One of my yearly goals that frequently reoccurs is to make time to read. Or simply to read more. So when I saw a link to an article about tips to “help you spend more time reading and finish books faster” (Source: 11 tips and tricks to make yourself read more), it seemed like a great potential resource. But when I read it, I couldn’t stop laughing at the suggestions. Maybe if you were a non-reader, but as a reader looking to carve out more time, they seemed hilarious to me.
1. Never leave home without a book — it says this is inconvenient if you don’t have a bag or purse to carry it in. Really? *I’m* a reader…half of my travel accessories are built around being big enough to carry both paper books and e-readers. I have small bags, medium bags, large bags. When I travel, I have large bags with enough room in them to carry my smaller bags for traveling around with once I get there. What reader doesn’t either have a bag if they are still a Luddite only reading paper or an ebook app (or five) on their digital devices?
2. Track your reading progress — Under the heading of “what gets measured, gets done”, here’s the thing … every second you spend TRACKING is a second you are not READING. Hello???? I want to read, not learn an app. However, tracking is important for shaming others who don’t read. If you don’t have the stats, you can’t humiliate others near as well.
3. Join a book club — book clubs are many things. But an incentive to read is rarely one of the most consistent. Reading is something YOU DO BY YOURSELF. You READ to READ, not so you can leverage it for more social interactions that will take you away from READING. On the other hand, if you’re low on your monthly quota of rich snacks, snooty acquaintances, and cheap wine, a book club might be for you!
4. Only read what you’re into — I’m sorry, that’s not how readers are wired. I read stuff I love. I read stuff I hate. I read stuff written on bathroom walls, graffiti on public buildings, the tags on mattresses, labels on cereal boxes, the name of the manufacturer of eye test charts when I’m waiting in the optometrist’s office. Read what I’m *into*? I’m INTO EVERYTHING — I’m a READER.
5. Knock out a few pages wherever and whenever you can — oh, you sly dog you. Books are like heroin or cocaine. You don’t get to just have a taste to take the edge off, you devour, you dive, you lose yourself in them until social relationships crumble around you because you were reading, lost track of time, and accidentally showed up 3 hours late to a wedding. Your own.
6. Read while you exercise — One of my favorites. I absolutely will read when I exercise. Or, more likely, I’ll exercise when I’m done reading. Which is when I finish reading every book ever written. Twice.
7. Read before bed — Really? Does this ever work out for anyone? I’m a READER, not a sleeper. This is how you ended up missing work the day after Harry Potter #4, 5, 6, and 7 came out. Cuz you were READING the night before, in bed, and stayed up for HOURS.
8. Get in tight with a book nerd — Here’s the thing. Book nerds have no friends. Well, not organic friends anyway. They have lots of paper friends. That’s why they’re BOOK NERDS — they don’t like PEOPLE! Kind of hard to make friends with people who see you as an impediment to their continued reading.
9. Don’t read a bunch of things at one time — See point 4. I read EVERYTHING at once. If I accidentally leave a book at home, I’m on to the next book. I’m a reading ‘ho, I’ll become mentally intimate with anything with lines of text. Sometimes several partners a day. And when I’m done, I toss them aside like yesterday’s business, and I’m on to the next one! Sure, once in awhile, I’ll reminisce about my favorites, savour a particular experience, but the high fades like store-bought love often does, and I’m jones-ing for the next contact.
10. Find or make a quiet place — Quiet? Who needs quiet? I need a BOOK, after that the world disappears. Walls could crumble, buildings could fall, and I’d still be wondering what the Queen of Hearts is going to say or do next.
11. Couple it with something you love — Great idea. How do I couple reading with reading?
Maybe, after all, that article wasn’t meant for the likes of me…
Each year, I set reading goals for myself, but usually not very specific i.e. 25 books, which I blow through in a few months of binge-reading. But I don’t say in advance “these 25 books”, as my goal is usually “more”, to make time for reading. And then I do, with a binge mentality.
A year ago, I read through a whack of Robert B. Parker and Sue Grafton novels. Somewhere around 60 I think, in about three months. Just plowed through them. Binge reading. One of the downsides to an e-reader is that I finish one and immediately start on the next in the series. Narnia, Artemis Fowl, Spenser, Kinsey, all grist for the reading mill.
Yet I have also wanted to “improve” my reading selections, with some from a long list of award winners or books recommended by friends, or even just great classics. I read Dracula that way, merely because I had never read it before and it’s such a classic tale that has survived in countless forms. This year, while perusing some other reading challenges, I decided I would be VERY specific as to what I was going to read, up to and including the exact books or series I would finish.
With at least one per author whose last names start with each letter of the alphabet. And my Alphabet Reading Challenge is now set. For most letters, I had numerous to choose from. In other cases, only one or two (hello Q!). The final list includes:
- award winners from Time Magazine, Guardian, etc., all of whom regular compile “best of” lists;
- recommendations from friends when I started making my list;
- category award winners like mystery writers for Edgars, Shamus, and Agathas; and,
- national awards like Man Booker, Governor General, Pulitzers, etc.
Which means the final list for this year is a bit eclectic with a broad mix of titles to keep it interesting. Some of them I’ve even read before, but it’s been a long time, so I’m going to read them again.
- Margaret Atwood – The Blind Assassin
- Lawrence Block – Writing the Novel: From plot to print to pixel
- Paulo Coelho – O Alquimista (The Alchemist)
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Crime and Punishment
- Marian Engel – Bear
- William Faulkner – The Sound and the Fury
- Diana Gabaldon – Outlander series
- William H. Hallahan – Catch Me, Kill Me
- Kazuo Ishiguro – The Remains of the Day
- Donald Jack – Three Cheers for Me
- Stuart Kaminsky – A Cold Red Sunrise
- Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez – 100 Years of Solitude
- Vladimir Nabokov – Lolita
- George Orwell – 1984
- Terry Pratchett – Discworld
- Paul Quarrington – Whale Music
- J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter series
- J.D. Salinger – Catcher in the Rye
- Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace
- John Updike – Rabbit series
- Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez – The Dirty Girls Social Club
- E. B. White – Charlotte’s Web
- Lu Xun – Diary of a Madman and Other Stories
- Richard Yates – Revolutionary Road
- Carlos Ruiz Zafón – Shadow of the Wind
By my rough count, that’s actually about 51 books when you include the series. Not sure I can do all of them this year, but I’m sure going to try.
I find most of the articles on the net about ebooks vs. paper to be wrong-headed and mostly silly. Passionate paper people who claim that anyone using an e-reader to be woefully uninformed, of low culture, and possibly impotent vs. all digital, all the time people who claim anyone reading paper is clearly a Luddite. Personally, I don’t care the format. Paper, ink, e-ink, pixels, back of a napkin, side of a serial box, pamphlet, newspaper, ceiling of a dentist’s office…I’ll read anything anywhere anytime. And usually it doesn’t take much time before I disconnect from the physical format and immerse myself in the story. So when I saw yet another “I’m going to read paper” post, I just about blew past it with a yawn. However, I didn’t, I clicked, and I find Michael Hyatt’s take kind of interesting (Why I’m Putting Ebooks on the Shelf for 2016 – Michael Hyatt).
One thing he notes that for him, “e-books are out of sight and out of mind” whereas the paper books loom in front of him on the shelf waiting to be read, and reminding him to read. Kind of an interesting idea, I think, partly because I have found the same at times. I carry my e-reader with me, but if I don’t physically “see” it, I often grab my tablet or something else first. He also finds the physical stack comforting when he’s done reading them…I see his point, but the concern with a library overwhelming the house negates that pleasure pretty quick for me.
A second item I like is that he finds the bookmarking and taking of notes less effective for him, something he enjoys doing easily with physical books. I certainly find that for non-fiction, less concerned with it for fiction.
The third item that resonated with me was about how he doesn’t get the same sense of accomplishment when he finishes an e-book as a paper book. I have found that too…in paper, I close the book. I might literally feel a sense of closure, but it’s also a moment to reflect for a second or two on what I have read, to savour the ending, to digest the story arc. On my e-book reader, particularly if I’m reading a series, I will go on to the next one almost immediately and be well into Chapter 1 without taking the time to really savour the flavour of the previous meal. That’s not really about the e-book though, that’s about my personal reading style with e-books. Nothing would stop me from savouring it the way a closing of a book does.
Sure, he also argues that e-books don’t engage the senses, there’s lower retention and comprehension, etc., and most of the science around it is complete crap, so I’m ignoring those points. I also find no resonance with arguments about more easily distracted by e-mail or games on tablets, etc. — when I’m reading, I’m reading. Earthquakes don’t distract me. I don’t even pretend to understand his complaints about more difficulty navigating though.
Yet, as I said, I`m glad I clicked. Those three points were interesting, and quite different from what most people write on the subject.
I was saddened to read today that Amazon’s most prolific reviewer, Harriet Klausner, passed away at age 63. (The woman who wrote 31,014 Amazon book reviews and upended the Internet, dead at 63 – The Washington Post).
I met Harriet through the Dorothy-L newsgroup back in the late 1990s. I confess that I didn’t particularly like her style of review, a little too positive without enough critique and a little too pun-laden for my tastes. She almost always posted positive reviews, partly as she said that unless the book was good, she didn’t read past page 50, and sometimes not even that far. I admired her dedication to writing and posting the reviews. And, like anyone who posts away, and in such a prolific fashion, you get the fans and the haters, sometimes in equal measures.
The fans were obvious. Legions of people read her reviews and followed her missives; publishers included her gushes on the covers of book-jackets. The haters were equally legendary, often emboldened by finding other skeptics. Most of their popular criticisms of her had little resonance with me.
They questioned how one person could read so many books so fast. I too could read 3-4 books in a day if I had the time, and have done so many times. I don’t do it very often, and it has to be a certain type of book — serials, procedurals, Travis McGee sized novels, etc. Lots of YA. My record from my mis-spent youth was seven Three Investigator stories in a go, and from my adult years, 5 Kinsey Millhone stories in a go. I don’t recommend it, as they all blend together. So I had no trouble believing she was reading them all although as with most speed-readers who are not photographic-readers, retention becomes an issue even within hours of finishing the book. Even Harry Potter, for example — many people spent hours engrossed in the pages over several days; I read the fourth one (the first big one), in a single go, one day. It’s an immersive-type experience, but there’s little time to savour the flavour before it’s done. It’s almost like fast food instead of a gourmet meal. If I went into full skim-read mode, I could finish the first one in about 1.5 to 2 hours. And, if I was really into it, I could skim read 10 books in a day. Not my idea of fun, but to each their own.
They questioned the validity of her review, often citing the fact that her reviews were short, relatively content free, and error-prone. I find those same “errors” to be more reminiscent of someone who skim-reads tons of books, then sits down to review and finds that the details aren’t as sharp as they were when she finished the book. Jim becomes John; Mike becomes Martin. I have the same problem when I’m reviewing TV episodes — if I don’t do the review right after the episode, i.e. as soon as it ends, I find it really hard to go back and write the one-line tweet review even four episodes later. They just all blend together. Add in the fact that her reviews weren’t really reviews, they were short blurbs, about the equivalent of a dust-jacket and dashed together in 3 minutes with no going back to ensure she got the name right, etc. Not my style, but she was a perfect example of a type of internet dweller — the prolific commenter, writer, reviewer who cares more about writing a review and posting it to share their opinion than proof-reading, editing, tweaking, fact-checking. It’s a quick review, not painstaking journalism.
Harriet is, in my respects, the opposite of me when it comes to writing reviews. She could dash off 150 words and consider herself done, sending it out into the world. My reviews have detailed structures — plot / premise, what I liked, what I didn’t like, a summary, info about publisher, year, stars, series, tags — and I’ve agonized over things to include or not. I’ve spent 2 hours reading a short novel, and another hour writing the review to get it down to 300 words that I think are fair, reasoned, pithy but substantive. I’m anal. If it goes out the door with my name on it, I fuss. The result? Really low volume of reviews. I have tons of books on my TB Reviewed list because they are just too time consuming. I can’t let go.
So while I could never switch to Harriet’s approach (short, formulaic, and in some cases error-laden), I wish I had her laissez-faire approach. It’s just a short review, one of hundreds. For me, even if people don’t agree with my review, I hope they find it helpful. Thorough even. In a word, professional, which falsely suggests that I think Harriet wasn’t…in actuality, I think it was just a different standard of self-analness.
A frequent complaint was also that she *gasp* profited from her amateur reviews. She probably did, in at least four ways, but not in the way most people assume. There’s no evidence, ever, that she “sold” reviews, so let’s ignore that particular claim — people assume she must have been selling them to do so many, since why would she do it for free, but that was how her brain was wired. And is likely linked to the first form of profit — there is a huge selfish thrill to having people read your reviews. I love it. It’s addictive. I suspect, without knowing of course, that this was her main drive, and if so, she profited immensely. 30,000 reviews? Millions of people reading her reviews. Secondly, she was an Amazon affiliate too I believe. So if they clicked on her review site and got to Amazon to buy it, she would have got a few pennies if something sold. Is it enough to live on? Hardly. But it might pay for a few books a year. Third, she got TONS of free books from publishers. As an executive mentioned back in ’05, it was a way to get yourself reviewed when the big reviewers didn’t have space for you. Harriet would read just about anything. And did! Plus, it was risk-free — if she didn’t like it, she would stop reading it early, and not rate it. If she finished it, you would get at least 3 stars and probably 4 or 5. Again, risk free.
The fourth way she “profited” was how she got into some hot water with people, and understandably so. All those free books? She sold them off used on used book websites. And I totally understand why some people would say, “Wait, I sent that to you for free, you can’t sell it and make money!”. I get that, makes sense. But I do know there’s a larger spectrum at play, another side so to speak, which is part of what was apparently stressing her out — she was throwing them out, didn’t have room to keep them all. A pretty large volume. It’s hard to imagine a former librarian not finding that incredibly traumatic on its own. Plus, lots of people said, “Hey, shouldn’t you give those away instead?” so that they wouldn’t end up in landfill. Plus another group of more mercantile types who said, “No way, don’t give them away, sell them, you did all that work, you should get something for it!”.
Taking books out of the equation for a second, partly as it is so visceral to the soul of a reader, this is to me just human nature — some people can get quite lively about whether you throw something out like a used toaster vs. e-recycling it vs. donating it to Value Village vs. trying to sell it online. In that vein, I have a used microwave. Works fine, a few years old, we bought a bigger more powerful one. But the old one works great. Do I want to sell it? Not really. I’d be far happier to give it to someone who needs it than sell it, but I have family and friends who think that is almost heresy. Equally, I have 3000 books I need to get rid of — if someone would take them for free and use them, I’d happily give them to them. They represent thousands of dollars of my investment, so there are TONS of people who are aghast that I’m not trying to have a book sale of my own, or donating to the library (they won’t take them, too many and too old) or a host of other options because “Well, they’re worth money.” I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable selling ARCs, but I can understand that not everyone has the same reservations as me. I hate the idea of the profit, but I love the idea they’re not being recycled. I wonder if the people would feel differently if they were sold, but all proceeds went to a literacy charity?
The seventh item on my vaguebooking list was “07. Seven new topics”. These are new “subject areas” that I want to write about on my blog.
Pop culture is likely one of them, although it might be more narrow than that, maybe “pop culture intersecting with the news”. I didn’t comment on Jian Ghomeshi or Bill Cosby’s news items when they hit, but I loved watching people post and take sides, often looking like internet trolls in comment forums except they were posting the same comments on their own social media feeds. My take is a bit different, and is primarily about the law, and the court of public opinion vs. the court of justice or law. I may yet blog about it.
Equally, I love the law. So much so that I couldn’t become a lawyer. I’d like to take a subject area and blog about that, but I haven’t yet found my niche. It may very well harken back to my days at law school when I was working for the Ministry of Education in B.C. and focus on the law, schools, education, and children. Haven’t quite decided yet. But there’s an itch there that I’d like to scratch again.
In the realm of writing, I have three areas that are of interest to me. First and foremost is the changing nature of the business model of publishing. I’m very much in the world where “everyone must choose their own path”, and I may turn my attention again to the world of disrupted publishing. Second, I think there is a lot of general information out there about marketing of books in the modern age, but not a lot that gives a comprehensive list of “here’s everything you COULD do, choose wisely”. I started work on this at one time, and would like to go back to it. Finally, I also think there is a ripe area for a different slant on books and publishing, and that’s measuring the performance of libraries. I did some research and even some preliminary writing about three years ago, but never brought anything to fruition. I think libraries are going to come under increased fire in the digital age, and while they have a strong role to play, I don’t think many of them are telling the right story or using the right yardsticks. When they tell their story initially, they act like a community centre; when their funding is threatened, they claim critics are burning books and destroying literacy if the library goes the way of the dodo. The balance is off, and maybe I can find something I can contribute to the conversation.
In a similar vein, I’m wondering if I have something to say about charities. I feel that much of the rhetoric out there is a bit one-sided, or at times, diametrically-opposed two-sided. I know, for example, that there is not much out there giving people insights into different types of charities. I also have some questions for myself that I want answered on local basic human needs programming, and the most effective means of contributing donor dollars.
Finally, I do reviews for books, movies, TV and music, or at least my website says I do. I’ve been a slacker-doodle for my reviews, and I want to get back into them. I am not yet ready to commit to exactly what the other six categories will look like when I’m done, but I know this one pretty well. So, I commit to:
- 24 book reviews;
- 250 reviews of TV episodes (tweets);
- 24 movie reviews; and,
- 3 new reviews of Billboard year-end results.
That should keep me busy too.
There are very few windmills that I feel strongly enough to tilt at…stupid people is one. Bullies are another. People pretending they understand policy and government, and being condescending towards others’ views — although that tends to combine both of the first two. But I have a pretty strong respect for the importance of human rights, freedom of association, etc. when they are used as swords to advance legitimate causes or shields to prevent oppression. Where the heck is this idea going? Membership in a society that basically holds itself out as representing an industry but then turning around and barring people from the industry who don’t meet their standards.
If you look back to some lovely research published in the 1980s and 90s by the Harvard Business Review, everybody thinks their job qualifies as a profession. Janitors think they’re a “profession”. Taxi drivers another. And when people of like mind and employment get together, and talk about their profession, they frequently start saying things like “Hey, that person isn’t any good, we should really have standards and block these yahoos. They’re not ‘professional’ like we are. Our ‘profession’ is slipping.”
This makes sense in some quarters where professional certification can and should be required. Doctors. Pharmacists. Optometry. Law. You want to know that the person treating you has met the requirements for their profession. But what about an author? Should they have associations with standards that bar some writers from joining?
JA Konraths’ Blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, talked about this last year, and I pegged the article for future reference. It targets the membership requirements of the Mystery Writers of America and notes that they don’t allow membership if you were “self-published”:
The MWA, an organization that was supposed to exist to help writers, seemed to exist only to sustain itself. After a few years of getting nothing back (and yes, I aired my many grievances often to board members) I simply stopped renewing. While MWA no doubt does some good things (they rightly fought the Harlequin Horizon vanity imprint, and do various workshops and community events), I felt like I was giving more than I was getting. I was helping MWA, but they weren’t helping me.
But the times have changed. Now it is possible for authors to circumvent the legacy gatekeepers by choice (rather than because they had no choice.) Self-pubbed authors can sell a lot of books and make some real money. Full time salary money. In my mind, that equates with being a professional.
So when MWA recently changed its submission guidelines and issued a press release, I was intrigued. Had they finally gotten the hint? Were they looking at this untapped resource of self-published writers and realizing the potential to make their organization relevant again?
There are a lot of self-pubbed authors earning more money than a lot of MWA members. Certainly the MWA could use this new blood to teach longstanding members how to thrive in this brave, new world. And they NEED this information. MWA members have backlists and trunk novels and are getting repeatedly shafted by the Big 6.
How much could John Locke teach them about ebooks and marketing? How about 200 John Lockes, attending banquets, speaking at conventions?
So what would my membership requirements be if I were running the MWA?
I’d have just one. Prove that you’ve sold 5000 books. Once you do that, you’re in.
You can read the full post via A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing: MWA(BNSP) – Mystery Writers of America (But Not for the Self-Published).
A year after that post was written, why am I referring to it? Because the MWA in their infinite wisdom handed out their lovely awards recently. And guess what? Self-pubbed books didn’t qualify. Which only makes sense in that weird world of elitist gatekeepers — after all, how embarrassing would it be for a writer to win and yet not even be eligible for membership?
I’m glad people like Konrath tilt at such windmills too as this one wouldn’t rank high enough for me to do it myself. But if we look at the list of big sellers for 2012 for Amazon, I am willing to bet that Chris Culver’s The Abbey is probably better than most of the ones that were traditionally published. And yet wouldn’t have been eligible. I’ll do a review sometime (bit behind on those) but the story is awesome as a debut.
I am grateful that my local writers’ group doesn’t have such stringent “traditional publishing” only requirements — but then again, it is a group for writers who help other writers, regardless of where they are on the spectrum. It isn’t about validating someone’s ego when young whippersnappers are outselling them 3:1.
Jeremy Greenfield had an interesting post on Digital Book World about e-book pricing — but focused on the costs. The article tries to basically explain both why consumers think costs (and the price) should be a lot less, and publishers saying, “No, wait, costs are not that far off”.
Here are some excerpts from Greenfield’s post:
Publishers are making a killing on e-books because they cost nothing to produce, distribute and sell and are almost 100% pure profit. At least, that’s what many consumers think.
While consumers understand the basic costs involved in the bricks-and-mortar retail world, they don’t understand the costs involved in selling something that is, well, much, much smaller than a bread box.
“We still pay for the author advance, the editing, the copy-editing, the proofreading, the cover and interior design, the illustrations, the sales kit, the marketing efforts, the publicity, and the staff that needs to coordinate all of the details that make books possible,” said Bob Miller in February 2009 on the HarperStudio blog (which has been defunct since April 2010 when the publishing start-up folded) when he was president and publisher of that company; he is now president and publisher of Workman Publishing. “The costs are primarily in these previous stages; the difference between physical and electronic production is minimal.”
E-book production “costs 10% less” than print book production, said Molly Barton, Penguin’s global digital director. Hardly the vast savings that many consumers imagine. “But the largest expense is author payment and always has been.”
You can find the full post at Consumers Upset and Confused Over E-Book Pricing.
Kris Rusch summed it up pretty well — she described it as all bullshit. But as I love to be a gadfly (not in the simple irritating sense, but rather the provocative sense for discussion), let me pull apart the original article. Because there is a hidden truth behind it, or rather, two versions of the truth.
Let’s start in reverse order, and begin with the publisher. They approach books in the modern world, at least from an accounting perspective, as “essentially” one entity. So all the costs that the publisher quoted above is charged to both items — it’s all overhead that has to be paid — regardless of the format of the final book. So they charge front-end editing costs, regardless of format out the back-end. They charge the combined formatting. They charge all marketing costs, etc. etc. etc. to the cost. All of these are considered a “book’s cost”, regardless of the final two sets of costs that diverge — when it is all ready at the end, you press “PRINT” in one business model or “UPLOAD” in the other. Except the publisher adds all those costs in both business models back into the original costs and amortizes it over both. Following that model, it wouldn’t matter whether you went Print or Ebook, the costs would come out the same. In fact, if you compare it to the old process where they only had print costs, the book costs are actually higher now — because they are doing an extra version that they charge to the total as well. It’s a completely wonky way to price what are essentially two separate products, but if your business model doesn’t like ebook transformation, it’s a good way to hide costs and embed them in your ebook world so that the transformation goes slow.
By contrast, let’s look at the consumer perspective. Editing? They know you already did that for the print book. Formatting? Already done. A cover? They don’t care, reuse the same one. Dozens of people to “manage the relationship”? Also don’t care. Nope, they know you already paid those costs which is why publishers are charging so high for print books (hard cover and paperback). Sooooo, ebooks aren’t incurring all those costs again — they are only incurring a small amount of “incidental” additional costs. In other words, once you have the “content”, ebooks only incur marginal costs. And like any good business model, you sell the ebook for the marginal cost of producing that extra format, plus a small profit.
In one vein, the publishers are saying, “Oh, you want an eformat TOO? That raises the overall price of everything” and consumers are responding, “No, unless you’re giving me both formats, I’m only willing to pay the incremental cost for doing an ebook”. And like all other industries where the internet is reducing production costs of virtual goods, publishers can continue to block innovation at their own peril.
The most laughable part is the argument that the biggest expense is for the author. Considering an author gets less than 25% of overall price (and often much less), that’s a pretty good argument for consumers to say “Hey, big publisher? I don’t think you add enough value. I prefer to give more money to authors and so I’ll buy the self-published books they do. And you’ll get zip on the deal.”
After all, in the end, consumers vote with their wallets, and if it puts more money in the hands of the content creator, that starts to look a lot like another economic movement.
Anyone want to try labelling their self-pubbed books as “Fair Trade Reading”?
Marsha Lederman had an interesting article in the Globe and Mail on April 18th trying to put a Canadian spin on the charges in the U.S. of collusion and price-fixing by the Big Six publishers (Harper Collins, MacMillan, Penguin, Random House, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster) with Apple. Just to be clear, there are TWO lawsuits in the U.S. — a class-action civil suit launched by “consumers” against this group for trying to raise ebook prices above Amazon’s preferred ceiling of $9.99 (targeting all six plus Apple) and a completely separate Department of Justice civil suit that targets everyone in that list except Random House. I’m not including separate state plans in that list.
Here’s an excerpt from Lederman:
A proposed class-action lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court by the Vancouver firm Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman alleges that Apple Inc. and a number of publishers engaged in a “conspiracy” to lessen competition and “fix, maintain, increase or control the prices of e-books.” It is the most recent of at least five such suits filed recently in courts in Ontario, Quebec and B.C.
It also alleges that the defendants or their representatives communicated secretly, in person and by phone, to discuss and fix e-book prices, in the lead-up to the introduction of Apple’s iPad, which can function as an eReader, in April of 2010.In addition it alleges that the growing Canadian eBook market is highly concentrated, making it more susceptible to collusion.
“The U.S. case isn’t going to cover Canadian consumers. So it’s the same underlying facts, it’s the same consumer protection agenda, but it is for different consumers in a different country,” said lawyer Reidar Mogerman, who filed the suit in B.C. Supreme Court last week on behalf of plaintiff Denise E. McCabe, a non-practising Kamloops lawyer who has purchased a “significant” number of e-books.
See the whole article at Allegations of e-book price fixing hit Canada (link may expire).
So, you’ve seen the U.S. case, this “seems” like a simple matching by Canadian lawyers, should have same outcome, right? Not so fast. There is an underlying premise in law that one act can’t result in two actions for damages — even if Canadian consumers are not included in a U.S. judgement, a Canadian judge is going to look to see if Canadian consumers were either explicitly targeted by U.S. actions (i.e. the American individuals involved in the decision were negotiating in ways that were inherently or explicitly including the Canadian market rather than simply a knock-on effect of American actions) and/or there were additional negotiations / decisions by Canadian actors that create an additional claim of action. In other words, where’s the “Canadian content”-equivalent component of the decision-making? If there isn’t any, and to date there has been no proof offered in any court-room or media story, then the Canadian lawsuits are going to have to fight a much bigger uphill battle. Particularly as there is no “Amazon.CA” ebook store — we all buy from the U.S. site. Which means publishers could get punished “twice” for sale adjustments in one store. I’m a bit skeptical of the outcome, partly as Canada doesn’t have the same class-action lawsuit mentality of our American cousins, including less of a “reward” culture when it comes to judgements, often limiting outcomes to “actual damages” (a couple of dollars if you can prove you bought a book at a price higher than $9.99).
I do, however, find the notation that the Canadian market is more prone to collusion since it is more highly concentrated of interest. It could mean that certain companies might take a larger hit than the others, and with completely different dynamics than in the U.S.
Personally, I think the lawyers missed the boat on the filing. They should have included a NAFTA element where they could show that Canadian consumers writ large were being squeezed by the Canadian publishers as a larger pattern of behaviour. I’ll confess upfront that I have a really strong aversion to HarperCollinsCanada. They don’t price match HarperCollins (U.S.) and invariably when I find a book that is priced way higher in Canada, the publisher is HarperCollins. I’ve even reduced myself to arguing with them on their Facebook page about their prices…I don’t know why I’m even still getting their feeds as it only raises my bloodpressure.
Awhile back, I got very excited about Lawrence Block’s ebooks being available, went to get one of the Scudder series and thought, “What the ????”. It was $13. For a book that had been out for 10 years. Since I’m on his FB feed, I mentioned it to him…to which he replied, “Huh? They’re $7,99 in ebook form”. Of course, if you’re in the U.S., Harper Collins (U.S) was selling it for $7.99. But the Canadian price was $13.99 or so on Amazon. I could find it for $12 something on Kobo and I think I could find it for slightly less than that on Nook (or vica versa). But bottom-line was that Canadians would have to pay more than $11 to get the ebook, a greater than 35% markup. Oh, and just to add insult to injury, the paperback version was available for less than the U.S. Kindle version.
While I normally see this with HCC, it isn’t unique to them. There’s something wonky in the state of publishing when (a) the ebook version is more expensive than the paperback (I don’t care how many times a publisher dances on the head of the pin arguing that ebook costs are not much lower than paper production, nowhere could you ever convince me it was MORE expensive!) and (b) the price you set to sell to a consumer virtually (across the internet, from the same store, with the same process, with the same technology, and the exact same E-version original!) depends on which country they are in and, ignoring currency exchanges particularly when dollars are trading almost equally, there’s a 35% markup!
If that isn’t a pattern of behaviour that gets you slapped by a Canadian court for price-gouging and collusion, it certainly does at least colour your evidence a bit more strongly in your favour in your court filing. Ah, it will be fun to be a spectator.
The Harvard Business Review has a great website, combining not only the articles from their magazine, but daily summaries of key articles, interesting statistics and a number of cool blogs ranging from “soft” HR issues to “hard” business articles. Frances Frei and Anne Morriss wrote a blog entry called, “Target and the Threat of Free Riders” that is pretty good. I know what you’re thinking — umm, doesn’t the heading for this blog entry say it’s about “publishing”? Yes, yes, it does. Because while Frei and Morriss are primarily talking about Target, the hidden subtext behind it is Amazon.
You might remember the big kerfuffle at Christmas time…Amazon released a new App that could scan bar codes, and they encouraged you while shopping in bricks and mortar stores to do some price comparisons. And then, *gasp*, buy from Amazon if the price was cheaper. They even had the audacity to offer initial discount coupons to those using the apps. The blogs exploded with stories of how Amazon was evil, how dare they do this, it was destroying the local infrastructure. They were essentially complaining that Amazon was being a “free rider” — the store chains have physical locations with large overhead costs they have to pay, and here Amazon was saying “go visit them, touch and feel your items in person, exploit their overhead, and then buy from us.” See what Frei and Morriss have lots to say about it from the perspective of Target, and guess what? They argue that OTHERS should be free-riding on Amazon’s investments:
Target is getting nervous, for the first time in a while. Some Target shoppers are browsing comfortably in the company’s high-design stores, then closing the deal online with lower-priced vendors. It’s enough of a phenomenon that CEO Gregg Steinhafel recently penned a letter to his suppliers with a competitive battle cry: “we aren’t willing…to let online-only retailers use our brick-and-mortar stores as a showroom.”
When there’s high utility of information pre-purchase and ease of substitution among products — as there is with big box retail — you run the risk that your well-educated customers will give their money to a competitor, sometimes without even leaving your store (not every customer huddled over a smartphone is playing Angry Birds). Customers won’t stick around out of gratitude.
Steinhafel’s letter hints at some of the ways that Target’s planning to fight back, including membership and subscription-based pricing models. The company might also look to one of its biggest free-riding threats — Amazon — for inspiration. Amazon should be facing an onslaught of customer free riding. Its products are often not the lowest-priced option, and they’re easy to substitute.
But the Amazon pre-purchase experience — a robust catalogue of customer and expert reviews for each product — gives you a reason to start the process there. Most important, Amazon then makes the pivot to purchase as seamless and lovely as possible, even from a cell phone. The retailer’s patented one-click technology makes it irresistibly easy, once you’ve found what you’re looking for, to point and click and be done with it. Amazon combats free-riding with ease of use.
(see full entry at Target and the Threat of Free Riders).
My only quibble with the article is that it didn’t really pick up on the emotional backlash against free-riding that was generated with the Amazon app. People blogged, campaigned, boycotted, etc. Lots of people got really snippy, having no real idea what free-riding means but they could understand Amazon trying to steal sales from live stores.
Yet nowhere in all of the feeds did I see anyone, not even the timidest or bravest of souls, stick up their hand and say, “Umm, excuse me. How is this different from a store that price-matches?”. Because that too is complete free-ridership. So you go to the box store, find out everything you want to know, get whatever form of customer service you can get, get a quote on a price, and then go to another store that you would prefer to deal with, and ask them to match. Your drycleaners will do it. Your box stores like Zellers, Walmart, Sears, The Bay, Target, etc all have price-matching and “low price guarantees”. Mattress stores do it CONSTANTLY — they’ll price match anyone. Car sales. Pharmacies. Bookstores (gasp!).
In other words, another store goes to the trouble of deciding to have a sale, researching costs, deciding on a sale price, organizing their store with discount tags, new pricing, letting all their staff know about the promotion, etc. Then they advertise, generating big costs to do so. And their neighbour simply puts out a sign that says “bring us their ad, and we’ll match it.”
That’s basically what Amazon did, except they did it with an app and made it possible to not only price match a sale, but also to simply scan a barcode to see what the price is at Amazon (usually not as good for many items, as the article makes out). But the anti-Amazoners went berzerk anyway.
Never let the facts of a situation get in the way of a good rant against a big evil company like Amazon. After all, you wouldn’t want to take away sales from a local “good corporate citizen” like Walmart, now would you?