Friday, October 24, 2014

[tt] WSJ: How to Learn From Market Mistakes

How to Learn From Market Mistakes; Investing in Stocks Tests Our Patience
and Flexibility. Here Are Four Pitfalls to Avoid.
by Morgan Housel. Wall Street Journal 24 Oct 2014

Morgan Housel is a columnist at the Motley Fool.

Investors tend to do dumb things when markets tumble. They often sell in a
panic, miss the inevitable recovery and line up to repeat the process at the
next pullback.

Many of those pullbacks--notably the 1907, 1929, 1987 and 2008 stock-market
crashes--have taken place in October. Recently, the S&P 500 fell 9.8% in
price from its September high through Oct. 15. That hardly is a crash, and
markets have since rebounded, but it was enough to put fear back into the
picture and tempt more bad behavior.

Here are four lessons investors should heed to avoid falling into old traps.

Changing your mind about an investment is very hard.

Minds, like water, follow the path of least resistance. Convincing yourself
to believe something that isn't true can be easier than admitting you were

Maybe you predicted that the Federal Reserve's monetary stimulus would cause
hyperinflation, that we soon would tip back into recession or that interest
rates were about to surge. I know investors who believed these ideas in
2008--and still believe them today, unwilling to admit they were wrong.

This is common in investing, says Elliot Aronson, a psychologist at the
University of California, Santa Cruz.

"When an investor invests in an idea, he will tend to ignore or play down
the importance of information which might suggest that he is wrong," he
says. "The possibility that he may be wrong is dissonant with his belief
that he is a clever, intelligent, thoughtful person."

We convince ourselves that we made the right decision by making up stories
for why we should have been right, even when we clearly weren't--claiming
the data are wrong or that our prediction was just early.

Anyone hooked on a specific style of investing--or a political party, or a
philosophy--is at risk of this bias. You can prevent it by embracing reality
and becoming an honest reader of data.

What we think is tomorrow's biggest risk rarely is.

If people are talking about a risk, they have time to prepare for it and
markets have time to reflect it in prices. That makes it less risky.

What really is risky is the stuff nobody is talking about, because that is
what nobody is prepared for.

"Everyone on Wall Street is so smart that their brilliance offsets each
other," the great investor Benjamin Graham said. "Whatever they know is
already reflected in the level of stock prices, pretty much. Consequently,
what happens in the future represents what they don't know."

Runaway inflation, a U.S. government debt default and a breakup of the
eurozone were all popular headline fears during the past five years. But
none of them happened.

Instead, the biggest risk many investors faced was getting out of the stock
market just before it rebounded--something they viewed as a safety measure.

You should be skeptical of investing around big, bold ideas. You probably
are wrong about them, and even if you are right, the market is likely
pricing in the possibility already.

"Almost all investors need their money to work for them for a long period,
so focusing on short-term predictions actually decreases their chance of
achieving their long-term goals," says William Morgan, president of Herbein
Wealth Management in Reading, Pa., which manages $330 million.

Have a long-term mind-set and let your investments run throughout the
economy's ups and downs. Markets reward patience more than brilliance.

Taking advantage of opportunities is harder than it sounds.

I held a chunk of cash in the mid-2000s earmarked for opportunistic
investing during market crashes, which was smart. I blew through it by early
2008, when the market had another 48% to fall, which wasn't.

The problem with taking advantage of current opportunities is that we have
no idea how appealing future opportunities might become.

There is a long history of pundits calling a bottom, followed by months or
years of things getting worse.

In his diary of the Great Depression, lawyer and historian Benjamin Roth
wrote in 1931 that "we seem to have touched hardly seems
possible that things could get worse." He followed up in 1933: "This was a
poor guess. Conditions in 1932 were much worse."

You can't time a bottom perfectly. Since opportunity rises with the severity
of a market crash, I have learned to be more judicious with my cash.

This means being less aggressive about buying when the market falls 10% or
20%, and having extra cash for the possibility of stocks falling more, when
opportunities are greater.

Stocks have declined by 40% or more twice in the past 15 years. I want the
ability to take advantage of more of those opportunities.

Most investing is simple, but we complicate it.

Companies earn a profit. When investors are in a good mood, they pay up for
that profit. When they are in a bad mood, they pay less. Future stock
returns will equal profit growth, plus or minus the change in investor

That really is all that is going on in the stock market. But we complicate
it, scrutinizing every market detail for evidence of what is coming next.

At their core, market forecasts are an attempt to predict future investors'
emotions--say, how happy people will be in 2024. And there is just no
reliable way to do that.

A sensible way to invest is to assume companies will earn a profit, and
assume the amount investors will be willing to pay for that profit will
fluctuate sporadically. Those emotional swings will balance out over time,
and over the long run the profits companies earned will accrue to investors'

Everything else--what stocks might do next quarter, or when the next crash
might come--can be needlessly complicating. Investors should learn to take
the simple route.
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[tt] WSJ: Underwater Drones Join Microphones to Listen for Chinese Nuclear Submarines

Underwater Drones Join Microphones to Listen for Chinese Nuclear Submarines
by Jeremy Page. Wall Street Journal 24 Oct 2014

SINGAPORE--Last November, an unusual experiment took place in the congested
waters of Singapore just a few weeks before a Chinese nuclear attack
submarine passed through the adjacent Malacca Strait.

U.S. and Singaporean researchers used an underwater drone named Starfish to
explore ways to monitor subsea activity in an experiment sponsored by the
U.S. military and Singapore's defense ministry, say people involved.

The goal of the operation, named Project Mission, was to link a Singaporean
underwater surveillance system to an American one that is designed to track
potentially hostile submarines. The trial was also part of a broader U.S.
effort to use its own underwater drones, combined with data from friendly
countries, to enhance a sub-snooping system that dates back to the early
years of the Cold War.

From the 1950s, the U.S. listened for Soviet subs entering the Atlantic and
Pacific oceans by stringing underwater microphones across the seabed around
its coast and in strategic chokepoints, such as between the U.K. and

These cable-linked "hydrophones" were part of a secret global network called
Sound Surveillance System, or Sosus. The U.S. declassified Sosus in 1991,
making it available for civilian purposes such as tracking illegal fishing
or whales.

But in recent years, the U.S. and its allies have reactivated or upgraded
elements of the system in Asia, partly in response to renewed Russian
undersea activity, but also to monitor China's expanding submarine
capabilities. "It never went away per se, and so we--if you
will--revitalized all the attributes or assets," says Adm. Jonathan
Greenert, the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations.

The U.S. is now attempting to combine those fixed seabed systems, as well as
sub-hunting ships and aircraft, with mobile networks of sensors, some
mounted on underwater drones that can be deployed by ships, planes or subs,
say officers familiar with the plans.

At the same time, those officers say, the U.S. Navy is exploring ways to tap
data from sensors used by other countries in the region, especially around
chokepoints that Chinese subs must pass to reach the Pacific and Indian

"We're very close with the Australians in this regard, very close with the
Japanese in this regard, working to a greater degree with the Koreans in
this regard, the Singaporeans," says Adm. Greenert. "The Malays, the
Indonesians, are increasing their interest and willingness."

The exact location of Sosus hydrophones in Asia remains classified.
Researchers and former submariners familiar with the system say there are
several arrays around Japan, which played a key role hunting for Soviet subs
in the Cold War, and around Australia's Christmas Island.

The problem with cable-based hydrophones is that they require regular
maintenance and shore stations in friendly countries. Fixed seabed
hydrophones can only act as a virtual trip wire, signaling that a sub is
passing at that moment. They are also most effective in relatively deep
water with little congestion.

Recent U.S. efforts have focused on developing mobile undersea surveillance
networks for congested and shallow waters like those near China's coast.

The U.S. Navy has deployed one such network--the Persistent Littoral
Undersea Surveillance, or PLUS, system--which uses seabed sensors and
unmanned vehicles that relay data via satellite. "We've deployed PLUS," says
Adm. Greenert. "We sent it out on a mission--I can't tell you where--and it
was effective."

He says that PLUS requires further testing but that the Navy is already
using some small undersea drones for anti-sub warfare.

The biggest obstacles: Most underwater drones run on batteries that last
only a few hours, and communicating with them is tough, given how slowly
data passes through water.

Both of those issues were demonstrated when the U.S. Navy deployed an
undersea drone called the Bluefin-21 in the search for missing Malaysia
Airlines flight MH370.

"You can think of underwater telecommunications as being roughly where the
Internet was 30 years ago," says Mandar Chitre, an expert in underwater
acoustics at the National University of Singapore who took part in the
November experiment.

Singapore has made significant advances in underwater acoustics in recent
years, developing a system called UNET that monitors undersea activity off
Singapore using a network of seabed sensors, undersea drones and surface
nodes that relay data over a mobile-phone network.

Singaporean waters are considered especially challenging because of varying
depth, busy shipping and the snapping shrimp--a creature whose distinctive
noise has long troubled undersea-warfare specialists.

The experiment in November was to link the Singaporean network to a U.S.
system called Seaweb, which is being developed by the Naval Postgraduate
School with funding from the Office of Naval Research. "The results were
very good," Prof. Chitre says.

A spokeswoman for Singapore's Defense Ministry confirmed that it had
co-sponsored the experiment on linking UNET to Seaweb, but didn't respond to
questions about its broader purpose or applications to anti-submarine

Public information about Seaweb shows that it aims to create a new global
network of submarine sensors from the U.S., its NATO allies and other
friendly countries.

"The idea behind Seaweb," says Rear Adm. Philip Sawyer, commander of U.S.
submarine forces in the Pacific, is "to network various nodes through the
undersea environment and be able to tap that data and bring it where you
want, whether it's Singapore or San Diego."

"To be able to watch and monitor everything, we need a networked system," he
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[tt] WSJ: In Theory, the Chaos Ball Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

In Theory, the Chaos Ball Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts
Wall Street's Wealthy 'Quants' Gather At Geeky Fundraiser for Math Museum
by Bradley Hope. Wall Street Journal 20 Oct 2014

It may be the only event on the New York social calendar where fractals are
celebrated more than fashion.

Last week, at a glittering private hall in Manhattan steps from the East
River, billionaires and socialites gathered for what one attendee called the
"geekiest" event of the season: the Chaos Ball, the fundraiser for the
National Museum of Mathematics. But it was also a night in which the nerds
celebrated their revenge, as many in the crowd were among a coterie of the
most secretive -- and successful -- money managers on Wall Street.

So-called quantitative hedge funds are the squares of the investing world,
numbers-obsessed firms that rely more on high-powered algorithms than
old-school assessments of companies and their future prospects. These firms,
known as "the quants," are also notoriously tight-lipped about their
strategies and their earnings -- even among one another.

"It's really not in their interest to share any information with each other
whatsoever," said Laetitia Garriott de Cayeux, a former partner at
Renaissance Technologies, one of the top quantitative firms. She is also a
board member at the Museum of Mathematics.

The museum, or MoMath, is one of the few things that brings the quants

James Simons, the Renaissance founder and 76-year-old former code breaker,
was among the early backers of the museum, as was John Overdeck and David
Siegel, the co-founders of the multibillion-dollar hedge fund Two Sigma
Investments LLC. Other quants in attendance represented firms such as the
D.E. Shaw Group and MQS Management LLC.

At the Chaos Ball, Mr. Simons, who is worth a reported $12.5 billion, made a
rare public appearance, a hushed reverence following in his wake as he made
his way through the crowd.

"In the room tonight are a lot of big brains" and "a lot of money," said
Arthur Steinmetz, president and chief executive of the investment management
company OppenheimerFunds Inc., in a speech midway through the evening.

To keep their big brains busy, there were numerous math-themed activities
and decorations in keeping with the museum, which sports a door handle in
the shape of the Greek letter Pi and a square-wheeled tricycle that rides
smoothly over a specially designed curved pathway.

Attendees took part in the creation of a fractal -- a phenomenon where
smaller copies of a pattern are nested within each other, similar to a fern
plant -- made up of lights attached to a black board and sat on benches that
could be unfolded from squares into triangles as the guests mingled during
the cocktail hour.

Laura Taalman, mathematician-in-residence at the museum who describes
herself on her Twitter account as "math geek and defender of the universe,"
wandered the hall giving out plastic trinkets of geometric shapes, similar
to the benches, printed on a 3-D printer.

After dinner it was revealed that elaborate centerpieces on the tables were
actually parts of an experiment about chaos theory, the theme of the night.
Chaos theory is based on the idea that small imperfections and perturbations
can have a much bigger effect over time.

Five metronomes -- pendulums that go back and forth in a regular, repetitive
motion -- were placed on a plastic platform resting on rollers and switched
on. Guests watched in disbelief as the swing of the pendulums slowly came
into sync, as if by magic, then fell out of sync again.

The evening was a stark contrast from the annual Robin Hood Foundation
Benefit held each May and considered another marquee event for Wall Street's
biggest names. Last year's Robin Hood gala, which raised money to fight
poverty in New York City, wrapped with an energetic performance by pop star
Bruno Mars and featured a surprise appearance by Sting.

At the Chaos Ball, the headliner was actor and science enthusiast Alan Alda,
who conducted an onstage discussion with his friend, Steven Strogatz, a
mathematician, about chaos theory. There were hearty chuckles about the
"Butterfly Effect," the famous theory of consequences that suggests that if
a butterfly flaps its wings in China, it could eventually cause a hurricane
in the Caribbean.

The other boldfaced names in attendance came from the worlds of physics or
mathematics, not gossip columns. There was Brian Greene, the Columbia
University string theorist, and Stephen Wolfram, CEO of Wolfram Research and
theoretical physicist. Also there: three of the seven "space tourists" who
paid tens of millions of dollars for short visits to the international space

By the most important measure, the night was a success: The event ended up
raising about $830,000 or 8.3 x 105 for the museum.
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[tt] NYT: The Scientific 7-Minute Workout

The Scientific 7-Minute Workout

By Gretchen Reynolds

Exercise science is a fine and intellectually fascinating thing. But
sometimes you just want someone to lay out guidelines for how to put
the newest fitness research into practice.

An article in the May-June issue of the American College of Sports
Medicine's Health & Fitness Journal does just that. In 12 exercises
deploying only body weight, a chair and a wall, it fulfills the
latest mandates for high-intensity effort, which essentially
combines a long run and a visit to the weight room into about seven
minutes of steady discomfort--all of it based on science.

"There's very good evidence" that high-intensity interval training
provides "many of the fitness benefits of prolonged endurance
training but in much less time," says Chris Jordan, the director of
exercise physiology at the Human Performance Institute in Orlando,
Fla., and co-author of the new article.

Work by scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and
other institutions shows, for instance, that even a few minutes of
training at an intensity approaching your maximum capacity produces
molecular changes within muscles comparable to those of several
hours of running or bike riding.

Interval training, though, requires intervals; the extremely intense
activity must be intermingled with brief periods of recovery. In the
program outlined by Mr. Jordan and his colleagues, this recovery is
provided in part by a 10-second rest between exercises. But even
more, he says, it's accomplished by alternating an exercise that
emphasizes the large muscles in the upper body with those in the
lower body. During the intermezzo, the unexercised muscles have a
moment to, metaphorically, catch their breath, which makes the order
of the exercises important.

The exercises should be performed in rapid succession, allowing 30
seconds for each, while, throughout, the intensity hovers at about
an 8 on a discomfort scale of 1 to 10, Mr. Jordan says. Those seven
minutes should be, in a word, unpleasant. The upside is, after seven
minutes, you're done.
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[tt] NYT: Hemispheres in Space

Hemispheres in Space



A. Maps are made with the convention that Earth's north and south
are mirrored on the other planets in the solar system. They are
orbiting around the sun in the same plane as Earth, called the plane
of the ecliptic.

As the planets rotate, the ends of their rotational axes are their
north and south poles, though some of the planets have a rotational
axis that is much more severely tilted than Earth's.

Like modern terrestrial maps, the maps of bodies in space are
oriented with north on top. This somewhat arbitrary choice was
almost certainly made because of Earth's magnetic North Pole and
because of sailors' age-old reliance on the North Star for
navigation in the Northern Hemisphere.

On other planets, however, magnetic fields are weak or nonexistent.

Probably because humankind tends to see itself as being the center
of the universe, when scientists started to map the solar system
beyond the home planet, the same north/south divisions were kept,
with the dividing line being the Earth's equatorial axis. Eventually
the definitions were extended to the hemispheres of the galaxy and
the hemispheres of the universe itself.
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Seeking Stars, Finding Creationism

by George Johnson

Galileo knew he would have the Church to contend with after he aimed
his telescope at the skies over Padua and found mountains on the
moon and more moons orbiting Jupiter--and saw that the Milky Way
was made from "congeries of innumerable stars." The old order was
overturned, and dogma began to give way to science.

But there is still far to go. Congeries of stars have given way to
congeries of galaxies, but astronomy--one of the grandest
achievements of the human race--is still fending off charges of
blasphemy. These days the opposition comes not from the Vatican,
which operates its own observatory, but from a people with very
different religious beliefs.

This month a group of Native Hawaiians, playing drums and chanting,
blocked the road to a construction site near the top of Mauna Kea
and stopped the groundbreaking ceremony for the Thirty Meter
Telescope, often called T.M.T. Larger than any now on earth, it is
designed to see all the way back to the first glimmers of starlight
--a triumph in astronomy's quest to understand the origin of

But for the protesters, dressed in ceremonial robes and carrying
palm fronds, T.M.T. has a different meaning: "too many telescopes."
For them the mountain is a sacred place where the Sky Father and the
Earth Mother coupled and gave birth to the Hawaiian people.

They don't all mean that metaphorically. They consider the telescope
--it will be the 14th on Mauna Kea--the latest insult to their
gods. Push them too far, the demonstrators warned, and Mauna Kea, a
volcano, will erupt in revenge.

It can be difficult to tell how motivated such protests are by
spiritual outrage and how much by politics. Opposition to the Mauna
Kea observatories, which are run by scientists from 11 countries,
has been going on for years and is tied inseparably with lingering
hostility over colonization and the United States' annexation of
Hawaii in the 19th century. The new telescope is a pawn in a long,
losing game.

Adding more complications, the indigenous protesters were allied
with environmental activists denouncing the encroachment of what
they call "the international astronomy industry," as though there
were great profits to be made from studying black holes and
measuring redshifts.

"Mauna Kea is a Temple or House of Worship," says a statement on the
website of Kahea, the Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance. "Therefore,
the laws of man do not dictate its sanctity, the laws of Heaven do."

Whether the target is a scientific installation or a ski area in the
West, some environmentalists have learned that a few traditionally
dressed natives calling for the return of sacred lands can draw more
attention than arguments over endangered species and fragile
ecosystems. In this marriage of convenience, there seems to be
little worry that the tactics might undermine the credibility of
what may be perfectly sound scientific arguments about the effects
of a mammoth construction project on vulnerable mountain terrain.
The state's Board of Land and Natural Resources agreed with
astronomers that the trade-off is worthwhile, and plans are

For many this was a familiar situation. A very similar drama
unfolded in the 1990s on Mount Graham in Arizona, where the
construction of a complex of observatories (one is the Vatican's)
was fought by a group of Native Americans swearing allegiance to
different gods, while the Sierra Club agonized over the fate of the
Mount Graham red squirrel.

The astronomers prevailed, as they have so far on Mauna Kea. But
both episodes are reminders that it is not just religious
fundamentalists who are still waging skirmishes against science.

While biblical creationists opposing the teaching of evolution have
been turned back in case after case, American Indian tribes have
succeeded in using their own religious beliefs and a federal law
called the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to
empty archaeological museums of ancestral bones--including ones so
ancient that they have no demonstrable connection to the tribe
demanding their reburial. The most radical among them refuse to bow
to a science they don't consider their own. A few even share a
disbelief in evolution, professing to take literally old myths in
which the first people crawled out of a hole in the ground.

In this turn back toward the dark ages, it is not just skeletal
remains that are being surrendered. Under the federal law, many
ceremonial artifacts are also up for grabs. While some
archaeologists lament the loss of scientific information, Indian
creationism is tolerated out of a sense of guilt over past
wrongdoings. Again the spiritual is inseparable from the political.

Dismayed by all of this, I got in touch with Steve Lekson, a
professor of anthropology and curator of archaeology at the
University of Colorado Museum of Natural History. Dr. Lekson is
known as an outspoken iconoclast, and I was expecting to hear his

"There's no question we are losing information," he said. But he had
become persuaded that complying with the artifacts law was the right
thing to do.

"It's bad for science, but good (I suppose) for the Native American
groups involved," he wrote in an email. "Given that the U.S.A. was
founded on two great sins--genocide of Native Americans and
slavery of Africans--I think science can afford this act of
contrition and reparation."

But how is letting Indian creationism interfere with scientific
research any different from Christian creationism interfering with
public education--something that he would surely resist?

Logically they are the same, Dr. Lekson agreed. But we owed the
Indians. "I'm given to understand that the double standard rankles,"
he said.

I left the conversation grateful that in another part of the world,
astronomers are standing their ground. Chad Kalepa Baybayan, a
Native Hawaiian, expressed his support for their efforts last year
in an essay for a local newspaper.

"Our ancestors," he wrote, "sought knowledge from their environment,
including the stars, to guide them and to give them a greater
understanding of the universe that surrounded them. The science of
astronomy helps us to advance human knowledge to the benefit of the

Its impact has been positive," he continued, "introducing the young
to the process of modern exploration and discovery, a process
consistent with past traditional practices."

Denying that, he believed, was "the highest level of desecration."

Twitter: @byGeorgeJohnson
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[tt] Economist: The future of the book

The future of the book|newe|13-10-2014|NA


In which something old and powerful is encountered in a vault

FINGERS stroke vellum; the calfskin pages are smooth, like paper,
but richer, almost oily. The black print is crisp, and every Latin
sentence starts with a lush red letter. One of the book's early
owners has drawn a hand and index finger which points, like an
arrow, to passages worth remembering.

In 44BC Cicero, the Roman Republic's great orator, wrote a book for
his son Marcus called de Officiis ("On Duties"). It told him how to
live a moral life, how to balance virtue with self-interest, how to
have an impact. Not all his words were new. De Officiis draws on the
views of various Greek philosophers whose works Cicero could consult
in his library, most of which have since been lost. Cicero's,
though, remain. De Officiis was read and studied throughout the rise
of the Roman Empire and survived the subsequent fall. It shaped the
thought of Renaissance thinkers like Erasmus; centuries later still
it inspired Voltaire. "No one will ever write anything more wise,"
he said.

The book's words have not changed; their vessel, though, has gone
through relentless reincarnation and metamorphosis. Cicero probably
dictated de Officiis to his freed slave, Tiro, who copied it down on
a papyrus scroll from which other copies were made in turn. Within a
few centuries some versions were transferred from scrolls into bound
books, or codices. A thousand years later monks meticulously made
copies by hand, averaging only a few pages a day. Then, in the 15th
century, de Officiis was copied by a machine. The lush edition in
your correspondent's hands--delightfully, and surprisingly, no
gloves are needed to handle it--is one of the very first such
copies. It was printed in Mainz, Germany, on a printing press owned
by Johann Fust, an early partner of Johannes Gutenberg, the pioneer
of European printing. It is dated 1466.

Some 500 years after it was printed, this beautiful volume sits in
the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, its home since
1916. Few physical volumes survive five centuries. This one should
last several more. The vault that holds it and tens of thousands of
other volumes, built in 1951, was originally meant to double as a
nuclear-bomb shelter.

Although this copy of de Officiis may be sequestered, the book
itself is freer than ever. In its printed forms it has been a
hardback and, more recently, a paperback, published in all sorts of
editions--as a one off, a component of uniform library editions, a
classic pitched at an affordable price, a scholarly, annotated text
that only universities buy. And now it is available in all sorts of
non-printed forms, too. You can read it free online or download it
as an e-book in English, Latin and any number of other tongues.

Many are worried about what such technology means for books, with
big bookshops closing, new devices spreading, novice authors
flooding the market and an online behemoth known as Amazon growing
ever more powerful. Their anxieties cannot simply be written off as
predictable technophobia. The digital transition may well change the
way books are written, sold and read more than any development in
their history, and that will not be to everyone's advantage.
Veterans and revolutionaries alike may go bust; Gutenberg died
almost penniless, having lost control of his press to Fust and other

But to see technology purely as a threat to books risks missing a
key point. Books are not just "tree flakes encased in dead cow", as
a scholar once wryly put it. They are a technology in their own
right, one developed and used for the refinement and advancement of
thought. And this technology is a powerful, long-lived and adaptable

Books like de Officiis have not merely weathered history; they have
helped shape it. The ability they offer to preserve, transmit and
develop ideas was taken to another level by Gutenberg and his
colleagues. Being able to study printed material at the same time as
others studied it and to exchange ideas about it sparked the
Reformation; it was central to the Enlightenment and the rise of
science. No army has accomplished more than printed textbooks have;
no prince or priest has mattered as much as "On the Origin of
Species"; no coercion has changed the hearts and minds of men and
women as much as the first folio of Shakespeare's plays.

Books read in electronic form will boast the same power and some new
ones to boot. The printed book is an excellent means of channelling
information from writer to reader; the e-book can send information
back as well. Teachers will be able to learn of a pupil's progress
and questions; publishers will be able to see which books are gulped
down, which sipped slowly. Already readers can see what other
readers have thought worthy of note, and seek out like-minded people
for further discussion of what they have read. The private joys of
the book will remain; new public pleasures are there to be added.

What is the future of the book? It is much brighter than people


In which deaths foretold do not unfold

ALMOST as constant as the appeal of the book has been the worry that
that appeal is about to come to an end. The rise of digital
technology--and especially Amazon, a bookshop unlike any seen
before--underlined those fears. In the past decade people have been
falling over themselves to predict the death of books, of
publishers, of authors and of bookshops, even of reading itself. Of
all those believed at risk, only the bookshops have actually
suffered serious damage.

Historically books were a luxury item. Having become cheap enough
for the masses in the 20th century, in the 21st century digital
technology and global markets have made them more accessible still.
In 2013 around 1.4m International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) were
issued, according to Bowker, a research firm, up from around 8,100
in 1960. Those figures do not capture the many e-books that are
being self-published without an ISBN.

Many of those self-published books are ones in which traditional
publishers would have had no interest, but which almost-free
distribution makes worthwhile: do you feel like checking out some
Amish fiction? The size of the text, as well as the size of the
niche, becomes less of an issue, too; short stories and novellas are
making a comeback. "Before there used to be too-big-to-carry and
too-short-to-print," says Michael Tamblyn, the boss of Kobo, an
e-reading company. "Now all those barriers are gone."

Even the most gloomy predictors of the book's demise have softened
their forecasts. Nicholas Carr, whose book "The Shallows" predicted
in 2011 that the internet would leave its ever-more-eager users dumb
and distracted, admits people have hung onto their books
unexpectedly, because they crave immersive experiences. Books may
face more competition for audiences' time, rather as the radio had
to rethink what it could do best when films and television came
along; the habit of reading for pleasure has fallen slightly in the
past few years. But it has not dropped off steeply, as many
predicted. The length and ambition of a bestseller such as Donna
Tartt's "The Goldfinch"--864 pages in paperback--shows that people
still tackle big books.

And they are willing to cart them around, too. The much ballyhooed
decline of the physical book has been far from fatal. "I thought
everything was going to change so much more quickly and so much more
radically," says Ellie Hirschhorn, chief digital officer at Simon &
Schuster, a big publisher, who had predicted in 2010 that half of
all book sales would be e-books by 2013. Instead, last year e-books
accounted for around 30% of consumer book sales (not including
professional and educational books) in America, the largest book
market in the world and the country where e-books took off most
quickly. In Germany, the world's third-largest, e-books were around
5% of consumer book sales last year, according to
PricewaterhouseCoopers, a consultancy. The growth rate of e-books
has recently slowed in many markets, including America and Britain.
Publishers now expect most of their sales to remain in print books
for decades to come--some say for ever.

There are a number of reasons. One is that, as Russell Grandinetti,
who oversees Amazon's Kindle business, puts it, the print book is "a
really competitive technology": it is portable, hard to break, has
high-resolution pages and a "long battery life". Technology
companies that are used to consumers flocking to snazzy features and
updates have found it surprisingly challenging to compete with a
format of such simplicity, and consumers are uninterested in their
attempts to do so. All most want is the ability to change font size,
which is attractive to older eyes. Experiments with reinventing the
presentation of books--by embedding sound and video inside e-books,
for example--have fallen flat. Sales of e-readers, the most popular
of which is the Kindle, are in decline. "In a few years' time," a
recent report by Enders Analysis, a research firm, predicts, "we
will look back at e-readers and remember them as one of the
shortest-lived of all consumer media devices."

You do not need a dedicated e-reader to read an electronic book. The
multipurpose tablet devices which are replacing e-readers let you
read books and--crucially--buy them whenever you like. Some forms of
book benefit a lot. Heavy readers of genre fiction--romance,
thrillers and science fiction--were early converts to the cheaper,
more portable alternative. Other sorts of book have remained more
stubbornly in print form, for various reasons. Physical books make
better gifts; many people still want bookshelves in their homes.
Parents who feel that their children are spending too much time with
screens go for printed books as an alternative, which means a new
generation is growing up in contact with print.

Perhaps more unexpected than the flourishing of the book is the
health of some publishers. When the music and newspaper industries
were ravaged by the internet over a decade ago people feared the
same fate would befall publishing. "I thought I would say to people,
'I'm what used to be called a book publisher'," says Dominique
Raccah, the boss of Sourcebooks, an independent publisher. But the
volume of book sales has stayed steady, and publishers are still,
for the most part, the people producing the books that sell.
Revenues are down slightly because e-books are a significant part of
the market and their prices are lower; but costs have fallen, and
thus profits are still there to be made.

Publishers used to guess how many books to print and ship and then
pay for unsold copies to be returned to them--sometimes as much as
40% of the print run. Print-on-demand systems--digital technology at
the service of physical books--reduce risks by enabling publishers
to print smaller batches and then fire off more copies quickly if a
book sells well. This has proved especially helpful for smaller
publishers, such as university presses, says John Ingram of Ingram
Content Group, a book distributor.

Analogies with the music and newspaper businesses have proved
flawed. The music business collapsed in part because the bundle it
was peddling fell apart: people wanted the right to buy one song,
not the whole album. Books are not so easily picked apart. The music
business also suffered because piracy was so easy: anyone who buys a
CD can extract the music it contains in digital format in seconds,
and can then share it online. Creating a digital file from a printed
book by scanning each page, by contrast, is a nightmare. The fate of
newspapers has been driven by the decline of advertising--a business
publishers (which sell books to readers, not readers to advertisers)
were never in.

Where the publishers do their selling, though, is changing a lot.
The biggest change of the past decade is the decline of physical
bookshops, which is good neither for publishers nor the booksellers
whose doors have closed. Borders, a chain of American book shops,
and Weltbild, a German one, have gone under. The change affects
which books have a chance of breaking out: bestsellers flourish, but
midlist books that might have been discovered while browsing in a
bookstore are worse off, because consumers cannot easily stumble
upon them while shopping on the internet. To continue to bring in
customers bookshops have changed their look, and increased the space
they assign to nonbook products, like stationery, cards and other
gifts. "A bookstore is defending a very specific lifestyle, where
you want to take time out of your day and write or think or read,"
says Sarah McNally, owner of a bustling independent bookshop in

There have been two casts of villain. First came the large chain
stores in the 1980s that wounded independent booksellers and put
many out of business. More recently Amazon, an online retailer that
started with books in 1999 and now claims to sell "everything", has
ensured an ongoing wave of closures. Amazon is believed to control
nearly half of total book sales and around two-thirds of e-book
sales in America. In Britain its grip on the e-book market is even
stronger. Booksellers and publishers see Amazon as similar to the
enormous polar bear in the television show "Lost", trampling through
the tropical rainforest devouring victims at random.

Amazon is no devotee of literature. It sees books as a "gateway"
commodity it can use to attract customers. It has squeezed
publishers and muscled out other booksellers by discounting books
and selling some below cost. Recently Amazon has been waging a very
public, months-long war with Hachette, a large publisher, in which
it has in the eyes of many abused the power that its market
dominance provides in an attempt to squeeze Hachette's profits and
drive prices even lower. Already the average amount American
consumers say they paid for a book (averaging both print and
e-books) has declined around 40% since 2009, from $15.45 in 2009 to
$9.31 last year, according to Nielsen, a research firm.

The book industry rightly feels torn between resenting Amazon for
its dominance and its mercenary attitude towards books, while
relying on the company for business and appreciating that it has
made books more accessible to buyers. "They really are evil
bastards," Anthony Horowitz, an English novelist, has said about
Amazon. "I loathe them. I fear them. And I use them all the time
because they're wonderful." And it is not opened the doors for a
hurried rush towards self publishing.


In which new sorts of author meet new sorts of reader

BEFORE the 19th century it was common for writers to publish
themselves, a practice that carried no particular stigma, but
imposed a significant burden of inconvenience on seller and buyer
alike. One author in Paris had to direct buyers to his home on
"Mazarine Street...above the Café de Montpellier, on the second
floor using the staircase on the right, at the far end of the
alley". As publishing became a mass-market business in subsequent
centuries, the self-published came to be seen as kooks or egotists,
and treated as marginal in either case. Readers went to bookshops,
bookshops bought from publishers and that was the way it was.
Bookshops mostly refused to stock them.

Today self publishing has made a comeback. The internet enables
people to sell their e-books and print books without the hassle of
directing people to their homes or trying to get bookstores to
display them. It also offers them success on a scale never before

At last spring's London Book Fair there was a booth rented by eight
authors who said that, between them, they had sold a staggering 16m
books and spent weeks on the New York Times bestseller list--all
without the help of a traditional publisher. They are used to having
their claims dismissed; Bella Andre, a self-published romance writer
with an economics degree from Stanford, got so irked when a
publisher challenged her heady sales figures that she took a picture
of a bank statement and sent it to him. "No one is counting our
books in any survey that comes out in the media," sighed Barbara
Freethy, another romance writer. She says that, as of September, she
has sold over 4.8m books.

To write a book costs nothing but time. To hire an editor, cover
designer, formatter and publicist can, if you think them necessary,
be done for $2,000 or less. Amazon will publish and sell the
resultant e-book to any of its 250m customers who may be interested;
smaller sites will do the same, and many offer print-on-demand
sales, too. Authors who self publish an e-book through Amazon get up
to 70% of net sales, as opposed to the 25% they might get on an
e-book that went through a publisher.

Last year Amazon's sales of self-published books were around $450m,
according to one estimate; a former Amazon executive thinks the
number is higher. In America about a quarter of the books that got
an ISBN in 2012 were self-published, according to Bowker--almost
400,000 titles. In 2013 self-published books accounted for one out
of every five e-books purchased in Britain, according to Nielsen.

"Wool" started off as a short story online about a subterranean city
called the Silo. Reader enthusiasm and feedback encouraged its
author, Hugh Howey, to extend it into a novel. More enthusiasm
followed. Simon & Schuster, a big publisher, did an unusual deal to
license rights to the print book, while Mr Howey continued to sell
the e-book off his own bat. It became a bestseller and may become a
film. The film of "Fifty Shades of Grey", the poster-child for
online fiction, hits cinemas next year. Like "Wool", E.L. James's
"Fifty Shades..." started off online, and some of its e-book success
has been attributed to the fact that reading erotica is more
discreetly done on a tablet. But since being acquired by Random
House it has done remarkably well in its printed form, too. All
told, it and its two sequels have chalked up sales of over 100m

How to self publish a book

Like Ms James, most writers still sign with publishers when they
have the chance, because print books remain such a sizeable chunk of
the market. But the self-publishing boom is changing how those
publishers work. Self-published authors attract readers by selling
their books for just a few dollars and are aggressive about offering
promotions to boost sales. This puts pressure on publishers'
prices--especially in genre fiction, where self publishing is most
powerful. In the past five years the revenues of Harlequin, a
publisher of romantic fiction, have dropped by around $100m; in May
it was purchased by HarperCollins.

As well as changing what publishers can charge for some types of
book, self publishing also changes how they go about finding them.
Publishers hoping to spot the next hot thing have started to scour
online writing sites, such as Wattpad, where people receive feedback
on their work from other users. Any interest they show is normally
warmly appreciated. In the past 12 months the average earnings for
self-published authors have probably been around $1,180, reckons
Mark Coker, the boss of Smashwords, a self-publishing platform, with
most of them getting less than that. Such authors find themselves
highly dependent on Amazon's recommendation system and websites that
offer promotions to boost their sales; most readers still gravitate
to books that have been professionally written, edited and reviewed.

But the advantages of being "properly published"--editors,
promotion, and the like--should not be oversold. "We have to be
careful not to compare the reality of self publishing with the ideal
of legacy publishing," says Barry Eisler, a thriller writer. In 2011
he walked away from a publisher's advance of $500,000 in favour of
the self-publishing route; he says the decision paid off well. Susan
Orlean, an author and a staff writer at the New Yorker, considered
something similar for a recent book. "In a million years I would
have never thought of that before," she says. She thinks the day
will come when publishers may have to start unbundling their
services. "The mere fact that publishers make hardcover books won't
be a powerful enough argument. They will have to reimagine their
role." Publishers could start offering "light" versions of their
services, such as print-only distribution, or editing, and not
taking a cut of the whole pie.

Publishers realise that they have to change. "Publishers will only
be relevant if they can give authors evidence that they can connect
their works to more readers than anybody else," admits Markus Dohle,
who runs Penguin Random House, the world's largest consumer-book

Such connection is crucial, because the same technology that is
making it easier for people to publish their own books is also
making it easier for them to explore new ways of finding, sharing,
discussing and indeed emulating the books of others. (Ms James's
"Fifty Shades of Grey" started off as fan-fiction based on the
characters of Stephenie Meyer's bestselling "Twilight" books.) From
online reviews to the world's numerous literary festivals to all
sorts of social media, writers are ever more aware of and available
to their audiences. Ms Orlean says she was used to "writing into the
void", but now posts regularly about what she is working on. For her
and others the contact seems like an opportunity. Others find it
irksome. Most, probably, see it as a bit of both. But it is not
going away. And it is not entirely new.

In Cicero's day authors ready to launch their newest work would
gather their friends at home or in a public hall for a spirited
recitatio, or reading. Audiences would cry out when they liked a
particular passage. Nervous authors enlisted their friends to lend
support, and sometimes even filled seats with hired "clappers". They
were keenly aware of the importance of networking to get influential
acquaintances to recommend their works to others. The creation of
books started off as something both personal and social; the
connection embodied in that dual nature is at the heart of what
makes books so good at refining and advancing thought. It was just
that the practicalities of publishing in the printing-press age made
the personal connections a bit harder to see.


In which standards are always in steep decline, and life gets ever

THOSE whose tastes do not run to the dystopic "Wool" or the
embondaged "Fifty Shades...", who fear that nothing good can come of
readers asking authors anything on Reddit and that Flaubert was
well-served by his lack of Facebook friends, will find a kindred
spirit in Niccoló Perotti. In 1471 the humanist scholar complained
to a friend, "Now that anyone is free to print whatever they wish,
they often disregard that which is best and instead write, merely
for the sake of entertainment, what would be best forgotten, or
better still, be erased from all books." His worries were echoed for
centuries. "If everyone writes, who will read?" asked Christoph
Martin Wieland, an 18th-century German writer.

As new means of production, new means of distribution and new
audiences have grown up hand in hand throughout the modern history
of the book, they have always been looked at askance by
representatives of the old order. This may be why novelties have
often been slow to take over. Scrolls continued to be used for
hundreds of years after the codex was developed. Early printed books
tried to diminish the shock of the new by looking like handwritten
manuscripts, rather as e-books have, to date, aped print.

But as printers grew in ambition they experimented with ways to make
new sorts of "book" that could do things the old ones could not. The
ability to mass produce short pamphlets easily and cheaply led to
the creation of Flugschriften, or "flying writings", such as those
penned by Martin Luther; these pamphlets were purchased by people
who had never been able to afford a book. Printers gradually pushed
into other new genres with no history: almanacs that would forecast
weather patterns, chapbooks containing folk tales.

In the 19th century stereotyping, which allowed for whole sheets to
be set at once, gave publishers the opportunity to reach new
populations of readers through magazines and newspapers and also to
expand the world of book-buyers. Their "Yellowbacks" (in Britain)
and dime novels (in America) started off as affordable reprints of
older books, not least because that meant not having to pay authors.
But in time the publishers came to experiment with new types of
content that reflected readers' interests and demography, such as
Westerns and guides to practical knowledge. A similar pattern arose
with the introduction of affordable and portable paperbacks in the
middle of the 20th century.

Experiments with form have been complemented by experiments with
business models. Publishers in the 17th and 18th centuries often
sold books by "subscription", which meant that consumers would agree
in advance to buy a book after seeing a prospectus. It acted as a
market test. If not enough people were interested, the project could
be dropped.

In the 18th century another new model arose in Britain, tailored to
the needs of a literate class that wanted to read more than it
wanted to buy: "circulating libraries" sold annual memberships that
allowed readers to always have a book on the go. The most powerful
of them, Mudie's, was the Amazon of its day in terms of market
power, says Leah Price, a professor of English at Harvard
University. It would often buy up as much as half of a book's print
run for its network of borrowers; if Mr Mudie chose not to stock an
author's book, it could become an immediate dud. The circulating
libraries' business model encouraged publishers to put out books in
three volumes, so three people could be reading one book at once;
novelists would write to the form, fleshing out their prose to fill
the "triple-decker" format. The development of magazine and
newspaper serialisation further encouraged some novelists towards
length, as well as setting up a distinctive rhythm of cliffhangers
at the end of each instalment.

People tend to think of new genres as inferior to those that
preceded them. Novels were particularly popular among circulating
libraries' patrons, much to the chagrin of the English poet Samuel
Taylor Coleridge, who harrumphed that he "dare not compliment their
pass-time, or rather kill-time, with the name of reading". But
history has been kinder to Walter Scott's triple-deckers and the
serialised doorstops of Alexandre Dumas, as it has to self-published
oddities such as Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" or Marcel Proust's
"Swann's Way". Publishing technologies have replaced each other;
business models have come and gone. But the various forms of book
that have been encouraged along the way have almost all, like the
texts of the greatest themselves, persisted.


In which ideas from the past move on into the future

OF THE various ways in which technology is expanding what a book can
be, one of the most successful so far has been to add to books
something that children have enjoyed for ever, and that most people
required until the 20th century: another person to do the reading.
The cost of recording audiobooks has fallen from around $25,000 in
the late 1990s to around $2,000-3,000 today, says Donald Katz of
Audible, an audiobook firm owned by Amazon. Books that lend
themselves to performance or seek to inculcate self-improvement do
particularly well as readings; commuting provides a perfect time for
partaking of them. Audible, which is headquartered in New Jersey,
says it is the largest employer of actors in the New York area. They
do their spirited recordings from texts read off iPad screens--which
they prop up on piles of books.

Information technology could provide new ways of getting words from
the page to the brain, as well as old ones. Spritz is an application
which beams words to a reader one at a time. Like a treadmill,
readers can set their own speed and read more quickly, because their
eyes can stay in one place instead of scanning a page. Its most
immediate application is to allow longish texts to be read on
smallish screens, such as those of watches. However Frank Waldman,
Spritz's boss, thinks people will consume whole books this way, as
well as poetry, allowing poets to set their poem's cadence for
readers. (You can use spritz to read this chapter »)

The syncopated spritzing of sonnets and sestinas may or may not turn
out to be a big hit; but new sorts of book that use the capabilities
of technology for more than just recreating pages are, in time, a
sure thing. And so is the decline, even possibly the demise, of some
old sorts of book. Matt MacInnis of Inkling, an e-book company, says
that the key question is "What are the things books used to do for
us that software will now do for us?" Presenting people with
procedural information they need in order to take on a simple task
or fulfil a well-stated goal is one of those things. Books that
simply tell people how to fix their Toyota, how to cook tarte tatin
or how to find a place to stay in Tokyo would seem to have a limited
future unless they can become objects that meet aspirational, not
just informational, needs. On the other hand, books which actually
teach, rather than simply inform, could have a very bright future,
their pedagogy enriched by embedded media and software that adapts
them to the user's pace and needs.

And if publishers find that some sorts of book no longer make money,
they will be able to do a better job selling the ones that do thanks
to the far greater amounts of data that can be gathered when books
are sold on the internet or read in electronic form. HarperCollins,
for example, has found that when it discounts backlist books, around
10% of consumers buy another title from that author. "That's
information we never had before in the print world," says Brian
Murray, the boss of HarperCollins. Another big publisher is
experimenting with "dynamic pricing" on around half of its e-books.

Data can also help decide what sort of content to acquire,
particularly in the fields of academic, business and science
publishing. Safari Books Online, a sort of database for book content
owned by O'Reilly Media, uses data about subscribers' reading habits
to improve its offerings in this way. And Amazon has a trove of data
about how people read, including how much time they spend on each
page and when they abandon books. As yet, publishers do not have
much access to these data; Amazon keeps them to itself. If or when
publishers gain more, and start to think about them more deeply,
data may be one of the aspects of the electronic world that change
their business most.

This may not be to the advantage of authors seeking to make a living
at their trade. One of the reasons dud books get published is that
no one is quite sure what will sell. Publishers spread their bets on
the basis of instinct, taste, friendship, hunches and
stubbornness--for all of which a more data-rich world has less room.
While there will be more books, there may be fewer people who can
make a full living as writers and publishers, says Mike Shatzkin, an
industry analyst.

This too could in part be seen as a return to previous eras, when
people did not expect to earn a living by writing books, but used
books as a means to advance their career or as a creative outlet. It
is clear that most self-published authors are not doing it for the
money they can reasonably expect to get--they are doing it to leave
a mark, if only a digital one. Those who make a living too may
increasingly be the ones who become marketable personalities online,
on the festival circuit and elsewhere, rather than being just faded
pictures on the inside back cover.

And writers who are not also performers may find that new
opportunities arise. People with an idea for a book they cannot
afford to take the time to write no longer have to go to a
publisher. They can offer something like old-fashioned subscriptions
to prospective readers, either on generalist crowdfunding sites,
such as Indiegogo, or through specialist firms such as Pubslush and
Unbound. Many will not get funded; some will succeed beyond their
dreams. In February a young woman raised $380,000 through
Kickstarter for "Hello Ruby", a children's book that teaches
programming skills. Some will go on to greatness. Unbound, founded
in 2011, has already helped produce a novel, Paul Kings north's "The
Wake", which was long listed for the 2014 Man Booker prize in

Such funding is just another way in which the functions previously
all wrapped up in publishing are being unbundled, and in which books
are becoming more social. Those who use e-reading devices can see
which passages were highlighted by other users, and there is talk of
expanding offerings so people can discuss books in the margin at the
same time. Bob Stein of the Institute for the Future of the Book
predicts that some e-books will start to be sold with a "gloss" of
commentary from their authors or other well-known critics, sort of
like the director's cut version of films.

There will be new experiments in storytelling, new genres born of
the electronic age, and new authors who never would have been
discovered in a print-only world. But there will also go on being
lots of books in print--many of which may be more pleasant to hold,
feel and own than ever before. In the face of the e-book there is
"an imperative now to make the entire physical package itself
special", says Scott Moyers, an editor at Penguin Press. At the
extreme is Arion Press, which sells sumptuous copies of classics
that have been printed on letterpresses. Its two-volume Don Quixote
with goatskin binding and lush illustrations sets readers back a bit
more than $4,000.

Books will evolve online and off, and the definition of what counts
as one will expand; the sense of the book as a fundamental channel
of culture, flowing from past to future, will endure. People may no
longer try to pass on wisdom to their sons and daughters through
slave-written scrolls, as Cicero did in de Officiis, or even in
print. It may even be that Voltaire was right, and that none of them
will ever write anything more wise than what was set down 2,000
years ago. But it will not be for want effort, or of opportunity, or
of an audience of future readers ready to seek out wisdom in the
books that they leave behind.

Selected bibliography

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Cicero, Marcus Tullius de Officiis Mainz: Johann Fust and Peter
Schoeffer, 1466

Coover, Robert "The End of Books", The New York Times, June 21st

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