Friday, June 24, 2011

Quoth the Rowling, 'Pottermore.'

I'm posting this entry largely because I thought of the headline while walking the dogs yesterday and found it rather clever, since that repeated line in Poe's "The Raven" reads "Quoth the raven, 'Nevermore.'"

In case you hadn't heard, J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame is opening this fall a new web site called Pottermore ( that will, among other things, offer heretofore unknown ebook versions of all the Harry Potter novels.  At the moment it's unclear whether Pottermore will be the place you'll have to visit to get the ebook version of any of the seven novels in the series or whether you'll also eventually be able to download them from Amazon or or any other ebook retailer.

If you'd like to get the details from Rowling herself, check out her Olympian announcement on YouTube.  (What's Olympian about it?  Click through and you'll see.)

ADDENDUM: It hadn't occurred to me that if Rowling is going to sell Harry Potter ebooks direct to her Pottermore visitors there's an inevitable question: how will they show up on a Kindle or Nook or Kobo or Sony or other ereader?  After all, each of these devices is part of a walled garden ecosystem.  I've sideloaded my share of public domain titles into my (now quaint first-generation) Nook 3G, but doing so involves a level of techno gruntwork Rowling will certainly not expect of her fans.  Thanks to today's edition of Publishers Lunch, however, we learn that Barnes & is "working closely with Pottermore to make Harry Potter ebooks available on our line of NOOK devices when the Pottermore store goes live."  (Amazon has no comment on its plans.)  Publishers Lunch also mentions that the Financial Times has reported that Pottermore will be selling downloadable Harry Potter audiobooks now sold on Apple's iTunes store -- and that iTunes will stop selling them when Pottermore begins.  (Curiously, I just fired up iTunes and could find only one Harry Potter audiobook, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, now on sale there.)  Meanwhile the planet's English-language brick-and-mortar booksellers are in despair.  Harry Potter has been a godsend for them -- generating foot traffic from millions of shoppers eager to claim the latest installment and, presumably, one or two other books plus maybe some stationery, a jigsaw puzzle, a board game, a DVD, and so on.  Pottermore seems certain to stem that revenue flow, perhaps irrevocably.

BTW: if you haven't read Poe's "The Raven" since high school when, like me, you found it a tedious and irrelevant 19th century fossil, by all means give it another look.  It's really an extraordinary poem: inventive, ruefully amusing, with a manic intensity, helped along by its meter and profuse rhyme scheme, that builds as it goes along.  When I first re-read it a couple of years ago -- only because my daughter was assigned it in her English class -- I could scarcely believe it was the same poem I'd sleepwalked through in 11th grade American Literature.  I doff my hat to you, O divine Edgar.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Proofreaders Need Not Apply

In space, no one can hear you scream.  And in cyberspace, no one can hear you scream “Typo!”

The disintermediation the Internet allows for publishing ideas or advertisements—requiring fewer and fewer steps and lower and lower expenditures to get the word out—has left corporations, governments, and the rest of us in a mad dash to promote ourselves early and often.

Along the way proofreading has become a neglected skill and an unnecessarily expensive and time-consuming step.  It is to the 21st century what blacksmithing was to the 20th.

Of course, typographical errors online come in a variety of flavors.  I may flinch when I stumble on one in the New York Times online or in print, but I acknowledge that it’s the price I pay to get reasonably good reporting on the 24/7 Internet clock.  I make the same allowances for the comments I read online attached to ecommerce product pages or news site articles, now that I know there are thousands who think the verb to lose is spelled to loose or that disappointed packs two ses and two ps or two ses and one p.

English orthography is a bitch.

Still, you’d think that image-conscious businesses or government agencies would take a slightly fussier stance.  Spelling stuff wrong on an authorized web site or official communication suggests haste or carelessness or indifference.  Those aren’t impressions you want to leave on customers or constituents.

But there’s a cost to correctness and clearly it’s too high for some entities in the information business.

Here are a few examples I’ve stumbled on over the last couple of months.  I didn’t set out to find these gaffes—they found me:

Citi Group Credit Cards
Now that Citi Group’s credit card unit has had a couple of hundred thousand customer accounts hacked I guess they’ve bigger fish to fry than running the nonword “dinning” through Spell Check and correcting it to “dining”.  They’re sure to spend so much money on boosting security—or at least on PR to promote the idea they’re boosted security—they won’t have a penny extra to spend on agency billings padded with frivolous proofreading charges.

American List Council

{Sigh}  I’ve been there, American List Council.  You’re typing along, you enter a short word like “with”, and a few words later you’re supposed to enter an entirely different short word starting with “w” (in this case, “who”) but, because your brain’s on autopilot and you’re really thinking about where to go for lunch, or what you’re going to do on vacation, or how much your kid’s orthodontics bill is going to be, you absently enter “with” again.  Happens to the best of us.

Mark Ecko Enterprises, Unlimited

Here’s a twin killing from the Mark Ecko Enterprises web site—two goofs in two years on the company’s historical timeline.  These are classic Internet-age errors: Spell Check will never find them.  (Note that the subhead in red for the 2006 entry is also fouled up.)  Guess that’s what happens when your hip-hop web creative crew is so busy making your site look fly they’re not going to do that proofreading shit for you, man.

IPC Systems
IPC Systems’ slogan, “Absolutely Indispensable” (mercifully sidestepping the common misspelling “Indispensible”), describes its goal of building essential high-tech electronic trading solutions for financial services firms.  But proofreaders were absolutely dispensable when the company’s web team laid out the site’s promotional copy.  And no, a word needn’t be misspelled to qualify as a typo: breaking it and misplacing the hyphen on the turnover line is, in my view, just as embarrassing.

Paul Krugman's New York Times Blog

I've never encountered a typo in Paul Krugman's blog writings, so I suppose neither the Nobel laureate nor the New York Times can be blamed for a mistake that crept into a Federal Reserve Board Bureau of Economic Analysis graph caption on this blog entry from May 2, 2011.  If you’re Ron (or Rand) Paul, though, this is one more reason to hate the Fed: flabby proofing.

TiVo Guide Listings

My wife and daughter and I love to watch Modern Family—so we’ve naturally got a TiVo Season Pass.  And I admit that, whatever the show, on the rare occasions I read the one-sentence show recaps on TiVo’s right nav I've never noticed a typographic error.  In fact, I didn’t notice this one: my wife did.  (Yeah, she used to work in publishing, too.  The industry attracts literate fussbudgets.)

The Supermarket

Let’s leave digital behind and go analog.  The supermarket is as analog as it gets—and with miles of colorful packaging, exploding type, and fine print it’s not only as visually noisy as the web it seems to be just as errorprone.  So savor this irony as Budweiser’s marketers dutifully (and I’m sure hastily) alerted customers to a “printing error” on its mail-in rebate coupons:

Yep, another goof Spell Check won’t help you find.  Well, at least Budweiser apologized for the inconvenience—and they really mean it, since they ended their apology with an exclamation point.

As it happens, I once used a web site’s comments tool to point out a typo in a sample passage from Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad posted at  All comments on the site are moderated, and while mine was never approved and released by the following day the typo I mentioned had been quietly corrected.

No need to thank me, Ms. Egan.  On the Internet information wants to be free, especially if it costs something to make sure it’s spelled correctly.

P.S. I apologize for the inconsistent leading afflicting the subheads in this post.  Looks like it's not a good idea to compose your rant in Microsoft Word and then copy it into the Blogger editor.  Too many mysterious Microsoft tags come along for the ride.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Amazon: Sneaky Fast

Sportscasters have a phrase they use to describe a major league pitcher whose lazy windup and delivery gives hitters no clue that a 94MPH fastball is humming their way: sneaky fast.

Lately that phrase has sprung to mind about Amazon, the ruthlessly efficient web retailer that effortlessly fires emails across my Gmail inbox and leaves me no time to wonder, “How did they know this would interest me?”

So it was yesterday morning when I found an email whose subject line, Free Today: Plants vs. Zombies Android Exclusive, notified me about an Amazon store I’m not sure I knew existed—or why.

Amazon selling Android apps?  Isn’t that what Google’s Android Marketplace is for?  And if you wanted to compete with Android Marketplace, how would you sell Android apps from the Amazon web site?  Everyone with an android phone knows you download them from your phone to your phone—no annoying web intervention required.

Was Amazon sneaky fast or was it hanging its pitches out over the plate?

(This intriguing question prevented me from asking myself an even sneakier one: how did Amazon know I had an android phone?  I’d bought mine at a brick-and-mortar Radio Shack.  More about that later.)

Get a Great Paid App for Free Every Day

I headed over to Amazon’s Appstore for Android (which promises “Get a great paid app for free every day”) and, as I eyed the zero dollar offer for the popular Plants Vs. Zombies adventure game, still couldn’t see how I was going to download it (or any other app in the store) to my phone.

Then I noticed the header Get Started in the right nav above an icon for the Amazon appstore app.

OK, I’m thinking, there’s an appstore app—but how do I get that on my phone?  Google isn’t going to permit Amazon to post an app on Android Marketplace that lets Marketplace customers shop the Amazon appstore instead.  (That competitive reality hasn’t stopped android phone users from visiting Android Marketplace to look for the Amazon appstore app.  Fire up Marketplace, enter the word “amazon” in the search tool, and the phrase “amazon app store”, presumably crowdsourced, appears in the drop down list of suggested search terms.  Pick it and you won’t be surprised when your results fail to bring up Amazon’s app.)

Only 8 Simple Steps

So while pondering the mystery of the appstore app icon I clicked on Amazon’s inevitable Learn more link.  Then watched the inevitable Get Started with the Amazon appstore for Android video starring a bespectacled metrosexual marketing genie named Paul Hochman.  And inevitably discovered that getting started involved “only 8 simple steps.”

Since Amazon’s marketers must have realized 8 simple steps might not sound simple enough, Paul quickly adds that “In fact, fewer than 30 seconds stand between you and thousands of apps for Android.”

If you’re now wondering whether Paul and his fellow marketeers work in an irony-free zone—most android phone users already know they can find thousands of android apps without having to bother following anyone’s 8 simple steps, or installing the Amazon appstore app—you’re not alone.

In fact, just about all the advantages Paul extols for the Amazon Appstore for Android apply to Google’s Android Marketplace: the ability to test drive select apps (which is what the free “lite” version of a paid app usually offers), get recommendations (Marketplace supplies plenty of starred user comments for any popular app), and buy using Amazon’s secure 1-Click payment technology (except in this case it’s Google’s 1-click payment technology).

But then Paul hit me again with the one sneaky fast advantage Amazon had thought of and Google apparently hadn’t: a great paid app free every day.

That’s something I’d never noticed browsing Android Marketplace.

Plants Vs. Zombies Vs. Android Marketplace

Sneakier still, its free Plants Vs. Zombies game app claimed to be an Amazon exclusive.  And sure enough, when I grabbed my LG Optimus V and dashed over to Android Marketplace I couldn’t find a free or paid version of Plants Vs. Zombies.

Amazon had done it again.  They’d found a brilliant marketing edge to jump start an Android app store that most executives would have said had no chance against Google’s firmly entrenched original. Indeed, by opening its own store Amazon can play off of Android Marketplace by promoting discounts and exclusives—such as its Plants Vs. Zombies offer.

And, of course, they’re free to formulate more agreeable terms for app developers.  At the moment it appears that Amazon’s Android Appstore requires a $99 program developer fee to sign up (which it waives for the first year) and offers members “70% of the sale price of the app or 20% of the list price, whichever is greater.”  Google charges a $25 registration fee and “the transaction fee is equivalent to 30% of the application price.”

Offhand I can’t figure out Amazon’s advantage in pegging its payments to either the sale price or the list price, since a list price would have to be arbitrarily high (and subsequently discounted to the sale price?) to make 20% more lucrative than 70%.  I also can’t find details about whatever incentives Amazon may offer to developers for securing exclusivity.

But none of that matters unless Amazon can convince the rest of us to follow their 8 simple steps.  For a free copy of a popular paid game app they’re clearly betting the effort is worth it.

And how did Amazon know I had an android phone?  A few weeks ago I’d bought some LG Optimus V accessories from Amazon Marketplace.  And as those Marketplace vendors know, Amazon’s sign-up terms entitle the retailing giant to all Marketplace customer data.

Amazon knows all, sees all, and wastes no time marketing accordingly.  Sneaky fast, man.