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About Brian

Brian Howard is Editor-In-Chief of Book Business magazine and Group Digital Editor for the Publishing Business Group, where he covers with great interest the evolution of the book publishing industry, paying special attention to the intersection of publishing and consumer technology. An award-winning journalist, he’s a former Editor in Chief of the Philadelphia City Paper and Grid and Cowbell magazines.

His writing has appeared in consumer outlets such as the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine’s The Philly Post, Flying Kite, The Courier-Post, Magnet, and Orlando Weekly, and business publications including Target Marketing, Inside Direct Mail and Teleread.

After heading off to Penn State to pursue a chemical engineering degree, Brian transferred into the English department at La Salle University. Some 20 years ago he stumbled into the offices of the student newspaper, The Collegian. He has been on deadline ever since.


The Futurists

Publishing Pioneers
Publishers Boost Discoverability with BookBub
Oct 23, 2014

Discoverability may seem like an overworked buzzword, but its importance to publishers has never been greater. As readers shift from...

The Learning Curve

Ellen Harvey
A Question of Price in the Amazon-Hachette Dispute
Oct 22, 2014

Last Friday Michael Tamblyn, president and COO of ereading platform Kobo, took to Twitter with a 32-tweet manifesto on the...

Joe Wikert's Digital Content Strategies

Joe Wikert
The Marketing Tool Every Publisher Undervalues
Oct 20, 2014

Why are publishers so scared of free and sample content? Sure, most publishers offer at least one way to test...

Brian Jud's Beyond the Bookstore

Brian Jud
11 Ways to Maximize Your ROI – Return On Ideas
Oct 17, 2014

There are two kinds of innovation. One is in value creation and the other is in value capture. Many businesses...

Hot Topic

Thinkers on the Leading Edge
Publishers Can Boost Discoverability with Newly Released Web Domains
Sep 12, 2014

A slew of new web domains are dramatically changing the face of the Internet by providing more tailored domains beyond...

Leading Thoughts

Forward-Thinking Industry Professionals
Why Book Publishers Should Pay Attention to the Developing World
Jul 30, 2014

Book sales in the U.S. and Europe have been stagnant for years. While publishers design creative campaigns to turn Twitter...

Literally Speaking

The Stories Behind the Stories We Publish

Lynn Rosen
A Vending Machine That Delivers Literature
Dec 26, 2013

In a trendy coffee shop called Elixr, on a side street off of Philadelphia’s toney Rittenhouse Square, there is funky...

Amazon Reviews and The Wisdom of the Mob


It’s official. The old trope “There’s no such thing as bad press” can be retired. For good.

Witness the campaign against Randall Sullivan’s Michael Jackson bio Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson. As reported in The New York Times, Sullivan’s book focuses on the superstar’s last years and, despite being characterized as a generally sympathetic look at Jackson, has come under siege by a group of fans who take issue with some of the book’s statements. And so they launched a flotilla of mostly anonymous one-star reviews seemingly aimed at not just discrediting the book, but killing it.

As the barriers to publication and mass media continue to dissolve, and the line between who is and is not a journalist is further blurred, the wisdom of the crowd can quickly turn into vigilante justice. Yes, the days of “just spell my name right” are gone.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had recently with the head of a university journalism department about the growing popularity of the journalism major—this despite the dire forecasts for the traditional bastions of the profession. It seems that many are seeing journalism as a good foundation—in the same way previous generations viewed an English degree—one that prepares them in a general way for the world, a world which practically bestows on each of us multiple outlets to report and broadcast our lives. It’s refreshing, in a way, to think that tomorrow’s Tweeters, Tumblrs, Pinners, Stumblers and commenters might emerge from school trained in journalistic ethics, libel law and the like. With great power, etc., etc.

But what of the platforms that have found themselves in one way or another outlets for expressions of journalism—reporting, analysis, criticism or otherwise? What editorial obligations do the Amazons, Googles and Apples of the world—organizations that through product and app reviews, news aggregation, self publishing and the like have become huge repositories of original content—to ensure that their platforms are used ethically? Sort of hardwired into most (ethical) media outlets is the idea that you're responsible—literally and spiritually—for the content you create and, now, the discourse it inspires. I wonder if non-traditional media feel the same way.

I don’t know if I agree with Sullivan’s assertion that the negative review campaign against him is “suppression of free speech in the name of free speech,” but I don’t know that I disagree with it either. I do know that as it stands, Amazon is not only the king of the mountain when it comes to book distribution and ebook discoverability, it’s also the bully pulpit from which unpopular ideas can be shouted down by a small but vocal minority. Sure, today it’s a Michael Jackson bio being beat up by fanatical supporters, but the precedent is certainly unnerving.

First they came for the Jacko bios, and I did not speak out…

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