Worlds & Time

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Post-Publishing Perspective

In response to this DailyKos post and this New Republic article, I wrote the following comment that I think I want to save.  It's related to this other post here at W&T.

Until fairly recently I was working for a fairly major publisher (not one of the big five, but in the top twelve in the United States) in their ebooks division.

Between this article and the one at the New Republic, there are way too many things for me to comment on, but I will try to make a couple of points.

First off, I have absolutely no idea how the New Republic arrived at a 75% profit margin for each ebook sold.  The main reason that this number sounds bunk to me is because the margin on every single title is vastly different and the median margin is way, way lower than that.  If that's an average (and even then it sounds utterly outrageous), then they're not understanding the place of best sellers (mega hits) in the publishing world.

Also, "profit margin" more than suggests that these are "profits."  They're not, because NR is obviously only factoring in the one time production costs of an ebook and ignoring the massive costs of actually running a publishing company with sales and marketing & support staff, infrastructure, and the massive cost of publishing books that never earn out their advance.  I should also say, related to this, I was involved closely in the production of ebooks, and the actual creation of each ebook still requires thousands of dollars.  They're not as cheap or fast to produce as even my own managers used to expect (with the casual, "why do we even pay you?" arrogance when I couldn't create a book in two days for some Amazon promotion that they wanted to join).

Second, about bestsellers, they do make publishers a lot of money.  We had four titles at my publishing house that were bringing in a gross of $24 million a year some 30 years after they were first printed.  However, those kinds of books are insanely rare.

I already mentioned this, but most books don't earn out their advances.  Even if a book is phenomenal, that doesn't guarantee that it sells well.  The print book world is built on forecasting: you need to predict as closely as possible how many books a specific novel will sell, and then print that many.  If you guess under, you'll sell out and Amazon/bookstores will end up getting pissed because you can't fill orders.  Too many and bookstores will return books to you and you have to eat production and shipping costs for those books.  I was very glad that ebooks aren't like this, except that I was continually producing books that would sell twenty copies a year when I had just sunk $2500 into making them.  Generally, that book is going to take years to pay off.

The big books allow publishers to make the small books.  And take risks with some authors that try new things.

Third, most books (and ebooks) don't actually sell at the cover price.  There are always daily deals on Amazon, B&N, or Apple and sometimes they're ridiculous.  For example, one of the e-cookbooks that I worked on retails in print (and originally in e) for $40, and the ebook went on a weekend sale for $1.99!  And even with that, we only sold about 5,000 copies.  It bumped us up in the rankings and we eventually sold another 1,000 copies at the full print cover price (this is super secret publishing strategy, everyone).

But that means that the average sale price of a $40 book was $8.33 per book over that retail period.  This specific case was ridiculous, but this happens a lot on a smaller level.  On an earnings report you see the list price, and the average price per unit sold.  I think the best case scenario I saw on a year was about 90%, and that was the best case.  I would hazard to guess that most are lucky to do 75%.  And big promotions often result in 25-40% averages.

Fourth, about the Apple price fixing thing, the New Republic article mentions this in the last paragraph, but that was actually an attempt to prevent Amazon from becoming a monopoly.  Apple and the big five lost.  Yeah, it was about higher prices for consumers, but I think consumers might have won a short term victory at a long term cost.

Fifth, the cost of ebooks and writer's share:  Yeah, I disagree with the publishers on this.  I think a $9.99 ebook is a fair price (none of this $26.99 for an ebook crap) and I think authors should be making way more in e-royalties than they currently are.  Most authors I worked with had an e-royalty of no more than 15%.  Given a book sells a certain number, say a thousand copies, I think that it should go up to 25% or more.  Publishers aren't handling these aspects particularly well.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Meditation on Colton Haynes

There's usually some actor or artist that I've fixated on for some reason or another.  I've certainly posted enough about Erik Rhodes and Fredrik Eklund to imply that, but sometimes it's a more mainstream actor as well (and I'm not going to pretend that it's an actor OR actress because while I am loving every moment of Jennifer Lawrence's celebrity, I'm talking about another level of desire).

For a long time, for example, it was Jonathan Taylor Thomas, or JTT as he was known in the teen beat magazines.  Huh, have I ever actually said that before publicly?  To anyone?  I don't know, I don't think so.

The picture that I had of Jonathan was so nice and familiar and uh, . . . cute.  I had such a big crush on him that I couldn't imagine that people didn't think that he was the prettiest most-beautiful most-special . . . yeah, you get the picture.  There are still characters that live in my head that started off their fictional lives as Jonathan Taylor Thomas. Perhaps some of them as already fictional characters as portrayed by JTT that were further ficitonalized and adapted into the worlds in my head.

There are lots of guys living in there like that.  Who else?  I've had crushes on so many actors . . . all the way from A-listers like Ryan Reynolds, Taylor Lautner, Chris Evans and Josh Hutcherson to guys whose names you'll likely not recognize at all like Alexander Ludwig and Dan Wells.  And athletes like Alexi Nemov and *cough* Tom Daley and Matthew Mitcham.

So, anyway.  My current pop-culture crush is on Colton Haynes who, aside from being just about the most gorgeous guy that has ever lived, was on the show Teen Wolf and is now on Arrow.  Teen Wolf was/is my guilty pleasure.  For a show that should be crap though, it seems really well written and many of the side characters are just as lovable as the main characters.  In that it reminds me of Veronica Mars, I suppose.

When I first started watching Teen Wolf I found Colton Haynes to be rather shallow in the character of Jackson.  Jackson's the white, athletic, captain of the lacrosse team and he's dating a cheerleader. He's basically the epitome of shallowness, actually, and the guys that they usually get to play the shallow white male characters are themselves shallow white males.  Funny how that works out, yeah?  So at the beginning I gave more love to Tyler Posey (werewolf), Tyler Hochtlin, (werewolf), and Dylan O'Brien (brilliant comedic sidekick).

Anyway, there aren't that many guys in the age range that are could convincingly play teenagers in high school that are great actors, especially the ones that are selected to play characters that fit those good looking popular kid roles.  So I saw Colton Haynes playing such a character and didn't give him much of the benefit of the doubt.  To be clear, even though he was an actor in a show, I presumed that he was likely as superficial, conceited and bitchy as the character that he played.  I assumed that he was just as pretty in real life as he was in television land, but that's just television for you.

And then the character had additional characterization, as is the wont for characters in well written television series, and all of the sudden I found that I was actually feeling for this rich, gorgeous jock that was supposed to be the major high school (re: "normal life") antagonist.  Because I had, unwittingly, granted Colton Haynes a powerful version of suspension of disbelief: that he was the character that played.

So when the character showed off fear and anger and confusion and pain I was surprised because I believed it.  It was acting, I know that, but it was excellent acting.  It was a powerful and professional and amazing performance given by someone that had to have really worked at it, thought about it, and then made the role his own in a way that few great actors can.

Or perhaps not.  Maybe Colton Haynes really was afraid, angry, confused and deeply hurt when those scenes were filmed and he and the director used them to get a good performance.  But he's pretty and a television star and honestly I doubt his life has held enough fear, anger, confusion and emotional pain to draw on them so brilliantly, so I'm just going to have to chalk it up to being a very good actor and playing a character.

Here's where I have to complain for a moment.  Jackson was the focus of the second season of Teen Wolf.  It was around his character that a lot of the mystery and action takes place, and it leads up into a grand reveal and a hint at the following season and then . . .

Colton Haynes leaves Teen Wolf and moves over to the show Arrow.  Well, crap.  It was hard to watch Teen Wolf stumble over that, because it was clear that they'd written Jackson into way too much of the third season and they didn't want to change all of the plans that they'd laid out so carefully.  So they had to force some of the characters into awkward positions and do some things that were sloppy before (and I hope this is true) being able to settle back into the flow of things.

I have to say that at first I had a bit of nasty feelings toward Arrow for poaching one of my favorite things about Teen Wolf.  Arrow does have a lot going for it.  Stephen Amell, the male lead, is very attractive (albeit not as hot as Colton Haynes), and it has both John Barrowman and Summer Glau in it, both of whom I like.

But it's not as well written.  It has some issues with how tightly plotted it is, and there are also some serious characterization problems where characters vacillate on what should be core beliefs and principles.  It has some opacity on moral questions: is it wrong to kill someone as a vigilante or not?  The show hasn't decided, and so the characters don't know what to think about it either.

The other issue is that Colton Haynes is woefully underused in his role as Roy Harper.  Roy has an interesting story line, with his life as a poor mugger/thief conflicting with dating one of the richest women in the city and his obsession with following "the Hood" changing what his life means.  But he's on the second rung of supporting characters, being a supporting character's significant other in a show with a surprisingly large cast.  So he doesn't have enough screen time.

I will say though, Colton is a good enough actor to add some great detail to his limited screen time.  In one of the most recent episodes of Arrow that I watched he walked into his girlfriend's mansion with her so that she could interact with her mother (does it still count as passing the Betchdel test if one of the women's male partners is present but nearly silent as they talk about non-men related issues?) and he stares around, wide eyed, because the character has never been there before, and honestly the character has probably never been in such an expensive home in his life.

As I've said, Colton is a good actor, perhaps even a great actor.  And he's got the movie star looks to back up his actual skills (although I can't decide whether that will help him or hurt him in the future).  And we get to see the occasional snippet of him behind the scenes in the social media presence that actors are required to keep these days.  And I've pretty much fallen for what I see of him.  That doesn't mean that he wouldn't absolutely hate me if he ever met me, but I've crushes on plenty of guys that didn't return the feelings before.

Speaking of which, I will say that I wish he was gay. It doesn't matter to his attractiveness whether he is or not, but it's harder to have a crush on a guy when you know for a fact that they can't return those feelings.  Not impossible, just harder.

Anyway, in the meantime, I wish him a good life.  Happiness, privacy, and moments of fun and peace.  

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Gay Marriage in New Mexico

Congratulations to my home state, New Mexico, for becoming the 17th and most recent state to allow gay marriage. 

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Sunday, December 01, 2013

Sneaking Out

Friday, November 22, 2013

Question

Is Obama "expanding" the US Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit?

No.  And if you think the answer is yes, then whoever you've been listening to is lying to you.

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Friday, October 11, 2013

A Brilliant Thought on Certainty

If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions -that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself.
The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. 

Pope Francis

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Monday, September 09, 2013

Syria

I have a few comments to make about the current political situation in the U.S. regarding military action in Syria.  Right now that looks like it will be no military response, although obviously I can't know what will happen with any certainty in the future.

First, I do believe that sometimes "intervention" can make a positive difference, both to American security and to the well-being of the non-American civilian population (the Syrians, in this case).

Second, I think that there is a moral obligation to oppose the use of chemical and biological weapons. And nuclear and neutron weapons, and any other indiscriminate weapon that will likely kill civilians and fighters in an area at the same time.

Third, I think (albeit with very little clear evidence) that Assad used some sort of chemical weapon in Syria, on Syrian civilians including children.

However, I don't think there should be U.S. action taken in this instance.  I think we're going to have to sit and watch what happens.  That is not because we couldn't make a positive difference, not because we don't have a moral obligation, or because I don't think it happened.

The problem is with us.  The U.S. us, that is.  We screwed up publicly with Iraq, and the parallels between that situation and this one are pretty clear to everyone, to all of the other countries that are sitting around watching us.

At the level of countries and international politics, you only get one colossal error, one chance to cry wolf, before you lose the trust of those other countries.  That's supposed to be why international politics is supposed to be the big leagues and that the "stakes are so high."  You have to take your reputation seriously at this level because all countries know that the consequences for their actions are severe. This is as big and as bad as it gets, there is no larger stage to play and act upon.

Before I continue, I guess I also have to be clear that changing a president isn't like becoming a different "person" in the sense that countries are people.  I'm personifying here, but in my view history often personifies the actions of countries.  England was a colonial power.  Switzerland is famously neutral.  Japan attacked the U.S. at the beginning of WWII.  I could say that Queen Elizabeth I was behind British colonialism and that Admiral Yamamoto attacked Pearl Harbor but the personification of Switzerland as neutral goes way beyond a single leader (and possibly even a single government) so that's probably the best example of what I'm talking about: It isn't Bush that attacked Iraq and Obama that wants to attack Syria.  Instead, it's the United States that attacked Iraq and now wants to attack Syria.

And it's the U.S. that screwed up, the U.S. that put our reputation on the line, and the U.S. that messed that up, and now we (the U.S.) have to live with the consequences of our collective actions.

The U.S. reputation right now, at least from what I can see, is that we are quick to use poorly planned military force nearly unilaterally.  That "unilaterally" part is the most complicated and most important bit of that, since it can be argued that we acted with a willing coalition of international forces in Iraq.  I would argue that it doesn't matter to our reputation, because even though we asked for international support for Iraq, we asked the world to believe us and that was when we staked our international reputation on it.  They were doing us a favor, trusting us, with the expectation that we were taking their trust seriously.

Now we're saying, hey, look at this, this is a similar situation and we should go do something! But the rest of the world is looking at us, not trusting us because last time we lied.

And let me go back for a moment, not only did the United States lie, but we lied knowing that we were doing it in the biggest leagues.  How could we have taken our reputation so lightly?  The rest of the world looks at us and says "They knew what they were doing" and honestly I can't really argue with that.  The discussions happened before we invaded Iraq, the doubts were articulated but the warnings about what would happen to our reputation if we were wrong were wrong.

We did take our reputation lightly.  And people died in Iraq (Americans and Iraqis, and many others too).  And now, when we might be able to help Syria, we can't convince the others to come with us, and if we go alone then we will definitely be the country that acts unilaterally, and we'll be the country stockpiling more weapons than anyone else, and we'll be the people that didn't really think through our actions either.

If this were a town, what if there was one person that owned more than half the weapons, was well-known for being a hothead, and wanted to go kick in someone else's door even though he was wrong the last time he kicked in a door?  He'd be dangerous.  You wouldn't necessarily say so to his face because he's holding a couple of guns, but couldn't trust him.

And that's the situation we're in.  And it sucks but for Syria because I suspect a lot more people will die.  And it sucks for Barack Obama because I think he wants to help.  And is also sucks because if we're right this time then we won't have acted and we'll still get blamed for letting it happen.

The thing that we should do, as an adult country and with a responsible leadership, is try to act like the reasonable and rational personified country that we are.

So we need to watch and do nothing, and we need to clearly illustrate to everyone else that, "Yes, we were wrong before.  To acknowledge that we acted badly, and to show you that we can and should be trusted, we will wait for you to see that on this one we are correct.  We won't act alone, in someone else's house, and without the support of the community."

But we should talk about what is going on in Syria.  We need to communicate to the rest of the world that are engrossed in their own business that Syria is important too, and that they should care.  We need to convince them that we can't, (as a rhetorical town of personified countries in an overly extended metaphor) just let Syria hurt itself.  That it shouldn't be the U.S. doing the policing but everyone should work together to keep the world together (and at peace).

Here's the thing, reputations aren't more important than people.  If I was the president and I could save a million people, even if I knew I'd personally get thrown in jail and "United States" would be a cuss word for a century, I would probably do it.  But I wouldn't do it if my reputation (and my country's continuing reputation) could save hundreds of millions over that same century.

I think that it can.  I hope that it can.

And I think that what is happening in Syria is a tragedy, and that it is partially our fault that we can't do more to help them.  

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Trayvon Martin Verdict

There was no way that I could anticipate that the decision in the Trayvon Martin shooting case would come in tonight.  But seeing as how I'm finally exploring Twitter a bit after 3 years of being a member, I'd like to point to something that really caught my attention.

The verdict came in at about 10pm on a Saturday night.  That's not at all when I would have expected it to come down, because of the late hour and the weekend (or both).  But together that means that you're going to have thousands of very upset people on a night where they won't necessarily need to be up in the morning for work.

This seems like a recipe for turmoil.

And Drew's followup tweet:

Friday, July 12, 2013

Disavowal

I hope I haven't missed any recent gay rights breakthroughs on my blog (oh right, Happy overturning of Prop 8 and strike down of DOMA!), but while I'm logged into my blogger account, I thought I would make this perfectly clear.

I utterly repudiate TheAmazingAtheist.  He doesn't speak for me, nor do I agree with what I have seen of his statements, actions or intonation.

Except by unknowing accident, none of my positions or points are intended to refer to or reference him.

For some reason I just felt the need to make that clear.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Morality and Autonomous Cars

Via The Daily Dish but originally by . . . Nick Carr?  Really?

So you’re happily tweeting away as your Google self-driving car crosses a bridge, its speed precisely synced to the 50 m.p.h. limit. A group of frisky schoolchildren is also heading across the bridge, on the pedestrian walkway. Suddenly, there’s a tussle, and three of the kids are pushed into the road, right in your vehicle’s path. Your self-driving car has a fraction of a second to make a choice: Either it swerves off the bridge, possibly killing you, or it runs over the children. What does the Google algorithm tell it to do?

Seems easy enough to me.  It tries to brake, runs over the children, and does everything possible to record everything about the situation to protected memory that can only be accessed by law enforcement.  The car is going to have to be programmed to do it's best with the variables that it can control while protecting the occupant of the car who is riding in it.  The kids on the road are an aberration, something that the car can't control, couldn't have expected, and so it should have no responsibility to protect something that steps in front of it while traveling at speed.

But it's also going to have to prove that after the fact, with a higher bar of proof than a human would have in the same situation.  the car is going to have to show what it saw (the raw recordings), what it thought it saw (the analysis), and record the decisions that it made about what to do.

Just to point out, it's highly unlikely that self-driving cars are going to be able to determine between a single dog and a group of three children in the road.  Whatever instructions the car has are going to have to take into account for the fact that it won't be able to assign a value to the object in the road.  If your car regularly drives into ditches (or off bridges) for dogs and deer, then people are going to be incredibly more upset than with the unfortunate situation described above because they're going to be injured at a much higher rate over the actions of wild animals rather than very rare occurrences of children being hurt in unavoidable situations.

And just to point out . . . it's unlikely this situation would result in criminal charges for a human driver, especially if the kids were pushed into the road.  The legal culpability is with the person doing the pushing.

All of this speculation ignores one important point: the car isn't going to have to make the moral judgement.  The law is going to have to make these decisions, hopefully up front, and Google and the car companies are going to have to program their cars accordingly.