February 8th, 2010


[links] Link salad sleeps the sleep of the dead

lonfiction with a thought experiment for writers — Concerning motivation and unsold words.

Amazon, Macmillan Settle Price Dispute The Wall Street Journal with more lazy, single sourced pro-Amazon reporting. One of the reporters replied back to my query about their coverage by telling me they were waiting for the iPad release to see how the price increase fell out, without acknowledging my point about the lack of coverage of dynamic pricing or Macmillan's perspective.

Galleycat with a brief round up of the quiet ending of the Amazon-Macmillan Standoff — Given a continued lack of public statements on the part of Amazon's senior management, I'm not convinced this is over. I continue very disappointed ghat both the popular media and the general media are treating this almost exclusively as a "price increase: story, when the reality is much more nuanced.

Fritz Lang: Behind the Scenes with a Master Science Fiction Filmmaker — Wow. (Via @pablod.)

Vintage dating techniques from the 1930s — Wow. The past really is another country. (Via vintagephoto here.)

Sun halo over CambodiaAPOD with an alien sky right here on earth.

Scaramanga's flying car — I was impressed as hell by this when I was 12.

Secret Caves of the Lizard PeopleStrange Maps with some downright Dero history of hidden Los Angeles.

?otD: Have you danced the Lorazepam tango?

Writing time yesterday: 0 minutes (infusion day)
Body movement: 30 stationary bike ride
Hours slept: 9.25 (soundly)
This morning's weigh-in: 225.6
Yesterday's chemo stress index: 6/10
Currently reading: [between books]


[cancer] A wrapper on chemo infusion session three

This one went a little easier in some ways, and a little harder in others. I had more dread heading into infusion day last Friday. shelly_rae and my family were magnificent, calendula_witch was much missed. I spent more time resting and sleeping this weekend, including 9.25 hours last night, after unhooking. Which makes me feel very deprived, given my usual habits and productivity. The chemo bottle ritual [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ] was not nearly so overwhelming this time.

I am down three, nine to go. As calendula_witch says, I'm not actually sick right now, they've taken the second tumor out of me. I'm doing this preventatively. So far my cancer has been like an exotic Soap Opera Disease — potentially fatal, but right now I'd still leave a good looking corpse. No wasting away for me. Not yet, anyway.

It's all so strange.

tillyjane is staying at the house to look after me until tomorrow, as I tend to forget to eat these first two days, then Bad Things happen. This week I have the digestive shedding to look forward to, along with the usual fatigue nonsense. Some social life occurs later this week, then calendula_witch returns, followed by the return of shelly_rae. My life is lived in the rhythms of the tide of chemo.


[publishing] Amazon vs Macmillan, the $9.99 price point, and market forces

The chemo fog is mostly clearing from my brain. Some things happened in Amazon vs Macmillan while I was checked out, most notably that the buy buttons were restored on Amazon's site for Macmillan print and Kindle titles.

I'm not convinced this is over. Amazon has still not made any sort of public statement other than the original, laughably incompetent unsigned "capitulation" note on the Kindle boards over a week ago. This compared to two formal public statements from Macmillan USA CEO John Sargent. I am very disappointed that the popular and business news cycle has focused almost exclusively on this as a "price increase" narrative, apparently single-sourcing from the Amazon note. I guess that makes better copy, but it ignores the much larger underlying story about a potentially seismic shift in the business models of publishing forced by the growth in ebooks. A shift which has benefits to consumers, as well as the exciting narrative of overturning Amazon's $9.99 pricing model.

As for my own part, I'm finally coming around to thinking Macmillan has the right of this. tnh's explanation of the "agency model", combined with earlier squibs from Charlie Stross, have largely convinced me. I will lay out my own thoughts on this in the next day or two as the chemo fog continues to clear my brain, but I want to make one point here.

The $9.99 ebook price point was not set by market forces. It was a fiat promise from Amazon to Kindle buyers as a driver to promote the Kindle platform. There's nothing magical about the number (beyond the obvious buying psychology of $9.99), and it had nothing to do with either publisher costs or publisher business models. For the media to be treating this as all about a price increase from $9.99 ignores both the history of the price point and the current business reality of publishing. It may well be that $9.99 is an eventual 'market making' price point, but that's not yet been proven. And for all that Amazon lost the boardroom PR war by not even showing up to the fight they picked, they've sure won the popular PR war so far, given the prevalence of the "price increase" narrative.

That's probably enough out of me this morning, but I'm curious. What's your take on the "agency model"? Am I right about the $9.99 price point? Am I right about the strong pro-Amazon bias in media coverage?


[publishing] Reader feedback, more thoughts on ebook pricing & marketing

This post mostly rises up from an active comments thread here trimmed and edited by me, with special thanks to commentors Kelly, Ashavan Doyan, and CharlesP, as well as everyone else hanging in there.

Kelly said (in part): I think you may be missing the biggest price point issue for consumers — the price of the mass market paperback. Publishers need to give readers a reason to pay more for an e-book

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Ashavan Doyan said (in part): I want the authors to make money. But I also want reasonable consumer prices as a reader of books. For instance… The Great Hunt (book 2 of the wheel of time, published by Tor) – paperback $7.99. Ebook – $9.99 WHY??? This book was published what? 15-20 years ago?

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CharlesP said (in part): I’m curious as to what your take is on how it seems we’re going from one fixed price structure (Amazon setting new/best sellers at $9.99) to another (the publishers setting the price for all retailers). We’ve gone from no market competition in pricing (because Amazon owns so much of the market) to no market competition in pricing (because the publishers are setting the price no matter where the consumer goes).

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CharlesP: I have trouble understanding what the publishers are hoping to accomplish by making sure everybody is paying them the same amount, which happens to be less per book than they were currently getting from Amazon. The only semi-plausible explanation I've thought of is that they're hoping to (or at least OK with) hurting eBook penetration to protect hardcover sales.

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CharlesP: The future with an enforced "everybody selling at our selected price" future

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I do recommend following the give and take on the original post, but these strike me as some of the high points worth emphasizing. There's also some pretty interesting stuff in comments on the LiveJournal mirror, including a long exchange with randallsquared about future revenue models for authors.

I'm terribly pleased to have such an thoughtful, patient set of commentors on my blog. Thank you all.


[publishing] Books as licenses - print and ebooks both

One thread of the ongoing ebook discussion on the Internet has been the perception of a lot of readers (including, possibly, reporters at Wired) that ebooks have no incremental cost, and therefore should tend to be free. This assumption ignores sunk costs in book acquisition and production, as well as ongoing royalties to authors. It's also based on misperceptions about the value of physical objects versus virtual objects.

I am still chewing on notion that ebooks are a service, and print books are a product, but I'm thinking I've still got it wrong. Yes, ebooks under DRM behave like like a service, but even DRM-free ebooks are presented under a EULA. (Please note, this is not a defense of DRM, just an acknowlegement it exists.) Print books behave like a product in the sense that you purchase a physical object that is yours to use or dispose of largely as you see fit, much as an automobile or a frying pan or an action figure may be used or disposed of largely as you see fit.

The true, underlying product is story. Every delivery mechanism — print books, ebooks, audio — are licenses to that story. Copyright and ultimate ownership still vest with the author (or in the case of work-for-hire, the license holder).

When you purchase a print book, you purchase a single-use, transferable license to that story in the form of the author's copyright. With limited exceptions for Fair Use, you don't have permission to copy or reproduce the print book. You can pass it along to other readers, resell it, or otherwise dispose of the print book, but all that is in terms of the license embedded in the print book itself. License and artefact are difficult to separate, though not impossible. For example, scanning, photocopying or rekeying beyond the bounds of Fair Use would serve to sever license from artefact, and all three are illegal.

When you purchase an ebook, depending on the DRM wrappers on the book, your rights of transferability may vary. Likewise back up copying, resale and so forth can be influenced by both DRM and the EULA associated with your ebook reader and the software compilation that represents the ebook publication itself. But you still don't own the copyright, again, you have only purchased a license to that story in the from of an author's copyright.

Because fundamentally, that's what the author sells to the publisher. A license to reproduce the copyright.

What I'm getting at here is that the whole question of ebooks versus print books is a bit of a red herring. You don't own the book, any more that you own the performance of a song you buy on CD or mp3. I think this differs from purchasing visual art, where you can own the painting, but even then, the artist can reserve reproduction rights.

It all comes down to concepts of intellectual property, which are frankly a bit abstruse for most people who don't need to spend their time worrying about such things. Even if you buy a Braun coffee maker, you don't buy the rights to recreate it in your workshop and sell copies of the coffee maker. Except the process of copying a coffee maker is so tedious, that unless you own a Third World knockoff factory, you're not going to bother.

Copying or scanning a print book is a possible behavior. Copying an ebook is a trivial behavior, at least technically.

But you, the reader, never take full title to the story underneath. You have taken a license to that story, a contract ultimately between you and the author, embedded in the copyright statement in the front matter of the book. And that license has value, whether it's delivered on cellulose and ink, or via an organized compilation of electrons.

If this were more widely understood, would it shift the terms of the ebook debate?