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August 10, 2007

Bookstore chain puts the screws on small publishers
Posted by Teresa at 07:30 AM * 500 comments

A&R Whitcoulls Group, a.k.a. the Angus & Robertson bookstore chain, is Australia’s largest bookseller, with 180 bookstores and about 20% of the retail market. A&R’s owners, an outfit called Pacific Equity Partners, are thinking of taking it public.

This may or may not have been why A&R’s commercial manager, Charlie Rimmer, sent a startlingly arrogant letter to Australia’s smaller publishers and distributors, demanding a substantial payment from each by August 17 (reportedly ranging from AU$2,500 to AU$20,000) if they want A&R to keep selling their books. Among the recipients was Michael Rakusin of Tower Books, who made the letter public. (Presently we’ll see Mr. Rakusin’s reply.) From A&R:

Dear Michael
Tacky. When you’re sending a formal blackmail request, you should always use the recipient’s full name.
I am writing to inform you of some changes in the way we manage our business.

We have recently completed a piece of work to rank our suppliers in terms of the net profit they generate for our business.

Malarkey. If you’re a bookstore chain, doing business with a publisher doesn’t mean that you automatically carry a standard number of all the titles they publish. You order the books you want, in the quantities you judge appropriate. Whatever doesn’t sell gets returned to the publishers at their own expense. If A&R hasn’t been making a suitable profit off these publishers, it’s not the publishers’ fault. Booksellers make money by recognizing the books their customers will want to buy, ordering them in appropriate quantities, and selling them well.

Later we will read how A&R has been determinedly paring down, de-rationalizing, and generally muddling their own purchasing operation so badly that their bookbuyers no longer see any of the books they’re ordering.

We have concluded that we have far too many suppliers,
Malarkey again. Rimmer is inappropriately borrowing language from other industries, as though A&R were a construction firm and he’d noticed they were buying their bricks from too many different brickyards. Bricks are interchangeable. Books aren’t. A house built with bricks from one or two brickyards will be just fine. A bookstore that only carries stock from a few publishers will have a thin, poor selection to offer its customers.

Multiple suppliers—that is, a broad range of publishers and books to choose from—is a good thing, if a bookstore chain knows what it’s doing.

and over 40% of our supplier agreements fall below our requirements in terms of profit earned.
He doesn’t say they’ve been losing money on them. He doesn’t say what the requirements are, or how long they’ve been in force. He just says A&R now wants more profit from business it’s already transacted.
At a time when the cost of doing business continues to rise, I’m sure you can understand that this is an unpalatable set of circumstances for us, and as such we have no option but to act quickly to remedy the situation.
A&R’s been cutting its operating expenses (ineptly), so if its net profits are down, that’s because its sales are down; and if so, that’s A&R’s fault. But are its profits down? If so, it’s an odd moment for its owners to be taking it public.

In any event, “we have no option but to act quickly” is a barefaced lie. Rimmer’s been describing a slowly developing situation. The only need for speed I can see is that A&R wants to gouge a lot of money quickly out of the small distributors and publishers it does business with, and it wants them to pay up before they have time to compare notes and organize a general response.

Accordingly, we will be rationalizing our supplier numbers and setting a minimum earnings ratio of income to trade purchases that we expect to achieve from our suppliers.
“Earnings ratio of income to trade purchases” has nothing to do with A&R’s cost of doing business. What he’s talking about there is the discount rate publishers give bookstores. He’s saying he wants them to give him a higher discount rate; i.e., give the booksellers a greater proportion of the sales revenues, and give the publishers less. (I’m not saying this situation is unique to Australia. Bookstore chains in the US and Canada are always pushing for bigger discounts.)

What I find interesting here is that A&R is specifically putting the thumbscrews on the smaller distributors and publishers. If A&R’s been ordering haphazardly and selling badly, their sales should be down for all the publishers they stock. The only difference is that the little guys don’t have as much clout and can’t hold out as long as the bigger publishers.

If A&R gets a bigger discount, the other booksellers will want one too.

I am writing to you because TOWER BOOKS falls into this category of unacceptable profitability.

As a consequence we would invite you to pay the attached invoice by Aug 17th 2007. The payment represents the gap for your business, and moves it from an unacceptable level of profitability, to above our minimum threshold.

Raise your hand if you think A&R didn’t know at the time how much it was making on those transactions. No? Me neither.

Wouldn’t life be interesting if we could just tell our trading partners that we’ve decided to raise our “minimum threshold of profitability” on past transactions, and they owe us?

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, A&R “invoiced” Tower Books for AU$20,000.

If we fail to receive your payment by this time we will have no option but to remove you from our list of authorised suppliers, and you will be unable to complete any further transactions with us until such time as the payment is made.
For some small publishers and distributors, that’s a death threat. They can’t afford to pay the mordida now, they can’t afford to give A&R a bigger discount, and they can’t afford to lose that large a percentage of their retail sales.

I’m wondering whether it’s also an implicit threat to return all their Tower Books inventory and/or hold on to any monies currently owed to Tower.

I have also attached a proforma for you to complete and return to me, with your proposed terms of trade for our financial year commencing Sept 1st 2007. We have the following expectations:
It’s a new contract. Tower is expected to write out the terms of their own servitude and submit them to A&R. Other publishers will be sending in their own offers of terms. Effectively, they’re being ordered to bid down their own market.
All agreements contain a standard rebate, a growth rebate and a minimum co-op commitment to enable participation in our marketing activity
I’m not familiar with the “standard rebate/growth rebate” terminology. My guess is that that’s a bigger standard discount, an even-bigger-than-that discount, and a commitment to formalize and regularize tribute paid for co-op advertising.
Growth rebates activate as soon as our purchases with you increase by $1 on the previous year
I believe that means that if A&R sells $1 more of Tower’s books than it sold the previous year, Tower has to pay an even higher discount rate—which is going to amount to a lot more than a dollar.
All rebates are paid quarterly for the previous quarter’s performance, you must ensure that your remittance, with calculations, is received by us by the 7th of the month following the preceding quarter. Any remittances not received by this date will attract a daily 5% interest charge.
There’s no way the publishers can calculate that in time. The only way to avoid that piratical interest charge is to overpay, then try to get a refund on the overpayment. And you can bet your booties that A&R doesn’t pay publishers anywhere near that quickly.
I am also including a copy of our ratecard, and our marketing calendar, to enable you to begin planning your promotional participation now.
That’s that non-elective co-op advertising.
If you would like to discuss this with me in more detail, I am delighted to confirm an appointment with you at 1:00pm on Friday 17th August for 10 minutes at my offices at 379 Collins St, Melbourne.
It’s not just the non-negotiable timeslot or the insulting ten-minute limit. Tower Books is in Frenches Forest, NSW. Rakusin would have to fly to Melbourne for his ten-minute meeting with Rimmer.
Best Regards,

Charlie Rimmer A&W Group Commercial Manager

I have a theory about what A&R is up to. Traditionally, when a publishing house is acquired by some big conglomerate, the bean counters take a look at the accounts, turn pale, and have a talk with the publisher. It has come to their attention, they say, that many books lose money, and most of the others make a small profit at most. Almost all the publisher’s profits come from a small number of bestselling titles. “True,” says the publisher. In that case, the beancounters reply, would it not make more sense to only publish the bestsellers?

I’m wondering whether A&R thinks they’d do better business if they only stocked the bestsellers. (If you look at the sixty-odd reader comments on the news story in question, you can see the actual reaction the book-buying public has when they find a poor selection on offer in a bookstore.)

Alternately, it’s possible that A&R’s management stands to personally profit if the company goes public and the initial stock offering does well, so they’re running a quick slash-and-burn raid on their more vulnerable suppliers in order to temporarily make their company look more profitable. Or maybe it’s something else. It’s tacky and stupid and self-defeating, whatever it is.

Onward to Michael Rakusin’s reply:

Dear Mr Rimmer

We are in receipt of your letter of 30 July 2007 terminating our further supply to Angus & Robertson. As you have requested, we will cancel all Angus & Robertson Company orders on 17 August and will desist from any further supply to your stores.

I have to say that my initial response on reading your letter as to how you propose to “manage” your business in the future was one of voluble hilarity, I literally burst out laughing aloud. My second response was to note the unmitigated arrogance of your communication, I could not actually believe I was reading an official letter from Angus & Robertson on an Angus & Robertson letterhead.

My reply to you will perforce be a lengthy one. I hope you will take the trouble to read it, you may learn something. Then again, when I look at the level of real response we have had from Angus & Robertson over the past six or so years, I somehow doubt it.

The first thing I would say to you is that arrogance of the kind penned by you in your letter of 30 July is an unenviable trait in any officer of any company, no matter how important that individual thinks himself or his company, no matter how dominant that company may be in its market sector. Business has a strange habit of moving in cycles: today’s villain may be tomorrow’s hero. It is quite possible to part from a business relationship in a pleasant way leaving the door open for future engagement. Sadly, in this case, you have slammed and bolted it.

More to the point, however, we have watched our business with Angus & Robertson dwindle year upon year since 2000. We had to wear the cost of sub-economic ordering from you through ownership changes, SAP installation, new management, and stock overhang. In summary our business with you has dropped from over $1.2 million at the end of 2000 to less than $600,000 in 2007.

You would be quite correct to question whether our offering to the market had changed in any way. The answer can be derived from the fact that during the same period our business with Dymocks, Book City, QBD and Borders continued to grow in double digits, our business with your own franchise stores has grown healthily, and our overall business during the same period has grown by more than 50%.

Six years ago we were allowed to send reps to your company stores and do stock checks. Then these were “uninvited” and we had to rely on monthly rep calls to your Buying Office. Subsequently even that was too much trouble; your Buying Office was too busy to see us, so we were asked to make new title submissions electronically. Every few months the new submission template became more and more complex. This year, we have been allowed quarterly visits to your Buying Office at which we were to be given the opportunity to sell to all your Category Managers. At the first, we did indeed see all of the Category Managers - but they didn’t buy any of the titles offered. At the second, one Category manager was available, and again no purchases resulted. At the last (only last week), two Category managers attended. Through all of this, your overworked and under resourced Buying Department never got to see, let alone read, an actual book. While one may be forgiven for believing that Angus & Robertson is actually a company purveying “Sale” signs, I do believe you are still in the book business?

That’s a buying department that’s being serially meddled with by people who don’t know what they’re doing and don’t like the inherent particularity of books. You can’t engineer the complexity out of the book business.
That Angus & Robertson is struggling for margin does not surprise me. It amazes me that the message has not become clear to your “management”: there are only so many costs you can cut, there is only so much destiny you can put in the hands of a computer system, there are only so many sweetheart deals you can do with large suppliers. After that, in order to prosper one actually has to know one’s product and have an appropriately staffed buying department. Most importantly, one has to train sales people of competence. You will never beat the DDSs at their cost cutting game, you will only prosper by putting “books” back into Angus & Robertson. And it would seem to me paramount to stop blaming suppliers for your misfortunes, trying ever harder to squeeze them to death, and actually focus on your core incompetencies in order to redress them.

How a business that calls itself a book business is going to do without titles such as the Miles Franklin Prize winning book or titles like Rich Dad Poor Dad (according to this week’s Sydney Morning Herald it is still the fifth best selling business title in Australia nine years after publication) is beyond me. And how in good conscience Australia’s self-purported largest chain of book shops proposes to exclude emerging Australian writers who are represented by the smaller distributors, is an equal mystery.

Tower Books distributes Alexis Wright’s novel Carpentaria, winner of the 2007 Miles Franklin prize, which is a major Australian literary award.
We too have expectations Mr Rimmer. We have had the same expectations for many years, none of which Angus & Robertson have been willing to deliver:
That we are treated with equal respect to the larger publishers within the obvious parameters of commercial reality;

That your Buying Department is able and willing to assess our books with equal seriousness to those of the big publishers and buy them appropriately;

That you recognise the fundamental differences between the smaller distributors and the larger publishers and stop demanding of us terms that we are unable to deliver;

That you would support and help develop Australian literature.

Had you made any effort to meet these expectations you would have found the niche we should have occupied in your business, as have all other book shops, and you would have found our contribution to the profitability of your business would have been dramatically different.
Translation: “Don’t blame us. If you were doing your job, we’d all be making more money.”
In summary, we reject out of hand this notion that somehow, even giving you 45% discount on a Sale or Return basis, with free freight to each of your individual stores, where we make less than half of that on the same book, puts us in the “category of unacceptable profitability”. We have seen Angus & Robertson try this tactic before - about 12 years ago Angus & Robertson decided that unless we gave them a 50% discount, they would not buy from us any longer. We refused. Angus & Robertson desisted from buying from us for seven months. We survived, Angus & Robertson came back cap in hand.
As I said, this is a recurring fight between publishers and booksellers.
We have seen Myer effectively eliminate smaller suppliers. We survived and prospered but look at the Myer Book Departments today.

We have seen David Jones decide that it had too many publishers to deal with and to exclude the smaller suppliers. We survived and prospered but look at the David Jones Book Departments today.

He’s right. Readers don’t like being offered a curtailed selection. If you don’t have the books they want, they’ll take their business elsewhere—or spend their money on something else entirely.
David Jones and Myer sell other goods; Angus & Robertson does not.

That the contents of your letter of 30 July are both immoral and unethical, I have no doubt. That they probably contravene the Trade Practices Act, I shall leave to the ACCC to determine. (Five percent interest PER DAY !!!)

If you wish to discuss any of the contents hereof you may call my secretary for an appointment at my office in Frenchs Forest. I shall be marginally more generous than you and at least allow you to pick a convenient time.

Michael Rakusin
Director
Tower Books Pty Ltd
Carpentaria, Alexis Wright : Winner of 50th Anniversary Miles Franklin Literary Prize, 2007

Copy: Graeme Samuel, Chairman, ACCC
Rod Walker, Chairman, ARW Group
Ian Draper, ARW Group Managing Director
Rickard Gardell, Managing Director, Pacific Equity Partners
Simon Pillar, Managing Director, Pacific Equity Partners
Barbara Cullen, CEO, ABA
Maree McCaskill, CEO, APA

Bravo, Michael Rakusin. May his company flourish while publishing excellent books.

And a final note: if you’re interested in the realities of bookselling, do read the comment thread in the Sydney Morning Herald.

(Thank to reader Marina Chong, who sent me the link and asked whether this kind of thing happens a lot in the industry.)

Comments on Bookstore chain puts the screws on small publishers:
#1 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 01:40 PM:

I see someone's beaten me to sending you the link.

I'll note that I visit Australia regularly as some of my family live there, and I'd noted the decline of A&R as a chain -- the local small town franchisee is still an excellent bookshop with a decent range given its physical size, but the nearest big town direct-owned shop has over the last few years turned into something that looks like one of those specialist remainder shops, only without the enticement of the large and quirky range. The above exchange of letters explained a lot...

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 01:46 PM:

Patrick and I both had goldfish-faces while we were reading the story. My only regret is that Rimmer's letter is so badly chopped up by my explanations that you don't get its full impact.

#3 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 01:51 PM:

Wow. Who does that Rimmer guy think he is -- Dick Cheney?

Much praise to Michael Rakusin for his letter and for making both communications public.

#4 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 01:57 PM:

When I wrote about this in my LiveJournal, I noted that people don't get many opportunities to write a letter like the one Michael Rakusin has here. It's a rare delight to lay out this level of smackdown.

"Cap in hand." Heh.

#5 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 01:59 PM:

I caught this over on Smart Bitches and wondered about your take on it.

I know that Australia had a large initial population of theives and criminals, but I didn't believe highway robbery was still in vogue.

#6 ::: Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 02:11 PM:

Wheee! In the thread early. Do I really get to be the first person to say it?

This Rimmer fellow, I think he might be a smeghead.

#7 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 02:11 PM:

The pattern resembles stuff happening here in the UK, with the supermarket companies putting a lot of pressure on their suppliers. As you point out, books ain't bricks, or breadloaves. In one instance I know of, a farmer producing strawberries switched from supplying the supermarkets to supplying the local wholesalers. He had found that he could sell at the same price, and make more money.

There were two big reasons for this. He was selling perishable goods to the supermarkets on a sale-or-return basis, and the local wholesalers and retailers accepted the risk of not selling all that they bought.

Second, he turned up with a pallet of strawberries on his pickup, unloaded, and drove off with the payment. Cash or cheque, he didn't have to wait thirty days for the supermarket (who had the cash for over three weeks).

As for the customers, I'm pretty sure that the strawberries spent too long going through the supermarket's distribution system.

Remember, the Asda supermarket business in the UK is now owned by Walmart. As Charlie Stross reminded me, Walmart have made official complaint of unfair competion.

We didn't manage to send all the thieves to Australia.

#8 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 02:13 PM:

the beancounters reply, would it not make more sense to only publish the bestsellers?

(shakes head)

Wow. Yet another example of people treating a business as generic inputs and outputs of money requireing no knowledge of the actual product.

Rakusin's reply was awesome.

#9 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 02:16 PM:

It’s tacky and stupid and self-defeating....

"Evil" is the word that comes to my mind, but maybe that's overly judgmental.

I've seen two bookstores -- neither of them parts of chains -- that stocked only (well, mostly) bestsellers. In both cases it was the penultimate stage in a lengthy, drawn-out death spiral where the stores tried to cut costs by reducing the stock they had, and then got fewer customers (why go when there was less & less chance they'd have the book you were looking for, nor interesting ones you'd not heard of?), and therefore made less money, and had to cut costs some more. The end of this cycle, obviously, is having no costs through having no books, no space -- no store.

All of which is to say, I think that having only bestsellers is the bookstore's equivalent of a death-rattle.

And, in this case, it looks like Mr. Rimmer was the one in the dining room with the candle stick.

#10 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 02:17 PM:

Gulp. What a horrible way to run a chain store.

As a customer, this actually makes me feel better about US chain stores. I mean, whatever bad things you might say about Borders or Amazon, you certainly can't deny that they have lots and lots of different books.

#11 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 02:20 PM:

I hope that Mr. Rakusin had the foresight to keep a copy of his reply, printed on archival-quality paper. It would look very nice placed next to Mr. Rimmer's original letter in a frame.

#12 ::: Remus Shepherd ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 02:25 PM:

I really don't understand the bookselling business. Publishers create the content. Book stores are the middle men. There are plenty of middle men, and these days publishers can connect directly to their consumers. Book stores need publishers, not the other way around. How do they manage to dictate terms to their suppliers like that?

Oh, well. Aside from boycotting Waldenbooks, I've lost count of the bookstores I should and should not be supporting. Very few seem to have a clue.

#13 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 02:32 PM:

The next time I get a condescending letter which needs a response I am going to be sure to include the phrase "voluble hilarity."

Bravo, Mr. Rakusin.

#14 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 02:34 PM:

IANABIINDIPOOTV (I am not a book industry insider, nor do I play one on TV) but this seems an awful lot like someone taking over a hardware store and saying "Lots of stores sell nails, competition is high, profit margins are low, let's stop selling nails and replace it with something we can make more money on."

Of course then word gets around that Joe's hardware store doesn't carry nails and all the contractors and DIYers who are their best customers stay away in droves.

I can't help but link this up with the sidelight on Nardelli taking over at Chrysler, not to mention a thread some years ago about how President Bush is typical of Harvard Business School grads from his era. These people really believe that a knowledge of finance is the most important thing to running any business, and actually knowing anything about the business in question is only going to distract you from focusing on what's really important (i.e. the next quarterly earnings report).

#15 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 02:35 PM:

Eric (10), that was our reaction: whatever Leonard Riggio's up to this time, he's not trying to artificially reduce the range and variety of books B&N carries.

mjfgates (11), I just hope Rakusin autographed Rimmer's ass before he handed it to him.

Remus (12), believe me, publishers need bookstores.

#16 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 02:41 PM:

Linkmeister @ 13... I am going to be sure to include the phrase "voluble hilarity."

Don't forget to use the word 'malarkey'.

#17 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 02:45 PM:

Teresa @ 15... autographed Rimmer's ass

This is starting to sound like an episode of Red Dwarf.

#18 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 02:53 PM:

Remus Shepherd (#12): Don't forget to boycott Borders, then; it's all part of the same company. (Also Brentano's, if there are any of those left.)

#19 ::: Juno ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 02:54 PM:

I fired my accountant for that. In the process of dispensing with his services I used the word shakedown several times. I think it's applicable in this case too....

#20 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 02:56 PM:

It belatedly occurs to me that I did just get a letter which merits the phrase. Talking Points Memo has a copy as well.

#21 ::: DarthParadox ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 03:01 PM:

I'm really trying not to laugh out loud at the shitheaded audacity of Rimmer's letter, and the way Rakusin completely dismantled him in his response. (Were I not at work, I'd just let loose with the guffaws...) I particularly like the three examples of "Here are other companies that tried to pull this crap with us. You're one of them. It didn't work last time, either."

Bravo, Mr. Rakusin.

#22 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 03:11 PM:

I've only gotten a few lines in, but:

"Dear Michael"

Tacky. When you’re sending a formal blackmail request, you should always use the recipient’s full name.

Gosh, I adore you.

I think I'm going to like this Mr. Rakusin fellow, too.

#23 ::: Melanie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 03:12 PM:

Rakusin is politely refraining from mentioning that Tower Books is the publisher of Alexis Wright’s novel Carpentaria, the 2007 winner of a major Australian literary award.

Sorry, but--I see in the signature that that book has won the Miles Franklin literary prize, which is mentioned in the paragraph above your note. Am I missing something?

#24 ::: Dorothy Rothschild ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 03:41 PM:

According to an edit made on a comment in that SMH thread:

A small point of correction: Tower Books is the distributor of the Miles Franklin winner, Carpentaria by Alexis Wright (ie the company that ships it out to bookshops around the country). The publisher is Giramondo, a small Sydney press owned by Ivor Indyk and Evelyn Juers and run from the University of Western Sydney. They publish a very small number of books but interesting, ambitious, often uncommercial and yet a high proportion of award-winners.

Man, I've never been to Australia, but this makes me want to go just so I can not buy books from A&R. Thankfully the high cost of airfare makes me just give them a virtual raspberry.

#25 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 04:08 PM:

A while ago I finished a contract, and my co-workers very nicely had a whip-around and sent me off with a book voucher as a going away present. It was for Angus and Robersons, a place I hadn't been to for years.

I actually found it hard to spend. The city branch of A&R is big enough, and stocks many good books. Unfortunately the psychic fug emitted by the many thousands of mediocre and pointless books which lined the walls dampened my book buying senses, and I wandered around there for hours in a low grade depression, until I picked a couple of books at random, and made a dash for the outside world. And God knows, it's not as if Melbourne's not a good place to buy books.

I think Julia Jones nailed it in the first post when she compared the stock to a specialist remaainder shop - they lean quite heavily towards "Golfing for cats"(*). It's a pity - when I was a kid, growing up in regional Australia, A&R was where you went to get books.

(*) A book by comedian Alan Coren. It had a swastika on the cover. Inside he talked about how market analysis had shown that the three biggest selling categories in the book trade were sport, pets, and the third reich, so... Of course, *he* knew he was making a joke.

#26 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 04:12 PM:

Pricelesser and pricelesser: A&R responds to concerned readers

I understand that Crikey and its readers are alarmed by the negotiations that Angus & Robertson is currently seeking with a number of its suppliers. I also understand that the correspondence sent to some of our suppliers has caused offence.

I completely acknowledge that the tone of this correspondence was inappropriate, and I appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight on our intentions.

Firstly, I would like to assure you that the negotiations that are taking place between Angus & Robertson and our suppliers are not intended to have any impact on Australian authors and are purely about reaching a commercial arrangement with publishers...

As a commercial business, we have the right to make decisions about which suppliers we do business with. In our negotiations with suppliers, we are the customer. Unfortunately we cannot work with every publisher in Australia, particularly if the relationship is not commercially viable for us.

To give you some context, we currently have 1,200 suppliers to our business and have sent letters to 47 of those whom we hope to hold discussions with over the coming weeks. The payments we have requested from those suppliers represent a gap payment for profits that were lost or costs that were incurred as a result of our commercial relationship with those particular suppliers...

#27 ::: Dorothy Rothschild ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 04:14 PM:

The company's COO has responded, in order to 'set the record straight'. Yup. It includes paragraphs like:

To give you some context, we currently have 1,200 suppliers to our business and have sent letters to 47 of those whom we hope to hold discussions with over the coming weeks. The payments we have requested from those suppliers represent a gap payment for profits that were lost or costs that were incurred as a result of our commercial relationship with those particular suppliers.

That second sentence reminds me the Bad Example in a 'how to write clearly' guide.

#28 ::: Dorothy Rothschild ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 04:15 PM:

Jinx! Buy me a Coke!

#29 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 04:19 PM:

Apparently Rupert Murdoch is a typical Aussie businessman.........

#30 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 04:27 PM:

Well, as an Aussie who'd been slowly losing interest in what A&R had to offer for some time now (mainly because they *really* don't give a fig for science fiction and fantasy as genres - for an idea of the contrast, the (fairly large) A&R near us in Canbrrra had about two and a half shelving blocks of SFF stuff, total, in their store. A much smaller bookshop (about 1/3 the size) in the same shopping centre managed to stock the same actual shelf space, which wound up as a larger percentage of actual books. Plus they had a wider variety of authors in that shelfspace than A&R did.

They've been steadily nailing their coffin shut from the inside for ages now, as far as I'm concerned. This was just the final nail going in. My principal objection is both as an Australian *and* as an Australian who writes, and who would rather appreciate being published one day (should I actually finish anything worthy of publication). The industry is already one of the more precarious ones - many of the small publishers barely survive from book to book as it is. This just sends a lot of them to the wall.

#31 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 04:28 PM:

Fragano Ledgister at #29 writes:

> Apparently Rupert Murdoch is a typical Aussie businessman.........

Now now - I try not to judge you lot on your countrymen's worst excesses...

#32 ::: Dori ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 04:29 PM:

Another follow-up letter, but this one is from Chris Burgess, the general manager of Leading Edge Books (Australia's largest buying group of independent booksellers, with more than 180 members).

You know you have to read it when it contains bits like:

- All rebates are paid on a daily basis for ever and ever amen. You must ensure that the needle (provided) is inserted into your vein and a quart of your blood is received by us by the 7th of the month following the preceding month (which also follows the preceding month) . Any blood not received by this date will attract a daily 5% interest charge, payable in flesh.

#33 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 04:36 PM:

Jinx! Buy me a Coke!

Is this regional? Where I grew up, the jinxed person can't speak until someone says their name.

#34 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 04:50 PM:

Firstly, I would like to assure you that the negotiations that are taking place between Angus & Robertson and our suppliers are not intended to have any impact on Australian authors and are purely about reaching a commercial arrangement with publishers...

Well, that's a relief. And here I thought that publishers were somehow part of the distribution channel that allowed authors to get their works into bookstores.

#35 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 04:53 PM:

We are trying to operate a successful bookstore chain and if we cannot strike a balance that allows us to maintain our retail operations, the impacts on the industry will be far greater if we are forced to close stores or drastically cut down titles.

It appears to me that the impact on the industry would be slight (and beneficial) if A&R were to close its retail stores. Somebody competent might buy them.

#36 ::: Skapusniak ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 04:55 PM:
That they probably contravene the Trade Practices Act, I shall leave to the ACCC to determine.

Here is the the ACCC, who describe themselves as 'Australian government organisation responsible for ensuring compliance with the Trade Practices Act 1974'. So I assume they are the relevant guys (I'm not myself an Australian, or even been there).

Hmmm, I wonder if there's a section in that Act about the practice of sending out invoices for goods or services nobody actually purchased, which tends to be rather illegal in lots of places.

...Ah found it here. Ayup, as I thought.

...

TRADE PRACTICES ACT 1974 - SECT 64 Assertion of right to payment for unsolicited goods or services or for making entry in directory

(1) A corporation shall not, in trade or commerce, assert a right to payment from a person for unsolicited goods unless the corporation has reasonable cause to believe that there is a right to payment.

(2A) A corporation shall not, in trade or commerce, assert a right to payment from a person for unsolicited services unless the corporation has reasonable cause to believe that there is a right to payment.

(3) A corporation shall not assert a right to payment from any person of a charge for the making in a directory of an entry relating to the person or to his or her profession, business, trade or occupation unless the corporation knows or has reasonable cause to believe that the person has authorized the making of the entry.

(4) A person is not liable to make any payment to a corporation, and is entitled to recover by action in a court of competent jurisdiction against a corporation any payment made by the person to the corporation, in full or part satisfaction of a charge for the making of an entry in a directory unless the person has authorized the making of the entry.

(5) For the purposes of this section, a corporation shall be taken to assert a right to a payment from a person for unsolicited goods or services, or of a charge for the making of an entry in a directory, if the corporation:

   (a) makes a demand for the payment or asserts a present or prospective right to the payment;

   (b) threatens to bring any legal proceedings with a view to obtaining the payment;

   (c) places or causes to be placed the name of the person on a list of defaulters or debtors, or threatens to do so, with a view to obtaining the payment;

   (d) invokes or causes to be invoked any other collection procedure, or threatens to do so, with a view to obtaining the payment; or

   (e) sends any invoice or other document stating the amount of the payment or setting out the price of the goods or services or the charge for the making of the entry and not stating as prominently (or more prominently) that no claim is made to the payment, or to payment of the price or charge, as the case may be.


...snipped section 6, as it's about directories rather than invoices, so is not relevant here...

(7) For the purposes of this section, an invoice or other document purporting to have been sent by or on behalf of a corporation shall be deemed to have been sent by that corporation unless the contrary is established.


...weirdly there is no section 8...

(9) In a proceeding against a corporation in respect of a contravention of this section:

   (a) in the case of a contravention constituted by asserting a right to payment from a person for unsolicited goods or unsolicited services--the burden lies on the corporation of proving that the corporation had reasonable cause to believe that there was a right to payment; or

   (b) in the case of a contravention constituted by asserting a right to payment from a person of a charge for the making of an entry in a directory--the burden lies on the corporation of proving that the corporation knew or had reasonable cause to believe that the person had authorised the making of the entry.

...

Quite possibly, all sorts interesting sections in that and other Laws that might also apply.

#37 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 04:56 PM:

Steve Taylor #31: I must point out that I'm a Pom....

#38 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 05:03 PM:

Rakusin's reply is delightful, but his (successful) effort to do a complete demolition job on Rimmer made his reply very long.
I do wonder how much of it Rimmer read, and whether Rakusin's reply wouldn't have been more effective if he'd stopped after the fourth paragraph.

#39 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 05:17 PM:

I would expect, given his CC list and the speed with which this hit the internet, that Mr. Rakusin was writing primarily for an audience that would give him rapt attention for as long as he cared to speak. Whether or not Rimmer read it, it was certainly effective.

#40 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 05:26 PM:

Teresa is probably right about the bean counters. It happens in many businesses that bean counters wave the buzzword "80-20 rule" (or "Pareto principle", after the Italian economist who thought it up). They say "you're making 80% of your profits from 20% of your products". This is often the case, but it doesn't necessarily follow that you'll improve profitability by dropping the other 80% of your products, though lazy managements can often be fooled into doing so, with disastrous results if they haven't understood how their business works.
Delta Air Lines, for example, probably make most of their profits from the busiest 20% of routes; but it would make no sense to cut the other 80%, though apparently less profitable, if they feed passengers into the top routes. And so on.

#41 ::: Kayla ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 05:34 PM:

I have been living out of Australia for just over 10 years, so saying I shall boycott A&R is probably daft :) but I shall avoid using them when I visit. Even before I left I rarely went to A&R to buy books unless I was after a particular "sale" item. I am more than happy to do business with Dymocks - especially as they are willing to post books to me in the UK (usually when it's an Aussie author who is, unfathomably, not published elsewhere).

#42 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 05:57 PM:

julia #33: That's how "jinx" worked where I grew up too, damnit. The rest of you are playing wrong!

#43 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 06:13 PM:

This whole thing is appalling. "Pay us a large sum or we'll take our marbles and go home" is what it sounds like to me, or maybe "our business is unprofitable, so we're going to try to rob you for it."

Dorothy 24: I've never been to Australia, but this makes me want to go just so I can not buy books from A&R.

My thoughts exactly.

#44 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 06:18 PM:
Dorothy 24: I've never been to Australia, but this makes me want to go just so I can not buy books from A&R.

I do plan to spend a couple of days in Australia early next year, but considering that letter I wonder if I will get a chance to boycott them. I will be disappointed if they crash and burn first and rob me of the chance to assist in their demise.

#45 ::: colin roald ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 06:34 PM:

Jeremy Preacher wrote @39: I would expect . . . that Mr. Rakusin was writing primarily for an audience that would give him rapt attention for as long as he cared to speak. Whether or not Rimmer read it, it was certainly effective.

It's a woefully underappreciated principle of internet argument that the people you should be trying to convince are usually not the ones you're nominally arguing with.

#46 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 06:50 PM:

#25: "Inside he talked about how market analysis had shown that the three biggest selling categories in the book trade were sport, pets, and the third reich"

In the States, the canonical everyone-wants-it book is "Abraham Lincoln's Doctor's Dog."

#47 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 07:14 PM:

#25 & #46: I seem to recall Reuben Bolling once titled a Tom the Dancing Bug collection Everything I Need to Know I Learned from my Golf-Playing Cats.

#48 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 07:34 PM:

#20: I've just taken a look at that letter. I'm not a Republican, but if I were... well, I suspect that if I got a letter like that I wouldn't be for much longer.

The best response to

I am writing to find out where you stand. For example, we have no record of your support for President George W. Bush.

In fact, we have no record of your support for a Republican Presidential candidate going back to President Ronald W. Reagan!

would be "That's because in this country we have a secret ballot."

(Actually, on a whim I looked the phrase up on Google, and was surprised to read on Wikipedia that we didn't start using secret ballots until the 1880s.)

#49 ::: Jon Hendry ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 07:43 PM:

One gets the impression that A&R is run by people whose only knowledge of retail book sales is from 1980s airports, and that represents the model they are striving for.

#50 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 08:05 PM:

Until recently I was working in the IT dept. for a Very Large American Textbook Publisher as it struggled to convert its main databases to SAP, with the 'help' of a large number of contractors whose grasp of database construction was only equalled by their lack of comprehension of a publisher's material master needs. Instead of involving, say, many of the programmers who had been intimately involved in the complex catalog of texts and variants of texts, high management listened to the inexperienced consultants who firmly believed that the data could be retrofit into the "great for bricks" SAP data model.

Since I was an application developer for non-mainframe databases, I got to watch the Titanic s l o w l y crash into the iceberg without being able to do much about it, either. Eventually I was laid off when they decided they needed the budget to hire competent permanent SAP programmers to actually get it to run correctly, though to date it still isn't.

Oh -- anyway, point of story? Book publishing, top to bottom, side to side, is not just 'quirky' but is actually has its own strange rules of business for very good reasons that management dismisses at its peril.

#51 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 08:11 PM:

Connie H @ 50... Instead of involving, say, many of the programmers who had been intimately involved in the complex catalog of texts and variants of texts, high management listened to the inexperienced consultants

Well, that sure brings back fond memories of my life as a full-time employee who's had to clean up after the mess of consultant programmers.

#52 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 08:13 PM:

Stef, I thought it was "Abraham Lincoln's Doctor's Nazi Dog Diet"

#53 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 08:52 PM:

Dave Bell (#7): Unfortunately, here in the US most supermarket chains charge wholesalers (and thus producers) "shelf fees" for access to their shelves. I don't know whether they charge such fees to sellers of produce, but it's well known that they make the sellers of packaged foods pay for being on their shelves.

So far as I know, though, this pernicious practice hasn't been adopted by other retailers.

#54 ::: Blue Tyson ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 09:00 PM:

Yeah, a bookshop that only has bestsellers I think they commonly call 'supermarket' or 'K-Mart'. Not much need for A&R under that model.

#55 ::: Emil ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 09:25 PM:

Besides the hilarious apology for the 'tone' of the first letter - sorry to have interrupted the play, Mrs Lincoln - it's interesting that in A&R's latest weaselgram the main choice of spin is to say that they would never do anything to hurt Australian authors. Because who gives a toss about publishers, right?

#56 ::: Scopo Philiac ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 09:36 PM:

As An Industry Insider in the Aust publishing scene, a few comments:
- ironically, A&R spent squillions installing SAP just a few years ago
- A&R has had - I think - 6 different corporate owners in the last 10 years or so, including the UK's WHSmith. Smith's gave up and sold out to private equity (Pacific Equity Partners).
- A&R shares ownership and 'management' with New Zealand's dominant book chain, Whitcoulls
- Borders' 24 stores in Aust & NZ are up for sale, and guess who is expected to buy them?
- once AR/W/Borders numbers over 200 stores, PEP plans to float the whole shebang on the stock market.
- as to the comments that the publishers don't need A&R, they do. A&R represents about 20% of a market that is barley profitable, esp. compared to other industries.
- however, I undertand that at least one of the *huge* publishing conglomerates (ironically, the one that used to share *ownership* with A&R, and whose MD also used to run A&R) has said it is prepared to walk away from A&R. If this happens, A&R are stuffed.

#57 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 09:40 PM:
Stef, I thought it was "Abraham Lincoln's Doctor's Nazi Dog Diet"

Does the dog fight Communists in a submarine? If it does, I'll buy two copies.

#58 ::: Scopo Philiac ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 09:41 PM:

Oh, and forgot to add:
- A&R's MD Mr Fe(n)lon comes from Tesco in the UK. He addressed this year's Australian Booksellers Association conference telling everyone to stop being so precious and that we should think of ourselves not as 'booksellers' and 'publishers', but as 'retailers' and 'suppliers'
- and the odious Rimmer hails from WHSmith and Borders UK, where he was 'reposnible for aligning their outcomes to responsible profit arrangements' or somesuch bollocks

#59 ::: Vian ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 09:43 PM:

As I just wrote to them (after apologising to the poor sap who has to read and reply to all their letters of complaint), I see no point in threatening a boycott; if they cut out eclectic smaller publishers, and only stock the bestsellers, they will be in competition with places like Target and Kmart, who can offer cheaper prices on a wide range of comfort-reading. And I'll still hit specialist bookstores for my proper books anyhow.

I've only had limited experience documenting SAP, so perhaps someone else can tell me to what extent thinking of large and small publishers as interchangable "suppliers" is an artefact of having spent too long with SAP methodologies? It struck me that it was great for things like general supplies (I worked with it at a University), but I just can't see it working here.

#60 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 09:48 PM:

There's a certain reasonableness-gone-haywire in corporate culture that this is a prime example of.

There's really two bits to that particular attitude, but they're related, IMO.

The one not shown here is "It's always possible to do more work with the same people, or the same amount of work with fewer people, by working smarter." Now, if you take out the word 'always', this is actually reasonable -- very often processes need a good overhaul and there's often some way to reduce the time it takes to do a given task, particularly in a business that's incorporated new technology recently. Eventually, of course, it gets silly -- I expect that should the people who believe that 'always' is the right word be put in charge of a construction project, they would end by having one guy with a hammer out there on the skyscraper construction site and wonder if there was a way to eliminate him, too.

The second, of course, is "There's always some way to reduce costs and therefore increase profit." I'd say this is the thinking that went into the original letter. Again, without the word 'always', this isn't such a bad thought, and when paired with the first part and someone who understands the notion of small changes and waiting for results, you can end up with a company that can handle more business with the same number of people, making more money. If the company is a good one, they may even pass some of that on to the workers*.

Of course, again, there's that 'always'... which leads to hare-brained ideas like this.

The return letter from Rakusin was a true work of art. The pair really ought to be printed and handed out to anyone with a upper-manager position in a corporation.

(*For a while, a place I used to work actually had the right combination of cost-cutting and process-improving -- and they were prone to giving twice-yearly bonuses to people just for sticking around, plus the odd performance bonus. Alas, they eventually started taking it further than I thought was reasonable, which seems to usually be the case.)

#61 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 10:14 PM:

Brilliant post, Teresa. One small correction: Tower did not publish Carpentaria, which was published by an even smaller company, Giramondo; Tower distributes it. Incidentally, I would love to hear your and/or Patrick's take on that book. It's a book that makes an editor-reader's fingers twitch, long after accepting that its eccentric syntax, frequent tautology, occasional misspelling are integral to the narrative voice. (It is fantasy of sorts.)

With more relevance to the main subject: A&R was once an honourable name in Australian publishing and bookselling. Harper Collins Australia still have an A & R imprint, but personally I haven't darkened the doorway of an A&R bookshop for decades. Bibliophiles intending to visit Australia would be better off dropping in on Readings (Melbourne) or Gleebooks (Sydney) and the equivalents that surely exist in other cities.

#62 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 11:13 PM:

Teresa et al: I am truly gobsmacked. I was planning on posting three lines about this. I had no idea that a minor brouhaha in this faraway and not-very-important country could engage your attention like this.

But A&R are doomed. After this, I don't expect them to be in business as a bookstore chain after next year. Their franchises may survive, perhaps rebranded. As noted above, the ACCC is taking an interest. I have no doubt that the lawyers are talking even now, and mentioning figures with dollar signs in front. Rimmer is about to be fitted with concrete pyjamas. It'll all end in tears.

Mind you, that doesn't mean we can't laugh now.

#63 ::: Wim L ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 11:18 PM:

Teresa, you describe the letter as a blackmail request, but I think it's pretty clearly extortion, not blackmail. </pedantry>

#64 ::: Chris W ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 11:25 PM:

#20: I saw that letter and it took my breath away. I actually write letters like this as part of my job, and we would never do something half as brazen. What kills me is that this is clearly a prospecting appeal (i.e. a letter sent to people who haven't given before). The sternest we can muster is "I'm concerned that I haven't heard from you about renewing your membership" and that's to people who've already given money to us.

I also have to compare it to a similar appeal I got from the Democrats a couple years ago. The Democratic appeal claimed that I had been identified as a local leader and they wanted to survey me to help guide the future of the party. I'm sure that the survey was used for little more than helping them decide what issues they talked about when they hit me up in the future, but at least the Democrats made the pretense of trying to make me feel involved and wanted. The Republican appeal seems purely aimed at scaring people that they'll be kicked out of the party and become unable to vote if they don't send any money.

I'd be curious to see the return numbers on that letter. I'm guessing the return rate will be pretty good, but the average contribution will be low. After all, I always try to give a little more than the minimum asked for when I'm supporting a charity or a group who's work I care about, but I've never decided to chip in a few extra bucks on a registration fee or on any sort of club dues.

#65 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 11:26 PM:

Elsewhere and earlier, I've described myself as an "Olympic-standard Procrastinator". When I heard about this on the ABC TV news (1, 2), I immediately thought of this community, and that I should find a link and send it with a brief contextual note. (Potted A&R history, etc). Still haven't done that, and you're many hours and 60 comments in. *sigh*

#66 ::: Dan Goodman ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 12:01 AM:

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#67 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 12:10 AM:

I just hope Rakusin autographed Rimmer's ass before he handed it to him

Not even with a BORROWED pen.

#68 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 12:44 AM:

I don't own a business, but if I did, I think I'd send letters to my partners that said:

You owe me money because I don't like how much money I'm making if you don't send me money.

Seriously that's good business, I don't know why anybody hadn't thought of it before. Well, if you take the part about it being a letter out, then it is really comparable to heirarchical organized crime payments, isn't it? "Hey, Tony, Tony Senior says you owe a thousand more this month!" "Why, I paid the same every month." "Yeah, Tony Senior lost on some horses, so you owe him a thousand more." "*sigh*"

#69 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 01:31 AM:

Yes, that letter from Rimmer is clearly an attempt at extortion. Well, why not? It worked for the US insurance industry in the 1980's. They lost a lot of money in bad investments (there was a housing bubble, just like the one that just popped), and they went to their customers and said, "You have to pay for our bad investments", and increased premiums accross the board.

The attitude of the mismanaging class that management is somehow not connected with the product or service a company offers really has to end this way, because they have no other way of increasing their profits. What you don't understand or respect you can't control, so they try to control what they can. And it all ends up with parts of dead horses in people's beds ...

Thank all the gods for people like Michael Rakusin, who aren't willing to take that kind of abuse, and tell the thugs where to get off.

#70 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 01:38 AM:

It's nice to know I'm not the only one who's been savaged by SAP. I spent 4 years at Nike building and maintaining web applications that were the tail on the SAP dog. In the ten years it took them to get SAP installed and customized* to the point where they could transfer the 100 or so engineers it took to do that, they spent more than $400,000,000** on that dog. And it still wouldn't hunt. Large parts of the organization exist as they do because that's the way SAP works, which sounds like a lousy return for all that money to me.


* "You just use right off the shelf. It's got everything you need." Yeah, right.

** I was going to write that figure in scientific notation, as I usually do, then I thought, no the zeroes make it look a lot more impressive.

#71 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 01:45 AM:

Chris W @ #64, I'm grateful to TPM for getting a copy into electronic form for other people to see it. I was puzzling about whether to scan it or retype it.

The story at TPM is more worrisome than mine; one of Josh's readers' 83-y.o. father got it, worried about it and asked his son to look at it. Mine was addressed to me, and for whatever reason I actually opened the envelope rather than dropping it into the trash immediately and washing my hands thoroughly thereafter, which is my normal practice when receiving correspondence from the Republican party.

#72 ::: Vian ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 01:49 AM:

Sisuile @ 5

I know that Australia had a large initial population of theives and criminals, but I didn't believe highway robbery was still in vogue.

Dear me - you seem to be terribly misinformed about Australia's colonial past. It's been accepted here for years that convicts transported here only committed victimless and romantic offenses, like Stealing a Loaf of Bread To Feed Their Starving Family, Making Off With A Bit Of Rope (*coff* without noticing there was a horse attached to it, honest *coff*) and Breathing While Irish.[1]

The catastrophically inept Charlie Rimmer and his tragically comic boss Mr Fenlon are both scions of the Evil UKnian Powers who transported so many innocents, and who are clearly still intent on opressing good honest folk.

[1]OK, also occasionally Highway Robbery. But only to Feed Their Starving Family/Give To The Poor In A Dick Turpiny, Robin Hoody Fasion.

#73 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 01:52 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 70... "You just use right off the shelf. It's got everything you need."

When 'they' tell me that the merger of two systems will be totally transparent, I grab the bottle of extra-strength Windex.

#74 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 01:55 AM:

Linkmeister: I always open those.

Then I send the forms back. For some reason I seem to forget to fill them out first.

If I could still tape them to a brick, I would.

#75 ::: Wim L ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 02:37 AM:

#20 et seq.: What's interesting about that lettter is that the Big Divisive Issue of the last election (gay marriage) is nowhere to be found. Does this mean it's being intentionally deëmphasized for the next round, or are they just focusing on issues that people tend to care about even without coaching?

#60: That reminds me of an old joke among programmers. It's been observed that any nontrivial program can be written more compactly, shortening it at least by one instruction. And it's well-known that any nontrivial program has at least one undiscovered bug in it. Applying induction, we can see that any program can, with enough effort, be optimized down to a single instruction ... which will be incorrect.

#76 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 03:24 AM:

Tina @ 60

The way the original phrases (the ones containing "always") are usually used is by that high-tech management technique of Increasing Productivity. The dirty little secret is that productivity as defined by managers is just dollars of profit divided by hours of work*. So you either want to increase dollars of revenue, decrease dollars of overhead, or increase hours, in each case without changing the other two. The simplest way to do this is to either pay the employees less or work them harder, usually by getting rid of some of them and making the remaining ones do all their own work and that of the ones you dumped. That in a nutshell is what a corporate turn-around specialist (also called a "strip and flip") does.

* I know, this is a terribly naive way to describe it. Exactly my point.

#77 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 04:11 AM:

"Mafia" really is the word. These arrogant pizzles are attempting to extort "insurance premiums" from their vendors. That's gotta be illegal somewhere.

(Having caught up with the thread since typing that para, I see y'all have confirmed that, in fact, they are and it is. Well done.)

As regards the volubly hilarious follow-up, I can only say to Mr. Rimmer, "I, too, am a customer, and there is no law against my choosing not to do business with a particular vendor... but I never dreamt of demanding $25/wk from King Soopers to guarantee my return business! How brash! Do you think that might work for me, too, or do you reckon my having a conscience instead of big brass balls might get in the way?"


Daniel @6: Wheee! In the thread early. Do I really get to be the first person to say it?

Well, with 75 comments already on the docket, I knew better than to hope it could be me. First thought that crossed my mind, though.

(I will admit to running to the bookshelf to double-check with Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers that the hologram's first name wasn't, in fact, Charles. Of course it wasn't. I knew that.)


OP: When you’re sending a formal blackmail request, you should always use the recipient’s full name.

Teresa, you are totally going to dominate my random quote generator if you keep making me *snrkle* my tea like this.

When 'they' tell me that the merger of two systems will be totally transparent, I grab the bottle of extra-strength Windex.

...although you might get some competition from Serge.

#78 ::: Jo MacQueen ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 04:12 AM:

Oh, please, please, please, if A&R as a retail concern crashes and burns, can I have a Dymocks? Even a little one? I miss them from my time in Sydney. There's only A&R here (major regional centre north of Sydney), really, and those few stores are very much as Julia Jones described the chain in general (*waves to fellow Lyst person Julia*).

Jonathan Shaw (#61), I'm fond of Abbey's (and its sister science fiction and fantasy store, Galaxy). Gleebooks is very good, but inconvenient if you just want to duck into the city and out again. But all of those book shops are my main regret about not living in Sydney anymore. It's a 2 and a half train trip to visit them now *sniff*

*goes back to lurking*

#79 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 04:18 AM:

Linkmeister @20: The thing that really boggled me about that letter from the Republican party was the bit about "Oh noes! Hillary might can has Presidency--and be sockpuppet for B1LLZORZ!!!!1!!!!"

Aren't these the same people who came up with the "Impeach Clinton / And Her Husband Too" bumper stickers? If they believed Hillary was the power behind Bill's throne, why would they now believe that Hillary, having attained a throne of her own, would cede the power behind it to Bill? Or do they simply expect the pair to take turns? How very... progressive of the Republican party to consider that possibility!

#80 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 04:22 AM:

Here's an example of how logical thinking about a problem gets shattered by the assumptions, just as some of the MBA shibboleths do.

(1) For safe highway use, vehicle spacing should be based on the stopping distance, which is proportional to the square of the speed.

(2) Halving traffic speed quarters the safe interval. So a mile of read carries four times as many vehicles, which take twice as long to pass any arbitrary point.

(3) So speed tends towards zero, road capacity tends to infinity.

What's the error, the missed reality? It's assumed that vehicles have zero length.

You can cut the empty space, or the wasted time, but you can't cut out the vehicle.

And some wasted time is there because, if something goes wrong, you'll need that time. Even something as simple as sometimes getting a red light at a junction.

#81 ::: Dorothy Rothschild ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 05:31 AM:

Julia @33 - re: Jinx, I'm quoting an old SNL sketch with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Mary Gross; this and many other details can, of course, be found in the Wikipedia entry.

(Which reminds me of the time I watched 'The Sixth Sense' in Bucharest, and was the only person in the theater who laughed at the 'it was much better than Cats' line. SNL, how you have warped me.)

#82 ::: Paul Bowen ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 09:09 AM:

If Michael Rakusin was a woman I'd ask him to marry me. What a shower of s***s, really - but what a nitrate-burning, fuel-injected V8 of a response! Go fella!

#83 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 09:26 AM:

Fragano Ledgister at #37 writes:I know better

> Steve Taylor #31: I must point out that I'm a Pom....

Oops. I plead guilty to assuming that everyone on the net is a white male American in his mid 30s who works in IT. Even though I know better. I was writing at around 5 or 6 am in the grip of mind altering insomnia.

Though I guess "I try not to judge you lot on your countrymen's worst excesses..." could reasonably be said to anyone from any country :)

#84 ::: David ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 10:16 AM:

When 'they' tell me that the merger of two systems will be totally transparent, I grab the bottle of extra-strength Windex.

Serge, what good is it to drink Windex(R)[1]? When fed a line like that, I prefer to wash it down with single malt scotch.

[1]Windex is a registered trademark and blah blah blah. Writers and publishers are made too aware of this fact on a far too frequent basis.

#85 ::: mmy ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 10:41 AM:

re: #30 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2007, 04:27 PM:

"They've been steadily nailing their coffin shut from the inside for ages now"

Dang, but that was a beautiful turn of phrase

#86 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 10:54 AM:

David @ 84... True, I could have said 'glass-surface cleaner', but 'Windex' sound much snappier. And pretty tasty when mixed in with Sterno. (Now I have this image of us programmers looking like Andromeda Strain's town drunk who survived because he loved drinking Sterno. Not an inaccurate description when you've worked long nights on a Transparent Project from Hell.)

#87 ::: Ledasmom ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 11:12 AM:

#47: There's a book by Colin McEnroe titled "Lose Weight Through Great Sex with Celebrities (the Elvis Way)"

#88 ::: Anticorium ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 11:30 AM:

We had to wear the cost of sub-economic ordering from you through [...] SAP installation [...].

Every single organization I've ever been part of that got involved with SAP spent years throwing money out the window in return for absolutely no benefit over when they started. I don't know what the S and the A stand for, but the P is obviously Ponzi.

#89 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 11:45 AM:

Steve Taylor #83: I am, in fact, a biracial male Brit in his 50s....

#90 ::: Ann Burlingham ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 11:52 AM:

Wow. I'm sending this link to the American Booksellers Association, for other independent booksellers' edification. I wonder if Tower sells to or has a distributor in the US.

I particularly like the phrase "core incompetencies".

#91 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 12:17 PM:

mmy @ 85 - Thanks! I suppose it almost makes up for the rather convoluted paragraph which came before it (where I changed subject midway through). Note to self: if functioning on less than 8 hours sleep and less than 3 cups of tea, check for *coherence* as well as spelling, etc.

#92 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 12:20 PM:

If Charlie Rimmer ever decides to make a career change, he appears to have all qualities required of an executive in the music recording industry.

#93 ::: Elusis ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 01:00 PM:

Wouldn’t life be interesting if we could just tell our trading partners that we’ve decided to raise our “minimum threshold of profitability” on past transactions, and they owe us?

Dear employer,

I am writing to you because our economic relationship falls into the category of unacceptable profitability.

As a consequence I would invite you to pay the attached invoice by Aug 17th 2007. The payment represents the gap for our relationship, and moves it from an unacceptable level of profitability, to above my minimum threshold.

#94 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 01:01 PM:

Mr. Rakusin's reply is lovely, but he must surely know that the entity that generated the letter to which he is responding is constitutionally unable to understand his reasoning, let alone alter its behavior. The actual audience is elsewhere (even here, for example).

What caught my eye at once was the fact that A&R is currently owned and operated by a private equity outfit, which to my limited understanding of the current biz environment means 1) Finance Rulz, 2) Everything Is Abstract and Nothing Is Particular, and 3) Gut It and Cut Out. I keep getting flashbacks to the leveraged-buyout days and marvel at how the financial world keeps inventing the same pathological pillaging schemes, and the putative grownups in charge of the universe keep letting them get away with it. (Yeah, I know--grownups are a myth and we're all at the mercy of the playground bullies. I considered stopping even carrying any lunch money, but they'd just take my sneakers instead.)

#95 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 02:03 PM:

Wim L (#75): Applying induction, we can see that any program can, with enough effort, be optimized down to a single instruction ... which will be incorrect.

See this RISKS Digest article about IEFBR14 (John Pershing's post), which, I must explain for the benefit of those readers who have not had the joy of dealing with IBM mainframes, is the null program.

Yes. The null program. It does nothing. It intentionally does nothing[1]. Originally, it was just one instruction, "return to caller". Unfortunately, that meant it had a bug; it didn't set the return code to show successful completion. Further discussion is also online.

[1] This is important for doing data definitions in JCL. I'm very sad that I still know and understand all this.

Steve Taylor (#83): As the preceding might suggest, I fit a number of the criteria in your assumptions. (That number being 100%, in fact.)

#96 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 02:11 PM:

[aside]Core incompetancies is a phrase which describes so much of modern life, especially online, especially, this last fortnight, LJ.

I suspect that, from a psychoanalytic point of view, it could also be described as a corporate deathwish.[/aside]

#97 ::: Amy ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 02:12 PM:

Avoid this mess. Get thee to a library.

#98 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 02:19 PM:

Christopher Davis @ 95... This is important for doing data definitions in JCL. I'm very sad that I still know and understand all this.

Makes you feel like a dinosaur, eh? I managed to make the transition (which I guess means I'm now a bird), but I still get to dabble in the world of mainframe programming (which makes me more like a chicken than an eagle?)

#99 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 03:02 PM:

Adding a SAP story ... my company uses it for things like expense accounts. Everyone who has to use it hates it, particularly because the other end of the fax machine/e-mail/phone call seems to be very ... iffy. (I hear stories of people faxing receipts, getting a confirmation that it went through to the other machine, and having to do it again (possibly more than once) because the people on the other end say they didn't get it.)

#100 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 03:28 PM:

... In that case, the beancounters reply, would it not make more sense to only publish the bestsellers?

I look forward to some publisher eventually sending their accountants to Las Vegas or Atlantic City for a day, with firm instructions that they are to place money only on the bets which win!

#101 ::: PeaceLove ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 04:46 PM:

Congratulations! You've been BoingBoinged:

http://www.boingboing.net/2007/08/11/understanding_austra.html

Note: www.boingboing.net is a very popular and influential blog in America. Expect a traffic bump.

#102 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 06:03 PM:

If only managerial Fordism had had the same effects on the personal level that the original version had, we wouldn't get messes like this.

We'd get a whole different kind of rule-based screwup by numbers instead, I'm sure.

#103 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 06:09 PM:

PeaceLove 101: I suspect you may have come here from BoingBoing, since that's your first post here...I think we can be confident, however, that our Hostess knows who BoingBoing is.

Still, thanks for the courtesy. And welcome.

#104 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 06:40 PM:

Why doesn't A&R just give it up and sell only the ultimate English-language bestseller: the Bible?

Because most of its target audience already has a copy.

#105 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 09:15 PM:

Anticorium @ 88

It's not an acronym or an abbreviation, it's a word. Just read it aloud and you'll understand how much respect some software vendors have for their customers.

#106 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 09:34 PM:

Good God. That Republican letter -- I clicked the link in Particles before I read this thread, and thought the punchline had to be that it was a scam. It sounds like all the spam email I get urging me to verify my bank account password. It makes me selfishly wish that mail fraud wasn't such a risky proposition.

Chris W. @ 64: I bet the wording will actually work -- these are, after all, the people suckling at the poisoned teat of Fox News; if the message is "OMG!scare!OMG!notconservativeenough!" they'll automatically assume it's true.

That type of tactic always reminds me of this track.

Clifton Royston @ 100: I believe I've seen a memo from a Hollywood executive, somewhere, containing exactly that instruction.

#107 ::: Craig Bolland ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 09:52 PM:

Thanks for posting this, TNH. Of course, the thing that's really troubling us local writers is that most emerging authors are published by the smaller houses. That a lot of newer writers' work may vanish from Australia's largest bookstore chain as a result of this is worrying. Doubly so if PEP manages to buy Borders as well - although their stocking agenda with those stores will probably be different. We have a wonderful reading/writing ecology here in OZ, and Angus and Robertson looks set to become a SUV driving through the middle of it.

Also worth underlining that a lot of A&R stores are owned by Franchisees, who are free to continue business relationships with 'unprofitable' distributors. That the public won't be able to tell what stores are franchises and what stores are owned by PEP will surely hurt them too. I'd be feeling quite angry with head office right now if I was one of their franchisees.

A&R, as part of PEP's plan is also rolling out a large on-line retail strategy. We don't have a local version of Amazon (in OZ, if we buy on Amazon, we're either paying for shipping from the states or the UK) and their strategy is to try and snare the local (and SE Asian) online English book market. This, combined with their play for Borders at the moment, means that their stocking decisions have much greater impact than just the 20% of the retail market they currently hold.

#108 ::: ndg ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 11:16 PM:

Craig @ 107: if you're right about their online retail ambitions, this news is even more pathetic/hilarious. We've all heard the stories about how Amazon's success is driven by the long tail, and here are A&R trying to *limit* their range? The mind boggles.

(It's also amusing that they haven't offered any of the things that make Amazon interesting, like big discounts or free domestic postage. Half the time it's still cheaper to order internationally and swallow the shipping than to buy online locally.)

#109 ::: miadstragedy ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2007, 11:39 PM:

Thank-you Theresa for your surgical analysis of that most vile letter, when I first read it in SMH I thought about sending it to you but wasn't sure if it was appropriate. I'm so glad that some else did. What Michael Rakusin has to say about the declining state of A&R bookstores is correct. For years I have watched their declining stock and wondered what was going on and thanks to his response I now know. There are a small number of excellent independent bookstores remaining here in Brisbane, all obviously run by people who understand the industry and the products they sell, none of them belong to A&R.

#110 ::: dano ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 01:17 AM:

One thing we can be assured of (even though we will never get to enjoy it) is the public humiliation that will be heaped on A&R management and especially Mr. Rimmer by many of their casual and close acquaintances. Even those people who will apparently sympathize with them will be secretly chortling, and they (A&R, Rimmer) will know it.

Most especially will be the underlings who already despise them and hate working for them, who will almost imperceptibly smirk when passing them in the halls and in the car parks. They will be eating this dish cold for a very long time.

#111 ::: Janet Lafler ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 02:13 AM:

Kathryn @ 104: Ah, but they need to have more than one copy -- gotta have several in different colors to go with all your oufits. No, really.

#112 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 02:49 AM:

Janet at 111: I started to chortle, and then realized that, OMG, I own more than one Bible.

Let's see. There's the KJV that was given to my maternal grandfather over 70 years ago when he was first named as a sitting state judge, it has his name stamped in it, it was published by Oxford University Press; there's the Viking Studio edition of the Pennyroyal Caxton Bible designed and illustrated by Barry Moser, and anyone who has never seen those incredible illustrations is missing something; there's Eugene Peterson's eccentric and delightful contemporary language translation of The New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs, titled The Message; there's another KJV, "arranged for family reading" by Ruth Hornblower Greenough, with illustrations from designs by William Blake, yes, that William Blake... I can't imagine not having any one of them.

#113 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 03:28 AM:

Sally and I have half a dozen between us. A KJV each, both presentation copies; A Revised Standard plus concordance, which I use when I want to find out what is, in the opinion of the best available scholarship, the most accurate translation of a particular passage (and to learn what variant readings are arguable and about the arguments themselves); a New English; my father's interlinear translation (and very literal) Greek New Testament and Hebrew Old Testament; A Good News, which I read to find out how far it is possible to dumb down the language if you don't care what it sounds like. Oh, and I have joint ownership of the family's massive bible in Welsh, in which we still record births, deaths and marriages, using for this purpose extra pages bound in when we had it (poorly) rebound a couple of decades back (sorry, abi), and which, to my shame and sorrow, I can't read at all. It belonged to my great-grandparents.

#114 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 03:53 AM:

Bruce #105 : just to show my nerd status, back in the '70s the founders called their company SAP for Systemanalyse und Programmentwicklung, roughly "System Analysis and Program development", though nowadays they say "Systems and Application Products".

The SAP company is worldwide and has sold a lot of product, so they must be doing something right. But any computer system can be implemented badly, as we see far too often. The golden rule of SAP seems to be that if you need to spend millions customising it, you're using the wrong product; but if native SAP suits your way of working, it'll do you a good job.

#115 ::: J. v. der Ropp ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 04:47 AM:

Wow! That someone goes so far to demand even money from publishers is truly a scandal. What's next? Publishers charging authors for unsold copies?

Michael Rakusin writes: "Multiple suppliers—that is, a broad range of publishers and books to choose from—is a good thing, if a bookstore chain knows what it’s doing."

... and this is an important point here: They often do NOT know what they are doing. Their buyer might be a 20+something-year-old chick, buying books for thousands of stores all around the country. What does he/she know about the desideratum of any local community? He/she relies (... if at all) on sales mumbers her computer spits out ... of already sold books.

What can this method possibly tell him/her about NEW publications?

As Marshall McLuhan would say:
"He/she's looking into the future through the rear-view mirror." [LOL!]

Any independent bookstore owner/buyer, who knows his neigbhorhood, is way superior to those guys.

But this must be said too: Independent bookstores cannot afford to sell books below their official retail price. We, as consumers, carry a certain responsibility too for the emerging of those monstrous chains.

#116 ::: Sherryl ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 05:16 AM:

Thanks, Craig, for pointing out that there are some A&R franchisees who run great bookshops and should not be tarred with the Head Office A&R brush.
Nevertheless, much of the discussion here in Australia shows that A&R have been steadily losing customers for years because they generally stock a poor range of books. They're famous for their tables of awful remainders that most people avoid like the plague.
For those of you in the US and UK, you might be interested to know how expensive our books are. If we pay full price for a trade paperback, we're forking out between $29.95 and $32.95 (hardback novel is around $45). A hardback picture book is close to $30, and now even YA novels are moving up to the $19.95 mark. If I am able to visit the US, I spend a lot of my time in bookshops, buying at 1/3 of the price for paperbacks. If Amazon reduced their postage rates, they'd see business in Australia increase 100% or more.
One more point - we are ecstatic that the guy from Tower Books spoke up and put the A&R letter out there for public viewing, as well as his reply. Too often, this kind of thing works by stealth, where no one is game to say anything for fear of retribution. I think for that alone, he deserves a medal!

#117 ::: Kate Eltham ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 08:14 AM:

Hi Theresa,

I think your theory about the quick slash-and-burn raid is probably closest to the mark, although not by A&R management, likely higher up the chain. A&R/Whitcoull's is a retail chain of 180 stores which was recently purchased by a private equity fund called Pacific Equity Partners (PEP). Private equity funds are on an acquisitions frenzy over here in Australia right now. I believe PEP have already made public plans to float the Whitcoulls/A&R retail chain on the ASX. So this new buying policy makes sense (to them!) in the context of PEP wanting to plump up the company's bottom line to get a higher share price at float.

I feel terrible for a lot of small publishers and independent distributors who will be hardest hit by this turn of events, but I also sympathise with the franchisee A&R stores most of whom are small family businesses in small towns who will be caught up in the backlash. It is, frankly, outrageous.

I represent the state association of writers in Queensland (as my day job) and we'll be adding our media release of protest to those already issued by the Australian Publishers Association and the Australian Society of Authors.

Cheers,
Kate.

#118 ::: Kate Eltham ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 08:27 AM:

Here's some supplementary info. This article is from The Age newspaper's business reporter back in May:

http://www.theage.com.au/news/business/pacific-equity-opening-the-books-on-borders/2007/04/30/1177788056848.html

The article explains that PEP has emerged as a front contender to purchase the Australian Borders chain from the US parent and merge it with Angus & Robertson. It also predicts that PEP will therefore be seeking to "reduce costs by cutting back-office overheads and achieving efficiencies through greater purchasing power with suppliers."

That's exactly what has happened.

Kate.

#119 ::: Jacob Martin ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 08:36 AM:

As a teenage author I was outraged when I saw this in the SMH. The last book I got from A&R was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, now I just feel dirty reading my copy.

If A&R and other chains keep this despotic moneygrabbing up, authors will turn to services like www.lulu.com to publish their work more effectively. It's what I use for my books, check out the link. Lulu is the best thing my Uncle John told me about since he informed me about Terry Pratchett.

#120 ::: andy ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 08:50 AM:

Tomorrow I'm marching into my local A&R to demand a cash discount before I browse the books displayed on their shelves. In the unlikely event I find one there I want to buy, I will demand a further discount before parting with any of my hard earned earnings ratio...

#121 ::: ad legem ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 09:00 AM:

#36 Skapusniak: the absence of a section (in this case s8) generally indicates that it was excised in a revision. Happens all the time.
S64 may well be relevant, but I suspect that ss51 AC and 52 will be the go here.

#122 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 09:58 AM:

#75: That sounds like a modern derivation of the saying that every problem has a solution that is short, simple ... and wrong.

#80: I've gotta remember that example; I've been using one (from an economics game) that takes \much/ too long to explain, where this is nicely compact.

#112: I saw a couple of pages of the ...Moser Bible and remembered his lecture mention about how unforgiving a medium woodblock is. Came very close to buying it for looks and connection, but I'm already short of space for art; what I'd like to complement my confirmation copy (Holman Study Bible) is something that does context without the HSB's credulity.

#115: TNH has occasionally railed about a consequence of your point: mechanical buyers who say "We bought X copies of Y's last book last time and sold X/2, so this time we'll order X/2." The problem is that this \still/ means some stores won't sell out, while others will sell out quickly then lose sales to another store (if the author is lucky) or cost the author total sales (more typical). IIRC, 50% "sellthrough" (purchase by customers of books delivered to stores) is a very good number for mass-market paperbacks, but try to explain something that feels like chaos theory to a bean-counter.

#123 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 10:02 AM:

On second thought, I'm being unfair to bean-counters; I know at least one nice person who's decided to make a career of it. Try to explain it to the people who take the bean-counter's numbers out of context. Explaining it to the B-school professors (cf #14) would be even better, but probably even harder \and/ too long-range in effects to avoid the problems caused by their past products.

#124 ::: Erasmusinwv ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 10:20 AM:

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot! I applaud Rakusin's response and the bravery it took to make it public. I also applaud all your posts of support, after all the ultimate power over any company's shenanigans is our wallets. I just hope we have the same wherewithall when the lawsuits start flying and Mr. Rakusin pleads for our aid. Somehow I don't think that'll be a problem. The whole thing highlights one of my pet peeves in business: the people in charge have no clue about their product and their customers. There's a certain amount of arrogance in these business school types that puts the screws to books, movies, music, video games (esp. games) that hurts the business and the customers. The bit about a 20-something girl making those decisions based on her computer is probably not far off. MBAs take note: I'm trying to open a bookstore and theater in my small town in rural West Virginia. To find out what kinds of books and movies they want, I asked them! I walked around during a community event and actually talked to the people. Try it.

#125 ::: kicking_k ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 10:52 AM:

J. V: (#115): while I agree that a buyer who has to cover a whole country and has no local knowledge is a bad thing, I wouldn't have brought in the "20-something-year-old chick" bit...

(Why yes, I am female and 20-something. But even if I weren't... Also, I'm not a book buyer by trade.)

#126 ::: ericac ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 10:56 AM:

Kathryn Cramer,

In Oz, Bibles are brought primarily through the Christian Book and paraphernalia chain, Koorong Books. Thats a whole other story.And I have seen Bibles for sale at A&R. Often wonder if Bible publishers feel guilty about making a profit.
I have several on my shelves, including a couple of Moffart translations, several Bibles with the Apocrypha and a US Catholic Good News with the Deuterocanonicals. Don't ask.

#127 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 11:22 AM:

The "Big Boss says Limit Inventory" problem applies just about everywhere, and is always maddening. I'm still furious at two local supermarket chains for turning to their own generics and ousting my favorite brand (and flavor) of yogurt, and the store that still carries it also has the only decent amount of variety in the "senior" food my cat needs. I'd been thinking that place was getting a little shoddy and down-at-heels, but suddenly it's vital -- all because of some corporate decisions that ignore local buying patterns and determine to dock the "long tail". [/end rant]

#128 ::: KiWeTO ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 11:25 AM:

Now, having gone through bean-counter school:

1: Bean counting school teaches you to count the beans. If they do not know how count the beans, or know where the beans come from and the relationships between the various stages of beanness, those bean counters need to go back to school.

2. Finance whizzes in buyout (or as the 80s parlance - corporate raiding) firms are usually NOT trained as bean counters. Many of them do not understand how beans are grown. They only know how to measure the performance of moving beans ex-post, drawing up arcane projection formulas, forgetting that they are then applying it to a projection of future bean sales onto current operations ex-ante.

3. Businesses rise, businesses fall. Bad spirals are not improved by a Private Equity firm not understanding what it bought.

#129 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 11:45 AM:

Chip #122: I didn't quibble before with Dave Bell's road capacity example in #80, but I will now, if you're going to use it as an example, because it's too easily torn to bits.

The distance your car takes to stop has two components, thinking distance and braking distance.
Thinking distance is the distance you travel while your brain reacts to what's happening in front of you, thinks "Holy smoke!" and tells your foot to go from gas to brake, and while your foot moves across. This distance is proportional to speed because the time is constant.
Braking distance is the distance you take to stop once your foot is on the brake, and is proportional to the square of speed, besides depending on your weight and how good your brakes are.
So stopping distance isn't quite proportional to the square of speed, and halving traffic speed doesn't quarter the safe interval, because of the thinking time.

So if you were calculating it that way, which I'm not sure that highway engineers actually do, the formula for theoretical road capacity (vehicles passing a fixed point per hour) would be something like
v/(L + t*v + k*v-squared)
where v is speed, L is average vehicle length, t is thinking time, and k is a deceleration factor.
So if speed is zero, road capacity is zero, both obviously and by the formula. Incidentally, the maximum tends to come at quite a low speed - 30-40 mph, I think.

I'm pretty sure there's a highway engineer in here somewhere, so I hasten to add that practical road capacity doesn't just depend on that formula, but on other factors according to the type and condition of road.

#130 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 11:59 AM:

From the link to the article about Bible as fashion accessory:
And “The Personal Promise Bible” is custom-printed with the owner’s name (“The LORD is Daniel’s shepherd”), home town (“Woe to you, Brooklyn! Woe to you, New York!”), and spouse’s name (“Gina’s two breasts are like two fawns”).

Aieeee!!!

[runs to cuddle her KJV]

#131 ::: Michael Spencer ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 12:05 PM:

Here in the states, there is a mantra uttered by the right that seems appropriate: 'the free market can always do a better job'; and surely this is an example of the 'free market' doing what it will?

As a lifelong lefty, I feel intuitively that the free market does not serve the interests of society at large, and this is surely a fine example.

Michael

#132 ::: Janet Lafler ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 12:52 PM:

Lizzy @ 112 and Dave @113: Our household posesses a Jerusalem Bible and the NIV (a friend of ours used to call it the "New and Improved" version), and we keep meaning to get a nice edition of the KJV. Matt also reminds me that we have a Jewish Publications Society translation of the Tanak. Nobody in our household has ever been religious, so our interest is historical and literary.

But here are a few Bibles I think we can do without (from the article I linked to in #111):

“Revolve,” a New Testament that look[s] indistinguishable from a glossy girls’ magazine. The 2007 edition features cover lines like “Guys Speak Their Minds” and “Do U Rush to Crush?” Inside, the Gospels are surrounded by quizzes, photos of beaming teen-agers, and sidebars offering Bible-themed beauty secrets.
...
This year’s annual trade show of the Christian Booksellers’ Association, in Denver, brought such innovations as “The Outdoor Bible,” printed on indestructible plastic sheets that fold up like maps, and “The Story,” which features selections from the Bible arranged in chronological order, like a novel. There is a “Men of Integrity” Bible and a “Woman, Thou Art Loosed!” Bible. For kids, there’s “The Super Heroes Bible: The Quest for Good Over Evil” and “Psalty’s Kids Bible,” featuring “Psalty, the famous singing songbook.” The “Soul Surfer Bible” has notes by Bethany Hamilton, who lost an arm to a shark in 2003. “2:52 Boys Bible: The Ultimate Manual” promises “gross and gory Bible stuff.” In the “Rainbow Study Bible,” each verse is color-coded by theme.

Julia @ 130: Indeed.

#133 ::: green_knight ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 01:13 PM:

The mind, she boggles. 'We're not making enough profit, so we're asking our suppliers to give us some extra money' is something I would not believe if I read it in a work of fiction.

I'm wasting my time reading Making Light instead of working. C'mon everybody, out with the chequebooks. Let's see five dollars from every reader of this forum. I want more money in my life.

#134 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 01:22 PM:

Farren @127: That seems to be a widespread trend indeed. Five years ago I used to do all my shopping in one store, these days I need five to get the same things, and some items I do not get at all, although the producer's website says that they are still available... somewhere.

I don't expect any store to stock the books I want, but with groceries, it annoys me.

#135 ::: C. A. Bridges ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 01:38 PM:

Dave @131: "As a lifelong lefty, I feel intuitively that the free market does not serve the interests of society at large, and this is surely a fine example."

Actually it's an example of how the market can work just fine. I have no doubt that as a result of the publicity this has received A&R will see a direct hit on their profit margin as outraged bookbuyers take their custom to other stores. Some because of these letters, some because of other practices that these letters are emblematic of, most because using these practices A&R will gradually devolve into stocking only best-sellers and discount books and customers will be unable to find what they want.

The trick is to make the market transparent and use only enough regulations to control criminal abuse.

#136 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 01:54 PM:

Re: In further defence of beancounters, who can mostly defend themselves - the question about only publishing bestsellers is fine as a question, because it's part of learning about what sort of beans you're counting in this business*. It's if they don't learn from the answers, or don't ask the obvious questions and just put forward plans to only sell bestselling beans that problems occur.

* I worked for an insurance company and every now and then someone would ask if we could sell policies only to people who don't make claims, to general amusement.

#137 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 02:39 PM:

The other thing about bean counting is that it can be used for the good of the firm, as when one determines to whom the most beans are sold, and then uses that data to encourage them to try other flavors of beans they may not have tried. Amazon tries to do this with its recommendations, often laughably, but nonetheless it does understand the concept.

#138 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 05:43 PM:

#115: " Independent bookstores cannot afford to sell books below their official retail price. We, as consumers, carry a certain responsibility too for the emerging of those monstrous chains."

Indies often also can't afford to stock as many books.

And in many areas, credible indies simply never appeared. All the time I was growing up in central Connecticut (70s, 80s, much of the 90s), the only convenient bookstores were manky little mall chain shops. The arrival of Borders and Barnes & Nobles has been *wonderful* here.

#139 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 06:12 PM:

110: "Most especially will be the underlings who already despise them and hate working for them, who will almost imperceptibly smirk when passing them in the halls and in the car parks. They will be eating this dish cold for a very long time."

Perhaps, but there's probably also an executive search firm jotting down "Now there's just the guy we want!"

#140 ::: Gar Lipow ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 06:32 PM:

>* I worked for an insurance company and every now and then someone would ask if we could sell policies only to people who don't make claims, to general amusement.

All those people then went on to run health insurance companies...

#141 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 06:40 PM:

@ Fragano Ledgister at #29 who writes:

> Apparently Rupert Murdoch is a typical Aussie businessman.........

The offending letter was written by one of your lot. you see, Charlie Rimmer is a Pom.

#142 ::: Rebecca ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 06:49 PM:

On Jinx-
Where I grew up, we used both the variant that forbade the jinxed person to speak, and one that was more annoying immediately but less frustrating over the next five or ten minutes for the jinxed person. The jinxer would say, "Jinx pinch poke, you owe me a Coke!" and suit deed to word. So far as I know, no Cokes were exchanged as part of this.

#143 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 07:39 PM:

Julia at 130: OMG. *boggles*

Janet at 132: I forgot, I also have a Jewish Publications Society translation of the Tanakh, somewhere. But you make your point. Those versions you describe sound utterly hideous. Drat. Where's dread Cthulhu when you really need him/her/it/them?

#144 ::: Janet Lafler ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 09:11 PM:

Where's dread Cthulhu when you really need him/her/it/them?

As it happens, I know the answer to that question. (Scroll down.)

#145 ::: Doctor Memory ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 09:21 PM:

That is fascinating. The cause is the Internet and its interaction with the Stock Market. It's was caused Enron, this, and all the other companies full of Dilbert management.

Joe Blow, who is a drill press operator, is now a "day trader." He looks up the dividend ratio of a company, a few graphs of its stock price -- and he knows that company, top to bottom! He knows where to invest and it is a science -- just like betting on the dogs at the local track.

And if a company doesn't come up with the numbers, the "day traders" flee like rats from a sinking ship. Why did the numbers drop? Who cares, I need numbers! Doesn't matter what they do, the future market, what phase of building the company they are in -- good numbers or die!

So companies tend to get managed by the likes of this doofus. I can see a staff meeting. Doofus -- "What's that?" "It's a book sir, it's what we sell." "Do they all look like that?"

DrM

#146 ::: Joshco ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 09:28 PM:

@122: yes but what about Occam's razor. All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one. Complexity should not be looked to for a solution.

#147 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 10:14 PM:

Rebecca at #142 writes:

> On Jinx-Where I grew up

Hey! I've fallen into a Larry Niven story. As long as it's pre-Pournelle I'm pretty happy with that.

#148 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2007, 10:17 PM:

Lizzy L, #112, I have the bibles I held and read a lot. My first, a KJV in white with a zipper and my name on it. My second, a Berkeley translation that I used so long I had to tape the spine together. And then the NIV I used the last few years I went to church. I also have the New Testament & Psalms that my mother carried in her purse. I keep them all for the same reason: they're a significant part of my past.

inge, #134, I'm disabled, so I have heavy and bulky things delivered once a month, but I only go to one grocery store because that's all I can manage. If they don't have things I want, I buy them online.

#149 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2007, 02:45 AM:

Michael Spencer @ 131

There ain't no such thing as a free market.

#150 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2007, 02:52 AM:

Janet Lafler @ 144

Oh, the humanity!

#151 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2007, 03:12 AM:

So, is there a good chance for a jail term for extortion in Charlie "Core Incompetencies" Rimmer's future? Where do soulless bean counters fall in the hierarchy of prison populations?

#152 ::: Mac H. ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2007, 03:33 AM:

In reply to #129 & #122:

Traffic formulas get worse than that - due to Braess' paradox, putting in a new faster road can SLOW TRAFFIC DOWN !!!

One nice explanation is here: http://www.davros.org/science/roadparadox.html

(It uses an over simplistic formula that mixes up units when it works out vehicle speed, but don't get too fussy - it is just to demonstrate the paradox. Believe me - it works in real life ... even with calculating the speed of IP packets across the Etherweb..)

Yes - someone adding a router in a network (even a very fast router) can slow the network down.

Mac

#153 ::: Mac H. ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2007, 03:38 AM:

PS: In reply to #151: "So, is there a good chance for a jail term for extortion in Charlie "Core Incompetencies" Rimmer's future?"

No. The ACCC were pretty quick to point out that the acts (however low) don't fit under 'unconscionable conduct' - which is the closest match for what happened.

It's just bad policy - not illegal.

Mac

#154 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2007, 04:38 AM:

Bravo!
From a former AR and Whitcoulls customer, now in NZ

#155 ::: Simon Greenwood ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2007, 06:29 AM:

It's becoming a far too common situation. Borders are pulling out of the UK too, claiming poor sales and competition with Amazon, et al and the supermarkets, who can viciously discount best sellers - Asda sold the new Harry Potter for £4.99 for example. The truth is however that they are failing at providing an alternative to this mass market. Their front of house displays are full of their current three for two deals which are generally the loss leaders from the big publishing houses and the guaranteed best sellers like Harry Potter or the Richard and Judy book club. I signed up for a Borders mailing list last year, and every week they send me an mail that advertises those same things, books that I have little or no interest in, where a bit of thought and a preference form would allow them to target people instead of tarbrush them. The book business is a combination of the old hands who haven't come to terms with new ways of selling and young tyros who don't understand the book industry, which leads to stupidity like the mail above.

#156 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2007, 07:48 AM:

Not exactly the same thing, but it reminds me of a local service bureau that sent out a letter to its clients (I was one), that if you weren't doing $200 worth of work with them each month, they didn't want to bother with your business.

This letter came with a small 'sales premium' sewing kit (a small pack with a needle, a couple of buttons, and small amounts of thread in various colors); I read this as the brush-off for the 'thread-bare' clients.

This company isn't around any more.

#158 ::: mds ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2007, 12:15 PM:

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) @ 70:

It's nice to know I'm not the only one who's been savaged by SAP.

Anticorium @ 88:

Every single organization I've ever been part of that got involved with SAP spent years throwing money out the window in return for absolutely no benefit over when they started.

P J Evans @ 99:

Adding a SAP story ... my company uses it for things like expense accounts. Everyone who has to use it hates it,

etc, etc.

John Stanning @ 114:

The SAP company is worldwide and has sold a lot of product, so they must be doing something right.

As the excerpts above illustrate, this last would require a specific definition of "right." If "right" means successful advertising for your product in glossy journals such as, "Yes, You Clueless Executives Know Twice as Much about Information Technology as Those Snotty Computer Nerds," leading said executives to enthusiastically embrace an expensive, closed solution that is loathed by those who actually have to implement it, and is a poor match for what the institution actually needs...[Pause to draw breath] ...then I suppose they're indeed "doing something right." Though some of the credit lies with the "consultants" who push plans that are unsuited to the client's needs but which maximize consulting fees.

Hopefully, all of the companies in the above anecdotes learned their lessons... and switched to Oracle / PeopleSoft.

(Speaking of which, did Cleveland State University ever get their bajillion-dollar student records system to work?)

(Personally, I think the fact that Enterprise Resource Planning is referred to as *ERP* really says it all.)

(This parenthetical comment intentionally says nothing. This is important for doing data definitions in JCL.)

#159 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2007, 12:31 PM:

Simon @ 155

My US Borders store (meaning the one I normally go into) has the 3-for-2 table back by the stationery department, behind the three new books tables. It's the first one you see coming in the 'back' door (meaning the door that doesn't open directly to parking). The books on it can be very good.

#160 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2007, 12:45 PM:

Janet @ 132 --

In my household, which consists of one lapsed-Catholic religious-studies major and one non-religious, Catholic school grad, religious-studies minor, we own no fewer than four Bibles. His Catholic school Bible, my First Communion Bible, one NRSV used in all Bible-related college courses, and one EXTREME TEEN BIBLE! picked up at Walmart because he thought it was funny.

He also thinks it's funny to shelve the EXTREME TEEN BIBLE! next to our abridged Origin of Species. I think it's funny too.

The EXTREME TEEN BIBLE! is not particularly offensive in the text, although it's that dreadful oversimplified English that's just flat and dull. It just has cover pictures of teens doing extreme things, like skateboarding and rock-climbing, while holding out a generic Bible.

My First Communion Bible, a Precious Moments Bible covered in pastel pink with my name stamped in gold, bothers me more -- only because of one color plate. It depicts a Precious Moments-style child, with big sad eyes, carrying a little lamb, also with big sad eyes. And underneath it says "Is your all on the altar?"

It upset me a lot when I was a child. Poor little lamb.

#161 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2007, 01:27 PM:

mds #157 : Yes, I know. I get terribly lonely sometimes; I seem to be the only person in the world (well, me and several thousand colleagues where I used to work) who's used a SAP-based system that worked - it did what we wanted, and did it well, and got very few complaints. And yes, it included expense accounts, and no, it wasn't my department that ordered or implemented it - I had no stake in it* at all - just a satisfied user. Amazing, no?

* cue jokes about driving one through the heart of SAP - yeah, yeah.

#162 ::: Walt Boyes ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2007, 02:23 PM:

Fact is, Rimmer is typical of the big corporate buyers you find in any industry. He's also typical of the big corporate publisher who only wants to publish best sellers, because the rest of the book list costs him money.

Businesses move in cycles for a reason. Right now, we're seeing consolidation in distribution. Now Baker and Taylor is in trouble. But Amazon and the Internet have made the small press work again. It is likely that the non-corporate publishers and the authors will eventually win. It isn't a sure thing, though, and people need to vote with their dollars and their feet.

I know it is a PITA to do that, but if you want Mr. Rakusin's reply to be more than entertainment, you need to back him up in the only way the Charlie Rimmers of the world understand.

Take away their business, and keep telling them why.

Somebody upthread said that Rimmer would make a great record company exec. Yes, he would. It is the same mentality. Same song, different verse.


Walt Boyes

#163 ::: mds ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2007, 02:30 PM:

I had no stake in it* at all - just a satisfied user. Amazing, no?

* cue jokes about driving one through the heart of SAP - yeah, yeah.

Personally, I'd try for something about heartwood, sap, and stakes, if I were better at that sort of thing.

Of course I wasn't accusing you of being a consultant; I'm sure you're a fine person. And I'm glad that SAP has been satisfactory for your company's needs. There have just been numerous horror stories, in this thread and out of it, that could be considered cautionary about the "one size fits all" approach that is more prevalent in ERP than it should be. I should have appended the obligatory YMMV. And perhaps a LOL; I have trouble keeping up with the young people's slangs, blings, iPods, and such.*

Hmm, perhaps what's needed is some sort of new argumentative fallacy that encompasses use of anecdotes.**

*This reminds me of the last comment thread (at another site) where I facetiously invoked young people's slang... and Mr. Nielsen Hayden himself appeared*** to explain the perfectly ordinary meaning of the old-fashioned expression in question. It's a small world, though I'd hate to implement an ERP for it.

**Yes, I know.

***Well, he commented in the same thread, as opposed to actually appearing, which would have been both scarier and cooler.

#164 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2007, 02:32 PM:

Okay, everyone, find a Tower Book, buy it.

If you don't find one on the shelves of your local bookstore, order one.

A simple thing that ML readers can do.

#165 ::: Jason A ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2007, 02:40 PM:

Re #136:

I recall hearing Art Ryan, CEO of Prudential Insurance, on the occasion when he was introduced to product profitability reporting.

He said,"You mean we lose money on 20% of our customers?"

#166 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2007, 07:46 AM:

Highway design engineer here, responding to the misconceptions about highway capacity.

First, yes, we factor in the size of the cars in calculating capacity, thank you very much. The size and # of large trucks is also factored in, since even a small % of them in a traffic stream take up a lot of space on any given road.

Second, the rule of thumb is that at capacity, one lane of a freeway will carry around 3000 vehicles/hour. The speed of the traffic stream at capacity, however, is about 30-35mph. The capacity curve is a parabola with the closed end facing to the right and the two sides of the graph representing speed and vehicles/hour; lower speeds mean fewer cars/hour pass a given point, but so does higher speeds since the space between the vehicles increases. This is a theoretical maximum capacity; things like lane widths, horizontal distance to obstacles, grades, weather conditions, big trucks, etc, can degrade this.

Third, stopping distance for a vehicle at a given speed is made up of three parts, not two; perception time, reaction time, and the ability of the vehicle to stop once the brakes are applied. Perception time is how long it takes the driver to recognize there's something going on that he needs to react to; reaction time is how long it takes him to actually hit the brake. The third category is dependent on several non-driver related factors, such as tire condition, brake condition, and environmental conditions. If you're driving a car with worn brakes, bald tires, and in a heavy downpour, don't expect your stopping distance to be very good.

Fourth, yes, opening a brand new road touted to reduce congestion and decrease travel times can actually increase both, in a macro-transportation view. While someone going from Point A to B using the new road may get there faster, if all the cars trying to get to Point B from A use the new road, the destination point is going to become very congested indeed. That's why traffic operations and capacity studies now use computers to analyze not just one road's capacity, but the entire network of nearby roads to see how adding a new route will affect the overall traffic operations.

#167 ::: Sarah M ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2007, 10:20 AM:

Oh my, A&R's idiocy is simply outrageous. I hope the word gets around!!

#168 ::: P J Evans sees possible spam ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2007, 12:52 PM:

#167 looks off, or odd. Spam?

#169 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2007, 01:02 PM:

How best to tell John #165 that he put his comment into the wrong thread?

#170 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2007, 01:04 PM:

Actually, there was a discussion upthread of highway capacity ....

#171 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2007, 02:13 PM:

mds 162: By your "Yes, I know" do you mean this?

#172 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2007, 02:33 PM:

PJ Evans #170:

Oops. You are absolutely right. In my defense, I've had a sinus headache for going on three days; it's beginning to get to me and affect medium-term storage.

#173 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2007, 02:42 PM:

joann@169:

When you said that I frantically scrolled back
up-thread to see if I did post in the wrong discussion. I agree it was a minor sub-thread in the larger one, but my wife noticed the comments and encouraged me to throw my $0.02 into it.

#174 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2007, 03:00 PM:

John @ 173... my wife noticed the comments and encouraged me to throw my $0.02 into it.

Canadian funds, or American?

#175 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2007, 03:18 PM:

joann @ 172

I know the feeling - mine are generally low-level sinus (very dry weather does this) or full-on jobs from getting dehydrated. Either way, thinking hurts.

#176 ::: Bernard Yeh ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2007, 03:24 PM:

Serge @174

There's a difference still?
[Check's latest exchange rate]

Only 7% now... ($1 US = $1.07 CAN)

Back-on-topic comparison:
$1 US = $1.20 AUS

#177 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2007, 03:27 PM:

Bernard Yeh @ 176... It's been exactly 3 years since I last went back to Canada so I'm not sure how far apart both currencies are these days.

#178 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2007, 11:04 PM:

Linkmeister, #20: Keep an eye out for Interesting Developments concerning that letter, in the direction of New York. More would be unwise to say at this point.

#179 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2007, 11:42 PM:

mds (#157): They call it "Enterprise software" because it requires someone of Scotty's caliber to keep it running.

#180 ::: Queenie ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2007, 01:37 AM:

I have to add my 2 cents... as a humble 23 yo bookseller who works for A&R.

To start with, none of the higher up decisions have anything to do with me. I just help run the shop - organise the stock, make the shelves look pretty, order books in for customers, etc. etc. So all of this was a bit of a surprise to me! From what I've seen working there for nearly three years, we have a good range of books, a loyal customer base, friendly staff, and we make a good profit. I've really enjoyed working there, because I love books, I love reading, I love doing the little "I've read it and loved it!" signs to put with my favourites. I think that any slander against the store staff is really unjustified.

However, I'm incredibly morally opposed to the letter Charlie sent, and incredibly shocked - I've MET Charlie, he's a lovely guy. Doesn't come through in his letter, huh? I hate what's going on, and I hate having to be ashamed of my workplace. Again - I disagree with this whole thing. I think the higher-ups are clearly in the wrong. But I don't like the fact that the whole book chain is being hated on because of a wanky executive letter.

Also, while for the most part I was cheering Michael Rakusin on, I was pretty damn insulted by this: "one has to train sales people of competence". Come on, now. Don't pick on the little employees - everyone that I've ever worked with has had a love of books and a great way with customers. We just doing our jobs, selling books. Hate on the execs, not us.

#181 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2007, 04:08 AM:

Queenie, you have my deepest sympathies. I have worked, twice, for concerns that crashed and burned after they were taken over by deeply clueless ignoramuses. You do your job with pride and efficiency, but it doesn't matter to the handless greedoids running the company. They wouldn't know books from bogpaper and wouldn't want to know.

But if you think they value you and your fellow-employees any more than they value their suppliers, think again. They've proven that they'll trash and burn profitable relationships of many years' standing the instant they think it'd make next month's bottom line look better. They'd think wrong, of course, but a mind that imputes no value to human relationships cannot see the error.

Charley Rimmer is probably sitting in his office at this moment asking himself "What did I say?", and honestly not knowing.

#182 ::: mds ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2007, 08:31 AM:

Xopher @ 171:

mds 162: By your "Yes, I know" do you mean this?

Apparently.

[Angrily tears up partially-filled-out patent application]

#183 ::: Rob Landley ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2007, 01:34 PM:

Christopher D (#95): I can top that. My friend Piggy (Lamont Yarroll) once reported a bug in a zero byte program.

One of the old Unixes (irix?) used an empty file with the executable bit set as its implementation of the program "true". The system thought it was a shell script, loaded it, ran it (which did nothing), returned success. Clever, eh?

Except it didn't _quite_ do nothing. When running a new shell script, the shell reads and executes the script in /etc/profile first,to set up the environment. Now what happens if you use this version of "true" in /etc/profile? It caused an endless loop, spawning processes recursively until memory filled up.

Piggy noted that this was an infinite bug density. One bug in zero bytes of code.

#184 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2007, 02:27 PM:

Queenie @ 180: I do not think the "sales people of competence" Mr. Rakusin is referring to are the people in the bookstores actually taking money from customers in return for books. Note that the phrase is part of a discussion about the problems regarding the buying department. I took that phrase to mean that the people selecting stock for the stores have to actually know something about books.

#185 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2007, 09:42 PM:

Only somewhat on-topic:

It's been my habit lately to buy new books from smaller publishers directly from said publishers, while buying books from larger publishers from Amazon or Barnes & Noble (which is much the closest bookstore to my house; I also buy stuff, mostly used books, at an independent store in Decatur when I make a trip thither every few months). Does it make sense to do that? Or would I benefit the smaller publishers more by buying their books, when possible, from B&N so B&N will order more of the same next time? Do the chain stores keep track of sales records by publisher as well as by author, so sales of, say, _The Atrocity Archives_ are liable to influence them to order more stuff from Golden Gryphon in general and not just more stuff by Charles Stross?

#186 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 01:07 AM:

To throw further light, for the non-Australians who seem to frequent Making Light, on the historical bitterness of this development, I quote a reminiscence from Morgan Smith, Gleebooks events coordinator:

In the olden days I worked in the A&R Imperial Arcade shop in the now defunct Customer Service Department. There were two of us working flat out to process special orders from schools, businesses and individuals - as well as a full-time typist who typed up orders and sent them snail mail. Patrick White would shuffle up to the window to order and collect his books. There was a fantastic art department (where gleebooks’s Ingrid also once worked) and a foreign language section staffed by two European women who had about ten languages between them. Older Sydney-siders would have very fond memories of the old premises and now A&R, which was once the flagship of bookselling in Australia, is run by the worst kind of bean counters. Oh dear…

#187 ::: Bel Nadle ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 01:49 AM:

Once again a few head office people make a huge boo-boo that floods (in this case) down the line impacting, not only on their own company owned stores and the staff that work within them, but on the many franchise stores under their brand name. These franchise stores, as outlined in the letter of reply, have excellent working relationships with publishers large and small. They need to. They are running a small business and the relationships with publishers and customers are paramount to their success.
Before blackballing your local store please check if it is a franchise or company owned store. Because the owner, who is paying Angus & Robertson head office a percentage of their profits for utilising this name, does not identify with Charlie Rimmer or his business ethics. If they did, they would not survive. Just think how the franchise fee they pay could be better spent if left in the franchise group control... I dare say the monies would be put to finding new staff for the head office departments.

#188 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 03:57 AM:

Rob @ 183: I had nearly forgotten this until you described the Irix case - you could do something different, but also useful, in CP/M with a 0-byte .COM file. A zero-byte file would load nothing into memory, and then branch to it; this would re-execute the last program to run, with a fresh stack and whatever its exiting memory state was. Any program which began by initializing its variable space was fine, and this saved some time over loading it from floppy; other programs which relied on data areas having been loaded from the code file could have interesting (but occasionally useful) behaviors.

#189 ::: Greg ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 11:55 PM:

If no one else has mentioned it yet, A&R sell crap books, mostly, plus text books and reference books, mainly focussed on the crap end of the market. They'll stock bestsellers of the mass-market variety, but there's no back catalogue to speak of, even among what might generously be considered 'literary' or 'classics'. There's really only two reasons to shop there: you only read romance or fantasy novels or need a cheap copy of 'something or other for Dummies'.

#190 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2007, 10:02 AM:

Where's dread Cthulhu when you really need him/her/it/them?

Hmm. I posted links to some pictures on August 13th; my submission was held for moderator approval because of the number of links. (It appears that something like <a href="http://www.url.com">http://www.url.com</a> counts as two links.) The message now appears in my "View all by" list, but doesn't show in this thread. A glitch in the message-approval system..?

#191 ::: Richard ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2007, 11:23 AM:

It looks like the hue and cry hasn't gone unheard over at A&R: http://blogs.smh.com.au/entertainment/archives/undercover/015340.html

#192 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2007, 06:32 AM:

Some of the comments are absurd. A & R has the same rights as any other entity, business or private individual, to choose who it deals with and what terms it finds acceptable. A & R are in trouble for many of the same reasons the Collins chain went bust in Australia, B Daltons and other mid-market chains have closed in America, Student Bookshops, Colletts, Claude Gill, Athena, and Hatchards have closed in the UK... I could go on. Bookshops (I've owned 3 of them), like other businesses, usually have to accept a range of different discounts from suppliers. Usually the majors (who can be astonishingly generous in their discounts considering their market strength) end up effectively cross-subsidising minor players, whom booksellers stock reluctantly (if they have any commercial sense) out of political sympathy for other small businesses and to give their shops texture and points of differentiation. Publishers routinely make unilateral decisions that adversely affect booksellers' businesses: 1) they sell to Big W et al at unmatchable discounts (HP hardbacks are $27.50 from Alliance; $22.95 from KMart) 2) they choose what is and isn't firm sale 3) they are draconian in determining what is and isn't resaleable condition 4) they design jackets no bookseller would choose and price without consultation (I've also worked in publishing for 17 years). The loudest howls about the A&R letter come not from a publisher but from Tower, a small distributor which picks up the crumbs of local and international publishing. Credible authors and publishers generally go elsewhere for distribution. Tower is a budget, ragbag alternative, like other outfits such as Garry Allen. If Tower wants to improve access, it should improve its portfolio. If its client publishers want to improve their access, they should improve or be willing to pay more to get a more mainstream distributor. Consolidation of orders, and returns, is a real issue in the Australian book trade (unlike overseas where wholesalers - Ingram, Bertram, Gardners etc - provide a virtual stock-room often at better terms and with more support than Australian publishers/distributors supply direct. Um, that's all!

#193 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2007, 08:34 AM:

A & R has the same rights as any other entity, business or private individual, to choose who it deals with and what terms it finds acceptable.

True, but you'll note that no one has said it doesn't--merely that insisting on those rights in this particular form is stupid. With a side dish of "and the way the demands were presented might count as extortion".

#194 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 06:43 AM:

I don't see anything offensive about A&R presenting its minimum trading requirements as an inflexible demand rather than an ambit claim, requiring negotiation. Publishers make unilateral declarations all the time. Without consultation they will, when it suits them, put as much of their inventory as they like on new, lower trading schedules. Trade titles will move to an academic, or schools, or direct sales band, and the discounts will go down from 42% returnable, to 35% to 15% to zero, respectively. Books taken into stock by bookshops on a sale or return basis are suddenly, without notice or negotiation, declared firm sale. Art books stocked on a sale or return or see safe basis, are denied returns authorisation or given partial credit because of "browser damage" (try avoiding that without barking at customers). Minimum orders vary from 5c to $500 depending on the publisher or distributor, and some distributors simply don't have $500 of books worth stocking - not at retail and certainly not at wholesale. The list goes on and on. In my previous incarnations as a sales and marketing manager, I frequently tinkered with terms of trade, deliberately keeping them as opaque as possible precisely to avoid having to negotiate what is never a win-win situation. The only unilateral rights a bookshop has is to refuse to stock particular books, or to source those books from third parties (hence the absurd situation that Harry Potter is cheaper from discounters than from its Australian distributor). Given the likelihood of A & R's owners, Pacific Equity Partners, acquiring Borders in Australia, I know I would - if I were a remotely-academic or obscure publishing house - prefer to hold out against A & R's demands, losing a very few sales in the process, so avoiding a massive loss of margin when Borders is bought and PEP cherry pick their trade terms - Borders old terms when it suits, A & R's when it doesn't.

#195 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 09:50 AM:

I don't see anything offensive about A&R presenting its minimum trading requirements as an inflexible demand rather than an ambit claim, requiring negotiation.

What's offensive about it is that A&R is saying "We don't understand our own business model, so we want to screw you over to fix the 'problems' we perceive".

Perhaps if you actually, I dunno, read the original letter and reply? They're quoted right there. The reply not only discusses why the original is offensive, it goes into great detail about the matter.

#196 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2007, 07:56 PM:

Carrie S: You accuse me of not having read the letter and reply. I've read both. Rather than dealing with the specific infelicities of prose in both, I've wanted to discuss the issue in more general terms: does a business have a right to decide how it will operate, and do its suppliers have a right to disagree? My answer is yes and yes.
As my first post made clear (or so I thought), it's not necessarily that A&R don't understand their model; it might be that the model (mid-market shopping-mall shops catering overwhelmingly to women, stocking disproportionate amounts of light fiction, health, body mind spirit, and kids books) was okay up to the late 1990s when Borders came to Australia and introduced the category killer superstores with 3 for 2 promotions of worthy books at front of store, and when KMart, Target, Big W and the department stores Myer and (to a lesser extent) David Jones started slashing the price of potentially lucrative books such as Harry Potter and TV chef cookbooks in order to drive up traffic and reassure the punters that their general ranges might also include some bargains (apparently people know they're getting a bargain when they pay $19.95 for The Guinness Book of Records (normal retail $45) but don't know the going price for a Country Road dress. I think the figures now are that discount department stores, with 8 per cent of the book retail space, sell something like 18 per cent of all books sold in Australia.
Of course the fact that Borders in Australia made modest profits only in its sixth year, after accruing losses of something like 20 million, and the fact that they're for sale, and the fact that comparable businesses in the UK - Waterstone's and Dillons - nearly closed, and were saved by companies (WH Smith and HMV which are themselves in trouble) might make people wonder whether a large scale (as opposed to micro) model for profitable book-selling can be found.
A & R shops don't appeal to me, but then neither does Channel 7 which is dominating the ratings, neither did "Dancing with the Stars 4" which was the most popular show on TV, neither does The Herald Sun which vastly outsells my favourite paper, neither does Marian Keyes, who outsells Anne Tyler and Philip Roth etc etc etc.

And what is a business model, if not the whole portfolio of decisions starting with where to place stores, how they're going to look, how to staff them, and finishing with wholesaler discounts and rationalising accounts management and supply channels.

#197 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2007, 08:37 AM:

You accuse me of not having read the letter and reply. I've read both. Rather than dealing with the specific infelicities of prose in both, I've wanted to discuss the issue in more general terms: does a business have a right to decide how it will operate, and do its suppliers have a right to disagree? My answer is yes and yes.

Then I fear I don't understand where our disagreement lies.

A&R sent out a letter to its smaller suppliers which bordered on extortionate. One of those suppliers responded saying, in essence, that A&R needed them more than they needed A&R and A&R could get stuffed if it thought the supplier was going to pay its Danegeld. The content of this thread has been pretty much, "Wow, A&R looks stupid and the supplier looks awesome."

No one's arguing that A&R didn't have a right to send out the original letter, just that it was very very stupid of them to do so.

#198 ::: chris oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2007, 11:16 PM:

I can't think of anything Tower distributes which is a must-stock item for Angus and Robertson. The only books which come close are The Cashflow Quadrant and Rich Dad Poor Dad, both of which have slowed very substantially and may not even pick up when Kiyosaki does his next tour, given that his formula (borrow heavily to buy property because it always appreciates in value) looks increasingly absurd. So long as bookshops happily deal with small, inconsequential distributors it puts larger distributors at a relative disadvantage. Why? Because if I have a customer who wants something from Tower and I phone them, and they tell me there's a minimum order of, let's say, $200 at wholesale, I have to scroll through their catalogue and order in a range of books which aren't front of mind and were slow sellers in the past. If a customer orders a book distributed by United, Alliance or Random, for starters I'll probably just tack it on to a daily order but if things are slow and I've only just placed an order, I'll nonetheless have no problems finding plenty of other books to make up a minimum order. Angus and Robertson has done credible publishers and authors a favour by in effect rewarding writers for going with mainstream publishers and publishers for going with mainstream distributors.
What does Carrie S think of the slotting fees paid by Unilever, Coke and everyone else in the FMCG to have their bestsellers at eye-level and at the end of rows? What does she make of the move by most supermarket chains to reduce the number of brands they stock and to introduce two tiers of own-brand: a cheap range and a quality range? If such efforts are wrong, presumably wrongest of all is the German budget chain Aldi, which has pared down its range to a tenth of that found in normal Australian supermarkets but as a consequence trades out of smaller, cheaper premises and charges about half the price (according to Choice magazine) for an equivalent basket of goods?

#199 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 12:16 AM:

Ignorant though I am of the fine points of Australian bookselling, I just have to say I doubt very much that I'm alone in finding it difficult to entirely believe someone who seems unacquainted with the notion of the "paragraph break."

Yes, yes, it's very wicked of me, I know.

#200 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 12:42 AM:

chris oliver (#199) appears to think that books and canned beans are best sold the same way. Despite some old back-of-book Baen ads[1] that might have led to this confusion, I don't think that this is correct.

[1] The "Del Monte" ads, which James Nicoll has quoted from on rasfw.

#201 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 01:17 AM:

What does Carrie S think of the slotting fees paid by Unilever, Coke and everyone else in the FMCG to have their bestsellers at eye-level and at the end of rows? What does she make of the move by most supermarket chains to reduce the number of brands they stock and to introduce two tiers of own-brand: a cheap range and a quality range? If such efforts are wrong, presumably wrongest of all is the German budget chain Aldi, which has pared down its range to a tenth of that found in normal Australian supermarkets but as a consequence trades out of smaller, cheaper premises and charges about half the price (according to Choice magazine) for an equivalent basket of goods?

I don't presume to answer for Carrie, but the crux of the matter here is that books are not like groceries. A tin of tomatoes is, broadly speaking, able to be substituted for any other tin of tomatoes. So, you go to Aldi and buy the cheap ones and don't suffer for it. You get what you want.

But one book is not able to be substituted for another. People who want to buy books are not merely looking for paper with words on; they are looking for authors, ideas, award winners, sequelae or whatever.

I know people play slotting fees for supermarket produce, and they have to because when you get right down to it, one fizzy black drink is much like another (except to the tastebuds of love, for which I gather some people swear undying loyalty to a brand). Not so with the written word.

#202 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 08:37 AM:

What does Carrie S think... of an assortment of faux concerns that are not relevant because books are not frozen peas?

Carrie S thinks you're trolling, is what she thinks, and that you're being disingenuous in a fairly typical attempt to support an unsupportable point.

And she also thinks you need to be acquainted with the concept of "paragraph break". And "strawman argument".

And further, she thinks she's not going to be arguing with you anymore, because you're clearly not interested in actual discussion and it gets tiresome trying to have a battle of wits with one who is so willfully unarmed.

#203 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 10:47 AM:

What I think is that in all sectors of brick-and-mortar retail--supermarkets, consumer electronics, housewares and, yes, bookstores--the last two decades have seen a huge increase in outlets that offer the customer more options to choose from. People will travel further in order to choose from a larger selection, even when they're likely to wind up buying one of the most popular options.

Which doesn't mean there's no place for pared-down retail outlets, of course, or that anyone's business decisions to increase or cut back on the choices they offer are "wrong." It does suggest that there are solid business reasons for going in either direction. Books may or may not be just like groceries, but in fact grocery stores that offer a huge range of options appear to be doing very well.

#204 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2007, 12:01 PM:

Teresa has called that property of books that makes them different from beans or frozen peas "inherent particularity."

And "chris oliver" (199) according to View All By, is not the same person as "Chris Oliver" (earlier posts). Perhaps it's the same person using a different email address, and the lack of spaces between paragraphs is consistent across both.

#205 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 07:09 AM:

Patrick Neilsen Hayden: feel free to mistrust me for pressing return once to form a new paragraph, rather than twice. Feel free to be as trivial as you like since this is obviously your site. I was raised by parents who thought there was something very pretentious and therefore suspect about people with double-barrelled names, but I reject such silly notions.

Christopher Davis: I have a sentimental attachment to small, aesthetically pleasing bookshops but everywhere, it seems to me, the market is voting with its feet: Small bookshops are in decline, discounters who merchandise and sell books very much as they do beans or tee shirts are on the rise.

Vian: a similar point, but you underestimate the loyalty consumers feel to particular brands. Very strong brands like Coke pay substantial amounts to keep their brand prominent. Likewise, especially in the States, publishers put enormous effort into getting prominent displays knowing that if they do, they're more likely to get onto the New York Times bestsellers list, which in turn will give the book greater prominence and force major chains into discounting.

Carrie S: don't be so dyspeptic. Books compete with all manner of things, including food, for discretionary spend. And here in Australia they often don't seem like good value. For example, I can buy American Beauty or The House of Sand and Fog 2 dvd sets, with commentary tracks and all sorts of add ons, for $9.95, whereas contemporary novels from Penguin or Random retail for between $23 and $28.

Patrick: I agree with #204. The average size of bookshops went up from the mid-1980s. The problem is, as you say, people are reassured by range but don't necessarily buy it. The minimum range people find credible in a Borders or Barnes and Noble would be around 100,000 titles (compared to maybe 25,000 items in an average supermarket). Publishers use lousy quality wood-based paper in a bid to lower costs and increase their gross margin. The books go yellow within months of being removed from plastic shrink wrap. Backlist (books published more than a year ago) are usually non-returnable, so bookshops have to choose between marking down books, which cuts their margin and erodes the acceptable price for other books, or looking increasingly tatty. For the record, Aldi is doing substantially better in Australia than its full-service, full-range, more attractive rival, Coles.

Xopher: yes, we're both the same people - me and him. The beauty of blog sites is that they allow free, direct, open discussion about serious topics and don't degenerate into adolescent exercises in coercive groupthink. In my dreams.

#206 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 08:28 AM:

The heavy sarcasm of your last paragraph would play better if you hadn't come into the conversation broadcasting Now See Here on all frequencies, and followed it up by escalating every time someone disagreed with you. The fact that you're not having a satisfactory conversational experience is not, I think, entirely because you're a lone truthteller bedevilled by "coercive groupthink."

There's a good conversation to be had on this subject, and you obviously have useful and worthwhile knowledge to contribute. But if you're going to escalate the level of ire and confrontation any time you encounter disagreement or criticism--as you've done here repeatedly, in just a few exchanges--you're going to have a lot of suboptimal conversations.

#207 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 08:44 AM:

Chris Oliver: I haven't seen any 'adolescent exercises in coercive groupthink'. I have seen a number of different people disagree with you. These two things are not the same.

I haven't seen anyone here argue that A&R should not be allowed to attempt to set conditions on its suppliers. What has been argued here is that their attempt was unforgivably rude, borderline extortionate, and, most importantly, counter-productively foolish. Note that both of our hosts have a vested interest in both bookshops and publishers staying profitable.

You seem to be quite vehement in proclaiming Tower a minor distributor of no consequence, best avoided by publishers in favour of 'more credible' outlets. If this is so, why do publishers continue to deal with them? If they were to disappear, would people really not feel their loss? In your bookselling experience, are books really that fungible?

While I agree with you on (and deplore) the bad paper and production quality of all too many new books, I don't see how the race-to-the-bottom Aldi model will do anything but impoverish the choice of books available, shed readers, and ultimately destroy a viable publishing and bookselling industry. Again, books are not fungible.

#208 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 09:25 AM:

"If you would like to discuss this with me in more detail, I am delighted to confirm an appointment with you at 1:00pm on Friday 17th August for 10 minutes at my offices at 379 Collins St, Melbourne."

Unless the nature of the business relationship really is along the lines of "Jump!" / "How high?", how could one respond to such a declaration except with a "f*ck you" or the equivalent? This is not how one deals with other people/organizations.

#209 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 09:39 AM:

I was raised by parents who thought there was something very pretentious and therefore suspect about people with double-barrelled names, but I reject such silly notions.

Then why bother mentioning it at all?

Hmmm. Let me think about why you might have done that.

Could it be--possibly--to call Patrick pretentious and suspect in such a way as to be able to say that you hadn't actually done so?

That couldn't possibly be it, could it? No one would sink to such a transparent trick in a supposedly rational conversation, right?

don't be so dyspeptic.

Oh, sweetie, you haven't begun to see dyspeptic yet. I've given up trying to debate, and am now toying with you for the entertainment value (cheaper than books!). I'm betting that even though I'm saying flat out that this is an attempt to bait you, you're still going to rise to the bait. If you do, more entertainment; if you don't, you'll go away. Either way, I'll be happy.

Books compete with all manner of things, including food, for discretionary spend.

*cough* That's "spending"

#210 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 09:51 AM:

Carrie S: Alas, spend is a perfectly cromulent noun in Brit (and, I assume, Commonwealth) English.

#211 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 09:56 AM:

Oh, is it? Huh, linguistic quirks. I did not know that.

Well then, Mr. Oliver has my apology for that bit.

#212 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 10:13 AM:

Chris Oliver @ 206

For example, I can buy American Beauty or The House of Sand and Fog 2 dvd sets, with commentary tracks and all sorts of add ons, for $9.95, whereas contemporary novels from Penguin or Random retail for between $23 and $28.

This is an apples and oranges comparison. The movies you mention were released years ago; the prime market for them is long gone. And by "contemporary" you clearly mean "published in the last 6 to 12 months", because after that time buyers will almost certainly be able to buy a mass market paperback of the same book at about 1/3 the price.

he minimum range people find credible in a Borders or Barnes and Noble would be around 100,000 titles (compared to maybe 25,000 items in an average supermarket).

Please cite a source for that 100,000 figure; it seems very large to me. A quick estimate based on Borders near me is that they have at most 40,000 different volumes, and I would believe half of that.

As for the supermarket figure, I believe that's incorrect; I've worked in the business of consulting on supermarket supply chains and personnel scheduling; IIRC an average supermarket has between 35,000 and 50,000 items on its shelves.

As a general rule, it is not a good idea to behave in such as uncivil manner as that letter from A&R shows. In business, as in most things in life, that which is down may go up, and it's never a good idea to create more enemies with grudges to avenge who might, years from now, be in a position to avenge them.

#213 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 01:28 PM:

#210 Carrie S.: That couldn't possibly be it, could it? No one would sink to such a transparent trick in a supposedly rational conversation, right?

We reject such silly notions.

#214 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 02:08 PM:

Bruce (#213), without challenging your differentiation of the DVDs and books, the market in Oz is not quite the same as in the USA, though I believe Aussies buy quite a few more books each per year.

A quick survey: There are 12 new fiction books, all paperbacks, on the front page of the Penguin Australia site (Random House makes it harder to find them). Five are priced at $24.95 (including a Penguin Modern Classic reprint and the current Booker Prize winner); five are $32.95 (including the new William Gibson), one is $29.95, the last $39.95.
I'm not expecting to see most of them reduced by much over the next year or two at least – perhaps reduced by 1/3rd or less in specials. A few, including the Gibson & perhaps the reprint, might be popular enough to get deals at the discount stores like K-Mart, but that's more for 'best-sellers' and popular genres like thrillers, horror, etc., or ones several years old where they're trying to move the remaining stock.

(Tangentially, one of my hobby horses is the frequent difference between our Region 4 and Region 1 or 2 DVDs of the same film or TV show. Quite often the "commentary tracks and all sorts of add ons" are not on our version. Gladiator, I've heard, and The West Wing box sets certainly, are examples.)

#215 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 03:01 PM:

Mez @ 215

though I believe Aussies buy quite a few more books each per year.

Good on you. One of the reasons I live in Portland is that, at least within the city, which contains a little over a third the total metropolitan region population, something like 40% of all eligible inhabitants of the city have a library card. This is unusual in the US. It helps that we also have one of the largest single book stores in the world (Powell's Books).

Is there any good justification for the existence of DVD region codes, other than to make the distributors more money?

#216 ::: "Charles Dodgson" ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 04:03 PM:

As I recall, some of the public rationale documents for the DVD region coding system mention being able to tailor available content according to the laws of local governments. There's exactly one DVD region whose borders coincide with those of a nation-state: China...

#217 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 04:32 PM:

Carrie @ #210:
I think people who have a problem with a man taking his wife's name upon marriage are sexist porkers, so Chris Oliver starts out with one foot in the hole. He put the second one in when he misspelled Patrick's name, which puts him in either the unobservant git or the deliberate jerk category as well.

#218 ::: mcz ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 04:49 PM:

Charles Dodgson: I wonder how well that actually works, given that a very large number of multi-standard, multi-region standalone DVD players are made in China.

Distributors can actually make more money in countries where it is legal to defeat region encoding, simply by releasing different extras in different countries. For example, someone in Australia might order the original bare-bones R1 release of Serenity, and then the R4 version with all the juicy extras[1], and then the R1 special edition, and so on.

The R1 and R4 releases of The Phantom of the Opera also have extras unique to their respective regions.

[1] and I'm not mentioning the specially packaged versions put out by EzyDVD and JBL HiFi -- oops.

#219 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 06:15 PM:

mcz @ 219:
Charles Dodgson: I wonder how well that actually works, given that a very large number of multi-standard, multi-region standalone DVD players are made in China.

I believe that's partly a side-effect of Hong Kong (Region 3) returning to Chinese (Region 5) sovereignty in 1997. (Imagine if New York City or San Francisco belonged to one DVD region and the rest of the US to another.) Chinese manufacturers rather sensibly started making multi-region players for the local market.

#220 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 08:35 PM:

Patrick: sorry if that's how my comments strike you. I shall be more temperate.

Jakob: Books bought as gifts for other people (rather than as personal purchases) are incredibly fungible within a range. If they weren't - if a high proportion of people had a completely inflexible notion of what it was they wanted and if people truly had massively diverse tastes and didn't respond to clever merchandising - bookselling would be even more of a nightmare than it already is, because there are more than a million English language books in print and a small independent bookshop in Australia might stock less than 4,000. In Australia, as elsewhere, something between 70 and 80 per cent of books are bought in the three months before Christmas. They are mostly bought for other people and as economic rationalists know, the desired outcome (rare always and exceptionally rare in more remote relationships) in gift giving is that the recipient values it at more than you paid for it. This, and the convenience aspect, and the ready ability to return items, favours large discount shops. The books that aren't so highly fungible are books like the Harry Potter series and The Da Vinci Code, but these are exactly the books discounters slash to cost price or below - robbing specialty bookshops such as Angus and Robertson of an opportunity to make margin on the few titles they might hope were sure things.


Bruce Cohen: It's not apples and oranges. By contemporary novels I really meant anything still protected by copyright. Catch 22, for instance, sells for $23 as a book, and probably for about $3 as a dvd. Both are entertainment and educational experiences. I'd agree that books are different to films and provide, sometimes and only in some respects, a richer experience.
100,000 is indeed a higher figure than I should have written. The biggest Borders, Barnes and Nobles and Waterstone's shops have between 80,000 and 250,000 titles in stock.
The supermarket figures are often repeated here in Australia, but for reference look at The Australian (www.theaustralian.com.au) 13 September, page 22:
"In addition to the expansion of the store portfolio, Aldi Australia managing director Michael Kloeters said yesterday that the company had increased the number of products it sold by 50 per cent over the past 12 months.
Aldi previously stocked about 600 different product lines, compared with the 25,000-plus offered in the full-range supermarkets run by Coles and Woolworths.
The bulk of the groceries it offers carry Aldi's own proprietary brands, which Mr Kloeters is careful to differentiate from the ``home brand'' products offered by his bigger competitors, saying Aldi sells ``brand quality'' without the price tag associated with brand marketing.
By cutting out brand duplication, the product range and store size are drastically reduced -- as are prices, with a recent Choice survey finding a basket of selected groceries from Aldi cost around half as much as those bought from the major retailers.
This has made Aldi a hit with budget-conscious shoppers, and the introduction of 300 new lines may broaden its appeal and enable it to accelerate the growth of its market share, currently running at 6.5 per cent for packaged groceries on the eastern seaboard."

Bruce @ #216 Is there any reason for region codes? Presumably it's to stop distributors in one country - especially one with a lower cost base or better economies of scale - undermining the value of the intellectual property they've bought by selling into their territories. If there were no barriers to trade whoever sold to the Chinese market, where piracy is rife, costs are low, and people are poor, could sell into first world countries, destroying local competitors, killing off local video libraries, undermining the local film industry by reducing its dvd revenues etc. It would also damage the book trade as the price difference between books and other sources of entertainment and education became greater.


#221 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 09:03 PM:

"the intellectual property they've bought" should, of course, have read "the intellectual property others have bought".
Breaking the world into smallish, tightly regulated, separate blocs maximises revenues and makes issues such as legal compliance easier for film production houses. For the same reasons Coke America maximises its revenues and avoids logistical nightmares by licensing Coca Cola Amatil to sell fizzy water in Australia and someone else to do it in Western Europe. Unlike monolithically-structured companies like Amazon.com, this sort of devolved structure creates jobs in peripheral regions rather than destroying them.

Sorry about misspelling your name Patrick Nielsen Hayden. I meant no slight. It was a straight forward mis-keying, something so common that there's a quick keys command (control + insert) to remedy it. I hadn't figured your double barrelled name meant you'd taken on your partner's surname - it's not something I've seen done by adults in Australia or Britain (kids have double barrels all the time, especially if the parents aren't married) but it sounds like a fine idea.

#222 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2007, 11:30 PM:

I'll allow that some books are bought without significant concern for the tastes of the reader. ("I hope you like it, dear. I know you're into that Sci Fi stuff, and those Rocky-oid things sounded exciting!") Some of them even won't be returned/exchanged. But I expect that that's a very small proportion of the total sales.

#223 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 12:00 AM:

Joel Polowin: whoever said that any books are bought without significant concern for the tastes of the reader? It's generally not too far wrong to assume commercial organisations stay afloat and grow by appealing ever more strongly to ever increasing numbers of consumers. The discounters do so by cherry-picking the most attractive books for a broad range of customers: cloth books for babies; Maisy for pre-schoolers; Dr Seuss for primary; Harry Potter for late primary-early secondary; Marian Keyes for adult mass market; Khalid Hosseini for a no less mass literary market. Cookery books for those who really don't have a clue what the recipient would like but want to give them a book (despite never having seen them read one), want something more pretty than functional.

#224 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 12:01 AM:

Joel Polowin: whoever said that any books are bought without significant concern for the tastes of the reader? It's generally not too far wrong to assume commercial organisations stay afloat and grow by appealing ever more strongly to ever increasing numbers of consumers. The discounters do so by cherry-picking the most attractive books for a broad range of customers: cloth books for babies; Maisy for pre-schoolers; Dr Seuss for primary; Harry Potter for late primary-early secondary; Marian Keyes for adult mass market; Khalid Hosseini for a no less mass literary market. Cookery books for those who really don't have a clue what the recipient would like but want to give them a book (despite never having seen them read one), want something more pretty than functional.

#225 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 09:27 AM:

Susan @ #218: What gets me is saying, "Oh, my folks told me double names were pretentious but of course I don't believe it". Whatever the reason for the double name, there's no reason to mention one's parents' silly prejudice and then immediately disavow it unless one wants to get the idea out there in such a way as to have (in theory) plausible deniability.

And look, now he's backpedaling on the entire name issue, and claiming a typo. Isn't that cute?

I also admit to puzzlement about the insistance that the book Catch 22 costs $20 more than the movie. That's fine, but what if one doesn't want the movie? When you're talking about picking a book in a bookstore, the price of DVDs is utterly irrelevant. (Similarly, when you're looking for something to watch on movie night, it doesn't matter how cheap a book is.) Books and films don't provide the same experience; it might all be "entertainment", but it's not all the same kind of entertainment.

#226 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 09:43 AM:

whoever said that any books are bought without significant concern for the tastes of the reader?

"Books bought as gifts for other people (rather than as personal purchases) are incredibly fungible within a range." etc.

#227 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 10:27 AM:

To clarify: Usually when I buy a book for someone else, I don't just buy any random book in a general price range within a broad category that I think that person likes. Books are not at all alike within those categories. I have a number of cookbooks but there are a lot of cookbooks that I have no use for whatsoever; I read a lot of F&SF books but there are some subgenres and authors that I have no interest in. When I buy a book for someone else, I try to choose something that I have reason to think that s/he will like, beyond its being part of some broad category, and of course try to avoid books that s/he already owns.

Over the years, I've received a few "Ah. Er, just the thing I need, how nice" book gifts. But people who buy books for other people are, I think, usually about as choosy when they do so as when they buy books for themselves.

#228 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 12:36 PM:

Carrie 226: You haven't read The Art of War, have you? "When your enemy retreats, let him."

Also, even people who've known the Unhyphenated for decades occasionally misspell their name. And that particular letter combination is pernicious; I've written "Tolkein" on more than one occasion.

I think Chris Oliver deliberately snarked on Patrick's two-part name, misspelled it by accident, and was completely innocent of the accusation of sexism, because he didn't know Patrick had taken Teresa's name (and she his).

If he did know, and misspelled it deliberately too (personally I find that last hard to imagine), who cares? Let's accept his retreat from those things and go on talking about the topic.

Lowering the level of discourse isn't pleasant for anyone except the people doing so (and random popcorn watchers, but there aren't many here). If he wants to apologize and adopt a more civil tone, why are YOU still trying to goad him? At this point it's starting to make you look bad.

#229 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 02:14 PM:

Xopher, on the one hand you're right; on the other, I was talking to Susan, since her perception of where the issue was differed from mine--I see no sexism. Also misspelling someone's name takes on something of a different tone when one has just gotten finished insulting that name.

As for talking about the topic, that's what the final paragraph there is for. I truly don't get what relevance DVD prices has to book selection, since there are times when the DVD won't do.

#230 ::: fermion ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 03:45 PM:

I truly don't get what relevance DVD prices has to book selection, since there are times when the DVD won't do.

They serve to make books look unattractively overpriced by comparison, I think. If I can get Catcher in the Rye in DVD format for one-fifth the price of the book version, it may incline me to think that the booksellers are being unreasonably extortionate. Which is not to say that there aren't very good reasons for the price discrepancy, but they're not transparent to Me The Consumer.

There's some research indicating that people don't like to feel that they're getting a bad deal on something, or being "taken advantage of", to the extent that they'll work against their own apparent self-interest in order to avoid an "unfair" bargain. In this case, since I really want Catcher in the Rye, I'll buy it anyway; but in future I won't go to the bookstore as often because I perceive their books to be overpriced. So the low DVD prices are bad for the book industry in general.

On a less theoretical note, as an American visiting Australia, I genuinely was rather taken aback by the high book prices. Geographical isolation doesn't seem sufficient to explain it.

#231 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 03:49 PM:

Carrie 230: Oh, I see. You meant "what gets me" in the sense of "from my perspective, the issue is." I misread that before.

#232 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 08:44 PM:

Fermion: Australia has comparatively high list prices for the following reasons (and more I won't bore you with):
1) When a UK- or US-published book is sold into their home market it follows a more direct route to market, involving less labour, IT, fuel, time and tax costs. Bookseller sends in order. Order is keyed. Invoice and pick list is generated. Order is picked and packed. Contract truckers arrive, load books and take them to shops usually not too far away. When an order is generated from an Australian branch, several more steps are involved: The order has to be keyed by the Australian branch. A management decision has to be taken as to whether to protect territorial copyright and serve the customer by air-freighting books, or whether to ship by sea. The order is sent to the parent company which typically re-keys it, picks, packs and despatches it using truckers as well as shipping companies which are less competitive than the trucking industry. Bills of lading, insurance documents and other things have to be filed. The parent company charges the Australian company for the books at more than the straight cost of production to take account of its own costs and profit expectations. Either the Australian company or its US/UK parent will have to pay currency exchange fees and give banks a slice of the action. Port fees and duties have to be paid. The Australian company will have to unpack the books, shelve them, log them onto a database, price them to market rather than according to a strict mathematical formula based on fluctuating exchange rates, before its bookshop orders (which may by now have been cancelled) can be processed. Since the cost price of the books may have doubled, and since Australia unlike Britain has a consumption tax, the price after a significant retailer's margin has been added on is usually greater.
2) Australia has greater distances between metropolitan centres.
3) Internal shipping infrastructure is less developed.
4) Retail rents per customer are among the highest in the world and retailing, for a variety of reasons including high wage costs, the lack of specialist bookshop fitters (such as Point 8 in the UK), is less efficient.
5) The lack of wholesalers reduces the efficiency of the book market.
6) The Australian book trade, unlike the British, isn't supported by a clutch of quality broadsheet newspapers. The closest thing we have to a quality national broadsheet with (almost) decent books coverage is "The Australian" which sells 130,000 copies a day, one for every 170 Australians. Reading is also not supported by the push (since the 1980s) to tertiary vocational courses (business, accounting, law, etc) rather than reading-based humanities courses.
7) There's a correlation between climate and readership. The cold climates of New England and the Pacific Northwest have a higher proportion of readers than the South. Almost all Australian states have summer temperatures warmer than you, hence fewer readers.
8) Australians are famously early adopters of technology and books don't seem to cut it compared to DVDs, Ipods and the internet - not a Philistine point, simply a statement of fact akin to saying circuses and vaudeville have lost out to movies and television.
9) When books are budgeted, the sponsoring editor works out a print run (eg 10,000) and an overall unit cost. (S)he then works out a retail price based on what the market will bear, taking into account the average rate of discounts, the anticipated pattern of sales (x in Yr 1, y in Yr 2, Z in Yr 3), and the percentage profit expectations of the publisher. Typically a UK publisher might assume that 55% of the local retail price would be retailer's margin and shipping costs, leaving them with a gross margin of 45% of cover price out of which to pay royalties (which are based on the retail price), labour, printing, materials and establishment costs. The costings naturally would be thrown out if an Australian branch were to insist on paying the raw manufacturing cost of the book (the so-called run- on costs) and no more. But the net result is that as well as two lots of costs being incurred (point 1), two lots of profit have to be taken. The only way this double profit taking can be avoided is if the Australian branch organises a print run of its own (which is increasingly common) or if it commits firmly to a specific allocation of stock (a run-on) at the time of printing. UK publishers have collapsed because they haven't followed good accounting practice and have viewed any and all export sales as incremental, the icing on the cake. There's a saying, if all your sales are incremental your profits will be excremental.

For the record, Dr Seuss books sell for 5 pounds in the UK, and $8.95 list price here. Discounting is rife (though it is in the UK, now, it didn't used to be) so The Guinness book of Records UK RRP 25 pounds, is discounted in Australia to between $19.95 and $30. The exchange rate now has the Australian dollar worth 42p. The prices have to include a risk premium to take account of many more elements of cost and fluctuating exchange rates. A proper comparison would be to check out the UK and US prices of Australian published books - generally higher than their Australian domestic prices.

#233 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 09:00 PM:

Fermion: I like your point about how far consumers will go to avoid being ripped off. Until the mid 1990s Britain had a system of price maintenance known as the Net Book Agreement (NBA) (Australia had it too, until the mid 1970s) which forbade retailers to discount books (they could always charge more) except according to extremely strict rules such as a publisher approved annual book sale. The idea of this retail price maintenance was that it would force bookshops to compete on range, ambience, location and service rather than on price, would favour diverse stocking and wouldn't unduly disadvantage smaller operations. In the 1990s two insolvent quality chains (Dillons and Waterstones) were fighting to the death for market share, opening duplicatory stores in ever smaller towns. Dillons ceo, Terry Maher, pushed successfully for an end to the NBA whereupon Dillons went broke and was bought out by the company that ran Waterstones. At first discounting was very modest (15% off) confined to a very small proportion of the stock, but then supermarkets like Tesco saw an opportunity, moved in and have upped the anti. Now, rational consumers who care about books more than ambience, check prices at the discounters before buying from chain booksellers, and hardly ever shop at small independents with no buying power and few if any discounted books. Vale Endicott NY.

#234 ::: mcz ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 09:03 PM:

Ah. Does VAT not apply to books in the UK?

#235 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 09:23 PM:

Susan and Carrie S: Keeping the aggression going doesn't make for an interesting discussion.
I posted what I thought was a worthwhile comment in defence of A&R's rights (#193) and mildly against the groupthink and spite shown in many of the previous 192 comments.
Several people replied in a hostile and trivialising way, picking me up on things which struck me as trivial and beside the point (lack of paragraph breaks - a bit like Kerouac's original ms of On the Road) and a misspelling of Patrick's name.
I've apologised for any real of perceived narkiness.
I think many comments on this blog show little grasp of economic principles or commercial realities, and that there's a nasty, spiteful, bullying quality to many of the rebukes directed at named individuals at A&R for that initial letter. No matter. There are plenty of interesting and intelligent comments too. Let's return to real discussion.

#236 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 09:35 PM:

mcz: No, books are still zero rated for VAT in the UK. In nearby Denmark, VAT on books is 25 per cent. London's bookshops are sustained to a significant degree by sales to customers from countries with punitive taxes. Then again, I can't see why rubbish like The Promise or The Liver-Cleansing Diet should be tax exempt (i.e. subsidised by tax-payers and by other products) whereas Citizen Kane on dvd or anything at the theatre or concert hall gets slugged 17.5 per cent. Can you?

#237 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 09:42 PM:

Oops, I meant "The Secret" not "The Promise". Conspiracy theorists who focus on ie versus ei mistakes can read into that what they will, but for the record I am a fan of Tracy Chapman.

#238 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 10:07 PM:

Chris, I've been wondering: what's your connection with the book-marketing industry? You seem to have a great deal of information about the economics of the business, combined with a remarkable lack of awareness of how people actually buy books. You keep asserting A&R's "rights", which nobody disputes, and ignoring many people pointing out that the objection is to their obnoxious behaviour. You keep using the word "groupthink", as though that in some way diminishes the point that people are making.

#239 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 10:46 PM:

They serve to make books look unattractively overpriced by comparison, I think. If I can get Catcher in the Rye in DVD format for one-fifth the price of the book version, it may incline me to think that the booksellers are being unreasonably extortionate.

Sure...but if you don't want the DVD, what good is it? I mean, I get that the book and the DVD both provide entertainment, but they aren't, as I said earlier, the same kind of entertainment. If I want the kind of entertainment I get out of a book, a DVD just isn't going to cut it. Personally I don't generally compare the prices of different media; it's a fool's game to do it precisely because they're different media.

#240 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 10:48 PM:

Oh, I see. You meant "what gets me" in the sense of "from my perspective, the issue is."

Yep.

#241 ::: mcz ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 11:02 PM:

Chris Oliver #237:

I'm not sure what you're trying to get at here. Are you suggesting that all books should attract VAT, or that some books should attract VAT based on whether they are "rubbish" or not? In the latter case, who gets to decide, and how?

#242 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 11:05 PM:

Joel: What makes you say I have a remarkable lack of awareness of how people actually buy books? I think/know that people buy books in lots of different ways for lots of different reasons and what I've written here reflects that. To return to the initial topic of Angus and Robertson, their problem is that their old, founding, model no longer works because the type of consumer they appealed most strongly too (mid-market, non-esoteric tastes) to has drifted to other outlets - discounters especially, while the consumers who always scorned them - heavy-duty booklovers or people who like individual touches - decamped to Borders (or Kinokuniya in Sydney) or to the few remaining independents such as Berkelouw, The Avenue, Readings, Gleebooks and Ariel.
I don't ignore A & R's "obnoxious behaviour", I just don't find it obnoxious. I've already said that if I were still in publishing (I was for almost 20 years), I'd call their bluff. I might even go public and rely on a public sentimentally attached to books (though they seldom read) to lobby A & R not to act in its own commercial self-interest. But I wouldn't expect A & R to capitulate to public pressure any more than I'd expect McDonald's to get rid of Ronald because me and my middle-class friends (irrelevant as we are to their business) despise him. If I were Tower I'd have a sense of humour about this, though I'd worry about the inherent weakness of middle-men in an increasingly disintermediated and consolidating world. My main priority would be to get something major, such as Harry Potter or the Da Vinci Code, on my list so I could dictate the terms and maybe punish A & R for ever going on the attack.
My credentials: 27 years as an arts journalist, publisher, publishing sales and marketing manager with experience in every English language territory, bookshop owner. What's your basis for believing you have a better grasp on why or how people buy books?
The reference to groupthink I guess was to raise a question as to whether people are seriously thinking about this issue or are supporting one another's prejudices. The letter from A & R, the death of many good bookshops, and the troubles of Borders, raise important issues which deserve to be dealt with in a serious and de-personalised, intellectually scrupulous, way. Don't they?

#243 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 11:06 PM:

mcz: I favour gst/vat on books.

#244 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 11:23 PM:

What's your basis for believing you have a better grasp on why or how people buy books?

That you keep asserting that books are essentially fungible commodities, which doesn't match my own experience, nor that of pretty much everyone else who's posted on the subject around here, including our hosts, who damn well ought to know.

#245 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2007, 11:54 PM:

Joel Polowin: I maintain that items bought as gifts, in the absence of a specific request from the recipient, are highly fungible.
Carrie S #240: So are you the customer booksellers and publishers dream of who is quite indifferent to price and doesn't evaluate all life's options in terms of the return on investment? Are you the sort of person who would (and in fact does) buy from corner convenience stores every bit as much as from supermarkets because the products are indistinguishable and price isn't a factor? Do you see as many stage shows/ cinema screenings as you do dvds because live theatre and darkened cinemas are a richer experience? Most people on finite budgets work out how to spend their money most prudently, which includes valuing shared, family experiences such as dvd-watching over individual and necessarily anti-social activities like reading. That's surely why, with non-book options forever increasing, and with people spending more time at work than they once did, book sales are in the poo.

#246 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 12:11 AM:

Chris 246: Wow, I really think that's a fairly low standard for gift-giving. Do most people just buy any book they see as a gift for someone else? That would suck.

#247 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 01:03 AM:

Xopher: Um, no. And yes, it would not only suck it would be bizarre, but that's not what I said.

#248 ::: fermion ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 01:32 AM:

Carrie #240:

My point was more that a lot of people will probably think to themselves "If they can make a DVD for three dollars, why can't they make an old-fashioned low-tech book for less than twenty?" They will feel ripped off, they will think less of the bookstores, and they may very well buy fewer books because of it. This is only a theory I have, mind you, but I don't think it's implausible. I have certainly seen people making exactly that argument with respect to CDs ("why are CDs so expensive? I can get a DVD for ten dollars that has way more stuff on it.")

I would wager that the readers of Making Light are extremely devoted to books and also reasonably savvy as to the reasons behind the price differences, and so the phenomenon won't affect their book-buying habits all that much. However, there are many people for whom this is not true. Would that it were; I imagine the bookselling industry would simply combust with joy if their entire market consisted of such ardent bibliophiles...

#249 ::: fermion ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 01:59 AM:

Almost forgot--thank you, Chris, for your detailed explanation of Australian bookselling economics. I had been wondering about that for quite some time.

#250 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 02:21 AM:

Carrie and others: my experience is that bookshop customers (and few bookshop staff) understand that prices depend, more than anything else, on print runs, and secondarily on editorial and royalty costs - so the margins can be fatter on cheap editions of endlessly-reprinted classics like Catcher in the Rye, and still more so on Pride and Prejudice, than they are on Philip Roth's latest novel (which people prize) or the latest winner of Australia's Miles Franklin award "Carpentaria" (which, judged by its sales, people don't). Hardest of all to explain to consumers is why heavily engineered books in volatile sink-or-swim markets such as first year university law and economics books are so expensive. Cynical pricing of non-fungible books with a captive market explains some of it, but most of the explanation lies in market inefficiency which, as I've said before, the A &R letter, for all its faults, is helping to address. Just as pharmaceuticals are expensive to compensate publicly-listed manufacturers for huge r and d expenditure and the extreme difficulty of getting drugs onto the market, so textbook publishers have to make enough from their successes to compensate for their failures. I've never seen a book that cost as much to engineer as a typical Hollywood blockbuster so, by the crudest of measures (cost to the consumer compared to production costs), dvds are massively better value than books.
Fermion: thanks

#251 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 02:22 AM:

darn it "few bookshop customers!" shouldn't blog in a hurry. or at all.

#252 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 08:03 AM:

My point was more that a lot of people will probably think to themselves "If they can make a DVD for three dollars, why can't they make an old-fashioned low-tech book for less than twenty?" They will feel ripped off, they will think less of the bookstores, and they may very well buy fewer books because of it

Oh! OK, I get it. Dunno why it took me so long.

Not that those prices match my experience, mind you; I've never seen a new DVD for less than $5US, and that's the scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel* bin at Wal-Mart. But the principle holds. I don't know what the response to it is, except that I feel very strongly that there is one.

* Cheap action flicks, cheap horror flicks, gross-out comedies, bare-bones versions of stuff that later came out with a director's cut, that sort of thing, along with the occasional "This was a huge hit but we bought twice as many copies of it as we needed".

#253 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 08:19 AM:

Looking back on Charlie Rimmer's letter and the Tower response reminds me of something: For a long time after Borders arrived in Britain and Australia, the only input they would accept from marginal publishers to the ordering process was for the publishers to send them highlighted catalogues. In terms of inefficient business processes, publishers were told raw data would be relayed to Ann Arbor, Michigan, for processing and for people there to work out where in the world (locally or in the US) they could get the best deals. This resulted in lengthy delays in order-processing and absurd situations in which cheap local editions were displaced by expensive and inappropriately-packaged (in terms of UK and Australian consumer tastes) American editions. It also resulted in numerous breaches of the territorial copyright agreements (shades of the side discussion about dvd regions) which make Australia, South Africa and other commonwealth countries British-controlled sales regions, while Europe and elsewhere are a free-for-all.
I don't know the situation now, but it certainly used to be the case that Borders and Barnes & Noble in the US were very limited in terms of their availability to see reps and sales managers.
Unless things have changed, many firms sell 80 per cent of their frontlist in three calls: to Borders, Barnes and Noble, and Ingram. Don't they?
Personally, I think huge amounts of time (and therefore money) have been wasted in the UK and other countries' book trades, Using very meagre profits to send teams of reps to bookshops to negotiate nothing more than retail display. The main purpose of sending reps to accounts isn't to make the retail buyer/ manager's purchasing process more rational and efficient; it's to make it irrational and, if the rep is doing their job, to overstock the bookseller so they have no alternative but to hand-sell in order to clear the gluts. The same relationship exists in electrical and photographic retail, which is why you never should trust a camera shop salesperson to be telling you the truth (rather than clearing stock or earning spiv points).

#254 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 08:51 AM:

Another thing I'm reminded of: When Borders first opened in Australia they told some local publishers that globally about 90% of their stock had an annual stock turn LESS than 1. In other words, a book retailing for $10 for which Borders would pay $6 wholesale would make a $4 margin for them in year 1-and-a-bit. That $4 margin, and $2 of their own, would be reinvested in another copy. So by the end of year two-and-a-bit they'd have invested $12 to turn over $20 and make a gross margin of $8. That means after more than three years they'd have just $2 clear once they'd repaid their initial outlay ($6) to the banks or business owners - since no-one wants personal capital tied up in what should be self sustaining businesses - and restocked the shelves. $2 for staff, fittings, rates, electricity, stock write-offs, shrinkage etc etc and retained profits and owners'/shareholders' dividends. No wonder private equity firms and others are having trouble offloading bookshop (and even worse CD) chains.

#255 ::: midori ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 09:01 AM:

re:packaging prices
I seem to recall an estimate that the packaging cost (the cost to print, bind, and dustcover) the most recent Harry Potter was around 1.40$ U.S. The estimator was royally annoyed - not that it was being sold for between 18$ and 32$ - but that they didn't spend closer to 2$ U.S. to put a better quality binding on the thing.*

Cue unsourced anecdotes about Scholastic losing it's shirt on HP6, Wal-Mart equivalents undercutting real bookstores, etc.

*I especially liked this bit of vitriol:
For $34.95, I'd bloody well better be getting a fully Smyth-sewn binding with a full cloth cover on low-acid, high-opacity paper. The irony that this pipe dream concerns the packaging, and not the contents, is purely intentional.

#256 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 09:09 AM:

Chris Oliver: You seem to prophesy unending woe for the book trade. What, in your opinion, needs to be done to change this sorry state of affairs?

Also, you seem very keen to defend Charlie Rimmer because of the tough conditions that he has to operate in. However hard Mr. Rimmer's job may be, it doesn't excuse acting like a clueless arse - the main reason, I suspect, that people have jumped on him so hard.

#257 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 09:42 AM:

I think you might be right about books as gifts being quite fungible, but none of the last ten books I bought were gifts. They were all for me. In the last year, I've bought two books as gifts, and one was a specific book I'd discussed with the recipient (non-fungible) and one was a secondhand book about the mechanics and math involved in altering the suspension on cars. I was startled to realize a book on that topic even existed, and was quite willing to buy it without knowing if it would actually be of interest to the recipient. I'm not sure whether that counts as fungible or not. I think not.

I guess my point is - do non-book people really buy books as gifts? Book people will buy non-fungible books for themselves more often than fungible gift books. Non-book people would (I would think) be more likely to buy non-book gifts if DVDs are cheaper. Also, it is easier to know someone's taste in movies than their taste in books. I don't see the idea that gift books are fungible as being a significant issue when discussing the problem of a bookstore limiting its stock by eliminating some publishers, because I think the number of people who buy fungible gift books is small and, as you say, probably getting smaller. I would expect the market to be in people who buy books for themselves.

#258 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 09:43 AM:

Sorry, the "you" that might be right in post 258 is Chris Oliver. I originally addressed it to him, and then edited the name out accidentally.

#259 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 02:05 PM:

Chris 248: Then in what sense are books fungible as gifts? "Inherently particular" is the opposite of fungible, surely?

#260 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 09:31 PM:

#256 Midori: I'm slightly surprised the cost for such an enormous print run was so high. It's a reminder that past 100,000 or so the economies of scale disappear almost entirely and the unit price stays almost constant. A Harry Potter aside: In 1999 (two years after the first Harry Potter appeared) I had three rounds of job interviews with the four founding directors of Bloomsbury (the original publishers of HP and still the publishers of the UK and Commonwealth editions). The job they were talking to me about was an international sales job, responsible for the entire list. Though I mentioned Harry Potter a couple of times - praising the marketing job they'd done on it, including doing adult and child editions - all they really wanted to talk about was the Encarta Dictionary, which they'd published in association with Microsoft and which they thought was going to transform their business. Barry Cunningham, HP's discoverer, gave Philosopher's Stone/ Sorcerer's Stone a first print run of 500 copies. Liz Calder, another of the directors there, gave Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children a first print run of 2,000. There are plenty of authors and publishers contributing to this site who'll have similar stories of the extreme irrationality and unpredictability of book publishing and retailing.

Jakob #257: I absolutely prophesy the death of the book industry. No-one seriously believes MP3s deliver the same sound quality as cds, but people are getting rid of clutter (probably just to make room for more). In Australia one of the first recommendations of real estate agents is for vendors to get rid of their books because books look like clutter to most property buyers. When Steve Jobs or HP invent a portable flat screen storage device onto which whole libraries can be downloaded, and when HP or Canon invent a plausible print and bind/docutech machine, bookshops will die. Jason Epstein predicts the bookshops and libraries of the future will be incorporated within electrical stores and office suppliers, offering print on demand for the last remaining environmental vandals who like the feel of oil-based inks on dead trees. The only remaining challenge is how to make a financial return from book downloads, and how (as with most internet commerce) to stop all the spoils going to a tiny number of people and companies at the top.
Another aside: My first publishing job was with Cambridge University Press, who used to publish incredibly obscure musicology books with global print runs of 150 copies, and correspondingly high prices. Such books always fell down production schedules since, even at such extortionate prices as, in one case something like (at current values) $US250 for an 50-page book on Music of the Tang Court, there was no money or glory in it. All that sort of slightly cynical we've-got-the-libraries-over-a-barrel publishing, most scholarly monograph publishing, has gone online, as has most journal and almost all loose-leaf legal publishing. Books may be a reasonably effective medium for fiction, but surely not for non-fiction.
Nothing will stop the death of the book business as it currently is. It might always make some slight sense to buy childrens picture books in ink-on-paper form because reading them develops fine motor skills, but everything else can (and I think will) go electronic. I'd stake every cent I own that by 2030 books will be as redundant as vinyl records or 8-track cassettes. What do you reckon?

R.M. Koske: I think you're right to question whether the (increasing proportion of) non-book people buy books as gifts. I-Tunes cards seem very popular and sensible. In Australia, at least, people are concerned about the environment and about the values that underpin the annual Christmas orgy of consumption without which the book trade would immediately collapse. The Australian population is secular (hence no religious commitment to Christmas), getting older, wanting to de-clutter, and is falling in love the the internet, iPods and flat screen tellies. It's also becoming ever more interested in building social capital and engaging with others (cafes are booming) rather than finding quiet corners in which to read Wittgenstein or Marcuse.

Xopher: Uniqueness isn't necessarily the same as non-fungible. Nor is uniqueness remotely rare. A grain of rice is unique (or inherently particular as you would have it), but for most people it's entirely fungible: different but interchangeable with another grain of rice. This point about fungibility has dragged on a bit but all I'm saying is that a substantial proportion of gift purchases are made by people drifting through shopping centres, hoping for inspiration, not wanting to offend people by buying them size 18 clothes when they're size 12. They drift into and out of shop after shop before succumbing to a half-way decent vase in a homewares shop or a splashily colourful cookbook by a celebrity cook they've never actually watched but have read about in some celebrity magazine.

#261 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 09:47 PM:

What follows (from The Guardian March 12, 2007) explains why sensible gift-buyers may be drifting away from books. At least someone in the giftee's circle will watch the DVD you buy them!

"It's the literary club no author wants to belong to, but boasts the likes of Salman Rushdie, Bill Clinton, Paulo Coelho and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. A survey out today of the books Britons own but do not finish shows a surprising lack of appetite for many of the nation's most popular titles.

"The bestselling book that topped the poll, DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little, has been lauded the world over - ironically, for its explosive denouement. But 35% of respondents who bought or borrowed the Man Booker-winning satire about a Texan schoolboy in a death row reality TV show failed to get to the end.

"And while few can dispute the crazed popularity of JK Rowling's books amid the under 16s, the survey of 4,000 adults found 32% were not particularly fussed about the fourth in the series. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire beat James Joyce's 1922 novel Ulysses - running to more than 1,000 notoriously laborious pages - into second place.

"Other surprise "winners" in the online survey include Captain Corelli's Mandolin, the Louis De Bernières novel that has sold more than 2 million since 1994, and Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist.

"Fifty-five per cent of those polled for the survey, commissioned by Teletext, said they buy books for decoration, and have no intention of actually reading them. Rachel Cugnoni, from the publisher Vintage, said the apparent unpopularity of tough literary texts like Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace and Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment - all voted in the top 10 - suggests readers are purchasing "intellectual credibility for the bookshelf" rather than books they actually want to read.

"Far too often people are buying books because they think they will be good for them, rather than because they think they'll enjoy them," she said. "There are certain books that everyone buys because the whole world has read them." That is not to say, however, that the literary industry cares. "The important thing from a bookseller's point of view," said a spokesman for Waterstone's, "is that people buy the books in the first place." Half of the top 10 non-fiction books people buy but don't read are autobiographies. My Life, by Bill Clinton, and My Side, by David Beckham, made the top three."

#262 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 09:59 PM:

Chris 261: One grain of rice is like another. One copy of a particular edition of a particular book is like another. One book is NOT like any other, different book.

I understand the distinction between uniqueness and fungibility. You have not explained why you think books are fungible across different titles, under any circumstances. I think that's a fairly odd claim, and I really want to hear why you think it's true, and under what circumstances.

#263 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2007, 11:36 PM:

#261: I'd stake every cent I own that by 2030 books will be as redundant as vinyl records or 8-track cassettes. What do you reckon?

I'd take that bet, and I'd take every cent you own.

Here's why: By the time a printed book has rolled off the press every watt required to use it fully has already been expended. No additional energy needs. That isn't true of any other system, now available or yet to be invented, of electronic paper, flat screens, or what-may-have-you.

#264 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 12:11 AM:

Xopher, fungible is in the eye of the beholder, surely? You (and I perhaps to a lesser degree) care about books and notice differences. On the other hand, cars don't interest me and, unless pushed, I recognise broad types - saloons, station wagons, hatchbacks, sports cars - but not individual makes, and certainly not particular models. Likewise I don't recognise tiny differences between Mills and Boon romantic novels: I scorn them all in a way I maybe shouldn't.
James MacDonald: just as digital memory cards don't require any ongoing power source to preserve information so, I believe, there are already display units which don't require additional energy to display, and there are LCD displays so energy efficient they can be powered by a tiny strip of solar cells. That beats the hell out of the embodied energy costs/ the greenhouse burden of the average book. And, as a quick Google search of "unread books" will show, the real problem is that people acquire far more than they do, or possibly can, read. Plus, you haven't considered the carbon costs of transportation all those books throughout their lives, right up to the point they are disposed of. Nor have you mentioned the methane generated by books as landfill. Nor have you mentioned the air conditioning and lighting of all the bookshops in the world, or the carbon cost of book browsers' journeys to and from the shops. Etc etc.

#265 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 12:20 AM:

So we're on, then? Every cent you own on January 1st, 2030?

I'll let you know where to send it.

(Oh -- the reason I "haven't mentioned" those other costs you speak of is because they're irrelevant.)

#266 ::: "Charles Dodgson" ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 12:42 AM:

Another item to consider in the energy budget for books is the energy spent transporting them after they're printed. Or purchased, for that matter --- toting large numbers of books around consumes quite a few calories, and isn't always pleasant or convenient, even if you do want ready access to the text of them all.

FWIW, there's a guy on the "OLPCnews" group blog (not affiliated with the OLPC project itself --- they don't really like it much) who's playing with the notion of extremely low-power ebook readers, with no power-drinking wireless, and a CPU that has barely enough heft to find the next page and put it on the screen (after which it stops consuming power as well). He's speculating (no firm power budget yet) that the thing could conceivably be powered by a built-in solar cell using current technology. And by 2030, it's reasonable to assume that solar cells and displays will both have improved somewhat (which would also help with the other problem with ebook readers --- that screen fonts are just uglier than paper ones). Details here; I'm not sure about all of his ideas (the case for a proprietary, specialized format is really weak), but it's fun to consider.

The culture that would grow up around the care and feeding of such devices in a post-apocalyptic society which had lost the capacity to duplicate them, or even understand their operation, is left as an exercise for the interested writer.

#267 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 06:39 AM:

The etc etc includes the concrete used to build the bookshops, libraries, publishers' warehouses and (slightly) bigger houses to house them all.
James: I don't know if I can leave my details on this site (I'll find out soon enough) email is oliverandmaxwell@yahoo.com.au But I don't quite understand what you mean when you say the environmentally damaging factors I list are "irrelevant". Are you saying they're not real costs (surely not?), or are you saying not enough people care and we're going to continue to have tax systems which don't discriminate in favour of climate neutral or climate positive technologies? You threw up the issue of environmental protection but seem unwilling to discuss it properly. And we haven't even mentioned the utility of digitised, computer-based materials compared to paper-based hard copy and how that taps into issues of social equality and global development. If future technology and knowledge transfer is seriously going to rest entirely or even substantially on old paper technology, we in the first world may not be stuffed, but the rest of the world - which can better afford the information on the web than the information stored in publishers' warehouses - truly will be. So, James, can you clarify: if durable readable LCD flatscreens can be powered entirely by solar cells, and if memory cards can fix pages and only draw power when a page is turned, where's the big consumption of power and other resources compared to book technology?

#268 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 06:48 AM:

Charles: quite so, on both your main points. And being concerned about the energy draw of an LCD display or flash memory card compared to everything else in a westerners life, including book consumption, strikes me as slightly unbalanced.
On the energy budget and travel point: Especially since I moved to a country with high book prices, I fill my bags with books (adding 30kg to my luggage, so consuming extra jet fuel) every time I go overseas.

#269 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 07:24 AM:

So the bookseller made a cost-cutting decision which would likely alienate the book people (who are looking for non-fungible books and expect the store to have a wide selection) in an attempt to woo the non-book people who have a wide assortment of cheaper options available? That doesn't sound wise.

I was thinking about the book-people vs. non-book people thing* and Chris Oliver's assertion that bookstores are essentially doomed. Two thoughts occurred to me:
1. I'm not sure a bookstore needs to sell printed volumes of paper to be a bookstore. But it does need to sell reading material that I can browse before I buy. An audiobook, while often enjoyable and much more in my reach than it used to be, is not at all the same thing.** If we do go to all electronic texts, I'm not sure the bookstore even needs to be a realspace store.***

2.I'm wondering if there is an existing non-fungible business model that bookstores might look to as an example if Chris is right and society stops generating significant numbers of new book people. Wine is non-fungible to aficiandos, but it is also a consumable, not an enduring item. Comic book shops, maybe?

*This is of course not a true opposition - you aren't one or the other, you're somewhere on a spectrum. I find it hard to imagine real non-book people, but that's because I'm a book person from a family of book people. The family members who don't read novels are still voracious consumers of non-fiction, particularly how-to and do-it-yourself literature.

**It may be just me, but I cannot just sit and listen to an audiobook. I must have something to do at the same time. Cooking, cleaning, knitting, et cetera. If I don't have something to do, I'll get distracted and realize I've stopped listening. Audio books for me are to occupy my mind while I'm doing something else, not a way to "read." The lack of the right kind of things to do often leads me to have trouble finishing audiobooks.

***If/when ebooks become a commercially viable source of reading material, I think there will be some people who want the experience of going out to companionably browse books with other readers, regardless of book format. They may turn out to be also the diehards who love dead trees best, but only time will tell.

#270 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2007, 01:51 PM:

One reason I don't think ebooks will kill real books is that real books can be read in so many circumstances, without worrying about power, when to plug it in (even if it's just once a month to recharge, I still have to remember to do it),

Also, I am not very worried about losing a paperback, or even a hardcover. However, I would worry about losing or breaking an electronic device.

Don't get me wrong, I think ebooks are a cool idea, and have many advantages, but to me, a book is a physical object and the words and ideas it contains.

#271 ::: chris oliver ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2007, 07:58 PM:

Nancy: surely digital is already killing real books? How many people (compared to pre-digital days) are forking out the money for bound editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica or Funk and Wagnells? Who, apart from a few status-anxious law firms, making up for the shift to digital in all professional legal publishing, buy hard copies of the Oxford Dictionary? What political reporter relies on hard copies of Hansard from the government printery, rather than getting the same information, faster, online? Where in the world is there an academic library network which hasn't resolved to change its journals policy: sometimes pleasing Luddites and panic merchants by keeping one hard copy for archive but generally moving to digital? When you want to know about The Shins's latest release, are you going to go to the Larkin 10 volume popular music encyclopedia (cost $1400 plus), last updated in something like 1998, or will you Google it? If you want to see what reliable critics think of Nick Cave's The Boatman's Call, are you going to go optimistically to your local bookshop to buy The Rolling Stone Music Guide, or will you type www.allmusic.com into your address bar and be able to listen to a few sample tracks (and read extensive reviews etc) yourself? Bookshops the size of Barnes & Noble Union Square can't be sustained just selling fiction and a smattering of popular non-fiction can they? And as they, and the publishers who supply them, sell less, more of their costs will be born by fewer product lines whose price MUST therefore drift upwards. I don't think many people in the cd industry predicted quite how willing consumers would be to dispense with jewel cases and cleverly-designed cover booklets and pay not much less money per track (probably more per track if you factor in the cost of the listening device) to download poor-quality MP3 files of music to their iPods from the internet? Convenience, utility, reliability, rapid transfer, and price will out. When ebooks are integrated into mobile phones not even my technically behind the 8-ball mum is going to complain either about the power draw or the inconvenience of having to recharge her electric wanger (which is what she calls every electronic device built after 1980).

#272 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 09:40 AM:

I'll say this for the point Chris Oliver is arguing: My own model of what I do is that I'm in the entertainment-and-culture industry, not the "book industry." When I publish a book, I'm very conscious that its "competition" is at least as much television, electronic games, and BoingBoing as it is other books.

I happen to think, on balance, that books will continue to be made and sold. The codex is a very practical format for many things. But I don't feel passionately about it; it's something about which I wouldn't be overwhelmingly surprised to find myself wrong.

What I do for a living is develop and promote literary works. If I were to be vouchsafed a vision of the future in which I found that in 2030 I'll be doing it all in pixels and photons, supported by some revenue model that is as hard to imagine now as Google Adsense would have been in 1984, that knowledge would not rock my world or strike at the core of my self-image.

#273 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 10:26 AM:

#268 You threw up the issue of environmental protection ...

I did no such thing.

Try reading what I said rather than what you wish I'd said.

And keep in touch. 2030 is right around the corner.

#274 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2007, 08:30 PM:

Patrick #273: I completely agree.
James #274: You were surely raising the environmental costs of books versus digital in your comment #264?

#275 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 12:21 PM:

I interpreted Jim's comment as meaning that once a book has been produced, it's done and usable — no further energy investment required (unless one wants to read after dark, of course).

#276 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 08:24 PM:

Lexica #276: which would presumably mean the issues he's raised are the comparative convenience of printed books (which I dispute) and the comparative costs of e-books versus printed books (which I also dispute, especially as one moves away from the mass market and as a new generation of Blackberry-like mobile phones/ MP3/ digital storage/ email/ digicam devices hit the market. Let's hear it from the horse's mouth - if it wasn't the environment Jim was concerned about, what exactly was it?

#277 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2007, 09:53 PM:

It wasn't the environment.

What part of "I did no such thing" was beyond your power to parse?

It's energy expenditure to operate. After manufacture it requires zero additional energy to operate a paper book. I suppose you could nit-pick by saying that you have to turn on your room lights to read one after sunset, but that's the best you'll be able to do.

Every single other device you mentioned requires additional energy input. Every ... single ... one.

There, that simple enough for you?

#278 ::: chris oliver ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2007, 09:55 PM:

So Jim (he says, trying to sound more patient than Mr MacDonald), why is the undoubted fact of additional energy expenditure meaningful to you? It seems a disappointingly vacuous to raise the point that electronic devices draw energy from somewhere, albeit maybe from a solar cell on the device itself, then go nowhere with it.

#279 ::: chris oliver ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2007, 09:59 PM:

Oh, almost forgot Jim, how exactly do the books that roll off the presses in England reach you in Maine in a way that requires no additional energy expenditure?

#280 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2007, 10:09 PM:

Chris... quit digging before you hit China.

#281 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2007, 11:34 PM:

Chris Oliver: When I want to read a book, I don't have to use any more energy (even the argument that I have to use lights is weak, because if I am going to be awake after sunset, no matter what I choose to do I will be using energy).

Whenver, wherever, I choose to use a book, it works, and it costs me nothing extra to make it work.

#282 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2007, 11:55 PM:

And the old books I pick up don't require archaic software/hardware to be read.

#283 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2007, 12:01 AM:

Lee: are you saying there's a hole in my argument? Is this a new economic principle: that products requiring post-manufacture energy inputs are doomed to failure? What does this say of cars versus bikes, iPods versus the old Thomas Edison wind-up gramophones with sound horns, or modern FM radio versus powerless crystal sets? Isn't the persistence of any technology (including books) all about its costs versus benefits? I can foresee a future in which electronic devices will deliver user-friendly text in a simple and convenient way, which won't require an external light source or strong wrists (try reading Moby Dick in bed, and bookshop customers regularly say they won't buy hardbacks because of the weight). I take it you don't foresee that future, which is just fine by me but in a free society, on a democratic medium like the web, it's surely legitimate to discuss the issue in a grown-up way?
Terry: I can see your point. Some said similar things about why mobile phones wouldn't take off: why would anyone buy an expensive gizmo, which made their pockets bulge, with lousy network coverage, with a battery life measured in hours, in order to make calls that cost five times as much as a public call box? Telstra in Australia loses substantial amounts of money now on every single public call box but they're politically obliged to maintain them, for now. In five years time I doubt most neighbourhoods will have the option of using a public phone. Something similar happened when retailers stopped stocking betamax videos. Something similar will, I predict, happen in the books market.

#284 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2007, 02:09 AM:

? It seems a disappointingly vacuous to raise the point that electronic devices draw energy from somewhere, albeit maybe from a solar cell on the device itself, then go nowhere with it.

I feel no need to explain further. I've given you all the information you need. Extrapolate for yourself.

Or, rather than extrapolating, just spend your time figuring out your net worth. You'll be sending it to me on 01JAN30. Afterward perhaps you'll be able to look back and see where your argument went wrong.

I've already told you the answer.

#285 ::: Chris Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2007, 04:22 AM:

Darn it! I meant phonograph. There's a good picture of timeless survive-the-apocalypse technology (Edison's 1899 cylinder phonograph) on Wikipedia's 'Phonograph' page.

#286 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2007, 09:19 AM:

Lee @ 281: Actually, that would be the North Atlantic, roughly 300 km west of the Azores.

#287 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2007, 10:30 AM:

Lee: are you saying there's a hole in my argument?

Lee is alluding to the old maxim, "When you find yourself in a hole, quit digging". I am not sure whether s/he (sorry, Lee, I don't know your gender) is referring to your arguments or your method of presenting them, however.

#288 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2007, 01:49 PM:

chris oliver,

I'll try to reply this weekend. Life's a little crazy here.

#289 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2007, 01:57 PM:

the old Thomas Edison wind-up gramophones
timeless survive-the-apocalypse technology

Those wax cylinders are quite fragile. They're starting to scan them in 3-D, so the recordings can be transferred to less fragile media.

#290 ::: chris oliver ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2007, 04:10 AM:

#289 I look forward to it. My view close to #273 but with possibly even greater optimism that moveable type and then offset printing aren't for the rest of eternity going to be the biggest steps in creating a literate world.

#291 ::: chris oliver ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2007, 04:30 AM:

Carrie S: your lessons on etiquette are bizarre and (I think) misdirected, given the abrasive tone of James D Macdonald #264 and #266. No matter. I've obviously offended you and several of your tight clique of economically semi-literate Luddites. No apologies for that: grown-up blogging on special interest sites such as this is about having courteous, respectful but - more than anything - honest and informed discussions of meaningful topics. I don't understand how you, and Jim, can possibly complain that the original Charlie Rimmer/ Angus and Robertson letter at the top of this blog was a) idiotic and b) shamefully aggressive, then proceed to write in an a) idiotic and b) aggressive manner. No more bickering; no more digressions from substantive argument, eh? Please.

#292 ::: chris oliver ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2007, 04:42 AM:

Not "offset" - "lithographic". Sorry

#293 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2007, 11:43 AM:

Anyone else finding this very snoozy?

#294 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2007, 11:55 AM:

Feeling like a semi-literate disciple of Ludd, ethan? As for myself, I'd rather listen to Mudd - Harcourt Fenton Mudd.

#295 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2007, 01:22 PM:

your tight clique of economically semi-literate Luddites

Please do try to find out how current technology works before you make any more bizarre predictions. Learning something about economics wouldn't hurt you either, chum.

I've put you in my mental box labeled "Doesn't understand the problem," and in the smaller box inside it labeled "Not worth trying to teach."

You've made a bet. I will collect.


#296 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2007, 03:10 PM:

So, is Chris Oliver a paid culture warrior for A & R Whitcoulls Group?

#297 ::: Amanda Blair ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2007, 08:27 PM:

Glad to track Chris Oliver down again after he stopped blogging on www.theaustralian.com.au and to see that he's still making worthwhile and well informed comments from an economically rational but compassionate perspective. Question to Chris and anyone else with greater intelligence than Carrie S. or James D. (have you SEEN their websites and Wiki pages (presumably self-penned!)

Chris, on previous posts you've made the following points about private equity and their ownership of A&R: 1) margins are extremely tight in the book business, 2) private equity firms take a 2 per cent or greater management fee for their funds, 3) private equity operates on a very high debt to equity ratio of, according to Chris, 30/70, 4) costs of borrowing are rising in the short term though in the long term they'll settle (in your view), 4) synergies and good governance were exploited and instituted by A&R's previous owners, WH Smith, 5) all unnecessary costs have been stripped from the business 6)there doesn't seem to be a trade purchaser waiting in the wings to snap up A&R, 7) the A&R business probably hasn't been making enough money to pay the interest and pay down the value of the loans, 8) A&R's capital upgrades on refits etc haven't worked, 9) digital threats. Given these points, all of which I agree with, how are Pacific Equity ever going to make a capital gain for their investors as well as a management fee for themselves? It can't be done, can it?

Reasonable conversation in this blog seems almost to have stalled - sabotaged by the likes of James D and Carrie S. Maybe those of us who want to discuss important topics for the book trade and intellectual life can move to another site or email one another direct? Chris Oliver's email is shown above - hope you don't mind - (oliverandmaxwell@yahoo.com.au) and mine is ahdblair@yahoo.com.au. For the issue-avoiding conspiracy theorists out there, I don't know Mr Oliver or any other contributor to this blog, nor do I work for Angus and Robertson, nor, according to my inquiries, does Mr Oliver.

#298 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2007, 09:09 PM:

Carrie S: your lessons on etiquette are bizarre and (I think) misdirected

That was't a lesson on etiquette, Mr. Oliver, it was a lesson on how to stop looking like a git.

I've obviously offended you and several of your tight clique of economically semi-literate Luddites.

*sigh*

Yes, yes you have. But not by having opinions that differ from ours. You have done so by calling us things like "economically semi-literate Luddites" and then claiming you never said anything offensive.

Carrie S...have you SEEN [her] website and Wiki page (presumably self-penned!)

Um...I don't have a Wikipedia page--I'm not notable. As for my "website", yes, I do write my own blog.

By the way, does the phrase "ad hominem attack" mean anything to you?

#299 ::: chris oliver ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2007, 09:18 PM:

Amanda: thanks for your comments. I don't know enough about Pacific Equity, or A&R, to know for a fact that they can't make money from A&R, but it doesn't look promising to me. Private equity is a notoriously high-risk, high potential return business for the superannuation funds etc that invest in it. Meanwhile I believe PEP has over $4bn in funds under management, which according to my maths is giving the 35 partners an annual pay packet of more than $2.1 million each before they lift a finger, buy a business or do a single thing to improve it. I think very probably bookshop ownership will, in most cases, be like other end of cycle markets. Get in, by all means, but have a clearly planned exit strategy and don't be last in the market or you'll be in the same position as video libraries still trying to sell off old vhs cassettes which no-one wants at any price. For PEP, A&R is almost in the loose change category.

By all means use my email address. Like too many blogging sites, this one's (I think) long on stridently-expressed undisciplined opinion-mongering but woefully short of substance. Unlike a few other sites it has a spitefulness about it - especially towards those who disagree with the monstering of Charlie Rimmer. For me it's a sado-masochistic exercise I can't be arsed continuing with. Plus, I have a feeling the topic and all possible side issues is completely exhausted, isn't it? I look forward to Nancy Mittens's next post, but that's about all. Given that the link was forwarded to me by a friend at Penguin Books, I'm surprised and disappointed there hasn't been more informed comment from mainstream publishers and booksellers rather than (without wanting to be too mean) vanity authors and nerdish self-publishers.

Can't blog at www.theaustralian.com.au or write letters to The Australian newspaper any more because I work there.

#300 ::: Shari Lewis ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2007, 09:19 PM:

Lamb Chop, welcome to the conversation!

#301 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2007, 09:26 PM:

Like too many blogging sites, this one's (I think) long on stridently-expressed undisciplined opinion-mongering but woefully short of substance. Unlike a few other sites it has a spitefulness about it - especially towards those who disagree with the monstering of Charlie Rimmer.

On the other hand, we don't generally insult our hosts and our fellow visitors, and continue doing so after being informed that it's been noticed and is unwanted. Come to think of it, why are you still sitting here on Miss teresa's vine-decked terrace?

#302 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2007, 09:31 PM:

Sorry Chris - did you really say mainstream publishers and booksellers rather than (without wanting to be too mean) vanity authors and nerdish self-publishers

Really?

You have heard of TOR, right? Being as terribly familiar with the industry as you are, and all, I mean.

Peruse the names on some of the other posts on this blog - many of them are professional authors or editors, our Hosts in particular.

Of course, in your lofty circles, mere best-selling genre and academic publishing may not count. Go and google Teresa and Patrick - go on, we'll wait.

Run along, dear. Or keep digging - you already look like a bit of a dill; you can't do your rep here any more harm by continuing.

Also, if anyone's keeping track, can I claim flamer bingo for For me it's a sado-masochistic exercise I can't be arsed continuing with.?

#303 ::: chris oliver ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2007, 09:40 PM:

Carrie S: I agree, ad hominem attacks are low and distracting, which is why I bridled at your final paragraph in #196 which in turn seems to have set you off well and truly. The bile and incivility has been in this blogging site right from the start, with the defaming of Rimmer personally and the commercially unrealistic and deeply patronising vilification of A&R. I stuck my oar in after reading nearly 200 spiteful and misinformed comments about what I thought was a commercially sensible, well-worded, far from foolish letter. When Patrick weighed in, in response to my first post, with irrelevant comments about not trusting someone who didn't insert paragraph breaks you presumably recognised that he was attacking the man, not the argument? But it's your post #226 which really takes out the prize for sheer, unadulterated, debate-stifling, full-throttle, uninhibited bitchiness. This is a dull, tedious (for everyone), destructive and entirely beside the point spat, so why do you persist with it, despite my repeated entreaties to be just a little bit nicer? And differentiate between me and Amanda Blair, please. There really is nothing more substantial to say on the subject of A&R and the future of books is there? No? Bye.

#304 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2007, 09:44 PM:

Vian: I think only if he then actually ceases to post.

#305 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2007, 09:47 PM:

I've seen a lot of sockpuppeting on forums, but never before done as blatantly as with "Amanda Blair" up above. It's almost...cute, in its ineptness.

#306 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2007, 09:51 PM:

Weirdly, both "Amanda" and Chris Oliver post from the same IP address (210.185.70.9), and they both have throw-away Yahoo addresses. How about that? And to think, they don't even know each other!

As long as you're here, Chris ("Amanda," you can try to answer too), here's your next assignment:

Write a 500-word essay on how crystal radio receivers work.

If you cite Wikipedia as a source you'll get an automatic "F."

#307 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2007, 09:52 PM:

Fade Manley, what use is an imaginary friend who isn't one's biggest fan? I'm sure Amanda Blair is also svelt but curvy, has amethyst eyes and luxuriant hair, and can talk to all the dragons.

#308 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2007, 09:52 PM:

What makes it really amusing is the similarity of the styles--the lists of numbered points is a big one.

#309 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2007, 09:54 PM:

Carrie@ 307

Surely not - surely the protocol is that you announce you are flouncing off, and then you flounce back to try and get the last word?

(In the style of Mr Oliver, I'm not using "flounce" in a mean, nasty way - I'm just describing the manner of his posting. You know, the way he uses "luddite" and "undisciplined opinion-mongering" )

#310 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2007, 09:59 PM:

Oh, you're right, Vian--I don't know what I was thinking. Which means you get the point, because he said he was flouncing and then posted again. Go you! :)

#311 ::: mcz ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2007, 10:05 PM:

Plus, they both have the same tendency to double-post...

#312 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2007, 10:34 PM:

Double posting? That's not a signifier. I've seen it more and more lately from a wide variety of people. I suspect it's a bug in the latest revision of MT.

#313 ::: mcz ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2007, 10:48 PM:

Ah. I've been thinking that the double-posting is more a product of impatience than anything else: if the Post button seems unresponsive, click and click again.

I've seen a few commenters apologize for double-posting for just that reason in a number of older threads.

I'm a little reluctant to test that theory for myself, though.

#314 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2007, 10:57 PM:

I think double posting of Dorothy Dixers - dummy posts intended to re-open a closed discussion or give the appearance of support for someone's untenable position - is likely the result of a glitch in the software, or incompetence by the poster, or a take-it-or-leave-it attitude which may have developed because the conversation has become dull and tedious (hence the need to re-open it). Is this now a conversation about software and manners or about books?

#315 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2007, 11:24 PM:

Hi, "Despina"! I love the Hotmail address. How lovely that we've been graced with so many first-time posters from south-eastern Australia of late!

Same question to you: Describe how crystal radio sets work.

#316 ::: mcz ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2007, 11:32 PM:

Actually, this conversation has been partly about manners right from the beginning: specifically, Charlie Rimmer's absolutely disgusting manners in his dealings with his trading partners.

More recently, we've had Chris Oliver complaining about everyone else's bad manners while displaying same.

As for you, O history-less one, I think you're a sock. Not only do you repeat Oliver's "dull and tedious" phrase, but you also try to redirect the conversation just as he does.

And yes, the conversation has also been about books.

(Er, Jim: I also post from SE Oz.)

#317 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2007, 11:39 PM:

I do not post from SE Australia (hi, mcz and others), but I do post from that country, and I wish it noted that I am me and nobody else.

#318 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2007, 11:53 PM:

James, describe how Hotelling's law relates to your copious output of fiction and say why you've conveniently avoided discussing the energy budget of books versus other reading devices? These are, like yours, slightly irrelevant, evasive and (to quote Carrie S "ad hominem") comments, aren't they?
Crystal radios don't always require a power source, if that's what you're driving at - and some people get radio signals through their teeth fillings, don't they?
But the point was energy budgets and why it's significant that environmentally damaging books (whoops there go another 200 hectares of forest in Tasmania, thanks Gunns) don't consume power - other than high manufacturing, display, storage and transport costs - whereas internet downloads potentially consume less.

#319 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 12:10 AM:

mcz: here's Rimmer's letter without interpolated comments. I can't see what's wrong with it. If you had a private business wouldn't you want to be able to determine what you stocked and from whom? I think that whether the letter is commercial suicide or commercially advantageous is a matter for Angus and Robertson and it's suppliers (the major ones will surely gain a relative advantage and be happy with it). A&R have no public duty and no private duty to Australian literature or Australian publishing, any more than the public (through perhaps the Australia Council) have a duty to fund it, or publishers and authors to publish with it specifically in mind.
The letter:

Dr Mchl

m wrtng t nfrm y f sm chngs n th wy w mng r bsnss.

W hv rcntly cmpltd pc f wrk t rnk r spplrs n trms f th nt prft thy gnrt fr r bsnss.

W hv cncldd tht w hv fr t mny spplrs, nd vr 40% f r spplr grmnts fll blw r rqrmnts n trms f prft rnd.

t tm whn th cst f dng bsnss cntns t rs, ’m sr y cn ndrstnd tht ths s n npltbl st f crcmstncs fr s, nd s sch w hv n ptn bt t ct qckly t rmdy th sttn.

ccrdngly, w wll b rtnlzng r spplr nmbrs nd sttng mnmm rnngs rt f ncm t trd prchss tht w xpct t chv frm r spplrs.

m wrtng t y bcs TWR BKS flls nt ths ctgry f nccptbl prftblty.

s cnsqnc w wld nvt y t py th ttchd nvc by g 17th 2007. Th pymnt rprsnts th gp fr yr bsnss, nd mvs t frm n nccptbl lvl f prftblty, t bv r mnmm thrshld.

f w fl t rcv yr pymnt by ths tm w wll hv n ptn bt t rmv y frm r lst f thrsd spplrs, nd y wll b nbl t cmplt ny frthr trnsctns wth s ntl sch tm s th pymnt s md.

hv ls ttchd prfrm fr y t cmplt nd rtrn t m, wth yr prpsd trms f trd fr r fnncl yr cmmncng Spt 1st 2007.

W hv th fllwng xpcttns:

ll grmnts cntn stndrd rbt, grwth rbt nd mnmm c-p cmmtmnt t nbl prtcptn n r mrktng ctvty.

Grwth rbts ctvt s sn s r prchss wth y ncrs by $1 n th prvs yr.

ll rbts r pd qrtrly fr th prvs qrtr’s prfrmnc, y mst nsr tht yr rmttnc, wth clcltns, s rcvd by s by th 7th f th mnth fllwng th prcdng qrtr. ny rmttncs nt rcvd by ths dt wll ttrct dly 5% ntrst chrg.

m ls ncldng cpy f r rtcrd, nd r mrktng clndr, t nbl y t bgn plnnng yr prmtnl prtcptn nw.

f y wld lk t dscss ths wth m n mr dtl, m dlghtd t cnfrm n ppntmnt wth y t 1:00pm n Frdy 17th gst fr 10 mnts t my ffcs t 379 Cllns St, Mlbrn.

Bst Rgrds,
Chrl Rmmr &W Grp Cmmrcl Mngr

#320 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 12:28 AM:

You know, the comparison with Shari Lewis is unfair. Her performances were convincing.

I'm getting a distinct whiff of dleif-eht-fo-ylil here. "De spin(n)a", indeed.

#321 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 12:36 AM:

Gee, now "Despina" doesn't see anything wrong with Rimmer's letter either. Let me guess: internet cafe, Chris? Or friend's house?

Back to the sock drawer!

#322 ::: mcz ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 12:39 AM:

I have already read the copy of Rimmer's letter that was reproduced on the SMH's Entertainment blog (and to which TNH provided a link in her post). Thanks anyway.

I agree with Teresa's analysis of the situation, so I won't rehash all that except to point out one particularly amusing bit: Rimmer expects Michael Rakusin to fly from Sydney to Melbourne for a 10-minute meeting in which, I presume, Rimmer will tell Rakusin to get rooted. How on earth are they to discuss the situation "in more detail" in ten minutes, anyway?

Is your hat comfortable, Despina? Wouldn't you like to swap it for Chris Oliver's instead? He, too, believes there is nothing wrong with the Rimmer letter.

#323 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 12:47 AM:

I'm beginning to think "Chris Oliver" is a sock puppet for Rimmer.

#324 ::: mcz ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 12:53 AM:

Xopher:

I thought the same from Oliver's first or second post, until he gave us that potted bio in #243 and then claimed to work for The Australian in #301.

But perhaps I am being too gullible.

#325 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 01:43 AM:

Xopher and mcz, how terribly cynical of you. I think it is far more likely that the population of South Eastern Australia has suddenly and spontaneously realised the latent genius of Mr Oliver, and has flocked to this very forum to express their support.

I may be one of the few people in the State who persists in the belief that he is a bit of a duffer, who isn't even very good at puppetry, because, really, how hard is it to fake a server address? But then, I'm one of those luddite people. Apparently.

(Also, Despina - what part of "give us an amount of money we have arbitrarily decided we want, or we won't play with you any more" is good business practice? Also, see mcz above on how not to summon someone so that you can tell them to get rooted.)


#326 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 01:48 AM:

#325 I agree mcz, it was a kiss-off. Rimmer didn't want Tower as a trading partner, so he set a high hurdle to see what eventuated. Nothing wrong with that, is there? It's morally symmetrical to an educational supplier giving a bookseller a kiss off 15% discount?

#327 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 02:02 AM:

Vian #328 it's also the equivalent of a publisher rejecting an author, no? Authors = suppliers/ the underdog; publishers = business/ top dogs.

#328 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 02:07 AM:

#325 I agree mcz, it was a kiss-off. Rimmer didn't want Tower as a trading partner, so he set a high hurdle to see what eventuated. Nothing wrong with that, is there? It's morally symmetrical to an educational supplier giving a bookseller a kiss off 15% discount?

So, if it was a kiss-off, why bother with the invoice? Was it mere blame shifting? ("Oh well, we were willing to keep buying these fine Australian books, but Tower wouldn't meet our demands, er, um, I mean, consider our requests")

Why not simply say "We've revised our business model. It is with regret that we inform you that we must suspend arrangements with smaller publishers for the foreseeable future. Thank you for your past association with A&R, and we wish you all the best for the future."

Unless of course, it wasn't a kiss-off but an attempt to extort money by threats, or make it look like Tower were choosing not to be a supplier.

#329 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 02:19 AM:

Vian. Good one. I entirely agree that your suggested paragraph: "We've revised our business model. It is with regret that we inform you that we must suspend arrangements with smaller publishers for the foreseeable future. Thank you for your past association with A&R, and we wish you all the best for the future," is fine. What it doesn't do is suggest a way back into supplying A&R - at least Rimmer's letter suggests a way ahead, and I don't imagine it would be any less controversial. Supply chain management is tough, especially when the old systems aren't working. My point is that hurling abuse from the sidelines isn't a productive way of addressing the book trade's real problems.

#330 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 02:22 AM:

Despina, it's one thing to say that, with rising costs, you need a bit more margin, and then try to negotiate a new deal that gives that margin. It might include a bigger discount from the publisher. It might even include selling the books at a higher price.

This isn't an attempt to work out a new deal: it's a blatant demand for money. It's precisely the sort of demand that an author gets from a vanity publisher.

And 5% per day interest on late payment, that rate would make loan-sharks envious.

Despina, if you think that's a sound approach to business, you know sweet Fanny Adams about business. And books are not breadloaves.

#331 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 02:23 AM:

Vian #328 it's also the equivalent of a publisher rejecting an author, no? Authors = suppliers/ the underdog; publishers = business/ top dogs.

Well, apart from the "give me money or else" bit.

So, no. Not really, I'm afraid.

I mean, can you imagine a publisher or editor saying "well, give me a bunch of money and *then* I'll read your manuscript." Actually, you don't have to imagine it - it's a recognised scam, which we're constantly having to warn student writers about down my way.

Publishing (or not) is an editorial choice, which is a combination of art and marketing and commerce and whatall. Asking money to enter into or continue a business relationship ... not so much.

But what would I know? I don't even think books are fungible.

#332 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 02:29 AM:

Crystal radio, Jim?

I suppose we'd better give them time to reply, but the cat is already looking nervous.

And I didn't know you could miaow "superheterodyne".

#333 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 02:31 AM:

What it doesn't do is suggest a way back into supplying A&R

It certainly puts the onus back on Tower and the smaller publishers to take the first step. But that puts A&R in a position of negotiating strength - they can be ever so receptive to counter suggestions and offers, and can work with the smaller players to come to mutually beneficial solutions. Publicity gold, if you know what you are doing, and pretty good business in that you never know what solutions might be available, and ex cathedra demands are not a great way to find out.

The letter was, at best, a shortsighted tactical blunder. Whether it was more than that is part of the debate here.

#334 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 02:41 AM:

Despina @322:

here's Rimmer's letter without interpolated comments. I can't see what's wrong with it. If you had a private business wouldn't you want to be able to determine what you stocked and from whom?

Speaking as the owner of a private business, of course I do. However, that is most emphatically not the point here. The point is that the letter itself is obnoxious, unprofessional, and potentially even illegal.

If, as a business owner, I felt a supplier wasn't providing me with a good enough deal for me to profit from their goods, I would approach them individually, and suggest they renegotiate their discount with me so that in the future we could both make a profit. If we found that no mutually profitable arrangement was possible, I would cease buying from that supplier. Recuperating my past losses would not be part of what I considered, future profitability would be the only concern.

The letter in question doesn't do that. It says, effectively, "Your books aren't profitable. These are our new terms. Here's the bill for our past expenses in marketing them."

The letter also specifies an usurious interest rate for late payments: 5% daily. That's a whopping 5,400 _million_ percent APR (calculate it yourself: ((5/100 + 1)^365 - 1)*100). If you owed me $100 and I charged you that interest, and for some reason your cheque turned up 4 days late, that would be an extra $21.55 you owed me for the privelege. If, for reasons of cashflow, you had to defer payment for a month (it happens), you'd then owe me $392. Does this seem like a fair and equitable deal between supplier and retailer to you, or somebody with a dominant market position abusing it to make a quick buck?

Then we get down to the dirty tactic of sending an invoice without a prior agreement to pay. It's well known that many businesses will often pay any invoice they receive from a known trading partner without considering whether or not it is correct. It is therefore illegal in many jurisdictions to send an invoice in the belief that it does not reflect an amount which is actually owed. It is certainly immoral.

#335 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 02:42 AM:

Vian PS: a lot of scholarly publishing relies on subsidies obtained by the author. Is it extortion to say to an author, we can't publish your book without a $20,000 subvention? Subsidies are a fact of life in theatre, symphony orchestras, dance, opera, Australian rules football and many other culturally important activities. I'd be pleased if booksellers could get the same protection for their cultural contribution. What do you reckon -subsidies for A&R, Glee and Borders, as for the ABC? Requiring A&R to cross-subsidise Tower weakens their negotiating strength with profitable suppliers. A&R were saying to Tower either scale up and become worthwhile to us, or give us a subsidy to deal with you because with the situation as it is we're headed for oblivion. Like the organisations that do, or don't, fund the ballet, it's up to Tower if they want to say 'no' and it's up to the publishers they distribute to decide if that makes them a less attractive distributor.

#336 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 02:45 AM:

Vian: what's your definition of fungible? Are books that are written in a different language infinitely varied to you, or are they all the same (fungible)?

#337 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 02:53 AM:

Jules, I agree, Rimmer was treating Tower in much the same way as he's been treated on this blog - aggressively, peremptorily, one-sidedly, with a clear lack of respect. Maybe he agonised before sending it as to whether there was anything he could say to soften the blow or make it seem like a win-win. Or maybe he didn't. But not to get hung up too much on how he wrote it, the fact remains that Australia doesn't have a Robinson-Patman Act protecting small players (and neither does America when suppliers are dealing with Wal-Mart). The interest rate nominated and the 10 minute slot were indeed insulting - though I bet Rimmer wasn't thinking of compounding it - and Tower responded in like manner(good on them).

#338 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 03:00 AM:

Vian PS: a lot of scholarly publishing relies on subsidies obtained by the author. Is it extortion to say to an author, we can't publish your book without a $20,000 subvention?

In my limited experience, that sort of thing is usually built into ARC grants, and the major academic institutions also often have funds and practices which offset it (or agreements with major publishing houses, which see such things waived - at least that's how it is with History texts); it's expected, it's SOP, it doesn't come in an arrogant form letter and what I may personally think doesn't really matter.

No one is suggesting that A&R should lose money and go out of business subsidising small presses. But their idea of a solution, in this case, excaserbated the problem and forestalled discussion about what the small presses could do about it. They'll reap a long harvest of hostility, they are unlikely to improve their bottom line if they only deal with major publishers (because they'll be competing with much bigger fish) and the industry as a whole will be the poorer for it.

#339 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 03:13 AM:

Vian #341: Fair enough. If we want novels like Carpentaria to get the widest possible distribution we're going to have to add a further subsidy (on top of the Literature Board of the Australia Council grant and whatever else it got) to ensure the terms are acceptable to A&R, and if we don't it will be one of the sustaining points of differentiation of mostly-small, independent booksellers, won't it? I think A&R's solution of rationalising its supply chain and forcing consolidation was pretty unavoidable. I agree the letter was arrogant and abrasive enough to inspire 342 comments. A&R's competitors at KMart and Big W haven't been caught out sending such a letter but that presumably is because they're not needing to change their SOP - they're already getting far better terms.

#340 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 03:16 AM:

Vian: what's your definition of fungible? Are books that are written in a different language infinitely varied to you, or are they all the same (fungible)?

This, from dictionary.com, will do:

(esp. of goods) being of such nature or kind as to be freely exchangeable or replaceable, in whole or in part, for another of like nature or kind.

Note that exchangable/interchangable does not mean identical.

Now, books in Italian, French, Archaic and Modern English and Latin are books I can read. By definition, _Beowulf_ by Seamus Heany is not interchangable with _Beowulf_ by C Wrenn.

But just because I can't read, say, Mandarin, that does not mean that to me all books written in Mandarin are interchangable. Nor is a Mandarin book interchangable with a Russian one, or a Spanish one, or one written in binary. Because the book buying public does not begin and end with me. If I wanted to buy my father-in-law a book in Mandarin, I wouldn't just pick out something with a pretty cover and hope for the best. (Hell, I might end up with chick-lit, and he'd beat me senseless with it.)

Books are not fungible, whether I can read them or not, and whether I can make anything of what I read or not. They are as non-fungible as paintings, lectures or husbands. One is not exchangable for any other, even the ones I would not allow in my house. Perhaps especially them.

#341 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 03:21 AM:

I've been popping back here every couple of days just because I was curious how long "Chris Oliver" would keep the preyer (sic) wheels spinning; it is truly amazing how little has changed since this thread got going. At this point I'm starting to believe that there is nobody at all behind the curtain; it's sock puppets all the way down.

#342 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 03:26 AM:

We agree on the definition of fungible then. And we'd agree that the classic examples of fungible goods are things like rice and wheat - which is fine if you're not a grain trader or a gourmet and don't recognise the difference between basmati and arborio or between Australian and Egyptian wheat. No non-manufactured products, and few manufactured ones, are entirely fungible. If your point is that books are different, and that booksellers have a duty to stock or make available the entire range of English (and foreign language) publishing, I don't agree. If your point is that without an infinite range of stock, you can't expect consumers to find decent substitutes for their heart's desire - that depends on the consumer, but it's often going to be commercially unviable and so a responsible library or bookshop will pass the opportunity by. If your point is that Christmas shoppers are infinitely picky in what they choose for friends and relatives, again I disagree in general, which is why KMart, Target, Big W and others have been so successful in stealing market share from range suppliers.

#343 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 03:32 AM:

> here's Rimmer's letter without interpolated comments. I can't see what's wrong with it.

That says more about your vision than it says about the letter.

#344 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 03:47 AM:

If your point is that Christmas shoppers are infinitely picky in what they choose for friends and relatives, again I disagree in general, which is why KMart, Target, Big W and others have been so successful in stealing market share from range suppliers.

I think that's an older buying pattern. These days, people will buy a voucher rather than a book (OK, I buy my mum the new Bryce Courtney every year, but I wouldn't substitute that with, say, Tim Winton). The reason vouchers are so popular, or one of them anyhow, isn't that people are lazy; it's that these days, people value being able to get exactly what they like. So no, the gift-buying public isn't infintely picky, but it won't just pick up any old generic thing (caveat on Bryce Courtney) these days either.

And while I think it'd be splendid to be able to walk into a bookstore which contained all books past and present, simply for my browsing and buying pleasure, I don't think there's any way in the seven hells to make a viable business out of such a thing.[1] I just think that one of the cannier ways for a bookshop to compete with a department store is to offer a diversity which a department store doesn't. Niche marketing, the long tail and all that.

If you can't compete with McDonalds, sell better food to people who will pay for it.

[1] Outside of Science Fiction ...

#345 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 04:00 AM:

Vian: I agree range is a significant incentive for some people to use particular shops, but so is focused selection (which is what Rimmer's doing), price promotion (ditto), outside advertising (ditto), instore advertising (ditto) convenient location (ditto, at great expense), shopfit (uggh... completely revolting, in my view) and merchandising - in particular a high proportion of face-out display seems to lift sales (ditto). Range is mostly a function of a shop's size (or that's what it says in Waterstone's monopolies and mergers documentation when they took over Ottakars - details available on the web). Bookshops such as A@R have an additional problem inasmuch as their core market is female and, as readers of Paco Underhill's Why We Buy will know, women like wider aisles so there's no danger of their bums being brushed as they browse.

#346 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 04:05 AM:

vian: missed a point of yours. The long tail is all about the power of the internet to breathe life into slow-moving stocks, isn't it? It doesn't refer to the unavoidable constraints of bricks and mortar retailing, especially not if the bricks and mortar are in a Westfield shopping centre with horrendous rents. It's useful to publishers wanting to grow, and supply direct as a response to the growing difficulties (for everyone) of selling books.

#347 ::: Madeline Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 06:35 AM:

Okay. Sometimes I think the good people of Making Light are too quick to call "sockpuppet" so I went to have a poke around the blog section of The Australian. Chris Oliver did indeed used to write letters to them. And Amanda Blair did indeed used to post comments there. I was all prepared to pop back here and say that she does appear to be a real person, but then I noticed that all her comments were in defence of/praising Chris.

So now I don't know what to think. Or, rather, I do know what to think but I don't want to think it because I try to maintain a high opinion of my fellow humans.

#348 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 08:00 AM:

#321 (C/h/r/i/s/ "Despina"):

Crystal radios don't always require a power source...

Bzzzt! Sorry, wrong, but thanks for playing anyway!

That was Chris's example, of course, the crystal radio. He was trying to show that FM radio has supplanted crystal radio despite one requiring power while the other doesn't, but, just as I suspected, he doesn't understand how either work.

#349 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 09:56 AM:

James D. Macdonald (351):
He was trying to show that FM radio has supplanted crystal radio despite one requiring power while the other doesn't[...]
<digress>
It is possible to make crystal radios that receive FM, a trick that I don't quite understand at the moment.
(via make:blog)
</digress>

#350 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 10:52 AM:

I thought it was possible to make crystal radios that didn't require a battery? I seem to remember the EE people at uni making them. But don't they limit you to a small range of frequencies?

#351 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 12:35 PM:

Jakob (353):
Crystal radios, by common definition, have no added power source. It gets all of its power from the radio signal itself using a diode for a detector and a resonant circuit for tuning. The "crystal" in the name comes from using handmade diodes made from Galena crystals with a "cat's whisker" (small metal fiber) used to find a part of the crystal acting as a diode.

#352 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 08:36 PM:

I'm three quarters of the way through a book I'd recommend for anyone seriously interested in whether books and bookshops have a future: Sherman Young's The Book is Dead: Long Live the Book. (UNSW Press) www.thebookisdead.com. He says what's important about books is their content, not their form, and consumers are voting with their feet (or mouses) to get text from screens and entertainment from dvds. He points out that in Britain only 1.2 per cent of books sold are literary fiction and that the average Australian spends only 7 minutes a day reading books (possibly an inflated figure because people over-report the good things they do and under-report the bad). He says the overwhelming majority of published book-type objects are anti-books: cynical marketing driven printed objects designed to capitalise on whatever the spin doctors declare is hot. I liked his comments about working in the user-unfriendly British Library reading room and about all the ways in which print on paper books are inferior to digital downloads.

#353 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 09:11 PM:

The long tail is all about the power of the internet to breathe life into slow-moving stocks, isn't it? It doesn't refer to the unavoidable constraints of bricks and mortar retailing, especially not if the bricks and mortar are in a Westfield shopping centre with horrendous rents. It's useful to publishers wanting to grow, and supply direct as a response to the growing difficulties (for everyone) of selling books.

Internet retailing was the first studied instance of the long tail phenom, but it's since been observed in traditional marketing as well. The growth of specialist community groups on the web means WOM (well, WOFingers, in the case of blogs and the like) is more powerful than ever, and where marketing used to concentrate on new products, now it is finding great success in older niche products whose markets have expanded due to new potential audiences, usually specialist and often global.

#354 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 09:44 PM:

Groan... ok so I got bored being the sole supporter of Angus and Robertson against people who believe it has no right to determine what it stocks, and that it's foolish for it to close the doors on the distributor of a prize-winning book (ever heard of Harold Evans's inverse law?) which Random, Penguin and A&U - indulgent though they are towards serious literature - I believe rejected as being unviable. I got bored with being the sole voice arguing that fungibility is in the eye of the beholder and that, for every book lover who argues confidently that "books are not loaves of bread" as if bread were fungible, there are a dozen gourmet bread lovers who regard almost every book in most bookshops as equally useless, therefore fungible. And I got bored with being (with Patrick Nielsen Hayden) the only person to argue the obvious truth, known by everyone who blogs this site, that there are many things books used to do which the internet now does better, and in a more environmentally-friendly manner. My efforts to broaden the discussion didn't work, but I had a meaningful conversation with myself which didn't dwell unduly on how crystal radios work and whether the possible (though how?) failure of that one example to disprove the new economic principle advanced on this site (technology which requires post-manufacture power inputs is doomed to failure) constitutes victory for Jim's principle. Some time back I willingly concede Vian's point that Rimmer's letter could have been written in a kinder gentler way and I shouldn't have so fulsomely supported it - I thought he was being bullied and I sprang too readily to his defence. A sexist element in this site: female names get treated more politely than male ones, even when there's little doubt that the blogger is male.

#355 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 09:56 PM:

A sexist element in this site: female names get treated more politely than male ones, even when there's little doubt that the blogger is male.

Not so, and that's a cheap shot. I defy you to look at any discussion on this forum and back that up. Polite correspondents who don't gratuitously insult people get treated better than people who turn up and call people luddites and and suchlike. Your female avatars gave you a chance to leave the name calling behind, for which all of us were, I suspect, grateful.

Am I male or female, by the way?

#356 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 09:57 PM:

Vian: wouldn't most booksellers say they already have a long enough tail of slow moving stock, paid for long in advance of sale (if a sale ever happens), steadily decaying on their shelves, sticking around even after they do their spring sales and mark it down to 5% of retail, lowering their overall margin? The first book I bought from Cambridge Uni Press was Caste and Family in the Politics of the Sinhalese which hadn't sold a single copy in 8 years. It's better for such books to stay in cheap warehouses where they're accessible than in channel where they're not, isn't it? Bookshops can be intermediaries between publishers and customers, processing their orders, incurring small order surcharges, or customers can order direct from the publisher or through Amazon. It doesn't change the fact that the amount of stock you can fit in a shop is limited by space, and merchandising policies, and whilst stock per square metre is a significant ratio, sales per square metre is usually more significant. Even better, put obscure books on communal politics into a digital format so the author can revise it, so it costs less, and so the reader can get it quicker. Young has an interesting example of an American independent who reduced his stock from 10,000 to 1,500 titles, put in a cafe and now sells more books than he did before - as well as making heaps through the cafe, in the same physical space.

#357 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 09:58 PM:

Vian, fair enough

#358 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 10:02 PM:

I thought it was possible to make crystal radios that didn't require a battery?

Indeed you can, which is what fooled poor Chris into thinking that crystal radios don't require power.

I could get into quite a bit more detail on how radios work, but this isn't the time or place. In general, you don't need a power source to pick up the signal; all you need is a tuned circuit. What you need the power source for is the amplifier that makes it possible to hear the signal without an earphone.

Tell me: on the day the transmitter doesn't get any power (power that can in many cases be measured in kilowatts) how many of those crystal radios will get a signal? Answer: none of them. For crystal radios to work power is required. It's just that the power is on the transmitter side, not on the receiver side.

#359 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 10:11 PM:

Jim, you're shifting the ground when you say: "In general, you don't need a power source to pick up the signal; all you need is a tuned circuit. What you need the power source for is the amplifier that makes it possible to hear the signal without an earphone."
The point of the example was to say that, with an earphone, you could listen to a crystal radio for the rest of your days without having to plug it in. Electric radio didn't offer that benefit but it offered others, hence people's willingness to take it up. So too with digital downloads versus books, that was the point.

#360 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 10:17 PM:

No, not poor Chris! That sort of patronising tone is offensive and inaccurate, isn't it? Like him calling you a Luddite (which you're clearly not). It's possible to listen to crystal sets for the rest of your days without a power supply, if you have an ear phone. That was the point being raised. Some technologies which don't require power after manufacture nonetheless die the death.

"Indeed you can, which is what fooled poor Chris into thinking that crystal radios don't require power. CHRIS WASN'T FOOLED.

I could get into quite a bit more detail on how radios work, but this isn't the time or place. In general, you don't need a power source to pick up the signal; all you need is a tuned circuit. What you need the power source for is the amplifier that makes it possible to hear the signal without an earphone. BUT DID CHRIS SAY ANYTHING ABOUT LISTENING WITHOUT AN EARPHONE? NO

#361 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 10:18 PM:

Sorry, didn't mean to cover that point of Jim's twice. I got a message saying a post had failed so I rewrote it.

#362 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 10:27 PM:

Sorry Jim, missed a point:

"For crystal radios to work power is required. It's just that the power is on the transmitter side, not on the receiver side."

Is the same not true of books? Readers can consume them without an independent power source, but chopping trees, pulping them, making them into paper, etc etc all require power. Come the apocalypse won't the authorities use radios rather than hand-delivered printed leaflets to communicate with us?

#363 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 10:27 PM:

John@352: It is possible to make crystal radios that receive FM, a trick that I don't quite understand at the moment.

Oh, thanks. You just gave a digital hardware engineer flashbacks to one of his analog courses. I had to build an FM modulator/demodulator out of discrete circuits. Good lord that thing was sensitive. Definitely like the 1's and 0's of the binary world.

Anyway, not sure if I'm telling you something you already know, but diodes act like voltage controlled capacitors when you reverse bias them.

That's the secret of FM.

A reversed biased diode acts as a capacitor. The P and N junction behaves like the parallel plates in a capacitor. As the voltage across the reversed biased diode changes, the surface area of the charge changes. As the surface area of the charge changes, the capacitance changes. As the capacitance changes, the center frequency of the LC circuit changes.

To modulate an audio signal, you AC couple it into the diode, which is in a tank circuit. The audio signal changes the capacitance fo the diode, and therefore the center frequency of the tank circuit, which gives you a different frequency. And vee-oh-lah. Frequency modulation.

I can't seem to recall exactly how to demodulate, but it's a reverse process, obviously. That crystal radio schematic has a reversed biased diode, so I'm assuming they're using it as a voltage controlled capacitor somehow.

Actually, this whole explanation should be footnoted with a huge disclaimer not to try any of this at home. I haven't biased a transistor or done much analog work for many, many years. And I could be completely foobarred here.

;)

#364 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 10:30 PM:

Emily Litella: I'm here tonight to speak out against making fungi bowls out of books. Books are precious things and should not be defiled by tearing out the pages and chewing on them to make your own mushroom growing kit. There are plenty of ready to use mushroom kits for sale on the open market, and mulching your books just to grow fungi on them is an awful, nasty thing to --

Chevy Chase: [interrupting] Miss Litella?

Emily Litella: Yes?

Chevy Chase: I'm sorry. The op/ed piece from the Making Light News Service was about whether or not books were fungible, not that people should grow fungi on them. Fungible, not fungi bowl.

Emily Litella: Oh. I'm sorry. Never mind.

#365 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 10:32 PM:

#355 (C/h/r/i/s/ A/m/a/n/d/a/ Despina):

Sherman Young's The Book is Dead: Long Live the Book.

Sherman Young is an e-book enthusiast. It's clear that he doesn't understand the data.

No, I don't care to explain it to you. See above, "Not Worth Trying to Teach."

#366 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 10:33 PM:

Hm, wait. Demodulation was with an extremely steep roll off filter. As the frequency changed, the amount of filtering changed, changing the amplitude of the signal. As the amplitude changed, you've got amplitude modulation, which you then demodulate as before.

Weird.

Yeah, give me an A/D converter, a microcontroller, or a decent sized FPGA, and I could whip something up for you.

#367 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 10:40 PM:

Jim, I'm powerless to stop you patronising all four of us: "it's clear that (Young) doesn't understand the data". But why should I trust your processing of the data when you refuse to concede - presumably because you don't see it rather than because you're being intellectually dishonest - that you shifted ground on crystal?

#368 ::: mcz ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 10:44 PM:

Damn you, Mr. Cooley. You've just forced me to clean cup-a-soup out of my keyboard. And my nose hurts.

#369 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 10:47 PM:

Greg (366):
What I'm not understanding is how the receiver can change a frequency shift into a voltage shift (or current shift, I'm not picky). I'm musing about higher current at higher freq, but can't visualize enough energy to noticeably drive an output.

#370 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 10:53 PM:

The point of the example was to say that, with an earphone, you could listen to a crystal radio for the rest of your days without having to plug it in. Electric radio didn't offer that benefit but it offered others, hence people's willingness to take it up. So too with digital downloads versus books, that was the point.

Poor Chris. You were fooled, and are an idiot, whether you choose to call yourself "Chris" or "Despina" or "Amanda." You have no clue how radio works. I expect you don't have a clue how more recent technologies work either. Crystal radios require power each and every time they're used, which is why they are not a counter-example.

Digital downloads require power each and every time they're used. That is why by the year 2030 books will not be "as redundant as vinyl records or 8-track cassettes." That is also why the forests of Tasmania are irrelevant to the discussion.

You asked what I reckoned. I told you. Politely at first. Now go figure out your net worth: You staked every penny you own on a prediction that won't come true. I'll tell you where to send those pennies come 01 January, 2030.


======

P.S. I haven't shifted ground on crystal radios. The problem is that you still don't understand how they work even after it's been explained.

You owe me a 500 word essay on the subject. Get cracking.

#371 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2007, 11:46 PM:

John@370: how the receiver can change a frequency shift into a voltage shift

You need a really steep high (low?) pass filter, with a cut off frequency above the band you're listening to. This puts the FM signal on the slope of the filter. As the signal modulates to high frequencies, you get higher amplitude. As the signal modulates to lower frequencies, the filter attenuates it to lower amplitude.

You then have an FM signal that also happens to be amplitude modulated. I think I used some kind of peak detector to demodulate the AM signal and ignore any frequency shifting, and get back the original audio signal that was sent.

Something like that.

#372 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 12:15 AM:

For anyone who hasn't been following, my proposition was that A&R and other booksellers are fighting a long term decline in their markets as people drift to other technologies. I said I very much doubted that ink on paper books would be the usual way of publishing in 2030. Why? Because the embodied cost of print on paper is too high. It's too costly to manufacture and distribute. The distribution channels are in all ways less efficient than the internet. Books are environmentally unfriendly, wasteful, relatively expensive, inflexible in terms of updates and improvements, slow to market. Jim's response was that my prediction was dumb. Why? Because unlike electronic devices, books don't consume power. So I said, surely there are other examples of failed devices which have the advantage of not requiring consumers to power them up? Bicycles, and crystal radios.

Are there any backers for my view on this? In terms of the environment isn't it the total energy budget, and the total environmental impact of the device (book or ebook) which matters? What does anyone make of Sherman Young's illustration of the disutility of the codex - it taking an average of 70 minutes for the British Library staff to retrieve a book stored onsite at Euston Road (for those lucky enough to qualify for a reader's ticket) and much longer for much of the expensively stored 150 million works in their collection? If literary fiction makes up under 2 per cent of books sold, what are the chances of keeping hard copies of slow-movers like Patrick White in stock as bound volumes at comparatively inexpensive prices once ebooks have properly arrived?
These are genuine questions asked in a friendly manner, so please not too much snarking.

#373 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 12:18 AM:

Charlie Rimmer/Chris Oliver/Amanda Blair/Despina: Thanks! We haven't had such a first-rate buffoon here in ages.

#374 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 12:41 AM:

Predictably issue-avoiding and uncivil comment, but glad to entertain you.

#375 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 01:06 AM:

Oh, joy. C/h/r/i/s/ A/m/a/n/d/a/ Despina, I'd passed over this when you brought it up before. Since you insist: It looks like you don't understand how bicycles work either.

Okay, next assignment: a 500-word essay on "The Bicycle." Any citation of Wikipedia in your response will result in an automatic failing grade.

Let me get you started. This is from Australia (your home turf):

The Historic Trend
Bicycle sales in Australia averaged 795,000 per year for the four years 1998 - 2001. In the four years since they have averaged 1,133,000 per year and been over one million in each of those four years. By comparison car sales have never reached one million in a year. From the ABS import figures for bikes it can be shown that the market share for adult bikes has grown from around half of the market in 1998 to about two thirds in 2005.

Source: Bicycle Industries Australia Ltd.

(And, again, for the third flipping time, I am not making an environmental argument. The environmental cost is irrelevant.)

#376 ::: mcz ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 01:14 AM:

Ye gods. Xopher(324) and I(325) were right?

#377 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 01:19 AM:

Thanks Jim. Interesting figures. I'm not surprised by them. For what it's worth I haven't seen a single bicycle in Sydney all day but I've seen plenty of cars. Utility then? That was the argument?

#378 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 01:49 AM:

mcz #369: You've just forced me to clean cup-a-soup out of my keyboard.

HTH

Never forget, keyboards are disgusting.

#379 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 01:51 AM:

Good heavens. What's wrong with Sydney, then, that people don't use bicycles there?

#380 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 02:06 AM:

Sylvia: they do, but not as much as Melbourne which is flat with wide roads and bike paths. I think the figures - 1 per centage point per annum growth in bike sales reflect several trends: suvs and bigger cars are popular (more room to carry bikes); population in the same period has grown by about 2 million; the start period includes a deep economic recession when consumer spending was down but ever since then the economy has been booming; we have an obesity epidemic so people want to get fit; average dwelling size has been getting bigger - more garage space; suburban sprawl and bike path infrastructure; bikes have been getting sexier, with composite materials etc; bike clubs are fashionable. I don't know what the favourable trends are to make consumers reject ebooks in favour of books. Any thoughts? And my argument assumes that the environment is important to consumers and policy makers - I understand Jim hasn't factored environmental considerations into his argument but I think they're relevant to a discussion of the future of the book.

#381 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 02:07 AM:

No, Chris, utility wasn't the argument either.

Now get to work on those two essays.

#382 ::: mcz ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 02:08 AM:

Earl: except for my lovely, beautiful, IBM Model M. After a vigorous application of "Big Kev's Goo Remover", that is.

#383 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 02:31 AM:

Guessing here for the last time, Jim. Not the environment. Not practical utility. Inconvenience of plugging in? Or is that part of utility? Established financial model by which sales are turned into money, or not? I'm trying my hardest but I still can't see why or how a situation can persist wherein (Young p 11) only 82,000 of the more than 1 million books (new titles and old) published in America (for export as well) sold more than 1,000 copies and more than half of them sold fewer than 99 copies into the global English language market.

#384 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 02:44 AM:

Despina #373: I said I very much doubted that ink on paper books would be the usual way of publishing in 2030.

But...but...no you didn't! Chris Oliver did, at #261. Now I'm all confused.

#385 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 02:44 AM:

Let's see those essays, Chris. After you write them I might consider trying to teach you something.

(Here's a hint, though: Young is engaged in special pleading. I know, though apparently you don't, where he got his numbers.)

#386 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 02:54 AM:

despina @ 384

I still can't see why or how a situation can persist wherein

Are you saying that a multi-billion USD/year market is too small to survive?

#387 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 02:54 AM:

Ethan (#385): But...but...no you didn't! Chris Oliver did, at #261. Now I'm all confused.

Chris Oliver and Despina are, weirdly enough, posting from the same IP address. What a coincidence!

#388 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 02:55 AM:

Jim, I don't think anyone wants to see me write another thing - let alone two 500 word essays - and I'm not much interested either. I don't think it's relevant to my argument about books and I'm not interested in jumping hurdles. It's a sensible question to ask you - why do you think printed books will persist, other than in the residual fashion of, for example, vinyl albums? The only thing I don't like about Young's argument, so far, is his slightly snobbish division between real books - high culture - and what he calls anti-books, including ghosted celebrity memoirs and diet books. I'd be very pleased (seriously) to get the low-down on his figures and the flaws in his argument. It'll take more than a misplaced decimal point to convince me his argument about how digital can breathe new life into the ideas which are almost all non book fetishists care about in books is wrong, but I'm not closed minded. Thanks.

#389 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 03:00 AM:

Bruce: Yes indeed. Such low unit sales for a very long tail indicate a huge amount of unprofitable publishing and a situation in which writers, publishers, booksellers and readers are poorly served. Move it to the internet, I say. You?

#390 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 03:07 AM:

You know, I don't have access to logged data such as IP addresses (which might match for innocent reasons), but Despina does look a bit different to the other alleged sock-puppets.

As far as crystal radios and bicycles are concerned, I think they're something of a red herring. It's not going to be the cost of making a physical book that will be the problem. It's the time it sits on the shelf.

Modern retailing depends on goods being sold quickly, often taking advantage of the customary grace-period on payment to the supplier. Walk into the shop, and they have your money within, at most, a few days as the bank processes the digital payment. They have that money for a couple of weeks (on average) before they pay the supplier.

Even without that, small profits, quick returns.

Books often don't fit that model. Some types of books do come close, and they're arguably a little more fungible as well. There are differences between Harlequin romances, readers do care about who the author is, but there's a much stronger sense of a standard formula.

Downloads aren't going to change any of that. What they can change is the amount of money tied up in slow-moving stock, though replacing some of that cost with server infrastructure.

There's other advantages.

But none of this means that the book will die. Photography hasn't killed the portrait painter, and there are some things you can do with film which hit fundamental problems with digital media (not insurmountable, but there is, for instance, no way to change your sensor: with film, you can as easily load Kodachrome as Tri-X).

And what photography did was create new markets for pictures. Including, notoriously, new markets for pornography (cue screams of "Think of the children!").

Those markets depended on being able to produce large numbers of copies of the product, at a price that people could afford. Right now, that's blocked by the cost of the reader, and I'm not sure that cost is going to drop, without a radical change in computer-based tech markets. It's as much process cost as parts cost that sets the price.

And if you read as few books as most people seem to, what's the point of buying an ebook reader? It would almost have to become fashion. The iPod is only a small step from the Walkman, and the had a clear advantage over the living-room hi-fi. But an eBook reader?

Yep, we might, but we're freaks. We're not typical.

#391 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 03:08 AM:

JDM #388: Well, my roommate and I use the same computer, and I know I get us confused all the time. In my apartment it's always, "Which one of us is temping for a few months? Is Jason your boyfriend or mine? Do I hate cilantro, or is that you?" I'm sure it's like that with Chris and Despina. Or something.

#392 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 03:26 AM:

Chris (#389):

It's a sensible question to ask you - why do you think printed books will persist, other than in the residual fashion of, for example, vinyl albums?

I'm going to type this very slowly so you can understand it:

Because by the time a printed book has rolled off the press every watt required to use it fully has already been expended.

#393 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 03:35 AM:

Dave Bell: I agree a separate ebook device won't have mass appeal. And Epstein's Espresso POD machine strikes me as a very temporary solution. But iPhone or Blackberry type devices which play audio files, video, display (and take) photos and video, replace voice recorders, maybe include GPS, and display downloaded books? Who's going to take a big fat perishable book on holiday as well as that? And if such a device takes 50 per cent of the 2% market for literary fiction, how will that affect the prices of the remaining 50% of the market? And just as MP3s (inferior sound quality to the discman) have increased the circulation of music, downloaded text files will increase the circulation of ideas. Authors might miss the handsome artefact and the prestige of being published by a reputable house, but what author is going to care much that they're deprived of a few hundred dollars (if that) of royalties? Disintermediation ought to give them more money and allow for cheaper prices. No?

#394 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 03:46 AM:

Hi Jim. Thanks. You've typed that slowly before and I've honestly tried to understand what you're driving at. Dan Brown writes in the US, gets typeset in Bangalore and printed in China using paper from Japan made from Tasmanian wood pulp. The book that's made is non-durable, subject to printing and binding flaws and not subject to instant revision by the author. It's put on a train to Hong Kong then shipped to the US east coast. It goes to a warehouse. Then to a shop. Then a high proportion of the initial subscription goes back to the warehouse and comes out of it in dribs and drabs waiting for you to drive from your place in Maine to a bookshop somewhere: a place you like because it's warm in winter and the incandescent lighting is attractive. If they have it in stock, you buy it and take it home. You read it by natural light or using a lamp. The lamp annoys whoever you sleep with and holding the book above your head to read it strains your wrists. I don't see how that's necessarily superior, for a mass market item but even less so for an obscure scholarly monograph, than downloading a digital file. If it's superior now, I doubt that it's beyond the wit of Steve Jobs to come up with a better electronic alternative. Or have I misunderstood you still?

#395 ::: mcz ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 03:46 AM:

Dave and ethan: I'll refer you to Despina's post @ #355 and leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Here's another data point: Chris and Despina habitually make sequential posts to answer comments from different individuals. It's a quirk I don't see often on Making Light.

#396 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 03:52 AM:

Back in Open thread 87 (June 28, 2007) I mentioned I'd read that "in a branch of the New York Public Library there was a POD setup where you could pick from their (large) list of public domain works and have it printed and bound as a book on the spot". Mary Aileen told us this was a demonstration of something called an "Expresso Book Machine" from On Demand Books, which has been installing demo machines at different places around the world (Publishers Weekly article 1; 2). Apparently "they want stores and libraries to use the machine to print copies of slow-selling titles or books that have temporarily gone out of stock, as well as rare books"

Bicycles: If you're around the city centre of Sydney, there are quite a few bicycle couriers still. They have their own particular gathering places too. Commuting as I currently do by bus &/or on foot from the inner eastern to the inner western suburbs, I generally see a few bicyclists also commuting. There are probably rather more around, off the main roads. There are a couple at my work too. But there's not any large percentage at all. Bad infrastructure and support, and hilly, water-dissected terrain don't help.

BTW, all this talk about crystal radios is taking me back to memories of my father, who as a child in the late 1920s/early 1930s would build them, and 40 or 50 years later talked to me as a child of his experiences. I think he only made ones that had an earphone, so you didn't need to amplify the signal very much, if at all. I've seen a picture of a flapper with one tucked into her stocking, holding the earphone up near her fashionably-bobbed hairdo to listen, perhaps to some hot jazz. It was so like some of the ads for Walkmen, or the newer MP3 players.

Thanks to y'all for a lot of good information about a few different subjects, even if there is some unpleasantness in among it. (Fungi bowl: I now know what the word "spaulted" means.)

#397 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 05:23 AM:

Despina, #395, a big chunk of that convoluted chain is the result of using cheap energy to allow the exploitation of cheap labour. When energy costs rise, the balance will shift. Whether new, more efficient, plant can be built in the USA will, no doubt, lead to tedious arguments about economic doctrine.[1]

Here in Europe, BTW, most wood pulp for paper is coming from "farmed" timber, with a fair bit of recycling in the production of low-grade products. If the pulp/paper is local, why export the printing?


[1] I suspect that many core theories about trade, going back to Adam Smith, depend on friction in the markets. There are mechanical systems, such a a vehicle suspension, which depend on there being the right amount of friction. This friction can take many forms: government regulation, communication delays, the mechanical process of recording a transaction.

Get it wrong, and the system oscillates about a new equilibrium. It can be argued that these oscillations are desired by speculators, allowing them to extract wealth from the economically productive parts of the system.

In this, they have the same effect as a government increasing taxes.

#398 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 05:41 AM:

Dave, Interesting. As an aside of course trees aren't carbon sinks unless you harvest them and preserve the carbon they've formed through photosynthesis. Old growth rainforest left to rot (as much of it is in Tasmania) is carbon neutral, returning all the carbon it extracts. What the production and distribution chain shows, however you cut it, is that there's a considerable wattage of power expended after books have rolled off the press. In countries with wholesalers there's an addditional journey to and from a warehouse to factor in, and there are all the manual processes of unpacking containers, putting books into bulk bins and forward stock etc etc. Printing is exported to China usually because they've made the capital investment in modern presses. In Europe lots of illustrated books are printed in Milan. Another reason I'd like a digital future is that I don't think we should be trading with China quite so willingly while it executes 10,000 prisoners a year, often for relatively minor crimes, often to feed its organ transplant industry.

#399 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 05:54 AM:

Dave, sorry another thought: As well as seeking a comparative advantage through capital investment in particular industries (printing, plastics) China is also favoured because they've deliberately - and very controversially - pegged the exchange rate of their currency low against western nations, so they have a price advantage. And I don't agree with you if you're saying that foreign trade with countries with low wage regimes is necessarily exploitative. Martin Wolf (the FT's economics editor) has written a terrific book called Why Globalisation Works (Yale), which contradicts the Naomi Klein line that trade is a zero sum game. Cheers.

#400 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 07:14 AM:

Despina @394:

But iPhone or Blackberry type devices which play audio files, video, display (and take) photos and video, replace voice recorders, maybe include GPS, and display downloaded books?

While this is all doubtlessly technologically possible, I would question the desirability for most people. I haven't handled an iPhone yet, but the Blackberry devices I've looked at have a fairly small screen size (about 70mm x 50mm I'd guess) compared to the useful area of a page of a trade paperback book (about 100mm x 150mm). Many people complain that trying to read in such a small area is difficult. Making the screen size larger will result in a device that's not convenient to carry all the time, destroying the desirability of such a device. Independent e-book readers seem more likely to be popular in the long run.

Who's going to take a big fat perishable book on holiday as well as that?

Well, it depends. If I'm on a 5 hour flight during which time my phone is required to be switched off, sure I'm going to take a book. I might also take a book to read in locations I wouldn't be comfortable taking senstive and expensive electronics (e.g. to the poolside).

Also, I don't typically take my phone on holiday with me. I go on holiday because I don't want to be disturbed...

And if such a device takes 50 per cent of the 2% market for literary fiction,

Seems unlikely to me, not least because literary fiction will probably be the _last_ genre to adopt such technology.

how will that affect the prices of the remaining 50% of the market?

I don't see 1% of the total market shifting to e-books having much impact on the pricing of the rest, to be honest with you. I certainly don't see why there would be such an effect constrained within a single genre.

And just as MP3s (inferior sound quality to the discman)

The majority of people cannot tell the difference between a low-quality 128kb/s MP3 and a CDDA version. Increase that to 192kb/s or use an advanced coding scheme such as AAC and the number of people who can tell the difference in double blind trials is substantially smaller. 128kb/s AAC usually scores around 4.8 on the standard ITU listening test scale: a naive interpretation of this is that 80% of the listeners rank it 5 (indistinguishable from the original sample) with only 20% ranking it 4 (distinguishable from the original sample but not annoyingly so).

The percentage finding it indistinguishable is probably, in fact, higher than this, as some will have found the differences annoying (scoring it as 3 or lower), and it is worth noting that the subjects in both tests I am relying on were experienced listeners (either audio engineers or musicians).

#401 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 07:20 AM:

Responding to myself: "it is worth noting that the subjects in both tests I am relying on were experienced listeners (either audio engineers or musicians)."

... and were listening using high quality equipment, which is usually held to show the flaws better (although some tests have found the opposite in the past).

#402 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 08:24 AM:

Fascinating stuff about MP3 quality, thanks. I agree that current screen size makes blackberry video or ebooks unattractive - a magnifier same as Nintendo Game Boys would improve matters. The ban on mobile phone use doesn't affect plane safety and won't last, I'm sure.

#403 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 08:36 AM:

Despina @ 390

No, I don't want it to move to the internet completely. I, and most of the people I know, love to browse through shelves of books; it's a search mode that works very poorly on the net, because the search mechanisms are very different from those possible to a search engine, involving several senses, and search algorithms that change over short spans of time in reaction to the search results.

In any case, I doubt that the publishers lose very much money on the long tail, if their marketing is good. The ones who constantly look for block buster best sellers do, because they've stuck themselves with the Hollywood business model: make your costs as large as possible while guaranteeing that at least 4 out of 5 releases lose money bigtime; then get it all back in one glorious adrenaline rush on that fifth one.* If you had a choice of business models, would you use this one? I wouldn't; it's way too easy to lose your shirt and your backteeth too.

A similar argument could be made for paperbacks completely replacing hardbacks, since they're so much cheaper to make and can spread fixed costs over more units. Hasn't happened yet, and may not, because the two serve difference markets. I think you'll ses the same thing happen with ebooks and hardcopy in general.

* No wonder there are so many gambling and substance addicts in the film business.

#404 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 08:38 AM:

mcz #396: So...huh. Chris Oliver got tired of being the only one arguing his or her point, so made up another person to back him or her up? Wow. And how did I miss that accusation of misogyny? That's really nice, and even more fabricated than Despina him or herself.

What a weirdo!

#405 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 08:44 AM:

Despina @ 402

The ban on mobile phone use doesn't affect plane safety and won't last, I'm sure.

Oh, yes it will. It's a passenger safety issue: the safety of the passenger who might be making a call in a loud, penetrating voice and be ripped apart by an angry mob of other passengers who don't need to add yet one more irritating factor to what is surely the most irritating means of travel known.

#406 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 09:06 AM:

Bruce #403: me too. I like browsing in good bookshops and can't quite visualise how a list of books is going to look on the web - I guess something like MP3 files of albums look on allmusic.com. After reading Sherman Young, though, I feel far from glum about the future of quality text - I think when digital takes over quality text will be much more readily available and books which frustratingly miss their intended audience due to distribution failures (no bookshops, no quality review media) will find it. I think PhDs won't have to wait 5 years for their essentially unedited and increasingly out of date thesis to make it into print. I think even the most marginal poet will find an audience, somewhere. As always there are costs and benefits.

Short-run paperbacks (most new literature) are not much cheaper to make than hardbacks, and won't sustain anything like the same price. The cost of hardbacks is the cost of two boards, a loose jacket, and some binding. But hardback new release fiction barely exists in Australia, which has gone for a so-called trade paperback format, same size as a hardback but in soft covers - more profitable than boards, and it looks reassuringly similar to the next and final smaller format paperback incarnation (so readers don't defer purchase).

Sherman Young quotes the costs of his own book. 3000 copies printed. RRP $29.95. Print costs and fixed production, editing and design costs $14,000. Shop discount 42.5%. Cost of sales and distribution $5.95 a copy. Author royalty $1.56 a copy. So the publisher makes a loss of $5820 if the book sells 1,000 copies, a profit of $2300 if it sells 2000, and a profit of $10,450 if it sells out entirely. The 'profit' has to cover all the publishers overheads. Even selling 2/3 of every book ever published isn't going to give the publisher much hence the desperate urge to over-publish. He gives another example, of a 30,000 print run, with a $70 profit after 10,000 copies are sold. Digital strips out almost all that upfront gamble, doesn't it?

#407 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 09:34 AM:

Chris's Sockpuppet (#385):

If it's superior now, I doubt that it's beyond the wit of Steve Jobs to come up with a better electronic alternative. Or have I misunderstood you still?

Is it beyond the wit of Steve Jobs to come up with an electronic device that uses zero power?

Yes.

Have you misunderstood me?

Yes, and I suspect deliberately so.

You owe two essays now:

One on how crystal radios work.

One on how bicycles work.

Are you trying for three? I can keep handing out essay topics because the number of areas where you are screamingly ignorant seems to be very large. You would be better off if you carried out my assignments. You'd learn something about the world, perhaps. Unless you just plagiarized them from Wikipedia.

Okay, here's your next assignment: Write 500 words on electricity and its generation.

Maybe, just maybe, something will get through.

#408 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 09:52 AM:

Sylvia (#380):

Good heavens. What's wrong with Sydney, then, that people don't use bicycles there?

I suspect that the reason Chris didn't see a bicycle in Sydney all day is that he spent the day in Melbourne.

#409 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 10:02 AM:
Teresa Nielsen Hayden (374): Charlie Rimmer/Chris Oliver/Amanda Blair/Despina: Thanks! We haven't had such a first-rate buffoon here in ages.
Despina (375): Predictably issue-avoiding and uncivil comment, but glad to entertain you.
I think the question of who you really are, how readily you tell lies, and why you came into this conversation dishonestly in the first place, are all relevant issues.

And speaking of incivility: Your use of "predictably" there is slack. You meant it as an insult, of course; but this is the first time you've interacted with me, so you could neither have predicted my remarks, nor known whether they were a predictable response on my part. This makes it clear that your "predictably" is an automatic rhetorical tic, used without thought -- which robs it of its sting.

The only other interpretation I can see is that you find it predictable that people will call you on your false pretenses, and/or greet you as a buffoon.

Self-knowledge is a good thing.

I'm amused to see that we're being called Luddites (that all-purpose insult flung by people who've had their brilliant technological extrapolations disagreed-with) by someone who took more than a month to notice that he was being discussed here, and who thinks that deploying multiple sockpuppets from a single IP address is going to fool anyone.

Onward to questions of bookselling:

Mr. Rimmer, do I understand you to be asserting that books sell just as well via the internet, or as e-texts, as they do in bookstores?

Second question, closely related: are you asserting that when sold on the internet or as e-texts, books sell in the same way or in the same patterns that they sell in bookstores?

mcz (377): Afraid so. This is Internet 101. Say you've criticized a piece of writing. When someone you've never seen before shows up (1.) claiming to be a disinterested bystander, (2.) who interprets the critique as a personal attack on the author, and (3.) just wants to defend the author and the piece of writing on grounds of simple justice, and (4.) cannot shake loose of the argument, but must instead stick around to argue every point as long as points are being made ... that person is always the author. Award extra points if they raise up sockpuppets to assist in the defense. Double the points if they re-post the original text in its uncritiqued form.

Message #320 was the one that convinced me. If that weren't enough, the fact that he has neither denied his sockpuppetry nor objected to being referred to as "Charlie Rimmer" would have done it.

#410 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 10:09 AM:

Despina (406):

I like browsing in good bookshops and can't quite visualise how a list of books is going to look on the web - I guess something like MP3 files of albums look on allmusic.com. After reading Sherman Young, though, I feel far from glum about the future of quality text - I think when digital takes over quality text will be much more readily available and books which frustratingly miss their intended audience due to distribution failures (no bookshops, no quality review media) will find it. I think PhDs won't have to wait 5 years for their essentially unedited and increasingly out of date thesis to make it into print. I think even the most marginal poet will find an audience, somewhere. As always there are costs and benefits.

Short-run paperbacks (most new literature) are not much cheaper to make than hardbacks, and won't sustain anything like the same price. The cost of hardbacks is the cost of two boards, a loose jacket, and some binding. But hardback new release fiction barely exists in Australia, which has gone for a so-called trade paperback format, same size as a hardback but in soft covers - more profitable than boards, and it looks reassuringly similar to the next and final smaller format paperback incarnation (so readers don't defer purchase).

My god. You have no idea what you're talking about. It's all wordwooze and blather.

#411 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 10:19 AM:

TNH #409: If that weren't enough, the fact that he has neither denied his sockpuppetry nor objected to being referred to as "Charlie Rimmer" would have done it.

That and the fact that he can't keep track of which sock puppet said what! Sorry to harp on it, but I find it so very hilarious.

#412 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 10:27 AM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden @ 409 (the cleaner comment)

the fact that he has neither denied his sockpuppetry nor objected to being referred to as "Charlie Rimmer"

That's why I've been so bemused while reading this thread. I've never before seen a sockpuppet so accepting of its own existential status: usually, they're all "Oh, no, I'm a different person" or "How dare you make such insinuations!" But there's a certain amusement value to this absurd discussion that keeps drawing me back.

Incidentally, I love the luddite comment. Anybody looked up Rimmer to see how old he is and how much experience he has in network and personal computer technology and marketing? Is the average experience of the posters on this thread less than twice his?

#413 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 10:28 AM:

Teresa wrote:

"My god. You have no idea what you're talking about. It's all wordwooze and blather."

Despina, I know that Teresa knows what she is talking about on this particular subject. I've found your responses to my comments to be worth reading, and thinking about. Please don't wreck that slight reputation you've earnt in my mindscape.


#414 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 10:31 AM:

I do find myself wondering if Charlie Rimmer is married.

#415 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 10:45 AM:

I turned up this bio:

Charlie Rimmer - Group Commercial Manager
Charlie Rimmer joined Angus & Robertson in July 2006 as Business Development Manager, his first role since relocating to Australia from the UK. This appointment continued a career in book retailing spanning eleven years, which began with WHSmith in a Store Management position in 1996, moving through numerous Store and Field Management positions within the WHSmith Group. Charlie then took up a position as Regional Manager with Borders UK, before deciding on the move to Australia with his family in December 2005. Since joining A&R he has intensified the commercial focus within the business, with responsibility for driving sales through new and existing channels and improving profitability with new and existing suppliers. He was appointed as ARW Group Commercial Manager in July 2007.

See A&R management profiles web-page

I'm afraid I'm a bit old-fashioned in such things: that outlined career-track suggests somebody whose career has been spent as a foreman-in-a-suit, passing on the diktats of the head office.

#416 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 10:47 AM:

Hum. I did say, 'way upthread at #182: "Charley Rimmer is probably sitting in his office at this moment asking himself "What did I say?", and honestly not knowing."

I claim the mantle of profit. Er, prophet.

#417 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 11:04 AM:

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) #403: Paperback vs. Hardback sounds like a very logical parallel to the potential markets of ebooks vs. treebooks. Thanks for giving me something to ponder.


Teresa, #410:

I can pretty clearly see the problems with the first paragraph you quoted. Is the second terribly wrong as well? I'm assuming so because you quoted it. Can you (or anyone) give me an idea what's wrong about it?

So I'm not just begging to be spoonfed, here's my guess: I would be surprised to learn that paperbacks and hardbacks are close in costs. I'd guess that some of the difference in cover price is marketing, but even so the price difference is a bit wide for me to think that the actual production costs are close.

Lastly, something that didn't make sense to me...Despina said in #357, "...wouldn't most booksellers say they already have a long enough tail of slow moving stock, paid for long in advance of sale (if a sale ever happens), steadily decaying on their shelves..."

Would most bookseller say that? It seems to me that books in general do not decay in any way that would be really troublesome to a bookseller.* Some books are going to go out of fashion or stop being timely, but most do not. Non-selling stock is a problem because it is money tied up that isn't bringing in income, but doesn't this come back to the 80/20 rule John Stanning mentioned way back at #40? You can't know which 20% is going to bring in the money, so you keep a variety and try to avoid the stuff which actually does decay? (This would be the difference between a skillful selection of stock and a poor selection, and a delicate balance I'm sure.)

*I say this because I have always been a big fan of secondhand books, and if they decayed, that wouldn't be a popular genre of bookstore, right?

#418 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 12:12 PM:

> Is it beyond the wit of Steve Jobs to come up with an electronic device that uses zero power?
> Yes.

Though a combination of lower power displays, more efficient solar cells, and better supercapacitors, could give us a device which can be read indefinitely without the user doing anything about providing power in any environment where reading is possible (at least conventional reading - a Braille device that works in the dark would be a different problem). If it also has storage that uses no power and will remain stable in an archive for hundreds of years, that's equivalant to using no more power than a printed book for many practical purposes.

#419 ::: Nicole TWN ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 03:01 PM:

Despina: Blackberry type devices which play audio files, video, display (and take) photos and video, replace voice recorders, maybe include GPS, and display downloaded books? Who's going to take a big fat perishable book on holiday as well as that?

*raises hand*

Let me establish my non-Luddite bona fides: I'm a huge freaking geek. I have an iPod and a CrackBerry, not to mention an M.S. in computer science. My iPod displays PDFs and holds audiobooks; my BlackBerry has e-book reading software.

And I still prefer bound books. I've never had a book die on me in the middle of a chapter, or raced the battery to the end of a chapter. (Furthermore, books do not beep at you when you're racing the battery to the end of a chapter, earning you annoyed glares from everyone else on the plane.)

I can take my books anywhere--even to countries where the AC is 220v--without lots adapters or bulky transformers, which are expensive and easily lost and which, to TSA officials, apparently look like terrorist equipment. I can read them in the rain; I can read them during takeoff and landing. I have books with sand in the bindings and books with coffee stains on the pages. Electronics do not like to have sand OR coffee in them, let alone both.

Books are easier on the eyes, IMHO, unless you set the ebook reader's font size to "gigantic" and resign yourself to scrolling a lot. I stare at a computer screen all day, and I can practically feel my eyes go "aaaaahhhhh" when I get out my current book.

Books are backwards-compatible, have an intuitive interface, and are not suceptible to bit rot. I don't have to worry about having my physical library wiped out and having to argue with the e-book vendor that it should let me download another copy.

Heck, my physical library is covered by my homeowner's insurance: if, ghods forbid, my books get burnt or flooded or eaten by book weevils, I'll get money to replace them. Now, I don't know about you, but my homeowner's insurance doesn't cover digital "property".

Besides, what on earth would authors sign at book readings?

WRT environmental concerns: most of my friends have houses that are well-insulated with a thick blanket of books against every wall. :)

#420 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 03:50 PM:

Nicole TWN, thank you for saying everything I would have, in a much better form. I was wondering whether it was worth replying to the sockpuppet.

#421 ::: Nicole TWN ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 05:55 PM:

Alan Baggins@418: 'Fraid not. Even with übertech, you just can't get something for nothing. A low-power display still uses some power. Capacitors just store energy; they don't create it. Data storage is never free; and the more storage you want, the less you can ignore the computational costs of storing and retrieving data. You probably can't count on a solar cell, even a hypothetical super-duper-efficient solar cell, to provide the nice clean even stream of power that electronic devices want, so you'll need to use the cell to charge a battery and run the gizmo off of that; and, as iPod owners know, batteries have finite lifespans.
You also can't suppose that storage of bits will be as easy or trouble-free as sticking it an archive for hundreds of years. Bits aren't carved in stone; they're little tiny representations of ones and zeroes. Usually this is a good thing: it's what lets us erase old data and store new data. But for long-term storage, it's a nightmare. The whole lot can physically degrade into a rusty lump. The bits can and do degrade all by themselves: background radiation will flip bits on magnetic media (hard drives, etc.); CD-ROM discs represent ones with tiny areas of pigment, which eventually photodegrades, etc.

And, of course, all this presumes that there's even software and/or hardware capable of reading the data after hundreds of years.

My favorite illustrative example:
In 1086, William the Conqueror decided to take a census of this "England" place he'd just taken over. The result was the Domesday Book.

In 1986, the BBC decided that a new Domesday Book would be a nifty 900th anniversary thing to do. But THIS New Domesday Book would be modern! Hi-tech! Digital! Stored on new-fangled LaserDisc and playable on a custom LaserDisc player!

Guess which one is still legible?

You just can't beat books for graceful degredation.

#422 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 06:15 PM:

A tiny note: Mr Rimmer actually signed his letter as Charlie, so there's nothing odd about Chris etc calling him that.

And Queenie at #182 is a nice example, I think, of a letter from a real person who likes the person whose actions are under criticism -- she says he's 'lovely', and then engages with the issue.

#423 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 06:41 PM:

There's nothing odd about the sock collection referring to "Charlie". There's something rather odd about the sock collection being addressed/referred to as "Charlie" and not objecting to it.

(What's an appropriate collective noun for "socks"? A Wikipedia discussion brought up "hamper" and "drawer" as possibilities. The former nicely evokes the effect on honest intelligent discussion.)

#424 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 07:23 PM:

R. M. Koske (417), it was a sentence in the second paragraph that initially inspired that reaction:

The cost of hardbacks is the cost of two boards, a loose jacket, and some binding.
The cost of hardbacks is so responsive to quantity printed that if you graph it, it looks like the solubility curve of sugar. Talking about the physical components of a bound book as if their price is (1.) fixed, and (2.) all that matters, is seriously wrong. Also, he omits to mention the pages, which many readers believe are a necessary part of the book.

His first paragraph is muddle-headed. I can't believe Australians have licked the problem of selling books online, or that they don't care about cover images, cover copy, and the rest of the informational surround that does so much to recommend books to the readers that buy them. Why do we do all that stuff? Because it gets "quality text" into the hands of readers.

If just once he said something about how nonfiction sells more readily online than fiction does, or how established books and authors that have made their reputations in conventional bookselling sell better than fiction by unknowns, I could hope that he knows what he's talking about. I don't think he has any idea.

The bit about how even the most marginal poet can find an audience somewhere is not only just plain wrong; it's a traditional belief of naive writers. They reason: Good writers, big audiences. Worse writers, successively smaller audiences, until you reach the very bad writer who has a very small audience indeed. This has a certain logical appeal, but it's not accurate. When writers fall below a certain level of competence, they have no audience at all, because there's no pleasure in reading a genuinely incompetent book.

Charlie Rimmer has spent his professional life selling books. Why does he not know these basic things?

#425 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 07:48 PM:

Also, he omits to mention the pages, which many readers believe are a necessary part of the book.

The intended meaning may have been "the added costs of producing a hardback instead of a paperback".

(Though if his "fungibility" argument were to hold, all you'd really need would be a nice-looking cover in the appropriate genre and price range.)

#426 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 07:53 PM:

Joel, that works nicely: a hamper of sockpuppets.

#427 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 08:07 PM:

Teresa #409. There are a number of things to cover here:
The Daily Telegraph website in Australia has just paid costs and damages amounting to more than - from memory - $250,000 in response to a defamation claim. In a nutshell defamation is a published statement (such as this) that damages someone or some business's reputation or holds them up to ridicule. To establish a case, plaintiffs need to show that the material was published to at least one person other than the plaintiff and defendant, that it was defamatory (made others ridicule them or think less of them) and that they were identifiable (although not necessarily named). The imputation can come from the natural meaning of a word or from innuendos (meanings that come from reading between the line). An important feature of the internet is that defamation occurs whenever someone downloads defamatory material.This site is well larded with content which no court in Australia would dispute was highly defamatory. You may be able to hide behind First Amendment protection in America (a concern to those outside America who think Australia's Defamation Act 2006 is a good law) but one of the things I wanted to test was how you behaved as a moderator.
1)A responsible moderator weeds out defamatory content, partly because that's the legally safe thing to do, but partly also because it's the kind thing to do, as you will know if anyone has ever appropriated your name.
2) A responsible host surely makes some effort to establish peoples real identity? I typed in three different addresses and three different names (Chris Amanda Despina - a three letter acronym too difficult for you). On another, equally irresponsible site, I could be Teresa Nielsen Hayden, James D., or a luminary from the world of publishing like Anthony Cheetham or Sonny Mehta or Shona Martyn. My comments could make them seem foolish or smart, nasty or nice, to anyone who logged onto the blogsite or put their names in a search engine. A couple of contributors commented that I could easily have hidden my true identity by inventing IP addresses, but I don't know how to do that. What I did know was to use the same IPs for all three names to see if you at that point smelt a rat (or cad) and made some attempt to establish who I really was.
3) A responsible moderator moves discussions forward and maintains a fairly dispassionate position. If a contributor suggests there are no post-manufacture energy costs associated with books, she might point to a problem there in exactly the same way as she would if someone got the costs of hardback publishing wrong (I was repeating information from colleagues who insist they're right and you're wrong).
4) Actually I can't be bothered with a 4. You have no idea who I am, but I at least have established your unreasonableness, irresponsibility, irrationality and inexpressible nastiness.

I think Sherman Young's book is impressive. I think Charlie Rimmer's letter was abrasive but no more so than most of the comments against it. I frankly don't think a great deal of you, your ethics, your understanding of the problems faced by A&R.

#428 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 08:27 PM:

Isn't truth still the perfect defense against frivolous defamation complaints?

#429 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 08:27 PM:

Dave #413: Thanks, I'm not going to gainsay Teresa who, I guarantee, knows more than me about book production. The readable pages of a hardback can be printed in the same way as a paperback and have their spines glued rather than stitched (gluing is cheaper). They then have two sheets of covered cardboard attached. Bought in bulk, the covered boards are cheap but there are additional machine processes involved in sticking them on effectively. Let's say putting Harry Potter in hardback costs the publisher $2 more than the paperback version (I don't know the true cost) - the benefit of doing that is that the publisher can now justify a rrp in Australia of $45 (versus $17 for the paperback), segment the market to maximise returns, and send out something (a hardback) which has traditionally been thought of as more reviewable. Anyone disagree?
PS can you really still get Kodachrome where you are?

#430 ::: Brodysattva ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 08:30 PM:

one of the things I wanted to test was how you behaved as a moderator.

Wow, 427 is a delight. I've never seen that particular justifiable-sockpuppetry defense before.

TERESA NIELSEN HAYDEN I HAVE BEEN TESTING YOU AND I AM PLEASED TO SAY YOU PASSED

#431 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 08:40 PM:

holy craaaaap.

I'll make some calls to some folks I know back home. Maybe I can track down a john deere with an end loader to help shovel out all this manure.

reeee-dik-you-luss doesn't begin to describe it.

#432 ::: Despina ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 08:41 PM:

Earl: The first defamation I spotted (under Australian law this is) was Teresa calling Rimmer's letter a blackmail letter.
Not all defamation defences are available to the media (which includes this site). Almost all of those that are available require reporters (bloggers) to have been accurate and thorough. Truth is a defence but a blogger's belief in the truth is insufficient. Proving the truth of the defamatory statement may be only half the battle (actually should confess I'm quoting here from Pearson/ The Journalist's Guide to Media Law 3e), the court will likely require the journalist/ blogger/ host to prove the truth of any imputations that arise from the statement (for example, can anyone here prove that Rimmer is generally incompetent or that he should be in prison - both suggestions made on this site).
Pearson says: "Truth as a defence is based on the foundation premise expressed in Rofe's case that by telling the truth about a man, his reputation is not lowered beyond its proper level, but is merely brought down to it".
Earl, as well as Rimmer and A&R (who also have the right to sue) being defamed, I would argue that whoever has their identity assumed by another person (could be Chris, Amanda, Despina or, another time, Earl) is exposed to the risk of having their reputation hurt and one of the most serious responsibilities of a site such as this is to make sure that everyone is who they say they are (why, after lengthy discussion has no-one asked who I am or emailed the addresses I gave?)

#433 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 08:42 PM:

Earl (428):
It is possible to legally defame someone with the truth, but it a pretty high standard to reach.
Despina (427):
Actually, there is no need, under US standards (which is where this is published, and where the principles -- indeed, most of the players, reside) for this to be moderated at all, except in certain well defined situations (none of which apply in this case).

Anonymous speech is well protected in America, and there is no need for the hosts to verify identity. Our anonymous speech rights even allow us to get working mobile phones, without ID of any sort.

Considering her reputation and profession as a moderator on the Internet, your inference that she is not behaving as a "responsible moderator" is laughable.

#434 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 08:50 PM:

#424 Teresa-

Aaah! I did not know that at all about the costs of hardbacks. The problems with the first paragraph were more elaborate (and more interesting) than I realized, too. Thanks for the elaboration.

#435 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 08:56 PM:

Despina #432: I don't feel like I've been defamed, or were you just using potential Earlian defamation as an example to persuade me to feel closer to your point of view? In any case, I can manage a flame war quite well on my own, thank you....

Teach not thy parent’s mother to extract
The embryo juices of the bird by suction.
The good old lady can that feat enact,
Quite irrespective of your kind instruction.

-- Anon.

#436 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 08:57 PM:

I wouldn't buy a hardback that was glued if I knew about it before I put my money down. If glued was good enough, I'd buy a paperback. I'd be incredibly resentful if I bought a hardback and discovered it was glued after the fact. I'm not sure I'd know who I was mad at, but I'd be angry.

#437 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 08:58 PM:

Oh, that is delightful. A lawsuit threat, an admission of provocative sockpuppetry, and a casual dismissal of Teresa's powers of moderation (CAD, dear, perhaps you've been too busy corresponding with publishers to keep up, but you might want to take a quick trip to Wikipedia and find out what Teresa does for a living).

You do realize, Mr. Rimmer, don't you, that you've taken a high-octane googlehit on people disapproving of your business practices and turned it into an even higher-octane googlehit on your road company Mary Rosh impersonation?

Do you know who Lee Siegel is? You might want do a quick search for him. You have a sort of sprezzatura in common.

#438 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 09:09 PM:

Teresa @ 424... Also, he omits to mention the pages

"Paging Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard!"

#439 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 09:12 PM:

I think, based on some years of appreciation, that Teresa's nastiness is quite expressible. I also think (on the same basis) that you only think the contrary because you have been lucky enough to not encounter it.

Now, to the "meat" of your special pleadings for defamation: No such beast has been seen here. She called it a blackmail letter because that is what (in the common parlance) it was (technically it was extorion, as no damaging secret was to be revealed if Mr. Raksusin refused to pay, he was merely threatened with the loss of something of value).

Since the letter specifically attempted to, retroactively, change the terms of a completed agreement (pay this; because you've not made us enough money. If you do this we'll send you new terms to abide. If we get enough juice we might reduce the vig, but no promises).

It wasn't a negotiation (the, I can give you a couple of minutes before lunch, if you abandon your work and come begging at my door; thousands of miles away, put the lie to that line of thought).

Since this was published in the US, US law would apply. In the US, this isn't libelous (the published/printed form of defamation) because it comes under the heading of fair comment and critcism. The open letter put the issue into the public domain.

Given Teresa's expertise, she has every right (and in some ways more than the average joe) to judge the merits of the dispute.

However, looking at the passage of the Uniform Defamation Statute (on the NSW model) in 2006, it appears there might be enough cause of action for a solicitor to entertain a case. The result would be far from certain (even accepting the greater burden the UK model of the law on which the Australian statutes are drawn.

The basic issues are:

The communication defames them

The key issue in a defamation action is damage to a person’s reputation. The test of whether a communication is defamatory is: ‘Does the communication lower/harm the plaintiff’s reputation, hold the plaintiff up to ridicule, or lead others to shun and avoid the plaintiff?’ This is judged from the viewpoint of ‘ordinary reasonable people in the community in general’ and in light of contemporary standards.

The meaning that is argued over (the ‘imputation’) might not be what you meant to say. The literal meaning of the communication is not the only meaning that is considered. The court looks at what it considers the ordinary reader or viewer could have understood the communication to mean. This may differ from what both the plaintiff and the defendant think.

The courts will expect the ordinary reader or viewer to engage in a ‘certain amount of loose thinking’, to ‘read between the lines’ and to be guided by the idea that ‘where there is smoke there is fire’. Be careful if you are reporting ‘allegations’ – the audience may presume that there is a factual basis to them. It is important to remember that the law uses the ‘ordinary reasonable reader/listener/viewer’ – a hypothetical person – to test whether a publication is defamatory.

The plaintiff does not have to prove that the imputation is false, that it actually caused them harm, or that you meant it to cause harm. On the other hand, just because an imputation hurts or upsets a plaintiff, does not mean that it is defamatory. It must affect their reputation in a damaging way.

The limits are unclear in relation to humour, cartoons or satire. Words obviously intended only as a joke may be reasonably safe, but there may be a problem if there are underlying defamatory facts understood by the audience. You can publish photos or film of people in funny situations unless it makes the subject look ridiculous or the target of derision rather than good humour.

Context is important. A picture can become defamatory according to placement. A comment might not be defamatory when told to a limited audience, but may become defamatory when removed from its context and circulated more widely. In one case a plaintiff who told a small group of friends a self-deprecating story about being mistaken for a hangman was able to sue when a local newspaper published the story.

This can also work in favour of defendants. The plaintiff can’t just take one imputation out of context as there may be an ‘antidote’ to a defamatory imputation in other parts of the communication.

So it would appear Teresa has a defence (although it's possible the people at Making Light aren't reasonable people, the weight of opinion here seems to be that the letter was unreasonable, and the gloss she put on it wasn't far from the mark.

Lets look at the defences:

Defences

The first step when someone threatens you with defamation is to establish whether they actually have a case. The plaintiff must be able to prove all three elements discussed above – that the material has been communicated to a third person (other than the plaintiff), that the plaintiff is identified in the communication and that the communication defames them.

The next step is to consider whether you have a defence under the law of defamation. Defences include:

1. Honest opinion (previously known as fair comment)
2. Justification/Truth
3. Qualified privilege
4. Other defences

Honest Opinion (Fair Comment)

Previously referred to as the defence of fair comment, the defence of honest opinion requires you to prove that the material communicated was an expression of honest opinion rather than a statement of fact, on a matter of public interest and was based on proper material. To take advantage of this defence you have to be able to prove three things:

a. the communication must, on the face of it, be comment – that is: an opinion, criticism, deduction, judgment, remark, observation, or conclusion;
b. the facts upon which the opinion is based must be stated unless they are widely known. This is required so that the readers/viewers/listeners are able to form their own views on the facts. These facts have to be known to you when you make the communication. It is very important that the comment is clearly distinguishable from the facts upon which it is based; and
c. the communication has to be on a matter of public interest.

The opinion can be extreme, as long as it is honestly held by the communicator. This means that you have to be very careful in responding to an initial complaint. If you say that you ‘didn’t mean it’ this could subsequently make it very difficult to raise the defence of honest opinion.

The defence of honest opinion is obviously very relevant for reviewers and critics, but it can also be useful for satirists, comedians and other artists whose work incorporates an element of social commentary.

Justification/Truth,

The new uniform legislation in the states provides the defence of justification. This is a complete defence if you can provide the material published was substantially true. This means that if an imputation is found to be defamatory, this defence requires the publisher to prove it to be true in substance or not materially different from the truth. This can be difficult as you can only use evidence that is admissible in court – this means that you will need original documents and/or witnesses who are credible and willing to testify in court.

Your sources have to have first hand knowledge of the relevant circumstances. The rules against ‘hearsay’ evidence will prevent you putting forward witnesses who ‘heard something from somebody else’.

The publisher may try to prove the plaintiff’s imputations (say [a] and [b]) to be true. Or the publisher may say the publications also means [c] and [d] and they are defamatory and true in which case the plaintiff can fail because the unproved imputations [a] and [b] do not further injure the plaintiff’s reputation. In some states (including New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania) before the introduction of the uniform laws the defendant was required to establish that the material was published for the public benefit in addition to proving the published material was true. In contrast, under the new uniform laws truth alone constitutes the defence. A possible consequence of these changes is that the publication of private details of person’s life will be allowed, provided they are truthfully portrayed, even though there might be no wider public interest in the receipt of those details.

The other two defences don't apply here, so we will leave them for those who wish to engage in personal research (all these quotations are from The Law of Defamation (Uniform changes 2006)

Looking at the facts:

The letter was made known by an open letter from one of the principals (who therefore had firsthand knowledge).

Teresa has an honest (and strongly held) opinion.

She engaged in comment.

She might even (I certainly think so) be able to prove what she said was, "demonstrably true."

So, while it might be possible for a defamation case to be made, it's probably an uphill battle.

Mr. Rimmer is welcome to retain a solicitor, and attempt to press the case. This thread, and all the evidence it contains (including the possiblilty that he attempted, by subterfuge) to defend himself, thus raising the level of awareness) are certain to be of interest to the court, and the jury; should he manage to have her haled before the bar.

#440 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 09:25 PM:

Such a delightful combination of ignorance, effrontery, and smarm. Pass the popcorn, please.

#441 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 10:11 PM:

Oh, "Despina," dearie -- first of all, there are no post manufacturing energy costs associated with the use of printed books. If you're going to continue trying to make a laughable case, please understand what you're trying to disprove. This is now at least the fourth time I've told you.

Next, before you employ your cartooneys, you owe me three essays. One on crystal radios, one on bicycles, and one on electricity. I may assign you another essay soon.

Your little blow-up is false to fact. The identical IPs were discovered and noted within minutes of when you first employed each of your sockpuppets. That you weren't deploying sockpuppets whose initials spelt out an anagram is obvious and you are, again, obviously, lying. Two of those sockpuppets had been previously deployed over at The Australian. Or were you trying to "test" The Australian, too? Next, the initials weren't C-A-D: they were C-O-A-B-D. What does that mean, Charlie? Coda B? Do cab?

You claim to be upset that no one discovered your true identity. Isn't it a fact that what's upset you is that we did discover your true identity?

But you place so much stock in no one asking your name. Very well:

In your very next post state your full, legal name.

#442 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: October 09, 2007, 10:24 PM:

TERESA NIELSEN HAYDEN I HAVE BEEN TESTING YOU AND I AM PLEASED TO SAY YOU PASSED

Woohoo! Passed the test! Simple transmutation! Free energy for the world! Whee!

No? What about the cures for all our diseases?

Not even some Tupperware? What kind of damn test is this?

#443 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 12:13 AM:

Teresa #424:
"Charlie Rimmer has spent his professional life selling books. Why does he not know these basic things?"

My guess/impression is that Mr. Rimmer spent his professional life merchandizing a product, with moderate success because he has some understanding of the nature of merchandizing.

I suspect that he would have had greater success if he had had some knowledge of these (and other) basic things that involve the nature of this product and its purchasers.

#444 ::: Jack Kincaid ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 01:01 AM:

In having reached the end of this revived thread, I have come to conclusions, most of which would be redundant to state. The important ones, as I see it this moment, are: (a) Jim should be insane by now from the monotony of repeating himself; (b) puppet shows are hideous; (c) I should have started drinking at least 100 comments ago; and (d) an inane comment such as this one couldn't possibly hurt this thread.

(P.S. Traditional publishing is here to stay for all the reasons mentioned by those who stated this position and more. It started with paper. It ends with paper. No format could ever hope to compete with its feel, its convenience, its intimacy, and its kindness to the eyes.)

#445 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 01:58 AM:

DVD region codes:

The fun thing about this is the Australian Competition and Consumer Comission took one look at them and declared them to be an unproductive restriction of consumer choice (particularly when Australia shares region 4 with such countries as Brazil and Argentina, with whom we don't even have a language in common). So, while only region 4 DVDs are sold here, *all* DVD players on the Australian market are required not to be restricted by region. The manual may say it's region locked. The manual is wrong.

This means my favourite site (as an Aussie) for buying DVDs online is Amazon.co.uk - because region 2 has a much wider variety of titles available, and they're usually out sooner, too. I get the UK version because the TV protocols are compatible (both PAL, where the US is NTSC).

Book prices: (fermion, #231)

Book prices here have always been high. I think the explanations vary in proportion between the following:

* Our currency being low against the US dollar/yen/UK pound/euro/Ruritanian popplethwack
* The cost of freight (funny, it doesn't seem to make a difference from east to west *here* though...)
* The small market
* "Because we can"

I'm planning on enjoying the current situation where the Aussie dollar has damn near achieved parity with the US one, however, because that means I'll be able to order books from Amazon or a similar online bookshop, and even with the cost of postage, they're not going to cost as much as getting them from the nearest A&R here in Perth. As a bonus, given I read fantasy and science fiction, I'll actually be able to *find* the books I'm interested in (which I wouldn't be able to manage in the A&R in Perth, no matter how hard I tried).

Name recognition: (vian, #303)

I think part of the problem is that Mr Chris works for A&R, and they wouldn't recognise decent science fiction or fantasy publishing if it jumped up and down on their collective heads for a week. This is at least part of the reason I've given up shopping there (their rudeness to their suppliers aside). If it's not a big seller, such as Tolkien, Rowling, Pratchett or Herbert, they generally don't have it on their shelves. I find a better variety of books in their remainders than I do on their shelves - and the remainders are competing across genres.

Oh, and Chris? If you have a chance, do have a word with the nice people in your mail order department - a three week wait for four books is a bit much, particularly when I can get the same assortment from Amazon UK within about two.

To be deadly honest, if A&R want to improve their share of the Australian books market, they might want to start by actually improving their customer service, their range, and their bloody attitude to the people who are trying to buy something. With the internet available these days, I'm much more inclined to order things in from overseas than I am to stroll down to the local mall. I can find what I want, at a reasonable price, and get it shipped to me, and all I have to do is click.

Why will books persist?: (Chris et aliases, all over the place)

I'll give you one very good reason why books will persist: my personal library has some books in it which were originally printed back in the 1940s. They're old enough not to have ISBNs, that's how old they are (the Australian price is in LSD). *And I can still read them*. They are still as legible now as they were when they were first printed.

By contrast, while I kept hold of some old 5 1/4" floppy disks for a number of years, I was never able to read them after about the mid 1990s, when 5 1/4" floppy drives stopped being produced. I have documents on my hard drive which were produced in one version of the Adobe PDF format, and which are unreadable on the latest version.

If I give a book to my (highly technophobic) mother for Christmas, or her birthday, or mother's day or whatever, she will still be able to read it, even if she doesn't want to switch something on. If I hand my father a paper book, rather than an ebook, I don't have to worry about which (incompatible) version of Word he has on his laptop. If I want to send a cousin a paper book rather than an ebook, I don't have to worry about whether they have a PC or a Mac. I don't have to know which OS they're using. I don't have to know all of these things. I just have to make sure I have the language right (ie English).

Books are convenient, they are much more portable than most digital media, they withstand much worse treatment with less dangerous consequences (Dropping a book into the bath by accident just makes it wobbly. Dropping an MP3 player into the bath could be lethal) and they are familiar. They don't have problems with the screen washing out in bright sunlight (my parents have just returned from a rather extensive tour around northern Australia, and their opinion of digital photography is nigh unprintable as a result). They don't have to be charged, they can handle things like being dropped, sat on, squashed, and shoved on a shelf for months without use, and they don't break as a result. Books are able to be chewed by a toddler, danced on by a preschooler, dropped into a schoolchild's bag, passed around a high school classroom (with yellow highlighter on the salacious bits), and used as an impromptu component of furniture. They work, mate.

So far, the ebook market has been trying to solve the same set of problems. However, so far they haven't succeeded. They may succeed in the near future, or in the far future, but books are a solved problem, and it will truly require a majestic solution to out-compete them.

#446 ::: Greg Machlin ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 02:06 AM:

IM IN UR THREADS
BEIN A SOCKPUPPIT
BUT NO I IZ ACTUALLY TESTIN YOU!!
I CAN HAZ EBOOKS??

Jesus Christ, I miss all the fun threads.

#447 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 03:12 AM:

Earlier this year, I self-published a collection of work by way of Lulu, a digital download of which became the first e-book on an iPhone.

I still know Jim's right and won a good bet when he spotted one.

I bought an iPod a few weeks ago. 160 GB, which I filled with every song I have, plus several movies and Eddie Izzard comedy specials. I still have 60GB left over.

I live just off Fairfax and Melrose in Los Angeles, and there's a vinyl shop two doors down.

I still don't think books will ever become the equivalent of vinyl (i.e., quaint relics the main consumers of which are nostalgic collectors or bibliophiles). I think there's a lot of room for digital, and it'll grow, but I look at my brand new iPod, which I've heard a lot of people call it a perfect object.

I don't know about that either way, but I might argue it's the closest object to perfect since the book.

#448 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 03:27 AM:

R.M. Koske @436:
You can tell if a book has a glued binding by looking at the top* of the spine. You may have to nudge the headband - the little stripy thing - back if there is one.

If it's sewn, you will see lots of little U shapes, bases toward the spine, thus:

UUUUU
-----

If the book is glued, you'll see either broken U's or just straight page edges:

|||||
-----

----
* or bottom, if you want to be contrarian and difficult.

#449 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 03:43 AM:

Yay Meg! What she said (#445).
Having long been regarding the range and depth of markets for the empire of matter in the USA with envious eyes, I've watched the US/AUD ratio with a cool and unsympathetic mind, slowly and surely drawing my plans as parity (parroty?) approaches … books (the paper kind), DVDs, CDs (so many more titles are available in these three), as well as various other supplies unobtainable here, and perhaps even some clothing in my size … <eyes go dreamily distant; dabs hankie delicately at gathering saliva> Alas, my favourite imported breakfast cereal has been discontinued.

Relating to the eBook debate: Strangely, it seems possible that I can buy and import material versions of … er … material that I'm not allowed to buy in immaterial (electron/byte) form; say thru' an Australian-based computer from iTunes stores in the USA; or at all from the (finally, at long last, established) Aussie iTunes store. For instance; No, I cannot watch that Eureka episode. Perhaps if I set up a connexion thru' some fancy anonymizing server so they can't tell I'm not in the US of A, but that's far too much finagling compared to just being able to order stuff.

While shipping is still affordable, I'm trying to get as many hard-to-find things as possible, so they can circulate hand-to-hand in Australia when the tyranny of distance may have reasserted itself.

#450 ::: mcz ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 04:10 AM:

Meg (#445):

It's fairly easy to find TVs and DVD players in Oz that also support NTSC.

About three quarters of my DVD collection is sourced from R1; R2 product seems to be a lot more expensive.

#451 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 05:52 AM:

R.M. Koske #436: Alas, here in the UK glued hardbacks seem to be the standard for new fiction. We hateses it. I console myself with the thought that where the book is glued signatures rather than trimmed, I might one day (when I am famous and wealthy beyond measure) be able to get a bookbinder to bind it properly.*

*Paging Abi Sutherland, paging Abi Sutherland - is this correct?

#452 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 06:12 AM:

Jakob @451
where the book is glued signatures rather than trimmed, I might one day (when I am famous and wealthy beyond measure) be able to get a bookbinder to bind it properly.

Not soon - getting the adhesive off before sewing is a damned nuisance. They inject it into holes in the signatures, so it acts like thread, but sticks like glue.

But a book that glues the signatures in whole is actually not far off a sewn book in terms of structural integrity, for a century or so at least*. The book block will still be prone to distortion, both the usual sag as the bottom fore corner hits the shelf** and the "phone book spine" effect as it is read†. But it won't shed leaves the way a cut page book will.

Having just whipstitched a perfect bound book (rush job, no time to print out though we have copyright - colleague leaving), I can say that I never want to rebind a perfect bound book again, though. So any signatures are better than none.
-----
* Making rampant assumptions about glue lifespans, but I'd say it's a safe guess
** pulling the spine into a slight concavity at the top...but even sewn books do this eventually.
† glue is elastic, but after a while elastic wears out and the spine doesn't come all the way back into shape.

#453 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 09:17 AM:

I wonder if there's a market for custom virtual binding for ebooks? (A bunch of screenshots you could attach to the ebook). Ah, well, at least it would be good for an in-joke within the trade. heh.

#454 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 09:20 AM:

one of the things I wanted to test was how you behaved as a moderator.

I'm pretty sure there ought to be a special flamer bingo square for "I was just being obnoxious to test you". I've seen it before, but rarely so amusingly.

1)A responsible moderator weeds out defamatory content, partly because that's the legally safe thing to do, but partly also because it's the kind thing to do, as you will know if anyone has ever appropriated your name.

I'm sorry, how does defamatory content go with identity theft again? Also, you may not be aware of this, but it's not a blog owner's job to police his or her comments. The good ones--like Teresa--weed out the really egregious stuff, but there's no legal obligation whatsoever there. Any legally actionable comments (of which there are none in this thread) would be the responsibility of the person who posted them, not Teresa.

2) A responsible host surely makes some effort to establish peoples real identity?

Actually, most hosts generally assume that their commenters are posting in good faith and go looking for sockpuppetry only when it becomes blatant.

I typed in three different addresses and three different names (Chris Amanda Despina - a three letter acronym too difficult for you).

Soooo...let me get this straight. You came in with three different names, whose initials spelled out COABD, and the moderators are supposed to glean more from this than from the fact that all three identities were using the same IP address? Also, since the IP thing was noted as soon as "Amanda" popped up, continuing your charade with "Despina" was singularly pointless.

On another, equally irresponsible site, I could be [people who've demonstrated that I'm not as smart as I think I am].

Threats of identity theft, and again--most blog owners presume their commenters to be acting in good faith.

A couple of contributors commented that I could easily have hidden my true identity by inventing IP addresses, but I don't know how to do that.

And whose fault is that? I don't know either, but if I were going in for sockpuppetry you can bet I'd find out fast. Because if I'm going to be a scoundrel, I'm at least going to be a competent scoundrel.

Also I'd attempt to curb my liking for numbered lists. There's this thing called "style", see, and it's often what makes people start looking for sockpuppetry in the first place.

What I did know was to use the same IPs for all three names to see if you at that point smelt a rat (or cad) and made some attempt to establish who I really was.

Which was done as soon as "Amanda" showed up, so your entire complaint is looking a titch bedraggled. Also, as late as #304 you were still attempting to keep "Chris" and "Amanda" seperate--which was after the IP address had been checked. By then your "test" had been passed, with flying colors; why try to maintain the charade?

3) A responsible moderator moves discussions forward and maintains a fairly dispassionate position.

True, but since you came in here clearly not interested in having a discussion...

(I was repeating information from colleagues who insist they're right and you're wrong).

Who is "you" in this sentence, please?

You have no idea who I am,

We know who you are to the extent that we need to, that being, "that person who posts from a given IP address, tries to make nonsensical arguments on subjects sie knows next to nothing about, and claims when caught sockpuppeting to having been 'testing'."

but I at least have established your unreasonableness, irresponsibility, irrationality and inexpressible nastiness.

My dear, trust me, you haven't begun to see Teresa be nasty. Some of the rest of us, yes, but not Teresa.

#455 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 09:40 AM:

You want to know what's lovely? The Charlie Rimmer's Socks thread is the #1 Google Hit when you search on "Charlie Rimmer."

#456 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 10:07 AM:

Google juice, C/A/D. You could look it up.

#457 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 10:08 AM:

abi - thanks. I think I would have assumed that any book with a headband was sewn, so nice to know that I need to be more cautious than that. It's also nice to know that gluing isn't quite as cheap and nasty as I'd assumed.

Jakob #451: I've been resisting the urge to go look at my hardbacks ever since I saw the post about gluing. I'm guessing it is far more common than I'd like (especially since I'd originally assumed that any book with a headband was sewn.) I'm just not sure that I want to do that to my blood pressure.

Luckily, most of my hardbacks are books that I happened to buy secondhand in hardback because that was what was on hand. A few of them are "it isn't out in paperback yet and I want it now!" and a tiny handful are "I want a nice volume of this text." The only one I have in that last category that I can even name off the top of my head is a leatherbound omnibus of the Hitchhiker's Guide series, and I'm fairly certain it will be sewn. I mean, leather binding and gilt edges, surely they wouldn't have cheaped out on the assembly?

#458 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 11:07 AM:

The philosophy "people will pay $45 if you slap cardboard on it" reminds me of Trent Reznor flaming his Australian label. His label jacked up their prices because "Basically it's because we know you've got a core audience that's gonna buy whatever we put out, so we can charge more for that. It's the pop stuff we have to discount to get people to buy it. True fans will pay whatever."

There's nothing quite like watching an industry alienate their customers.

Also, Rimmer's hidden acronym is obvious to me - CHris Oliver/Amanda/Despina - CHOAD.

#459 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 01:26 PM:

Testing. That's a new one on me. Usually they claim to be conducting a psychological experiment.

How can I be (in)expressibly nasty to this doinkbrain? Getting seriously nasty takes concentration, and my sense of wonder is getting in the way.

Testing! We'll be laughing about this one for years to come.

The defamation-cartoony is likewise glorious. Which one of the sockpuppets am I held to have defamed? Or if it's Charlie Rimmer who's supposed to have been the victim -- falsely accused of hanging around in weblog comment threads and acting like an eeedjit -- who is it that's making threats on his behalf?

Wai!

I can has al dis an pony too!

#460 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 01:41 PM:

Teresa: The defamation claim is laughable. If I understand it the defamed person is Rimmer, because you accused him of blackmail.

Or perhaps of being as clueless in business as he has proven in internet discourse.

In any case, looking at the Aussie law (where I am even less of a lawyer than my non-status in the States) I don't think you have to worry about visiting the next time a convention rolls round those parts. Hell, on the basis of this it might be worth a DUFF campaign.

#461 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 02:11 PM:

What's that? Darned Unfriendly Fake Fund? If there is a campaign, I suggest a hosiery theme. Have knit sock sales to raise the money. Odd socks only, or perhaps in threes. Be sure and figure in some time in the itinerary to meet Chris, Amanda, and Despina, as well as Charlie. At ten minutes each, that would come to ten minutes. Bring a crystal radio as a gift, or perhaps a book (it doesn't matter which one; they're all alike).

#462 ::: A Pony ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 02:21 PM:

Teresa@459: You called?

#463 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 02:42 PM:

I think that being inexpressibly nasty may require rugose tentacles, ichor, and non-Euclidean spaces. And possibly the fungibles from Yoggoth.

#464 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 03:06 PM:

#432: Dear Mr./Ms./Gospodin(a)/whatever Despina:

If you aren't an employee of A&R, you're just bloviating. If you are an employee of A&R, you're a posturing shill. If you're a lawyer for A&R, TNH's address is known if you want to file the legal papers; but if you are going to do so, don't you have work to do? Sheesh.

#465 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 04:52 PM:

Jules, #400: Oddly enough, I was just thinking over the weekend, during my flights to and from Seattle, that one MAJOR advantage of a paper book over an electronic one is that it can be read during ascent and descent -- which is a not-insignificant percentage of flight time.

So, apparently, were a not-insignificant percentage of my fellow passengers, judging from the number of books I saw open on laps.

#466 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 05:36 PM:

Speaking of (ex)-employers of A&R, those who haven't revisited it recently might want to take a gander at the last entry on the SMH blog entry.

#467 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 06:01 PM:

#421: Capacitors just store energy; they don't create it ... and, as iPod owners know, batteries have finite lifespans.

Supercapacitors have a lifetime of vastly more charge cycles than batteries (and solar cells do degrade eventually, but I have a 20 year old calculator with no batteries that works anywhere I can read the display). If the cells are good enough the capacitors wouldn't be needed, but some energy storage would probably be useful.
You'll note that I wasn't arguing that even hypothetical future improved e-readers would completely replace books.


> In 1986, the BBC decided that a new Domesday Book would be a nifty 900th anniversary thing to do
> Guess which one is still legible?

Comparing http://www.domesday1986.com and http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documentsonline/domesday.asp, I'm actually going to go with the 1986 version. The LaserDisc might not be easily readable by many people today, but its digital nature made it easier to transfer to another format without loss.

#468 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 06:22 PM:

Kip W #461: What's that? Darned Unfriendly Fake Fund?

Down Under Fan Fund

#469 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 08:15 PM:

#441 James D. Macdonald: But you place so much stock in no one asking your name. Very well: ... In your very next post state your full, legal name.

Did we get a response to this yet? I skimmed forward from James' post and didn't see one. Going on 24 hours now, I think. Hasn't got to this baby yet, I guess. Or, maybe it was a dingo. Maybe it was a dingo that got the baby.

#470 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 08:36 PM:

Good grief. Can we *please* stop with the "ebooks will be to text what the ipod was to music" comparisons?

Music can be listened to in a huge number of situations. books can be read in far fewer. Plug your ipod into your car stereo while you commute, listen to it on a train, while you jog, at the gym, plug it into a stereo for an instant party.

Once you set up your playlist, the media, electronic or vinyl or whatever, is transparent. The UI presents you with sound, either way.

Books require contstant user interaction, a much more complicated UI (lcd, instead of ear buds), and require constant user interaction. The menu system on an iPod actually sucks, but once you start a playlist, that hassle disappears. Give a clunky user interface to page through a book, and it'll annoy people every time they try to turn a page, or worse, try to go back to where they left off.

most people own a lot of different songs. And they listen to them over and over again. putting them on an ipod to carry them whereever you go makes natural sense.

Most people read very few books, and when they do, they read most of them once. putting them in an ebook doesn't make as much sense to most consumers.

For books, it's mostly a one-time thing. putting your books on a playlist and playing them over and over again doesn't make sense to most people.

Most people only read one book at a time, and they might take a week or more to do it. But most ipod users listen to maybe fifty to a hundred songs in a day.

ANyone who looks at iPods and thinks the transition from paperbacks to ebooks is an inevitable natural progression, isn't paying attention to what most consumers are doing with the different kinds of content.

No one carries around 30 gb of books and reads them over and over again. If you decide to read a book, it's a much larger investment of your time and energy and attention. Which means you carry one book for an extended period. If you want to listen to a song, and it turns out you don't like it, you're out 3 minutes of your life.

It's a completely different usage model. There is no reason to think people will convert text to ebooks just because they converted music to iPods. That's the sort of infatuation with technology that would tell us that we should all be flying jetcars real soon now.

#471 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 09:47 PM:

The other thing about ebooks vs. real books is that disposing of real books when one is done is trivial.

There is already a, well tested (I know, my family has been doing it for more than 30 years) system in place for valuing them, pricing them, and reselling them (which has moved to the internet age).

That isn't going to be as simple in the ebook market. Bring me a book, and I know it's condition. Anyone who wants to buy it can judge its condition.

The purcahser needs no equipment to use them.

And they don't become non-functional, solely by virtue of age.

#472 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 10:12 PM:

Greg London #470: No one carries around 30 gb of books and reads them over and over again.

Ummm, I would, if I could find a cheap tablet computer that I liked, and if the select set of book I tend to re-read were available in ebook format.

#473 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2007, 10:17 PM:

Greg, everyone I know who reads e-books now on handheld devices carries several volumes. Dozens, if their devices have the memory for it. Every reading junkie I know had had the experience of taking a print book or two along for reading while on errands and such, and then wishing for something they didn't think to bring. E-books can't solve that problem, given that part of it is simple human perversity, but they can sure mitigate it. Many of us do actually read several books in parallel, and those of us who deal comfortably with current e-book technology tend to consider ourselves blessed with technological support for the inclination.

Also, the e-book reading software I like most, eReader Pro, does have a pretty tidy interface. Within the currently opened volume, page up and page down are single clicks on the biggest button on the unit. Opening and closing books is a menu activity that's at least no more complicated than iTunes, and generally less; selecting a new book is picking from a list, and the reader can categorize books and then choose to see all the books on hand or just ones in a category.

There are lots of reasons this still isn't a good answer for a lo of readers, starting with display size and the overall design of current handhelds, but some problems are more solved than you might think.

#474 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 06:23 AM:

> No one carries around 30 gb of books and reads them over and over again.

No-one carries around shelves full of reference books just in case it would be handy to look something up, but 30GB of instantly searchable device is potentially another matter.

#475 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 05:30 PM:

I don't know if anyone will want to carry around 30 gb of books (though I wouldn't mind compressing the space into which my books fit), but I know plenty of people who carry several reference texts around with them on a pretty continuous basis and do refer to them fairly often. They're doctors and lawyers, certainly, but they appreciate the convenience.

As would I. If I could compress my entire collection into the handful of physical volumes I actually desire (a few signed books and a few favorites) while relegating *all* the rest to digital format I could put on a device the size of *one*? Yeah, sign me up.

I think Terry Karney argued that books don't become non-functional, solely by virtue of age, but I've seen lots of books from this century that haven't aged well. Leather cracks, pages yellow and crumble... my teacher keeps his mid-century copy of *The Turn of the Screw* together using rubber bands.

But don't take me wrong; I'm not arguing for e-books over books.

I'm just arguing for the option. One device, the size of a DVD case, that could hold the complete works of Shakespeare, Dickens, Carroll, Poe, Hardy, King, Adams...?

Yeah, I'd take one. It would certainly reduce the amount of space I devote to shelves.

#476 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 08:13 PM:

Seeing the content delivery system for music via online sales of MP3s and consumption via portable players, then treating a completely different style of content (text fiction) as if it could be delivered just as easily via electronic downloads, compressed text, and some sort of portable player, is fricken missing the point.

*Of course* you could make a system that lets you download books over the internet, and *of course* you could make portable players that let people read them wherever they go.

But that's like watching McDonalds make a butt load of money with burgers and drive throughs and thinking that the future of French Restaurants (tm) and Texas Steakhouses(R) are doomed because the future of all food is somehow magically based in the delivery system, irregardless of how people relate to the content.

*of course* you could set up a restaurant that delivered French Cuisine (tm) and Tejas Steaks (R) via styrofoam containers and drive through windows.

But thinking you'll actually succeed doing that simply because it's *possible* and simply because someone else did it with McMysteryMeat, is an infatuation with delivery technology and ignoring just how consumers use different content in different ways.

It's got nothing to do with the delivery system, fer cripes sakes. It's got to do with the fact that people don't eat their Tejas Steaks(tm) with a fricken plastic spork while driving down the freeway.

This is nothing more than someone watching the DriveThrough(tm) become popular back in the 50's and predicting the end of sit down restaurants and people cooking food at home. Good lord.

And yes, terrabytes of reference material at the touch of your finger tips would be cool. It's called a wi-fi laptop with an internet connection, a keyboard, and a mouse.

That's not text fiction. Fiction is a different style of content, and people use it differently than reference material. You don't know what reference material you're going to need, or when, which means instant search and access at a moment's notice is valuable.

You know how many books you're reading right now. 99% of the world's population could count their current fiction text in progress on one hand that was in a really bad accident involving farming equipment. And those who are reading more than one are on the far edge of the bell curve.

You aren't the "billions served" that is going to feed at the trough of an online McNovel.

The delivery system is nigh irrelevant to the way people consume the content. And most people consume fiction/text/novels *wwaaaaaaayyyy* different than how most people consume a three minute song.

#477 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 08:37 PM:

Will Entrekin: Yes, there are problems with pages becoming decrepit (mostly from sulphuric acids created in the bleaching process).

So paperbacks get brittle.

On the flip side that takes 40-100 years. I've seen laser disks that didn't make it a decade. CDs that didn't make it much more than that. Bits flip.

So long as the pages are whole, the book works. I've read books as they died, saving the pages in a heap.

That stack held together with rubber bands still functions. The CD which got scratched on the paint side, doesn't.

#478 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 10:58 PM:

I cannot, cannot, cannot believe I've just spent an hour reading this thread. I am such a stupid goof. I have deadlines! TNH sucked me in! I'm submitting an invoice based on my unanticipated reading costs, and if she wants to retain me as a loyal reader, she'd better pay up! (Blogs are fungible, right?)

Michael Weholdt @ 469 - the truly brain-bending aspect of the answer to your question is not that it's "yes, we have an answer" -- it's that the answer is in #467, with Alan Braggins, our new hamper member. Wherein Mr. Rimmer simply takes up the old argument, saying "I didn't say that". Well, no. Chris did.

I have been around this little place we call the Internet for a long time, and I have never, ever seen as sadly an incompetent use of the ancient art of sockpuppetry as this. I really need to send Rimmer an invoice for the time I spent reading this bilge.

By the way -- it's absolutely true, all true, that the MP3 has superseded all forms of music. Why, I just burned my guitar last week! It's obsolete!

No, no, wait. That's right -- I didn't. Instead, I play my guitar sometimes, and play MP3s at others. How fascinating.

I would, however, like to take this opportunity to state for the record that I would like an ebook reader that worked. I'm holding out for e-ink, though. And then I'm going to download the entire Project Gutenberg list or something. At which point I will never need to buy a book again! (Because they're all fungible, you s... ah, hell with it. I really do have deadlines, dammit.)

#479 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 11:00 PM:

Oh, wait, wait, I forgot to say the best part -- in all my years of Internetting, this was the funniest lawsuit threat I've ever seen! It was a classic! Now I really feel second-class. I've had cartooney threats, but never Australian ones.

#480 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 11:09 PM:

RE: toting around 30 GB of books....okay, we don't do that, but my boyfriend has every single one of the Discworld books from Audible.com on his iPod. It has the handiness of not having to constantly forward and for him, a high replay value. I've almost been converted to the idea of books on tape. (I much prefer handling the artifact myself, but being able to LISTEN to the Terry Pratchett or the Lois Bujold while I work has been awfully lovely.)

#481 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2007, 11:25 PM:

pixelfish,

i do, in fact buy more books-on-mp3 than i do books-on-paper these days, i think (if you don't count graphic novels on paper, then definitely). i've got a monthly subscription to audible, & one book of any size for $15 a month is a very good deal.

but i think i use audiobooks much more like music according to the examples greg described: i listen to audiobooks while drawing, screenprinting, or other activities where i can't be reading a book. i don't lsten to audiobooks sitting on my living room sofa, or in bed before i turn in.

(yes, though, to your point about discworld books: i have six of them on mp3 (bought making money, haven't read it yet), & the narrator is excellent.)

#482 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 12:28 AM:

Greg, is there a reason you're this angry about it? I don't intend to pry very far, but you're getting more and more heated as the subject continues, and I honestly don't see why. Some of us are assimilating our prose in ways you don't, and some of us know some more about how these alternatives work than you do, but I don't see any of us disputing a lot of the points you're raising. But it feels like you're actively mad at us for not fitting some picture in your head. Remembering past flare-ups, I kind of need to ask, is there something else that's soaking up your attention and good cheer? Because this is reminiscent of when you had medical woes in the way.

#483 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 01:05 AM:

Michael Roberts (#479) Set aside some time (popcorn & a comfy chair) to have a squiz at the developments in the Weirdly similar thread …

#484 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 02:17 AM:

Bruce, I don't feel angry about it. When someone shows up peddling the "Ebooks will put paperbacks out of business" shpeel with an angle that they have the next great solution, it just rubs me the wrong way like the conman who knocks on your door and says they just finished putting some driveway sealant on a driveway down the street, they had some left over, and it'd be a shame to let it go to waste. Sometimes I'm just amazed that these peddlers can push the same old cons and not get an immediate smackdown.

#485 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 02:18 AM:

Greg London said:

"But that's like watching McDonalds make a butt load of money with burgers and drive throughs and thinking that the future of French Restaurants (tm) and Texas Steakhouses(R) are doomed because the future of all food is somehow magically based in the delivery system, irregardless of how people relate to the content."

And:

"This is nothing more than someone watching the DriveThrough(tm) become popular back in the 50's and predicting the end of sit down restaurants and people cooking food at home. Good lord."

To which I say, actually, it's quite not.

Because, if you'll notice, I never predicted the end of the paper publishing industry. I really didn't make any predictions, I don't think. All I was saying was that mine was the first e-book on an iPhone. It wasn't marketed that way. I didn't target the iPhone, nor its readers (although full disclosure; I did post a blanket bulletin [via MySpace] if anyone was interested in doing so. Someone was).

I'm not removing the availability of the printed version. I'm not predicting the death of the publishing industry, nor even its revolution, exactly.

I'm just saying that I think that the more options are available, the more people might use them.

Also: combining e-book tech with the Espresso machine might make POD instantaneous. Am I predicting Barnes & Noble will disappear in favor of ATM-esque book kiosks in Starbucks?

Of course not. I've never said it's an either/or situation, that it has to be either paper or digital. I think there's world enough and time for both.

Michael Roberts: your guitar analogy is flawed. When you play guitar, you make/create music. You're actually producing the sound, not merely listening to it, as you are merely reading an e-book when you consume it, not creating the content/words.

#486 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 02:31 AM:

When it comes to books, audio doesn't work for me. I find them horrible, almost anti-books.

#487 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 02:49 AM:

Will@485: Because, if you'll notice, I never predicted the end of the paper publishing industry.

I didn't say you did. On the other hand, Despina (or whatever name it goes by) back at #353 seemed to be saying exactly that, along with plugging a website called "thebookisdead.com".

#488 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 02:49 AM:

Oh! Terry @ 486 reminded me of my other point: I can't do audiobooks. Never have been able to. Can't listen to a book while I'm working. Can't listen to a book while I'm doing anything, in fact (although, I do like to listen to music while I'm reading/writing).

#489 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 03:04 AM:

Re: Greg @ 487--

True. You didn't. Sorry. Didn't mean to allege you had put words in my mouth. I had a signal crossed. My bad. In fact, we have no beef (ha! See how I did that, with your Mickey Ds/French steakhouse thing?).

#490 ::: Bernard Yeh ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 04:05 AM:

Alan Braggins @467

Mild nitpick. Domesday 1986 images and video were not in digital format, but encoded in a modified Laserdisc format. Laserdisc video and still images are analog encoded.

And, in general, the modern web re-formatting of the video and images were sourced from the master 1-inch (analog) videotapes used to create the laserdiscs, not the laserdiscs themselves. (IIRC, the text and data portions of the project were sourced from the laserdiscs).

Lastly, Domesday 1986 was preserved only because someone remembered that the discs had become technologically obsolete (in less than 15 years), and various institutions in the UK funded the money and research to actually bring about its reformatting so that its content could still be used. In other words, Domesday 1986 was by no means an easy reformat, as you may have suggested in your comment.

This is why analog, human-accessible (i.e. no machine more complex than a magnifying glass required) formats such as paper and film are preferred in a lot of preservational and archival contexts: even treated shabbily or forgotten in a closet for decades, they are much more likely to be able to be used as is when rediscovered. And you don't need any tools other than literacy in the language the item is in.

All that being said, I think we've just about reached the point where the standardization in storage devices and file-system formats, and the lowering cost of digital storage, networking, and backup systems, is about to make digital preservation cheaper than analog preservation. Put another way: backing up or reformatting paper or film is very expensive, but only needs to be done once every 50-500 years. Backing up or reformatting digital files is very inexpensive, but needs to be done every 3-5 years. I think we're almost at the point where its more cost-effective to preserve digital objects than analog ones, even with the increased frequency of taking preservational action, because the cost of that action is getting very, very low, especially when labor is taken into account. Of course, this assumes a continuing technological infrastructure... If you want to hedge your bets and try to preserve your knowledge, culture and art against future civilizational catastrophe, words and images unencoded in a physical medium are the way to go...

#491 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 05:16 AM:

Michael Roberts #478: I think you'll find that Alan Braggins was around on this site long before Mr Rimmer showed up.

#492 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 07:03 AM:

#490: I sit corrected. I should have done more checking before taking "modern! Hi-tech! Digital!" at face value combined with a vague memory that it was connected to BBC computers.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC_Domesday_Project has more detail on the recovery.

#491: I would have thought the fact that I was disagreeing with the socks was a hint that I wasn't one of them, even without hitting "all by".
Chris thinks books are going to be obsolete. I think, as an aside to the main thread, a hypothetical improved future reader could possibly remove one of the objections (need for a power supply), not all.
Whether such a reader will ever be robust and cheap enough that I'm happy to leave it on a beach while I swim is another matter, as is its suitability for archiving.

#493 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2007, 11:04 AM:

Alan B #492: Whether such a reader will ever be robust and cheap enough that I'm happy to leave it on a beach while I swim is another matter

When a device gets that cheap, the cost of the data stored therein tends to rise. I'd insist on backups for everything before I left it on the beach.

#494 ::: mcz ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 05:07 AM:

Penguin CEO and Chairman John Makinson is optimistic about the future of the book:

Internet a surprise boon for books

So much for longstanding predictions that the internet would crush the book publishing industry with digital readers and online sales of used books.

Penguin publishers say that the explosion in online retailing has not caused the damage they were expecting and that the internet has in many ways been a boon for booksellers as a tool for marketing, experimentation and reaching out to the next generation of readers.

The publisher, whose authors include former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, novelist Nick Hornby and celebrity cook Jamie Oliver, was rattled by the threat of fast-growing online auction giants like eBay but has discovered that unlike the music industry people still want to own a physical book.

"There is a lot going on in the music publishing industry that is not going on in the book industry. Consumers don't want albums they want tracks and in publishing people want books not chapters," Penguin Chief Executive and Chairman John Makinson told journalists during a recent briefing.

read more...

#495 ::: Xopher sees annoying spam ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2007, 02:08 PM:

Editing Services, my fat hairy butt. I haven't gone to the website.

#496 ::: mcz ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2007, 03:05 PM:

Heh heh. This is the perfect time to post an interesting piece of Aussie book news: Dymocks to sell ebooks in-store.

Quotes:
One of Australia's largest book retailers, Dymocks, has leapt into the 21st century with a move to sell digital books in text and audio formats.

The Dymocks website now stocks about 120,000 electronic books - ebooks - that can be downloaded and read on a computer, mobile phone or other handheld device. Another 13,000 audio books can be listened to on computers or MP3 players.

Dymocks chief executive Don Grover, conscious of the fact the move could be seen as Dymocks competing with its bricks and mortar franchisees, rejected suggestions it signalled the beginning of the end for regular books.

[...]

"Customers love the feel and the smell of a book, and so it's not like music - there's a tactile book in front of you," Mr Grover said. "That [physical books] is still going to be our main business, we believe for a very, very long period of time."

[...]
A spokesman for Dymocks' arch rival, Angus & Robertson, said general manager Dave Fenlon was unavailable for comment.

###

And in a more recent SMH article, Dymocks finalising e-book deal, we find that Dymocks is also going to release an e-book reader:

Hot on the heels of online retail giant Amazon, book chain Dymocks is preparing to launch an electronic book reader in Australia before Christmas.

Dymocks chief executive Don Grover said he was in "final" negotiations with a European e-book reader manufacturer and planned to make an announcement within the next 10 days.

[...]

He would not name the manufacturer but ruled out the Sony Reader device, which launched in the US last year but, like most e-book readers released so far, has struggled to gain traction.

"Sony's Reader can only be used on the Sony Connect site, which means there's a very limited range of product," Mr Grover said.

"The one that we're in discussions with is not only a very good piece of hardware but also one that's capable of supporting the Adobe and Microsoft formats that we're selling on our website at the moment."

###

Mmmm, nice. Does that mean there is no DRM-encrustation on the Dymocks products? I live in hope. But in any case: go Dymocks!

#497 ::: Shayne ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2007, 03:34 PM:

mcz, thanks for the link and info. I find that fascinating.

It's interesting to see mainstream pick up on the appeal of ebooks. Epublishers have known those for quite a while. It does allow far more titles to be 'stocked' and produced.

Sellers aren't restricted to carrying only the titles they can house in their stores. It does open the doors to authors who can't get published because mainstream can't afford to carry and produce their books.

I definitely see this as a step in the right direction.

#498 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 09:15 AM:

And Angus & Robertson is now represented by a smoking hole in the landscape.

#499 ::: protected static sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2014, 02:15 PM:

...and not even very interesting spam at that.

#500 ::: Xopher Halftongue sees wretched spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2014, 02:16 PM:

Hate you, spammer.

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