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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.


Joe Wikert's Digital Content Strategies

Joe Wikert
Lessons from One Publisher’s Aversion to Ebooks
Apr 20, 2015

I recently did something that I haven't done for more than five years: I bought a physical, print edition of...

Leading Thoughts

Forward-Thinking Industry Professionals
A Response to “Lessons from One Publisher’s Aversion to Ebooks”
Apr 24, 2015

I was delighted when I saw Joe Wikert's article "Lessons from One Publisher's Aversion to Ebooks" and its mention of...

Brian Jud's Beyond the Bookstore

Brian Jud
Large-Quantity Book Sales: How to Get Buy-In From Multiple Decision Makers
Apr 21, 2015

Typically, large-quantity book sales are rarely made on a unilateral basis. In most cases, the decision authority lies with a...

The Learning Curve

Ellen Harvey
How HarperCollins Automated EPUB 3 Production with DITA4Publishers
Apr 16, 2015

I had the pleasure of hosting terrific webinar last week, featuring HarperCollins senior director of global digital operations Leslie Padgett...

The Futurists

Publishing Pioneers
Electric Yarn Believes The Future of Reading is Channel-Agnostic
Nov 13, 2014

Over the past decade, publishers have admirably pivoted toward digital content production, creating ebooks, apps, and even video to accompany...

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...

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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