Friday, September 11, 2015

Maybe People Aren't Stupid And Understand That Ebooks Don't Cost As Much?

I was doing some windowshopping for books tonight, waiting for Mr F to fall asleep. I clicked on Infinite Home, by Kathleen Alcott to add to my wishlist on Amazon; my wishlist is where I keep track of the books I want to borrow from the library.

I noticed that the Kindle version was $13.99, which seemed excessively high to me. $9.99 is high to me, so increasing the price by 50% really turned me off. Plus, the hardcover was only $15.68!

That made me feel like a lot of books I'd put on the wish list were actually more than $9.99, the longstanding price for a Kindle book from a major publisher. So I went to the New York Times Best Seller list and checked it out, and only one book in the top 20 was under $9.99, while only two were $9.99.  Most were $13 or more.

By the way: Do you think that prices end in .99 because we instinctively think that number is much less than the number that's just one cent higher? That's only part of it. Tests show that people also associate .99 with something being on sale or discounted, so they think they are getting a deal. Some high-end clothing retailers price their items in whole dollar amounts simply to avoid that effect. The power of a '9' at the end is so valuable that it actually increased sales of a dress.  In a test run, a manufacturer was asked to change the price of a dress from $34 to $39. The sales went up by 33%. 
So I did some Googling around and found this article about a Wall Street Journal report on what's actually happening. Remember Hachette's fight with Amazon? You probably do; almost every author took Hachette's side in a remarkable display of naked greed sated only by soaking their readers out of every last penny for mostly terrible books courage. Hachette and a few other publishers "won" the "right" to set their own prices on Amazon, a model called "Agency Pricing." Those publishers have steadily been raising the prices of their bestsellers.  The major publishers' ebooks now cost an average of $10.81, while all other ebooks average just $4.95.

NOTE: AVERAGES ARE A TERRIBLE WAY TO MEASURE THINGS. The two best measures are the median, and the mode. AVERAGES tell you nothing about individual book prices. Half of hte major publishers' books might be priced at $21.62. The other half might be free. The average would be $10.81.  If we knew the median price, we would know that half of all books were more expensive, and half were less. If we knew the mode price, we would know the most commonly-occurring price. Averages are the lazy man's way of making a (wrong) point.

ANYWAYS, the point is twofold: one, major publishers are trying to stick it to readers even though ebooks cost way way less to produce. Publishers claim that ebooks cost only about 10% less than hardcover books to produce, according to this article, but they're cooking the books on two levels. First, they complain that the upfront cost: acquiring the content, editing, and marketing it, are the same as for a hardcover. That is disingenuous for two reasons. One, they count the 'author advance.' An advance is a payment against future royalties, so that's only a cost if they overpaid the author. Otherwise, the advance does not figure into the cost in the sense they're trying to say it does.

Second, those upfront costs are shared for the hardcover and ebook. No major publisher I'm aware of publishes only ebooks. So the 'upfront' costs are 50% for the ebook and 50% for the hardcover, at best.

Thirdly (? I lost track) publishers have hired special teams to oversee the conversion of books to electronic versions, and include those costs in the cost of an ebook. While that might be a reason that older, backlisted books cost more than a dollar or so, it's no excuse for a new book; when the book is turned in, it's ready to be converted to an upload on digital copy.  My own publisher, Golden Fleece, doesn't have a staff of thousands loading my book onto Barnes & Noble and Amazon, etc.

Fourthly the publishers say people don't account for shared revenues from online retailers -- but again that's a cost that exists for hardcovers, too. Or doesn't the local bookstore make anything when they sell Go Set A Watchman?

The second (? see, I'm really lost in the numbering) big point here is that the increase in pricing is hurting the big publishers: their sales are down on ebooks. So naturally they are accusing Amazon of causing the problem by creating a price war, saying that Amazon is the one discounting the hard copy editions to hurt the authors whose publishers are setting their own ebook prices.

If so, good for Amazon. Lowering hard copy prices will force publishers to continue to eat into their profits by producing paper books, a terrible model for them. Meanwhile, as ereaders become more popular, the major publishers will see their market share slipping. That'll open up room for smaller publishers and indie authors.

There is lots and lots of money to be made in writing. Major publishers are trying to squeeze the money into a few pockets, and major authors are backing it because they benefit. I'd say that if this keeps up, I'd start buying hardcopies to save money, but as I've noted a lot already, I just go to the library. Until everyone wises up and realizes that books cost $9.99 or less, I doubt I'll be buying many books.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Friday Five: Five Books I'm In Line To Get From The Library So HURRY UP PEOPLE.

I'm almost back. For about two weeks now my asthma's been really acting up, leaving me mostly exhausted at night and too tired to think about blogging or writing or anything except listlessly paging through the Internet. I know a lot of gossip about people I barely recognize.

Here's the filler (both of) my readers missed! 

I am not sure I'll ever buy a book again. The last book I bought (other than real books I buy for nostalgic purposes) was on sale for $2.99 on Amazon. It was To Rise Again At A Decent Hour and I'm about 1/8 of the way through it. I never really feel like going to read it. I think part of it is that I bought it for only $2.99.  Part of my brain thinks how good can it be if it was only $2.99? Did you ever find a really good book in the remainder bin?

Instead, I get my books from the library.  Right now, I'm reading The Bone Clocks which is superawesome and I'm only like 3 pages into it. I've also got Authority from Jeff VanderMeer as my audiobook. And I can go check out an infinite number of books (well 10 at a time) online right now! FOR FREE. #govtworksforme. (PS I STARTED THAT HASHTAG back in 2012 and IT CAUGHT ON and I was briefly a Twitter celebrity.  WOO HOO.)

The thing is though, the library is limited in how many digital loans it can give out, so you have to get in line for books, and that makes it a gamble.  It's like Xmas crossed with a scratch-off lottery ticket: go to the library website, put a book on hold, go about your life and then one day out of the blue you get an email saying your book is here! and you know you'll be readin' good that night.

Here's five books I currently am awaiting.

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander.  I'm next in line for this. So any day now, I will get that email! I'm on the edge of my seat.

This is another book I'm going to re-read out of nostalgia. I wanted to say that I first read this book in 8th grade, but clearly I didn't because it was published in 1984, when I was in 9th and 10th grade. It's about an assistant pig-keeper who fights a Welsh Darth Vader.  I hadn't thought of it in years, but when we go to the actual physical library here in town (having ended my feud with them on account of Mr Bunches likes the library), Mr F likes to sit in the 'teen' area, where they have comfy chairs. There are racks of books there, and one of the books in this series was on one of them.

The Color Of Magic, Terry Pratchett.  (Currently 18th in line). I've never read a Terry Pratchett book. Or at least I don't think I have? I think maybe he did one as a collaboration that I read.  I never thought much of him either way, until he died. Even then I wasn't going to read one of his books, but then I read this discussion of the controversy over whether his books are worth reading (and the post it links to which talks about what books will live on forever and why), and decided I'd give it a shot. I believe this is the first Discworld book ever, so I picked it out and put a hold on it. Apparently 17 people read that post before I did.

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix. (Currently 3d in line). This is sort of an example of why physical bookstores (or libraries) maybe ought to live on in some form even after everyone finally goes mostly digital, the way music has: I was not going to ever buy/wishlist/borrow this book because when I read about it I thought oh man way too gimmicky. The setup is supposed to be that the story is somehow told in the form of an Ikea-like catalog. I despise gimmicks despite the fact that they're an obvious way to get critics to turn your book into a bestseller. Imagine how awesome(ly stupid) it would have been if my book Codes had come with two copies everytime you ordered one. You know, because clones? ANYWAY another day when we were at the library it was Mr F's turn to decide where we go (he and I are a team at the library; Mr Bunches goes his own way mostly as long as he stays in sight). So we went to get a drink of water, and passed by the new books. Horrorstor was there on the display so while Mr F quenched his thirst I glanced through it and decided to give it a try.

BY THE WAY: A SPECIAL NOTE ON LIBRARIES AND EBOOKS:  Ebooks only make up about 8% of library borrows as of the most recent figures.  Publishers are still trying to figure out how to charge for these.  Some ebooks are borrowed just like physical books: the library can loan out a copy to one user at a time, so they would have to buy multiple copies to let multiple people get it. Others are a cost-per-borrow basis, and some publishers require the library to re-buy a book after so much time or so many borrows.  For Harper Collins, that number was 26; for MacMillan, it was 52.  THAT IS A COLOSSAL GAIN FOR AUTHORS AND PUBLISHERS. Ebooks are far less costly to publish, and re-selling the book to libraries every so often is just gravy for the people who get the money. (Those were 2013 numbers.)  Since ebooks are overpriced anyway by a factor of about 100, I do not mind borrowing them from libraries, especially since that lets me try more books than I would otherwise, and cuts my cost on books that suck. Subscription services like Amazon Prime and such are too expensive for me: I read maybe a book a month, so for $80 a year, I would lose money on Amazon Prime.

Aftermath, by Chuck Wendig. (Currently 57th in line.) If we didn't put ourselves on a budget, I'd have probably bought this book, or maybe not. It's the newest Star Wars book and helps tie Return of the Jedi to Episode VII, so of course I'm going to read it at some point. But what if it's awful? My threshhold for spending money on books is so high that I basically cannot commit to buying a book anymore.  Other than that $2.99 impulse purchase all my purchased books have been directly purchased for me as a gift.  I had an Amazon gift card last year, and I waited five months before using it. The day I was going to buy a book I dithered so much about it that I finally decided not to buy anything and ultimately I let Sweetie use it to buy something for the boys. I just cannot bear to spend money on a bad book. Maybe when I am rich I will do that, just buy a book with impunity and hope it turns out for the best. But I'm not rich and so many books are so bad.

So I put this one on hold and hopefully 56 people will read it all in like a half-day because that movie's coming out in December and I would really like to know what's going on. (PS I also have Heir To The Empire on hold. I'm third in line for that. I know it's not canon anymore but I was feeling Star Warsy and wanted to read it again because I remember liking it.)

Armada, Ernest Cline. (Twelfth in line.) Ernest Cline's Ready Player One was one of the most pleasantly surprising books I read last year. I didn't expect much when I checked it out; it was just filler while I tried to decide what to read next. Ho hum a guy basically goes into a massive online game trying to win a jillion dollars is what I thought. But the book was really good, and really engaging, and to this day scenes from the book pop into my head.  So when I saw he had a new book out, I put it on hold.

American Pillows

Here in America, we have a mattress whose manufacturer boasts that the fabric is "selected by hand," and sewn by hand (including some materials shipped in from Belgium, foam created by a special laboratory, delivery by bike messenger (?) and which costs $850.

Just thought you'd want to know.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Autism vs. Bacon, or What Do You Think Of This Shirt?

Some Guy At Work emailed me a picture of this shirt.  His only comment was "FYI":

He emailed me that last night, and I looked at it, read it 2 or 3 times, then closed out of email to sit quietly in Mr F's and Mr Bunches' room while Mr F fell asleep. (He won't fall asleep unless Sweetie or I are in the room).

Then I thought about it this morning, and tried to find out where it came from.  No luck.

Then I asked Sweetie what she thought about it, and she said I can see what they're trying to say but I don't like it.

In my search for where the shirt came from, I came across a lot of quotes/paraphrases to the effect of "Autism isn't a tragedy, ignorance is."

Which I agree with. At my dad's funeral recently, my aunt (who has never met the boys) asked about their autism. We explained a little of it and she said "So it's like a birth defect then?"

I said "They're not defective."

There are numerous versions and makers of this shirt around on the Internet. One I found has 3900+ reviews, of which 2800+ were "5-star" reviews. Presumably they're not just rating the quality of the shirt material?

I don't like it.

I've decided I don't like it.

It's not just that I am so sick of hearing about $(%&$% bacon. It's not even funny anymore. Bacon just isn't that great so shut up about it you sound like a moron.

More importantly, it makes light of autism. It says that not having bacon is a greater tragedy than autism, which in one sense is true. Autism is not a tragedy any more than any other condition of life is a tragedy.  It's just a way of life.  There are many things Mr F and Mr Bunches might not get to do in their lives, or might not appreciate the same way we do.

Last night Mr F and I took  our nightly ride. He drove along, his fingers trailing out the window in the cool breeze, smiling at me as we held hands. (I hold his hand in my car to keep him from opening the door, which does not child-lock. He is belted, safety-restrained, clipped, and then holds my hand).  He didn't seem worried, or upset, or concerned. He was not worried about having gone over his data plan on the phone. He didn't have to think about law firm profits and hiring or firing employees. He didn't have 70 emails in his inbox this morning.

We don't have any idea what he does think, or worry, or laugh about. (Other than when we tickle him.) But he seems happy, and so it can't be a tragedy for him to have the life he has.

But even given that, it seems minimizing, frivolous, mean, to equate not having (#(#%& bacon as being harder to deal with than autism -- and putting it on the same level as ignorance? Ignorance and a lack of bacon are the same?

It seems like anyone who would make this shirt, or who would wear it, just doesn't get it.  There was a blogger once who wrote about how she would torment (my word) her daughter by (I think?) chasing her around with a stick, because her daughter was afraid of it. She thought this was funny. I thought it was awful.  There is a difference between doing things kids find fun scary, for example -- cold water, or playing hide-and-seek -- and deliberately scaring your children.

There is, similarly, a difference between making the best of a condition that makes life more difficult, and making fun of it, and I think this shirt ends up on the wrong side of that line. I think this shirt is insensitive, and stupid, and boorish. I think people who wear this shirt don't deserve to be around or know my kids, or any kids, frankly, autistic or not.

And it may be a fine line between making the best of things and making fun of things,  but why do you even have to approach that line? If you want people to have a positive attitude towards autism, or to combat ignorant ideas about autism, or simply help people who have autism, aren't there like a zillion better ways to do it than to say my not having bacon (JESUS I HATE THAT) is worse than your having autism?

It's not. It's simply not. It's not even funny to pretend it is. Autism isn't a tragedy, but it is hard, for the people who have it, sometimes, for their families, sometimes, and for society in general, sometimes. We have to make special, and elaborate, plans simply to have relatives over for a holiday. Is not having bacon harder than that? For the past year-and-a-half one of us has had to sit with Mr F while he falls asleep -- sometimes as much as 2 or 3 hours -- every single night. Is not having bacon harder than that? Last night, Mr F woke up at 3:30 and I had to take him downstairs and sit with him so that Mr Bunches, at least, could get some sleep. I've been up since 3:30 a.m.  Mr F gets frustrated when he can't tell us what he wants or is thinking.  Mr Bunches gets tense when too many people are in a room and told a teacher that the way people breathe makes him sometimes feel like crying.  We have to have a special safety harness for Mr F on his bus and in cars.

But, no, sure, you're out of f***ing bacon.  I see where that would be tough, jerk.

I'm not saying it's all bad, or that parents of kids who don't have special needs don't also have problems. Of course they do. There are so many good times that I couldn't possibly capture them all if I dictated my life into a recorder.  Holding Mr F's hand as we drive past farms on our rides.  Having Mr Bunches serve me fake pistachio ice cream at the library, and then read through his ABC Dinosaur book again.  Watching Mr Bunches make, from memory, by scratch, his pancakes.  Having Mr F pull me down to the ground and say tickle tickle so that I'll snuggle with him.  Listening to Mr Bunches recite all the planet (and most of the moons) in our solar system while we drive. Swinging Mr F around and around and around in circles at the Little Park On The Mountain.

Those are beautiful moments and many of them wouldn't exist if the boys weren't autistic.  It's not a tragedy, to have two beautiful children, even if they are as different from us as unicorns are from a horse.

The tragedy is that people want to make money off of their condition by pretending to sympathize while all the while demonstrating how they just don't get it.

The tragedy is that there are lots of people like that in the world, and too few people like this: