is waging to regain control of the oil fields in Libya...

Meanwhile the coalition is showing some cracks - and not only caused by the Arab League. Until now, the coordination of the military intervention has not been handed over to Nato, and that is something the Italians in particular, wanted. That's understandable: being closest to Libya and with seven airbases involved, they would like to see the international coalition broadening. So military coordination, at present, is largely in the hands of the Americans, but they are keeping it low-key, hoping that function will soon pass to the French and the British.

Why not Nato? Because of Germany, France and Turkey, all Nato members who, for various reasons, do not want to see Nato take over. The French don't because they are French; Germans because they have abstained on the UN Security Council Resolution (but Angela Merkel did go to the Elysée palace meeting two days ago and assured the Americans she would send troops to Afghanistan if the Americans needed it to free military power for Libya). Btw and just for the record, others who abstained were Russia, China, Brazil and India. And of course the Turks, because of their difficult diplomatic act, balancing themselves between the West and the Islamic world.

Which raises the question of who, if anyone, in the Arab League will actually come forward with help. So far it seems Qatar and UAE have done so, Qatar already providing some planes.

But calls grow in the international community for air strikes to stop, particularly from Russia and the African Union. Let's face it, these calls are nothing new. Russia had abstained from voting the UN Resolution and sees criticism of the West as a useful card to play to advance its status in Africa and elsewhere. In any case, we all know that Putin's Russia is no champion of democracy. As to the African Union, with the high number of Qaddafi-like dictators on that continent, it should come as no surprise that it supports a stop to intervention, and hence Qaddafi's regime. Ditto for Ugo Chavez in Venezuela.

What always surprises me is how these people have the gall to come out openly in defense of brutal dictatorial regimes - regimes that have given again and again evidence of oppression and bloody massacres. Surely no one in his right mind can defend Qaddafi? Unfortunately, a lot of people do.

I have no idea how this battle for Libya will play out, but I cling to the hope that the military intervention will only cause an absolute minimum of civilian deaths (military interventions are never entirely devoid of such tragic accidents - particularly if Qaddafi starts playing with civilians as human shields). If not, Qaddafi will have in his hands exactly what he has been looking for: the means to make his propaganda credible and turn the tables against...who? Us? No, alas, his aim is to turn the tables against the Benghazi people, the opponents of his regime, all those who hope that the Arab Spring has come here to stay!


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3.18.2011

Italy celebrates150 years while the world falls apart...

Grinzane Cavour - Castle - 04 - 03.08.07Cavour's castle at Grinzane Image by mastino70 via Flickr
In the face of war waged by Qaddafi in Libya, just across the sea, at perhaps 15 or 20 minutes by military jet, Italy tried yesterday to celebrate its 150 years of unification.

Why 17 March?

Because that's the date - 17 March 1861 - when the newly assembled Italian Parliament voted to turn Italy into a monarchy with the King of Sardegna, Piedmont and Savoia, served so well by Cavour (in the role of Prime Minister since 1852) as King of Italy.

The coronation of Vittorio Emmanuele II marked the final point of Cavour's efforts to unify Italy against numerous contrary winds, not least blowing from the South with the Bourbons of Naples who viewed Giuseppe Garibaldi's famous expedition in Southern Italy as a bunch of bandits causing havoc.  Three months later, on 6 June 1861, Cavour was dead, apparently of malaria, a disease he had contracted in his youth.

The celebration comes at such a difficult time for Italy that all the hesitations, ditherings and refusals, particularly from the separatist Lega Nord party, got ample coverage in both the national and international press. The Lega sent only two of its 85 parliamentaries to participate in the official celebrations in Rome. Bolzano (the capital of South Tyrol) feeling very Austrian for the occasion, refused to participate altogether. Then, of course, Berlusconi managed to receive catcalls when he appeared in the streets.

And there was the usual bureaucratic mess: 17 March was declared a national holiday - something many felt Italy did not need in these dire recession times - and shopkeepers were told that closing shop was optional...but that they needed a permission from the Comune to do so! Result: rather than queue up at the Comune to get permission to stay open, most opted to close down.

There is one fundamental problem haunting Italy and that hasn't been resolved in 150 years: the Mezzogiorno disaster - or if you prefer a more ascetic term: the north-south divide. Southern Italy - a market of some 20 million people - is still suffering from acute under-development, with average income almost half that of the North. Recent income statistics (2007) show that Northern Italy's average per cap income was some 25% higher than the European Union average, while Southern Italy's stood more than 30% lower! That means real, acute poverty in the South.

And yet...Back in 1861, at the time of unification, Southern Italy was richer than the North. It had two central banks (out of the 5 Italy had at the time) with huge gold reserves (in Palermo and Naples). Those reserves were entirely drained out to pay for the Kingdom of Piedmont's debts caused by, inter alia, the very wars of unification.  In other words, the South was made to pay for the unification.

But it doesn't end there. Serious historians (among them famous Francesco Saverio Nitti) have calculated that the amount of gold available in the South at the time added up to the formidable figure of 443 million of gold Lire on a grand total of 664 million for the whole of Italy. In other words, some 70 percent of the country's wealth was in the South at the time of unification. Today, the proportions are reversed. The historian Dennis Mack Smith reports in his remarkable book, Modern Italy A Political History (1997 - U. of Michigan Press), that a tax study published in 1910 found that Northern Italy at the time had 48 % of the nation's wealth and paid 40% of the nation's taxes, while the South with 27% of the wealth paid a whopping 32% of the nation's taxes. So the depredation was on-going still, some fifty years after the so-called "unification". Talk of fiscal justice...

Are you surprised? I must confess I am not (being married to a Sicilian, I am well aware of how Southern Italians harbour this burning feeling of having been depredated). But the facts are incontrovertible. The Northern Italians acted in the South as conquerors, not as "unifiers". And when I use that word "unifier", I mean people who try their best to merge a country's different regions and create a national identity. The conquering Northern Italians never attempted to unify the country economically, the way Western Germany has just done with its Eastern part, transferring funds, supporting education, opening up jobs etc. Sure, the merger hasn't been perfect, there have been hiccups, and Eastern Germany still has to catch up with Western Germany. But most of the job is done. In Italy the job hasn't been started - not really: it is sufficient to see there are no solid results from the (now defunct) Cassa per il Mezzogiorno and all the other half-baked attempts that have followed.

But now the situation has become truly dire: the Lega wants "federalism" at all costs, which means the transfer of tax returns from Rome (the centralized government) to the regions and comunes. At first glance, decentralized taxation may even sound good: every region gets to keep its own money and do with it what it wants. The North will no longer see its money go to the South. That means however one thing:  prodded by the Lega (and Berlusconi who doesn't care about the South - all he sees is that the Lega is the one political ally he still has), the North will never pay back for the historic depredation of the South, when it acted as a winner-take-all, carrying all the gold home and never turning back to try and rebuild what it had brought down...So Italy's "unification", after 150 years, is still a far goal, and receding fast into the distance...

Then, to all this mess, add the fact that Libya is a major supplier of oil and gas to Italy, and you get quite an infernal brew. Little to be happy about...

Still, let's hope Italy, with its proverbial know-how, optimism and arte di arrangiarsi will solve its problems and live another happy, spensierati 150 years!

I really wish that with all my heart: it's such a beautiful country, the cradle (or at least one of the major cradles) of our civilization, and I'm very happy to live here. It would be so nice to see Italy pull itself and become finally One!
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3.17.2011

IS THE PROFIT MOTIVE ALL THAT GUIDES US? NO!!!

Check this surprising and illuminating video that puts traditional economic theory on its head. We are not solely guided by the profit motive and that's really encouraging, considering all the ghastly and stupid things that we are seeing happening around us in the world...


3.16.2011

Nuclear Catastrophy in Japan and Massacre in Libya!

Image of a nuclear explosionImage via Wikipedia
In Japan, experts knew back in the 1970s that the design of the Japanese nuclear reactors was faulty - in the sense of WEAK, i.e. prone to explode in case of emergencies! See Tom Zeller's article in the New York Times.

In Libya, Qaddafi announces he is going to retake Benghazi, the rebels' stronghold in Cirenaica within the next 48 hours...while the international community is paralyzed - in particular the Americans who should be democracy's champions...

What is the world coming to???
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3.15.2011

Japan's Nuclear Emergency

Internationally recognized symbol.Image via Wikipedia
Japan, after the earthquake and the tsunami, is now facing the threat of nuclear devastation. It seems so unreal and unfair and tragic, particularly for a country like Japan that has suffered through Hiroshima and Nagasaki! As I write it is still too soon to tell how it will turn out and we all fervently hope that the several nuclear reactors can be put under control and tragedy averted.

So much has been written about Japan over the last four days since the earthquake that I have nothing new to add. As you know, I always post after events have finished unfolding so that it becomes possible to step back and take stock. For the Japanese nuclear nightmare, it is still too soon to do that.

But news are worrying, including the Japanese officially requesting American help. So I just thought I'd put together for you what in my (humble) opinion are a few of the better articles and analysis written about this tragedy.

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No-Fly Zone over Lybia? No consensus among the G-8!

The leader de facto of Libya, Muammar al-Gaddafi.Image via Wikipedia

Check out this excellent analysis put out by The Economist online. The G-8 meeting in Paris (14 March) has given no results, as Russia stays stuck on its position of refusal and Americans (and Canadians) continue to show skepticism, even though the Arab League has called for the imposition of a no-fly zone...

A real disappointment for Juppé, the French Foreign Affairs Minister who hosted the meeting. 

Meanwhile no UN resolution has come out of the United Nations Security Council and the rebels are about to fall to Qaddafi's advancing mercenary army.

What will it take to get the international community moving??

 

Can the colonel be stopped?

Mar 14th 2011, 17:19 by X.S. | CAIRO


CALLS for a no-fly zone over Libya are becoming much stronger, now that the Arab League has "unanimously" backed the idea (though in reality Algeria, Sudan and Syria, all repressive and undemocratic regimes, were unhappy about it). At an earlier meeting last week, the six-country Gulf Co-operation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) was even keener to get rid of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, who has insulted a number of its rulers over the years.
Though the African Union elected Colonel Qaddafi its year-long chairman in 2009, it will probably blow with the wind.
Once these bodies have all thrown their weight behind the idea, enough "cover" should have been given to Western governments, in particular the United States, to let them persuade the 15-member UN Security Council to pass a resolution putting the idea rapidly into effect. The Americans were at first plainly warier than Britain and France, after their difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Brazil and India were initially hostile to the idea, but will probably follow the Arab League's example. China may abstain, but Russia is likely to take most persuading. The American vice-president, Joe Biden, has been in Moscow to discuss a "reset" in relations between the two cold-war adversaries. A bargain may be struck.
If the Security Council does pass a no-fly resolution, it will probably be for NATO to enforce the policy, using bases in southern Italy and the British sovereign base at Akrotiri in Cyprus. Aircraft-carriers would not be essential.
Among NATO governments, Turkey was initially hostile to a no-fly-zone proposal. If it sticks to this view, it would be difficult for NATO to participate as an organisation, in which case a coalition of the willing could be formed, provided the Arab countries were strongly on-side. At a public forum in Qatar on March 13th, the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davotoglu, studiously avoided specifically mentioning Libya. But Turkey might swing behind the idea if Arab countries in the region press it to do so.
It is debateable whether a no-fly zone would require a sustained campaign to bomb Colonel Qaddafi’s airfields and assets at the outset. It could be that his most dangerous defensive weapons, surface-to-air missiles, of which he is said to have a large and modern arsenal, would have to be knocked out by NATO (mainly American) missiles. Robert Gates, the American defence secretary, has sounded reluctant to authorise such operations. But other American generals have been more sanguine. Some say it would not be necessary to launch a bombing attack at all; the Libyan colonel would know it would be suicidal to send his aircraft into the air, once the UN resolution were passed.
Those who argue against the no-fly zone point out that so far the civil war has been entirely conducted on the ground and that the no-fly zone would make little difference. This is not quite true. The colonel has bombed assets such as oil refineries under the rebels' control. It is unclear whether his other key weapon, Russian helicopter gunships, would be forbidden to fly as well as his fixed-wing aircraft. There is no reason why this should not be made clear.
Moreover, the rebels would receive a big psychological fillip if they knew they and the buildings and assets under their control were safe from air attack.
The real key to the rebels' success would be the co-operation of the new Egyptian government, which is still tied closely to the Egyptian armed forces, which in turn may be understandably keen to conduct themselves modestly during the transition to democracy. But Amr Moussa, the Egyptian former foreign minister who heads the Arab League and has declared himself a candidate for the Egyptian presidency, is outspokenly keen to enforce a no-fly zone—and to topple the Libyan dictator.
Indeed, Colonel Qaddafi incurs hostility across the Arab world. He has few friends anywhere, except among some of the African dictators who have survived partly because of his largesse, sometimes in the guise of free oil. Hugo Chavez is also likely to stick up for him, and may even offer him a safe haven, should the colonel decide not to go down in flames at home.
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