Hot Air

Modern Problem

The Richeys — Derek and Jennifer Sommer-R. — have been tantalizing us with their nostalgic images of Bloomington for years now. Their book, Bloomington: Then & Now and their Facebook page, Bloomington Fading, hammer home the dizzying changes this town has undergone through the years.

People here still like to call Bloomington a small town but it hasn’t been for a long, long while. As long as Indiana University, like pretty much every higher ed factory in this holy land, feels the need to attract upwards of 20 million students per semester, this burgh will seem, for much of the year, like every other moderately-sized city anywhere in the USA.


Anywhere, USA

Bloomington’s architecture has changed commensurate with the corporatization and marketing of our hometown U. The look and feel of the place is nothing so much as Lincoln Park-lite or faux-Clifton. Only those big city hot ‘hoods have vibrant, colorful commercial strips. B-town’s central district merchants and eateries have yet to catch up with the flood of residential units surrounding the Courthouse. They probably never will, considering the fact that downtown Bloomington’s new residents, albeit beneficiaries of Mom & Pop’s largesse in terms of luxe housing, are too cash- and time-poor to support a bustling business district.

So we’re left with imposing walls of multi-story, soulless, faceless apartment structures along Walnut and College avenues. These anonymous buildings seem at times an unholy mix of the utilitarian and the totalitarian. Any pedestrian moseying along either of the town’s main north-south arteries will find little or nothing to catch her eye or cause him to drop into a little shop.

The Richeys have produced a video explaining what’s going on north of the Courthouse these days. Here it is:

It’s part of the overall Richey push to get people involved in Bloomington city planning discussions and decisions. And, BTW, the Richeys inform us those new ugly apt. bldgs. really weren’t built atop the rubble of quaint, historic homes or anything like that. That ship sailed, the Richeys tell us, decades ago. No, those new residential structures mostly replaced eyesore parking lots and empty lots.

Do You Read Me?

Yes, I sell books. Those quaint things made of paper and ink and certain plastic coatings and so forth. They can tear, fall, get soaked, burn or a dozen other things can happen to them that’ll make them, well, junk.

But people still love them.

I love them.

I also love reading online. And even though I read an old-school book every night before I go to sleep, most of my daily reading is done on an LED screen. That’s life today.

Online Reading

Even Old Birds Do It

Long, long ago, I swore I’d never give in to digital reading. Next thing I knew, I was reading New York Times and Chicago Tribune articles online. When some big news event happened somewhere in the world, I found myself immediately going to CNN online.

And then I wasn’t buying newspapers anymore. Paper newspapers. Before long, my bookmark list of online news sites had grown to what I’d have previously considered ludicrous proportions. Look:

MG News Bookmarks

When I was reading paper and ink, I’d never in a thousand years have enough time and money to amass such a reading list. Now, it’s nothing for me to skim through all of these in a day.

Ted Striphas is an assoc. prof. at Indian University. He’s written a book called The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control. In it, he takes a look at the written word throughout history. My friends at WFHB’s Interchange had Striphas on the show last week.

Host Doug Storm picks apart the prof.’s brain in an effort to find out where all this reading business is headed. Check it out.

Funny Business

Speaking of the business of reading — and I do mean business — I caught a fascinating piece on a minister and his wife who tried to game the bestseller list and got caught at it.

Now, I’m not focusing on these characters simply because they’re a man and woman of the cloth. Too many people take a perverse pleasure in pointing out the foibles of preachers. Me, I figure priests, lamas, rabbis, imams, and all the rest are no better or worse than the rest of us. They are, after all, human beings. Who happen to believe in something I don’t. I find no reason to persecute them — that is, unless they’re trying to impose their myths upon me.

Okay, that caveat out of the way, let’s look at what Mark and Grace Driscoll did to get their book, Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life Together, on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Wait, what’s that? You say the way to do it is write a really terrific and compelling book and then hope and pray for lightning to strike? Isn’t that the way books have hit it big since the beginning of time?

Well, sorta. Today, you can buy your way onto the bestseller list.

The Driscolls contracted with an outfit called ResultSource. In exchange for the couple’s $210,000, ResultSource promised them they’d move heaven and Earth to get their title listed among the chosen few. That is, the Driscolls’ congregation’s $210,000. But that’s a matter for those who fork their dough over to them to worry about. Let’s stick with Real Marriage and the New York Times Bestseller list.

A month and a half ago, Real Marriage suddenly appeared as the number one selling non-fiction, hardcover, advice or how-to book in this holy land. It was a miracle, considering that the Driscolls had never before published anything even remotely close to a bestseller.

NYT Bestsellers 20140122

Holy JK Rowling, right?

Wrong. Say what you will about the coffeeshop scribe who became the first billionaire author in history, the astronomical sales of her books were legit.

The Driscolls’ sales were not. See, Result Source used most of the $210,000 to purchase copies of the book in thousands of people’s names, in every state of the union, using upwards of a thousand different pay methods, to goose the sales of Real Marriage.

Now, folks had been gaming the NYT bestseller lists for years by making bulk purchases of books by preachers, moralists, business writers, hacks, self-help gurus, and other snake oil salespeople. Eventually, the NYT began marking such titles with a symbol meant to convey that the free market public wasn’t completely and innocently enthralled with said books.

But racketeers like ResultSource are a new game in town. Essentially, they’re hired killers. Rather than you, the author, or your pals and family doing the dirty work, ResultSource will take the sub-ethical, quasi-moral plunge for you.

So, how did people figure out the Driscoll scam? The week after Real Marriage had hit number one, it completely disappeared from the bestseller list. That’s unnatural. That means no one — or a scant few — had bought the book on the up and up.

Real Marriage? Real bullshit is more like it.

One thought on “Hot Air

  1. Hi, Michael,

    Thanks for posting the show with Ted Striphas. I expand my own thinking a bit in this “follow-up” post at the Errant site:

    The gist: Endlessly we blather about THINGS…but are distracted from the human and natural realities around us. It was more interesting that the Arab Spring “was made possible” by Twitter accounts and cell phones. Of course, who knows if there was any “spring” to speak of or “who” really made it happen? Several items of this particular situation will escape my understanding forever. But I can understand the “function” of technology and I can be persuaded of its great usefulness.

    And so I go on in ignorance while placidly praising the march of progress.

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