Five Things: September 30, 2021

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Pandemic Shipping Delays: Why Deliveries Are So Slow | Amanda Mull

“Americans are habitually unattuned to the massive and profoundly human apparatus that brings us basically everything in our lives… Countries trying to meet the huge demands of wealthy markets such as the United States are also trying to prevent mass-casualty events.”

I cringe every time I see an “order your books early” tweet in reaction to stories about delays in the “supply chain” impacting anticipated holiday releases. While presumably well-intentioned, they’re also myopic and obnoxiously privileged, with little recognition of the bigger picture.

Those hot new print books will arrive eventually (and the B-list will likely get delayed again, or simply published into the void whenever they arrive as most are), but the “supply chain” is made of real people in real countries, many of whom didn’t have the luxury of debating who gets booster shots this month. It’s not the magical infrastructure powered by AI and free two-day shipping Amazon has trained everyone to take for granted; some of those people are literally being sacrificed to meet consumer demand for a return to “normal” that doesn’t exist anymore, and was inequitable and unsustainable to begin with.

It’s way too pragmatic and would break corporate publishers’ purely theoretical P&Ls, but if there was ever a time to justify paring down your frontlist for a season or two and go hard on promoting backlist, a global pandemic inching towards a third disruptive year would be it.


Wyden, Eshoo Question Big Five Publishers Over Their Library E-book Practices | Andrew Albanese

“In their letter to the publishers the lawmakers reference ‘the exorbitant costs and burdensome restrictions’ that they contend ‘are draining resources from many local libraries,’ and ‘forcing [libraries] to make difficult choices to try and provide a consistent level of service’ to their communities.”

I think the questions being asked here are foundational to any reasonable assessment of libraries’ impact on consumer sales, a persistent myth with very little public evidence to support it. While I was running the Panorama Project, and prior to my joining, publishers were reluctant to share any concrete information for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was distrust of OverDrive’s real intentions in funding the initiative. Of course, we were always open to other sources of funding—and eventually took steps in that direction with our cross-industry collaboration on the Immersive Media & Reading research—but no publisher ever stepped up with monetary support to offset the unfounded concerns about OverDrive’s influence. It’s also worth noting that OverDrive fully supported my vision for the Immersive Media initiative’s broad scope, which went well beyond the impact of library ebooks.

Nevertheless, a completely independent body looking into this is probably the only way to get it done and finally answer the critical questions about libraries that any of the major publishing organizations could have prioritized years ago. The relatively narrow scope the Senators have chosen to define suggests they’ve done their homework and aren’t simply on a fishing expedition like the Internet Archive was. At this point, non-compliance would be a strong indicator that publishers either don’t have any hard data proving libraries have a negative impact on consumer sales, or more realistically, it’s purely anecdotal—limited to a relative handful of bestsellers whose contracts heavily weigh print sales at a time when many avid and casual readers have shifted their buying and borrowing preferences to digital formats.

Get your popcorn!


Launch week FAQs | Saladin Ahmed

“I’m also aware of the danger of ceding platforms and resources whole cloth to those forces. And to be as blunt as possible, every project I’ve ever taken on that’s had any sort of audience has been about that split awareness — a dance between compromise and reclamation. I’ve been paid to read antiracist poems at universities founded on slavery and tried to to tell anticapitalist stories in billion-dollar corporate universes.”

A lot of people, myself included, have jumped on creators taking lucrative Substack deals for effectively supporting prominent unsavory types Substack also subsidizes, but Ahmed confronts the issue head-0n and shows that stance is an incredibly privileged one. Whether it’s Marvel, DC, your favorite Big 5 imprint, KDP, or your social network of choice, there’s really no PURE DIY option available to individual creators beyond old school zines, so every business decision they make is a compromise on some level. One creator’s lesser evil is another’s third rail, and fans have to make personal decisions about where their own line is.

I’ve been particularly critical of the coverage of Substack’s push into comics in a recent issue and on Twitter, so this was a nice reminder that it’s easy to miss the bigger picture when you’re being self-righteous, even in what may seem like a pretty straightforward situation.

FTR, I don’t use Substack simply because I had no interest in doing a newsletter until my own lesser evil, Twitter, acquired Revue and made it sound like the integration would be seamless. It’s not, yet, but I’m still enjoying doing it and have never viewed it as a potential source of revenue anyway. Feel free to hit me up on Paypal with a thanks anytime, though!


My Corvair got a new master cylinder and new brake hoses. Here’s why I didn’t replace the whole system | David Conwill

“It has not been trouble-free, but I never expected it to be; old cars require regular attention. The biggest repair so far has gone to the brakes.”

Owning a 1965 Chevrolet Corvair, an ambitious experiment that lasted only 10 years and doesn’t pop up too often on the old car media radar, I love reading about other people’s experiences whenever I can. I’m a one-time Jiffy Lube-level mechanic via the Army (63B10P) who’s forgotten almost everything I knew about working on cars, so my own experience has mostly been living vicariously thr0ugh my local mechanic as they’ve helped me keep it road-worthy, but I’ve challenged myself with at least being aware of what needs to be done, and troubleshooting as much as possible myself each time.

Next month will be the first anniversary of my purposefully becoming an old car guy, and while I’m not as far along in getting it where I want it yet—still need to deal with some rust issues, a paint job, new mirrors and radio/speakers—it’s definitely exceeded my expectations as a surprisingly reliable near-daily driver. One thing I hadn’t considered, though, was how few carburetor experts are still around, and the thought of working on the carbs myself is extremely daunting!


Piblings & Niblings: Do You Know These Words For Aunts, Uncles, Nieces, & Nephews? | Minrose Straussman

“These terms are great examples of gender-neutral and gender-inclusive language that can make it easier to refer to and address the relatives we love—regardless of their gender.”

If you’re like me, you may have recently found yourself wondering what the gender-neutral terms are for niece and nephew. Fortunately, the dictionary has us covered!

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