Monday, June 2, 2014

IMHO: In Regard to The Climate

In regard to the climate, we should spend another couple of decades debating and discussing and pointing fingers. We should figure out what each specific President did or didn’t do and send them to bed without supper. We should discredit the scientists and astrophysicists, biologists, anthropologists and computer scientists who predicted what’s happening because it’s all just a silly unproven theory.

As I see it, this scenario is more like “On the Beach” than “Leaves of Grass”.

Believe it or not, the earth is in real trouble. Some countries get it and are harnessing wind and solar as fast as they can. They support mass transit and their cars get better mileage—they have to because they charge the real cost of gas. At the same time, other countries like the US are still talking about the problem—even denying there’s anything wrong as the water splashes at our ankles on Wall Street. At the same time, other (very) serious polluters upwind from the US are facilitated by American businesses. They’re planning to ship these global polluters our coal and fracked oil because it’s too dirty to burn here. Don’t they get it? The smoke ends up here, in our lungs—in our kid’s lungs.

IMHO, the day of fossil fuels has been over for some time, but is nuclear power a viable alternative? Excuse me? Have we learned nothing from Fukushima, Chernobyl, or Three Mile Island? What about the mess we have yet to clean up at Hanford? And what about the used fuel from the safest plants? Yes, there are other alternatives, but give up meat? Seriously? We need to take real steps toward real long-term, sustainable solutions. Will we have to give up electricity? Why? There are many other ways to generate electricity. And yes, it’s obscene that states are passing laws to make adoption of solar or wind or alternative energy sources more expensive or even illegal.

The time to discuss whether there is a problem or not has long since past. The ship has hit the iceberg. Deciding what’s going to be served in the Windjammer dining room for dinner is a waste of time.

As a country, we should be ashamed of ourselves. We have permitted all three branches of government at the local state and federal level to be taken over by forces whose profits depend on the status quo. These corporations (and individuals) will no-doubt continue to deny, delay and block solutions as long as the financial markets focus on next quarter’s profits, not realizing that the very existence of their corporations is in jeopardy in the long-term. Frankly, they don’t care. As long as their fourth home in the mountains in Montana is above the high-water mark, they’re happy.

Our children’s tears and anger will be directed at us for generations to come. They will curse the day we were born for doing nothing, for despoiling their only world, for leaving them with a dead sea and an uninhabitable planet. The loss of life, property and security of our nation and our very existence depended on what men and women did twenty and fifty and a hundred years ago—but more importantly what we do now to correct their mistakes and our own.


Friday, May 30, 2014

Amazon and Reality

Amazon is in the news lately for their dealings with the Hachette Book Group—a very large mainstream publisher. Folks, as I see it, the core of this problem is the bizarre publishing business. Consider that when a minor miracle happens and an author gets a mainstream publisher to carry a new book, the author usually get an advance (usually, but not always), but little after that unless the books goes viral. The publisher edits the book, produces the cover, prints up copies and does some (less that most would like) marketing—but generally only to bookstores. The publishers don’t really sell anything to individuals—not directly. The books are marketed, sold and shipped to distributors who warehouse the books, and supply bookstores who order them and ship them out again. The bookstores shelve the books, keep them dusted and wait. If they sell, they (might) order more but when they don’t, they arrange to ‘return’ the remaining books to the distributor for a refund. What usually happens is that the unsold books are donated to a rural landfill or pulped. In this system, each layer takes a cut. The publisher, the distributor, the bookstore chain, the shipping companies, the landfill operator and the bookstore itself. This means a good author typically gets less than 15% in royalties.

Seldith Chronicles Composite Covers (small) V20

In the Amazon model, the author writes a book, formats it for Kindle and submits it to Amazon for publication—no money changes hands. Amazon does not edit the books unless the author pays for that service. Amazon posts virtually all submissions on their website (for free) and if it sells, they send the author up to 70% of the sale. The author pays for download fees out of their cut.

If the author wants to sell printed books so they can give a copy to their mom, they can go to a vanity press and order N thousand copies and keep them in their garage until their spouse runs into them with the car. In this case, they have to market and sell the books to retail outlets themselves and act as the shipper and distributor and take back books if they (when they) don’t sell as fast as the bookstores would like. I’ve done this, but I ordered 100 or so at a time from a local on-demand printer. This was in 1992. I also did not let bookstores take the books on consignment nor would I take books back if they didn’t sell. Only one bookstore in five would work with me. In the end, I was selling 50 or so a week out of the house—just before Microsoft Press picked it up. I wish there was an Amazon in those days.

With the Amazon/CreateSpace model, authors can take their Kindle-formatted book, run it through an online program to generate a for-print version in a few minutes. They can take the time to create their own cover or use the Amazon cover wizard. All of this can be done for free. Of course, if you want Amazon to provide the ISBN, you can—for free. If you want Amazon to provide “expanded” distribution that will cost you—$35.

As far as independent bookstores go, these small businesses are being hurt by Amazon in that they have to compete with books sold at very low margins (perhaps because there are fewer middle-men) and while readers can’t touch Amazon books before they buy them, they can get them in a couple of days by mail. These indie stores are also hurt by Kindle or eBook sales except when the author has gone to the trouble of creating alternative formats using companies like Smashwords to produce and distribute the electronic copies—versions that the indies can sell directly. But the indie bookstores are also woven into the establishment problem. It’s often just as hard for us independent authors to get on their shelves as it is for us to be picked up (assimilated) by the mainstream publishers. Some bookstores won’t even talk to us without a successful book in hand—just like the big publishers. Some won’t do book signings unless we can do it in conjunction with other authors. Sure, this makes sense for them, but it’s just another hurdle for low-budget authors. Frankly, I don’t expect these businesses to be around for long.

This whole business is feeling the same pressure as the record industry when cassette tapes became popular. Now that anyone (as in really friggen anyone) can create an eBook in a matter of minutes and get it on the Amazon site in less time than it takes to read the Sunday New York Times (well, in about a day), independent bookstores and brick and mortar stores are feeling the pinch. But their business model is bloated as there are too many middle men, shipping companies, building rent collectors and people dusting and selling books by hand to support. Will this trend reverse itself? I don’t think so. Okay, no. Will the independent bookstores have to adapt? Of course, or they will face the same fate as Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail.

But what will us independent authors do? I’ll continue to work with bookstores like McDonalds Book Exchange in Redmond, WA and JJ Books in Bothell that carry my series The Seldith Chronicles and try to lobby other stores in the area that want to take books on consignment. Yes, this is a burden for them as it means author-specific accounts and more overhead for them but they get to deal with an author who will bend over backwards to help promote the books and the stores. I’ll also continue to write and publicize the books whenever and wherever I can. Yes, I’m that guy you met on the bus when you were reading your Kindle and asked if you like fantasy fiction. Sorry, I just had to ask.