Multiple Conflicts of Interest --- Unexplained Flip-Flopping, AKA Inconsistency --- Contradictions --- Seeming Ubiquity --- The Math (Again) --- Mo Attitude Take-Away:  Pissing in other people’s Cheerios usually leads to those same people pissing in yours."/>

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain, or The Real Story Behind Michael Kozlowski’s Flawed War Against Self-Publishing

KOREAN WARMichael Kozlowski is waging an all-out war on self-publishing.  I’ve been watching that war from the sidelines, mostly because I like to laugh.  J.A. Konrath’s responses to Kozlowski’s tirade (and those of others who have attacked self-publishing) absolutely crack me up because they call out the absurdity and lack of logic Kozlowski (and others) must surely be famous for by now.  On the one hand, I find Kozlowski’s definition of what constitutes an author and his call for self-published books to be segregated on Amazon utterly laughable.  On the other hand, I find it intentionally divisive and destructive.  Moreover, because I self-publish and am an advocate for authors having eyes wide open when making decisions about which publishing path to take, I see Kozlowski’s inflammatory commentary as pissing in the Cheerios of a lot of hard-working people, including myself.  I take issue when someone pisses in my Cheerios.

I admit that part of what made Kozlowski’s commentary humorous was the fact that I didn’t really comprehend why anyone would want to be as nasty to a group of people as Kozlowski has been.  But if there’s anything I’ve tried my best to teach students over the past couple of decades, it’s that they need to do the following when they don’t have answers to a question:

  • Dig for facts
  • Evaluate reliability/credibility of sources
  • Apply critical thinking to break down information
  • Identify logical fallacies
  • Explore as many answers as possible before reaching reasonable conclusions

So, I followed my own advice.  Here’s what I’ve discovered.

Multiple Conflicts of Interest

I started my fact-finding on the site where Kozlowski is staging his war: goodereader.com.  I’m not linking there because I’m not sending any traffic back there.  Call it my protest.  If you want to check the source for yourself, you should do that.  The site’s “About” description is as follows (quoted exactly for accuracy’s sake, and I take no responsibility for the poorly written original content):

“Good e-Reader is the leading news site on the internet covering the latest digital publishing, ebook, e-reader, and tablet pc news. It is the definitive source on the North American market and was voted into the Top 5 Tech blogs by Freescale Semiconductors. The company produces a wide line of e-reader and tablet video reviews and tutorial videos to help people decide what device is for them. Their newest project is the Good e-Reader App Store that has 1000 Android and Playbook applications free for download.”

The wording of the accolade (sentence #2) is vague.  The Top 5 Tech blogs?  Whose list is that?  That Good eReader was “voted into” (whatever that means) a list by Freescale Semiconductors is underwhelming.  Freescale is a corporation whose products end up inside of  e-readers, among other devices.  Since the blog covers e-readers, there’s a potential conflict of interest that goes something like this: Blogger gives good reviews to devices with Freescale parts; Freescale reciprocates by nominating (I assume that’s what “voting into” means) blog for inclusion on a list (We still don’t know whose list, though.).

From there, the water gets even murkier and less credible.

Good E-Reader is cited as being a division of Oak Branch Media Inc.  I couldn’t find any information about the company in any of the U.S. business indexes, aside from the fact that it’s a privately held company. It could be a Canadian company for all I know.  There’s no public information available about its location, owners, officers, or Board of Directors (that I could find).  If anyone knows more about the company and would like to share that information with me and my readers, feel free to post in the comments or send me an e-mail.

Good E-Reader owns Shop e-Readers (also a division of Oak Branch Media Inc), which describes itself in the following way (again, quoted for accuracy’s sake, and I take no responsibility for errors that appear in the original content):

“Shop e-Readers is the worlds leading online store focusing exclusively on e-readers and tablets. They have the widest selection of devices available and ship internationally. The company current is dealing with various K12 and Universities to digitize the classroom.”

NOW we’re getting somewhere!  So…the company whose blog was “voted into the Top 5 Tech blogs by Freescale Semiconductors” also owns a company that SELLS e-Readers?  No matter how you look at it, there is (at worst) a serious potential conflict of interest and (at best) very shaky credibility and reliability for any recommendations a manufacturer makes for another company (Good e-Reader) that owns a company (Shop e-Readers) through which the manufacturer stands to make sales.

Bring on the Traffic, Baby!

Kozlowski’s war has generated a LOT of traffic for his blog.  In fact, over the last month (2/12-3/13), 4 posts and 1 podcast attacking self-publishing in one way or another have generated about 3 1/3 times as many comments as did the remaining 73 articles carrying his by-line (640 vs. 193).  Of those 73 articles, 2 that generated a total of 12 comments are on topics related to self-publishing but aren’t derisive of it (I’ll come back to these later.).  Of the remaining 71 non-self-publishing articles, 1 on the discontinuation of a particular group of comic books generated 85 comments.  That leaves 96 comments for the remaining 69 articles with his by-line, less than 1 1/2  comments per article., nowhere near the 100+ comments per article for the ones attacking self-publishing.  Of the total 77 articles + 1 podcast, 46 articles and the podcast received no comments at all on the Good E-reader site.  That means only 31 articles received comments.  Of those, 6 were related to self-publishing (4 negative, 2 not negative), and they received 646 comments while 25 were related to other topics (some related to publishing-related technology and/or the publishing business directly and indirectly)  that received a total of 187 comments.  You do the math.  Never mind, you’re probably an author who hates math.  I’ll do the math.  *Snorts*  (Hey, we gotta have a sense of humor and play with our own stereotypes, no?)

Self-publishing ratio of comments to articles:  646:6, or about 107.66:1

Other topics ratio of comments to articles:  187:71, or about 2.63:1

OH!  I GET IT!!  Talk about self-publishing, particularly in a negative way, and interactivity goes up almost 5000% (50x).  Therefore, one might reasonably conclude that a possible motivation for warmongering is to increase otherwise piss-poor interactivity on Kozlowski’s by-line articles.

Gasp!! Why would I say that?  I’m glad you asked.  This brings me to …

Unexplained Flip-Flopping, AKA Inconsistency

Let me note here several Kozlowski articles during the last month report industry news in an unbiased manner, and some of that news indirectly relates to self-publishing (such as Book Expo America’s addition of an Author Hub for self-published authors at its event).  In fairness, not ALL of Kozlowski’s articles that touch on the subject of self-publishing are negative.  In fact, there are 2 that stand out as casting a positive light on self-publishing.

Previously, I mentioned that I’d discuss the 2 articles in particular that weren’t derisive in any way toward self-publishers.  They’re noteworthy.  The first, published on February 13th, is on the topic of Barnes & Noble.  It’s entitled (quoted here in all its editorial- and tense-imperfection glory), “Commentary – If I was in Charge of Nook Media.”  In it, Kozlowski makes these recommendations (quoted exactly, so I take no responsibility for errors):

“It is important to  make partnerships to get self-published books in all Barnes and Noble bookstores and give the book buyers recommended options for the stars of Nook Press. Put the authors on a bookstore tour and build momentum. Get in newspapers, blogs and websites. Draw attention to Nook Press, make indie authors believe this is the best Amazon alternative.”

The first and last sentences in the quote would seem to indicate that Kozlowski sees self-published authors as potential moneymakers, if not saviours, for the largest physical bookstore chain in the U.S.  I wouldn’t disagree with him on that, though I don’t have figures to support my speculation, so it’s just that–speculation.  His position February 13th, however, is in direct conflict with his position on March 11th, when he states:

“ …[T]he onslaught of self-published titles is causing chaos in online bookstores all over the world….Once you can separate indie authors from traditional published ones,  it will solve a ton of issues facing the publishing industry. You will solve the problem of eBook discovery and readers will once again find a solid read faster.”

BUT WAIT!!!  Only 2 weeks prior, in discussing “partnerships to get self-published books in all Barnes and Noble bookstores,” an action he claims he would take if he WERE (Yes, that’s a dig at his article title’s improper tense usage.) in charge of Nook Media, Kozlowski flatly states that establishing those relationships “is important” and “give[s] book buyers recommended options for the stars of Nook Press.”  The March 11th declaration begs the question: Does Kozlowski believe that recommendations for those partnership-created self-published books in B&N help “readers…once again find a solid read faster” or not?  Apparently, he believes in mid-February that they did but ceases to do so a month later.  In the world of rhetorical analysis, that’s called inconsistency, and it signals lack of credibility and reliability.  That’s not to say that people can’t change their minds.  We do.  Those who produce credible and reliable content will admit when they’ve changed their minds and then explain the reasoning behind the change.  To date, I’ve seen no such explanations from Kozlowski.

Let me move on to the second article that sheds a positive light on self-publishing.  In this one, published on March 1st, Kozlowski takes on predatory publishing services, particularly Author Solutions.  He also mentions Kirkus Reviews, but only in reference to self-publishers, not the many traditional publishers who also use Kirkus’ review services.  That omission strikes me as biased, reflective of ignorance, or both, none of which lends anything positive to the credibility of his by-line.  He takes an interesting position, however, when he states:

“If a writer wants to make a living off of their writing, they should learn how to do it themselves. Understanding the semantics of cover art design, table of contents, proper formatting and knowing where to distribute will help you more then simply relying on someone to hold your hand and hope for the best. In this life, the only person you can truly trust is yourself and you owe it to yourself, to not be let down.”

The first sentence in the quote is straight-forward, and despite its inconsistency in person (a writer/their/they), it would seem to suggest that successful “writers” (defined here as those who are “making a living off of their writing”) possess certain skill sets.  While I think those skill sets are beneficial to self-publishers, they certainly aren’t requirements for success.  Vendors with those skill sets often are specialists whose work is of the highest quality.  One doesn’t have to fall prey to Author Solutions or other predators to work with those vendors.  In this case, I again think Kozlowski’s statement reflects ignorance about the way many self-publishers manage editorial, design, and production aspects of publishing their books.

Contradictions

The March 1st article (chock full of editorial inconsistency in its title) in which Kozlowski urges skills development for “writers who want to make a living off their writing” is, oddly enough, entitled “Indie Authors are being Preyed Upon.” I call attention to this conflation of “Indie Authors” and “writers who want to make a living off their writing” because it is a mere 6 days later that Kozlowski defines writers and authors quite differently.  In the March 7th article, entitled “Self-Publishers Should Not Be Called Authors,” he clearly states:

“If you can earn your living from your writing, you are a professional author, anyone else is just a plain old writer.”

Once again, contradictions abound, in part from what I suspect is bias and in part from what I know is ignorance.  I’ll address the ignorance first.  Lots of traditionally published content creators don’t give up their day jobs because they don’t make enough money to earn a living from their writing.  By Kozlowski’s definition, those individuals, no matter how many thoroughly vetted novels they’ve published, would not be professional authors.   Similarly, if making a living off their writing is what distinguishes professional authors from writers, then self-publishers who do make a living from their writing would be professional authors, right?  This latter circumstance is directly contradictory to the title position statement of the March 7th article.

So, which is it?  The inevitable contradiction that occurs when one closely reads Kozlowski’s definitions and position statements occurs because there is a built-in bias against self-publishers.  Even those who meet the criteria he lays out in a definition that distinguishes “a professional author” from “just a plain old writer” cannot qualify a self-publisher as “the real deal.”  The title of the March 7th piece makes the bias abundantly clear:  “Self-Publishers Should Not Be Called Authors” (emphasis mine).

Seeming Ubiquity

Another signal of bias in Kozlowski’s definitions and in the contradictions they divulge is the fact that much of the vitriole Kozlowski has been spewing in the last 2 weeks is chock full of passive voice constructions (emphasis mine to point out instances):

  • March 7th – “Self-Publishers Should Not Be Called Authors”
  • March 11th – “Indie eBooks Need to be Segregated
  • March 11th – “eBook discovery is also being hampered
  • March 11th – “You are only considered a real author if you can make your living solely from the book sales.”
  • March 11th – “If bookstores do not segregate self-published writers their entire ecosystems will be ruined.”
  • March 11th – “Finally, the issue of Public Domain Books being repackaged as new books will be squashed for good.”
  • March 11th – “These titles need to be culled, ASAP.”

The important thing to remember about passive voice constructions is their assumption of a seemingly ubiquitous entity who is doing something a reader must accept.  In short, someone is doing something, but that someone’s name is absent.  The “by whom” is missing.  Passive voice constructions are clever ways to place blame without saying outright that one is doing so or to claim expertise without establishing it.  Kozlowski’s passive voice constructions attempt to do both.

The Math (Again)

What have I learned thus far?  I’ve uncovered multiple conflicts of interest, potential motivation for gain, inconsistencies, contradictions, ignorance, bias, blaming, and unproven expertise.  What does all of that add up to?

Without getting into any personal attacks, I’d say without reservation as someone with 3 decades of research experience that Kozlowski’s articles lack credibility and reliability, don’t meet standards for achieving logical consistency, and lack factual accuracy and thoroughness.  I’m left thinking again about what would motivate someone to be so nasty toward a group of people.

Based on what I’ve learned, I could speculate.  For instance, timing of the articles, their inflammatory nature, and their contradiction of earlier statements in the blog appear symptomatic of a desperate attempt to drum up traffic, possibly because Kozlowski’s own articles on the site (as opposed to some by other writers) have not engaged readers (as his by-line’s low interactivity numbers bear witness to).  After all, that would be a terribly difficult situation to explain if one were the “Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader.”

But that’s purely speculation, of course.  If one makes a living through a non-traditionally published product that doesn’t appear to be vetted with any expectation of editorial quality (grammar, punctuation, consistency, generally accepted elements of style), he couldn’t possibly be “the real deal”–that is, an Editor in Chief–any more than people who make a living through non-traditionally published products are professional authors.  They’re just “plain old writers,” and he’s just a “garden-variety blogger warmongering for traffic.”  Right?

Mo Attitude Take-Away:  Pissing in other people’s Cheerios usually leads to those same people pissing in yours.

Comments (5)

  1. admin

    Steve,

    Based on what I’ve seen since I wrote that piece, I agree with you. The key word in your assertion is “professional,” and that’s what Kozlowski lacks as a “journalist.” In my opinion, he deals in wild speculations to generate traffic. If his wild speculations harm an author (like you) financially or otherwise, he’s opening himself up to libel lawsuits. I suppose his chutzpah in the face of that comes from the fact that he’s in Canada, and he’s attacked someone in another country. It’s difficult to prove “harm,” and pursuing a lawsuit across international borders is a bother. So, basically, he picks what he thinks are easy targets with the lowest chance of repercussions. Where I grew up, we’d call that cowardice.

  2. Steve

    I’ve had my own problems with Michael Kozlowski, he has a habit of stealing copy written by other writers and not checking his facts. I agree with you that his punctuation and grammar suggests that he isn’t a professional journalist at all! http://stephenleatherpublishingebooks.blogspot.com/2015/09/michael-kozlowski-journalist-who-doesnt.html

  3. admin

    Thank you for sharing that link. The scent of was already nearing foul. You’ve confirmed it’s definitely a stench. 😉

  4. DBS

    Doing some self research into current ereaders and books in general and came upon some information you may find interesting (my grandad always said “follow the money” ). http://www.brisio.com/news/brisio-innovations-executes-definitive-agreement-acquire-100-interest-oakbranch-media

  5. Julie Hill

    Thank you for presenting a well argued, thorough case against the vitriol of someone who has set himself up as a hanging judge. I would guess he dreams of glory and greatly overrates his own status. As for the quality of his writing – thank you for the verbatim extracts; I have now read enough to know that I have no desire to read any more of his ill constructed sentences and poor vocabulary.

    Yours humbly,
    A Plain Old Writer

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