Advertising and Marketing

My Baby was Possessed by the PlayStation 3 – Next Gen Game Consoles Take Different Approaches to TV Commercials

ARTICLE: After seeing one of Sony’s debut TV spots for their new PlayStation, I’m sure I was not the only one slightly freaked out by the toy baby who comes to life, starts to cry, then laugh maniacally before flashing demon red eyes… all while pawing the air toward the floating black slab of a PlayStation 3 (PS3).

Maybe they should have called it the PlaySatan? I think the message here is “Parents, keep baby away from the PS3 or they’ll be possessed!”

Copr. (c) 2006 SONYThe second TV spot prior to launch, promoting the Cell Processor which is inside the PS3, shows a floating Rubik’s Cube that explodes to fill the room with color. To me this ad smacked too much of the flawed launch spots for the Infiniti Q which featured mood music and somber scenery with nary a view of the actual car.

Contrast this with the lively first TV spot for the other nextgen console competitor, Nintendo’s Wii, that shows a typical gamer dude playing the game and showing off the innovative controller putting him into the middle of a shooting game, sword fighting game and actually showing the game play on a TV.

From these varied commercials, I was impressed by the game play of the Wii which had the very cool concept of putting the player into the action rather than old-school thumb mashing. I had seen some previews on G4techTV, E3, etc., but it still looked really good. The strength of the Wii commercial illustrated many of the features and benefits of the new Nintendo console, whereas the initial Sony spots were just plain weird.

Not that this is a bad thing – a heck of a lot of people have been remarking about the demon baby commercial (do a search on the Web for “PlayStation baby commercial” if you’re curious). I can tell you it’s even freakier late at night on my 61-inch DLP TV while on an HD broadcast channel. Yikes.

The second batch of PS3 commercials include a wall breaking away to show one of the launch games “Resistance: Fall of Man” (which I’ve played – outstanding) and another “sensory” commercial showing the Sixaxis controller tilting to and fro to make eggs roll across the room where all the spots have lived, obviously inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s still a little odd with black crows coming from the wall and follows the PS3 launch theme of “play b3yond.” The “beyond” theme actually reminded me a lot of the Showtime Beyond channel intro/outro spots between programs.

A second Wii spot should start this week and it will be interesting to see what they do to counter the PS3 approach. Of course, with both consoles sold out everywhere as of this writing, the commercials are practically unnecessary to sell the products.

Still, it’s interesting that the PS3 has taken an edgier approach — which historically worked well for Sega — while Nintendo seems to be taking a fun, hip, friendlier approach to court both new users and their core audience. I bought my PS3 this past Friday, got it on Saturday, played it on Sunday. I hadn’t thought of buying a Wii, but the commercial makes me more interested.

Another neat feature of the Wii for the party gamer is that it’s far more affordable than the PS3 and will likely return in quantity to retail stores more quickly than the way “under produced” PlayStation (Sony blames slow production of the blue laser diode for the Blu-ray player as the major hold-up).

According to varied business reports, over 32,000 of the new Sony consoles were sold on eBay from Friday through Sunday, with the average price being around $2,000 – $3,000 for the 60GB/wireless model. I paid close to the low end of that range, admittedly, but I think a lot of gamers have been similarly “possessed” into buying one, regardless of cost.

Thankfully, my eyes haven’t yet turned red. Hopefully if there’s evil built into the new PS3, maybe it only works on babies. But, I left the light on in my living room last night, just to be safe.

Article is Copr. © 2006 by Christopher Simmons – all rights reserved. Originally appeared on

Articles Music and Recording Reviews

Music Review: Peter Frampton ‘Fingerprints’ (2006)

REVIEW: I was pretty excited to hear about the new disc “Fingerprints” (A&M/New Door/UMe) from Peter Frampton, a seminal guitar god from the ’70s who became enormously famous for his “Frampton Comes Alive” album and for his formant-tube guitar “talk box” sound on that record 30 years ago. I hadn’t really thought about him much lately except when my iTunes jukebox cycled around to his tunes. So, getting the new disc was like hearing from an old friend again.

Peter Frampton 2006What makes the album intriguing is that it’s an instrumental album, where Frampton teams with many musicians he is friends with, or who he’s always wanted to work with. The press materials have a great paragraph about the disc which I could reword to make my own, but I think it speaks well of the line-up of talent found on the album:

“Fingerprints features Frampton having exhilarating musical conversations with a who’s who of the pop world, including Rolling Stones Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman, Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready and Matt Cameron, original Shadows Hank Marvin and Brian Bennett, Allman Brothers/Gov’t Mule slide slinger Warren Haynes, Nashville pedal steel virtuoso Paul Franklin and gypsy guitar maestro John Jorgenson. In addition, Frampton band mate, Gordon Kennedy, who co-wrote many of the originals as well as co-produces the album, is prominently featured as a guitar companion.”

When I mentioned to a couple of friends I was reviewing the new Frampton album, inevitably one smart remark came up which was “Frampton is still alive?” which, although a jest at the expense of Pete based on the title of his mega successful “Alive” underscores how many of the truly talented musicians of the 60s, 70s and 80s who don’t subscribe to the “hit factory” school of music can fall from the public’s consciousness. The last I’d really heard from Frampton was in 2000, when he earned a “Best Rock Instrumental Performance” Grammy nomination for “Live in Detroit” and I bought the 2003 “Now” which earned this review from an Associated Press writer: “When it comes to fiery, guitar-drenched rock, Frampton delivers.”

Unlike many of his rock contemporaries, Frampton has traditionally not done collaborations to raise awareness of his albums, or to stay current with the so-called gen-x and gen-y crowd. Carlos Santana has always been an instrumentalist who brings in guest vocal talent and lyricists for the current decade, and this has helped him sell CDs to new generations who would not otherwise have known who he was.

With solo artists like Frampton, who does both the playing and is the front man on vocals, it’s actually harder to stay fresh in a world filled with boy bands and overly sexed teen pop princesses. Without directly catering to “boomers,” it’s difficult to compete with “My milkshake brings more boys to the yard” or the latest Beyonce video, or the crop of pop-rock bands who provide the soundtrack for just about every youth oriented TV show and movie currently made. Ironic since he was one a pop idol, movie star and as recognizable as any music celebrity. But, he’s always a little overshadowed by that one big album that is still considered the best selling live record of all time (with 16 million copies sold, it’s also one of the best selling records of any decade in any genre).

Personally I think it’s a really ballsy, and possibly brilliant, idea to do an instrumental album and concentrate on both the playing and the vibe that comes from good rock, blues and even the pop-jazz music of sax players like Dave Koz. I am likely the target audience for this disc, since I buy every album that Joe Satriani puts out, since I dig his guitar playing, and the rock and melodic hooks over which he can then noodle or riff without worrying about whether the vocal performance or lyrics mean anything or not.

For Frampton, I think the instrumental CD was also a brilliant idea since it’s a little later in his career to be singing of first loves, riding that pony to the rodeo, or any of the other pop music clichés that are recycled for each new set of tweens and teens. Even rock and metal have their clichés, and it’s often easy to fall into that. Even Paul McCartney suffered from some pretty unremarkable work during the long decline of his wife Linda, and the subsequent album when she had passed was filled with the emotion of that, and then his work when he found new love was a major rekindling of his gifts lyrically and musically. But major life events like these are not always fodder for good music, and few can bring emotion to their craft in quite that way. The point is: the “voice” you bring to an album is most notable when it’s from the inner workings of your soul, your psyche, or your experiences. With this disc, Frampton gets to play guitar, which is his core happy thought when it comes to music. And he’s a great player.

Fingerprints CD - Peter FramptonSo, how’s the album? A little bit mixed on first listen, then I really got into it. I really like most of the songs, particularly, “Cornerstone” with Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts from the Rolling Stones, and “Shewango Way” which is co-written by and features Frampton band mate, Gordon Kennedy.

The Soundgarden hit “Black Hole Sun” with Pearl Jam guitarist McCready and drummer Matt Cameron became the ear-worm of the disc for me, stuck in my head while doing other things like laundry or washing the car. It’s also one of the two tracks to feature some moderate and very subtle signature talk box work by Frampton. On “Sun” it almost sounds like a vocoder sample and actually helps the tune since I found my brain filling in the words on the chorus anyway.

Frampton said in the press materials, “I’ve known Bill Wyman for a while and played with him before. He was one of the first people I asked to play on the album. He said yes, and then I asked if Charlie would come in too. We all jumped in and came up with this song (Cornerstone) that started off with me playing a riff.”

The one song that didn’t really grab me is the first one “Boot it Up” with a guest sax player, Courtney Pine, who was recommended to Frampton by his pal David Bowie. I think another guitar would have been better than the sax, but it does give the record label a song to target toward the smooth jazz radio stations, although “Double Nickels” fits into that milieu just fine and features licks by pedal steel king Paul Franklin.

The songs I liked more each time I listened to the disc, was “Grab A Chicken” (with Kennedy), which has a little bit of the talk box as well as sampled instructions from Internet cooking programs about how to cook a chicken; and “Blowin’ Smoke” (with McCready and Cameron). The latter has likely become my favorite song and the one I’d happily pay for if I were forced to “buy only one” from a music download service.

I liked the little homage riff to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” at the start of “Double Nickels” which also has a bit of a country music feel to it and some great Q&A playing between Frampton and Franklin.

The interesting thing about the album for me was that I kept thinking I’d love to hear an entire album with just Frampton, McCready, Cameron and Kennedy. The material from the four Kennedy collaborations and the two songs with McCready and Cameron were the real stand-outs for me.

Unlike some guitarists who have one signature sound, perhaps like the afore mentioned Carlos Santana, Frampton gets a wide variety of tones and sounds from his collection of guitars and amps and so each song stands on its own. He plays a Tacoma Acoustic C2 Chief, Gibson Les Paul Classic (1960), Les Paul Peter Frampton Model (*ahem* – signature sound, of course), G&L ASAT, and Les Paul JR (1958). With the guests playing their own guitars the mix of duets between players is quite lovely to hear.

I saw one comment from a buyer on that it might have been better to have the separate players panned left/right to make it more clear who was playing what, and this has been done on other duet-style instrumental gigs; but I think in this case it would have detracted from the overall mixes which are very nice on both the home stereo, the iPod and in the car.

It’s interesting that Frampton recently guested on the premiere episode of the FOX TV series “Celebrity Duets,” which was a bold experiment for the 56 year old rocker. Sadly he was paired with Chris Jericho of the WWE, which must have been the bad luck of the draw there. It’s unfortunate that VH1 no longer has the series “Storytellers” which is right where I would like to see Frampton showcased for an album like this one.

For Frampton, the sweet spot for the project had to be his getting to work with two of his long time heroes from the Shadows, drummer Brian Bennett and guitar slinger Hank Marvin.

According to Frampton, the bluesy “My Cup of Tea,” came together via intercontinental swapping of ideas by mp3. Once the group convened in a London studio, his dream was fulfilled. “I was beaming ear to ear,” Frampton says. “Hank is the reason why I play the guitar. It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Frampton traces the genesis of Fingerprints to two experiences: catching the fever of British instrumental rock music at its birth in 1960, when the Shadows scored a pop hit with the tune “Apache,” and then 35 years later when Shadows’ lead guitarist Marvin came backstage at a Frampton concert and affirmed that indeed one day he’d love to cut a track with him. “We spent an hour asking each other questions and talking about guitars,” says Frampton. “My idol even asked me what kind of strings I used.”

According to Frampton, at the beginning of his career, he had one thing on his mind: playing the guitar like the Shadows’ Hank Marvin and Elvis Presley’s Scotty Moore. “I didn’t want to sing,” he says. “I wanted to be the guy behind the singer playing solos. I’d listen to Elvis songs but my focus was on Scotty. People like Hank and Scotty set the template for me.”

Frampton brings a poignant epilogue to the project with the second to final track on the album, “Oh, When” written for his late father, Owen (hence “Oh When”). Frampton played the song at the funeral, recorded it on a small recorder when he was in England, then returned home and tracked it. Frampton says that Fingerprints is a testament to his father’s encouragement in playing the guitar. “The whole album is dedicated to him,” he says.

Overall, a worthy addition to Frampton’s career and if you’re at all into instrumental guitar, melodic rock, and even something to listen to while you’re working in the background, this disc fits into all those spaces rather well.

“Fingerprints” is released on the A&M / New Door Records label, a division of Universal Music Enterprises (UMe). New Door Records is primarily dedicated to producing new music from historically significant UMG recording artists. Artists from all genres such as Styx, Smokey Robinson, Todd Snider, Joe Cocker, Nanci Griffith, Tears for Fears, The Temptations, Billy Ray Cyrus, Alien Ant Farm, and a brand new signing, Joseph Israel, have made New Door Records their home for their new recordings.

Fingerprints is available everywhere you can purchase music and was released Sept. 12, 2006.

Rating for “Fingerprints”:

    From 1 to 10: 8.5
    Musicianship: 9
    Replayability: 7
    Desert Island Keeper: 4
    Number of EarWorm Factor Songs: 2

More information:

    Peter Frampton’s Website:

    Universal Music Entertainment:

Article is Copr. © 2006 by Christopher Simmons – all rights reserved. Originally appeared on

Articles Business 2.0

What Can Brown Do for Identity Theft?

ARTICLE: Companies need to do a better job of policing themselves when signing up new customers on the Internet and through mail campaigns, otherwise they risk contributing to an already serious epidemic of personal and business identity theft. Certain companies are making it a little easier for crooks to get a foot in the door due to a lack of safeguards and common sense. And guess what? It just happened to my company.

I’ve never been particularly fond of the current UPS (United Parcel Service) ad campaign, “What can brown do for you?” – it sounds too much like something that is associated with a bowel movement than a reason to ship your packages with them. In fact, part of the reason I shake my head when I hear the UPS ad phrase, is that it’s a bit too much like the slogans used during the last drought here in California to save water “If it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, wash it down.”

So, my first reaction when getting a bill for almost $2,000 in the mail from UPS at the end of May, addressed to “Peter Gabriel” at my company address was a four letter word starting with “s” and ending with “t” and with “hi” in the middle.

Apparently, UPS allowed somebody using the name Carol Washington, shipping from an apartment in Plattsburgh, N.Y., to set-up a shipper account over the Internet using my company name and billing address here in California, with a contact name here of “Peter Gabriel” (why not Elvis Presley, or Kylie Minogue?), then ship dozens of overnight letters to people and companies all over the U.S.

What astounds me is they didn’t stop and question somebody in New York setting up an account for a company in California, ask for some kind of payment confirmation such as a credit card before accepting almost two thousand dollars worth of overnight letters, or do (it seems) any due diligence in checking with anybody listed as a principal or point of contact at our company that we actually set-up the account.

So, here comes the mailman with my mail and a nice fat billing statement from UPS for all the packages shipped using “UPS Internet Shipping.”

Did I mention there were 16 undeliverable packages out of the huge pile this person sent, which indicates he or she was likely doing some kind of phishing scam by overnight letter or some other bit of criminal evil. So, UPS was nice enough to show a credit of $312 on the bill. Nice of them.

As you might expect, my second reaction after making a scatological exclamation was to call the toll-free number on the bill, be put on hold, and then finally speak to somebody. I explained the situation, and made it clear the account should be cancelled, their fraud department should get involved immediately, and that we were not (obviously) going to pay any UPS bill related to this account. The nice young lady told me they would take care of it, commented that the person who set-up the account used a valid e-mail address, and that the fraud department would call me by the next day. I said great, hung up, got on with my day and helping my own customers.

Two days later and no call or contact from UPS, their fraud department, an apology letter, or anything. Sigh. Whatever. Great customer relations, people!

A week later and I’ve moved on with my life, and guess what comes in the mail … another missive from the folks in brown. My chirpy optimistic nature is thinking maybe it’s a “Dear Customer, We’re sorry we let somebody ship packages under your name and then sent you a bill. We’ve cancelled the account and are hunting down the source of the evil with our crack team of brown-powered parcel police.” However, it looks like a bill, feels like a bill, and it’s still addressed to the old sledgehammer himself Peter Gabriel.

Yep. It’s a bill for $53.16 “after adjustments.” And in case I have any other ideas, “UPS payment terms require payment of this bill by June 7, 2006.” ShaTizzle!

Another phone call to the brown people, lovely on-hold music, and then a live person picks up. This person looks up the original call, sees my original contact (I am mildly impressed they have any kind of CRM system running), and then informs me she will cancel the account. As I grimace, I ask why the account wasn’t cancelled when I called previously. The person didn’t know, but she made sure it was now cancelled. Then she mentions that on the bright side it wasn’t actually a bill, but a credit letter informing me that the $312 had been applied to the account. Rather than argue that it was in fact a bill showing $53 due after the “credits” had been applied, or the fact that I could care less about credits since it’s not my account, I just said thank you and hung up.

Again, being an optimist I’m thinking maybe they let the account stay active to try to catch the person in the act of dropping off or shipping more packages. But why didn’t the anti-fraud department (assuming they actually have one is what my pessimist side is thinking) contact me. Even a form letter would have been appropriate. After all, they are wasting MY time, not the other way around.

I also wonder why somebody would choose my company name to set-up an account, since I have not offended anybody greatly enough, and have no interaction with the typical person or persons who would perpetrate such a scam. On the other hand, I do have some pretty prominent news and entertainment websites that are easily found in search engines and my company name is found at the top of every page of every site. I think it more likely this fraud outfit or person chose us at random, or might be going through companies alphabetically and we’re not the first or last company to have this issue at UPS.

Fast forward to the first week of September. Yes, you guessed it … another letter from the brown brigade. Smaller envelope, one sheet inside. Hey! Maybe they are sending me a follow up letter. But no, it’s a “COLLECTION ALERT” for the $53 from the May 27 invoice. “If payment is not received within 5 days, we have no alternative but to audit your account for further collection activity.”

Hmmm. My first call is to my lawyer (who I call maybe once a year to say hello), to say what kind of negligence suit or other “kick these brown bastards to the wall” type action can we take. He laughs and says maybe I should try calling them first. I laugh and say, it hasn’t done any good this far, and I wasn’t really serious about the lawsuit, just venting. Lawyers love those types of calls about as much as I like getting bills from UPS.

I do want to mention that the UPS drivers down here in Southern California are always super nice, pleasant, and even though they are more likely than FedEx to leave boxes on my front porch that advertise expensive electronics are inside, they do a good job. I asked the FedEx driver about leaving boxes marked “20-inch LCD Monitor” on doorsteps without even knocking, and he said “We always ask for a signature with anything that is clearly expensive electronics.” I was pleased to hear that. Even the DHL guy will “drop, knock and run,” to let me know a parcel is on the welcome mat. UPS guys do tend to not bother to even knock and just leave stuff unless it has a “signature required” sticker on it. But I’ve never had anything stolen.

So, I call the new number on the UPS collection letter, and I’m forced to input “my” account number before I can talk to anybody (little bit of entrapment there if you ask me), so when I speak to somebody, she asks for my account number, and I tell her I have an account number I can give her but it’s not mine. She asks why it’s not mine. I explain the situation, and she says she needs to forward me to the accounting department, and I go right to hold music, and after about ten minutes it drops me into a voicemail system where I’m to leave my number and somebody will call back. Oh joy.

As I write this, I have yet to hear from anybody at UPS.

Now, to their credit, it is difficult to verify each and every person who signs up for an online account, but there are simple business practices that many companies (like mine) follow. For instance, we use I.P. tracking to double check where somebody is actually from; if they put their billing address as Texas, and the I.P. (Internet Protocol) is in Florida, we double-verify information.

Other security practices include: When we take credit cards, we use AVS (address verification system) to ensure the billing information provided matches what is on file with the credit card company. When the name on the card is different from the person placing an order, we require a faxed authorization with signature and the security code off the card a second time (we won’t accept any online orders without matching security code), and phone number from credit card, which we call and check. We also check the phone number to ensure it’s really for the card company. And if the order is from Peter Gabriel, Danny Elfman, or Avril Lavigne, we really check everything (we did get an order from actor Richard Hatch once, and his assistant forged his signature … but that’s another story).

If the card is from an international bank that isn’t supported by AVS, we require a faxed photocopy of card front and back where we can see the name and security code. And if any order is over a certain dollar amount, we use other methods to validate authenticity of the person, company and payment information. And, even if somebody completes checkout successfully online, they cannot use our system to actually do anything until a live person allows it on our side. We had one person use over 20 stolen credit card numbers to get into our system one Sunday last month; they finally had a card with correct billing info, security code, and other data, made it to our support area, and were stopped by the fact they still need to have us personally approve anything they do there. Fraud stopped. Stolen card reported. I.P. addresses blocked from reaching our Web servers.

We had one of our own online customers actually complain that we required her to put in her correct billing information because “your competitor didn’t require that.” I pointed out that just because some other company doesn’t care to have security practices in place, we do, and that she should know what the billing address for her credit card was. She had to call the credit card company to figure out what they had on file and then when she put in the correct information in our order system, the order went through without any trouble. After more than ten years on the Web, it astounds me that companies still don’t “get it” about online fraud and security practices, and even more that people who do business online actually get offended when we use such procedures.

But some big companies do have some clue. With many online businesses which provide online sign-up, account holders have only provisional access to services until their billing information is verified, or they do a test billing of $.50 or similar to authenticate the payment method is legitimate before extending credit.

What seems truly illogical to me is that UPS allowed somebody to set-up an account with completely fraudulent information, with the exception that they used an actual company for the billing address (mine), and then let them ship a large number of overnight letters from a different state (and from an apartment no less) without any kind of check and balance in place, or provisional limitations, or payment validation/verification.

Simple limitations might have included: a limit on shipment amounts of $50 until payment is verified, no use of shipper account number from other locations until account is verified or some kind of limit of no more than one package pick-up, no drop-off of packages until payment and account info validated – pick-up only to authenticate the shipper address. I could go on and on.

Another very simple method of online anti-fraud screening might have been to hold for validation any company/corporate account set-up that uses a different email address from the actual company name. We do this here when we get a client claiming to be from an existing company but they’re using a free e-mail account like AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo, or Gmail. Most “real” companies have a domain name that in some way resembles their business name, like, oh, If somebody signed up on our website and claimed to be UPS, Inc., and used an email of, we would double check this account before allowing them services.

It has gotten harder to use I.P. tracking for some kinds of scams, particularly with portals like AOL, where all the mail comes from the servers in one state, so anybody using a email account is a bit harder to track. But we flag these to check too, because of that. Sadly, AOL used to be a pretty safe and secure place to socialize and hang out, circa 1994-6, until they opened up the 1,000 free hours with no credit card or checking account needed. Then it went to hell. If you can get 1,000 free hours to send spam, attempt fraud, or just do bad things online, well then the bad guys had a pile of free account CDs coming in the mail every week from the AOL folks. I jumped ship on that whole place in 1997. Seems I’m not the only one. Of course, you can still get free AOL email.

Quite stupidly AOL also has a number of anti-spam features set-up, like ISPs and hosting companies being required to register their mail servers with the AOL postmaster system to avoid being “spam blocked,” and they allow people with AOL accounts to register any message as “spam” even if they requested it. We had to block anybody using an AOL email account from signing up for our online newsletters because the people would sign-up then when they got a newsletter, they’d say it was “spam.,” and AOL would send a “violation of our terms” warning – but hide the email of the complaining party, so that you couldn’t actually remove the person from your mailing list, that they double-opted into. The only solution was to block all AOL sign-ups since AOL doesn’t seem to have a clue how to manage email communications in a logical way, at least based on my own experiences. But then, this overall lack of savvy is just one of many reasons why people have left AOL behind in droves for the “free” Internet or for broadband connections that don’t suck. Time-Warner really lost out on that whole AOL acquisition deal.

While the above security practices may seem like common sense, many companies don’t follow any or all of these kinds of procedures, and this contributes to the online identity theft problems.

Another oddball is the Advanta credit card company ( I get letters here from them, offering my staff credit cards with my company name on it. What makes this incredibly unwise is the fact they are addressed to the employee, but not the company or HR person. So, in effect, they are trolling for employees to sign-up for a credit card, which would also have their employer’s company name on it. That’s going to cause a lot of headaches for companies since they might not approve or allow such cards being issued, but (without reading all of the fine print, it would appear) the employee need not tell their employer. Can you say “class action lawsuit waiting to happen?” This is particularly bad for ex-employees, too, since a malicious employer has all of the employee’s personal data such as social security number, home address, date of birth, and the like. So, a particularly evil manager or spurned lover could, in theory, set-up a credit card account for the ex-employee with malicious intent. Aside from all of that, the stupidest thing is that Advanta is sending credit card offers here to people who have not even worked for us for more than two years!

Ironically, they offer a Fraud News Alert on their home page about how identity thieves are trying to steal your information, and their Identity Theft Toolkit page proclaims “Identity theft is a serious and costly business! And while you can’t completely prevent identity theft from occurring, at Advanta we believe that knowledge can help minimize your risk and access can help you restore your credit if you are ever victimized.”

So, as you can see business and personal identity theft is not going to go away any time soon, particularly when major corporations continue to focus on shareholders, the stock price, and showing growth in their customer base and incremental revenue. But unless these corporations do a better job of policing who they allow to become clients and develop stringent practices and procedures to thwart fraud — and not contribute to fraud — they are only jeopardizing their potential relationships with legitimate customers.

Hey! Next time you need to ship a package, ask yourself:
What can brown do to you … er … for you?

Article is Copr. © 2006 by Christopher Simmons – all rights reserved. Originally published on

Music and Recording

Phishing Scams Target Musicians Bidding on eBay for Used Gear

ARTICLE: Just when you think it’s safe to go shopping on eBay for used gear, like a vintage tube mic, or analog keyboard, the phishing artists have to ruin my day. Phishing, is the practice of trying to fool you into going to a website pretending to be a legitimate site, like a bank or eBay, or to contact somebody about a product or service through “real looking” email communications.

I had this happen perhaps twice in six years and over 300 transactions on eBay, many for buying or selling old gear, but three times in the past 10 days — targeting me with phony “second chance offers” to buy music gear — definitely shows a concerted effort. In asking around, I found this was not an isolated case, and every musician I asked had received such an offer in their email. So, musicians need to be a little more watchful in email they get from eBay right now (well, really all the time, sadly).

Here’s how the scam works: you bid on an item, like a used Dave Smith Poly Evolver keyboard, or an Oberheim OB-12, and you lose the auction to another bidder who outbid you. You are the second highest bidder. The next day you get an email that “looks” like it came from eBay, with all the correct text, faked reply-to, legal notices, auction item number, but addressed to you. I got one second chance offer apiece after losing out on both of these items this month, so these are actual examples from real auctions.

The email offers to sell you the item and uses the actual text you would have gotten from eBay in a legitimate second chance offer:

    Good news! The following eBay item on which you placed a bid for US $825.78 on Sep-03-06 09:42:25 PDT is now available for purchase:
    Your Price: US $825.78
    Offer end date: 5 business days

    Second Chance Offer
    The seller is making this Second Chance Offer because the high bidder was either unable to complete the transaction or the seller has a duplicate item for sale.

Now I have received legitimate second chance offers before, but I’ve learned that you MUST go to your “My eBay” account, by going directly to, and not any link in any email, and once logged in, ANY legitimate message (meaning not phony) will show up in your My eBay panel under “messages” (usually at top of your My eBay panel once properly logged-in). If you do NOT see an email from the seller there for the second chance offer, it’s a scam.

The scam works in one or both of the following ways:

    1) an email account found in the phony message will use a free account like hotmail, gmail, yahoo, or similar and offer to sell you the item by “sending money” to PayPal — if you send money to this person’s account, you will never get it back, and never get the item!

    2) the email will have a phony website address link for you to follow and then log-in to your real eBay account and give away your username and password.

Eeven though it’s exciting to perhaps get a second chance at buying something you wanted, you need to be careful in ANY email that offers to sell you anything online.

A quick way to determine if the email is a phishing scam, is to look at the email “headers” in your mail software (e.g., Eudora, Outlook, etc.), which is a good skill to learn to use, where you would see something like this: (from the scam emails I got)

    Delivered-To: [my personal email address was here]
    Received: (qmail 21400 invoked from network); 8 Sep 2006 00:53:30 -0700
    Received: from (

As you can see from looking at the headers, it reveals where the email actually came from by both a mail server and I.P. address. By looking at this it’s pretty darn obvious that a message from a U.K. mail server isn’t really from eBay in the U.S.

However, what makes it look legit, is what you normally see in your mail software without looking at the headers:

    Subject: eBay Second Chance Offer for Item 110026433335

Now, contrast this with the headers from a “real” email from eBay, in response to my forwarding the fake email to (which is the address you should forward ALL suspect eBay email to):

    Received: (qmail 26862 invoked from network); 8 Sep 2006 07:47:10 -0700
    Received: from (HELO (

Identifying Fake eBay Emails and Websites
eBay provides the following information regarding this issue, which is worth a read to become savvy at spotting this kind of scam:

The best defense against fake emails and Web sites is learning how to spot them. You can learn more about fake emails and Web sites through our Spoof Tutorial at the following Web page:

Tracking Down I.P. Addresses
If you feel particulary pissed off about getting this kind of email trickery, you can complain to the hosting company where the email originated. You do this by looking at the headers, and finding the I.P. (Internet Protocol) number, and then enterting that into the ARIN Whois system, found at:

Example, if we use the I.P. in the phishing email, which was Put that into the ARIN search, and we get back the owner of that I.P., which happens to be Everyones Internet in Texas. In most cases there will be an abuse contact, where you can forward the entire scam email (including the long headers), as in this case:

    OrgAbuseHandle: ABUSE477-ARIN
    OrgAbuseName: Abuse
    OrgAbusePhone: +1-713-579-2850

One caution is that, in some cases, smart spammers and phishing farms, will “spoof” the I.P. as well which might look something like domain (hello and then later a real I.P. — point is, when you see more than one I.P., it’s usually the second one that is real and the first one faked. Complaining to the owner of the first number won’t do any good. Or, you can just forward the email(s) to eBay and let them deal with the hosting provider directly. Which they will do.

Well, there you go. Hopefully this will help keep your online eyes and ears open, and not get ripped off while trying to buy that cool piece of gear on eBay.

Article is Copr. © 2006 by Christopher Simmons – all rights reserved. Originally appeared on

Advertising and Marketing Reviews

When Product Placement Goes Too Far

ARTICLE: Product placement is considered a necessary evil and potential savior for the advertising industry, but sometimes the concept gets in the way of the art form. I don’t usually mind subtle placement of products into entertainment, such as Apple’s notebooks being found in almost every TV show of the past decade, or the iMac showing up on every desk in Dawson’s Creek, but the recent creative and financial flop The Island took the concept way too far.

Beyond the fact that the movie was a stinker, and a hodgepodge of better movies like Logan’s Run, one of the most annoying things that kept kicking me out of my suspension of disbelief was the raft of illogical and blatant product placements. Apparently clones meant for the slaughter need brand identification of the fact they’re drinking Aquafina water, or wearing Puma athletic shoes.

Most notably jarring was the giant Microsoft XBox backlit logo signage in the common area for the clones for their “evening fight games,” where they have been raised to think they are in a protected nest in a post holocaust world where the air outside will kill you. So, it made absolutely no sense for a giant XBox logo to be found on the walls in a faux future where corporations don’t exist and the world is a shambles.

When the lead characters use a callbox in the city, and the “MSN” logo comes up to float in mid-air, it’s not unreasonable to assume that might happen. Although, the likelihood of most of the movie’s near-future tack-ons are illogical at best (we will not have floating holograms, flying hover bikes, or sky-high monorails within the next 15 years by any stretch of the imagination). I’m also a bit doubtful that MSN will be the default search tool for phone directories at public phones (ahem, if there are still public phones on street corners at all in 15 years); but “wishful thinking” product placement in a bad SF movie isn’t that heinous, compared to the rest of the package.

Hit the Gas Pedal and the Story Runs on Fumes
At least in Minority Report the futuristic car from Lexus didn’t exist in a world where cars were obsolete. Similarly the futuristic Audi in I Robot didn’t kick your brain out of the story and served to show off a really cool “grab it and rack it” parking structure (too bad the rest of the movie didn’t live up to Asimov’s vision). But, back in The Island we see every police outfit in the city driving 2005 model Dodge Magnums; presumably in the year 2019, the police will be driving 15 year old vehicles while the rich citizens have flying speeder bikes. Vehicle placement in television is a long-standing tradition, and helped sell a heck of a lot of Pontiac Firebirds during the run of Knight Rider, but the shameless product placement of cars in movies has really gotten to be a distraction. Certainly Michael Bay is known for car chases and shooting TV commercials for same, but his creative-whore practice of bringing his commercials into his movies has become a negative trademark to his films.

In Bad Boys II, the lead characters actually commandeer the car of a sports celebrity “test driving” a new Cadillac, which the Will Smith character suddenly finds to be just as good a chase car as his Porsche or Ferrari – not because it serves the story, but because it gets the car into a scene which plays to the masses. Sadly, the sorts of folks who are likely to be brainwashed by this kind of product placement are not buying Cadillacs. They also drive by a perfectly posed brand new year model Chevy Tahoe (or so it appeared) just sitting there washed and the same camera angle used in car commercials. Similarly, in The Island, the clone and his original lovingly adore a 2009 Cadillac with 500 horsepower, which looks a lot like the GM show car possibly planned for 2008 production.

GM might disagree with my complaints since their sales of cars under the Cadillac brand are up 35% over the past four years, due to making better cars and higher visibility in films like the second Matrix movie and the Bad Boys sequel.

As a car guy, I really found it very distracting in The Island to see Chrysler Crossfires parked at the front of a row of cars on a street, Dodge Magnums, and other Chrysler branded products in almost every scene where there was a vehicle. Either a new GM vehicle or Dodge is shown throughout, even in the scenes with traffic driving through intersections.

product placementAnother gratuitous placement in a bad movie was the giant weight loss product truck that just happens to be driving through the back roads in Terminator 3 (photo at right). We’ve long seen Pepsi or Coke trucks get side-swiped in TV shows and movies, but now we’re getting long lingering camera shots of trucks with brands highly visible on the sides.

Lexus has taken a more restrained approach, providing 2006 model year cars to TV shows like Las Vegas, and 24 (all the bad guys drive the nicest cars in 24).

Placed Products Get the Best Close-ups
Smart folks might already know the connection between both Bad Boys II and The Island; being produced by the same film makers — and so the annoyance level in both films is not coincidental. The makers of both movies are more focused on “product” over “art” and shamelessly build product around a marketing plan, not on the longevity of the story or performances, or for film critics. Ultimately, this leads to bad movies, and the overt product placement is only one of the elements contributing to this.

Film makers should look at well-done examples of placement, such as Minority Report, where the character going into a futuristic GAP store fit in with the storyline and served to make a statement about “personalization” with a video/holographic A.I. sales “greeter” welcoming you to the store by name and asking about your prior purchases. The retinal-scan personalization and identification aspect allowed clever placement for all kinds of products, like American Express and digital ink newspapers from USA Today.

I love movies, watch a lot of TV, and don’t mind the product placements in most cases (like Lexus in this season of 24), but these “punch you in the eyeballs” tactics in some projects are really starting to detract from enjoying even “bad” films.

If content creators, film makers, TV producers and others wish to retain some level of credibility with their audiences and to not permanently punch holes in their work with dated products, there needs to be some thought given to more subtle approaches that serve both the needs of the budget builders and the art form.

Article is Copr. © 2006 by Christopher Simmons – all rights reserved. Originally appeared on

Articles Business 2.0 Public Relations (PR)

Top Mistakes of Online Writing – Tips for New Media Authors

ARTICLE: I am often asked in my daily gig of copy-editing other folks’ work (my company has an online publishing network, and also runs a respected newswire service) if there is “tip sheet” of common mistakes to look for when writing online copy, be it a company bio, or articles for Internet journals. Since there are a number of things I coach or caution folks on all the time, it seemed a good idea to share these tidbits.

Since many online journals no longer use trained copy-editors, and most of the new “newswire” services and online posting sites have no editorial staff to filter bad writing, these tips might help you keep the most common mistakes to a minimum.

First, the most common mistakes I find in business press releases include:

It’s vs. Its: “It’s” is short for “it is” or “it has” (“it’s raining”), whereas “its” is a possessive pronoun, as in “its coat.”

You’re vs. Your: “You’re” is short for “you are” (“you’re not going to like this movie”), whereas “your” is a possessive pronoun, as in “your shirt has a hole in it.”

There vs. Their: “There” is a place (“let’s go over there for a boat ride”), whereas “their” is a plural possessive pronoun, as in “their boat sure is big.”

Insure vs. Ensure: The term “insure” should be considered related to the insurance business, whereas “ensure” means “to make sure.” So you would “ensure people make it to the wedding on time” rather than “insure” they get there. UPDATE 2011: This has changed quite a bit, where even the Concise Oxford now considers “insure” to be an acceptable U.S. use of “ensure.” However, most journalists still prefer more specific usage of each word for clarity. As in “I need to ensure I have paid up on our insurance, and that State Farm will insure the stuff in the garage in case of damage.”

Watch for other like-sounding words – it’s all about the i and e: Some of the most common errors come from words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have subtly different meanings. Much like insure and ensure, the same problem arises with premier and premiere, and compliment and complement.

Brand Names: Many people don’t understand that certain brands are spelled a certain way, or Initial Capped (first letter of word capitalized) a certain way. And some brands are not generic terms for a type of product. For instance Kleenex is a brand name, not a generic term for tissue. Xerox is a brand name, not the term for photo-copying. Some brands have letters capitalized in certain ways like iPod or YouTube, or PayPal. So, using pay pal or paypal would be incorrect. Wi-Fi is actually a trade name and is not “wifi.”

Consistent Company Names: Too often I see companies that don’t seem to know their own legal name. Throughout a press release, one should be consistent with use of WidgetWoo, Inc, or Widgetwoo, Inc. or WidgetWoo Inc (check your letters of incorporation if you don’t know proper use of commas and periods in your company name and whether the inc has a period at the end or not – and which letters are initial capped).

Know what acronyms actually mean: Many people don’t understand what acronyms are or what they stand for: an acronym is a word formed from the initial letters of other words. A common mistake is ATM, which stands for Automated Teller Machine. Technically, if you write “ATM machine,” that is redundant, and is like saying automated teller machine machine. Other similar errors might be “USB bus” or “DVD disc.” Acronyms must always be written all upper case, “atm” is wrong, as is “usb” or “dvd.” Computer tech items based on acronyms are often incorrectly used, and these include: ROM, RAM, CD, PC, RAID and LED.

Punctuation and Quote Marks: Commas separating a direct quote from the rest of a sentence should be placed inside the quotation marks. The same is true for periods. Question marks should be inside quotes only if they are part of the quote. So for instance: “Life is a lovely bunch of chocolates,” said Jane Smith, CEO of WidgetWonk LLC.

Ellipses (…) vs. Em Dashes (—): Ellipses indicate something was removed from the text and should not be used to separate a thought — that’s a job for the em dash (so named because in traditional typography, the dash was the same width as a capital M; this has also now been carried over to Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS, for HTML, used to specify increments of letter and line spacing). Since the em dash often requires an embed of what’s called a high ASCII character, it’s often represented by a double hyphen. Here, the em dash is used to set off text that defines the sentence’s subject: “My wife the wedding planner — the one who asked me to give this presentation — is not here today.” In this next sentence, the words “the one” were replaced by an ellipsis: “My wife…who asked me to give this presentation is here today.” Also, when a quote or sentence ends with an ellipses, a further period is required, as in: “The world of garp is full of tarp if only ….”

The ellipses is technically used most often when quoting or citing a reference, say a review of a product, and taking part of the sentence or overall quote, and cutting out something in the middle, and that is where you would have the ellipses to indicate something has been removed in the quoted information.

It’s generally considered acceptable in some online content such as press releases to use a single hyphen versus a double hyphen to simulate the em dash, as so: “There’s trouble brewing – not coffee, mind you – around the tracks, back by the barn.”

In traditional print writing, you would not actually have spaces on either side of the em dash, either, but for readability and line breaks online, the space on either side of an em dash has become acceptable usage.

For both press releases, and for Web journalism, some of the most common mistakes are in not actually proofing (proof reading) what you’ve written. Here are some tips for checking your work:

View your document at 125 or 150 percent (“zoom”) in your word processor (such as Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, OpenOffice, WordPerfect, etc.) so you can better see what you’re reading and more easily spot errors.

Switch your font (typeface) to Courier, a mono-spaced font (looks like old typewriter text and not book text), to break the brain’s typical pattern recognition. This makes it easier to catch mistakes, because it forces you to pay closer attention to the text including elements between words such as punctuation.

Don’t just skim. Take the time to really read what you’ve written, word for word, line by line, as if you’ve never seen it before.

When possible, read your work out loud. Hearing the text may help you spot errors you might not see, as another part of your brain might think, “Hey, that didn’t make sense.”

Print your document. You can often catch mistakes on paper that you’d miss on the computer monitor. If you’ve ever noticed an error in something you’ve posted to a blog, after it’s live, and you’ve gone to read it “on the page,” this is same principal, except you’re checking before it’s been published.

Have somebody else read it. Another pair of eyes can be the magic bullet in finding errors, as different people see both text and information differently. However, this will more often find thematic or grammatical issues than pure punctuation. Obviously, if the person checking you doesn’t know what an ellipses is either, it won’t catch that kind of mistake.

And finally, why not actually use your word processor:

Give the pesky grammar checker in your word processor a try. The latest and greatest software applications are much improved from the clunky software of the last century. Microsoft Word will often give you ideas on how to fix fragmented sentences, or replace a phrase. You don’t have to follow their advice or example, as often it’s quite wrong, but sometimes it can make you re-examine something that actually does have an error in usage.

MS Word will even underline suspect words and double spaces to fix. Sometimes it’s just a word not recognized, and you might add that to the built-in dictionary. Sometimes, it will catch an obvious item like a missing apostrophe, or repeated words. If you’re using a word processor, why not actually use it to do more than be an on-screen typewriter?

These tips won’t make you a better writer, as you still need to have something to say, or clearly communicate what you want somebody else to understand, but perhaps these tips will help you find and fix some of the mistakes I see made every day, and how to avoid them yourself.

Article is Copr. © 2006-2011 by Christopher Laird Simmons – all rights reserved.

Articles Books and Publishing

The Present and Future of e-Books

ARTICLE: For this “roundtable” we’re discussing the future of e-books (electronic books). The question posited to our panel is this: “Do you think e-books will ever catch on, and if so when, and if not, why?” Or, even more simply, “What do you think about the future of E-Books?”

Backgrounder for this Brainstorm:

E-books (or eBooks) have had a long history, yet slow growth as a consumer product. It’s been 10 years since e-books began to show up online in places like AOL, before the dawn of the “world wide web,” and a decade later e-book sales are but a blip in a single NY Times Best Seller’s revenue sheet. According to the Open eBook Forum, a trade group for electronic publishers, sales in the first quarter of 2004 were $3.23 million, a 28 percent jump from the prior year. Over one million units were reported sold in 2003.

The Future of e-BooksArguably the widest “distribution” of e-books is actually facilitated through unauthorized conversion of printed books into electronic format using OCR (optical character recognition) software and a scanner, or Adobe Acrobat’s “capture” feature. Thousands of books are now being circulated without any compensation to the author or publishers, which is evidence of legitimate concern for the need of digital rights management (DRM) technologies before major publishers make e-books a staple of their marketing. And, ironically, as the market continues to present itself, some online book sellers have stopped selling e-books in favor of only offering print-on-demand (POD) versions of small press titles.

For the average joe or jane, however, e-books are still in need of the comfortable reading device, that’s either affordable, or disposable/recyclable in the form of some type of digital paper with activated ink capsules. With new technologies coming around the corner, the growth of “electronic reading” online, and the proliferation of portable multimedia content devices, e-books have the potential to “take off” finally, but it’s unlikely they will ever replace printed books and the “joy of reading” which is so dear to so many. What then is the future of the e-book?

–Christopher Simmons, Oct. 2004.

About Our Roundtable Panel for This Discussion:

Christopher Laird Simmons is the founder of Neotrope® Press (formerly Mindset Press). He has been a self-publisher since a teenager in the 1970s, and produced his first e-book in the nascent Common Ground format in 1994. He has also written widely on the subject of portable electronic document formats and digital rights management (DRM) for national magazines like Print on Demand Business, and has been interviewed by TrendWatch for reports on the PDF industry.

Beverly West is a best-selling author whose series, Cinematherapy, the Girls Guide to Movies for Every Mood, has spawned six sequels and daily TV show in primetime on WE, Women’s Entertainment, as well as a weekly column in Hampton Jitney Magazine. In addition, Bev’s cookbook, Culinarytherapy, The Girl’s Guide to Food for Every Mood is now a weekly column with Knight Ridder. Bev has also written for many national magazines including Self, Redbook, Body and Soul, and TV Guide.

Michael Archer is the founder of Firebomber Publications, a small press dedicated to providing exciting firefighting fiction to the general public. Fifty percent of the profits from the sale of Firebombers Incorporated books and merchandise go to firefighting relief agencies supporting the families of injured and fallen firefighters.

Ron Pramschufer is one of the founders of RJ Communications; a New York City web based publishing services company which operates at BooksJustBooks .com. Ron has over 30 years experience in the printing and publishing industries. He is the co-author of the book, Publishing basics – A Guide for the Small Press and Independent Self-Publisher and edits the monthly publishing oriented newsletter, Publishing Basics (PublishingBasics .com).

The roundtable:

Bev: I do see a growing market for e-books as the public becomes increasingly accustomed to on-demand entertainment, that doesn’t require them to reach any further than their remote control or their internet screen to acquire the media they are looking for. So the immediacy of e-book is a big selling point, however I also believe that reading online is a very different experience than holding a book and reading in a comfy chair while sipping tea with a cat on your lap.

Chris: Right now I think e-books have their place, but it’s not yet a broad-appeal form of delivering book content. I think it is a great way for first-time authors to put their work out there, and it’s also a great replacement for the traditional “fanzines” which were popular in the 70s and 80s (I published a whole bunch of these in the late 70s). While the “blog” is turning into a catchall for many types of opinion publishing, competent fiction and non-fiction books, and those gorgeous coffee-table books are not in jeopardy from the e-book format.

One great use for e-books, which has only become a recent phenomenon, is for libraries. Some librarians which have PDF-enabled collections now, can “loan” out copies of rare books which could not otherwise be provided to the public.

I also think the Open eBook Forum’s sales figures are a good “indicator,” but are not in any way complete, as they only count those reporting sellers, and don’t (yet) take into account many e-book aggregator sales sites. And they are not taking into account the thousands of home-brew e-books being sold off personal websites with PayPal enabled ecommerce, or the “free” books that solicit donations, that are a notable grassroots movement the media is unaware of.

Ron: Most of those who know me are quite aware that there is very little grey area in my opinion on just about any topic. My opinion on E-Books is no exception. In my opinion E-Books are a waste of time and effort and only detract from the small publishers’ main goal of selling “books.”

Back in the 90s, when the venture capital money was flowing faster than Niagara Falls, the e-book industry “PR Machine” predicted a “Revolution” during which time the printed book would quickly go the way of the dinosaurs. I remember attending various trade shows during this time and seeing huge exhibits of the e-books publishers as well as other e-book suppliers recounting their success stories. While I had never actually seen an e-book, it sure seemed like something I was missing out on.

The way these e-book vendors made it appear, I was the only person in the universe who was not buying books in their format. It was really making me feeling old having let such a dramatic event pass me right by. However, once I left these exhibit halls and re-entered the real world I couldn’t find an e-book anywhere, or even anyone who even knew what one was. The truth about this e-book “revolution” is that is was simply a figment of the imaginations of those in the e-book industry and the “revolution” only existed as long as the venture capital lasted. The venture capital ran out some time ago.

The concept of sitting at a computer, or other similar device, reading a book never made sense to me. Looking something up on the Internet or downloading a sample PDF chapter is one thing, but a whole book? I just don’t see it. And I am not alone.

Chris: As an experiment, I read the first Harry Potter books in “unauthorized” e-book format (I own the hardcover editions as well), on my little HP notebook in Winter 2002/3. It was actually not unpleasant because once I determined the right color scheme (i.e., white text on blue background) and a size that was comfortable, margin width that didn’t hurt my eyes from scanning too far left-right over and over, it wasn’t so bad. Of course, I was doing this curled up on the couch, in front of the fireplace, to complete the experiment. I can’t say it made me want to give up printed books, but I can see my kids (not yet born) finding it to be “normal.” If I had a tablet PC, I would almost find it – dare I say it – comfortable. It was nice to be able to make the typeface larger, as my eyes are not what they were as a youth and I’ve been too stubborn to get contacts or glasses.

Michael: E-books are a great idea for those who don’t work behind a computer all day, or who don’t mind curling up with a good computer in front of the fireplace, but generally, I don’t know that they will ever really catch on. At Firebomber Publications, we tried marketing our first novel, “Firebombers Incorporated,” as an e-book before segueing to paperback and the resultant demand was underwhelming. Once the paperback version came out, many more copies sold in that format than the e-book style.

I decided to send some reader response material out about this and found out some interesting things. First, people were not really enthused about having to read a book on a computer after spending all day at work on a computer. The only exception was one engineer who read the e-book on his work computer during his lunch break, but his reading time was so limited with this approach that he had a hard time remembering all the plot details from week to week.

Ron: I ride the train each morning, to my office in New York, along with about 400,000 other commuters. I made it a point to start observing what people were doing with their time riding to and from the city. The morning trip is dominated by people reading the newspaper or catching up on a little sleep. The seats on Metro North were designed to comfortably seat 2-5 pigmies so you can imagine what the rush hour commute is like. Add to this, the image of all these people trying to read the newspaper.

You would think this would be the perfect setting for the use of a bunch of e-book readers. The commute home is a little different in that many of the morning newspaper readers have turned into book readers and the morning sleepers are reading the newspaper they didn’t read on the trip in. In all the years of riding the train I have only seen one e-book reader. I was so shocked when I saw it, I moved over to the person to ask him about it.

As it turned out, he worked for and had been given the reader at no charge. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that if it were up to him, he would not have it. Years later, the commute is still pretty much the same. A few people are sprinkled here and there watching movies on DVD players or laptops, and a few more talking obnoxiously on their cell phones to who knows who, but there are still no signs of anyone reading an e-book.

Michael: Another problem is that people like to take paperbacks to the beach or on trips and few if any really want to invest in the portable readers to make the e-book truly mobile. Some people like to collect books and aren’t enthused about the prospect of having a signed CD in their collection. In selling my books, I tried including some illustrations with my CD to add features that couldn’t be included with a paperback, but, since people could access these images from my website as well, that incentive went nowhere.

Chris: I think it’s very valid that the must-have e-book reading device does not yet exist. There is no Apple ePod, or iBook that has both the cool factor and usability to take the world by storm (although the new Sony Librie is pretty nice) and I think will succeed where the Rocketbook/Gemstar eBook device failed – the problem with the last Gemstar was that it wasn’t different enough from simply reading a book on your notebook or PDA to warrant the purchase. I think RCA came out with a new iteration under $300, but I’d find this hard to justify versus a PDA.

Certainly some people are now reading the bible on their iPod, but little snippets of wisdom fit well into the tiny window, while a full fledged book would not be practical on such a small device. I’m hoping that the digital paper/ink formats will be the panacea that digital book companies have been awaiting with baited pixels. It’s estimated we’ll see some practical devices in late 2006 (the Sony Librie is somewhat based on this technology, and is available in Japan only), so that’s when I think the next bump will come in electronic books people can “read” versus simply reference.

Michael: When I first decided to try an e-book format, there were a number of booksellers on the web who dealt with practically nothing but e-books. Since that time, I’ve noticed that more and more of these vendors have either gotten out of e-books for the most part, or have required those who market e-books through their web stores to also sign up for Print-On-Demand (POD) programs with limited (and expensive) print runs. I suppose that’s the only way they can make any margin on the less-popular e-book version of the tome.

Chris: I don’t think that e-books will ever replace printed books. Even with the various digital ink solutions, the permanence of organic ink on paper has many attractive features. It’s unlikely a future archeologist will be able to even read the data off a hard disk or optical disc buried in the sands of time, but books, scrolls, and manuscripts have survived hundreds of years. A well printed, well-bound hard cover book can last for much longer than digital media (as far as readability). So, for collectors and those who enjoy reading with a visceral experience, a book is still unique.

On the other hand, I think some forms of published media like newspapers are ultimately doomed because of the time-lag in information delivery, and the inherent temporary nature of the format. A recent study shows newspaper circulations dropping in general. In fact, I cancelled my LA Times subscription because I was not reading it. There was nothing compelling enough for me to keep getting it, and they mangled the Calendar section from a magazine to just another news section. I can get news online or via cable TV “right now” and my morning read online has news from the past hour, not the past evening.

Bev: I definitely see that e-books have an increasing place in the personal libraries of America, I do not think that it will ever replace hard copy completely.

Michael: Until a user-friendly reader is made affordable enough to compete with paperbacks (or even hardcover books), e-books simply won’t go anywhere.

Ron: I have a personal theory on this whole paper vs. E-book thing. I believe it was Freud who said your personality is developed by the time you are two (or something like that). With that in mind, take a look at your children or grandchildren under the age of two. Do you sit down or lay down with them and read them a nice picture book or do you lay down with them and read them a nice e-book? A book is more than just words on paper, especially to a child. The touch and feel, even the smell and, to a one year old, the taste makes a book unique. By the age of two, these children are “book” people and will continue to be book people as long as they are alive. Don’t believe me? Look how many kids under two are set in front of a television to be entertained. Mine were no exceptions. Wee Sing, Sesame Street, Wiggles or the Care Bears have babysat more then one child. Are these kids now TV people? You bet they are.

Chris: It’s funny, though. Ten years ago when I was working to help launch a couple of mail order catalog companies, (MacMall right before the Mosaic “web” browser came out, and then DirectWare) the popular argument was that online shopping would never replace traditional print catalogs, because women would always prefer to curl up by the fireplace and dog-ear fashion catalog pages or circle items. Certainly the online store we launched in 1995 died because it was too far ahead of the curve to succeed against printed catalogs, but now there is a critical mass of people online. This has greatly impacted the publishing world for direct mail and catalogs. I get about 1/10th the holiday catalogs that I did ten years ago even though I and am on more high end customer “lists.” When I was a kid, we’d circle things in the Sears wish-book; now kids have online tools to help them prepare a wish list for santa complete with price comparisons and photos, and where to buy for parents.

I think there will ultimately be some form of electronic book that works – like for technical information that changes every six months. I recently started using a product called Cakewalk Sonar XL in the summer of 2003. At the end of 2003 it went to version 3.0, and now in October of 2004, it’s at 4.0. I bought a couple of “expert books” for the program, but they were out of date in as few as five months! An e-book and an inkjet printer output would make more sense to me today, then recycle the paper when a new “book” comes out. With a decent e-reader device, you could have a hundred books “online” in his or her hand.

Spending $30 for a book that is obsolete in six to eight months makes no sense. This has also been a problem for people who buy books for topics like learning Macromedia Flash, which went through three versions with substantial changes in about the same timeframe as Sonar. I have two $35 Flash MX books on my shelf, which don’t have the information on MX2004 which came out a few months after MX. I won’t buy these kinds of books ever again! I would buy the ebook for $15 because I can print the chapters I need, or look something up, the dispose of it when the new “edition” comes out. This makes a lot of sense to me.

For research e-books are the clear winner, since they can be searched internally, can be searched via the web (Google searches and archives Acrobat PDF content), and support bookmarks, and note taking in the document.

So, for me, this means that currently the ideal type of book that can work for the format is likely technical or time-sensitive, and not the great American novel, or latest socio-political thriller.

With the eventual arrival of digital paper and ink, e-books and such content will become more viable. Other future tech that will make e-books more popular will be better voice synthesis and the ability to have smart media in your car or portable phone, which can read the contents of a book out loud in an audio-book fashion.

Ron: e-book people are still touting e-books. A recent article proclaims that “Record E-book Sales Recorded in First Quarter of 2004.” Sounds like the “revolution” is alive and well until you figure that the 1st Quarter “record” of 421,955 copies for the entire e-book publishing industry is just about equal to what the “Swift Boat” guys sold of their printed book in a couple days. While better than a “poker in the eye,” it’s a long way from the predicted “revolution.” I guess only time will tell.

Remember, it took a while for the laser disc to morph into the DVD. Keep your eye on those one year olds. The day you don’t see any printed books on their bookshelves and their parents reading stories to them from a computer, it is time to jump on the e-book bandwagon. Until then, my money is on the printed book.

* * *

Additional comments on this subject by Doug Powles, CEO of Colligo Corp.

The article is aimed the average Joe or Jane. But let’s Include Sally, who is blind, Ken who has severe dyslexia, Ramon, who grew up using English as a second language and Fred who cannot read past a grade 5 level.

Take all the Sallys, Kens, Freds and Ramons and you are talking over one third of our population….so there is no average.

Nothing Gives You a Greater Life than a Book.
But a printed book is not accessible to these folks.
26 states have passed the accessible textbook act, giving the content in accessible format or e-books.

With available software, these people can now enjoy what the average Joe or Jane enjoys.

But the publishers are dragging their heels and will not come into the 21st century.

However, new laws, the copyright law of 1996, Fair Use Act, Sec. 508 and others will drive the antiquated publishers out of business. These laws mandate that all information be available to all people in an accessible manner…an e-book is that manner. This pertains to any agency talking public funds, from libraries to schools, court houses and more. Further, the 26 states will not buy from publishers who do not supply accessible formats.

The publishers just don’t get it, why don’t they compromise and put a CD in the back of their books — it’s a win win for everybody. They seem to forget that their next generation of readers is the kids who are the computer generation and more and more schools are going completely digital.

eBook Resources:

(A more detailed list can be found in our “Resources” center.)

Open eBook Forum
Industry Trade Group, has e-book “best seller” list.

Adobe Digital Media Store
Digital books in PDF formats.

ebookwise (fictionwise)
Offers $99 ebook reader (rebranded GEB1150) with $20 content credit. 7,500 titles priced about the same as printed books. – the digital bookstore
20,000 titles in 50 categories.

uBook Reader
Simple, lean FREE ebook reader for Windows and Pocket PCs that can read HTML, TXT, RTF, PDB, and PRC (not secure) formats.

University of Virginia Library
1,800 publicly-available ebooks from the UVL Etext Center in MS Reader and PALM format.

OverDrive(R) ReaderWorks
Free eBook authoring and conversion tools for creating MS Reader format eBooks from MS Word documents.
Acrobat PDF resources online publication from Ziff-Davis.

BiblePlayer(tm) for iPod

Important Note: The above list was prepared Fall of 2004 and may be obsolete by the time you read this, due to the fast-paced changes in the field and the World Wide Web.

This article and all content is Copr. © 2004 by Christopher Laird Simmons. All Rights Reserved. Originally appeared on

Articles Books and Publishing Interviews

Interview: A Vision of Hope with Archbishop Desmond Tutu

INTERVIEW: An interview with Nobel Peace Prize winner, human rights activist and world renowned author and lecturer Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who shares a few thoughts on his book “God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time” (Doubleday, 2004, Audio Book by Maui Media).

First of all, can you tell us a little bit about God’s Dream, and your vision of hope for our troubled times?

God’s dream is that you and I and all of us will realize that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, for goodness, and for compassion. In God’s family, there are no outsiders, no enemies. Black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, Jew and Arab, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Buddhist–all belong. When we start to live as brothers and sisters and to recognize our interdependence, we become fully human. God’s love is too great to be confined to any one side of a conflict or to any one religion.

Archbishop Desmond TutuPeople are shocked when I say that George Bush and Saddam Hussein are brothers, that Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon are brothers, but God says, “All are my children.” It is shocking. It is radical. But it is true. If we can keep this in our minds and hearts, our individual and global suffering can be transformed into joy and redemption.

Why did you want to write this particular book at this particular time in history?

I wrote these words because we all experience sadness, we all come at times to despair, and we all lose hope that the suffering in our lives and in our world will ever end.

We are overwhelmed by so much conflict—or nearly overwhelmed. And one needed to say that God has not finished with God’s work. Creation is a work in progress. Evil is not going to have the last word. God has us as God’s collaborators, fellow-workers, and ultimately good—and those who strive for it—will prevail.

While your book obviously reflects your Christian beliefs, do you feel that your book has a message for people of all faiths?

I believe so very much. Because love is universal. I mean, you don’t have to tell somebody that loving is better than hating. You do not have to believe in God to know that stealing is bad. And we are trying to remind them that all of us are fundamentally good. The aberration is the bad person. God is not upset that Gandhi was not a Christian, because God is not a Christian. All of God’s children and their different faiths help us to realize the immensity of God. No faith contains the whole truth about God. And certainly Christians don’t have a corner on God. All of us belong to God.

How is this book different from your earlier books, and how is it the same?

This book is a cumulative expression of my life’s work and many of the ideas and beliefs presented here have been developed and delivered in earlier sermons, speeches, and writings.

For those who have followed my work, there will be much that is familiar. This is inevitable since, while my thinking has evolved, my core beliefs have remained the same over the years. With the help of my friend and collaborator Doug Abrams, I have tried to offer my understanding of what I have learned from the marvelous life with which I have been gifted and the extraordinary people I have met along the way. It is their faith and their courage that give me so much hope in the nobility of the human spirit.

What do you hope that your readers and or listeners will take away from your book?

We tend to suffer from a sense of insecurity and inadequacy in our lives because our culture sets such a high store on success. People forget that God loves them as they are. God marvelously, miraculously cares about each and every one of us. The Bible has this incredible image of you, of me, of all of us, each one, held as something precious, fragile in the palms of God’s hands. And God says to you, “I love you. You are precious in your fragility and your vulnerability. Your being is a gift.” I hope readers, whatever their religion, will have a new faith in themselves and realize just how beautiful they are, how precious they are, how much they truly matter.

So you would like readers to come away with a sense of optimism about their own future, and the future of the world?

Optimism relies on appearances and very quickly turns into pessimism when the appearances change. I see myself as a realist, and the vision of hope I want to offer in this book is based on reality—the reality I have seen and lived. God says to us all, I have a dream.

Please help me to realize it. It is a dream of a world whose ugliness and squalor and poverty, this war and hostility, its greed and harsh competitiveness, its alienation and disharmony are changed into their glorious counterparts.

When there will be more laughter, joy, and peace, where there will be justice and goodness and compassion and love and caring and sharing, I have a dream that my children will know that they are members of one family, the human family, God’s family, my family.

More Information:
For more information on God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time, please visit .

A version of this interview appeared on in July 2004 and on in Aug. 2006, and is Copr. © 2004, 2006 Christopher Simmons – all rights reserved. Image of Desmond Tutu is Copr. © 2004 Maui Media and Desmond Tutu and is used with permission.

Articles Books and Publishing Public Relations (PR)

Using PR to Market Your Book – How to Write a Press Release

ARTICLE: One of the most cost-effective ways to “get the word out” about your new product or service is to use a press release. Basically, this is a brief announcement directed to the media (magazines, newspapers, TV, and online sites), which describes something which is newsworthy. Obviously a new book is a newsworthy event, and a press release is a valuable component to letting the world know the book is available, has been published, has won an award, or anything else that would be considered news about the book and/or author.

A press release is not an article, or an advertisement, and must be written to catch the interest of somebody reading it for potential use in a news outlet, where it may eventually be seen by the public.

write a book press releaseSome of the most important things to know when developing a press release to send to the media is proper formatting, the required elements such as “attribution,” and making sure the right information is included.

The Right Length

The common optimum length for a press release is 400-800 words, with 400-600 words being a good target length. In many cases a 400-500 word release is “just right” because it ensures you get to the point in what you’re announcing. Length will vary, and run longer, when there is mandatory “boiler plate” information typically found in releases for publicly traded companies or with partnership announcements.

Write for brevity when possible and make every word count, but you don’t need to be obsessive about it — it’s important to remember you’re writing a news announcement and not the “great American novel.” Be matter-of-fact but also attempt to engage the reader with information that draws the interest of the person who might read it. Be aware that some major media outlets like the Los Angeles Times receive as many as 3,000 press releases per week from around the world, so your “hook” can be very important.

With product announcements your headline can be more general, as simple as “BigBear Publishing Announces Latest Version of BearMarket, the Leading Bear Tracking Guide.” With general editorial — sometimes called feature stories — you need to be more creative.

The release should be written to reflect the actual news announcement in specifics, which are clearly stated. Avoid hyperbole like “the greatest application ever written,” and similar statements. Vague or projected content will not interest the receiving media targets (editors, assistant editors, etc.). Use good grammar, and strong action words like “will” versus “may” and “does” versus “might.”

Be aware that most news services that send releases to the media electronically have word length limits (length of the entire release in words, not characters). Words are calculated “absolutely” using the word count feature in a word processor, and not the old-fashioned line/character counting method once used for book manuscripts.

Getting Started

The first line of a press release should be all capital letters, and will sometimes be “PRESS RELEASE” but more commonly should be “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE.” We recommend the latter. (Neither version is included in word count limits for the majority of wire services like Send2Press Newswire). Commonly, “PRESS RELEASE” is used for news announcements which are not being distributed on a specific day, such as those which might be included in a media kit or posted on a Web site.

There are two accepted locations for the placement of contact information: either at the top of the release, or at the bottom. If you choose to place the information at top, it should be below “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” and before the body of the release. If you choose to place the contact information at bottom, it should be after the body of the release. The contact information should be the name of the contact person by name, PR firm (if any) or company where contact person works; then phone number, and e-mail address. Each item should be on a separate line by itself.

Although it has become common practice to put contact information at top, a brief survey of 100 journalists conducted by Send2Press Newswire in 1999 discovered that working writers preferred to see the “meat” of the release (the headline announcement) first, with contact info at bottom, when receiving news by e-mail. Most wire services such as Send2Press put the contact information at the bottom, which is the preferred placement for electronic news distribution. An exception would be a formatted release printed in a media kit, and sent by mail; or a faxed release, where it is preferable to have the contact information at the top.

Next, the market segment identifier is used to identify to who your press release will be of interest. This can be in the form of listing a specific market such as “Business/E-Commerce/Fashion” or it can be directed at editors in the form of “Business Editors/High-Tech Writers.” Each method is correct, with one stating a market and the other identifying which editor at a general interest publication the release should be directed to. Generally, only one of the forms is used, however you can mix the approaches as necessary. Although not every PR firm uses an identifier line, we’ve found that it helps identify the relevance of the announcement to the receiving party, and may help it be read/used. It is recommended. Most wire services will use their own market identifiers, such as “Attention Travel Editors” and you can include them for guidance on your target audience, but they will be changed by the specific wire service to their methodology. These are not counted in “word length limits” used by all legitimate wire services.

Below the “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” and the contact information (if you choose to place contact information at top) you must put your news “headline information.”

This should be one of the two most carefully crafted aspects of your release (along with the first paragraph), and must be both attention getting and describe a genuine newsworthy event. It doesn’t need to be a cure for cancer, but must clearly state what you intend to announce in the body of your release. Did you get a book published, did you sign with a literary agency, did you win an award, or launch a new product/service? Spell it out.

It needs to be compelling enough for the editor reading it to not dismiss the entire release and then immediately “round file” it in the trash. The better your headline, the better your chance of an editor reading the rest of your announcement — but, again, it doesn’t have to be ground breaking, merely succinct and spell out clearly what it is you’re announcing.

As a rule, your headline should be 30 words or less (or two lines on an 80-character width page). Long headlines may be chopped into a headline plus a sub-headline. Note that some online news outlets that pick up feeds from wire services may not always capture the sub-head, so be certain the sub-head is not critical to your announcement (media receiving your news announcement by e-mail will still see the sub-head).

So, for example, the top of your release might look like this:

Of interest to editors and journalists covering: Consumer electronics, telecom/telephony, automobile products, and general business

New Innovative And Economical Hands-Free Companion For Cell Phone Users Makes Driving Safe And Legal

From Boulevard to Boardroom, Cell Users Can Converse Easier Than Ever Before

Also note that the headline and sub-headline should be title-case (first letter of words capitalized). Wire services like Send2Press and PR Newswire send releases with title-case. Online news sources that pick up wire feeds may convert headlines to all-caps, depending on their formatting standards. For printed releases being sent by fax, postal mail, or placed into a media kit, all-cap headlines are still considered acceptable.

A Good Body

Next, we get to the “body” of the release. This is the story you want to tell and should be everything a potential editor/writer at a media outlet needs to know to decide to consider your story for possible use. Some smaller newspapers (and most online news outlets) print elements from the first paragraph in summary format, so the first paragraph should be direct and to the point.

Remember that your news is not being read by your audience/customer in most cases, so you must avoid phrases like “come on down to Bob’s house of pancakes for the best deal you’ll ever get…” because it’s not an advertisement, and you must be careful to avoid the appearance of an “advertorial” as those of us in the publishing business call them. So-called “advertorials” will be dismissed immediately, unread. A press release is a news announcement, and must actually announce something considered “newsworthy.” It’s not a classified advertisement or a flier announcing your services. It is also not an “article” which is automatically published in a newspaper or magazine.

The first sentence of the first paragraph of the release must contain the city in all caps and then the state abbreviation (i.e., Calif.), unless it is a major market like “NEW YORK” or “LOS ANGELES” which are unique. This method is per Associated Press (AP) formatting and is followed by wire services like Send2Press and PR Newswire. The wire service will modify this as needed, but you should always include the city and state, as this indicates where you’re located regionally. If you are in a suburb or outlying area in a major city/county, you may wish to skew this to the major city. For example, if you were located in Redondo Beach, California, you would likely put “LOS ANGELES” instead, unless there was some compelling reason to include your small city (in this example, perhaps beach-related news).

You also need to include the date of the news announcement, which will always be the date the news is being distributed. You can abbreviate the month (i.e., “Jan.” in place of January). Some wire services will remove the year (since with a wire service it is self-evident which year it is), but others will include it, so you should as well.

So, for example, the first part of the first paragraph of the body of your release might read:

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. – Dec. 16, 2002 /Send2Press Newswire/ — Neotrope (, a leader in brand identity services, announced today that….

You don’t need to include the wire service identifier, sometimes placed as /WireName/ or (WireName), as the specific wire service or news distribution company will add their identifier to match their system formatting. If distributing the news yourself, you need not put any identifier.

The first paragraph is also where you should include your website URL or stock symbol (as appropriate). In the example first paragraph above, you can see the web URL follows the company name. This is important because many online news sites that take wire service feeds will automatically convert that URL into a hyperlink when used as ( ). If you work for a publicly traded company, your stock symbol will automatically attach to stock price look-ups that pick-up news feeds from major wires.

An important caveat about using publicly traded company stock symbols is that their usage must be “material” to the news announcement. You cannot use another company stock symbol without permission, or unless it’s material to your news (such as winning a lawsuit against that company). The news distribution company and/or wire service may delay your news release for verification if you use another firm’s stock symbol in your release. In legal matters, you may need to include a copy of a court document.

Other paragraphs within the release should describe what your new product actually does (as in the case of a software product), or with a book, describe what it’s about. At least one paragraph must describe the general feature/benefit of what you are announcing beyond the headline and first paragraph. The next paragraph(s) should be quotations from a company representative or visionary who describes what he/she feels the product/service adds to the target market. This brings a human feel to the announcement, and puts a face on the story. It also provides a quotation from someone at the company that can be used in a news item.

If the announcement is a partnership or merger, it is important to get quotes from someone at each company. A quote from an industry professional, or “opinion-leader,” is also valuable. The main guideline is that you must always attribute the quote to an actual person. You cannot state, “A valued customer called our product the best thing since sliced bread.” A non-assigned quote is worthless in a press release. A journalist can state “An unnamed source called it the best thing since sliced bread.” You cannot.

Other ways to bolster the value of a news announcement is by using supporting research. For example, if you are announcing the launch of a new product, there is likely a reason you believe there is a need in the marketplace for your product. If you’ve done market research, this may include data and statistics related to growth in your product segment, or industry trends. You can find this kind of information online, if you don’t have it.

For example, for a release I wrote for a client launching a new regional real estate website, I found the following supporting data on the use of web-based resources by home buyers:

According to a study commissioned by the California Association of REALTORS® (CAR), home buyers using the Internet invest significant time investigating the housing market and financing options before contacting a real estate agent. 49% think the Internet helped them better understand the purchase process, 92% use the Internet much like a screening process to narrow choices, and 78% of Internet home buyers find their real estate agent on the Internet.

As you can see, this can be of great benefit in illustrating there is actually a need in the marketplace, or a value to the readers of a particular news outlet, for the news being announced in the release.

Finally, it’s important to use good formatting. Clearly separate paragraphs of information to make it easy to “scan” quickly. Large overlong paragraphs should be broken into two or more chunks, where each chunk contains your information.

Attribution Rules

Most newswire services now require proper “attribution” for a release, which simply means that you must include the news “source” (which is the name of the person, company, or group announcing the news) in either the headline or first paragraph. This is to clearly identify WHO is announcing the news.

Taken together, the headline and first paragraph should clearly show WHO is announcing WHAT. The rest of the release won’t be read if these two elements are not clear and to the point.

The Final Touches

The final paragraph(s) should describe the company. This is the “about the company” paragraph (or “about the author” for a book release), and if there is more than one company mentioned in the release, each should have its own paragraph. Explain the history, year founded, market approach, and the like. Repeat the public stock symbol if applicable (don’t litter your release with stock symbols, however).

The reason this short paragraph can be valuable is in demonstrating an expertise in the area of the news you’re announcing, a history of past accomplishments in your market segment, industry awards, or the like. This can help to establish your bona fides — the fact your company is a legitimate professional entity. With a book author, you can demonstrate you’re qualified to be writing about a particular topic, which is valuable with technical and non-fiction topics.

For modern Internet-enabled companies, a last line either by itself (or last sentence of “about the company”) should state: “Company website: www.yourdomain .xyz” in the event the writer/editor chooses to pursue more information about your company without contacting you directly.

Below this, you may also want to state that a product photo is available online and provide the URL directly to a sample image or your company logo (where appropriate). This is called a “true note to editors,” and is not intended for publication. Some wire services like Send2Press may also allow you to attach a photo, logo and/or video to your announcement.

With the body of the release done, you would now place your contact information at the bottom (unless you place it up top). You must include a contact person by name, their company (i.e., your PR firm) if they don’t work at the same company mentioned in the release, a phone number, and e-mail address. All wire services will indicate the contact person as being from the company submitting the release (the company in the release), unless indicated otherwise.

Finally, you need to close the release with three hash marks, like so “# # #”. This indicates the end of the release.

Check and Review

If you’ve used a word processor, you should definitely use any spell-checking utilities on your release to find common spelling mistakes and/or typos. You should print your release out on a printer and read it in paper form to see how it reads, to ensure that it’s clear and to the point. You may also wish to read it out loud to yourself and listen for the flow and whether it sounds interesting.

It’s wise to have a dictionary handy to look up any words you’re not 100% sure are spelled correctly and check for common mistakes like “it’s” versus “its.”

Are you actually announcing something? If it just sounds like a bunch of nonsense, go back and edit it until it sounds like you’re telling somebody an interesting story for general news, and be matter of fact for product announcements.

If you intend to submit your release through a PR service like Send2Press(R) Newswire, you should first open it in a text-only software application like NotePad (on the PC), or SimpleText (on the Mac). The reason to check the release in a regular text-editor is because certain word processing applications use special characters, which do not translate to standard ASCII (or “plain text”) format. An example might be a long dash, bullet, or “curly” quotation marks.

By viewing your release in a normal text editor, you can confirm that none of the characters in your release have changed to garbage characters. If you use Microsoft Office 2001 or newer, you can also “save-as” your Word document as a text-only file (.txt) and then view the formatting of the text-only version prior to submitting it for distribution. With newer versions of MS Office you can also automatically convert things like reg. trademark symbols from ® to (R).

Things to Remember

Some of the things I’ve seen companies forget to include are product pricing, ISBN number for books, UPC/EAN numbers for music/CDs; and whether the product is available through a major distributor, nationally, regionally, or only through a Web site.

For book releases, it’s often wise to post a “book summary” at the end of the release comprising the name of the publisher, the author, the book title, the ISBNs and related format (such as hardcover, 250pp), and publication date.

Remember that an editor/journalist needs to see the facts about your product or service, to understand the value of an event or other news announcement, and why they should consider writing about you and your news.

It’s also important to not be too obsessive about your press release, as a single release will neither make nor break your company. In addition to press releases, you should be exploring other promotion methods such as advertising, direct mail, and word of mouth, among other strategies.

By following the guidelines in this article, you should be able to compose and submit a proper release, which fits the criteria of what editors are looking for. This will ensure your best chance of getting the invaluable free publicity, which only the print and electronic media outlets can provide.

Example Press Release:


Of interest to editors and journalists covering:
Books, Publishing, Libraries, Museums, History, Religion

New Book Deciphers Meaning of Parthenon Sculptures

Purpose of Athena’s Temple in Athens Understood for First Time in More Than 2,000 Years – Noah Depicted in Ancient Greek Art

ANNAPOLIS, MD – June 23, 2004 /Send2Press Newswire/ — Visitors to the Parthenon in Athens and to the British Museum in London, where most of the Parthenon sculptures are displayed, can now do more than “ooh” and “aah” at what they see: they can actually understand what the Greeks were telling us about themselves and their history. The newly-released book from Solving Light Books, “The Parthenon Code: Mankind’s History in Marble,” by Robert Bowie Johnson, Jr. deciphers the meaning of the sculptures of Athena’s temple, relating their messages to the early events described in Genesis.

According to the book, an authentic ancient Greek artists’ code, designed to portray their religious history simply and clearly, reached its highest and most straightforward form with the sculptures of the Parthenon, the national monument of Greece.

The author writes that Greek myth/art tells the same story as Genesis except from the standpoint that the serpent enlightened Adam and Eve in Eden rather than deluding them. “Greek art depicts the myth; Greek myth explains the art. Together, Greek myth/art takes us back through the Flood to a woman, a serpent, and a tree in an ancient paradise,” Mr. Johnson said.

The Parthenon Code reveals that the ancient Greeks rejected the Creator God of Noah in favor of “man as the measure of all things.” Thus, the Parthenon sculptures celebrated the re-emergence of the way of Kain (Cain) after the Flood. The Greeks called Noah Nereus, the “Wet One,” and dated the beginning of their religious outlook from the latter years of his life, depicting the patriarch’s image on many vases, seventeen of which appear in the book.

Mr. Johnson’s work contradicts the writings of the late popular mythologist, Joseph Campbell, who wrote that the ancient myths were merely subjective metaphors and expressions of the unconscious mind. “The Greeks created the living basis of our culture,” Mr. Johnson said, “Let’s give them credit for knowing where they came from and what they believed, and especially for knowing how to vividly express that crucial historical information to posterity.”

Reviewer Ron Pramschufer of puts Mr. Johnson’s new book into a contemporary perspective: “While The DaVinci Code is fictional and The Bible Code is bogus, The Parthenon Code presents a genuine artists’ code which opens the door to long-hidden truths about the origins of mankind.”

The Parthenon Code features 251 black-and-white illustrations including Parthenon sculptures restored by computer artist Holmes Bryant.

Robert Bowie Johnson, Jr. has been studying the Scriptures, Greek myth, Greek art, and the Parthenon since 1984. He is a graduate of West Point and an airborne ranger infantry veteran of Viet Nam. He previous two books are “Athena and Eden: The Hidden Meaning of the Parthenon’s East Façade,” and “Athena and Kain: The True Meaning of Greek Myth.”

Table of Contents, sample chapters, and Flash presentation of Parthenon Sculptures restored in color: www.solvinglight .com

Title: The Parthenon Code: Mankind’s History in Marble
Author: Robert Bowie Johnson, Jr.
Publisher: Solving Light Books
ISBN: 0-9705438-3-2
7×10 hardcover, 288 pp., 251 b&w illustrations, $29.95

The book is available to retail outlets through Biblio, a division of the National Book Network, 1-800-462-6420, or

The Parthenon Code is available now at: http://www.solvinglight .com

*(Photo 72dpi: )

Robert Bowie Johnson, Jr.
of Solving Light Books

/Editor Note: Review copies and interviews arranged on request./

# # #

Article Copr. © 1999, 2004 Christopher Laird Simmons — All Rights Reserved. Originally appeared in one version on, later, and has also been syndicated on the Books Just Books/Publishing Basics portal(s).

Christopher Simmons is a member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), as well as ASCAP and the National Writers Union, and has written for over a dozen national magazines covering technology, imaging, and entertainment. He is an award winning art director, photographer, musician, and has composed theme music for two cable TV programs. He is the founder of Neotrope®, a brand identity and marketing firm, as well as Send2Press® Newswire (

Note: this version appeared on in 2004.