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Top five posts — end of 2013 report

Well another year older and deeper in debt — actually that’s not quite right because I’ve been paying down the mortgage so I’m less indebted than I was twelve months ago. There are now 1,175 reviews or opinion pieces, and we move even further past one-million words in content. I’ve kept to my New Year’s Resolution of making at least one post every day with 375 new posts in the last twelve months. Thinking about books continues to grow but, thanks to Lionsgate, traffic numbers are still down. In January, I was getting 1,245 hits a day. When the DMCA notices hit, I dropped down to 571 hits per day. At the end of six months, I was slowly recovering, having reached a six-month average of 775 hits per day. This was the “good” news: Lionsgate’s malicious campaign now apparently defeated. I hoped the traffic numbers would continue to build and I could get back up to where I was at the beginning of this year. Sadly that has not happened. I can look back to January to see 4,322 views in one day. Since then, my overall daily average has dropped to 729 with only 266,000 page views in total. It seems the damage to the site actually continues even though the DMCA notices have all been dismissed.

The Dong Yi pages continue to dominate, being eight of the ten most read pages on the site. I’ve become very popular in the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Malaysia with visitors from 210 countries as counted by WordPress. It seems somewhat redundant to list the top five Dong Yi pages. Suffice it to say that the average number of hits for that top five is 16,951 hits per page (up from 13,462). In both the following lists, the numbers in brackets are the placement in the last top five lists (excluding Dong Yi pages). So the top five of the other film/anime pages is:

Gone Baby Gone (2)
Hellsing or Herushingu (1)
Sucker Punch (3)
Space Battleship Yamato or Uchū Senkan Yamato (4)
Secret or The Secret That Cannot Be Told or Bu Neng Shuo De Mi Mi (5)

These five pages have an average of 7,039 hits per page (up from 5,921). Obviously, I’m going to have to be more careful about selecting the content to comment on if I want traffic numbers to rise. It’s fascinating that only three of the top twenty pages relate to Western content. I suppose I must be one of a more limited number of people writing about “foreign” material in English. As to books, the top five has been unchanged for twelve months:

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
Wise Man’s Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle, Day 2) by Patrick Rothfuss
Troika by Alastair Reynolds
Songs of Love and Death edited by George R R Martin and Gardner Dozois
The Secret of Crickley Hall by James Herbert

It’s good to report the average for the top five books is now edging higher into four figures at 1,319 hits per page (up from 1,207 hits per page). It’s still depressingly low but there has been slow upward movement. If you divide the total number of hits over the lifetime of the site by the number of pages, you produce an average of 612 hits per page (up by 12 since the last report). In a cautious voice, I’m going to say that’s not bad since I’m very passive about promoting the site. At my peak as the year ended, Technorati ranked the site in the top 100 for books. As of today, I see I’m ranked in the also-rans although I did feature in the Top 100 for television sites for a month or so. Not quite the market I was aiming for when I started a book site.

Anyway, I announce a temporary change of direction. Those who have read the About page will know I ran a small press in the past. A friend of the family has written a book and my services have been volunteered to edit and publish it. This is going to take up some of my time over the next two months or so. Hence you will not see daily posts until I get on top of the work. Perhaps I might get the bug again. If there are any agents who would be interested in submitting a work from an established author, let me know. I might be tempted into a three or four title schedule a year.

Top five posts — July 2013

Top five posts — end of 2012 report

Top five posts — July 2012

Top five posts — end of 2011 report

Top Five Pages — July 2011

Acknowledging two milestones — December 2010

Categories: Opinion

What, if anything, is wrong with young adult fiction?

October 11, 2013 4 comments

I’ve decided to write this opinion piece because I’ve recently been exchanging emails with several authors and publicity departments about some of my reviews. It seems I’ve become somewhat notorious for dismantling both books intended for young adult readers and books with a gender bias for female readers. In fact, I’m destructive about any book, film or television episode I think poor. Although I seem to have been particularly vehement when it comes to the YA market and paranormal romance, I find the majority of books, films and television episodes average at best and more usually below average. It does no good pointing to the About page where I assert the right to say when I think a book is bad. So here goes with a more specific opinion piece, primarily thinking about YA fiction.

What is YA fiction?

I’m not at all sure when the concept of the young adult emerged nor precisely what it means in terms of age. You see some books fairly obviously targeted at the genuinely young, whereas others seem to be aimed at fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds. If I was simply going to be cynical, I could suggest this is a catch-all category for all the books not good enough to sell to the adult market. Put another way, with reading ages as defined for educational purposes not mapping directly on to physical age, the wider the alleged age range for YA books, the less meaningful it is. For the record, the American Library Association defines the classification as books for those aged between twelve and eighteen. I suppose that means books aimed at a broadly intermediate group whose sensibilities have matured to such a point they can no longer be considered children, but have yet to grow more interested in books with adult sensibilities. In this, let’s remember one of the virtues of youth should be curiosity about the adult world.

Why do I tend not to like YA books?

I grow somewhat frustrated if I feel an author is patronising the readership. By this I mean the author is peddling mindless escapism or that the book suggests there’s always an easy solution to problems. In the poorer books, we see anodyne descriptions of criminal or dangerous activities. Situations containing more explicit challenges to health and safety tend to be avoided. Obviously this does not disguise the fact there are many books unsuitable for children. But thanks to the growth of the internet, one of the features of the modern world is the speed with which children mature. Whereas my generation remained relatively naive until teenage years, modern children are remarkably knowing. This sophistication, often denied by adults, does not mean I think books on YA shelves should be full of darkness and existential despair. The fact the youth of today face the probability of unemployment and possible dangers from climate change does not mean we should deny them the occasional happy book.

So here goes with a simple proposition

In all forms of fiction, authors should show life as it is with credible characters behaving as we would expect given the context. Obviously this includes the possibility of dealing with the “big” issues of parental separation and divorce, abuse of alcohol and dugs, the death of family members or friends, and so on. When we move into fantasy and start talking about vampires, werewolves and other supernatural beasties, we should understand these beings survive by eating humans. Having them as cute love interests rather belies their essential nature. Taking a different tack, setting characters in a dystopian context gives them a chance to challenge existing political systems and become beacons of hope for the downtrodden of their mundane reality. Such books are not inherently dark. They can be inspirational.

In other words, there’s no reason in principle why there cannot be a balance of elements in fiction intended for young adults to read. It may be legitimate to make concessions in terms of vocabulary selection and sentence structures. Reducing the barriers to comprehension encourages more to read. Encouraging the reading habit is a social good. But when it comes to the choice of subject matter and the plot, I’m completely opposed to sanitising or dumbing down the world for consumption by those deemed young. In this I categorically deny an automatic linkage between physical age and the need for protection. Indeed, I think publishers do an active disservice to the young by “censoring” the content made available for reading. This does not mean, as a generalisation, I’m going to dismiss all YA books as superficial and stand on a soapbox to proclaim all publishers should focus on depth and avoid relentless optimism and sunshine. I try to be fair and judge each book on its merits. This means looking at the characters and judging their credibility.

Going back a moment, it was probably wrong of me to use the word “censorship” in this context. Parents and other authority figures have an interest in controlling the nature of the fiction or other media content consumed by “children” in their custody. I respect the right of parents to deny the young access to information that may help prepare them for the rigours of the world. I may think it foolish, but that’s what parenting is all about. I shall, of course, continue voicing my opinion. Hopefully, over time, publishers will more consistently produce books that challenge the prejudices and preconceptions of the young, and parents will be more flexible about what they allow their children to read. It’s a case of less trivia and more realism, but avoiding anything pornographic. Although pornography is freely available on the internet, publishers can at least use their marketing to signal some degree of “safety” to parents.

My own age as a factor

At this point, I should remind readers that I’m a senior citizen and therefore far removed from the current experience of the “young”. People who disagree with me often criticise my views because I’m applying adult sensibilities to books intended to be read by people culturally different to me. They assert the best people to judge the worth of YA fiction are the young who buy and read it. Publishers point to the millions of profit they rake in each year and legitimately suggest they must be doing something right. The fact the books sell in such numbers is itself a confirmation of their fitness for purpose. Put another way, one of the primary justifications for consuming any fictional content is to derive entertainment. If our lives are full of pain and misery, it’s potentially good therapy to escape into a fictional world where people have better lives. It reminds us that, if we can overcome our own problems, we too can have happiness.

So a potentially legitimate complaint about my reviews of YA fiction and, to some extent, romantic fiction is that, as an elderly male, I’m not the target audience and so have little meaningful to contribute to the discourse on the merits of either form of fiction. This would be a somewhat ironic way of dealing with my opinions. The adults who run the publishing industry are predominantly male, and they decide what’s fit to print and market to the YA and romance niches of the market. Parents feel competent to judge what their children should read. Teachers and librarians assume the right to judge which books should be made available to younger readers. And, of course, the majority of individuals who write YA fiction are themselves adults. Denying the right of older readers to review is not terribly rational. As applied to adult women, they can make up their own minds what they want to read without taking any notice of my views.

A conclusion

So, to be clear, I’m not against YA fiction or paranormal romance because of the genre labels imposed on them by marketing departments. But I am against all books peddling plots that make no sense, involving characters with no credibility, and written in prose that shows a lack of writing craft. That my experience to date tends to find the majority of YA and paranormal romance books suffer these faults is just an accident of fate. Every now and then, I do find good books in the most unlikely of genres or subgenres. Serendipity is what keeps me reading. However, here come a few closing thoughts. I think there are too many books published each year. The vast majority are poor. If commissioning editors were more discriminating and the editorial staff actually worked with authors to maintain a higher standard, all readers would benefit regardless of age. So I would throw away all genre labels. I’m for good books offering interest and/or excitement when I read them. If readers want the dull and boring stuff, they can dip into the self-published pool where, sad to say, most of the books fail to achieve professional standards.

Top five posts — July 2013

July 1, 2013 2 comments

Well this marks the end of a tumultuous six months. There are now 990 reviews or opinion pieces (add one to the total for this post), and more than one-million words in content. As a physical site, Thinking about books continues to grow but, thanks to Lionsgate, traffic numbers are still down. In January, I was getting 1,245 hits a day. When the DMCA notices hit, I dropped down to 571 hits per day. At the end of six months, I’m slowly recovering, having reached a six-month average of 775 hits per day. This was the “good” news: Lionsgate’s malicious campaign now apparently defeated. Hopefully, the traffic numbers will continue to build and I can get back up to where I was at the beginning of this year.

The Dong Yi pages continue to dominate, being eight of the ten most read pages on the site. I’ve become very popular in the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. It seems somewhat redundant to list the top five Dong Yi pages. Suffice it to say that the average number of hits for that top five is 13,462 hits per page (up from 9,250). In both the following lists, the numbers in brackets are the placement in the last top five lists (excluding Dong Yi pages). So the top five of the other film/anime pages is:

Hellsing or Herushingu (1)
Gone Baby Gone
Sucker Punch (2)
Space Battleship Yamato or Uchū Senkan Yamato (3)
Secret or The Secret That Cannot Be Told or Bu Neng Shuo De Mi Mi (4)

These five pages have an average of 5,921 hits per page (up from 4,695). Obviously, I’m going to have to be more careful about selecting the content to comment on if I want traffic numbers to rise. It’s fascinating that only three of the top twenty pages relate to Western content. I suppose I must be one of a more limited number of people writing about “foreign” material in English. As to books, the top five is unchanged from last time:

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
Wise Man’s Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle, Day 2) by Patrick Rothfuss
Troika by Alastair Reynolds
Songs of Love and Death edited by George R R Martin and Gardner Dozois
The Secret of Crickley Hall by James Herbert

It’s good to report the average for the top five books is now edging higher into four figures at 1,207 hits per page (up from 1,049 hits per page). It’s still depressingly low but there has been slow upward movement. If you divide the total number of hits over the lifetime of the site by the number of pages, you produce an average of 600 hits per page. In a cautious voice, I’m going to say that’s not bad since I’m very passive about promoting the site. At my peak as the year ended, Technorati ranked the site in the top 100 for books. As of today, I see I’m ranked at 345. Since there are 17,905 sites with the “books” tag, I suppose that’s not bad given all the trouble with Lionsgate. As the year progresses, hopefully my ranking will rise.

Top five posts — end of 2012 report

Top five posts — July 2012

Top five posts — end of 2011 report

Top Five Pages — July 2011

Acknowledging two milestones — December 2010

Categories: Opinion

Lionsgate’s malicious campaign now apparently defeated

Today brings the long-awaited notice from Google confirming that the only outstanding URL in dispute has now been reinstated. All the malicious complaints of DMCA infringement made by Lionsgate and its agent(s) have been thrown out. This has been four months of frustration with daily page hits reduced by half. Hopefully, the popularity of the site will now be restored. As I wait, I must also decide whether to take it further. It’s tempting to let sleeping dogs (or lions) lie and go back to life as it was. Albeit slowly, I have prevailed so I could call this a draw and walk away. Or I could remain active and seek a more general review of Lionsgate’s behaviour and its agent(s). It requires careful thought.

Lionsgate and the use of DMCA notices
Lionsgate continues its bad faith campaign over the review of Arbitrage
Lionsgate continues its bad faith sequence of DMCA notices

Categories: Opinion Tags: ,

Lionsgate continues its bad faith sequence of DMCA notices

January 22, 2013 3 comments

Following on from my last report of Lionsgate’s continuing harassment on the 18th January (click here to read it) Google has sent me a new notice dated the 21st January. Lionsgate continues to demand the takedown of pages without any right or interest at stake. This time, the company has picked on the page reviewing Joint Security Area, a film made in South Korea in 2000. To keep everyone up to date, this is my response to Google:

“Re: Your notice dated 21st January and citing http://www.chillingeffects.org/notice.cgi?sID=765396.

On its face, this notice is submitted for and on behalf of Lionsgate. It purports to show that the page in question is facilitating piracy of Liongate’s work. Such an assertion is not only ludicrous but also malicious. What possible right or interest does Lionsgate have in the film Joint Security Area? According to http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0260991/companycredits, Lionsgate is neither one of the production companies nor is it a distributor. The suggestion that I am facilitating the piracy of Lionsgate’s work would therefore seem to be a lie on its face. For the record there is no need to remove content from the page because none of the content infringes Lionsgate’s rights as alleged or at all.

This sequence of notices arises out of Lionsgate’s objection to the review of Arbitrage. Since its posting, Lionsgate has submitted a sequence of complaints on completely unrelated matters. The law is very clear. It is a precondition of using the DMCA process that the allegations of infringement are made in good faith. I have in these responses put Google on express notice that these allegations are being made in bad faith.

What then is Google’s role? If I submit requests for restoration of the URL, which I have in each case, Google must engage in a review process to ensure that the DMCA notice was properly issued and restore the URL if there is no material infringing the complainer’s rights. This is a quasi judicial function and, as such, requires due process. If Google fails to take any or any proper action to respond to these notices, it is by implication colluding with Lionsgate to chill the exercise of free speech. I suggest this is unlawful conduct on Google’s part and formally give notice that if Google fails to respond constructively and restore the URLs. it must be joined as a party in any action involving Lionsgate to defend its failure to protect my rights.”

So far, the only good thing I can say is that the flow of notices is slowing.

You may also be interested in reading:
Lionsgate continues its bad faith campaign over the review of Arbitrage
Lionsgate and the use of DMCA notices
Lionsgate’s malicious campaign now apparently defeated

Categories: Opinion Tags: , , ,

Lionsgate continues its bad faith campaign over the review of Arbitrage

January 18, 2013 Leave a comment

Following on from my first report at https://opionator.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/lionsgate-and-the-use-of-dmca-notices/, I’ve received another DMCA Notice from Google dated 16th January. It refers me to http://www.chillingeffects.org/notice.cgi?sID=758349 which repeats the complaint about the Arbitrage review even though it no longer shows an image of any kind and drags in another review when it has no right or interest in the copyright material. This is a copy of the text appearing on the Restore URL Notice I filed.

“This latest complaint shows the continuing lack of good faith by Lionsgate. It has no right or interest at stake in the images displayed on the page which reviews Galileo: The Sacrifice of Suspect X or Yôgisha X no kenshin (2008). All it seeks to do is create trouble for me as a reviewer. Randomly identifying pages on which I display images is not a good faith use of the power to complain under the DMCA. Whether the images as displayed are or are not a fair use is, at this stage, a matter of opinion given the non-commercial status of the site and its function as a review site. If the copyright holder has not objected, what locus standi does Lionsgate have?

As from the 10th January, https://opionator.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/arbitrage-2012-3/ has been text only. No images of any kind are displayed and the page has an explanatory notice in bold explaining why no images are displayed.

I suggest that Google owes me a duty of care to investigate my allegation of bad faith. If it is seen not to interfere, I will have to conclude that Google colludes with Lionsgate by omission to exclude non-infringing text-only content from public display. Google can, of course, avoid being joined as a third party in any subsequent proceedings by being seen to take this application to restore seriously.”

If this continues, I may feel more like invoking my right to litigate this abuse of the DMCA procedure. As you can see, I’m preparing the ground to join Google if it is not seen to respond constructively to my request for restoration of the URLs.

You may also be interested in reading:
Lionsgate continues its bad faith sequence of DMCA notices
Lionsgate and the use of DMCA notices
Lionsgate’s malicious campaign now apparently defeated

Categories: Opinion Tags: , , ,

Lionsgate and the use of DMCA notices

January 12, 2013 4 comments

As the best way to start off the 2013, Google sent me a Notice of DMCA removal on the 3rd January (http://www.chillingeffects.org/notice.cgi?sID=740729). It seemed that within minutes of my publishing the review of Arbitrage, Lionsgate had asserted an infringement of copyright at https://opionator.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/arbitrage-2012/ (a page address that has now been removed from the cache). I was surprised because, in my view, the display of the poster and three stills from the film was a fair use of digital images under US law but, because I prefer the line of least resistance, I copied the low-resolution image of the poster used on Wikipedia and put that up at a new address. Naturally, I asked Google to remove the old page from its cache and to reinstate the page after review.

On the 8th January, Google sent me a second notice (http://www.chillingeffects.org/notice.cgi?sID=745715). It seems Lionsgate had specifically taken issue with https://opionator.wordpress.com/2013/01/01/alphabetical-listing-of-books-k-to-z/. As you will understand, this was even more surprising than the first notice. There are no images used on this page. This signalled a loss of good faith. If the take-down process was being used properly, it would allege that a page with an image was used in breach of copyright. To allege a page to be an infringement, there must be an image copyrighted by a third party or there must be some other clear breach of IP protected work. Insofar as titles can be copyrighted, I compile a continuous listing of the reviews on this site. So this page is my work and labour. Consequently, I own the copyright in the list. Again, I filed a notice with Google, alleging an “error” by Lionsgate. For the record, there are more than 800 reviews and considerably more than one million words on this site.

On the 9th January, Google writes again (http://www.chillingeffects.org/notice.cgi?sID=748810). Not concerned with legal niceties like a probable fair use defence, Lionsgate has gone generic in objecting to
https://opionator.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/arbitrage-2012/arbitrage/, i.e. despite clearly identifying the source of the poster image used on the page and claiming justification, Lionsgate preferred the page to disappear — it’s a review unfavourable to its film Arbitrage. I therefore removed the poster image.

On the 10th January, Google writes again — it was getting into a nice daily rhythm (http://www.chillingeffects.org/notice.cgi?sID=751478). This time, Lionsgate thought the photographs of the stars of Arbitrage were improperly used. https://opionator.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/arbitrage-2012/photography-by-myles-aronowitz/ Again, all the photographs on the page had been copied from Wikipedia and were used within the fair use boundaries. However, to keep the peace, I removed all the images from the page. I now hold the exclusive copyright to the textual content published on the page.

On the 11th January, Google writes again (http://www.chillingeffects.org/notice.cgi?sID=752414). This time, Lionsgate had objected to the page https://opionator.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/great-north-road-by-peter-f-hamilton/. To avoid doubt, I have used the low-resolution version of the image from Wikipedia and clearly state the legal justification as the description of the image. Again, I have sent a notice to Google. The comment section to the Great North review drew my attention to http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/01/buffy-vs-edward-remix-is-back-online-but-no-fallout-for-lionsgate/. It seems Lionsgate is notorious for attempting to stifle free speech.

Life is never dull.

You may also be interested in reading:
Lionsgate continues its bad faith sequence of DMCA notices
Lionsgate continues its bad faith campaign over the review of Arbitrage
Lionsgate’s malicious campaign now apparently defeated

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