Planning It All Out

I’m away from home at an undisclosed location (which will become disclosed in an AAR, but because of the nature of this trip I don’t have time to meet with any fans, and I don’t want to offend anyone.  Maybe another time) and as we boarded the plane yesterday I thought how impossible this type of trip — including the stuff in the airport like concession stands — would be to plan out, if you were some kind of a central planner.

We flew across the country whisked from a plane to another plane (with the second flight rebooked as the first was very late, before we even landed.)  At the end of it, there was a hotel room waiting.  We were rarely left at loose ends.

And I thought “Man this would be a b*tch to plan from the top down.” I mean, two months ago, I didn’t even know I’d be taking this trip.  Anyone planning for an “average load of passengers” wouldn’t have counted on me, yet there was a place for me when I needed it, for, you know, cold hard cash.

I have traveled in different conditions.  I’ve traveled through countries where airports are more or less run by the state.  You’ll know this, as there is only a water fountain in the entire friggin’ airport, you have to pay for bathrooms, and if there is one concessionary, it charges $20 for a bottle of water.  (Who, me?  I’m just a little bitter about having to cross some aiport in Germany with two young toddlers and no water or bathroom.)

But I haven’t traveled in conditions like what P. J. O’Rourke describes in the old soviet union, of the trans-Siberian express.  There since it was all planned from the top down, they couldn’t care less how people actually traveled, provided they could tick it off on the list as done, so there was only one bathroom and the way the trains were designed meant the floor was awash with piss and vomit.

Our current education system — yes, mine too — or maybe something in our minds leads us to believe that if everything were planned out, surely it would be more efficient.  We want there to be some super intelligence in charge of it all, making it all perfect.

Instead, the most complex things are accomplished by what has been called “the invisible hand of the market” where you want to sell something and find someone who offers it for sale, and if that fails, you start something that sells it.

I’m explaining it all very badly, and it seems impossible that the market CAN provide the most out of the way things.  Periodically I have a need of something (usually a kitchen implement) and I think “I wonder if there’s a way to juliene these vegetables faster) and look on Amazon and voila, there is a vegetable peeler Julienne thing.

Not only is the market pretty good at providing (mostly because we humans are pretty standard and if I want it someone else wants it and there is someone who thought of making money from it) but as the ability to sell at a distance and buy across the borders gets better, it becomes more efficient at providing for things that only a few people want.  Because all over the world, even those of us of odd tastes are a lot.  Enough for someone to get rich.

At one time, there might have been that Julienne peeler somewhere, but someone like me, in (then) small town Colorado wouldn’t have been able to find it.  But now I can connect even with people making stuff intended mostly for chefs and such.

Planning that kind of exchange across the world would be insane.  How would anyone know that I’d need it because — due to the low carb thing — I make fake pasta out of zuchinni a lot and chopping up zuchinni gets tedious?

No one knows, but it’s there, and I (and other odkins like me) can buy it.

So much for the efficiencies of a planned economy.

Which brings us to the book business.

You know and I now how the book publishers (except one) eventually seemed to get to a place where we just couldn’t find anything to read, even in a crowded bookstore?

Yeah, the problem is that various other trends (mergers, bookstore mergers and megastores overtaking the little local stores) overtook publishing and made them think it was not just more efficient but necessary to switch from a “pull” model to a “push” model.  I.e. instead of trying to figure out what the public wanted, they thought they could sell anything to the public, given enough push and promotion.  Instead of doing surveys or finding out what the public (or the super-readers who account for most of their business) actually wanted to read, given the power (they thought) of making people read whatever they put out, they thought they could publish whatever they wanted.

As ever in a planned system, (talk to people from the USSR sometime) this turned from producing what was needed (i.e. what readers wanted) to what would make the planner look good.  In the old USSR that meant producing 5000 baby shoes for the left foot because the bill would show 5k shoes made.  In the old publishing system it meant producing books your peers and bosses thought well of.  And given the ideological (too strong a word for it.  While they are Marxists, they’re not intellectual Marxists, but reflexive ones.  They think everyone has to make these noises about the oppressed, and injustice, to be “a good person”) trend of people mostly educated in our best universities, there was a lot signaling that they were “smart” and “with it” by buying increasingly more hectoring books about more “societal problems.”  Add in the fact most of their ultimate bosses are in Europe and view the US through the lens of Hollywood as a benighted land that needs to be preached to, and shake in the periodic crazes because, say, a mystery about shoes and sluts sold, and suddenly everyone wants their own shoe and slut book out, and you’ll realize how we got in the mess we got in. Even those of us who love to read started calling trips to the bookstore “Going to be disappointed by Barnes and Noble.”

And then ebooks happened.  And indie.

Now the question is: can traditional publishing switch from a push to a pull model, fast enough to save themselves?  Can they realize that their mass-production and mass-marketing business is not only no longer working, but counterproductive in modern times?  Can they order surveys and studies? (While they still have the money?)

The prognosis is not healthy.  Not only does it seem almost impossible for systems to switch from command and control to market (the Eastern nations are making stop and go attempts.  China just went to a different type of control) but most publishers seem to be unaware they need to TRY.  They lull themselves to sleep with fairytales about print coming back and ebooks being flat (hint, it’s a market distortion caused by traditional publishing’s unrealistic pricing of ebooks.  Even I don’t buy their ebooks.) They sing themselves to sleep with lullabies of a bookstore return.

And meanwhile they step nearer and nearer the abyss, while continuing techniques for book buying/publishing/selling that would have been fine 20 years ago but not now.

Part of it is being insulated by their own apparatus, and editors who are the ones who have most contact with the public, being approached only by people who want to sell to them: just as it was 20 years ago.

They won’t notice that the midlist they tried to get rid of is now leaving them: mostly because most of the midlist leaves before approaching them.  It just goes indie and flourishes there.  They won’t notice the numbers are falling, of if they do there’s excuses to hand, the same they used these last 20 years “People just aren’t reading anymore” is at the center of those.  It’s dead wrong, but it sounds good.  They’ll just think people really stopped reading now.

And that’s the worst part of a planned economy.  It allows the planners to fool themselves and think they’re doing the best that can be done.

And meanwhile the market passes them by, its miracles invisible and unobserved and its efficiency unnoticed.

Let us be glad that more and more the technology does allow the market to bypass the planning.  And that we can find the stuff we want to read and publish the stuff we want to write.

Yes, it’s scary, but this too shall pass.

And the free marketeers will still be here.  Long after the planners are gone.


184 responses to “Planning It All Out

  1. You do know that while your fans certainly do like the chance to see you, most of us have no wish to intrude when your is too busy. Further, most of us also recognize that has been close to your situation normal in the last few years. So, please, do not let that aspect of your trip give you the least concern.

    Stay safe, stay healthy. Know we will be waiting here for your return.

    • So will the place. It will even be recognizable.


      (Remember people, that plastic flamingos are out because they come to life and fly off to the lake.)

      • I thought that was a bonus. Watching Fluffy try to wingshoot them with flame is very entertaining.

        • That’s all well and good for sight seers who don’t have to clean up its misses when it gets excited.

          Horse River, Big Sur, Bridger-Teton, Hayden Pass, … untidy. And the flamingos are still scattered all over the place.

  2. The thing to remember about a “planned” economy is that when they declare it more efficient, they mean it is more efficient for the planners and fr the producers — not consumers.

    You will also notice that those doing the planning are generally the last to suffer shortfalls in the planned results.

    Posner is still a moron, but it is good to be a Clinton.

  3. BTW: “people mostly educated in our best most prestigious universities,”

    Fixed that for you.

  4. Dramatic exposition of the problems of modern publishing/planned economies:

    From 1934.

  5. What bothers me is the attempts to control the internet — if (when) ‘they’ get full control over that, we are going to be back to the command and control economy. Yeah, I’m a conspiracy theorist. So sue me, LOL! (But it isn’t a conspiracy if they are really out to get you.)

    • They are dedicated to the belief that if they could get just one more thing under control they would be able to herd the cats.

      • A guy named Hayek wrote a book about that.

      • They cannot get our guns, they cannot get our religion, they cannot get our ability to communicate behind their backs.
        But this nation was founded on the rule of law, and equal justice for everyone under those laws. What they are well on their way to accomplishing is to turn us from that nation into one where everyone is a criminal.

    • Heck, if they try it we’ll just all migrate to the dark net, which by definition they don’t control.

    • ‘They’ tried to assert full control over the net in China, as with all nets it proved leaky.

      • I’d be more reassured by that if I wasn’t pretty dang sure that a significant number of those casting the net have an interest in it leaking.

        • Well, yes, that could well be so. Nets are often used when fishing.

        • This was laid out by Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged with her bureaucrat’s explanation that their goal was not a law-abiding society but one in which every individual’s freedom was at the whim of prosecutorial discretion: everybody being guilty of some crime and thus pliable to the government’s levers.

          In the Soviet Union this meant that the Black Marketeers could be forced to pay kickbacks and bribes while the recipients could be blackmailed into looking the other direction such as, to pick a random example, when a high government official, like the a Minister of Foreign Affairs, is caught mishandling classified material and avoids prosecution by threatening to reveal incriminating evidence against the prosecuting agency, say, perhaps, its head “owning” a Black Sea dacha into which under-aged boys and girls are known to disappear. Of course, the more honorable the prosecutor, the slighter the crime needed for his blackmail.

          And, of course, an internet into which news unfavorable to the Powers That Be can be leaked (including by TPTB) allows bad news to get out in a manner permitting its deniability, besmirching as “internet rumour” and generally have its credibility diluted until such time as it is safe to admit.

          • Like a lot of Rand, that seems to boil down into an elaborately rational way to reach a flavor of the way things use to be.

            To quote Vathara’s Embers, “justice” is what the tribal council decides it is this time.

  6. Every time publishers crow about how ebooks are a dying fad, I find something like this:

    Upcoming movie “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is based on a series of novels. I liked the trailer, so I went to Amazon to check out the first book. Paperback $7, Hardcover $10.59, Kindle $10.99, and reviews indicate that the illustrations are a mess in the Kindle edition, so anyone who buys it is getting a half-assed conversion done by an intern.


    • When they say ebooks are dying, they mean their share of the ebook market is dying. For the hardcore reader, nothing beats being able to carry your entire library on one device the size of a paper back book. No one who has had to move boxes (and boxes!!!!) of books from house A to house B would consider anything else.

      • My husband’s back thanks Jeff Bezos.

      • For our most recent move, my long-suffering wife packed up the vast majority of our dead-tree books and palletized them for truck shipment.

        Three pallet-loads at about 1500lbs each.

        But that large amount of work saved us many-thousand dollars, because ordinary truck freight is waaaaaay cheaper than movers. Saved us a bit more than $1/lb.

        No wonder we rarely buy paper any more, and stick to eBooks wherever possible!

  7. Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    Central planning relies on the surprise free economy. The problem is that a working economy is all about surprises. That’s why the entrepreneur can function and a state planner cannot. A state run bureaucracy can’t deal with surprise when the inevitable hiccups show up. Back when I was in college UB used to get all the Soviet English language magazines. One of those was the review magazine for Soviet film and on review was for a movie I think called “Mainlines” where a train wreck is caused by a oil refinery getting an extra train, something that would give an American railroad no trouble at all, and that extra train causing a wreck. This was the logic of the old Soviet Union.

    • The old USSR made a very valiant attempt to force reality to mirror their narrative. They failed.
      Sadly, our own home grown socialists seem to have learned sweet FA from that very painful and destructive lesson. Rather, they seem firm in their conviction that this time they’ll get it right.

      • They say that denial is not a river in Egypt. The thing is that once you get too attached to a cultish romantic vision it’s impossible to let go.

      • Even in the harshest planned economy, there is a free market, They just call it the Black Market. The USSR had a massive black market that some say helped prop up the place to some extent, and is also the reason so many of the Pols and business men there now are former, or current Mob members. Those were the ones who knew how to run things like that.

  8. The whole discussion about markets improving as the world gets smaller reminds me of this commercial:

    A good reminder that often times, no matter what you want, there’s someone out there who has it, if only you can find him.

    I also find it kind of interesting that all I had to do was type “lime-green” into youtube in order to find a commercial I vaguely remembered from what has to be almost a decade ago. The market really is getting better at delivering what people want.

  9. Currency is, or at least carries, signal. Demand causes price to rise, so more is produced to seek that money, and the supply then causes price to fall. It might be seen as “hunting” in a feedback loop, but at least there is the (negative) feedback that keeps things from going out of control. Distort that signal, and the feedback loop doesn’t work quite right. Prices can increase and yet supply (of something not naturally limited) can remain scarce. Eliminate the signal (or reverse it!) and stability goes to vapor.

    Positive feedback results in strong oscillation – if you are lucky – or catastrophic failure – if you are not lucky.

    Any “signal processing” must be done with the lightest of touches if done at all, or the results will be unpleasant and perhaps horrific.

    There is a reason it is cheaper to rent a one-way U-Haul from Texas to California, than to rent that same truck one-way from California to Texas. Economically, Texas has the better business environment. Technically, Texas is messing with the feedback loop far less than California. And if a more.. Western.. picture is need: The Texans know to let that horse have his head and give him free rein, as much as practicable.

    • Re positive feedback and it’s results – see the housing market. Again.

      Any “signal processing” must be done with the lightest of touches if done at all, or the results will be unpleasant and perhaps horrific.

      And this is pure anathema to the controllers out there – any contrary outcome is seen as the result of not controlling enough – and a need for a budget increase, of course.

      • Given your handle, I expect you know how hard it is for an aggressive controller to avoid the hazards of “Dutch roll”…

        • There’s something called “Pilot Induced Oscillation” or PIO, where the effect of what the pilot does is delayed just enough so that the action ends up reinforcing what the plane is doing instead of countering it – then the pilot tries the opposite, but by then the plane is doing the opposite, and so on, often leading to a loss of control – see for an example from an early test flight of the SAAB Gripen fighter in the late 1980s.

          If you search for “Pilot Induced Oscilation” videos there’s a fair number, all the way back to stuff transferred from film from the 1960s and 1970s. They even experienced one on one of the drop-test flights of the shuttle-like-test-vehicle Enterprise.

          The fix (unless it’s a computerized flight control system failure doing it to you) is to stop making inputs and just hold the stick steady(or even let go) so the natural stabilty can damp out the oscillations, but that takes an incredible amount of brainpower to override a pilot’s drive to do something To get back in controlled flight.

          And re my prior comment, the “messing with the signal / boosting the gain” stuff that gets added as a “fix” to economic systems is exactly why things get out of control, no “elite” central manager can possibly convince themselves “let go of the controls” , and often these economic systems are so screwed up that there’s no natural stability left to damp out any oscillations.

          • Burt Rutan’s Voyager was prone to that when it was fueled up, and his brother, Dick, wouldn’t let his ex, Jeana Yeager, pilot until the plane was closer empty because of it. 9 days, and Dick was awake and piloting for pretty much all of it.
            Our economy is probably worse in that respect, and instead of “Dick of the Velvet Wrist” we got a ham handed fool piloting (or trying to). Seems it is blind luck that we haven’t augured in yet.

          • The central manager CANNOT let go. If they stop doing something and things get better people will start asking why they need a manager in the first place. Far better to do something, no matter how dumb. If things improve you can claim credit. If things get worse you can blame counter-revolutionaries, wreckers, or Republicans.

          • Natural stability can sometimes be found by simply removing the last feedback loop you added (e.g. financial regulation) and observing, hands-off, to see if it was the cause.

            Now I’ve created two very hard-to-do conditions: removing a law or regulation, as well as waiting!

    • I forget who it was who reasoned it all out: a planned economy has co-opted all means of communication to carry the orders of the plan. This means there are no channels of communication to carry economic information, which you need to plan.

      And of course, there’s always “I, Pencil” to explain things:

  10. “I make fake pasta out of zuchinni a lot”

    (a) How do you do that?

    (b) Is it any good?

    • Free Range Oyster

      Here’s one example:

      I’ve also seen ravioli done with zucchini (two slices per piece, folded around the filling) but I can’t seem to find the video I remember.
      On a related note, these high-speed recipe videos have been all over the internet for a few months now, and I love them. It gives me a good sense of what’s involved quickly, in a way that a written recipe doesn’t. I never would have asked for such a thing: I didn’t know how helpful it would be until I saw one. Innovation for the win!

    • Spaghetti squash is even better substitute…..

    • a) Sara suggests a julienne peeler, which is good to create the strips of of zucchini resembling spaghetti. A mandolin or a spiralizer would also useful tools to employ as well.

      b) There are mixed opinions upon this. Cooked properly, it needs to be cooked but not rendered mushy, it can be pleasant so long as you are not expecting it to be pasta. There are those who are not super carbohydrate sensitive who find mixing zucchini strips with pasta is a quite enjoyable way to vegetable consumption.

      • We usually don’t eat pasta (I am gluten-seriously-intolerant, while J is allergic to it). We tried quinoa pasta, but meh. Might try the zucchini pasta when we get a kitchen back. The “small” leak had major effects, and the restoration guys are now taking a 4 x 8 chunk of subfloor, and the cabinets by the sink are a memory…

        a) We got a mandolin with variable thicknesses and two options for julienne. Amazon special. (Progressive International, PL8. $59.90 on Prime), and it’s pretty robust. I use it for zucchini slices for our GF pizza. (Crust recipe from the Bette Hagman Gluten-free books FTW.)

        b) Grilled zucchini is quite good. We had a lot come out of the garden this year, and the local mission got quite a bit, with plenty for the fridge. Our plants came out Sept 1 (Fall comes with a vengeance, even if the calendar says “summer”) so we’re grilling the little zukes. Peeled, and quartered. Grilled 6 minutes on high and a bit of salad dressing. Yum. Does well with basic seasoning.

        • Ouch! I am so sorry to hear about the “small” leak. I have reason to know that with water leaks it is not only the size of the leak but how long it has been going on before it was detected. We once had the first floor bathroom ceiling collapse on The Spouse’s head because of a “small” undetected leak in bathroom above.

          I hope that all the damage has been found and you are now on a positive projectory towards a fully functional kitchen.

          • The leak had been going on for a while, and it didn’t show until the new flooring in the kitchen started lifting. Took a while before I got to checking under the house, and saw water. A dishwasher hookup bit had cracked with a pinhole leak several months after I overtightened it during install. ‘

            So, the new floor is toast in the kitchen, a chunk of subfloor, sheetrock and the insulation. The basic portion will be done next week, I hope, but the active mold stuff is gone. We’ll have to go through the place and wipe down surfaces and dishes with bleach wipes. Then new flooring and some new cabinets. We already had a mix of styles in the kitchen, but we’ll do ones to match the new island.

            I picked the property restoration company (Belfor) because I saw their trucks around the area. They seem to know what they’re doing, and have the stuff to get it done. Home insurance will pay for the water damage, but the mold is on us. Oh well…

      • This. As long as you aren’t expecting the pasta to be, well, you know pasta, it works okay.

        Me, I’d rather just eat the sauce with a spoon and skip the vegetable bits masquerading as noodles. Note that I don’t mind vegetables as vegetables, but (like the oddly similar situation of trying to sneak turkey leftovers into stuff after Thanksgiving and Christmas) I don’t like vegetables that are supposed to fill in for other stuff. It just messes with my mind.

        • I generally agree. Going into a dish with expectations of what it should taste and feel like very often leads to disappointments, while going in with no preconceptions often leads to a positive experience.

          • Expectation management is a problem in many areas of life for many people.

          • My local Korean restaurant has seaweed noodle salad as one of its regular “banchan” (side dishes included with the meal). Seaweed is what the noodles are made of. I thought it was the most disgusting stuff ever, the first few times I ate it, because I couldn’t help seeing it as a nasty form of cole slaw.

            But now I like it okay, because its squiggly texture makes more sense. (And to be fair, the sauce has gotten less cole slaw-like.)

    • with a lot of sauce everything is pretty good.

      • The secret of French Cuisine.

        • Gravy being the American version of the same.

          • That’s because we’re descended from the English who had sixty religions and only one sauce.

            • Um, let me get that facsimile of the original edition of Mrs. Beaton’s Book of Household Management off the shelf.

              Yes, Well, enough of that. Now I remember why it usually remains on the shelf. The thing is a fascinating resource on life in its time and place. It is also a rather diverting consumer of present time. Did you know that the book provides advise on what colour combinations should properly be used for a lady’s dresses and their trimming?

              By the middle of the nineteenth century, the English employed a number of what they already considered to be traditional sauces for various boiled or roast beasts.

              • The source quote is attributed to either Voltaire or Francesco Caracciolo, both of whom lived in the 18th century. Of course by the 19th century the upper-class English tradition of emulating the French would have resulted in the introduction of sauces to the dinner table.

    • Everybody here seems to have a much higher opinion of it than I do.

      Different people have different tastes, so you might like it, I’ll just repeat, DON’T expect it to taste or feel like pasta.

  11. Martin L. Shoemaker

    I think of it In network terms. When I was a young and foolish programmer, the big debate was central server networks vs. peer-to-peer networks; and I bought into the argument that it made more sense for a central server to know everything and control everything, because it could all be managed in one place.

    But then someone pointed out the simple math…

    If your network has 1 node, you have 0 possible connections to manage.

    2 nodes, 1 connection.

    3 nodes, 3 connections.

    4 nodes, 6 connections.

    5 nodes, 10 connections.

    And so on: N nodes, (N^2-N)/2 possible connections. Basically, as the number of nodes grows, the management of those nodes grows as the square.

    In a small network, a central server can manage the traffic. But eventually the network grows beyond the capacity of any server. The math convinced me that I had been wrong: you HAVE TO distribute the management load.

    Now pure peer-to-peer has almost the opposite problem: each node has to be aware of N-1 other nodes: how to find them, how to talk to them, how to resolve conflicts with them. As N grows, the potential to overload each node is there.

    And so we have the modern internet: a giant hub-and-spoke network of big servers routing to smaller servers and smaller still, and eventually to individual nodes (and vice versa). Distributed management, with different amounts of control and conflict resolution at different levels. There’s no central server at all, and most management decisions get handled as close to the end node as possible. Central planning consists of defining the rules for how servers and nodes connect and interact, and then letting them mostly manage themselves. There will be local failures, but on the whole, it works.

    And then I realized… In a small group of people, you might find some smart person, some genius even, who can handle the management effort for such a small group. Or maybe a small, select group of managers. But sooner or later, the group size gets too large for central control.

    That’s the day my faith in central planning died. You don’t have to believe that the central planners have ill will, you just have to believe that they’re naïve, fallible human beings who know everything (“everything that matters”), know what’s best for you (“but not for me, because I’m different”), and desire power to make their vision come to pass (“because it’s for the greater good”). They are Lewis’s benevolent tyranny, determined to manage you until you conform to what they “know” is right.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      I was going to say that in response to J. Carlton.

      The socialist technocrats are so sure their plans are of the good, that they will lie to implement them. Given power, or especially taking it by force, and they will hide the shortcomings. Perhaps by lying, perhaps by force.

      On top of the inherent information problems of central planning, you get information problems from the lying, especially lies forced by terror.

    • > There’s no central server at all,

      No… but the DNS servers are, for all practical purposes, under government control. And with so much of the net on DHCP, an IPV4 address isn’t a unique identifier any more.

  12. I was contacted by a survey company about recent issues. This was a thinly disguised attempt at getting people to agree that “Something MUST Be Done” about the out of control prices of pharmaceuticals, most specifically the Epi-Pen. I pointed out several times that the free market was already working. Once word started going out about the price increase and the CEO salary, people started complaining, other options started being thrown out (some safe, others not so much), and the company stock plummeted. The company is already making some efforts, half-hearted though they may be, at dropping the price. Introducing more government regulation, capping CEO salaries and taking “excess profits” from companies will mean costs will go UP and access will go DOWN. Central planning at its finest. (In fact, I’ve learned recently, that the Lamaze breathing method for giving birth was a creation of Soviet Russia to convince women that they didn’t need pain medication which wasn’t available anyway.)

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      CEO salaries are, I strongly suspect, an artifact of the existing regulation. Companies need to pay a high price to attract wealthy politically connected executives to buy influence for regulatory accommodation. If the regulatory costs were lower, the monetary value of influence would be lower, and big companies spending more than was affordable might go out of business.

      Current save or die regulations kill or prevent a lot of small businesses which cannot afford the influence. Those small companies otherwise might destroy companies wastefully spending on influence.

      • ding ding ding,
        The “feel The Bern” types ignore the fact so many of the bankers they hate, are backing the pols they favor. For fun and games, ask a Bern supporter how a guy who has only ever been a carpenter way way back and a career politician can buy a $600,000 house (one of three he and his wife own)?

      • There’s another factor, too: the risk of failure. If you fail at that level, you may be unemployable for YEARS, until enough time has gone by for the collective memory to fade. I mean, look at Carly Fiorina; the’s still getting fallout from HP going down on her watch. And nowadays, it may not be for anything you did; it may just be some apparatchik getting offended, or an offer from your competitors, and deciding to enforce all the regulations on your company.

        The CEO has to make enough to at least try to build a cushion against that failure.

        • The funny thing about HP, too, is that it’s my understanding that Fiorina put HP on the right track, but offended people in the process; as a result, she was ousted. Apparently HP lost money initially, but then grew once Fiorina’s policies bore fruit…

    • Complex problem, that Epi-Pen price. For example, it turns out that the NY State Teachers’ Union is an investor (via their pension plan) in the manufacturer and simultaneously an underwriter of protests of that manufacturer.

      Of course, any shortfalls in the stock’s performance will have to be made up by the taxpaying people of the state, not by the union’s pension managers, officers or members. And the real target of the protests is not the manufacturer but the hedge fund investors underwriting the company — who also happen to be underwriting NY charter schools.

      See: A look into the teachers union ties with EpiPen

      And, as you know, the price of those pens is mainly determined by large insurance companies who are required, under Obamacare regulations, to cover the expense while actual users of the device pay a trivial out-of-pocket amount. Unless, of course, they can’t afford Obamacare compliant insurance.

      Given the way the FDA has acted to prevent competitors from offering alternatives and the fact that doctors have few reasons to prescribe alternatives (especially given insurance-covered consumer preferences for “name brands”) this is scarcely a failure of the market — except that the (economic) market* has failed to find a role in this pricing.

      *The political market, OTOH, has found very fertile ground indeed.

      • If I understand correctly, they also are now being forced to be carried by schools by regulations. Apparently the highly vaunted educrats are unable to draw up .15 mL of epi from a $40 vial into a $2 syringe so they need epipens at school. So guaranteed market over and above BLS EMS and insurance. The first two are relatively cost immune, third doesn’t see it and thus they risked gambling with self pay and high deductible (a health plan feature pushed by ocare). They lost. Govt won.

        • The school probably looks at the potential liability resulting from a nurse inadvertently giving an incorrect dosage and decides for the higher up-front cost, especially as mitigated by the factors you cite. The Epi-Pen may not give the optimum dosage, but that isn’t the school’s problem.

          • For the vast majority of school aged kids, dosage is either .3 or .15. same as epipens. Just do prefilled syringes if needed

            • Apparently, a large part of why Epi-Pens are required is that competitors have failed to solve the problem of maintaining sterility of their alternatives. Presumably this would also apply to pre-filled syringes.

              I am not rejecting your suggestions, merely indicating why (LIABILITY — aka, hungry tort lawyers and craven liability insurers) school systems would opt for the more directly expensive option which offers the less direct benefit of mitigating risk. They won’t have to defend using Epi-Pens, they might have to defend using alternatives. Safe Harbors can be very attractive.

              • Oh I understand. Not trying to be snappy. Just part of why I think they thought they could push up price.

                • because they are so connected they knew the methods to play the game (like making minor changes to extend exclusivity) and then add the fact most folks were not going to see the jump in price. A co-worker and his daughter keep them on hand, and only after the news reports about the jump did he notice “You saved $1200.00” showing up on his receipts.

              • For carrying around where it’s getting jostled and interacting with other items in a pocket or purse, the sanitary argument for the epi-pen or similar makes sense.

                For sitting in a first aid kit on a wall in the school nurses office, of any other fixed location, a prefilled syringe in a sealed foil bag seems like a good sterile option. But, that’s just my thought on the matter.

                • Perception may be involved: An epi-pen must be an anybody-can-use, consumer grade item, because non-medically-“qualified” people do carry and use them.

                  OTOH, a syringe maybe looks like “professional medical” equipment, scary for a teacher, school secretary, or health aide to touch, let alone use.

                  • I also wonder why companies making other auto injectors (duodote, insulin, narcan) don’t simply use existing injectors with epi. The given reasons for no competition I keep seeing is the patent on the injector. My guess is that previously wasn’t worth going thru the FDA approval. And now all the epipen mfg has to do if a competitor starts moving that way is drop price.

          • I’m guessing it’s also a matter of rapidity and accessibility of giving the injection: an epi pen can be used by anyone who’s had basic first aid training, e.g. a teacher or admin if the nurse is out or being substituted for the day by someone unfamiliar with the nurse’s office setup. There is some potential liability with not doing what you could have done in a timely way.

            • My elder daughter is a 8th grade teacher in an urban school here in Massachusetts. For the schools the Epi-pen really is an excellent solution. Because of the way it works it guarantees that the injection will not hit major blood vessels. Epinephrine is a seriously tricky drug and can kill almost as easily as cure. Using a real syringe would take far more training then the 5 minutes my daughter had for the Epi-pen. My daughter is a skilled teacher and decent mathematician, but damn it Jim she’s not a doctor.

              There is also a SHORT window for injection as anaphylactic shock is very fast in its onset (especially in insect stings). Running a kid down to the nurse who is turning blue because their throat is closing to get a shot is distinctly suboptimal. The Epi-pens are also great for folks with those kinds of allergies to carry as they can self administer and it will give them time to get to aid. In fact the rules for the epi pen are roughly
              1) apply to student in distress
              2) call down to nurse who will call 911 and meet and bring the paramedic(s) to the classroom.

              They’d been about $50 each, but then for some reason they were ONLY sold in pairs (backup in case one fails?) so now $100 and with it being covered by various health plans and stocked all over the price went up
              (that old demand/price thing). As I believe the patent on the mechanism is still good there’s no easy generic and no other vendors.

              I know if it were my daughters I’d shell out the $300 but then again I and my wife have been blessed with good and stable jobs. I can understand how angry folks would get when the choice is epi pens or a couple weeks groceries.

              • The situation isn’t helped by the way that the Media and politicians and “activists” use the situation to cloud the issue, define villains (and themselves, by contrast, as heroes) and otherwise (see story linked above about NY Teachers’ Union using this as a cudgel to silence supporters of charter schools) exploit the situation.

                The company has played politics with this as well, possibly out of greed, possibly out of recognition that the politicians gave them no choice, likely a good bit of both. The greater the amount of regulatory and other games being played, the more all involved are corrupted by the circumstances.

                What is notably absent are clear explanations and analyses of the problem by those whose duty it is to offer such.

                Of course, we might imply all agree that Mylan is racist because the main users* of Epi-Pen are African-American.

                *An assertion of “fact” with absolutely no evidence offered in its support. But we all know that the “poor” always suffer most in any event and the poor are more likely to be “minority” — especially those minorities who cling to the belief that they are not responsible for elevating their circumstances.

        • The whole question of the administration of meds in school opens up a can of worms. Many schools policies allow that no drugs of any kind, including prescription, may be carried by students. For students needing medications during the day this creates problems.

          Put drugs in the charge of the school nurse? Many systems do not have school nurses, and those that do not have to find another solution. It was solved in the local system by having the medications a locked cabinet under the control of the school secretary. The child needing the medication goes to the office to get their dose from the secretary. The secretary, not being a nurse, could not legally dose a child or administer a medication.

        • “Apparently the highly vaunted educrats are unable to draw up .15 mL of epi from a $40 vial into a $2 syringe so they need epipens at school.”

          Dude, you do NOT want those morons filling a needle and sticking it in your kid. Oh. My. God. No.

          • That was mostly tongue in cheek in that sense, hence educrats. Perfect world at least one should be. We teach ged grads to do it in about 1 hr

          • There’s also the simple fact that those refillable syringes can be refilled with anything, and you don’t want to give the Trayvons attending the public schools a convenient source of drug accessories.

          • Agreeing … I’ve had CERT training and I still wouldn’t want to have to deal with a syringe … epipen ftw. Whoever invented that has saved so many lives he has a priority ticket to heaven.

      • It is even more direct than that. Someone probably whats itsname the manufacturer of the pens lobbied congress to pass a law requiring every school in the country to keep 2 fully loaded epipens in stock and on site.

        The surge in orders as all those schools suddenly had to by congressional fiat buy epipens created an artificial shortage which epipen in turn pointed to and said ….. oh look a massive increase in demand and we can’t fulfill all the orders. I know lets raise the price several orders of magnitude.

        If they had raised the price from 100 to 150 a pen people would have grumbled but paid. They got greedy.

    • The pricing issue of the Epi-pen is anything but an example of free markets at work. This restriction to free market is a result of the government doing something — the FDA is not allowing any competitors of Epi-pen to get their product into the market — and now we see demands that the government exercise price controls to counterbalance the effect of having closed the market. This is prime central planning.

      (Note: the cost of the government wading into health care has been touched upon elsewhere

    • Got this second hand, so check to see the validity for yourself, but I’ve been told that if you ask your physician for an epi-pen script and have them check the generic substitution allowed box there are alternatives available for a tenth the cost of the name brand.
      As for syringes and a vila of epi, I suspect the much vaunted war on drugs has done a lot to stigmatize the general use of such implements.

      • Well . . . not so much stigmatize. The fear may be illegal drug use. Not many years ago you could get insulin syringes without a prescription. Not anymore. Have no idea about the disposable syringes we used on hogs and cows.

        • Sib had to get a note from the vet to buy the fine-needle syringes to use on Cat #1. The pharmacist still gave Sib and Sib-in-Law the stinky eye and called the vet’s office to confirm.

          • Same when I used to give myself allergy shots.

            The syringes weren’t covered by my insurance, but they came in bags of 50 for under $10, so it wasn’t a deal-breaker.

            I gave the pharmacy clerks the stink-eye right back; at least I was paying. The state has a program to give druggies “clean needles” so they could shoot up; I could have got those for free.

        • You know those horrible news stories about fake doctors who only get discovered because they kill people?

          Combine that with fear mongering about producing super-bugs (short version, remember them banning the dish washer stuff that actually worked because it caused algae bloom, even though when they tested it turned out to be the wrong type to do it? Same thing) and vets/animal doctoring suppliers are getting squished HARD.

  13. But now I can connect even with people making stuff intended mostly for chefs and such.

    We moved into center city Philadelphia when I was ten and I spent my next five years there. Growing up in a major metropolitan center has certain charms. There were huge libraries, theaters, a wide variety of museums and all sorts of shops.

    But there was one charm I did not know of until I returned to visit Daddy. Daddy took me to shop at a place called Fante’s Kitchen Shop which is in the Italian Market. It is now available to visit online:

    I know that the website could never provide the same experience as walking through the door the first time into that cooks paradise. Still having a website to shop means that you don’t need to be in a major metropolitan center to find the tools necessary to pursue a recipe that has caught your fancy.

  14. All Hail Free Enterprise!

  15. Completely off topic (that never happens here):

    I have a 7 yr. old son who I would like to start teaching how to write and/or tell a story. My wife and I are not writers but I’d like to do this at home. Do any Huns have suggestions on where to begin? Either formal stuff like texts or informal stuff like “try this game/exercise” or just advice. Thanks in advance.

    BTW, back on topic I remember marveling at how fast the Cellphone infrastructure went up and thinking that if the Soviet Union had made it a national priority to put together such a nationwide communication network, just for their army and police forces… they would never have dreamed it could be done so fast, much doing it so the average working man could afford to have one too.

    • I’m not anything like an expert in this, but you piqued my curiosity. Here are some links I found:

    • Does he play imaginary games? Ask him about them. Writing at seven is *hard*. It involves such trials as holding the pencil correctly and not wriggling.
      “What were you playing today?”
      “I was a Pokemon Trainer and I caught a pikachu!”
      “And then what happened?”

      You have to explain the difference between telling stories for fun and lying. The stories are going to be fanfic with himself as main character for a while. My oldest wrote a novel last summer. (Working on another.) He grabbed elements from all his favorite science fiction, kept the serial numbers, and wrote a cast of himself, his family, and friends. It was the sort of novel he’ll look back at and wince later. But he learned a lot. He enjoyed the process. And his handwriting improved. We talked about plot. Wins all around.

      • Before they were comfortable with handwriting, I used to let the kids dictate stories while I typed. They got a kick out of seeing their words printed on paper. (And were motivated to read.) One child told stories; the other strung unrelated events together with a connective tissue of “and then, and then, and then…”

        One of the benefits of having two very close in age is that you realize you don’t have nearly as much power to warp their little minds as you might have imagined.

        • Both of mine told stories, but the most gifted story teller refuses to let anyone but me read his stories. (Sigh.) He did this from one to three. He didn’t talk to anyone but me. Now he’s 21 and I’m wondering if this too shall pass.

          • When I think of the inspiration that those boys provided for one of my favorite characters of yours, I confess that I love them unmet.

            The people which you created and populated the varied worlds has been one of the great joys of discovering and reading your writing. So pardon me while I allow my mind to wander into a diner, take a seat at the counter and order up a cup of joe from an exotic looking woman with a feathered earring. It arrives in one of those quintessential heavy ceramic mugs, dark and hot with cream on the side. Sigh

    • I’ll second the “don’t do writing right at first” thing– I’d also add that you brush up on that Cycle of a Hero setup, and use it as a framework to help translate the stories that are already there into a useful format.

      Kind of like how you’d teach someone to do pictures by starting with looking at pictures that look right, and then explaining the law of thirds.

    • I will assume that your son likes to read. Whether picture books, comics, or something more advanced, have him read what he likes then have him tell you the story. As he gets more comfortable encourage him to tell you how he thinks he might have made the story better, more interesting.

  16. There is an author who’s books (the VERY few I’ve read anyway) I very much enjoy. Only his publisher is one of those that is inflating e-book prices. So, I only buy that author’s books when I’m feeling relatively flush (which is increasingly rare these days). Any other time, it’s like “TEN FREAKING BUCKS FOR AN E-BOOK WHEN THE PAPERBACK IS ONLY SIX!!! SCREW THAT!!!” (yes, I yelled it… at work… people weren’t amused.) Oddly enough, that sours me on the whole thing (since 99% of my reading is e-book) and I never get around to buying the paperback.

    I’m one of those readers who never goes more than a day or two without a book to read. I also enjoy, for instance, C. Nuttall’s books. Since his books are generally more reasonably priced, I have bought a LOT of them. Easily spending many many times the amount of money than I have spent on the more expensive author without batting an eye. Perhaps I am odd or the economics of scale work in favor of the more expensive publisher, I don’t know. I can’t imagine.

    • Once in a while, I’ll buy the paperback. Then I never get around to reading it, as my habits have changed over to using my e-book reader or phone almost exclusively.

    • Sarah mentioned the Repairman Jack books in a post once. Sounded interesting. I picked up the first one as a used paperback, $3 or $4. Loved it! Go to Amazon for the second book, $9.99 for the Kindle version. No way am I paying that for a Kindle version. Amazon sales used books from other outfits. I bought every other book in the series for one cent. $0.01 for a Hardback book. Of course I had to pay $3.99 for shipping on each one, or $4 for each book. I spaced it out over the summer. Post Office got a cut of that. Thrift store got a cut. The author got zero. The publisher got zero. I got a knee high pile of great books that I can’t carry around as easily as I can carry the books on my Kindle. If the Kindle version had been closer to $5, the books would now be on my Kindle. This has happened with several other series of books. I would love to buy the Kindle version. Most of my reading is on my Kindle.

      • Fundamental rule of pricing: the price for a thing is not determined by what you want to get for it, the price of a thing is determined by the price of reasonable alternatives to the thing.

        Ancillary rule of pricing: X% of something greater than 100% of nothing.

        It is surprising how many Liberal Arts majors cannot grasp this.

  17. c4c

  18. But Sarah, it’s the Right People who are failing in publishing so it has to be the Market and the System that are failing THEM, not the other way around. Bad Market, bad System, bad!

  19. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    at an undisclosed location

    Is Dick Cheney there as well? 😈 😈 😈 😈

  20. I can’t help but wonder where Indie would be today, if publishers had been publishing what people want all along. Indeed, I would even go so far as to say that perhaps books could have a sort of come-back…if publishers would publish what people want to read!

    I would even go so far to say that, if it weren’t for e-books, it may even be likely that we’d be seeing dozens of small presses, some of which would be touting their big successes because they picked up books that the big houses would be unwilling to publish…

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      IMO the problem with the “dozens of small presses” idea is that ebooks (and Amazon) allow the “small presses” to be able to meet the demand.

      Even if the small presses were using Amazon to sell their dead-tree books, the small presses would have difficulty printing enough books to meet the demand.

      As it is, the small presses have to charge more for their dead-tree books than the larger publishers charge.

      • There was the publish-on-demand services that (for all I know) may even still be around, but they were coming into being around the same time as e-books.

        It’s *possible* that without e-books, these types of services would have gotten cheaper over time…but then again, it seems to be the case that you’ll always pay a premium for customization…

        What’s more likely the case, though, is that the technological maturation that makes publish-on-demand possible, also makes e-books possible, so the point will likely have been moot anyway…

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          “Publish On Demand” exists but larger Publishers (including Baen) have “economy of scale” working for them.

          IE there are “fixed costs” associated with printing books and the more books you’re printing the less you have to charge for a single book.

          Of course, those “fixed costs” may go down due to technological advancements, but for now the larger publishers have the advantage as far as “dead-tree books” go.

    • Half the disincentives to reading are the required reading for school. Speaking of dreary, depressing message fiction.

  21. This is pretty off-topic, but I just came across this and thought it would be of interest to the writers here:

  22. What’s an AAR?

  23. The funny thing is, IMO, the publishers could have survived better with the push model for longer with just a little care, and humility. Because there is a category of book that up until about ten years ago or so they pretty much could sell me on about anything. It’s what I call ‘airport fiction’. Used to, when I would travel, whether business or personal, I’d typically not bring much from my ‘to be read’ pile, except maybe the book I was currently reading. So either at B&N a day or two before, or even just at the airport bookstore I’d pick up a number of disposable paperbacks, usually one for every day I’d be on the road. And while I typically read SF and fantasy, for these books I’d avoid them, because by disposable I mean that I wouldn’t keep them. They’d get left in airplanes, in hotel rooms, wherever. So these would typically be thrillers, spy novels, even westerns. Heck, if they’d had different covers I’d probably even have grabbed romance novels. The only purpose was to fill in a few hours. I knew if I grabbed a book with a particular type of title, particular cover style, it would be acceptable, and possibly even good.

    That changed at some point, and I really don’t know when, exactly. Random novels would preach at me, rather than entertain. And you knew if a novel got a big ‘push’ to avoid it. Like the Da Vinci Code, plot indistinguishable from half a dozen or so other thrillers I read before it, and kinda poorly done at that, but it gets a big push because it’s seen as anti-Catholic.

    Now, of course, I just bring my kindle, so I don’t have to worry about it. But very little that’s on it is from a big publisher. The few that are, are my authors from way back, mostly, that no way possible could get a contract today starting out.

  24. “Now the question is: can traditional publishing switch from a push to a pull model, fast enough to save themselves? Can they realize that their mass-production and mass-marketing business is not only no longer working, but counterproductive in modern times? Can they order surveys and studies?”

    This is the thing, isn’t it? If all they did was fire all their slush readers and only make honest offers to authors already winning on Amazon, they’d be fine. They don’t have to give some Hugo winner 3 million bucks to write more cheesy fanfic. They can just cruise the top 100 every month and offer -those- guys a square deal on being part of their “push” marketing model. Without changing anything at all besides some of what’s on offer, they could win.

    That’s the joke. Somebody else is already doing ALL the f-ing work for them. For FREE, be it noted. All they have to do is open their mouths, and free beer will flow in, as much as they can drink, forever.

    What do we see instead? Employees of Big 5 publishers poisoning their own well with baseless hatred. What conservative author who is already selling in indy is going to do a deal with TOR after the last two years? You’d have to be cracked to make that deal.

    As I understand it, the first of the Twelve Steps is to admit you have a problem. Denial. It ain’t just a river in Egypt.

    • Big 5 publishing is essentially insane. They just gave Elizabeth Warren (now senior senator from Massachusetts aka Fauxcahontas, Lieawatha etc.) a $625,000 advance ( My understanding is the way this works is 1/3 up front, 1/3 on delivery of the first draft and 1/3 at actual publication. So a cool 1.8 million dollars. Now that’s an advance, no royalties until the advance is paid back but that is’nt ever happening. The editor that made that deal should be taken out back and shot. There is NO way that enough of her books will EVER sell to make the publisher back that money back. If the book brings in 500K gross I’ll go drink water from the Charles river. It is effectively a bribe.
      Our ex governor (Deval Patrick a buddy of the current president and Chicago escapee, aka Mini Me) had a book like that about 2 years ago. Within 3 months it was on the remainder table and wasn’t moving even at Barnes and Noble in bluest Massachusetts for $1.99 on the remainder table.

      And Barnes and Noble is just sad to go into. The selection is AWFUL. In college my favorite thing was to go into a bookstore and poke around,
      but these days there is nothing there.

      And the amazing thing is that the publishers have a HUGE asset, their back catalogs. They should look at what happened in music. All those old albums with 2 good songs and 8-9 meh songs. The 2 good songs fly off the shelf at iTunes and its ilk. The record companies were making a killing.
      Anything that’s been published since about 1980 has an electronic form somewhere that was used for the typsetting. A little python programming
      and a quick edit by an intern and voila instant book. but you can’t get back catalog (other than seriously major stuff) worth a darn. Hell NESFA has a bunch of stuff they have rights to that if converted to e book (Kindle, Epub, even (shudder) PDF) would fly off the shelf. I want a kindle copy of the collected works of William Tenn, I’d drop $10-15 easy for that. At least NESFA has the excuse that its volunteer. Random House, Hachette etc have no excuse. They’re supposed to be in the business of making money. I can understand their reluctance to “cannibalize” their Hardback/Paperback sales, but this stuff isn’t in print so its not competing. And new paperback issues of the back catalog go nowhere due to the internetization of second hand books. The Share holders in the publishing companies ought to be out for blood because basically at present their stock certificates are better as tinder or toilet paper (presuming they even have physical certificates).

      My own prediction, in 10 years the major publishers (short Baen) are essentially gone except for their education divisions. The regular divisions will be sold for pennies on the dollar (if that) to somebody with big pockets (Amazon, Walmart) who has a direct distribution model or to a holding company (berkshire Hathaway?) that leases the rights to direct distributors.

      Editor as a job in publishing will be about as common as farriers are now.

      • Oh, they may sell more than that, since buying a few thousand and running them down the shredder also works as a bribe. Hildebeeste had one or two books that obviously followed that model.

      • > And new paperback issues of the back catalog go
        > nowhere due to the internetization of second hand books.

        Those books establish a price point: $0.01 for the book, $3.99 for overpriced shipping, $4.00.

        Could the system put books ok the shelf for $4.00 and make a profit? I think so. But they’d rather have all of a $6 profit margin than 10 $1 margins.

        • Right the book is essentially free you pay shipping handling and packaging. But you ought to be able to stick those books on Amazon or similar for $3.99 or $4.99 and make money. say it takes 5K to convert to the kindle format from the older markup language for publication.
          after you sell 1k (probably plus a few Amazon must take somethng)
          it’s all gravy. It’s not the millions of a Bestseller but heck how many of those do you get. But there’s no virtue signalling in selling the old dead white male authors (or even the old dead white female ones, e.g Andre Norton or CL Moore). The issue here is that the publishers/editors are looking for the wrong signal and that they don’t get hammered for missing opportunities. With best sellers getting few and far between (who wants to be scolded for 600 pages?) the outlook is grim.

          And yeah thy want the big margins because that’s where they get the most praise. That’s why educational publishing keeps cranking on as it is a captive market

          • Ahhhh, but Big Pub also has the “secondary” markets — selling rights to Hollywood and other outlets. G.R.R.Martin, J.K.Rowling and others made the REALLY big bucks (for themselves and their publishers) once they tapped that mass market. Heck, even such properties as the DC & Marvel character lists profit more from film, television, action figure and licensing fees than they do original publication (especially with typical print runs of under 50K.)

            “Hugo-winning” may depress book sales, but if it prompts a movie pick-up it is all worth it. And Hollywood is even more virtue-signally than publishing.

            • Heck, even such properties as the DC & Marvel character lists profit more from film, television, action figure and licensing fees than they do original publication (especially with typical print runs of under 50K.)

              It might be more complicated with the Marvel and DC comics– THEY offer digital. Marvel has basically KU at ten bucks a month, still digitizing their back-logs, and DC has all their new stuff offered cheaper for digital, sells bundles, has sales, has freebies, digitized older story-arcs…..

              Unlike, say, the folks with the Miss Marple copyright, they’re actually SELLING all the old classic comics. Batman #1 and on, $2 a pop:

            • I kind of wonder if a lot of the “new comics being really dumb and cruddy” isn’t allowed because each time they’re dumb, there’s a surge in sales of the older, good stuff. 😀

            • Perhaps, but even back in the 1980’s Pa (who was not terribly political at all) considered anything “critically acclaimed” to be something best left unwatched. Popular didn’t mean good, unpopular didn’t mean bad, but “critically acclaimed” did mean “This is crap.”

        • That $4 price point is doing a favor for the eventual buyer of the tradpublisher’s intellectual property (presumably including their entire backlist) – for a few software development dollars, they can probably automate the conversion to mobi “well enough” to sell at $3.49 (or whatever it takes to compete with used) and make a bundle.

          Of course, that’s doing a favor for the tradpublisher’s current owners, too – makes their going-out-of-business value higher, which may ironically hasten its demise.

    • All these wagon makers not dealing with that internal combustion engine. Well, there is Studebaker.. er, Baen… hopefully won’t quite follow the exact Studebaker path.

  25. I think of this new internet driven matching system where you can find exactly what you want as making all of us so so much richer. Being “rich” means having choices and being able to have what you want. These days we’re all getting richer in that sense.

    Though the progressives and the metastasizing government certainly are doing their best to make us poorer.

  26. Sturgeon’s Law still holds. Ninety percent of Science Fiction is crap, but then ninety percent of just about any item is crap. Always was and always will be.
    Bad indie is flooding the market, and the concern is that it will dilute the gems in the rough. But word of mouth still reins supreme, and good stories manage to be found and read.
    Trad put will not change, it’s not in them do do so. They will flog that dead horse until both hide and whip are worn to nothing.
    I am hoping that a new concept of co-op publishing arises out of the ashes. Small agile companies that can offer value added to writers with a modicum of talent. Organizations that can take a well crafted story and layer on the ancillary stuff that turns it into a salable product. Seems to me that for a 50/50 even split a writer would gladly let someone else do covers, final edit and format, and handle the gritty details of the publishing business. But working your heart out for a pittance only to be told that your message isn’t in keeping with the latest fad, that warped concept needs to die a quick and painful death.

    • Oh yes, yes indeed. I went indie because after lurking around the writing blogs and other sites, and skimming the store shelves, I figured out that no publisher I knew of would touch the Cat books. They are too hard to classify for shelving, mingle too many genre elements, and didn’t fit any of the book-of-the-moment checklists the publishers seemed to be using (2012). And to re-write them to suit a Big 6 (back then) publisher and get little or nothing in return? Nope. Better to launch indie and see what happens.

    • Yah, I’ve been speculating on something like your co-op publisher – or indie-publishing services house, does whatever you, the author, don’t want to do, since some authors DO like to do covers, or blurbs, or…; and others don’t. Probably an a la carte fee schedule rather than fixed 50/50, though it might work out to that in the full-service case. A co-operative of specialists could provide that very efficiently and profitably.

      The issue of connecting readers with published stories they’ll probably like, though – word of mouth is essential but probably not sufficient. The tradpub concept was qualitatively half-right: many readers do want a concierge (expert trusted advisor) to help sort out what, for them, is gold vs. dross. The problem with the tradpub implementation is that real readers mostly want to be able to choose, probably from recommendations by multiple concierges as well as from outside, rather than be told by a “gatekeeper” ever-so-authoritatively “this is what you must read”.

      Amazon’s recommendations try to do this, and will likely get better. Smaller publishers don’t necessarily have the resources to imitate, and of course nobody can see across everything you read to properly model what else you’re most likely to be interested in.

      • A small, dedicated publisher can easily provide the branding necessary for many authors; witness Baen’s marketing and development of a brand identity. Heck, most here would have no problem with TOR identifying itself as the Home of Literary SF/F if only they would do so honestly and without smearing other SF/F as illiterate and deplorable.

        One of the things I long ago gave up deploring is American’s proclivity for insisting on needlessly assigning qualitative distinctions. Because a thing is different does not require us to decide it is “better” or “worse” — it is acceptable to be merely different. Some of us like Pad Thai, some of us like Singapore Mei Fun, some of us like Spaghetti Primavera — all are acceptable choices and (except for my preference being better than yours) there is no substantive reason to argue the superiority of one over any other.

  27. Doesn’t always work. I have a little spatula that I use for spreading peanut butter, jelly, butter, etc. It’s long and thin and made of stainless steel (Stamped Japan). It’s the prefect degree of flexibility and has a serrated edge on one side. Trying to find another just like it has been damn near impossible, even on Amazon (They have “Sandwich Spreaders” which are short, wide and oval, and Cake decorating spatulas, that are way too long, and not serrated). Chain stores are full of that stupid “OXO GoodGrips” crap that is to good cooking utensils as the PlaySkool Workbench is to find woodworking tools. Kitchen Gadget stores are full of chintzy plastic “gadgets” and not a lot in the way of real cooking utensils.

    And don’t get me started on my search for a container suitable for a loaf of home-made bread. They are made… in India. But not sold in the US anywhere.

    • A container suitable for a loaf of home-made bread? My tummy.

      • There’s a replica of an old Tupperware model, comes from fifty different sellers in India, is reported to smell funny. $12 each. Then there’s that type with the folding clips on all four edges, really nice, but the two that are close to loaf size are $23-$25 each. There’s a US Importer, but they don’t carry those sizes.

        I have one that RubberMaid used to make, the perfect size, but the lid has cracked apart. They don’t make it any more. They make something that’s large enough for a commercial bread loaf, so it’s WAY too big for a regular 1 lb loaf.

        Canisters are typically too short, and too large or too small in diameter.

        I need three, my recipe makes three loaves.

        You got me started… I warned you….

    • I’ve been looking for a wider shoehorn. Everything on the market seems to be made for people with skinny ET feet. There are people marketing “wide” shoehorns, but they’re the same width as the others.

      I guess I’ll have to go out to the shop and freakin’ make one…

  28. …hint, it’s a market distortion caused by traditional publishing’s unrealistic pricing of ebooks. Even I don’t buy their ebooks.

    Preach it, sister.

    I recently ran off to acquire a book that had been recommended by one of the commenters on the site. have it in hardback and in the book by a traditional publisher. The E-book actually costs a few pennies more. I actually wanted an e-book copy, but because it was a potential reference book , I decided that because the Huns are just that good, I would gamble and buy the hardcover.

    This is not the stuff of a successful business model. The normal reaction would be not to buy either one.

  29. Heard about a great example of free marketing today. Apparently right now here in Japan, people are selling toilet paper roll tubes on the Internet! You know, the cardboard tubes from toilet paper?

    You might ask, who would buy those? Well, the answer lies in the fact that this is the start of the fall classes for Japanese school students, and apparently many of them had summer break projects requiring them to build something with… Toilet paper tubes! So for those who forgot to grab those tubes and save them…

    You can get them for a price on the Internet! 🙂

    • When I was a lot younger, I would use toilet paper tubes, paper towel tubes, random cardboard boxes and plastic bottles, and pexiglass, and make all sorts of random structures. (Pexiglass and tubes would create bases for spaceships and other things I’d make for my stuffed animals.)

      For years, I have strongly desired to have a source of cardboard tubes and boxes and bottles, without having to wait for my Dad to finish off that bottle of Nyquil before I could cut it to pieces, or wait for the toilet paper and paper towels to be used, etc. These things are wonderful for all sorts of crafts!

      The same can be said of plastic ice cream buckets. My mother-in-law gave us lots of cubic ice cream buckets, which is useful for holding fruit, storing sugar and flour, and all sorts of other things. She has a lot on hand because my father-in-law really liked nightly root beer floats. Now that he’s passed away, however, and now that no one has any interest in eating so much ice cream…well, I’d love to buy a few of these buckets from some sort of source as well…

      • Just on a hunch I Googled for “cardboard tubes” and it turns out there are a wide array of choices, starting with mailing tubes, craft tubes and even square tubes !o_O!

        Cardboard Tubes – Huge Catalog! Over 31,000 Products –
        Cardboard Tubes –
        Mailing Tubes in Bulk – 130 Styles. As Low as 10¢ Per Tube
        Cardboard Mailing Tubes –
        Shipping Tubes, Mailing Tubes, Cardboard Tubes & Poster Tubes in …
        Small Paper Tubes – Small Diameters – Thin Walls – Cardboard Tubes

        Not only that, you can make your own:

        Although there appear to be quite a few ready-made available through Ebay ….

        Searches related to cardboard tubes:
        large cardboard tubes
        cardboard tubes for crafts
        cardboard tubes home depot
        small cardboard tubes
        firework tubes
        cardboard tubes for concrete
        cardboard tubes fireworks
        mailing tubes

  30. A bit off-topic, but a short piece that I found very good and thought-provoking:

  31. My dad, at 80 years old, has decided to write a book that has been in the back of his mind for quite a few years. He has written for compilations at request before (due to the nature of his speciality) but never got around to writing it. I mentioned to him that self publishing on Amazon, given his name recognition in his field, might be the way to go and he just dismissed it. The publisher has the niche market, the publisher knows how to get it out to where it needs to be to sell, the publisher … My suspicion is that they will take it because of his name recognition, he will sell a few thousand copies, it won’t be available in e-book form, and that will be the end of that. The only thing I can think to do is try to get him to put a time limit on their right to publish so that in a few years I can help him put it on Amazon and see what happens. I am not confident that even that will be allowed to happen as he is stuck in the old publishing mindset. It isn’t about the money as he doesn’t really need the extra income at this point, but it is about actually getting it out to people who might be interested.