Spoiler Zone

I can see I am really going to have to try to power through the episodes of The Flash and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to get myself up to the mid-season finales as fast as possible to avoid spoilers. Or, I can read and hear the spoilers and promptly forget them because I am that guy from Memento.

Rock and Roll Twitter

Steve Conte NYC

Yesterday was a big day in my intersection of rock and roll and Twitter. First, I listened to Rock and Roll Geek Show episode in which he did a track by track of the Steve Conte NYC album. I really loved that episode and the album. It is now my all-time favorite of his track by tracks. My previous favorite was the one where he and Berton Averre went over Get the Knack.

Funnily enough, I tweeted to Steve Conte yesterday and he retweeted it.

I think that is pretty cool that I got a retweet from a New York Doll. True he is not an original Doll, but 60% of them have passed on so I’ll take what I can get. This album is truly terrific. It is good solid American rock and roll, and I highly recommend it. Go to the Amazon MP3 page for it and just do the preview. A few seconds of each song will be enough to let you know if you want it. (Spoiler alert: you will.) Steve Conte, you rock – figuratively and literally.

Top Shelf Comix $3 Sale for 2014

Top Shelf $3 sale 2014

Every fall, Top Shelf Comics has a massive blowout sale on their inventory. It works out that these comics are enjoyed by not only me but Punkin as well. It is fortuitous that the same company puts out From Hell, The Essex County trilogy but also Owly, Korgi and Johnny Boo. It is literally fun for the whole family.

Until Friday September 26th a lot of their books are on sale for $3. Some are as low as $1 and even the high end stuff is 50% off. This is a great time to go impulse buy some stuff, either for the adults in the house or the kids. Just make sure you know which books are for whom.

Stripped Documentary on Sale until September 19 2014

Stripped Documentary

I was a Kickstarter backer of the documentary Stripped about the history and future of the comic strip and the business behind it. I backed it because as a listener of the then active Webcomics Weekly podcast and reader of the Sheldon webcomic, I wanted to support Dave Kellett. Having seen the movie, I will state that it is fantastic. I think Kellett and Fred Schroeder did a good job being fair to all sides of the issues even though they have a serious horse in the race coming from the webcomics world.

For a short time, the mega-package is on sale. This gets you all the movie stuff I got from my Kickstarter package as well as access to 26 hours of raw interview footage for $40. I will state unequivocally that if you are interested in the comic strip world, this is a steal. The sale only lasts a short time, so you need to act soon if you want it. Don’t be like I usually am, when I dawdle and then forget to pull the trigger. This is the real deal.

Also, this is Kickstarter is the reference I give to people that get huffy about delays in their projects. It took a full three years past the originally projected delivery date. I waited patiently and what I got was fantastic. Chill people, sometimes making actual projects in the real world takes extra time. If you can’t stand the risk of that, don’t commit your Kickstarter money.

Gary Cole on Speakeasy

I’m a fan of Paul F. Tompkins and have been anxiously awaiting more episodes of the Pod F. Tompkast for a year and a half. I’ve just started watching his series Speakeasy on YouTube. This episode has Gary Cole and is pretty phenomenal. I like that the conceit of the series is that the two of them are sitting at a bar enjoying cocktails while they talk. Instead of Dinner For Five, it’s Drinks for Two.

And while I am talking PFT, just let me say there is no better choice than him for the Doctor Strange movie. Ever since Jared Axelrod photoshopped the picture, I’ve been in. Joaquin Phoenix? No, Tompkins all the way! Take that to the bank!

Paul F. Tompkins is Dr Strange!

Zen Ties

Sometimes Punkin comes home from the library with stacks of books. A lot of times lately these are either repeats or another entry from familiar franchises like Pinkalicious. A while back, maybe as long as a year ago, she had this odd book about a panda who teaches philosophical lessons to the neighborhood kids. The first time I read it with her, something seemed oddly familiar. Then we got to one specific page and I thought “Is this book painted by Jon J. Muth?” Turns out the answer was yes.


The book was Zen Ties. We have since checked out his work in other series as well as others in the Zen series. In 1984 I was reading the comic book he did with J. M. DeMatteis, Moonshadow. What I didn’t realize at the time is that he isn’t that much older than me. He’s 7 years older but looking at those paintings from back then – when I was 17 and he was 24 – I would have assumed he was much older. The polish and craftsmanship he brings now isn’t radically different from what those comic pages looked like 30 years ago.

Nowadays it is pretty commonplace to see fully painted comic books. Back then it was completely novel. Moonshadow is the very first one I ever experienced. Every time we read a Stillwater book to Punkin, I have all of this in the back of my mind.

Georgia Tech 2014

Oh Georgia Tech, I do love watching you run the triple option offense. I don’t love the wild inconsistency that seems to come with it. Has any team ever started 3-0 in a less impressive fashion?


PS – I know practically nothing about football. I am reading one of Scott Sigler’s Galactic Football League novels though.

Silver Springs

I have said it hundreds of times and I will say it thousands more. The best song on Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album is the song they cut for time. I remember watching their episode of Behind the Music and the discussion around it. Mick Fleetwood and Lindsey Buckingham both asserted that everyone loved the song but it was just too long to fit on the album. I called bullshit because the albums was only 39 minutes long, and even in 1976 there were plenty of 44 minute LPs.

Having kicked this thought around for a decade, even though I love the song and it is my favorite Fleetwood Mac song of all time, for a long time I thought those guys were right. It’s not the the total running time of the album would be technically infeasible, it’s that in the era of needing two sides of nearly equal length, it couldn’t possibly be sequenced well with “Silver Springs” on it.


Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1 “Second Hand News” Lindsey Buckingham 2:44
2. “Dreams” Stevie Nicks 4:14
3. “Never Going Back Again” Lindsey Buckingham 2:15
4. “Don’t Stop” Christine McVie 3:12
5. “Go Your Own Way” Lindsey Buckingham 3:38
6. “Songbird” Christine McVie 3:21
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
7. “The Chain” L. Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, C. McVie, John McVie, S. Nicks 4:16
8. “You Make Loving Fun” Christine McVie 3:31
9. “I Don’t Want to Know” Stevie Nicks 3:15
10. “Oh Daddy” Christine McVie 3:58
11. “Gold Dust Woman” Stevie Nicks 5:02

That’s the thing, Rumours is an extremely well sequenced album. That’s a big part of what makes it such a classic album as a whole. Not only is every single song on it very strong, the rhythms, ebb and flow, tension and release is better than any album of its era. Adding five more minutes of mid-tempo melancholy is very tricky. Whichever side you put it on, 2.5 minutes plus or minus 20 seconds has to trade to the other. If you put it on Side 2, that would pretty much mean moving “I Don’t Want to Know.” That leaves Side 2 as a downbeat, dirge heavy album closer. It has to be on Side 1, which means that you probably can’t displace a slow song. That pretty much leaves “Second Hand News” as the one to move, which robs the album of that great opener.

I think there is one reasonable option. That is to move “Never Going Back Again” to Side 2, right after “The Chain” and put “Silver Springs” in that spot on Side 1. I finally empathize with Buckingham and Fleetwood. Years ago I laughed this off, but they are right. Is this a better album with “Silver Springs” on there, given the two sided LP/cassette constraints they were working with? I think my suggestion is reasonable but I can’t state it is better than the original. In the CD era, it’s a no-brainer. The song belongs on there. In the LP era, what they went with might have been for the best, as much as it pains me to say so.

As it is, “Silver Springs” remains my single favorite Fleetwood Mac song. I’m sure some contribution to that is the fact that it hasn’t been played to death like all the hits have been. My second favorite song of theirs is “It’s Not That Funny” but only in the live version. I remember the concert they played over and over on HBO in the early 80s and that song was a staple. Lindsey Buckingham played the hell out of it and won me over. At this point, I could take or leave all the hits with a strong chance of leaving them. As long as I have those two songs, I’m good.

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.

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.

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!

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.

Pragmatic Programmers Black Friday Sale – Now with Dropbox Support!

On Friday, here’s a Black Friday sale you can take advantage of without having to find a parking place. Pragmatic Programmers will be having 40% off of all their books for that one day only. I’ve been a customer of theirs for some time, having bought a number of Ruby books that I have read on my Kindle. If you purchase either the ebook or ebook/paper combo, you can get the books in DRM-free ePub or MOBI. Use them with whatever device you might happen to have.

I recently made an order with no coupon, so I’m pretty good on their books at the moment. However, I think I’ll buy Build Awesome Command-Line Applications in Ruby: Control Your Computer, Simplify Your Life by David Bryant Copeland. I am doing an ever larger set of command line Ruby scripting, mostly without any sort of automated testing at all just eyeball verification. If I get get out of this book some best practices for testing these scripts, that would be well worth the $12 it will cost after coupon.

Also, in going to the site to assemble these links I just learned something completely new and cool. Pragmatic Programmers now has Dropbox support. They periodically update books that you have purchased, and you can configure your account to have them update your books via Dropbox whenever a newer version is available. That is a killer feature. I’m off to set that up right now.

Using Google+ For Authors

Over on his A Simpler Way blog, my friend Evo Terra has a guide to using Google+ for the publishing author. It’s an interesting guide, applicable for anyone whose primary use of Google+ is as a touchpoint for a creative presence. I would think this would map well for musicians, cartoonists, podcasters or anyone whose primary motivation in G+ is to simultaneously engage with and promote your work to interested fans.

I’d urge anyone whose interests lie that way to check out his post. Even if you don’t agree with his advice down the line, it’s an interesting and effective looking approach to managing one’s G+ presence.

Paper Books Deprecated in My House

This was originally a post on Google+.

Ebook detractors say “I want the [feel | smell | ability to read in the bath] of a paper book.” Example from my life earlier today:

I was walking past Books-A-Million and they had the sales racks rolled out in front of the store. These books are priced at $3.97 and they are buy 2 get 1 free. I browsed them for a bit and realized that even if all these books were free, I would not bring any of them home. That’s because the stop energy on paper book purchases doesn’t come from the sale price, it comes from my willingness to bring One More Book into my life. For the kind of bullshit on the clearance rack, that willingness was zero.

Conversely, my stop energy in buying an ebook is completely based on price to value ratio. If the book is priced above my impulse buy trigger for that work, I’ll think about it. If the decision is no, that book is done. If it is below the impulse buy trigger, it’s bought without a second thought. In between, it’s a maybe (but usually no.)

It’s just the way my buy finger goes nowadays. If the book is in paper, it better be special. If it’s electronic, it better be reasonably priced. I have thousands of books in my to-be-read queue and every one of those is a reason not to buy your book. You can overcome that but you need to do the right thing.

Rejected Arguments in Ebook Pricing Debates

I discuss ebook pricing and publisher adoption/non-adoption of ebooks on this blogs. There are a few anti-patterns in the comments I get, so I’m posting this as documented and published ground rules for these debates. If you make one of these points, you’ve already lost.

Arguments Rejected Out of Hand

Argument 1: “Just check it out from the library”

Anytime I ever discuss an overpriced ebook, someone says this to me. 100% of the time, I have already checked my local library prior to blogging about it. If the book was anywhere in my county’s system, I would have already placed a hold on it instead of making the blog post. Sorry, you aren’t helpful but thanks for the implication that I’m too stupid to use a library.

Argument 2: “If the ebook is priced higher than the paper book, just buy the paper book”

I don’t want any more paper books in my house. Every single bookshelf in my house is full, and many have books stacked horizontally on top of the books on the shelf. My cases with paperbacks are stacked three deep so that finding a specific book can be a challenge in search management. At this point, it is a rare book I’m willing to allow into my house in paper. I want many fewer books in paper, not more. If this book scanner were on the market today, I’d be scanning books off my shelves and donating them to my local library as fast as I could move them through.

Both of these arguments bother me in that they are presumptions from people who don’t know me or my situation about how I should make decisions. Is it so much to ask for you to respect that I know what I want better than you do?

More Lost Ebook Sales

Here’s yet another story of a lost sale. These are starting to pile up. Book publishers take note. I heard an interview with Gary Taubes on episode #153 of Skepticality and I was interested in his new book Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It. I went to see if it was available for the Kindle and what the price was and guess what, it’s yet another one where the Kindle version is priced higher than the paper edition. I know some of my friends say that when that happens, they just buy the paper edition. Not so for me. It makes me angry enough that I buy neither one.

Let me reiterate that Gary Taubes did this podcast interview, I heard it and got interested in his product which is part of why he would spend his time doing the interview. I got all the way to the purchase page and I have a surplus of credit in my Amazon account. The only thing that stood between me and the “Buy it Now” button was Knopf’s pricing policy, and they fucked it up. As always, I’m not jonesing for things to read. I have over 100 unread books on my Kindle. I didn’t buy this book and really, I’ll never miss it. Instead I’ll read something else, and in all likelihood, I will never think about this book again.

Publishers need to understand how tenuous this window is where they have my attention, they have my willingness to buy, they have me where they need me. If you don’t convert at that point, you won’t forever. In some cases, you’ll do worse than not convert – you’ll begin to build up brand contempt. Knopf didn’t just not get my money, they twigged on my radar as a vendor to be avoided. Think of the last few books you read. How many of them could you even name what publisher put it out? The only recognition individual publishers are getting from me lately is as bad actors. That’s not what you want.

Also, to head off the highly predictable asshole comments (like, 100% of the time I’ve made these lost sale posts) this book is not available from anywhere in my county’s library system. People always reply with “just check it out of the library” which I find dickish and aggressive when you don’t have any idea whether a book is actually available for any individual. If you have a well stocked library system with all of these books, good for you. Horry County, South Carolina isn’t as well stocked as you.

Why I Never Trusted The Big Publishers with Ebook Agency Pricing

This subject has become my hobby horse lately. While we’ve got it out, I might as well ride it until I get splinters in my butt.

One of the rationalizations from the Big 5 publishers who are doing agency pricing with the ebook editions of their books was that “they would be able to better respond to the marketplace and adjust prices accordingly.” Macmillan’s John Sargent, he of the opposing side of the infamous Amazon delisting crisis of 2010, made a post to his blog that included this paragraph:

For physical books, the majority of new release hardcovers are published in cheaper paperback versions over time. We will mirror this price reduction in the digital world. It is too early to estimate the timing of the price reductions for those cases in which we do not issue a paperback edition. If we do issue a paperback, we will drop the digital price to $9.99 or lower at publication date (if not before). The price differential between the book and the e-book will become smaller at the lower price points.

That sounds great, if it were actually to be happen. My faith in that was close to zero. One of my takeaways of the whole struggle as someone totally on the outside is that the publishers wanted more control of the retail experience in the case of ebooks, and that this probably was going to end poorly for them. My take was and is that publishers think they understand their customers, but in fact have spent the 20th century isolating themselves from them through the layers of distribution. (For writers, add one step further away from the endpoint of the customer.) Their self-image of an industry is that they understand the customer and have a relationship with them, but in practice they don’t. Here’s an example – suppose Macmillan wanted to get in touch with people who have purchased a Macmillan book in the last year and offer them special deals. Could they do that? No? OK then. Could Amazon or Barnes and Noble? To some extent they could, the latter if you were a B&N club member I’m guessing and the former for books bought through them. The publishers, not so much.

Here’s another concrete example of price policy gone awry, since I’m enjoying presenting these. I’ve been a fan of Max Allan Collins since I was 12 years old and he was writing the Dick Tracy comic strip. His mystery novels are some of my comfort reading – not high art but they don’t have to be. I just enjoy them. I happened to notice that his novel A Killing in Comics is available on Kindle at the price of $11.99. This is a book that was published in 2007. Worse than that, I bought a paper copy in remainders for $2.99 right at two years ago. Whatever it’s reasonable print life might be, that is over enough that the publisher sold it to a book discounter for less than a quarter on the dollar yet at time of this posting the ebook is still priced at $11.99. Now, this book is Penguin so I’m not blaming Sargent or his organization directly as responsible for this particular instance. I am pointing out that agency pricing was sold by the big publishers as A Thing That Will Happen and It Might Smell Like Medicine But Is Good For You, You Fussy Children AKA “our customers.” It doesn’t take too many of these examples where I begin to build a brand contempt for the companies who claim they are ultimately helping me while clearly price gouging me.

I never believed Sargent’s statement because I doubt anyone at these publishing houses 1) cares much about lowering prices 2) is getting paid to lower prices of books or even make sure they are appropriate with the lifecycle of the print version or 3) even have that much control over their catalog. If I hazarded a guess as an uniformed outsider, they splat it out there and then generally leave it for all but the most high profile writers. The midlist writers like Collins probably don’t get a lot of attention in that process.

One of the big debates is “if books are self-published how do I know they aren’t crap?” Well, big publisher books can also be crap and the Kindle version can cost four times what a lot of the self-published books are. Maybe you come out to the good by getting four rolls of the dice for your money. That’s why the sample was invented.