Saturday, May 31, 2014

What is the BLM really doing?

In the furor and fight over Cliven Bundy's cattle and the pointless finger pointing at his obvious racist comments, once again the water has been muddied and the real issue obscured.

Yes, Bundy did evade taxes for is cattle grazing on public land, but no one points out, except one representative from Texas who called Obama on it. He pointed out that calling in the national guard and SWAT teams and using government force was against the law and against what the Constitution laid out for intervention in these issues. Obama was heavy handed, and so was Harry Reid, who has the most to gain from the BLM destroying Bundy's cattle, which was a punitive action. Why wasn't the IRS called in to round up the cattle and sell them off to pay for Bundy's back taxes? That would have been the proper legal action. And why is the BLM controlling so much land in the west and southwest? Why has the BLM exempted Harry Reid and his son, both of whom stand to gain from a very big deal with China for that same BLM land and the resources under the ground? Follow the money.

Once again Obama uses an Executive Order in a land grab to circumvent the U.S. Constitution, but I don't see a lot about that on the news. The news may be waking up to the excesses and misuses of power that Obama has demonstrated from the beginning in violation and dismissal of the U.S. Constitution and none of the news services, outside of Fox News, have ever reported on it in a fair and impartial way. Fox News may not be impartial, but they do keep their eyes on the ball and go where the news takes them, no matter how they have been maligned and turned into a joke. But isn't that the refuge of wrong-doer, to demonize the ones that see their perfidy and put the news out there for everyone to see? I know it's how every person I've ever gone up against operates.

The whole point is to keep people off balance by pointing out the targeted person's flaws, like racist comments or bigoted actions, none of which have anything to do with the issue at hand. In this case, it is Obama's actions and treasons against the people of America and the U.S. Constitution. Bill Clinton was impeached for less and he only lied about a sexual relationship with one of his employees. The many instances of sexual harassment before, during, and after his presidency other issues for another post, and at least Clinton didn't commit treason as Obama has done. Yes, another topic for another post.

Everything that Obama has done in the Cliven Bundy issue and with illegal immigration works to destabilize this country. I saw a whole lot of men in tactical gear with guns pointed at Cliven Bundy and the people who arrived to stand by him. I saw American soldiers ready to fire on American citizens, but I have not seen that kind of might and fire power manning the border between the United States and Mexico when Obama was running Fast & Furious or when hordes of illegal immigrants were running across the border. Where is the BLM when those immigrants are damaging the land they are supposed to protect? They were probably out killing Bundy's cattle and gearing up for a fire fight against natural born American citizens instead of policing the border.

I might be more sympathetic if Obama was using all the might to protect the borders he has left wide open and keeping lands protected by the Bureau of Land Management from being trashed by drug lords, gun runners, and illegal immigrants rushing to get a piece of the Welfare pie. This is not over, but it should have never been an issue.

Isn't it about time more people like those who stood by Cliven Bundy come to the rescue of the beleaguered United States of America? Whatever the BLM is doing, it is not doing its job.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Review: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

While planning to go to New Orleans from Ft. Lauderdale, I was told two things: Do not eat the Lucky Dogs and read A Confederacy of Dunces so I would know why. John Kennedy Toole's novel was supposed to tell me everything I needed to know about New Orleans. I love books, especially new books I haven't read, so I picked up the book and read it. That was 1984.

Writing about the French Quarter and New Orleans again in my followup novel to Among Women, I decided to pick up A Confederacy of Dunces (for my Kindle) and read it again. It was like reading the book for the first time: a little baffling, but addictive, much like Lucky Dogs, which I used to sell in the French Quarter. Ignatius J. Reilly, the central character and troublemaker in the novel, works for Lucky Dogs under the name of Paradise Foods, Inc. Toole changed the name of the company, but not the name of the owner, and Clyde was still sending out vendors when I walked through their door in 1984, but that's another story for another time.

Ignatius Jacque Reilly is a behemoth of a man-child with a mammoth vocabulary and a fixation on ancient literature. He has a Masters Degree in literature but has never worked a day in his life. While waiting for his mother outside D. H. Holmes on Canal Street, he is accosted by Officer Mancuso, a New Orleans police officer, starting a near riot from which Mrs. Reilly extracts Ignatius and flees down the street to her car in the rain, backing into a house that will cost her more than $1000 and force her hermit son into the work force. It is Ignatius's trials and tribulations -- and chaos -- in the work force that is the central focus of A Confederacy of Dunces around which the other characters revolve. Ignatius is the black hole which devours everything -- or at least attempts to devour -- all in his path.

With his green hunting cap (ear flaps usually dangling) on his head and his voluminous parka and dangling scarf that looks more like a blanket, Ignatius trolls the waters of commerce wreaking havoc and sowing the seeds of chaos wherever he goes spouting his Medieval views on the world spouting Boethius and chastity. The one fixed point in Ignatius's life is the Minx, Myrna Minkoff, with whom he trades wit and social monkey wrenches in order to create a more perfect world in their disparate views and completely antithetical to each other. Myrna is free with her female charms and Ignatius keeps a death grip on his virginity, both struggling to bend the other to their view of the world.

John Kennedy Toole's vision of the world of New Orleans as seen through Ignatius J. Reilly's eyes and pyloric valve dysfunctions, was published in 1980, 11 years after his suicide. Toole's mother stormed the bastions at Tulane University to make her son's dreams of publication real, earning Toole a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981. Toole took his title from one of Johnathan Swift's essays: "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him." Dunces abound in Toole's 1960s New Orleanian world from 30-year-old Ignatius right down the line through his alcohol baking and imbibing mother and her friends, among which Officer Mancuso numbers, right on to the denizens of the Night of Joy where Burma Jones, a colored porter working for slave wages to avoid a vagrancy charge, the owner, wife, and employees of Levy Pants, and right on to the Sergeant at the precinct who is determined to make Mancuso's life as miserable as possible. Peppered by letters and telegrams between Myrna Minkoff and Ignatius, A Confederacy of Dunces is a bloody train wreck that readers can't avoid watching until the last moment. 

Toole's vision of New Orleans was not too far from what I found in 1984, although with fewer dunces and and dark humor. Reading the novel again was as fresh as reading it for the first time and I was unable to put the book down until I had read the last word. Ignatius is equal parts humorous and shocking and the machinations of Santa Battaglia, Irene Reilly's bowling partner, matchmaker, and stirrer of pots, a sad and infuriating meddler. The exchanges between Gus Levy and his bored wife as she badgers Gus and begins yet another  new projects while going up and down on her exercise board ("Leave the board out of this.") provide more train wrecks to goggle at.

In short, join Ignatius on his downward spiral from his hermit's existence in his mother's home into the working world of New Orleans as his pyloric valve determines his actions while he reforms the world in his own image. A Confederacy of Dunces is 5/5 in my estimation.


Such an enigmatic city Pompeii seemed when I first read about it as a child. I was enthralled by the bodies encased in ash: a young slave girl protecting a baby, husband and wife holding hands, families sealed in their centuries' old tombs imprisoned in the ash that had turned to concrete, and wall painting as fresh as the day they were painted 2000 years ago.

I have since learned a great deal more about what really happened in Pompeii and how so many people died as their city was covered in volcanic ash and sealed with fireballs spewed from Mt. Vesuvius. Hidden history is revealed as we become more advanced and can understand what we are seeing.

And then there is Robert Harris's novel, The Last Days of Pompeii, and the movie made from his book, a movie that highlighted early Christian beliefs. I read the book after I'd seen the movie and was taken back to ancient Pompeii to walk its streets and mingle with the crowds at the coliseum where the gladiators fought and died. I thought I'd have a similar experience when I watched the new movie, Pompeii, last night with Kit Harington playing Milo, the gladiator who loved Cassia, a wealthy young woman far above his station as a slave.

One thing I didn't see in this remake was the Christian element so central to The Last Days of Pompeii. There was no sign of a Christian or lions, just anger, hatred, revenge, and moments of love.

There were echoes of Gladiator in the movie as Milo, known as the Celt, the last of his tribe, fought in the arena and faced down a Roman senator Corvus and his general, Proculus. Corvus  was intent on having Cassia as his wife, his cowed and obedient wife. Corvus had to deal with the slave gladiator and Cassia who had fled Rome to return to Pompeii because she loathed Corvus.

The movie is lavish with special effects as Mt. Vesuvius seethes and rains down fire and mud and ash on teeming Pompeii, a spectacular end as fireballs and ash rained in a day made night by the massive column of ash forked with lightning from the heat and static electricity and lovely in a deadly way. There are gladiatorial battles and poignant moments where Cassia and Milo bond over horses, one injured and the other terrified as it goes mad with the impending doom. The supporting cast is just as good and Harington is somber and dour and has abs chiseled from marble, all the more to enjoy.

I see elements of Russell Crowe in Gladiator throughout Pompeii as Milo bonds with a giant of a gladiator in Atticus, played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as he waits for the last bout in the arena that will make him a free man. The relationship between Atticus and Milo is similar to the friendship between Maximus and Juba, played by Djimon Hounsou. When Maximus is set against Joaquin Phoenix's Commodus and Milo against Corvus. Commodus sends Maximus and the gladiators to their death in a spectacle where history says they will die and Maximus rallies the gladiators to beat their opponents.

In the same manner, Milo and Atticus stand against the Romans re-enacting Corvus's destruction of Milo's Celtic horse lord tribe and kill their opponents.  Corvus sends his troops to kill Milo and Atticus just as Vulcan in the guise of Mt. Vesuvius extends a fiery godly hand and tears the ground from beneath their feet, razing buildings and toppling the citizens into the abyss that opens beneath their feet.

Pompeii is long on special effects, but the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius 2000 years ago was a spectacular display and deserves the effects. The story is simple and sad and there are beautiful moments immortalized in falling ash and lit by volcanic fires. Kit Harington is suitably buff and beautiful and the villains cowardly and evil. There are no gray shadings in this epic movie.

The movie deserves 5/5 stars for its special effects and 3/5 stars for the story line and acting, so I'll rate it 4/5. Not a bad outing for Kit Harington after his brilliant turn as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones on HBO and well within his skills as an actor, but I would like to see Harington try something a little more complex that gives him less time to brood and glower.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Two Mildreds

Seeing the ads for the mini-series of Mildred Pierce gave me pause. I considered watching it, but decided not to at first. I saw Joan Crawford in her Oscar winning performance of the devoted mother who used her only talents to become wealthy and didn't want to see hash made out of a good performance.

I am the curious sort, not just in the usual eccentric way (I am a writer after all), but in the cat got killed because of curiosity way. I decided to spend part of my weekend (the usual 2-day kind since I work for hospitals that never close) and devoted 5 hours to watching Kate Winslet as Mildred Pierce.

Kate Winslet is one of my favorite actors because she is outspoken and irreverent and says exactly what she means. She was a revelation. Where Joan Crawford was vulnerable and sometimes brittle, Winslet was nuanced and sometimes ferocious. Both loved Veda, but the quality of love was very different even if the results were not.

Veda was a cunning and evil child even when she was a child, which was probably until she could focus her eyes and crawl, none of which was on the screen. Veda in the movie and mini-series was 11 years old to begin and at least 20 by the end. The actresses portraying Veda, Ann Blyth in the 1945 version and Morgan Turner as the child and Evan Rachel Wood as the luminous and beautiful older Veda in the 2011 mini-series. All three portrayed the cunning, venom-soaked fangs that PR writers termed spoiled in ad copy. I see Veda not as spoiled, because Mildred lavished just as much love and attention and material things on Kay/Moire (Ray) and spoiled her, but Kay/Moire was never as cunning or manipulative or downright evil as Veda.

The lines were often the same in both views of Mildred, but Winslet's Mildred had a lot more time (5 hours) to work in subtle details and nuance where Crawford only had 111 minutes. Big difference. The ending was also a big difference in the series and not what I expected, even though Veda's exit was the same in tone in both: calm, cool, collected, and still smiling while venom dripped from her bloody fangs.

Briefly, Mildred Pierce is about a woman from humble beginnings who marries an upper middle class man on the way up who loses his shirt. Mildred, determined to give her girls what she never had, works in a diner and eventually uses that experience and her own skills at cooking and baking to open her own restaurant, which soon turns into a chain of restaurants. She marries Monty Beragon, a wealthy, down on his luck ne'er do well without a cent, to give Veda what she has always wanted - social position. Veda just cannot countenance Mildred's rise in finances because Mildred made the money in a kitchen and smell of grease.

In comparing and contrasting the performances, Winslet does a wonderful job of portraying Mildred. Winslet has far more to work with in 5 hours than did Crawford in her 111 minutes, but I would give 5 stars to both performances and encourage you to watch both. I certainly do not regret the 5 hours I spent with Winslet's Mildred and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Crawford's Mildred again last night.

What really comes through is the affection and love between Mildred and her first husband, Bert Pierce, a fondness that provides a strong thread that runs through movie and mini-series and shows a softer side of Mildred throughout while glamorous Monte Beragon shows Mildred's awakening passion and fleeting infatuation. Wally as portrayed by Jack Carson is crude and his charm sharp-edged while James Le Gros's Wally is a bit more lovable and just as underhanded and double-dealing with a paunch.

Zachary Scott as the 1945 Monte Beragon is slick as a moray eel and twice as deadly in a smoothly oiled manner. Guy Pearce's Monte is a smooth and calculating sensualist who shows glimmers of real affection for Winslet's Mildred, but in the end is just as tousled and betrays as easily as Scott's Monte, although Pearce's Monte is less tailored and a bit boyish in a tousled way.

Mare Winningham's Ida is down to earth and no-nonsense and Eve Arden's Ida is cut from the same cloth as all of Arden's sharp-tongued and intelligent supporting characters portrayed with self-deprecating humor. In the 2011 version of Mildred Pierce Melissa Leo as Lucy Gessler guides and supports Mildred as she moves into grass widowhood and on into business. I would be willing to bet the 1945 version combined Lucy and Ida to create Eve Arden's character of Ida to keep the cast smaller. There are elements of the 2011 Lucy and Ida in Arden's performance, although they lost Lucy's booze running husband, a character mentioned but never seen in the 2011 version.

Now all I have to do is get James Cain's book, Mildred Pierce, and see what he intended when he wrote the story. That should be interesting as Cain also wrote The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity as well as several other murder/mystery/thrillers.

A Lot of Amazon-Hatchette News, A Little Crow

More news comes out about the Amazon-Hatchette title bout and this time Amazon breaks with tradition by speaking out. Amazon has made an offer to Hatchette, but also says that they are not hopeful about Hatchette accepting. The negotiations have been going on since November, so I am not surprised Amazon has that take on things. They would know since they are facing Hatchette across the bargaining table.

Joe Konrath has it all on his blog -- along with a helping of crow.

Take the time to actually click on the links and read other viewpoints. I did and I found them very interesting and enlightening, especially when it came to reading the graph on churn among the Big 5.

Author Earnings had this to say about the drop in sales:

"Our focus on Amazon Kindle sales prevents us from seeing any possible corresponding increase of Hachette sales at other digital retailers to offset these declines, but we can say that the increase in the average price of Hachette’s e-books is having an effect on sales. It could also be that various Amazon algorithms and recommendation tweaks are contributing to the decreased sales. The big lesson is this: Across the Big-5 publishers, lowering average e-book prices correlated with higher per-title revenue. Increasing e-book prices correlated with lower per-title revenue.

This bears repeating, and it’s a lesson publishers could take from self-published authors: Lower prices means earning more money. We understand that this is counter-intuitive, but our data bears this out. And it’s a truth that many authors have seen for themselves as they experiment with prices. Which raises the question of whether or not publishers would even benefit from control over e-book prices. It could be that the worst thing for Hachette’s bottom line would be to get what they’re asking for in these negotiations."

I found Martin Shepard, co-owner of the Permanent Press, a small literary publisher based in Sag Harbor, NY, to offer an enlightened view about who the New York Times interviewed for their article on May 24. It shines a bright light on what went into the NYT's research.

"Who are the other publishers that are crying out? Hachette, the fourth largest of the five conglomerate publishers (who together , through all their more than a hundred imprints sell  85% percent of the books sold to the general public in America). Eddy and Streitfeld then makes passing reference to a third publisher, Bonnier, based in Germany, known primarily for publishing magazines throughout the Western world and far fewer books. As for the outpouring of social media they cite two of Hachette’s best-selling writers:  James Patterson, a writing factory, who, in 2013, “wrote” 13 Alex Cross thrillers alone, using numerous co-writers, which is why one out of five hardcover books sold bears his name. Though he reportedly earned $80 million dollars last year, he described the confrontation between Amazon and Hachette as “a war.“ The other social media complaint about Amazon came from Nina Laden, who writes and illustrates children’s books."

I knew that James Patterson, a Hatchette author, worked much like James Michener did with his massive tomes, but seeing it verified makes me feel so mcuh better than I did about how many books and stories I write every year. Then again, I do have a full time job -- 2 full times jobs if you count reviewing books -- and cannot write as much as I would like since I'm busy making the money to pay for a roof over my head and food to fuel my continued existence.

Hybrid author, Michael J. Sullivan, throws his 2 cents into the mix and comes up with some good advice for publishers.

"Of course many people wisely point out that Amazon may apply similar pressure to self-published titles, and I have no illusions about the long term prospect of a 70% royalty. But even if Amazon cuts the self-publishing royalty rate in half, they would still be paying twice as much as I get under the current Hachette contract where ebook royalties are split 30% to Amazon, 52.5% to the publisher, and 17.5% to the author.

What do I think should happen? Well first off, publishers have to realize that getting $3 for every $1 that an author makes on ebooks just isn’t fair. Ironically, they are feeling the same pressure from Amazon that they apply to authors—requesting a higher share because they hold a strategic advantage. I’m sure both Amazon and authors look at the publisher’s 52.5% and can’t help but think more should come their way, but unlike Amazon authors are powerless. The big-five publishers are remarkably uniform in paying 25% of net on ebooks, so the author has to either accept that rate or go the route of self-publishing. If I could set the terms, I would suggest 30% to Amazon, 35% to the publishers, and 35% to the author.

What can authors do in such an environment? I suggest we each develop a direct sales channel with our readers. In my Hachette contract, I was able to negotiate the ability to sell signed copies of my print books from my website. Since I buy the books from my publisher at a discount similar to what they receive from bookstores, they get their share. I would love to sell my Hachette ebooks as well, and I would willingly pay my publisher their cut from any money I brought in. I’ve not been successful getting this provision from Hachette, but for my latest novel, Hollow World, I retained the ebook rights, so for that title I sell both ebook and print versions. The problem is readers don’t know I sell directly, but if this became more common, it would solve any disruptions when the publisher and retailer are battling."

A hybrid author keeps some of his rights, like digital publishing, while selling some rights to publishers. Digital Book World offers a good explanation.  Amanda Hocking is also a hybrid author. When it comes down to it, I think more authors will go hybrid in the future - or at least they should since they retain more control over pricing and and discounts.

Whatever happens between Amazon and Hatchette in their contract negotiations, please keep in mind that Amazon is not the only game in town. It's the fastest and easiest game, but even Amazon suggests buying from third party sellers and going to other bookstores for your favorite author fix. If price is a concern, learn patience and explore other books that are available. It's one way to expand your horizons and find new authors to love and read.

And don't forget to catch Joe's meal of crow. He eats it with consummate grace and humor. 

"If you missed me saying it earlier, I was wrong. I'd still like to get more data confirming that, but if Amazon and Macmillan did compensate authors, I leaped to a lazy conclusion in my haste to chastise a publisher, and I apologize for that and am grateful someone corrected me. Good going, Macmillan, for taking care of your authors.

And to my many detractors, crow sort of tastes like chicken. Humble chicken. I don't have a problem admitting when I'm wrong."

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hatchette v. Amazon: The Writing is on the Wall

I learned the meaning a new word this morning - fisking. A point-by-point criticism of someone else's blog post. That is what Joe Konrath does with Hatchette author, Charles Stross.

I fail to see why exactly Hatchette authors are so busy supporting a multinational mega-corporation that has only its best interests at heart. I know. Stockholm Syndrome. It's the same reason Patty Hearst was seen on camera in a bank supporting the very people who kidnapped, tortured, and turned her to the Dark Side. She identified with her captors because she saw the cessation of torture as benevolence on the part of her captors. She became a Manchurian candidate, brain washed to believe that black is white and day is night. Understandable that the mind would protect itself by creating and believing in a fantasy world that has nothing in common with reality, at least not the reality that most people live with.

I do see Hatchette's point. If they get Amazon to agree to their terms in negotiation, the consumer will be back with the old agency model fixing prices so the consumer will have no choice but to buy fewer books because they have to pay more for them. Isn't that what the Department of Justice declared was illegal back when Apple and the Big 5 (one of which was Hatchette) colluded to fix prices and keep them unusually high? It wasn't authors who won on that deal because they still saw less money than they should have since they were the motive force behind publishing and the reason for publishing's existence.

It seems that modern authors are less willing to go the route of Jane Austen, Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller, and thousands of others before and after them. Mark Twain went so far as to open his own publishing house to keep more of his earnings. It could be said that Mark Twain did that so he could spend more, and there is some truth to that, but ultimately it was because he wanted to write books on his own terms, terms he wasn't being offered by publishers. Publishers refused Henry Miller a change to get his words out because they felt his work was pornographic. Having read all of Miller's books, I'd have to say that the sex in the books, although somewhat distasteful, was germane to the story he told, which was essentially a memoir. Miller wrote what he knew.

Jane Austen self-published because there were few publishers willing to print books by women, hence one of the reasons why so many women published under male names: Georges Sand, the Bronte sisters, and Andre Norton (Alice Mary Norton), among others.  C. J. Cherryh made up her name for the same reason and the Bronte sisters "...chose the neutral pen-names of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, not wishing to expose themselves to the prejudice or the condescension then often displayed by critics towards women writers, but scrupling to take names positively masculine." Thus they cloaked their identities. None of that would have been necessary had publishing been more catholic in their acquisition of writers of both genders. 

The point is that publishers have a vested interest in keeping writers thinking like hostages and Amazon has changed that. Even in the 21st century, women are considered second class citizens despite their best selling status. Even Oprah chooses more male writers for her book club. But that is a topic for another time.

The point is that Hatchette wants to control the price to keep their bank accounts hefty and flourishing while forcing their biggest distributor, Amazon, to knuckle under and not discount prices. Hatchette hasn't thought very hard on this subject or they would see that if Amazon follows the policy of high eBook prices then their customers will go elsewhere for books, like remainder bins and secondhand bookstores and third party sellers since they won't be able to afford to buy the books at Hatchette's inflated prices. Now that is what I call bottom line thinking, which is all about greed and not about doing what's best for authors. Hatchette authors would see that if they would just take off the blinkers and be willing to go independent or force publishers to give them better terms. Joe Konrath said it best when he said that Hatchette, and the other members of the Big 5 Publishers, own their asses.

Signing a publishing contract means you will likely be relegated to the mid-list, which also happens to be the engine that keeps the Big 5 running, while they cater to and give the Cadillac treatment to a small cadre of authors, like Scott Turow, James Patterson (who is basically a cottage industry churning out books by the dozens), and others.

A few years ago a budding writer acquaintance submitted a proposal to a literary agent. She was intent on getting a specific agent to represent her work and sent her proposal and a letter to said agent who turned her down without a second thought. We put our heads together and reworked the proposal for the nonfiction book and submitted it to a small publishing house. She got the contract, which she then took and immediately went back to the agent who had turned her down and asked for another chance. She got her chance and the agent signed her -- for the same book she had proposed earlier and been refused. What did the agent have to lose?


The agent didn't have to pitch the book to anyone. She didn't have to work with the writer because the publisher's editor would do that. The agent didn't even have to break a sweat to sign on the dotted line to represent the author and take 15% of the profits for the life of the book because the author did all the work for her.

Hatchette is using the same tactic. They hold authors in bondage to onerous contracts that give them the rights to publish the authors' works and do what they will with them. Unless they are Turow or Patterson, the authors won't have control of cover art or marketing or anything but writing. Some authors find that an equable deal, but it's really not. They just sold their soul to the devil for 7-1/2 pieces of silver. Even Judas got the full 30 pieces first, but then he bargained for himself and didn't have a publisher taking 75% of his money for doing very little.

How many authors get the kind of media blitz that Patterson or Turow get? Especially in the midlist ranks? Andre Norton told me that her publishers never gave her more than a $35K advance because that is how many books usually sold. Of course, they didn't take into account that they were holding Norton's back list hostage and not reprinting the books and that Norton fans scoured secondhand bookstore shelves to own one of her books. Norton lived a good life, but she was by no means as wealthy as Turow or Patterson even though some of her books were optioned for movies. She just did not have the power and the publisher refused to let any of the power they did have slip through their fingers.

Publishing is slavery of a kind and Hatchette wants to keep its slaves ignorant of the facts and under the Hatchette thumb. Publishers tout their editing, marketing, cover art, and connections as the reason to stay with them since all of that would fall on poor authors' shoulders and take away from their time to write. Authors don't want to become publishers, they just want to write books. I guess authors haven't figured out they can hire someone to do the same thing publishers do for a small fee, or even a small percentage, and keep 85% to 90% of their profits. That is news that Hatchette and the other members of the Big 5 don't want authors to know.

The point is that Hatchette is just the first of the Big 5 to run this gauntlet with Amazon, not because Amazon is so powerful and putting the squeeze on Hatchette, but because Amazon keeps Hatchette in business by selling more books than any other outlet -- because Amazon keeps the prices low with deep discounts, discounts that Hatchette wants to control. And we are back to the same argument that the DOJ already ruled on 2 years ago. Hatchette still wants to fix prices and Amazon says NO.

If Hatchette wins against Amazon, book prices will go up and stay up and who really wants to pay $20 for an eBook when they can get 2 or even 6 books for the same price and buy Hatchette's authors' books secondhand or from remainder outlets? Even the math challenged can figure out that 2 and 6 are more than 1.

Hatchette is leading the charge for the rest of the Big 5. What happens to them will pave the way for the other publishers who want to keep fixing prices and keep them high. I don't think Amazon will lose this negotiation because Hatchette needs Amazon more than Amazon needs Hatchette and the rest of the Big 5. As that fact sinks into Hatchette's legal minds, they will be forced to negotiate and thus the rest of the Big 5 will fall into line. Ultimately, Amazon does not have to carry Hatchette authors, but Hatchette needs Amazon's consumers, and it has nothing to do with protecting their authors. They are protecting the usurious profits made on the backs of their authors.

The writing is on the wall.

Monday, May 26, 2014

It's Business

I have decided to speak out. No, it's not that strange, except that I haven't commented on the negotiations between Bi publisher, Hatchette Group, and Amazon. I have avoided eye contact just like when I live in a motel and refused to look into any transient patron's eyes lest they consider that a prelude to sex. It saved me many times and it's a real good policy in such situations. It's easier to avoid eye contact than to have to grab, twist, and pull when a casual glance ends up in a disagreement about sex with a man who refuses to take a polite no for an answer.

Amazon and Hatchette are in contract negotiations and heating up. Hatchette wants higher prices in eBooks and Amazon wants to maintain the right to lower prices below $10. This should not come as a surprise to Hatchette, who lost in a similar situation 2 years ago when they and 5 other Big Publishers decided to align with Apple to keep eBook prices high. Amazon won and now the contracts are being renegotiated, except Hatchette wants to keep those prices high and Amazon wants to keep them low.

Hatchette delays shipment of books to Amazon by 2-4 weeks and Amazon responds by removing the preorder button. Like I said, heating up. Hatchette then complains to its authors (getting 25% on eBook sales) and authors like Lilith Saintcrow complains to readers on her blog. (Side note: Lilith, it is fewer books not less books. You had problems with that when I edited your books years ago.) Joe Konrath responds by taking Lilith on point by point. Joe makes a good case and I'd have to agree with the Stockholm Syndrome here -- and with every Hatchette author who feels that Hatchette is being strong-armed by Amazon.

Here's the way retail works. I open a gas station and decide to cut my profit margin temporarily by offering lower prices than all the gas stations around me. More people fill up their vehicles at my gas station, thus saving them money and earning me more money by selling more gas (and sundries while they're waiting to fill up their Hummers, Mercedes, Volvos, Coopers, and Achievas). The other gas stations don't like losing revenue to me so they respond by lowering their prices below mine. I lower mine even further and they lower theirs and -- GAS WAR! Gas wars were big when I first learned to drive. The same goes for bookstores and any retail venue.

Lower prices are used to great effect in a movie, Bare Essence, where Tiger Hayes built a company with the philosophy that it is better to sell a good quality fragrance at a lower price, One bottle at $1000 an ounce is less effective than selling 1000 bottles at $1 an ounce.

On the face of it that seems counter productive to earnings, but it isn't, especially when you consider that 1000 people will tell their friends who will tell their friends and a multimillion dollar empire is built. That is how Jeff Bezos of Amazon took his company from his parents' garage to become the biggest retailer and publisher in the world.  Good business.

Amazon built their company on the promise that they would offer the lowest prices. An eBook that sells for nearly the cost of a hard cover book means only the die hard readers with money to burn will buy -- or will spend their entire budget on an author they love and hope they can find other books at secondhand stores and the library. Amazon continues to want the same thing -- eBooks selling for $9.99 or less. Hatchette wants to keep the prices high. Isn't that how they got in trouble with the Department of Justice (DOJ) in the first place when they banded together with their Big Publisher friends and Apple before and had to settle because they were in the wrong? Methinks Hatchette has learned nothing.

Hatchette has instead gone to their authors, authors like Lilith Saintcrow and James Patterson and Scott Turow (letters on Konrath's blog) to complain and those authors complained (whined) to the public. That is the beauty -- and the curse -- of social media on the World Wide Web.

The whine goes something like this: Amazon won't agree to Hatchette's terms and meany Amazon took off the preorder buttons so Hatchette won't be able to sell as many of my/our books and I lose money and can't feed my kids or pay my mortgage. Boo hoo. Hatchette needs those preorder buttons on Amazon to figure out how many books to print, even though eBooks aren't printed and you're not supposed to notice that.

Guess what, kiddies? Amazon could drop every single Hatchette author from their website and not sell any of their books except through third party buyers and where would that leave you? Amazon is not obligated to sell your books. How does that strike you?

The World Wide Web also keeps these blog posts and inanities forever. Keep that in mind.

Authors seem to forget that the old agency model where bookstores ordered books and didn't pay for them, sending them back to be buried in landfills has been the norm since Big Publishing helped book stores stay afloat during the Great Depression. Millions of books are trashed every year when bookstores send unsold books back to publishers. How much money did the authors make on those books?

Amazon is doing business and Hatchette is protecting its bottom line, the same bottom line that guarantees fancy lunches and travel on expense accounts out of the 75% royalties Big Publishers keep out of eBook sales while the authors are paying their mortgages and feeding their children on the measly 25% they get. Minus expenses, of course.

Amazon sells a lot of books and losing Amazon sales will hurt Big Publishing and eventually authors because authors don't have the guts to ask for higher royalties or take their back list and manuscripts into the indie market and sell their own eBooks for 70% of the profit. Something tells me the Stockholm Syndrome helps to block out those facts. (Remember Patty Hearst?) Or maybe the authors were so busy juggling finances and writing their next books to think that far ahead.

It is busines. It is not personal.  At least not to Amazon which is more than willing to sell Hatchette's books at a lower price. Gram always said some pie is better than no pie.

Hatchette will have to suck it up and sell more books to Barnes & Noble (those that remain) and independent bookstores and print books for libraries at a reduced cost more in line with smaller budgets libraries are working with these days. Good thing it doesn't take much effort to stock eBooks and transmit those to libraries and bookstores. Readers will just have to get used to paying high prices or going to the library more often.

No, Amazon is not the bad guy here. The bad guy is the same bad guy who lost that DOJ case 2 years ago and had to pay off. That would be Hatchette.

Say what you will -- and I am sure you will -- about Amazon's practices, but business is still business. Hatchette needs Amazon more than Amazon needs Hatchette and that is what sticks in Hatchette's craw.

Joe Konrath offers up Scott Turow and James Patterson's comments on this issue and lays them to rest. You wouldn't see any of this if you had to rely on newspapers, TV, and radio for your news. All of this would happen behind closed doors until it was signed, sealed, and delivered. The Internet makes playing tricks and dirty pool so much easier, but it also makes everything so much harder when there are people on the other side offering up common sense and facts instead of emotional appeals.

Lilith Saintcrow said it is up to the reader, and in a limited way that is true. If one of Hatchette's authors' books are not available on Amazon, I can find a bookstore that does carry it somewhere else in a matter of moments. The Internet takes the work and fuss out of checking out dozens of bookstores. And that is the point. Amazon is not the only game in town, but they are the quickest and fastest way to get the books I want, but not at hard cover prices. I will wait until the price drops below $10, even for authors I love and books I've anticipated. I'm 59 and have learned patience. If those other bookstores won't sell me an eBook from a Hatchette writer at a reasonable price, I'll buy a hard cover book from a third party seller or get it at a secondhand or remainder bookstore and the author will get nothing from me. Like I said, it's business.