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11.29.2012

Google Drive Has Arrived, Big Brother Getting Bigger!

English: Diagram showing overview of cloud com...
Diagram showing overview of cloud computing including Google, Salesforce, Amazon, Microsoft, Yahoo, Zoho, Longjump and WorkXpress (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Google Drive suddenly popped up on my Google mail as I was busy writing. Always curious, I downloaded it and couldn't believe what I saw: suddenly, in about a minute or less, everything that I had ever stored on my computer was up there, inside of that neat-looking icon file called Google Drive. It sat on my computer's desktop and was reachable from my Gmail, making available everything I ever wrote, every picture I ever took, every video I ever made for any other of my devices as I travel around, my mobile phone included!

Google Docs has become Google Drive. Now I can attach directly to any mail any doc I have on my computer.

And if I wanted to, I could send up to 10 GB attachments to my Google Drive - that's 400 times larger than what Gmail previously allowed. No need for extra storage space in the Cloud, Google has thought of everything for me.

Wow!

I'll be honest with you. I never had that much to attach anyway, I'm not a corporation! But I do note two things of interest:

1. Google neatly did away with the need for any storage service for most people - unless you don't trust Google. I have friends who argue that if Google collapses, all their stuff will disappear, including blogs such as this one. Maybe. Quite frankly, if Google collapses, it's very, very likely that the whole of Internet will have collapsed, but that's just my humble opinion. No doubt storage services in the Cloud will continue to thrive on the basis of people's dislike for or lack of confidence in Google.

2. Google is Big Brother Watching Over You: please note I wrote "over you". This is not the famous Big Brother , the mysterious dictator of Oceania, a totalitarian state in Orwell's 1984 who is watching you. No, here Google is watching over you. Google is out to help you. 
Image representing Bill Gates as depicted in C...
Bill Gates of course! Image via CrunchBase

Fine and good.

I just hope Google stays the same, with that altruistic corporate culture, a little bizarre given the American love story with jungle capitalism.

One can't help recall that America is the historical birthplace of robber barons, and Americans ever since their country was created, harbor an   unshakeable admiration for self-made men. The American Dream. Yet, all too often, they are nothing but heartless business tycoons out to grab your last dollar. 

Still, one has to admit that America is also the country that has given birth to a remarkably large number of philantropic billionnaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, and the latter is constantly calling for more taxes on the rich, a remarkable selfless stand. We're still waiting for Europeans, Chinese, Indian, Mexican and Brazilian billionnaires to join the charity club. Hey, any Greek shipowner out there willing to save his country and forego the tax holiday granted by his governmnt? 

Alas...

When all is said and done, America remains an amazing country, with both the best and the worst. Others need to catch up!

Your opinion? Did you get Google Drive and are you using it?
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11.19.2012

The Future of Publishing: Should Publishers Be Afraid of Amazon??


Amazon.com Welcome New Hires!
Amazon.com Welcome New Hires! (Photo credit: Will Merydith)
Has Amazon really grown into a dangerous book-selling colossus and is that why traditional publishers should merge to defend themselves? Some people argue that the Penguin and Random House merger is coming too late. Apple's "agency model", following price fixing investigations, has gone out the window, or at least it has "softened". As a result, they argue, it's game over, Amazon has won.

Too late? Game over? Yes, surely mergers could have started happening sooner but Time in legacy publishing is famously slow (it takes publishers on average 2 years to come out with a new book...) But I would argue that it's a physiologically sound move, one long awaited perhaps, but the right move all the same.

As soon as the Digital Revolution got going, there was talk that the Big Six would start merging and that you'd soon get the Big Five, then the Big Four etc ending perhaps with only the Big Three or Big Two. All facing Amazon, like small Davids facing Goliath, because Amazon is about three times bigger than Random House and Penguin combined (and they're slated to be the biggest publishing house in the industry).

This said, we should start by noting a very simple thing about Amazon: it's NOT just a publishing house. They've got a limited number of imprints (essentially 5) and some of them sound rather small with a relatively modest number of titles, at least so far... Amazon is deliberately vague about its Kindle sales figures, though it's likely that digital sales outpace printed. So the total sales figures for Amazon (over $48 billion in 2011), while impressive, don't concern just the book trade but everything else it sells, from electronic gadgets to clothes. For example,  Amazon reports that in the last quarter of 2011 the number of Appstore for Android customers has nearly tripled from the previous quarter (with them downloading more apps in Q4 than all of the previous quarters combined), and that the number of Instant Video customers has more than doubled year-over-year (with the number of streams increasing 300 percent from the previous quarter).

Now what is the proportion of books in its overall sales, nobody knows. But what that does is downsize the difference between Random House/Penguin's combined sales projected at some $4 billion. Amazon is not likely to be 10 or 12 times larger since, as a publisher, it's much smaller than the total sales figure suggests...

Because Amazon, more than a publisher, is actually an e-trader: it's a platform to sell books, both digital and printed. But even here Amazon's future is not necessarily all that rosy. There's even talk that Amazon is running into a brick wall, quite literally, for example with that release on 20 November of best-selling author Tim Ferris's book  The 4 Hour Chef (see article below). Everyone's talking about it: how Amazon gave Ferris a 6-digit advance and now the author can't even place his new book anywhere in brick and mortar stores not to mention Barnes and Noble that flatly refused to carry the book, or so goes the gossip...
Image representing Timothy Ferriss as depicted...
Tim Ferris Image by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid via CrunchBase


But there's more to it. On the e-reader front, competition has increased, Kobo , a Canadian upstart recently acquired by a Japanese e-tailer, is now spreading everywhere in the world and Barnes and Noble's Nook, for long restricted to the American market, has grown by leaps and bounds. Following a recent $605 million cash injection by Microsoft, it is set to expand in the UK this autumn. At this point, it would seem that Amazon controls some 60% of the digital market, admittedly a huge portion, but a lot less than the 90% with which it had started some four years ago.
English: Logo for the Barnes & Noble Nook
English: Logo for the Barnes & Noble Nook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then there's another worrisome bit of news for e-reader producers: a recent survey showed that a third of e-readers were used only once by their new owners! And fully 25% of the people who were interviewed to explain their rejection of e-readers flatly stated that they preferred printed books. The Digital Revolution may be hitting a brick wall! In any case, it's not as pervasive as most of us think and it certainly calls into question Amazon's business model (which consists in selling e-reading devices at or below cost to gain market shares and then make up for the loss or lack of profit through content, i.e. book sales).

Also, of late, Amazon has run into problems with customers regarding book reviews. It has understandably tried to "clean up" the system that had become corrupted by cozy reviews from family and friends. But its algorithm to flush out the corrupted reviews ended angering a lot of people, especially writers (who tend to write reviews more easily and more of them than average readers). Many writers have found to their surprise that Amazon was taking down perfectly bona fidae reviews and hurting honest people, most famously Joe Konrath who posted about this on his blog. 

So Amazon's not doing quite so well these days...

Indeed, by opening its doors to self-published authors without putting up any gate keeping or quality control systems, it has been flooded with poorly edited books, full of typos, ill-structured and badly written - not to mention semi-pirated books using content widely available on Internet that are brazenly passed for something new. As a result, in some quarters, Amazon is viewed as a slush pile publisher - not a reputation to be envied. I have no doubts that at some point Amazon will rectify the situation. In the meantime, to be published on Amazon is just not the same as being published by a traditional house. 

To be sure, the stigma attached to self-publishing has been largely removed. It's certainly one of the major achievements of the Digital Revolution, marked by the amazing successes of authors like Amanda Hocking, John Locke, Joe Konrath and Bella Andre, but the fact remains that indies do not enjoy the same reputation as traditionally published authors. 

There are really two possible game changers that could dramatically change the future of publishing: discoverability and distribution. Let's look at them in turn:

(1) Discoverability:  It is a problem for publishers (it was recently discussed in a very interesting conference in New York) but for an indie, it is a nearly unsurmountable challenge. A self-published author simply does not have access to the publishing industry's major literary critics, papers and magazines, nor for that matter, to the industry's major competitions and prizes, like, for example, the National Book Awards, the Pulitzer or the Man Booker Prize. Amazon is well aware of this, so it's no surprise that it has set up regular imprints modeled on traditional publishing and hired experienced professionals to run them.

Screw Amazon.com
Screw Amazon.com (Photo credit: ucicsboy)
(2) Distribution: Here traditional publishers are laboring under a constraint that does not affect Amazon: they have traditionally set up a system with bookstores and other distributions points that allows the stores to return all unsold books, without however controlling how much stores order on the new title list. As a result they tend to order too much and the returns eat up the profits of the publishers (and royalties of authors). 

This is not a viable model. Why is Amazon not affected? Simple, they have their Create Space division that prints books on demand (so-called POD technology) - no storage problem, no distribution problem.

The big question (and the surprise) is that publishers have not taken on Amazon on its own ground: why not move to POD publishing? 

Why not set up POD machines in book stores, machines that would be dedicated to publishing their titles, with copies of the printed books nicely displayed around the machine and online terminals to "leaf through" their books in a virtual manner, the way one does on the Kindle store. And while your book is printed, you could sip a tea or coffee or munch on a pastry, since it takes a little time to be printed - too much perhaps, the POD machines are still clunky but surely they could be improved: never underestimate the advances of technology... In short, successful bookstores would be the ones with POD machines and the capacity to turn themselves into attractive coffee houses and community centers for events to meet authors etc. 

Under the circumstances, if Big Publishers merge, and even medium ones merge too, thus acquiring more financial means and the capacity to move into new directions - like POD publishing - their future could look a lot better than we all have been led to believe up to now. 

Of course, how innovative Big Publishers are likely to be is anyone's guess.

Still, I don't believe we should view Amazon as a Big Black Wolf or even as a Colossus in publishing. As I've blogged before, Amazon is certainly the Next Big Publisher. But it's more than that, or rather it's something slightly different: it's primarily a book trading e-platform and secondarily a POD publisher (with CreateSpace). 

To conclude: there is space for Amazon AND the Big Six, sorry I mean the Big Five. Consider this: if instead of viewing Amazon as a rival (which it is and isn't at the same time), publishers could start using it for what it is (an e-platform) and why not, collaborate and even ally themselves with Amazon in particular areas, like, for example, assist in cleaning up the book review system? If a book quality gatekeeping sytem was set up, and if it were made reliable and efficient in helping readers search for the kind of material they like to read, I think everyone would gain, publishers and readers alike!

What is your opinion? Do you think that the move to merge forces is coming too late for the publishing industry? That Amazon will remain alone as the Big Winner of the Digital Revolution?
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11.07.2012

Human Trafficking: What YOU Can Do to Stop it!

A human trafficking awareness poster from the ...
A human trafficking awareness poster from the Canadian Department of Justice. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
People for sale in Canada? Not just Canada, people are for sale everywhere! Slavery in the form of human trafficking is one of the most profitable businesses in the world...and most despicable. For years, one of the major figures in American journalism, Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times columnist led a personal battle against modern day slavery. He recently wrote an opinion piece (see here) trying to, as he puts it, "giving voice to the voiceless". Victims don't dare to speak up. And if you don't speak up loudly, politicians don't listen.

To be a human rights activist is an UPHILL battle!

In that piece, he reports on how President Obama's landmark speech against modern slavery on 25 September (before the Clinton Global Initiative, see article below) was met by shrugs from "many of us in the news media". Why?  Because "it didn’t fit into the political narrative. It wasn’t controversial, so — yawn — it wasn’t really news." Kristof went on to explain how, despite the yawns, this issue is important: a major American legislation against human trafficking is at risk. While "Republicans have done superb work on the issue in the past", says Kristof, "now they're balking at straightforward re-authorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act - landmark legislation against human trafficking. What are they thinking?" he asks, sounding quite disgusted!

Fortunately Obama was re-elected. And now, we can hope that this piece of legislation will be renewed asap, just as it should!

Still, it's depressing that in our day and age, more than 150 years after slavery has been abolished, we have to argue the point. That there are people out there that don't think slavery is an important issue or that Kristof is plain boring about it (yes, I found criticism of his stance on Internet!).

How can anyone be in favor of human trafficking? Kristof confesses that he became  "passionate about human trafficking ever since [he]encountered a village in Cambodia 15 years ago where young girls were locked up, terrified, as their virginity was sold to the highest bidder." My view is that we can all support the fight against modern day slavery without ever having been to Cambodia or witnessed the terrible scenes Kristof reports.

The statistics prove that human trafficking is increasing exponentially, and according to at least one expert, Anthony Steen, Chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation, it's ten times worse today than it was 200 years ago in the heyday of slavery. Estimates about the number of victims vary:  from a minimum of 12 to a maximum of 100 million people but, given its illegal nature, the numbers are clearly unreliable. Also the very definition of slavery is complex as it touches on a series of crimes that range from sexual exploitation to forced organ transplants. Perhaps the worse aspect is the large percentage of women and children affected. One thing is certain: trafficking victims are on the increase. Just to give one small example that is nevertheless indicative of the overall trend: newly released British data show authorities identified 946 trafficking victims last year, an increase from 710 in 2010.

And it's a highly lucrative business: according to Europol, the European Union’s criminal intelligence agency, trafficked children can earn more than $200,000 a year each for criminal gangs who train them to be pickpockets, beg and rob, or who force them into prostitution. And of course torture and sexual abuse are used to control them. Indeed, human traficking is predicted to outpace drug trafficking...

Now I have to confess a secret to you: I wasn't really aware of the extent of this on-going tragedy until I met Magda Olchawska, a hugely talented Polish film maker and author who's now working on an exciting film, ANNA AND MODERN DAY SLAVERY, a suspenseful and scary investigation of human trafficking, carried out by Anna, a lovely and generous young woman who's also a brilliant hacker.  Anna leaves a highly paid government job to set up an underground Organization that exposes the horrors of sex slavery.

Here's the poster for the film:



Here's the movie trailer:



Beautiful, haunting music, isn't it?

Well, perhaps you can't be like the brave Anna of the film, leave your job and fight a gang of human traffickers, but as citizens we should all try to be aware of the problem, make our politicians react and ensure that proper legislation is in place AND implemented! And as writers and film makers of course, any work aiming at exposing this scandal is more than welcome!

Curious about Magda Olchawska and how she came about to make this film (due to be released in 2013)? Here's an interview I made and that I have the pleasure to share with you:

Question: Tell us, Magda, what got you interested in the issue of human trafficking?

An amazing gal I e-met on Twitter: Lynn Robertson. I read one of Lynn’s poems and decided to do something about this horrifying situation. That's how the idea for Anna came about.

Did you write the film script or is it based on someone else's novel, novella or short story?


I wrote the script, which is based on imaginary situation and characters. Rather than focusing on the victims, the film is centered on the process of trafficking and how many people in high places are involved in this “business”.

Major difficulties in filming ? From what you told me, editing has turned out to be a problem!

Yes, the editor pulled out after realizing how much work that is. I’m going to edit the movie myself. I’m an editor at the end of the day...

How long does such a task take - what do you have 3 hours of film that you have to cut down to one hour and quarter or so?

Much more! We have over 12 hours of footage and the editing can take up to six months or even longer. It really depends.

It must be damn difficult to do. How do you proceed?

I have a clear idea of what I want and which scenes I’m going to use so hopefully this process isn’t going to be never ending! Filmmaking is difficult especially if you do it on a tight budget. But I love filmmaking so I really don’t mind looking after my baby J

Was the film entirely shot in Poland with Polish actors?


Yes, the film was entirely shot in Poland but we had an international cast and crew. The actors came from Poland, UK, Spain and Italy.

That's quite an international team! How did it work out in practice? In what language did you work?

It was a fantastic experience, everyone pitched in! We worked in multiple languages but the film was shot in English and just a little bit of Polish.

How long did it take you to shoot the film? A month?

Much less! 9 days. Our budget didn't allow us to shoot for longer than that.

Difficulties to obtain permission for street scenes and the like?

We didn’t get any permissions to shoot. We were trying to choose the locations wisely so we wouldn’t have to go through the hassle of getting permissions. They're both time consuming and expensive, we didn’t have money in our budget for that.

So you had financial difficulties. Wasn't the Indiegogo funding that you got enough?

The IndieGoGo funding was enough for the shooting. But not enough for the post-production. One of the producers has kindly agreed to pay for the editing equipment, which saved me loads of time from running another Indiegogo campaign.

However we will still need money for the sound editing and a little bit for the promotion and marketing.

If anyone of your readers would be interested in contribution & getting fantastic perks just follow the link
http://annaandmoderndayslavery.weebly.com/support-the-film.html

I certainly hope people respond! But let me ask you, how did you pick the main actress? She has a beautiful, sensitive face, does she have previous experience in film making or is this a first big role for her?

I met Paula Preston over a year ago in London and while writing the script I was thinking of her. So when she accepted the role I was thrilled.

This was the first time Paula has been a lead in the feature film. So it was also a big adventure for her.

What did Paula do before she worked for you?

Paula's professional career includes film, TV and theater roles as an actress, dancer and presenter. Recent work includes Frankenstein's Wedding (BBC4), Resonance (directed by Colin Teague), YMMBT (West End Theatre), Whose Play Is it Anyway (Edinburgh Festival), School Play (Criterion Theatre), Lady MacBeth (Arts Ed) and Curriculum Bites (Presenter BBC).

That's quite a career! And this is not your first film either, I know, and you've won awards.

No, I’ve made many shorts before. One of them, “The Man with the Spying Glass” has won the award of best short film at the 2011 Ballston Spa Film Festival. However, “Anna and Modern Day Slavery” is my first feature film.

Once the editing of the film is done, where are you showing it?


We will probably try to hit a few A List Film Festivals and see if we get accepted. We will also organize community screenings and of course the movie will be available free of charge on the Internet.

Free of charge? That's very generous of you and a boost to the cause! Any more movies or ideas you've got up your sleeve and that you plan on doing next year?

LOL, I always love your questions. Of course I'm always working on something else. I've already started working on the second Anna script and I'm really hoping I'll be able to shoot "Two People" next year http://magdaolchawska.com/entry/12

So keep your fingers crossed that I'll be able to pull the funding together...

Magda by the sea
Thanks, Magda, and I am keeping my fingers crossed and can't wait to see your film! And the second Anna film too...

Here's the official press release of Anna and Modern Day Slavery, produced by Mayan Films in association with Altaire Production and Publication: http://annaandmoderndayslavery.weebly.com/press-releases.html

Here you can download the official media kit and get all the information about the actors etc: http://annaandmoderndayslavery.weebly.com/uploads/1/1/7/2/11727692/media_press_kit_download.pdf
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