Wednesday, July 01, 2015

You Read Too Much

It sounded almost too good to be true when it was first introduced. Imagine paying a flat monthly fee, something quite affordable, and then being able to read as much as you liked.

What could be better? Read three or four e-books a week, and not have to pay for each title? Read hundreds of books a year, fulfill your cravings for delicious words, and still have money left to pay the electric bill. And so Scribd found a willing audience to buy into the notion of subscription e-books.

The problem is, dear romance reader, that you read too much.

Scribd may be good in theory, but in practice, the romance readers are killing it.

Romance readers are voracious. They go through one e-book after another, reading and reading until you'd think their eyes would fall out of their heads but they just go and read another book.

The subscription fees, however, don't cover Scribd's costs to acquire those books. Publishers aren't giving things away for free very much, and if they can sell one hundred books to those voracious romance readers, they have no desire to make less by selling at a steep discount to Scribd because Scribd has this business model it wishes to maintain.

You read too much, you romance fancier. Scribd has just culled the most money-losing part of their business and removed a huge quantity of romance titles. They've axed erotica as well, which is understandable. Those titles are a few short words of graphic porn and it doesn't take long to read one of them. A particularly sex-obsessed individual could easily manage one a day, or more if they have a quick recovery period. When you have unlimited porn catering to every fetish, you may go a bit overboard and stuff your head with filth because, well, it's there for the taking.

In the short term, Scribd will see a drop in expenses as the romance readers find that what they want is not to be had via Scribd. The lending will drop and the publishers won't be owed quite so much.

And then?

Then the avid romance readers cancel their subscriptions and use their eight euros (more or less) to buy fewer titles from suppliers like Smashwords, which was providing much of Scribd's romance content.

Scribd will then take in less money, even while shelling out less. The question to be answered will then become, is the business model viable at the current price? Without the voracious romance readers signing up, who would replace that large population? Can there be enough non-romance fanatics to support a smaller catalogue if those readers are more selective and don't read as much?

One can theorize all day, and cost accountants can make all sorts of calculations and projections. Only time and experience will tell, but while waiting for that time to generate the experience, Scribd will continue to burn through investor money. Investors are not known to wait forever. Scribd hangs in the balance, an experiment undergoing some adjustments as test results come in.

But is it on life support, or can it recover?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Family Ties That Restrain

The average criminal is stupid, but there's a special level of stupidity for those who would steal from their own family members. Especially when the family members are criminals themselves.

John Verdino fits the picture. He thought it would be a brilliant idea to steal a safe from his brother-in-law's house.

How did he know about the safe? Well, his sister told him, according to Mr. Verdino. Why did she say such a thing? Because she was mad at her husband for some reason, and told her brother that said husband was abusive. Oh, and he had a safe stuffed with untaxed income, why not take it.

As if anyone's sister would mention the untaxed income. If your husband has a safe stuffed with cash, and you wanted your little brother to steal it as a way to extract revenge, would you really bother telling the kid that no taxes have been paid on the money he's to steal? Do you think anyone would much care about meeting Internal Revenue Service rules about declaring income?

So young John gets a buddy to help him lift the safe, and what robbery could be easier when you know your sister will let you into the house or leave a key for you to make it look like she wasn't home and it was a break-in. They take the money, and immediately head to the nearest Federal building to pay the government what is due....
The buddy and the brother-in-law will face kidnapping charges

Seems they weren't worried about tax issues once the money was in their hands, and they missed the part about the taxes. Instead, they went and bought a couple of motorcyles. Would anyone ask questions of a 19-year-old who suddenly appears on a motorcycle? Like, where he got the money for it, and where his buddy got the money for his bike?

Brother-in-law Joseph Van De Carr didn't ask questions, he just used his powers of intution and logic to conclude that his wife's brother had taken the safe and was in possession of the cash. $80,000 was missing, but the two bikes did not cost all that much, so the remainder of the cash was around somewhere. Mr. Van De Carr decided to go retrieve it.

He, in turn, called up a buddy and they kidnapped John. Pulled him off the bike, in fact, and then threw him in the trunk of the car. They used his cell phone to trap Verdino's pal, and once they had the two miscreants, they beat the youngsters silly until the location of the money was disclosed.

Mr. Verdino was upset at the rough treatment, so the police were called. He lodged a complaint against his brother-in-law, who then turned himself in and told the cops about the burglary and theft.

The money? That will be evidence for a while, and then it goes to the public coffers as the proceeds of crime, unless Mr. Van De Carr can show that he earned every penny of it, and he put his savings in a safe because he doesn't trust banks. Unfortunately for the victim of the burglary, he sports a neck tattoo. It's hard to look completely innocent with ink creeping over your shirt collar.

Now everyone can go to jail.

The family that preys together, isn't that how that old joke goes?

Monday, June 29, 2015

On This Day In Greece

Journals are great sources for writers of historical fiction, giving the author a personal insight into some important event. Where would we be without Josephs Plum Martin's jottings about his days as a soldier in the Continental Army during America's revolution? What of Anne Frank's diary? Can you find a journal that would give you a better sense of what life was like for a Jewish girl closeted in an attic, living in hiding from the Nazis?

A journal entry is an impression on a given day, without knowing what will come tomorrow. Day by day, the journal writer chronicles events, and it is only much later that we can look back at the collection of information and piece together a picture.

Today's journal entry should make mention of the monetary crisis in Greece.
Pensioners wait for money that is not there

Something is going to break in the world, but at this moment, there's no telling where the crisis will go. So let us note the aged pensioners sitting outside of the closed banks, in need of their stipend but unable to get a euro because the money has run out. They arranged their lives around a promise, that they would have a certain income for the rest of their lives, and suddenly that promise is broken because there is no more money. Elderly, with no means of support, are sitting in front of banks wondering how they will buy food.

Some are desperate. Some are resigned. Some may be thinking of what items they have at home that they might sell to raise money. Perhaps they will have to turn to their children for help, unless they are supporting their children who cannot find work.

The tourists will jot in their journal, describing their worry about getting cash to pay for meals or taxis to the airport. Uncertainty clouds the holiday, along with concern for the nice maid or the friendly waiter whose livelihood depends on tourism. What becomes of them, the tourist inscribes in their journal, what becomes of those who lose their jobs and cannot rely on government subsidies because the government is skint?

For some, today's journal entry will indicate a sense of their world ending. There will be mentions of desperation, strong emotions that some future writer of historical fiction can tap into to flesh out a character.

There is talk of last minute deals, and there is talk of economic collapse. Bankruptcy or salvation.

For those not living in Greece, the diary page for Monday, the 29th of June, 2015, might note that the stock market is expected to plummet due to concerns of default. Someone loaned Greece all that money, and if they do not get it back, it's gone. It isn't there to loan to others, who would pay it back with interest. Others like other EU countries who are finding it difficult to keep promises made to citizens about pensions and paid leave and early retirement.

Emotions are bubbling up all across the globe. As a writer, you should have your ears open, and then put your impressions down in your journal. Or your blog. Keep those initial sensations for later, when your historical research takes you to some financial crisis of old. The emotions are the same over the generations. It's just the actors who change, along with the scenery. They are speaking the same lines.

Observation is at the heart of a journal. Writers are good at observing, and then storing away those observations. Like a rainy day fund, except it doesn't hold money.

But neither do the Greek banks, apparently.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Those Wild And Crazy Victorians

You've heard the shocking news by now. Miley Cyrus did not invent twerking. Not only that, but the person who taught her to twerk didn't invent it either.

Women have been twerking for almost two hundred years.

You know what that means. Yes. The Victorians were twerking.

Imagine Queen Victoria, dropping it like it's hot for Prince Albert. No wonder she had so many children!
Queen Victoria gets into her groove with Albert
It's a troubling image, to picture those staid and prim ladies shaking their money-makers. And in what context might the ancestral twerking have been performed?

The editors of the Oxford English Dictionary are, of course, concerned only with words, so when they studied the word 'twerking' for possible inclusion in the dictionary, they found that it was not a new word at all. Grand, so, but what were our ancestors doing, and are we all wrong in thinking that there wasn't all that much sex beyond that required to procreate?

They are saying the word originated as a way to describe a twist or jerking motion. Sounds harmless enough, without any sexual context at all, but back in 1820 when 'twerk' cropped up, the world was still in the throes of the Regency and the King wasn't exactly the loyal, stay at husband his father George III had been. The OED editors have said, in not so many words, that twerking then is the same as twerking now. The word was put to a particular action and somehow fell out of everyday use until Miley Cyrus put on a show and everyone started talking.

Western films will have to update their dance hall sequences, given this new evidence. The ladies weren't just kicking up their heels, no indeed, they were twerking under all those layers of clothing.

What of the average housewife, would she have been aware of twerking and felt compelled to twerk for her husband to keep him from seeking titillation elsewhere? There must have been a lot of action in your average log cabin in the wilds of the American frontier, where entertainment options were few and a wandering husband would have to wander for days to find the nearest brothel and who would plow the fields in the meantime?

So there it is. The young generation hasn't discovered sex or invented anything that their ancestors weren't doing two hundred years ago.

But who would have guessed that the Victorians were so wild and crazy?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Pricing Strategy

Once upon a time, the local public library bought a book and put it on the shelf. The taxpayers who funded the purchase of that book would then go to the library and take the book from the shelf, check it out, and read it.

Big blockbuster books would be in demand, and there would be many taxpayers arriving at the library thinking they would borrow the latest craze in fiction, only to find it was "checked out" and they had to wait. Well-funded libraries might buy additional copies of that sort of book, so that the taxpayers would not have to wait so long to read the blockbuster best-seller.

Publishers priced books so that they made a profit after covering expenses. Authors got their little piece of the paper pie, and so the industry stumbled along for generations.

E-books do not need physical printing, so the perception exists that the book is very cheap to produce. Next to nothing, in fact. Except for paying the author, the editor, the copy-editor, the clerical help, the accountant, the billing clerks, etc. etc. Publishers saw a way to turn a profit through volume selling, and the price of an e-book resembled that of the paperback when paperbacks first appeared. The profit margin could be higher than that of physical books, with the consumer getting only part of the cost-savings.

The local public library saw an advantage in e-books, in part because they were cheaper. There is no shelf space needed to store the digital books. A library could hold thousands of books and not need more space than a small office for the librarian who would be fielding requests from library users for the latest blockbuster best-seller.

However, buying an e-book for a library is not the same as buying a physical book from a publisher. But why is it not?

Not all e-books are overpriced for library use

Sure the digital copy can sit in the library's database forever, never wearing out and never needing replacing. But many of those best-seller books have a short shelf life anyway, and are out of fashion before the covers are falling off.

Digital books can only be viewed by one borrower at a time, just like the hard copy. If a library wants to satisfy demand, it has to buy additional copies of the same book, just like it did when the additional copies came in a box from a distributor.

Canadian librarians are complaining loudly about the pricing strategy that publishers utilize to price digital editions for library use. That $12.99 e-book you can pick up on Amazon? The publisher asks the library to pay $114.00. There are no five or six copies available to users at those prices.

The price reflects the publisher's belief that the perpetual nature of e-books means the library is buying a single copy that will never have to be replaced, as if every hardcover purchased received such rough treatment that three new books would be purchased as replacements over the life of the book.

The price reflects the publisher's belief that the average library user has no idea how much the e-books are actually costing the library, and they can get away with it because the public wants e-books and the libraries are public institutions serving the public demands.

Newcastlewest Books, on the other hand, sells e-books to libraries at a discount, in large part because we realize that the money to pay for those books comes from taxpayers who are hard-pressed to pay the rates as it is. Why should they not get a break somewhere? Libraries link into Overdrive, and their patrons have access to an enormous collection of books that can be downloaded at any time, any place, you might wish to read but can't make it to the library building.

Public libraries serve the public good, which is why Andrew Carnegie was so keen to fund the construction and outfitting of public libraries.

Modern day publishers, apparently, are not quite so philanthropic. Gouging may be a more apt description of their pricing strategy.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Use Of Words To Express Sensitivity

A balcony collapses and throws a dozen young people to the ground four stories below, a fall to their death.

Truly a tragedy, this horrific accident that took the lives of six Irish students, young people of 21 years, their lives just beginning. How is such a thing to be spoken of? What words can be used by a journalist to describe an incident that has touched the hearts of so many?

If you are the New York Times, you look at the pictures of that collapsed balcony hanging from the facade and you think of the J-1 visa program that brought those poor people to their death in a foreign land.

Five of the dead were in San Francisco thanks to the special visa that allows foreign students to work in America without having to go through all the red tape and paperwork required of those who wish to settle more permanently. They come for a summer to experience a little of adult life, on their own, and then go home to finish up schooling or embark on a career.

It sounds like a grand opportunity, but if you are the New York Times, you don't do sunshine and happiness. You probe the dark underbelly of the J-1 program. You look at the bits of balcony dangling and you think about the many complaints lodged by property owners who rented to J-1 students and found their flats wrecked.

Sure that balcony could represent the same kind of destruction, right? There's a powerful link if you just focus on the right area.

The once-proud newspaper is today backtracking on a story that ran earlier. Writers Adam Nagourney, Mitch Smith and Quentin Hardy managed to demonstrate a remarkable lack of compassion and a very poor choice of words with their piece that has come under fire. The authors opened their article with an attack on the J-1 program, describing the visa users as a "source of embarrassment for Ireland" because the Irish students misbehave so terribly and drink all the time and destroy private property and make a nuisance of themselves altogether.

What could be more sensitive to the hearts of those whose children died? Those six deaths touched on a great many people. The Dail, Ireland's version of Congress or Commons, has suspended its session out of respect for the dead.

So, thanks a million, Grey Lady, for being so very sensitive.

Because when tragedy strikes, we all like to hear about other young adults who, in one instance, were an embarrassment. The word play in the article certainly had that certain magical quality that only can be created by the sparkle of well-crafted prose. Well done indeed.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Crazy Love

Victoria Andreenkova is in love.

What a heady feeling, those first stirrings of emotion. Especially for a former citizen of Russia, where there is precious little reason to fall in love. Everyone's miserable in Russia, with poor job prospects, poverty, lack of resources, and most every man in the nation a raging alcoholic.

Ms. Andreenkova has fallen in love with an Irishman. Her move to Dublin was, in that case, a blessing.
Victoria Andreenkova: From Rusia, For Love
But she is Russian by birth, the tragedy of Russian history ingrained in her psyche. She is in love, but there is an element of drama.

She is in love with Graham Dwyer who is now serving a life sentence for the sado-masochistic killing of child minder Elaine O'Hara. Their love, in this case, can never be. They cannot be together, snuggling on a beach or sharing a quiet dinner in some trendy bistro in Dublin. The best she can hope for is to gaze lovingly into Mr. Dwyer's eyes through the Plexiglas that separates them for thirty minutes, once per week.

The rest of her time is spent in Dublin, pining for her beloved. He is in Midlands Prison in Portlaoise, so far away.

It was during his trial that she fell for the handsome dominant, pushing her way into the courtroom to gain a front-row seat. So smitten was she that she had to contact him, to let him know that she, too, recognized his innocence. She knew he didn't kill Elaine O'Hara because some mysterious garda had done the deed. Not a city-based officer, however, but one of those from the countryside. There's not many people about in the farming communities, you see, and the guard could just slip in and out of Dublin without anyone noticing.

Perhaps she is thinking of the same mysterious garda who she says she was involved with some time ago in Ballymun. The man didn't have the decency to rent a hotel room, either, but used his car, the bastard. Public property and he's not concerned about leaving a stain on the seat. And he's a married man, so. He tried to make her take abortion pills after she fell pregnant, illegally purchased tablets that he bought on the Internet but she was too clever for him. Just put the pills in her mouth and pretended to swallow.

So clearly she has it in for the police service.

Nor is she a great friend of Fine Gael or the Irish government in general. It was Fine Gael that stole her breast pump, you see. And she went right to the top with her complaint. She rang up Enda Kenny himself to let him know how displeased she was that Fine Gael was after stealing her breast pump.

Now the crazy in love young woman has been banned from further visits with her dear Graham because she was not dressing appropriately for a prison visit. She was only wearing what he ordered her to wear, it turns out. Once a dominant, always a dominant, I suppose. But the attire was not deemed suitable and she won't be allowed back in.

Ms. Andreenkova has lost her heart. Seems like she's lost her head as well, but maybe that's been gone for quite some time.