October 23rd, 2014

Dark Sky, My Subsconscious is better at planning than my conscious, Kindle FreeTime

I skipped this morning's walk in the woods, because it was still coming down in light buckets, plus, mud. It was probably canceled anyway. I ran a couple errands and then, because it had stopped raining and Dark Sky seemed convinced that it wasn't going to rain for at least an hour, I went for a long walk around town. I figured I could duck into a shop or something if Dark Sky was wrong. Dark Sky was Not Wrong. I'm really liking Dark Sky. It is the weather app I have always wanted, and if some app developer somewhere is stalking me through the fact that Dark Sky really uses location services a lot, well, that's what the martial arts training was for, amirite?

Post-walk, I was sitting thinking, I wonder where I put the Magic Bands? After doing some looking around, I realized I had not actually received them. I then realized, hey I never included tracking the Magic Bands in the planning process. Oops. Oh well. MyDisneyExperience provided a tracking number, and USPS gave me a date in the near future. I don't know why I bother with the conscious to-do list, calendar, etc. My subconscious is better at this stuff anyway. It just really sucks when queried by other people about stuff not in the near future. Also, my subconscious is probably a little better at saying no to stuff I don't want to do by just going, hey, let's just not do that. It's not going to be fun, and the repercussions aren't at all severe. Which is Rude.

For reasons known only to her, A. decided she wanted a Kindle Fire, so she got the kid version with a year or whatever subscription to FreeTime. Which as near as I can tell amounts to, you'll never have to buy an app again and the kid has endless variety. Weirdly awesome. Did not expect it to be any good, so this was kind of a surprise. T. of course wants whatever A. has (or anyone else around him, for that matter -- things on shelves at the store are boring, but when someone he knows has something, he wants it too), so his is sitting in a box right now. He's enough older (9) that I don't know whether FreeTime will be interesting to him or not.

_Full Moon_, Mari Carr, Second Chances series

I read the day-of-the-week books by Mari Carr and they were all pretty fun. I've been wanting some contemporary romance so I took a look at her and a couple other authors and picked this one out. A bunch of women in their late 30s/early 40s decide to do some bucket lists. I skipped the first one, because it was a cancer story, and I didn't feel like that right now (yes, HEA, but still). In this outing, Josie, who has a 6 year old and is 2 years post-divorce, decides she wants to have some sex. She has a list of what she wants to do and has decided that each full moon, she's going to make one happen. The plan is not much more detailed than that (there was wine involved in the bucket list creation project -- if there's an issue with this book, it's the "wine night" thing, but no one seems to be over indulging to a scary degree, so I won't worry about it if you don't think I need to). First up is sex with a stranger; she picks up the bartender/owner of a bar in her town and, unsurprisingly, he doesn't stay a stranger.

Mari Carr does a nice job writing sex scenes. None of this, but wait, he's going to break his wrist if he tries to do that, or, how long is her torso, anyway, that can occur in less well blocked sex scenes. Conversation, character and relationship development are all nicely interweaved, and the monthly date slows the process down enough to be believable. The series structure also provides a consistent opportunity for Josie to talk about what's happening with her friends, some of which occurs on stage, altho most of it happens off stage.

The kid is a little precocious, but not too bad. The ex- is a bit of a pain, but not cartoonishly so. All in all, a very believable, emotionally involving and pleasant contemporary romance. There is no horrifying abuse back story, just ordinary people with ordinary problems, which really are more than enough to introduce the kind of tension present in a developing intimate relationship. I particularly liked that the list (which was pretty ambitious in spots) was fulfilled, in parts with creative re-interpretation to bring the more out-of-scale items on the list into the range of do-able (ahem).

There doesn't appear to be any major issue with skipping the cancer entry in this series -- or, for that matter, dropping into this series anywhere. It seems to have been written carefully with a view to working as standalone novels, but with a little extra if you read more than one. This was well designed, thought through carefully and implemented carefully.

Oooh, I made it onto a listicle on my favorite soap opera, er, tech blog!!!!

http://www.businessinsider.com/19-early-amazon-employees-where-are-they-now-2014-10

I'm pretty sure Mike Hanlon sold me out; no one ever mentions me in articles or books about Amazon. The picture is a selfie I used as a userpic on FB and Mike an FB friend. So, thanks Mike? Because I don't think I've ever gotten anything like a professional photo credit before. ;-)

Funny that the day BI links to my blog, I'm blogging about trashy fiction, rather than tech. Ah well.

Who is the monopsony here anyway

Joe Konrath over at http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/ has written, upon occasion, about how Traditional Publishers have treated authors in the past. He speaks in part from personal experience, in part from knowing a lot of other authors and what their experiences were, and in part from a godawful number of sources, over the decades, which have trained People Who Want to Be Published what to expect should they be so Lucky (sic) as to be offered a contract by a Traditional Publisher.

In much the same way that coverage of ebooks vs. pbooks has evolved over the last few years (starting out with I Love to Touch Books Never Take My Paper Away It Smells So Good, through, well, it’s nice for travel, to, I cannot imagine ever going back again), so has coverage of Why Amazon Is Evil. The current argument is that if we don’t support Traditional Publishers/Traditional Publishing Models, then Amazon will be the only place left after TradPub goes the way of the dinosaurs, and then Amazon will treat authors much less well. Specifically, they will change the royalty rate and/or structure. Sometimes, the Audible royalty change is invoked, altho I’m seeing that less often now probably because we’ve all taken a look at the Audible royalty change and we just aren’t finding it sufficiently scary.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2014/10/amazon-will-slash-your-royalties.html

You should read Joe. Joe is fun. Joe is smart. Joe is worth reading. I’m not going to get into a lot of what he has to say. I’m going to quote one paragraph from him. Maybe two.

Here’s Joe:

"When publishing’s chattering class frets about Amazon being a “monopoly,” what they really mean is they’re afraid Amazon could become a monopsony -- that is, “a market form in which only one buyer interfaces with many sellers.” With its lockstep crappy terms -- forever-term contracts, twice-yearly annual royalty payments, lockstep low digital royalties, outlandish rights grabs, and draconian non-compete provisions -- isn't that how the Big Five cartel has always functioned with regard to its author suppliers? We have ample evidence that, without competition, the dominant publishing player is free to present a “take it or leave it position” to authors. Don’t we want the Big Five to face competition for authors, rather than enabling it to continue to exercise “take it or leave it” negotiating leverage?”

After my last attempt to insert monopsony into the debate fizzled, I bought Roger D. Blair and Jeffrey L. Harrison’s _Monopsony in Law and Economics_. It is a measure of my commitment to understanding this that I bought it in paperback, as I couldn’t find a kindle version. Their discussion of auction pools caught my attention, but when I hit page 48-51, I really woke up and started dog-earing pages for this and likely future blogging.

“3.3.2 Conditions Conducive to Collusive Monopsony

“There are a number of structural conditions that facilitate collusion among buyers. These include the following:

“1. Few Buyers. The smaller the number of buyers, the lower the costs of decision making within the group. Moreover, the ability to police the agreement is enhanced when the group is small.

“2. Product homogeneity. When the product is homogeneous, the agreement on price is simplified. For a homogeneous product, there is a single price to fix. In contrast, product heterogeneity requires a complex price schedule that maintains equilibrium price differentials. This can lead to differences of opinion and serve to undermine stability of the buying cartel.”

I feel compelled to point out here the shake up that happened in TradPub when the paperback was introduced.

“3. Sealed bids. When buyers must submit sealed bids on an item or a collection, everyone knows who bid how much when the bids are opened publicly. As a result, collusion is facilitated simply because no one can cheat on the agreement without being discovered. Consequently, any agreement that is reached is more apt to be stable. As we will see later, bid rigging and buyer rings at auctions have not been uncommon.”

When I was Young and Naive (I’m Middle-Aged and still pretty Naive), I thought that auctions for Hot Books were super cool. This really puts a whole different spin on those auctions.

“4. Inelasticity of supply. When supply is relatively inelastic, the collusive buyers need not restrict their purchases much in order to achieve a significant price reduction. Consequently, the profits that flow from collusive monopoly will be larger, the less elastic the supply at the competitive price. The greater the rewards to collusion, the more likely such collusion is to occur.”

Is this is why only _published_ authors are “real” authors? Creating that definition and enforcing it is why “real” authors are so drastically underpaid. Those status/money tradeoffs are the worst. With a much greater fraction of the supply making it to the point where the end-customer gets to choose, a whole lot more authors are making a whole lot more money. This is not the same as saying that most authors make any money at all. Which should not need saying, but probably does.

“3.3.3 Organizing and Implementing a Buyer Cartel



“1. Agreement. Any cartel must reach some mutually satisfactory agreement on a host of issues. First, of course, the members have to decide on the price that they will offer. This necessarily requires a corresponding agreement on how much they will purchase collectively since price cannot be depressed without an appropriate restriction on purchases.”

Ever wonder why wildly popular series authors who could produce multiple volumes a year had to go to great lengths to conceal multiple nom de plumes from their various publishers? Yeah, well, they were running up against this. The official explanation isn’t the real one, because when that part of the restrictions started breaking down, the separation of nom de plumes started breaking down, too.

“But this is not all. To be fully successful in extracting the monopsony profits, the buyers must agree on the quality of the product, the service that the seller is to provide, the credit terms, the delivery terms and so on. All dimensions of the transaction must be agreed on or some of the monopsony profit will be lost.”

And _that_ is why all the big houses offered such lock step contracts. Also why most novels are so similar in length, all short story collections work out to a comparable page count . . . The explanation is always about printing technology, but there is an alternative reason.

I spent a bunch of time being annoyed that people called Amazon a monopoly, when it was fairly clear that their concerns were that Amazon was a monopsony. Because I am still Naive, I hadn’t really computed how much of a monopsony the big houses were — and had been for the last century.

There is a school (maybe more than one) of thought and policy that other than during times of rapid innovation, most segments of most industries don’t exhibit true competition or anything like it, but rather some variation on oligopoly, monopoly, monopsony, vertical integration, horizontal integration, etc. This school has been fairly dominant at the judicial level for my lifetime (give or take a few years when I was too young to notice). There is no real indication that this school of thought is going to go away any time soon. There are a lot of reasons to allow an industry (or even most industry) to avoid the ruinous effects of true competition (primarily, because there’s some other country that is protecting their entrant in that industry, but also because it’s way easier to regulate one or a few really big entities than a bunch of fly-by-night, shady small entities that go poof as soon as you notice they put something horrifying in the toothpaste). Also, some projects and products that we all really love can only be produced by really large operations.

One of the artifacts of this judicial inclination is that an antitrust violation has to be pretty raw before anyone will go after it. The Price Fix 6 managed to be that raw. Amazon has been relatively careful to Not be that raw. Currently, traditional publishers are exploring several opportunities to improve their bargaining position vis a vis Amazon: making their case in public, making their case to possibly more sympathetic regulators in countries more accustomed to a mercantilistic/protected monopoly approach, merging their way to size and negotiation parity with Amazon.

But as long as Bezos can view their (monopsonistic) margin as an opportunity, Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler, and a host of other commentators are going to have material for their highly entertaining and illuminating blogs. And when I read monographs on things like monopsony, I will be able to think of specific, familiar, real world examples.

(I am also going to limit my engagement with Paul Krugman’s participation. He really had a strong negative vibe about the monetary union, and thought people were going to join him in that. He was wrong and he has more or less admitted it. Years earlier, in the Bad Old Days of W., Krugman thought that running really big deficits was going to be an economic problem in the short run. He was wrong and he has more or less admitted it. He admits to being wrong, when railing against people who are wrong year after year on inflation and _don’t_ admit to being wrong, by way of providing a better model. These are two conspicuous examples of where Krugman changed his mind, so I feel some confidence that there might be a third one and this might be it.)

[Disclaimer here: I was first a customer of Amazon in 1995. Then I worked for Amazon. I am still long AMZN. I have not included this disclaimer in the past, choosing to refer to those relationships obliquely, usually along the lines of, “I worked for this small internet bookstore once, name starts with an A”. I'm feeling like the last vestiges of pseudonymity have just wafted away, however.]