May 26th, 2010

morons in Mayberry

ETA: That subject line is unfair.

Here's the original commentary:

http://www.nashuatelegraph.com/news/749186-196/brooklinesfired-chief-sues-town.html

I have not been overly impressed with Ms. Bernstein's writing in the past, but she sure got the detail here. R. and I are quite shocked. I was attributing the firing to the most recent drug bust involving a Farwell -- the bust couldn't be reduced presumably because (a) the circumstances were quite dire and (b) multiple police departments from neighboring jurisdictions and the state were involved. R. had some gossip about something that happened before the chief was the chief that perhaps wasn't revealed on his application. But this story? Holy cow! I, personally, would have _loved_ to see a lawsuit over the original claim by Ms. Ryherd. I'd particularly love to see the reaction of any judge/jury to Ms. Ryherd. New Hampshire courts are not particularly sympathetic to plaintiffs in general (live free or die, right?), and plaintiffs who waste their time? Oooooooh.

The real shocker, however, is this:

"The board rejected Goulden’s suggestion to seek legal advice from the Local Government Center before meeting with Ryherd, the petition stated."

You might wonder, whether you are a resident of New Hampshire or not, what the Local Government Center is, and why I might think it is important. It is important because New Hampshire is largely made up of small towns run by amateurs (viz. non-degreed, non-compensated and often inexperienced citizens engaging in governance -- hey, this is what democracy looks like), and amateurs don't always know what they are or should or should not be doing. The LGC is Here to Help, and to reduce the load of attorney's fees for those towns which have the sense to consult an attorney -- and especially those towns which do not have the sense to consult an attorney. I've spent some time on the phone to the LGC. They are helpful people. If someone really needs to be fired, they won't get in the way. They'll help you make sure you do the process correctly -- and they'll help you make sure you don't fire someone for inappropriate cause. Skipping this step sounds horribly, horribly, horribly wrong.

Further ETA: I have since heard that there were several lawyers in the room when the select board went into non-public session: a couple for the town and one for Goulden. None were the town's usual attorney; he apparently avoids personnel issues. Two people recused themselves for voting; one of them a relative of the subject of the drug bust. The remaining three voted unanimously and a good friend of mine pointed out to me that whatever I might think of the rest of the board, I have a lot of respect for Mr. Putney. I trust his intelligence, his integrity, and his caution when it comes to taking such a drastic action. So. I'm now thinking once again that perhaps there was a lot to the story that did not make it into Ms. Bernstein's article.

the war is over? really?

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704032704575268531490989028.html

Courtesy, once again, Mr. Trachtenberg, posted less then a half hour ago, as near as I can tell. I quick check on Jim Butcher's latest Dresden novel, _Changes_, still no kindle version available. Thus while Trachtenberg says it's over, Penguin will be providing kindle version and Amazon will be putting them up for sale, there's really no telling when they will actually be available. Having been a party to the process of updating that catalog in the past, if they manage to get this stuff out in under 24 hours I will be shocked, amazed and generally pleased.

The other night, I had resigned myself to having to wait a year or more, unless I was prepared to buy DTB (I _love_ this TLA. Dead tree books. Yum. It sounds sooooo atavistic.) substitutes (which thus far I have resisted, for series that I had already been buying on the kindle), so resolving this in two months is tolerable.

I would just like to further note that wow, the discipline of the two companies in question. No useful leaking at all that I could detect and, even more incredible, since we will presumably be able to investigate all on our own, _nothing_ in this article about what kind of pricing scheme was settled up. _Nothing_.

ETA: 2:36 pm EST and the last book in the Lost Fleet series is up! Woooooohooooo!

Quote of the Day

From:

http://www.dailyfinance.com/story/media/publishing-and-perishing-the-book-industry-struggles-with-the-f/19490487/

A discussion of a BEA (the trade show formerly known as ABA) panel about a variety of things including e-books: royalties, whether enhancement would be a good idea, what would happen with pricing, etc.

The quote: "One of the only good things about being old is that I'm not going to have to deal with this for long." Esther Newberg, "literary agency ICM co-president".

I would say "words to live by", but then I would have to add, ahem or har de har har or something along those lines.

ETA: More (and better) coverage of the same forum.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10146/1060670-44.stm

Will snark later, perhaps.

ebook snarkery

I posted a link to slightly better coverage of a BEA panel in an earlier post. Here it is again:

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10146/1060670-44.stm

In it, Scott Turow (yeah, the only one you've ever heard of, now president of the Author's Guild, not mentioned in this article, possibly because the reader may be assumed to know it already, more likely because the writer was unaware of this) "questioned the business decision to offer a hardcover and digital version of a book at the same time", noting the likely impact on price and "suggesting that e-books eventually would wipe out the paperback market based on their low price."

Turow didn't limit himself to asinine remarks that indicate he has not a single clue about marketing and customers. No, he felt compelled to add this:

"He called e-book users members of the "flying class who can't wait to turn their toys on.""

That's right. He's a bestseller. Odds on, most people who read Turow only read 2-12 books a year. He can safely slag the major consumer of books who buys a hundred books a year -- and prefers e-books. After all, they're not reading Turow. A whole lot of other authors out there who are _not_ huge bestsellers with numerous movies derived from their work might want to contemplate whether the president of the Author's Guild is representing their interests well by slamming the primary book consumer.

Here's what Galassi of FSG (the imprint of Macmillan I'm mostly likely to actually buy a book from ... which is damning with extremely faint praise) had to say: "It was a mistake to ever let Amazon put e-books out simultaneously and charge the price that they did. All of a sudden all editions are happening at the same time effectively. I think it's going to have a negative effect on the paperback editions."

Where to begin?

Regular readers of my whinging and ranting know that I firmly believe that most books are bought by a tiny number of people who buy, literally, a hundred or more books a year -- but most people who buy books buy single-digits of books in a year. Kindle is successfully separating this tiny community from the herd -- despite the fact that there's every reason to believe this group is predominantly female and not particularly young and very anti-gadget. The book industry as a whole persists in not understanding any of this, but, to be fair, most participants lack the data to help them understand this (altho you do have to wonder why they can't figure it out from their social circle, even if work oriented: the book industry itself is overwhelmingly female and anti-gadget. Well, except the ones in charge. Oh, and the women are kind of on the young side. Never mind.). The result? While e-books are still a tiny, actually, scratch that, at 10% a fraction of the overall market, it's a particularly disturbing fraction of the market.

Specifically, the "heavy user" book consumer who buys a kindle is also the kind of book consumer who buys new releases.

Obviously, this isn't entirely true. But the way Amazon primed the pump aggravated the situation: they made the kindle a great value proposition for people who bought a half dozen or so new hardcovers full price a year, or who bought a dozen or so new hardcovers at a typical discount. Payout varied depending on the particular scenario, but the kindle made sense for people who bought new hardcovers -- much more so than it made sense for people who bought used hardcovers and paperbacks. It is worth noting, however, that a lot of the "heavy users" will buy more and/or newer if and when they can. A romance novel lover might try a lot more authors instead of the tried-and-true if the cost of doing so (and the difficulty of _acquiring_ new authors, which should not be underestimated) is low enough. And the reader who makes lists of new books she'd like to buy and then picks them up discounted, or lightly used or in paperback when she can justify the cost might suddenly start buying a lot of new releases on the kindle if the price is comparable.

The publishers have absolutely no way of distinguishing between these situations, and it matters. At least some of them think that if the kindle release is "windowed", then a lot of these people will buy the hardcover instead so they can have it right away. There are probably even a few people who would -- but a lot fewer than they may think would. Some of the bought-new-in-hardcover that switched don't want the hassle of hardcovers. They've already had to adapt to what is available; they'll just substitute. Some didn't ever buy-new-in-hardcover; they bought kindle so they could move up the foodchain a notch, instead of carefully negotiating library waiting lists, chain store discount tables, abebooks, Amazon.com used books, Half Price Books, Powells, etc. where they could get a new book for a used price. They certainly aren't going to go buy a new hardcover at full price because the kindle is windowed; they'll just wait.

Publishers who window are taking a huge risk if there's any kind of advertising on the title: that advertising is choreographed to make a title stand out from the crowd. Every day you encourage a reader to wait to buy a title is a day the reader has to forget why they wanted to buy it in the first place. If _The Big Short_ or _The Checklist Manifesto_ had been available on the kindle when I first went to go look for them, I would have bought them -- I can almost guarantee it. But I sure as hell didn't want probable-crap cluttering up my life any more than I already do. And sure enough, a few weeks go by and it became obvious that there were better choices (_Econned_ for _The Big Short_, notably).

And _all_ of this ignores the new reality: a bunch of people who have owned kindles for a year or more and who are not measuring ebooks against a physical book. They are instead measuring physical books against an ebook -- and the physical book experience is such a loss the term of art is "DTB". Dead Tree Book. In this group, the kindle edition is the book.

This has happened plenty of times before. People like to compare to the music industry, but in this case, I think another relevant comparator is the lowly diaper. Once upon a time an un-adjectived diaper was made of cloth, and the new alternative was a "paper diaper". Most parents used diapers (cloth) and occasionally used "paper diapers". Now, an un-adjectived diaper is made of things I have trouble remembering how to spell (maybe sodium acrylate?), and the old alternative is a "cloth diaper", which is constantly trying to convince people it's new and better and just like "regular diapers" -- no nasty pins any more. Most parents use diapers (call it paper, for want of a better term), and some may use "cloth diapers" as well.

We're sort of at the paper diaper/brand name stage. But there's a trend here, and if I were running a diaper service, I'd be concerned.

Returning to our "heavy user" and Galassi lamenting the conflation of editions, however, I would think that an industry that convinced a used cloth/new paper/used paper reader to move _up_ to an e-edition, purchased around the time of the big advertising push -- I would think that industry would be kinda happy. But they aren't thinking of it in those terms.

Galassi's comment about "letting" Amazon charge $9.99 and under for new-in-hardcover releases is humorous. Until quite recently, media reported consistently that the big 6 were all collecting the exact same amount of money from each of those sales as they were collecting when Amazon sold an _actual_ hardcover. It apparently didn't occur to anyone at the big 6 to write a pricing rule into their contract with Amazon -- what did they care if Amazon chose to lose money on particular titles sold to a tiny fraction of the buying public? Walmart and company were doing the same and worse on heavily promoted titles. I think everyone got so comfortable with the idea that people didn't "want" ebooks based on the insane hassle of acquiring a Sony Reader and navigating the Sony bookstore and then paying undiscounted full hardcover price that they _forgot_ all those qualifiers (difficulty of buying reader, difficulty of navigating content source, insanely high price for content) and thought it was about the ebook is some sort of Platonic essence sense.

What a shock to discover that all of us people who quit watching TV to hang out on teh intartubes on our laptops, and all of us people who quit poking CDs into our stereos to listen to music on our iPods or on our laptops, and who gave up our magazine and newspaper subscriptions to read news online -- what a shock to discover we might actually read a book on some sort of electronic device, too.

I mean. Practically medieval.

a sample size of one

I've been ruminating (yes, chewing my cud) the last few days about how I decide what books to buy and when. Most of the rules I've created over the years were filters overlaid on the base impulse: if I had an impulse to buy a book and the cover matter had certain characteristics, say, then those characteristics would either push me to buy now, or encourage me to do more research independent of cover matter, or stop me entirely from buying the book then or, perhaps, ever.

But this doesn't in any way answer a very large question of why I want to buy certain books, and why other books would only be interesting to me if I were trapped somewhere with no other reading material at all and I'd caught up on sleep, too, and exhausted any exercise opportunities, etc. That last is worth noticing -- I got on the treadmill yesterday rather than read _Transport Revolutions_. I don't regret buying it (I expected to have issues with it), and that last chapter was a revelation. But it's going to be almost impossible to force myself to read the whole book. I may well review just the last chapter, make a few comments based on the index and call it good.

I read a lot of non-fiction. That's intentional -- it's an effort to continue to understand the world around me, be a good citizen, etc. I also read a lot of fiction -- that's unavoidable. I loathe literary fiction and I'm not even going to get into why. I wind up reading something more or less in that category once a month (about) for book group and I almost always hate the results but love hanging out with the group. I like military sf with women characters if not as protagonist, then at least as prevalent in the secondary cast as men, preferably written by women, but I'm flexible on that. I like romance novels, but I'm picky and it's tough to describe or identify what I will like. I like some other science fiction and fantasy, but I mostly read urban fantasy these days, almost exclusively series. It's pretty clear that I like to find a "brand" and stick with it.

When I was poor, I bought my trashy genre fiction used in paperback, mostly at places like Magus Books in the U-District. When I had a little more money, I moved up to new in paperback, frequently from University Books in the U-District, and also used-hardcover from Half Price, a few blocks away. The rare pilgrimage to Powells (in Portland, OR) became a quarterly activity after I got divorced, and I started buying favorite authors (did I mention Elizabeth Moon?) new in hardcover. In 1995, I bought my first book from Amazon.com, after attempting to have Elliot Bay Books and University Books try to special order it for me (it was in print). I'm not convinced Elliot Bay really tried. I am convinced University Books tried; they were embarrassed. I went to work for Amazon a few months later.

I continue to buy some books new in hardcover, some books used, some books used paper. I buy in person. I buy at independents, at chains. I buy online. I buy through abebooks and bookfinder. My well-trained eyes still pick up signs for Friends of the Library book sales, even tho I gave them up long ago. I've put together spreadsheets to figure out what I buy and how much I pay for it.

I know a lot about my book buying. But I still don't know how I decide what to buy when. But I will say one thing. I checked in on the status of Jim Butcher's _Changes_, Charlaine Harris' _Dead in the Family_ and, eventually, Jack Campbell's _Victorious_ quite frequently over the last couple months (way, way, way more often than I blogged about it). I was never even strongly tempted to switch my country to buy it via the UK kindle store, much less to pirate the books or order them in paper. I knew I was going to buy and read these books eventually. On the kindle. Even if it took a year for them to get there, because I've waited a year for books to come out in paper for a large chunk of my life and longer for it to show up used in paper. I wonder if I still would have been checking a year from now.

I wonder how much I really care about what happened to Black Jack, or Harry Dresden, or Sookie Stackhouse. I wonder how much anyone really cares about what happened to Jack, Harry or Sookie. Supply and demand are funny things, and I am fickle.

nice coverage of IXTOC

I was watching TRMS play 1979 NBC footage and got curious when I heard "Campeche". I knew there was a Gulf spill; I couldn't recall any details because I just wasn't paying attention at the time (silly 10 year old me). But I know "Campeche" because I like Guy Clark:

"And the shrimpers and their ladies are out in the beer joints
Drinkin' 'em down for they sail with the dawn
They're bound for the Mexican bay of Campeche
And the deck hands are singin' adios, jolie blonde"

So: how about that shrimp industry?

One of my hometown papers answered the question.

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2011931961_ixtoc23.html

"I found shrimp with tumor formations in the tissue, and crabs without the pincers. These were very serious effects," Soto said.

"I measured 80 percent reduction in all combined species that were living in the intertidal zone," Tunnell said.

Nevertheless, "aquatic life along the shoreline in Texas had returned to normal within three years — even as tar balls and tar mats remained along the beaches, sometimes covered by sand, according to Wes Tunnell".

There's apparently a decent amount of oil that seeps into GOM all the time anyway, supporting a variety of bacteria that hang out and eat it. Those bacteria were thus available to go totally nuts on the 3.3 million barrels dumped by Ixtoc.

This is easily the single most hopeful factoid I've run across related to the oil spill.