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June 24, 2011

eBook Pricing

Electronic formats for books, comics, texts, etc. are currently being price, in a majority of instances, at the same or very similar levels as physical copies.

In the 1980s, the average paperback cost between $2.00 and $4.00 to purchase from a brick and mortar book store, the only kind of book store that existed. This price was enough to cover the physical printing, publishing, royalty, distribution, warehousing/storage, and editing costs while also allowing for the brick and mortar store to make a profit.

When prices started to rise in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I contacted publishers and book stores to ask why. Each company on both sides of the business said the same thing: the physical costs of publishing were increasing. For a time it was the ink costs. Then they claimed it was the paper costs. Then they were outsourcing the printing, so the warehousing and distribution costs went up. An interesting thing to note along the way is that, when ink prices went back down, the books stayed the same price. When the paper bubble burst, the price stayed the same. When book sellers got smart and nationalized their distribution processes and started using better computerized tracking methods, the prices stayed the same. When Amazon (and other online distributors) came about, and could sell in bulk and didn't have any brick and mortar stores to affect overhead, the prices still went up.

The average paperback now costs between $7.00 and $10.00. If what the publisher, distributors, and retailers have been telling us for over 30 years is true, then it is primarily because of the physical costs of printing, storing, and moving the books around.

Now we have the Kindle and other eBook readers revolutionizing how we read and get the written word. A company like Amazon can use a tiny fraction of their online resources to house one electronic copy of a book that they can then sell to thousands of people. This e-copy of the book has no printing costs, infinitesimal "storage" and "distribution" costs, used no paper, ink, wood, glue, cloth, or thread to make. It requires no energy from planes, trucks, or trains to move it around the world, no people to box it and unbox, no brick and mortar store that requires people to work it, rent to be paid, and electricity to be used to light. It is, literally, a few hundred kilobytes sitting on a server somewhere that every person who wants that book gets a copy of. So, if the physical costs are the main reason we are paying so much for a physical book, then we should be getting the electronic copy for much, much less, right?


A friend shared information that a friend of his, who works in publishing, had, that indicates that, rather than what we have been told for the last 30 years, the real reason why we pay so much for the electronic copy is to, in essence, dissuade people from buying them. The publishers are trying to help brick and mortar stores by keeping the electronic copy artificially high so that people will continue to support their local store.

Er, what?

Instead of letting the market decide which is the better option and letting the strongest, most profitable system win (in this case, letting the brick and mortar store die, apparently), we are paying at least 50% higher for electronic copies to keep those failing stores alive a little longer. I use 50%, because the friend went on to say that about 50% of the recommended retail price is for the brick and mortar store. So, on each of those $26 hard cover books, about $13 is going to Barnes and Noble, etc. Of the other $13, that is used to defray the physical costs of printing the book, the royalties to the author, and for the publisher's needs. This is how Amazon was able to give lower prices at first: they didn't have the physical stores that Barnes and Noble's had, so they could eat into their half of the profits to sell more books. Now, they have that bonus and the bonus of being the biggest book retailer in the world to negotiate prices, and can keep the prices down through volume sales.

It appears that, until or unless we stand up, question this practice, and demand lower costs on these electronic copies of books, we will continue to be charged roughly 50% higher than needed on them.

As anyone who frequents this blog can attest, I LOVE my Kindle. My wife loves hers. My sister loves hers. Our friends love theirs. As Amazon has shown, they are now selling more Kindle versions of books than they are physical copies. The benefit to having, literally, your entire library on one slim, light-weight device to take with you is incredible. And, if you aren't in the mood for one thing, you have your entire library of other books to choose from, or can download a new one in the space of about a minute. If all of us contact publishers and retailers and demand lower prices, we will get lower prices. But we have to stand up and be counted. We have to make our voices heard, or these companies will continue to overcharge us for these products.

And, in case anyone thinks I'm against brick and mortar stores or physical books, I'm not. I have a wealth of books on my shelves. I love the smell of a new book (and even old ones). I love the feel of the paper and looking at the illustrations (which many electronic copies do not keep, even though most eReaders can display them (although maybe not in color)). There are many books I will continue to buy in a physical copy. However, the eBook format is here to stay. It is comfortable and has many advantages over a physical book. And they are constantly upgrading them and refining them to be more and more like reading a physical book all the time. I'm even seeing that color e-Ink Kindles and other readers may be around the corner. I just want the pricing to reflect the costs (and allowing for a decent amount of profit) for whichever copy I choose to buy. If I buy physical copies, I expect to pay more and understand that. If I buy an electronic book, I expect the pricing to be less due to the reasons I've stated in this post. When it is not, and especially when the e-copy is more expensive, I want to know why.

June 23, 2011

Only Remembering the Bad Times

For some reason, lately I've been musing about an incident that happened when I was a boy. The family had gone out jeeping, which was a favorite activity during the summer months for our family. We often went with friends of ours, who also had a jeep, and sometimes we went alone.

On this particular occasion, my father was driving our blue Jeep CJ-5, mom in the passenger seat, with me on the drive's side and my sister next to me in the back seat. We had just gone up a particularly steep, bowl-shaped dune and dad was driving along the ridge. He suddenly decided the drive across the dune's face from left to right. This scared me. Being so light and small at the time, my seat belt didn't fit as snuggly as I would have liked, so I suddenly slid toward my sister, which scared me further. It was during this first pass that I realized I have a a small, specific sense of vertigo that can strike me when I look straight down from a high place.

Needless to say, I yelled out to dad something along the lines of, "Stop dad, I think I'm going to be sick!"

Dad's response was to say, "Nonsense!"

When we reached the far side of the dune's face he turned around and went back, this time with me on the "bottom" side of the dune, so that there was nothing for me to look at but the side of the jeep and the long drop down the very steep dune's face. Being bowl-shaped, this time dad decided to try to do a complete ring around the face of the dune... the entire time with me yelling (well, really, screaming... remember, I was just a boy and most people know that when a boy yells it comes out more like a high-pitched scream).

Needless to say, I started crying, felt really sick, and was very afraid of the way gravity and centripetal force was acting on my small frame. I screamed more. Dad started laughing and kept going faster, thrilling with the rush of Man versus Nature and, I'm still sure to this day, not even realizing there was some Man versus Man going on inside the jeep.

Mom started asking him to stop, as she could see me and see that I was bawling and white as a sheet. However, it took her a couple of tries, until finally a very sharp, crisp, "Dan!" broke through and he eased out of the bowl and up onto the side. I promptly threw up over the side of the jeep and couldn't stop shaking or crying.

I'm not sure why, at 40 years old and probably around 30-33 years later this image and memory has pressed to the fore and been so vividly on my mind the last week or two. Yes, we just had Father's Day, so that may be a factor. But, other than that, I cannot figure out why this has been haunting me of late.

I've always had a fairly complex relationship with my father. My memory of him is primarily of him being away, even though he only spent about a year in Okinawa (but he left when I was between one and two and came back before I turned three or so). He also had a job in Fontana for a few years when I only saw him on weekends (and then not every weekend). He also worked for a few years in Kuwait. But, overall, he was actually present, there in our small town, working for the military.

Overall and objectively he was a good father. He took me hunting and target shooting. He taught me woodworking skills and helped me to build a make-shift tree house and a fort. He taught me how to maintain vehicles, including change the oil and oil filter, check the spark plug gaps, check the timing, replace a dead battery, change a tire. He was the primary parent who taught me how to drive (although, once I had my license, I primarily drove with my mother). He, being a career military man and proud of it, even took me aside during my senior year in high school and said, "John, the military isn't right for you. You should go to college." He later explained that what he meant was that I was too questioning of authority, I gave respect too rarely, and that he thought I would likely get my ass kicked repeatedly in the military... and he's probably right.

Emotionally, however, I consider him absent and always remember the bad things. Why is that?

When I think of my dad and tell stories to my wife about growing up, it is the instances like the one I describe here that I usually tell in detail (or at all). Another one I tell a lot is about the time he flew back from Kuwait and arrived wearing a white Kuwaiti-style robe and had a long, full beard and mustache and when he tried to kiss me and say hello I screamed and hid behind mom because I didn't recognize him at all. Or the time he was spanking me with the paddle and I refused to cry (one of the first times I started really bottling up my emotions, a trait I still have and can't seem to stop to this day) and the paddle actually broke (just a small section came off); I still remember the surprised look on dad's face as he sent me to my room.

Why is it that, even though I consciously and logical know that he was a good and decent father, who did a lot for me and with me and helped me become the man I am today, I still mostly remember and think of the bad things?

June 22, 2011


Not so long ago, I found the Blogspot option to turn on "Reactions" on my posts. This allowed me to add simple buttons that readers can press to say (after I edited them) whether they Liked or Disliked a post (I used to have Netural as a selection, too, but no one ever seemed to use it, so I removed it). This new feature helped me understand that, while I thought only about four or five people read my blogs, that really it is around 12-15 (maybe more) who do. Which is exciting news to me.

However, one thing else I have also noted: while I never received many Comments to my blog, the number seems to have decreased by turning on the Reactions. Now, instead of typing even a quick word or two about it, people are simply clicking whether they like or dislike it and moving on. This, for me, is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it has helped me discover that I have more readers than I initially thought. On the other hand, by simply clicking Dislike without actually posting a comment as what they disliked, I am left wonder what about the post they didn't care for.

For example, take my last post about celebrities and politicians that get caught in nude picture/sex scandals. I simply stated an opinion that if these people would keep their "junk" in their pants, not film it or take pictures of it, then these scandals wouldn't happen. I also asserted that if you were feeling sexual toward another that you should either a) divorce the one you are current with so that you can have sex with that other person or b) take that pent up sexuality home and have sex with the one you are married to. Both of which would, again, keep a scandal from happening (or at least minimize it) and seem like logical, common-sense solutions to the situation.

Two people marked this post as Dislike. I am fine with their dislike in a general sense. I'm happy they read the post and happy they had an opinion on it. However, I'm having a hard time understanding what about it they disliked. Do they dislike that I am trying to help celebrities to stop having sexually-related scandals? Do they object to the simplicity of my argument? Do they reject that I called Weiner an idiot? Is it their preference that we should continue to have more of these scandals in the future? Do they have an alternate plan for stopping these scandals, something I didn't cover or haven't thought of?

Another example is the recent post on steroids and Lance Armstrong. In this, my thesis is that it doesn't matter whether Lance Armstrong took or didn't take steroids. If he did not take them, then is accomplishments are that much more impressive. If he did take them, then he was still the best of a group who, it seems, all took steroids. Either the playing fields was not level (and Armstrong was nearly super-humanly good at his sport) or the playing field was level (and Armstrong was the best of the cheaters).

Similarly, two people selected Dislike on that post, too, and I wonder what it was they disliked. Did they feel that I was biased and made it sound like Armstrong was guilty? Did they feel like I was missing some vital piece of the puzzle? Do they feel that steroids are so bad that they don't want to Like something that says that the playing field might be level because of steroid use? Was it simply that I was not clear in my assertions?

Now, don't get me wrong, this doesn't happen with every post. When I write something that is stating my religious, political, or a similar view point and someone simply clicks Dislike, I respect it and don't question it. If that post is leaning left, I assume it is a right-winged friend who doesn't see it the same way. If it is leaning right, I assume it is a left-winged friend who is affronted. When it is religious, I assume a friend who is not of the same belief system (or lack of one) is protesting what I wrote. All of which is fine and makes sense. But on the other posts, the posts with no clear-cut stance or that is trying to make sense of what I am seeing and reading, I am frequently left wondering what it is that the person who clicked Dislike is against. Without a comment from them, I am left scratching my head. I am happy to have the dissenting opinion posted so I can learn why the person disagrees or what specifically they are disagreeing with.

So, if you disagree with a post, please feel free to add a comment with an explanation. You do have to be signed up with a Google, Blogspot, or another type of verification process (I was getting spammed, so, unfortunately, had to turn on that requirement) in order to comment, but they are easy and free to get. I'd love to hear from you.

June 7, 2011

Keep It In Your Pants

So, there is something about all these political and celebrity scandals that I simply don't get: if you keep it in your pants, and don't film it or take pictures of it, none of this happens.These scandals are all entirely self-made by what I can only assume are self-destructive people.

My thinking on this is pretty simple: if you want to have sex with people who are not your wife, you should divorce your wife and then do so -- then there is no scandal. If you want to stay married, then KEEP YOUR PENIS IN YOUR PANTS when with any female who is not your wife, and you'll be fine. If your penis is in your pants, sex can't happen, pictures can't happen, and lewd acts can't happen. Problem solved.

Why is this so hard for celebrities and politicians to understand?

And, if you do decide to whip it out and let it be exposed, and thereby allow these bad decisions to happen, then DON'T LIE ABOUT IT. If there is one thing that we've learned over and over is that if you lie about it, the story doesn't die and it'll just be worse for you and your wife when the truth does finally come out. The moment you apologize for it, the American public is pretty much willing to drop it. If Rep. Wiener (to pick the current idiot with this problem) had just apologized, admitted to it, and moved on, we would be talking about other things 10 days later than his penis. The fact he lied and tried to cover it up for 10 days just makes it worse.

Lastly, if you see some female that turns you on that much, why not take that sexual tension and your libido home to your wife and use it all on her? She'll probably enjoy it and be happy and it will keep you from having an embarrassing scandal in your near future. If, for any reason, you don't feel you can do that, divorce your wife and then proceed. Your audience/constituents will be less worried about a divorce than they will be with you lying and committing adultery.

June 2, 2011

The Silent Majority

What America needs is a great Moderate leader to come out of nowhere. This person needs to be erudite, well-read, versed in politics in some fashion, and charismatic. He or she needs to have salient facts and a winning disposition and a virtually unassailable background. And, best of all, this person should be a third-party candidate.

People laughed when Jesse "The Body" Ventura ran for governor of Minnesota. They laughed until he won, and then got reelected. What was fabulous about Ventura as a governor was that a) he came out of left field, b) although he was best known as a wrestler and sometimes movie star, no one could find much dirt on him, and c) he was neither Republican nor Democrat. He had new ideas and he completely turned around Minnesota's situation and got it going forward again.

That's what America needs.

America was never intended to be a two-party country. Amendments to the Constitution have made it two-party and strengthened those parties to the point where they have a near stranglehold on politics in America. However, for the vast majority of people I know, and I have a sneaking suspicion the vast majority of Americans in general, one party does not speak for any one voter 100% of the time. Instead, everyone most likely has certain topics that they are conservative on, some they fall on the more liberal side, a few they are more noticeably "Democrat," and some on which they are "Republican."

For example, I'm anti-abortion, but I'm also pro-choice. By that I mean that I, personally, am against abortion except in very specific circumstances. There are too many options available to both men and women to stop unwanted pregnancies from occurring to have abortion as a last resort. However, I also recognize and understand that others do not share my opinion. And they have a right to this surgical procedure and to have it be the safest procedure possible. So, where do I fit on the "right/left wing" scale holding these seemingly opposed ideas?

The list goes on: I'm very right-wing on crime but sway left-wing on the environment. I'm republican in my ideas on the economy in general, but have decided democratic ideas about certain areas of the marketplace.

And I think most people follow a similar pattern to that-- swinging with their conscience, beliefs, and how they were raised between ideals that are typically one party to ideals that are typically the other. In the end, I think that makes us all sort of land in the middle as moderates, and I think most people can find common ground if they sit down and talk about it.

However, in the last decade or so, American politics have become increasingly polarized toward the extremes within the two main parties. These extremes are swaying the overall vote in ways that the silent majority of people don't like and do not want. There is a great line from the movie The American President, "People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they'll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They're so thirsty for it they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand." Right now, I think we're in that state.

Obama was going to be the President of Change. He kept saying we can't keep doing politics as usual. Yet, even though his door has been open to the Republicans for his entire time in office, the leaders on the other side have railroaded him, lied to the American people, and sandbagged the changes he promised. On the other hand, Obama also didn't provide good, strong leadership to his own people; he let people like Nancy Pelosi run amuck, make bad laws, and put down the Republicans such that they didn't want to work with her or any other Democrats. So, Obama is not that person, or has failed to be the person who can make both sides work together.

And that's where my contention that a third-party candidate needs to come forward. Someone who is beholden to neither the Democrats nor the Republicans. Someone who is savvy and charismatic enough to make them actually work together on things, find the common ground, and stop hurting the Republic and start helping the Republic's people. Someone who can hold the same disparate beliefs I'm convinced the majority of people hold, who can argue for both sides of an issue and make people see the reasonable middle ground, and who can build bridges between those moderate voices and show the extremes for what they are-- a small but very vocal minority that does NOT have America's best interests at heart.

If a third-party candidate cannot do this, then we need to find a new Reagan or Clinton. Many people forget that both Reagan (Republican) and Clinton (Democrat) had Congresses that were held by the opposite party during their terms. Yet they still managed to get a majority of their policies enacted with a minimum of issue by building bridges between the parties and by doing things that the other side couldn't fault. (Yes, I know: Iran-Contra and Blow Jobs from Interns -- I'm talking strictly party and lawmaking.)

America has a number of issues that can, and will, sink it in the near future unless the people rally. These issues include: distribution of wealth (America was made great by having a strong middle class, but that middle class is disappearing rapidly as more jobs go overseas), infrastructure (the roads, railways, bridges, water, sewer, and other infrastructure across the country is failing at an alarming rate), education (America is coming in last or near last in nearly every qualifier for industrial nations), and production (America is not producing as much as it once was, and is shipping what production is left overseas-- allowing those nations to become strong with a strong middle class and further hurting the American economy and other issues).

We need a leader who is going to create jobs at a good wage getting people to work on the failing infrastructure. This solves two problems (distribution of wealth and infrastructure) by putting Americans to work fixing America. Next, that leader needs to revamp the educational system; it needs punishment for disobedient children, it needs to focus public educated on making the best, most well-rounded students for graduation from High School, it needs to build more schools and better stock all schools with new textbooks and equipment, and it needs to make teaching a career choice that more people want to do so we can lower class sizes and allow the students to actually learn.

Lastly, this leader needs to encourage car, clothing, electronic, widget, and doodad manufacturers to make those products in America. This puts even more people to work and further stabilizes the economy. If people make it in America and buy it in America, then America's economy stays strong. And, yes, it really IS that SIMPLE.

I hope this mythical leader comes along soon. The country cannot go another decade with this kind of infighting, rancor, and apathy about doing what it needs to before it starts to collapse under its own weight.