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Monday, November 27, 2017

Rhode Island Rendezvous

“[She was a] long-legged lass with freckled skin, with fiery hair and a spirit to match. He had discovered her in the bosun’s locker, intent on Barbados where she hoped to inherit her father’s estate.  Of course, there was nothing for her there.  Ah, but he had lost his heart to her, not once but twice. And then she disappeared...”

Thus, the first chapter in this, the third of Collison’s Patricia MacPherson historical adventure series, reminds the reader of the beginning of a very strange saga. Back then, only semi-protected by the young man who had found her stowed away and “had lost his heart to her,” Patricia was forced by survive by her wits in a strange and exotic land. Obviously, her options were limited — she could prostitute herself, get married, or find a job, the last being almost impossible for a young woman who was hampered by her youth, her sex, and her total lack of qualifications.

The inevitable marriage of convenience led to yet another solution — her kindly husband, a ship’s surgeon, taught her enough of his medical skill for her to make a living after his death . . . but only if she takes on the guise of a man. And so Patricia MacPherson, girl-widow, metamorphosed into Patrick MacPherson, sea surgeon.

By the time this third book opens, Patrick/Patricia has progressed even further, to the command of a ship in the Caribbean sugar trade, and has become so masculine in thought and bearing that s/he often seems hermaphrodite. A re-encounter with a beautiful Creole woman who helped her transform herself in a male has tantalizingly Lesbian overtones.  Added to that, when faced with a maritime crisis, Captain Patrick MacPherson rises to the challenge like an experienced master mariner. A very different crisis — delivering a baby by Caesarean section — is a stark reminder of the problems of being a woman. But then the reappearance of Brian Dalton — the same young man who saved her as a stowaway in the very first book — tips Patrick/Patricia back into feminine mode, with all the complications that thinking and feeling like a young woman brings to a “fellow” in her strange situation.

But this book is much more than a study of conflicting sexuality.  The setting is 1765, when the American colonists are in a ferment, roused to rebellion by duties and taxes imposed by a rapacious English administration.   Collison, who is as adept with the politics of the time as she is with details of life at sea, handles this very well indeed. Recommended to history buffs as an unusual, thought-provoking book that rings with authenticity.

Another triumph from Old Salt Press.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Witch of Wall Street

Yes, it is no less than Hetty Green, born in New Bedford in its whaling heyday, heir of a fortune made mostly from whaling, and known by a number of nicknames -- America's First Female Tycoon, The World's Greatest Miser, The Queen of Skinflints -- but "The Witch of Wall Street" is the one that has stuck.

Did she merit her miserly reputation? It seems so, but there is much to admired.  She was a financial genius, turning the $7,500,000 she inherited at the age of thirty until an estate worth up to two million by the time she died, in 1916. 

However, as her short biography on the New Bedford Whaling Museum website describes, it is due to her son, Colonel Green, that the Charles W Morgan, the last of the wooden whaling ships, has survived.

There is a fuller biography in the latest Smithsonian, which is well worth reading for more about this truly fascinating woman.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Selling in China

A big moment for me was when a charming Chinese woman approached me in New Zealand to sign her Chinese language copy of Tupaia.

Years ago, the big dream for a Kiwi author was to sell in the United States.  It is still a staple market -- but how long is that going to last?

In August, we were on a small cruise ship out of Bora Bora, in the Tahitian Islands, when an American asked the lecturer, "What kind of impact is China having in the Pacific?"

The audience was mostly American, most of them business people, so you can imagine the massed intake of breath when the lecturer said, "Huge."

I can attest to that myself.  The flow of Chinese investment in the Pacific is breathtaking.  The islands are experiencing a boom like never before. Hotels, roads, office buildings are sprouting on palm-shaded beaches, all with Chinese signs.  The Chinese love the Pacific, and, increasingly, businesses in the Pacific are selling aggressively in Chinese markets.

Interestingly, today there was a news item in our local paper about Chinese entrepreneurs selling cheap red wine under the prestigious Penfolds label.  As the Sydney Morning Herald reported,  it is not a small operation. Shanghai police have seized 14,000 bottles of fake Penfolds wine being sold by counterfeiters in China.The fake Penfolds wine was being sold through Alibaba's online flea market Taobao, as well as pubs and karaoke bars. 

The three-month investigation followed a complaint to Alibaba by Australian wine company Treasury Wine Estates that suspicious retailers were charging "extraordinarily low prices" for Penfolds wine in its fastest growing market. Alibaba called in police, who said at a press conference on Wednesday that 13 suspects had been detained, including Mr Dai, a wine dealer who was selling fake Penfolds for 200 yuan ($40) per bottle online, while it should retail for 600 to 3000 yuan ($120 to $595).

That is a breathtaking price!  In New Zealand one can buy a case of very nice Penfolds wine for about the same money.  No wonder Mr Dai was tempted to stage the scam -- and no wonder Australian and New Zealand winemakers are marketing in China. Demand there increased by 33% last year.

And it is not just wine. A Shanghai-based marketing consultant, Matthew McKenzie, turned a local breakfast food, "Weet-Bix" into a hit in China,  Our local Weet-Bix manufacturer, Sanitarium, sends 125,000 boxes of the breakfast food to China every month, and expects the craze to escalate -- Chinese will shell out as much as $50 for a box that costs us about six.  

"There are fake products in every channel," said McKenzie -- from dishwashing liquid to infant formula.  But the market had to be established in the first place, and it seems that Australian and New Zealand businesses are doing that very well.

America might sell planes and armament, and brag about "the art of the deal," but it seems that the Pacific is quietly taking over in the family homes of China.  And that includes books.  In 2015, at the Beijing Book Fair, 40% of the sales were acquisitions from abroad -- and the rate is increasing.  There are problems for the Indie author, though.  Print books must have a government-issued ISBN.  Digital books sell for about a fifth of what they fetch on  And, as with the wine, there is the problem of piracy. But the market is huge, well worth exploring.

And it seems that it is the way of the future.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Macmillan shuts down its Indie publishing arm

Publishers Weekly's Booklife reports that Macmillan has abruptly shut down its self-publishing arm, "Pronoun," with the loss of an unknown number of jobs.

Originally launched in 2009 as Vook, an early e-book and interactive content production platform, the company pivoted in 2015 and relaunched itself as a self-publishing platform under the direction of Josh Brody.

In May 2016 the company, now called Pronoun, was acquired by Macmillan, and Brody was kept on board as president. Ben Zhuk, Pronoun chief product officer, was also retained and named v-p of product for Macmillan.

But it did not work well, it seems, because earlier this year both Brody and Zhuk left the company.  It was the beginning of the end, a situation confirmed by Jeff Seroy, senior v-p of publicity and marketing at Macmillan's Farrar Straus and Giroux unit.

Asked why Pronoun was being shuttered 18 months after the acquisition, Seroy said despite Macmillan investment in the platform and “terrific” feedback from Pronoun authors, “we came to the conclusion that there wasn't a path forward to a profitable business model and decided to shut down the platform.”

And so it ends, leaving an unknown number of frustrated Indie authors, and a raft of unanswered questions.

Macmillan being a distinctly conservative publisher, it was more surprising that the company acquired Pronoun in 2016, than that it has shed it mere months later.

For a traditional publisher to dip a toe in the new world of self-publishing is odd to start with.  The best explanation is that if the arm sponsors an author whose work zooms into the bestseller ranks, she or he is an author who has been already captured.  But that is a gamble with very long odds indeed.

And it doesn't seem financially promising.  Indie authors who publish with Pronoun in print are competing with a stable of regular authors, who would obviously get the cream of marketing and promotion.  In digital, Amazon dominates the market, and Smashwords is a better entry for the newbie in the self-publishing world. Added to that are swept-up operations like Draft2Digital, which specialize in producing a quality product which is taken up by a whole raft of online digital book stores, like Kobo.

Plus, most importantly, while digital books quickly seized about 25% of the market, that fraction has not improved, and may even be declining, as print books regain their popularity.

You can read Macmillan's closing statement here.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography revived -- with Tupaia

An iconic publication lives again

Revived with an exciting maiden entry

This week Te Ara marks an important milestone: the publication of the first new Dictionary of New Zealand Biography entry since 2011. Joan Druett has written a new entry on the Polynesian navigator, Tupaia, the subject of her award-winning biography published in 2011. We’re delighted to announce that this marks the beginning of a new phase in the life of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.
The Dictionary was originally published in five print volumes between 1990 and 2000, under the general editorship of W.H. Oliver and later Claudia Orange. It comprised biographies of more than 3000 people who had risen to prominence before 1960 and died before the publication cut-off date of 1998. No living person was eligible for inclusion. Separate volumes reprinted the biographies of the nearly 500 Maori subjects in te reo Maori, which together with the te reo sections of Te Ara constitutes the largest Maori-language publishing programme ever conducted.
In late 2001 all the biographies were made available online, with a team of researchers locating images and in some cases audio and video recordings to illustrate the essays. In 2010 the online biographies were relaunched as part of Te Ara, with the biographies and encyclopedia entries enriching and amplifying each other. Fifteen new biographies were added to Te Ara in 2010–11.
Happily the Dictionary’s time has come again, and from 2018 onwards we will release a small batch of new biographies annually. The first round will place the spotlight on a number of high-achieving women, to celebrate the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Subsequent rounds will illuminate the lives of significant and representative people from a cross-section of New Zealand society, with a focus on the decades after 1960. The new biographies will be released online only.
We’re still working through the details, but the new Dictionary of New Zealand Biography will honour the tradition of rigorous and broad-ranging scholarship established by the Dictionary’s original editors, staff, working groups and authors. They have left big shoes to fill.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

World's Best Airline - yet again

From Yahoo News

For the fifth consecutive year, Air New Zealand has been named the “Airline of the Year” in the U.S. by Various factors were taken into consideration, but the carriers record-breaking financial performance helped it to beat out competitors. Despite earnings before taxes falling to $527 million in 2017 from $663 million in 2016, the airline still experienced its second-most highest earnings in the company’s history.
In addition to profits, Air New Zealand also took the top spot thanks to in-flight innovations, environmental leadership, safety, and a young fleet of aircrafts. It also doesn’t hurt that New Zealand has been experiencing a tourism boom. In the last year, 3.7 million international tourists have visited the island nation so far this year, up 9% from 2016.
Air New Zealand was also named as the airline with the Best Premium Economy. Singapore Airlines won for Best First Class experience, Virgin Australia won for Best Business Class experience, and Korean Air won for Best Economy Class.

The 10 best airlines in the world also identified the top 10 airlines in the world. After Air New Zealand, Qantas and Singapore airlines rounded out the top three. The rest of the list includes in their respective rank: Virgin Australia, Virgin Atlantic, Etihad Airways, All Nippon Airways, Korean Air, Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines.
In order to make this list, airlines must achieve a seven-star safety rating and demonstrate leadership in innovation for passenger comfort.
By now you’ve noticed that no U.S. carriers made the list, which is disappointing, but not surprising. U.S. carriers also did not rank on last year’s list.
Perhaps the focus on “passenger comfort” is what keeps legacy airlines like American, Delta, and United from getting mentioned. U.S. carriers have made many changes with their economy class seats in the past two years: They shrunk the size of seats and positioned  them closer together. American Airlines announced that their new 737-Max jet planes would feature three rows of economy seats with a pitch (the distance between seats) of 29 inches. The current pitch of similar-sized Boeing 737-800 jets is 31 inches.
In July 2017, United Airlines also announced that it was adding an extra seat in every row in economy class on their Boeing 777 aircraft. In other words, passengers would pay the same price for a ticket, but have less space.
These cutbacks almost certainly impacted the ranking of U.S. carriers.
“We are looking for leadership and airlines that innovate to make a real difference to the passenger experience, particularly in economy class,” said the judging team.
Judges also took passenger feedback on their website into consideration. Based on what we know about American consumers, they probably didn’t have nice things to say about the U.S. carriers.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Secrets of a Chinese shipwreck

According to an article in Live Science, this wreck dates from the time that the descendants of Genghis Khan ruled China. Seven hundred years ago, the ship foundered in the course of a river voyage, and was forgotten until the day the wreck was discovered under a construction site. Archaeologists moved in, and had a more exciting time than the picture above might indicate.

Divided into 12 cabins (including the captain's stateroom, a control room that was also the galley, and cargo spaces that were loaded with grain), the ship proved to be a storehouse of gorgeous Chinese treasures.  The captain's cabin held some of them, and the rest were focused about a Buddhist shrine.

Hit this link to see a sampling