Tuesday, August 19, 2014

And Now The Germans Are Anti-Amazon

After a large number of American authors signed a letter of complaint to Amazon, citing the harm being done to authors while Amazon wrangles with Hachette Book Group, a gathering of German authors has taken the same approach.
Available from Amazon or subject to negotiations?

Amazon's way of negotiating is standard across international lines. The behemoth demands greater concessions from a supplier, the supplier balks, and Amazon makes it difficult to purchase the product. When an author's book is that product, and a seller is doing what it can to keep readers from buying the book, it's the author who suffers more than the publisher. An author has to build a readership and to lose those readers is to lose an audience for future works.

Eminent writers, including Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek, have put their names to a letter that is similar to one already sent to Jeff Bezos from prominent American authors.

The Germans cite similar problems with apparent censorship, in that Amazon is misleading readers who are looking for books published by the Bonnier Group. It's the same old story, of Bonnier Group offerings not getting listed as recommended (if you like this, you'll like that, but not if it was published by who-know-who) which indicates that Amazon is manipulating the lists and the recommendations have nothing to do with preferences but everything to do with who is giving Amazon the best wholesale terms.

Unlike their American counterparts, the German authors make mention of their nation's culture, and how Amazon is showing an utter lack of respect towards it. In addition, German law does not allow deep discounts, which puts Amazon's culture in direct conflict. The love of a deal that works in America is not done the same way in Europe.

Of course Amazon responded in the same way, with the same whinge about the publishers being greedy, etc. etc., but that style does not translate well. The German authors are very concerned that Amazon will financially destroy the many small presses that are operating on shoestrings. They tend to be fearful of Amazon's might, and the fact that publishers were reluctant to complain is a reflection of that fear.

The authors took it upon themselves to make their sentiments known, even as their publishers drifted back into the shadows lest the mighty Amazon see and hear and then punish. Instead of publishers being vocal, it is the authors who ask their readers to write to Jeff Bezos' representative in Deutschland (along with Austria and Switzerland) to let him know that they don't like the way Amazon is playing.

In which case, it is only a matter of time before a new group of united authors appears, to extoll the glories of Amazon and all the wonders wrought by the Kindle Direct Publishing platform. The question is, will Amazon in Germany also spam the mailboxes of their KDP authors with misbegotten letters filled with misrepresentations? That fell pretty flat in the States. It most likely won't play well in Germany, either.

Monday, August 18, 2014

When The Government Stands Between A Woman And Her Doctor

Warring political factions speak of compromise as a way to settle on a solution to a problem, but what if the issue cannot be resolved by splitting the difference and finding common ground somewhere in the middle?

A woman recently arrived in Ireland discovered that she was pregnant. She told doctors that she had been raped in her home country, and she did not wish to continue the pregnancy for reasons known best to her. Sadly, she had arrived in Ireland rather than England, where her medical care would not have been under the influence of a religious body that has a dismal record when it comes to women's rights.

The Catholic Church is busy fending off the scandal of the industrial schools and the history of child sex abuse, along with the horrors of the Magdalene laundry gulag and the mother-and-baby homes with their astronomical infant mortality rates. In spite of such a bad record, the Church continues to influence Irish society, and the members of that society charged with making the laws. Hence, the splitting of differences to reach a compromise that everyone could vote on.

The foreigner wanted an abortion, but under the new law she had to meet with a panel of doctors and plead her case for why she should have an abortion. There being few legitimate reasons, she said she was suicidal. She'd rather die than give birth. The two psychiatrists on the panel found merit in her claims. The obstetrician, however, had a different take from his point of view, and the request for an abortion was denied.

In part, the problem was that it took a rather long time to get through the whole process, and with the passage of time the fetus just continued to grow and develop. When the committee did finally come up with a decision, the woman was already beyond the date at which a simple abortion could be performed. 

She, in turn, went on a hunger strike. Did she have to prove how sincere she was about making an end of it rather than have a baby she did not want and could not care for?

Clearly the woman was determined to take her life, and if she succeeded it would be just another black eye for Ireland and its record of abuse. Coming on the heels of the newest scandal in regard to dead illegitimate babies dumped in unmarked graves and the selling of babies in forced adoptions, the timing was very wrong for yet another mark against the State.

How to split the difference, then, between forcing a hunger striking woman to give birth or allowing her to sort of terminate the pregnancy?
Premie born at 25 weeks gestation

Perform a Caesarean section, deliver a premature baby, and there you have it. Not pregnant any more, and technically there was no termination.


And, like all compromises, no one is quite happy.

The Bishop of Elphin is upset that the pregnancy was not made to continue without medical interference, even though the woman had gone on a hunger strike. Well, naturally, if she had died herself the baby would have died but that's a natural thing and not something brought about by medical intervention. Besides, to deliver the child early was unethical. We can't have babies delivered prematurely because a woman wants an abortion.

The Minister for Justice, who happens to be female, is calling for revisions to a fatally flawed law. The woman in the case was put through an ordeal that is not yet over, which is not what the revised abortion legislation was supposed to do. Others are calling for a change in the Irish Constitution which was crafted under the influence of the Catholic Church, and which puts heavy restrictions on women's abilities to make medical decisions for themselves.

As for the Irish taxpayer, they will be footing the bill for the extensive, and expensive, care that is required to keep a 25-week-old premature infant alive. Going forward, they will be paying for a litany of ailments that are typically associated with premies, and all because a new law meant to prevent abortion on demand resulted in a delay that prevented a timely abortion.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

I Pity The Fool On Trial

No lunch for Mr. T of A-Team fame.

Plenty of photos with fans, phone calls to the families of those fans, but no lunch. Hunger makes a man mean and Mr. T is all about mean when it comes to fighting crime.

Not that the Chicago-based actor was on a film set or starring in a new television production.
I pity the criminal
Mr. T, or Laurence Tureaud, was just being an ordinary citizen this past week when he showed up for jury duty in a Rolling Meadows courthouse. The same as anyone else, he was called and he did what any of us would have done, which is to arrive on time and then sit around waiting to be selected to sit in judgment.

He has been a motivational speaker for a number of years, targeting the young who can turn to crime as readily as they can to education:
"Reading is the key to knowledge," he's said. "Knowledge is the key to understanding. So read on, young man! Read on, young lady!"

Considering his fervent religious beliefs and toughness, you wouldn't really want him on your jury if you were the criminal. Not a famous actor known for attempt to guide people like you to the straight and narrow path. A motivational speaker, a leader-type, on your jury? Your own lawyer would have a hard time competing with that sort of influence.

Which is why any lawyer would be a fool to select Mr. T, and which is why Mr. T was never selected.

The star power alone would be too great a distraction for both the prosecution and defense. The jury is supposed to go back and discuss the case, but what are the chances that they would all be discussing Mr. T and what it's really like in Hollywood and is Sylvester Stallone easy to work with. Famous people never get picked for juries because the ordinary folk who represent the real peerage would have a hard time focusing on the task at hand.

Or at least that's how it would be if I was sitting on a jury. But I've never been called, not once. The random selection process seems to have missed me.

But they can call a celebrity, can't they? What's wrong with me, I ask you. Am I not good enough to judge? Or is there someone in the clerk's office who wants to save me the trouble of trying to get out of jury duty and makes sure that I'm not randomly chosen in the first place? After all, in Cook County, it's not what you know but who you know.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Mommy, What Is Bondage?

Your thirteen-year-old has found your copy of "50 Shades Of Grey" and the questions start.

You've got some explainin' to do
You might start with one. For example, you most likely would begin the interrogation by asking where the kid found what you had so carefully hidden and why was he or she in your personal stuff and how would they like it if you rummaged through their private things. By that time you're hoping that the child's question is long forgotten.

If only there was a book that could explain, in scientific and analytic terms. No emotional outburst, no uncomfortable throat-clearing. Just a clear and concise description that any freshly minted teen could understand so you wouldn't have to explain.

Enter YOUR HEALTH TODAY. This is the textbook you've been looking for.

Unless, of course, your child has been kept sheltered or you've done a really fine job of hiding your mommy porn. In which case, would you want a textbook that introduces bondage to your high school freshman?

The people of Fremont, California, where the book was used as a textbook in the health education class, certainly did not. When parents cracked open the text to see what their little darlings would be studying for the semester, many of them went apoplectic.

Books are special because we learn things by reading. Being able to read alters the wiring in the brain and changes the way we think, so books can be very powerful. And no one wants to empower their high school freshman who is already dealing with raging hormones and a changing body.

Do children of this age really need instruction on petting? Some would say the kids already know about "erotic touching" (fancy term, isn't it) but not all do, and their parents would rather that their child not learn until they're maybe fifteen or sixteen or thirty-seven.

How about bondage? The book contains a section that describes bondage as a means of gaining sexual pleasure, but unless you share your collection of novels with your young daughter, you don't much want her to know what bondage is because it doesn't come up much in casual conversation and there is no need to know. Besides, you might think it's not quite a normal practice, along with other sorts of fetishes that are lumped together in the kinky department.

After outrage and a petition to the school board, the book is heading back to McGraw-Hill, to be sold to some other school district that will then face the ire of parents who want to protect their children from the oversexualization of America's youth. The kids have their Abercrombie and Fitch catalogs for that, and the only words in that printed material have to do with fabric content and size. The rest is left to the imagination, and don't we want our kids to be more creative and imaginative?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Summer Doldrums

With but two weeks remaining to the month of August, the publishing world has gone dark.

They have their summer hours, with weekends beginning in the middle of Friday, if not on the day itself. You wonder at their complaints about the dearth of book sales, considering how they treat the work week, but tradition is hard to change even if the industry is much in need of change to keep pace with changing times.

You may have a query letter you've been polishing. You no doubt have your list of literary agents you believe would be a perfect fit.

Follow some of them on Twitter and you'll notice that they are tweeting about their vacation. Where they've gone. What they're seeing. What they're eating.
They are not in the office, waiting for your letter to drop into their inbox.

In fact, they are dreading the return to that office, with an inbox overflowing with missives from authors. Would you want your letter read by someone who resents its presence?

This is not a good time to query, unless you can be certain that your target is not part of the publishing summer hours crowd. All the work you put into making the letter perfect is worthless if a pair of receptive eyes are not perusing your stellar prose.

Check social media before you query. You could be saving yourself a lot of sadness, a lot of stress, and the misery of finding that more and more these days, no response means the answer is no.

September is a lovely month for querying. Publishing is preparing for the next year's catalogue, and searching for the next big blockbuster plot. Don't rush things. Wait until the heat of summer has cooled and the literary agents have recovered from the strain of a vacation to some exotic locale. Or recovered from the strain of spending two weeks in the close company of bawling, squabbling children and relatives who aren't avid readers.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

If You Don't Buy From Amazon, You Can Buy With Amazon

Is there nothing that Jeff Bezos doesn't have a finger in?

His Amazon website sells just about everything, but lately there have been a few rough patches on the road to total world domination. His attempt to squeeze Hachette for more discounts to increase his own profits has resulted in an unexpected backlash with calls to boycott amid a whiff of censorship. No one likes a basher of authors, and because authors are being hurt in Amazon's struggles with Hachette, Amazon has lost a little of its lustre.

So you're not buying from Amazon, are you? Well, not to worry. When you go elsewhere for your needs, the storekeeper just might be funneling your payment through Amazon. Jeff Bezos will get his cut no matter what you do.

Taking on the market outside of Amazon's walls
Amazon is introducing a device that snaps on to a smartphone and allows the vendor to swipe payment cards. It is not the first such device out there. Square has been in the mobile payment market for some time. But Jeff Bezos is taking his usual approach by copying what is already being done and then offering a lower price.

So Square charges the vendor 2.75% of the purchase price as a fee? Switch to Amazon and it's down to 1.75%...until the first of January 2016 when the cost goes up to 2.5%. Still less than Square, and a savvy merchant will see that fraction of a percent as real money going into a real pocket. That sort of pricing could eliminate Square, which would have to meet the decreased price or face defeat. Once the competition is crushed, Mr. Bezos can set the fee at just about any level he likes.When Amazon is the only game in town, you pay to play or you don't play at all, and with your clients dependent on convenience, you have to play.

Some might call it predatory pricing and note that it is illegal in the United States, but the wheels of federal justice move slowly and Square could be long gone before anyone in Washington DC notices.

Paypal is larger than Square, however, and Paypal also has a point-of-sale payment device. Their device is free of charge, and their fee is a fraction less than Square's, at 2.7%. Still higher than what Amazon will be offering, however, and again it will be a case of lowering the price to compete or face defeat. With bigger pockets, Paypal could match Amazon's discount for a much longer time than Square, and it would also have the money to fund advertising campaigns that just might feature people having nothing but problems with their Amazon point-of-sale transactions.

Are you all in to the Amazon boycott?

When you buy anything anywhere, you'll have to ask how the vendor is processing your payment. There may not be anywhere for you to make a purchase that doesn't put some money into Jeff Bezos' pocket.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Jelly Belly Hits The Road, Won't Come Back No More, No More

The late President Ronald Reagan kept a candy jar filled with Jelly Bellies on his desk. It was the best publicity a candy could have, to be seen so conspicuously in photos taken with the President of the United States. It give reporters something to report on when news was slow. How many stories were written about the President's favorite flavor combination, and where did the favorite sweet snack come from?

The Goelitz Confection people started making candy corn in the 1890s, when the candy business was booming. By 1913, they recognized the need for more capacity and they migrated west from their Cincinnati base. They found the perfect spot in North Chicago, a manufacturing area near the booming metropolis of Waukegan, Illinois. Their neighbors were the sailors of Great Lakes Naval Training Station, a few short years away from a war that would sweep across the world. A young Ronald Reagan was toddling around Tampico, Illinois, perhaps dreaming of candy corn.

So there they were in North Chicago, making candy corn and then butter creams and chocolate malt balls and licorice and peppermints. Business thrived, through the First World War and family conflict that saw one of the Goelitz brothers go west to start his own company in Fairfield, California.

They survived the Great Depression when there was little money around for luxuries like candy. They survived the Second World War, with its rationing and shortages of sugar. The family squabble was eased and the two branches of the candy company found common ground, working together to make jelly beans.

Ronald Reagan promoted Jelly Belly jelly beans and the product took off, in spite of escalating sugar prices and increasing labor costs.

The end has been reached. The factory in North Chicago will no longer make Jelly Bellies. 70 people will lose their jobs.

The North Chicago plant will shrink because it isn't economically viable any more. The remaining workers will be shifted into contract candy production, making goods for someone else who will have to make a profit. Cheaper, private label products will come off the assembly line, without the Goelitz Confectionery name.

The cost of doing business in Illinois is too high, when coupled with sugar prices that are artificially high due to heavy lobbying by American sugar producers.

Jelly Bellies from the Land of Lincoln, boyhood home of Ronald Reagan, will cease to exist. It's fitting, in a way. Ronald Reagan left Illinois as well and never came back, remaining in California until his death. He's even buried there. In the state where Jelly Bellies continue to be made.