The Way of the Gun

Over on Kickstarter is a fundraiser coming down to the wire for The Way of the Gun, an anthology project for fiction that crosses the western genre with the Bushido samurai code. Although Scott Roche lives in North Carolina one state away, I first met him in Baltimore at Balticon.

Check out the description of the project and if you are so inclined, please kick in a few dollars. Scott’s a good guy and this is a cool sounding book.

Death to Diets

Here’s an article from Weighthacker about a study that suggests that diet soda causes humans to put on weight by disrupting the satiation process. I know for myself, I stopped drinking soda cold turkey in the summer of 2010 and shortly thereafter with no changes to diet or exercise I dropped 15 pounds. I then weened myself off of sweetening my coffee and now don’t sweeten anything with artificial or natural sweetener of any kind.

My anecdote is not any more than a single data point, but my experience is quite in line with this article.

Via Craig Engler on Google+

More on Comic Rocket

I’ve been using Comic Rocket as a webcomics reader for a week now, since my earlier post on it. It’s an interesting experiment and I think I’ll keep going with it. All the regular webcomics I read, I am completely caught up on. Because when I look at the “My Comics” view it sorts on the number of unread entries , from low to high, I always see these at the top. Since I am near current, I have at most a few issues.

I’ve felt free to subscribe to other comics from my recommended list or that I just see referenced around. In some cases, they are strips like Schlock Mercenary or Girl Genius that I have an interest in but have never gone back to the beginning to search out. These comics sort to the bottom, because generally there are at least 1000 unread issues. In some cases, like Kevin and Kell, there are over 5700 of them (this was one of the very first webcomics and also done by an ATL guy I’ve known as an acquaintance for a very very long time.)

Added up, the whole unread queue is now over 35,000 individual comic strip entries. If I read 100 strips a day beyond the new ones, it would take me about a year to get current. Even though that seems kind of ridiculous, I’m OK with it. I’m just reading what is there from the top to the bottom every time I want some diversion. I caught up on a few comics with a hundred or so strips and now I’m in to ones that have a few hundred. I’m in no hurry and I feel no pressure. All I want is to have fun stuff to put my attention towards when I have a little time to devote to that, and I have it in spades for a very long time. All is well.

Reddit and Free Speech

I personally am not a user of Reddit. When the recent controversy hit my social media circles, I had to think if I have ever been to the site in my life. If I have been, it wasn’t on purpose. When it was announced that President Obama was going to do a “Reddit AMA” I didn’t even know what that was. I’m slightly shocked to find out it is considered to be “the internet’s front page” because if the site disappeared tomorrow it would have zero effect on me. However, I am old and out of touch.

With all that said, obviously I had never heard of Violentacrez prior to his outing, and if not for the articles all over my social media I still wouldn’t have heard of him. I read the original article about the identity of Violentacrez on Gawker and didn’t think much more about it. Later, I saw two completely disparate takes on it by science fiction writers – John Scalzi’s take (a writer with whom I’ve had exactly one interaction and found him a dick) and Will Shetterly’s take (a writer with whom I’ve had more interactions over a longer period and found him a pleasant guy). Even though I personally don’t care for Scalzi, his take is much closer to what I felt on reading this story.

In the vast smear of commentary on this subject spread across 1.7 zillion posts on various social media sites and blog posts, I have seen many of the form “great that this scumbag lost his job, he deserves punished.” I don’t agree with that on the face of it. People seems to be drunk on schadenfreude to see a troll get comeuppance in the real world. Maybe I’d feel differently if I were more connected to the trolling, but I don’t see any joy to take in Brutsch’s subsequent real world problems.

Will Shetterly seems predominantly concerned with the principle of anonymity on the internet, and with who has the right to draw the line between legitimate and illegitimate reasons to conceal ones identity. I don’t disagree with him out of hand, but I’m less inclined for the benefit of the doubt of the anonymous.

Yes, there are legitimate reasons for anonymity on the internet. Political dissidents under oppressive regimes and survivors of abuse are the two I see most often brought up. I look at this this way: if you are posting anonymously on the internet and have something to lose should your identity be revealed, your risk and reward should be in line. A political dissident may be risking imprisonment or execution should they be discovered, so whatever it is they are posting anonymously should be important to them. Michael Brutsch was risking his livelihood for the ability to abuse and anger other people. Asking for sympathy on the backend of that after the consequences are realized rings pretty hollow to me. I think him getting fired for what he did on Reddit away from work is not right, but it was a risk he bore willingly and as a grownup should own that.

The other part of the whole thing this brings out to me is the argument Scalzi uses that none of these websites are a public common. They are all owned by someone who has the right to allow or disallow anyone they choose. I know that I myself have been hamstrung by my own desire for free speech at times in the history of the blog, which allowed me to be played by commentors of bad faith. Somewhere along the line I got over that, which is why I posted my comment policy. Just because I want to be fair doesn’t mean you get to use my own desire for fairness as a weapon against me. This blog is my party, and if you shit in the punch bowl I will toss you out. Reddit chose to allow turds in the punch bowl because the defactor was useful to them. Everyone makes their own choices. You just need to pay attention before you pour yourself another glass of that delicious delicious punch.

Ebook Pricing Wisdom vs The Humble Bundle

Periodically I have posted about ebook pricing, the most linked to and discussed post being the one where I analyzed JA Konrath’s sales data to determine optimum price to maximize revenue. The take home lesson I try to impress over and over is that the number I arrived at in that analysis is unimportant and not applicable to a general data set – it’s the method I used to arrive at the number that matters. I think anyone involved in the sale of digital goods should do the same kind of experimentation in order to determine their own optimum price.

I still see defenses of higher ebook prices. In practically every case, the person presenting the argument has some kind of investment in the way business has always been done. They have done their time in legacy paper publishing and present this experience as a reason why their opinion is informed. In reality, I think this mindset probably blinds them to realities and frames their thinking in ways that makes it difficult or impossible to think outside that frame. In other words, that lifetime of experience and all that hard won knowledge is probalby doing them harm, which is not something anyone wants to consider. “Hey, all that stuff you’ve learned your entire adult life, throw it out and start over.” I blame no one for having a hard time reframing their thoughts.

The first and most harmful bit of the frame is what I call the “Unit Price Fallacy.” The classic justification of ebook prices takes a unit, and breaks down the costs. Printing is $1-$2 per book, so the conclusion is that ebook prices should be a few dollars cheaper but not radically cheaper. I’ve argued against this many ways, but here is where I am at now: you don’t get to discuss unit prices and unit costs for units you don’t handle. Publishers effectively sell a single unit to Amazon, where black retailing magic occurs and then money is shuttled back the other way. There is no unit cost at all involved in any sell from the publisher end. Using the accounting methods derived from shipping boxes of books back and forth to B. Dalton’s does not apply in this situation.

The other giant portion of the frame that does harm is the “Inelastic Demand Fallacy.” The publishing world seems to feel that they are doing a holy mission by bringing out this literature, that they are a hedge against the darkness of ignorance. In a sense that is true. Coupled in all this is a belief that when a book comes out from an author, readers want *that book from that author* and will pay what it costs. That is undoubtedly true for very specific authorial brands in the bestseller category, but for the vast majority of books available to be purchased, that isn’t true. The books are a commodity. People want to find a book to read, and if book X looks interesting but is priced too high, they’ll move on to book Y which also looks interesting but is priced more reasonably. No author wants to think they spent a year or three writing a novel that is a replaceable commodity in the eyes of purchasers, but that’s exactly where we are at. Fighting the fact won’t change it, accepting it makes it something you can work with.

Recently long time agent Richard Curtis wrote a two part article on Digital Book World defending ebook prices – Part One and Part Two. In Part One he explained that it would cost approximately $1600 to get the final copyedited book into clean digital form. I hope he is talking about books from before, say 1990. My reaction to this was one of horror. “WTF? No one has a digital copy of the final text of the published book? This isn’t standard practice for every publisher?” This is one of the reasons publisher cost justifications are so unconvincing. They are full of costs that make any outsider scratch their head and say “Why would anyone do business like that?” His Part Two is absolutely full of the Inelastic Demand Fallacy. He compares how many copies it would take to recoup the fixed upfront costs but with no mention whatsoever of what that change in price does to the demand for the book.

Compare this to the recent experiences of the inaugural Humble Ebook Bundle. There were an initial six books being bundled, with two additional added on for above average contributions and then another five. You can purchase the bundle by naming your own price and even determine what fraction goes to the authors, the charities and to the Humble organization to keep the site running. At the time of this writing, just under $970,000 has been paid in by just over 70,000 purchasers paying an average of $13.76. Breaking these numbers down, if everyone left their division of money at default and we assume $1,000,000 in final amount (it will be higher but that makes the math clean) that would mean Humble brings in $150,000, the charities divide $200,000 and the books get $650,000 or $50,000 apiece. The per book price is ridiculously low – just over a dollar a book with each book clearing just over $0.65 per book per sale.

According to Richard Curtis and the unit price thinking, this is terrible. People should be paying more per book, because a dollar a book is too low. It is low, very low. However, despite being low each author is bringing home a $50,000 bucket of cash per book. Note that Kelly Link, Zach Weiner and the Penny Arcade guys have two books apiece in there. You could apply a unit price thinking and decide that this is a terrible deal, or you could look at it as $50,000 in sales that didn’t exist for these books a month ago. The latter mode is more productive. I’m not saying Humble scales to all writers, particularly self-published ones. It is its own thing with its own built-in publicity machine and branding. I’m using it as an example why unit price thinking is harmful. Think instead about the bucket of money that comes out the other end of any given decision and sales process of a digital good. Don’t think about it as if you had to pack each envelope and drive them to the mailbox because that doesn’t happen. Margins are abstract concepts, not some kind of money that is coming out of your pocket directly. You’ve already incurred all your costs by the time you deliver the book to the etailer, so it’s all 100% margin after that point.

I’m still working on my first novel, which I will self-publish electronically. (I’m writing this instead of proofing it, bad author!) My initial price will probably be $4.95 for an ~100,000 word book. I will also be experimenting to the extent I have possible with changing the price periodically and seeing what that does to sales. Writing this post notwithstanding, I’ve stopped being an evangelist for ebook pricing. I’m no longer much concerned with convincing anyone to change their business practices. In fact, I’ve come to believe that I don’t want them changed by the big publishers. When my book comes out, priced in the low single digits I’ll be competing with those novels from the big publishers. I will get the best looking cover and best written copy I can in the stores, and then I’ll be fighting for the same entertainment dollars from the same readers. Go ahead, price your ebooks at $14.99. Those ones from Stephen King will of course get sold for that. All the rest, when the readers say “Naaaaw” to them, my book will also be in the store, priced at 1/2 or 1/3 the cost and will also be a pleasant way to kill a rainy afternoon. I’m not bothered by writing a commodity novel, I’m quite fine with it.

And with that, I’m spending the rest of my lunch hour reading over Chapter 25 of my novel, Replaceable Commodity Entertainment You Could Easily Live Without But I Hope You Don’t *. By Dave Slusher.

* title subject to change

Sagas of the Icelanders Game

I stumbled across an Indiegogo campaign the other day for an interesting sounding game. It is called Sagas of the Icelanders and is a role playing game about the Norse who settled Iceland in the 10th century. It has 31 days left at the time of this writing and the goal is met so it is well into stretch goal time for this campaign.

If you were, as I was, a fan of the Northlanders comic book, the last cycle was set in exactly this time and place. The Northlanders series finished with a cycle of three different three issue stories about one of the founding clans, starting with the original family and tracing descendants over a hundred years or so. The line I particularly liked out of the first sequence: “If that pup is born a Belgarsson, I’m catching the next boat back to Norway.” If you read it, you’ll remember that.

If you are looking for a game to play that isn’t the same old thing, this seems like an interesting way to break out of the standard molds. I’ve got a growing fondness for this milieu, the history and culture of the Nordic countries. I also have a copy of the Kalevala on my Kindle that one day I’ll read. I’ve been interested ever since I listened to Ellen Kushner’s episode of Sound and Spirit about the work, a decade or so ago.

My Inauguaration Day Letter to Avedon

Back in the 2008 election season it was a large source of friction between myself and many of my friends and family, my tepid non-support for a Barack Obama candidacy. Taken purely on his policies he was at best the fourth best fit in the primary race for my beliefs. I didn’t much care for what he said, even as I noted how well he said it.

Very few voices in the left-wing online sphere agreed with me, but political blogger (and long time science fiction fan) Avedon Carol was one of the few people with my outlook. Her blog has recently moved here, for many years prior it was here. On inauguration day 2009 while the entire left was having a great party and enjoying the historic swearing in of our first black president, I chose to say nothing online at all expressing my lack of joy. What I did do was send a private email to Avedon, baring my soul about my doubts. I didn’t think to get her permission ahead of time to include her reply, but suffice it to say it was one of sad agreement.

Posted below is my email in its entirety, written and sent on January 20, 2009:


Just a word of support, so it will literally be true that “lurkers support you in email.” I’ve been reading for years and my disdain and distrust for our Democratic leadership to act as Democrats, up to and including the swearing-in-right-now incoming president seems very close to yours. I’m hearing how historic and groundbreaking it is that a black man has been elected president, and that’s true. What people fail to notice is that in his not-even-completed first senatorial term he was an overwhelming supporter of the incumbency of power, and nothing about his administration picks from the transition has given me any hope of that changing. His status is very much quo, his frames are very much right wing.

He’s getting acclaim for being bipartisan when in fact, he is being monopartisan. My local (Myrtle Beach, South Carolina) paper praised him for including Lindsey Graham on his policy advisor list. I don’t give the man credit for accepting extra voices of the failed policies. It’s not bipartisan, just dumb. That the power brokers and voices of incumbency love it is predictable, but to me it is the warning sign that the revelers are ignoring.

I think you could see this pattern clearly in the 2006 election when he crossed his party to support Lieberman over Lamont. For putting his personal crony loyalty above that of his party, he was rewarded in 2008 by having Lieberman speak at the RNC and support McCain. He sold out what he should have preserved, and he got LESS THAN NOTHING FOR IT. I envy the people having a hope fest. What I see ahead of us is 4 years of Liebermans running around.

My final thought: America has come a long way in the diversity of our power structure. It used to be you had to be a rich white male lawyer to make a credible run at the presidency. Now you can be a rich woman lawyer or even a rich black lawyer. It’s a new day. I’m glad we have elected a black president. I’ll be even more glad when we elect an actual Democrat.

You are free to blog or ignore any of this you see fit, but I’d prefer you not blog any during Jan 20th, 2009. I’m running silent on my feelings today, letting people have their party without being a buzzkill. I’m not celebrating but buckling up for what I’m sure is coming.

Best. Yours in the tribe,


SE Zine Fest

This Saturday October 20th in Charleston SC will be the first Southeast Zine Fest at the Redux Contemporary Art Center . It is free to attend, and sounds like a lot of fun. Because zinesters are not morning people, the event starts at noon.

I would love to go but don’t think I’ll be able to. The goal is for this to be an annual event, which I hope is the case as I would like to attend next year. If you live in Charleston or driving distance and want to help bootstrap the zine community in this region, please consider going and showing your support. Pick up some stuff and hang out and generally participate. Do it for me, do it for the kids!

An Even Better Webcomics Reader

After my post on my IFTTT Webcomics hack, I got an email from Jamey Sharp of Comic Rocket. In it, he points me at his site and says they built it out of similar frustrations to mine and with similar design goals. In the case of Comic Rocket, the reading of the site is actually done via a small navigation bar at the top but you are loading each page of the webcomic’s site individually. If there are ads or page views that somehow turn into money for them, by using this method you are not depriving them of anything. I like it.

The site indexes webcomics, and then keeps track of what the next installment is. They don’t use RSS for this but the actual site itself, so it works whether or not the webcomic has any type of feed. As long as the page has navigation (and what comic wouldn’t?) this will work. A side effect of that is there is a catalog of 10,000 comics already at Comic Rocket. So far, every one from my subscription list I’ve looked for is there.

I like it a lot so far, but there are two feature I’d like to see added:

1) [UPDATE – looks like this is already there and I missed it ] Some sort of collaborative filtering based on the subscription list. Look at other users, and for the people subscribed to all the comics I’m reading, what are the most common other comics not on my list? Adding in discoverability that way would even give webcomics creators an incentive to use the site, or to recommend their readers to use it.

2) The ability to subscribe to a group of comics all at once via OPML.

I’ve been playing with it for a few days and I don’t see anything but upside for comics creators here. Well done, Comic Rocket! Also, it’s Portland OR based (and why wouldn’t it be?) PDX represent!

Tough Gig

From a Google Plus post I made:

Surely one of the toughest jobs now has got to be ad salesman for Yellow Pages. “I’ve got a great deal for you, give us money and we’ll put you in a book that will sit on people’s porches until they get tired of stepping over it.”

Podcast Endings

Over the course of this summer through the last week, a number of podcasts I subscribe to have come to an end. In a way, these announced endings are relatively rare. It seems more common that people just trail off their production schedule and at some point they podfade without another episode being published. Here are the ones from my list, in no particular order.

I was a listener to several of the Poker Road shows, but I came very late in the game to Two Jacks in the Hole. Unlike all the other shows on that network, this was not poker related in content but a purely comedic show hosted by guys who hosted other shows on the network. That show came to an end, rebranded itself as Huff and Stapes off the network, joined up with the Toad Hop Network and then over the summer came to a finale. Scott Huff moved to New York and they decided that the show wouldn’t be the same over Skype so they executed the “Thank you, good night” maneuver. It was a shame, I really enjoyed this show and at times was brought to hysterics by it.

This is not strictly a podcast, but it fits with the general theme so what the heck. I was a reader of the Cerebus comic book for much of its run, although I still have never finished it. (I read Rick’s Story this year and am slowly working through the rest of the series.) Around the time the baby was born I discovered Cerebus TV, which was an odd duck of a new media product. It wasn’t on demand or downloadable, but streamed on an endless loop so you either started in the middle or as I did, turned the sound down and waited for it to loop back around to the beginning. It was mostly Dave Sim in his house addressing the camera, sometimes in monologues, sometimes while drawing. It also included interview segments done by some of the producers and other odd bits. I generally enjoyed the show although found it shocking that such a staunchly Canadian man could do the absolute worst Bob and Doug Mackenzie impression I’ve ever heard.

I had also been reading his post-Cerebus comic series glamourpuss, also an odd duck. It was a comic that was half parody of fashion magazines (including beautfully rendered ultra-realistic drawings) and half an exploration of the history of photo-realistic cartooning. In issue 26 is an editorial in which Sim discusses how he his shutting down glamourpuss as a series, his Cerebus Archive series and Cerebus TV. Apparently he’s going into career suicide mode, which is sad for such a talented individual. I intereviewed him when I was 17 years old at one of the early HeroesCons and he couldn’t have been nicer about it. I hope that his life and career do not go into worst case mode. I believe that some or all of the Cerebus TV episodes are going to be put into some purchasable form and I’l try to support those if the pricing structure is at all realistic. I went a while without watching Cerebus TV and now I don’t get to go back. I always enjoyed catching the first run when possible, and I liked it when in the intro he said “It’s 10 PM on Friday in Kitchener Ontario” and I actually was watching Friday at 10 PM. It’s the little things.

I became a fan of Mike Dawson in a roundabout fashion. First I heard him interviewed on Indie Spinner Rack about his graphic novel Freddie & Me , then later heard about him hosting an interview podcast series for The Comics Journal called TCJ Talkies. I subscribed to that, and later to his personal podcast with Alex Robinson the Ink Panthers show. From there, I bought several of his graphic novels and I quite liked all of his output in all of these media. Earlier this year, with a busy schedule and a second child on the way Dawson decided to cease production of the TCJ Talkies show. I certainly understand, having shut down an interview show myself I know the dynamic. The 30 – 90 minutes in conversation are the best but all the preparation ahead of time and post-production are the worst. He found he didn’t have time to devote to all of that, his children and his cartooning so this is the bit that had to give. I understand, but still miss the show.

The most recent of these shows, just announced in the last week or so, is the end of Ed Champion’s Bat Segundo Show. I’ve been a listener for a long time, and a (very) occasional correspondent with Mr. Champion. I’ll admit that I don’t listen to every episode of this show because his tastes are more rarified and intellectual than mine. I keep an eye out and listen to the specific shows with guests with whom I’m familiar and like a lot of those. In particular I’ve liked a lot of his shows with cartoonists. His conversations with Alison Bechdel were terrific and one of his last episodes is with Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. I’m looking forward to that as a great capper to almost 500 episodes of insanely well researched and literate talk. As with Dawson, I completely understand why he found the need to do so. Champion does so much research that I can’t even fathom the hours these 500 shows required of him. I wish him luck in his future endeavors and thank him for all his great work in the past.

Where’s George?

I’ve been a member of Where’s George for a long time. A really long time. I’ve been basically inactive for a few years now, entering bills on the rare occasion I find them in my wallet but not stamping or entering previously unentered bills. There was a time when I was doing hundreds of them a month. This was back when I was not a parent.

However, I got a landmark hit the other day. Not only was it hit on the same day of the year as the original entry, it was twelve years after I first entered it. Not only have I been a member that long, but the site has been up and running that long and is still around. In the churn of internet sites, that’s downright impressive. Well done, Hank Eskins!

My Current Webcomics Reader

Some time ago on Google Plus I cast a net for an idea of a new sort of webcomics reader. Because my reading is in fits and starts and often can go weeks between sessions, Google Reader is no longer a reasonable way to read the feeds. If there are up to 20 strips of each comic, all in reverse chronological order, it requires me to scroll all the way down and then read from the bottom up as a number of my strips have some kind of continuity.

I have arrived at a solution that seems to be working for me. It is truly a hack of hacks, but like the best hacks is effectively solving a problem for me. Unfortunately, also like hacks it might not be very robust or transferrable to other people. I achieved my goal with a custom IFTTT rule:

This has prerequisites. You need an IFTTT account, a linked Dropbox account and a linked Google Reader account. You also need to have the RSS feeds for all webcomics you subscribe to in a single folder or with a consistent tag. In my rule, it is a folder named “Webcomics” but it can be named anything, it just has to match the rule you have. If you are interested in using it, you can go to the above link and clone the rule to your own account and modify it from there.

Here’s how it works. Every feed in my Google Reader’s “Webcomics” folder gets written to a file in my Dropbox. When I have time for webcomics, I open the file in my browser and then delete it. The next time I look, the top of the page will be the oldest strips I haven’t yet read. There is a quirk of the IFTTT -> Dropbox integration, in that the action to append to a text file forces it to have a .txt extension even though the content of what I’m appending is HTML. This was orignally a bug to me, but now I think of it as a feature. Because the file can get so big that I don’t read it in a single setting, effectively when I change the extension from webcomics.html.txt to webcomics.html is the point at which I freeze the file. I can read it until I finish, even if it takes a few days or weeks. Meanwhile, it will create a new webcomics.html.txt file and be happily appending that whole time period.

This is not a perfect solution. It requires that you have an internet connection as nothing is saving the comic strips to any local machine, it’s a little fugly in the page generated and has none of the management features of even the most rudimentary RSS reader. It’s on you to know what you have read, and if you have to close your browser in the middle there is no way to return to the previous point.

On the upside, all of the features I wanted in my original post are there. It preserves all the links from the original post, so if there are ads in the feed or store links or any other monetization, those are preserved in the file I read. I’ve never wanted to cheat the cartoonists out of their monetization.

I’ve been using this system since July. In that time, some of the strips I orignally followed have ended, like Kris Straub’s Starslip Crisis, and others like Scott Kurtz’ PVP have switched to not including images in the feed. Those were two of the strips that were the original impetus because both had storylines that required reading them forwards. Que sera, things live and die and change.

I’m curious if this system will be effective for anyone else that is not me. Try it out and let me know your experiences, positive or negative.

New Episode of Pull Box Picks

The newest episode of the show I do for Derek Coward’s The Reader Feed has been posted. It is a Pull Box Picks in which I discuss the series Saga from Image Comics. Summary: I love it! It’s one of my favorites currently being published.

I’ve gone back and forth on whether I should add those episodes to this feed. Generally I support keeping feeds as granular as possible. If need be, people can subscribe to more than one. However, this particular episode and this particular comic I really like, so I’m just adding it. I’m still undecided on any future episodes, but this one will be in the feed.