Huh, Weird Issues

Not sure what is going on, actually.  Travelling, so hope to fix tomorrow.

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Wow, Another Hack

Sorry, it was a pretty quick fix here.  Also, having the ISP watch the site.  Not sure if that was a spambot or what.  They didn’t harm anything, just… submitted their code as a book description.

We all have hobbies.

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Make That

As soon as I fix this one bug with cover images, I’ll have illustrated titles coming along quickly.

/Oy.

//Life issues.

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Call Me Incentivized

So yeah, during our five-day Pepco-imposed hiatus, I made a fascinating discovery about Jacki.

We were at the Wawa next to Bethany Beach, stopping to grab a juice for her, and a couple of energy drinks for me (I had her all day, every day, during our “vacation”). Jacki, being 2, asked for “pink, pink”–this kind of sugary 10% thing that she wouldn’t have liked, so I steered her to apple.

Then, she said something really funny–”Monster, Dadda, Monster”–and I looked around, thinking there was some kind of stuffed critter rack I’d missed. No such stuffed critters at Wawa. I look again, and we are of course standing in front of the energy drink section of the refrigerator.

Does Not Think She's a Bunny

Now, backstory, right around Halloween, I got Jacki this little “enhanced” Elmo book at, you know, Target or Five Below or wherever.  Hate the thing, it had buttons she could push to play sounds for the fort being constructed, or pans clattering, or Elmo walking and pretending to be a mummy.  Jacki loved it, and would make me read it five times in a row.  One word used, repeatedly in this book was, of course, monster, and I did point it to her, but not in the context of an energy drink.

I slam that stuff almost every day, it’s less caffeine than coffee and the vitamins are theoretically good for me, but I hadn’t been buying Monster brand energy drinks for months, and if asked I identify all such beverages to her as “Dadda Coffee.”   Where I live, 7-11′s had Rockstar on sale, 2 for $3, for months, and they all kind of taste the same to me.  But Jacki, at 28 months, saw a printed word, recognized it for what it said.

All the “experts” told me she’d be small, delayed, and generally angry.  She’s actually very tall for her age by Western standards, happy, and, sometimes scarily advanced considering the first year of her life was spent in a Dickensian hell.

Whatevs, there will be more illustrated titles coming.  Also pulps, but especially illustrated works, seems like that’s a place I can add value.  Will be tweaking the layout over the next couple days, but I’ve got it to the point where I can add them quickly.

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Had to flee DC

Our power’ll be back on… Whenever pepco gets around to it.

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When Your Honor, This Man Is a Convicted Domestic Terrorist Is Not Enough

Update: Apparently Walker was arrested on Battery Charges filed by Kimberlin over an iPad at the close of the hearing. Also, welcome everyone, this site is mostly about free ebooks, especially pulp fiction and small publishing things, but I’ve been attending court cases on copyright and free speech as a hobby for a while now.

This morning, I attended the hearing over a protective order sought by Brett Kimberlin against Aaron Walker in Rockville, MD. There were only a few people there. The actual hearing was first in the regular room for DV/Peace orders, so we had about an hour of, you know, couldn’t-service-him, my ex-threatened-my-property stuff.

Then the case was moved to a different courtroom, and the trial commenced fairly quickly.

Walker, the defendant, if you will–and I apologize for getting any terminology wrong, I don’t have a lot of experience with peace orders, as my thorough pre-adoption criminal background check shows–had to represent himself. Kimberlin had an attorney present, who issued a few objections, nearly inaudible to me.

The Judge, and I haven’t confirmed this, but I believe he was former Montgomery County Chief Justice James Vaughan–a guy who retired in ’04, and still takes the odd shift when stuff gets busy or there are vacations. In an earlier matter, Judge Vaughan mentioned he lived in the Caribbean, so pretty sure that’s the guy.–update, man’s named was Vaughey, not Vaughan. Is still retired, taking the odd shift.

It went bad for Walker pretty quickly. If you’ve followed the matter, and I know not a lot of people have, Walker, who is an attorney, acted in an advisory capacity for another blogger who had dealings with Kimberlin. Kimberlin later accused Walker of assault; those charges were null-processed; Walker wrote about things like you’ll read on Kimberlin’s wikipedia page, as well as his own dealings with Kimberlin.

Judge Vaughey had read up on the matter, knew Kimberlin’s history of felony convictions, but clearly was technically ignorant of even basic facts about what Twitter is, in one instance point saying “He Googled you 500,000 times” through the Tubes or whatever. The Judge had identified himself, earlier, as being “of the Royal Typewriter Generation,” and at another point, when confronted with the voluminous material from both sides, asked “don’t people have jobs, who reads this stuff?”

That said, Judge Vaughey did know a lot about the kind of respect a Judge is owed. He also, again, knew all about Kimberlin, saying “even a prostitute is entitled to protection.”

And Walker pissed him off. So did Kimberlin, but Walker identified himself as a Yale-trained lawyer, albeit one who was representing himself. Kimberlin made any number of allegations–essentially, everything that was said about his side–issuing death threats, harming business interests, summoning SWAT teams to the home–was said by Kimberlin to have been done by Walker’s side.

The pair went back and forth, back and forth, with Walker getting increasingly flustered, and the Judge finally asking, “what did they tell you in Yale Law School about interrupting a judge?” And later advising Walker to sit down, grip a pencil, and whenever he was tempted to speak over the Judge (or Kimberlin, but mostly over the Judge), to instead grip the pencil.

At one point, when Walker again interrupted Kimberlin, an attorney who was “advising” Walker–i.e.,. sitting in the coutroom, but not actually at Walker’s table, signaled to the plaintiff that he ought to “zip it.” This process amused Kimberlin, obviously.

For the Judge’s faults, he really did try to let Walker make his case. When Walker was able to question Kimberlin–not about everything, but merely the facts that had occurred in the last 30 days (which is all that’s relevant in a Peace Order Hearing), it became clear that Kimberlin would unravel under any kind of competent examination. The guy’s story changed 3 times in 5 minutes. First it was that Walker had issued 14k tweets against him–which the Judge assumed were to Kimberlin’s account, and by Walker. Then it was 54 pages of 10 tweets each actually by Walker. Then it was 15k tweets about Muslims or something.

Walker was also able to introduce for the record–again, Peace Order, it’s only about the last 30 days–Kimberlin’s convictions for bombings from I guess 1980, his revocation of parole in 1998, and even something where Kimberlin was convicted of perjury in 1973… ish. Then, when it came to actual convictions, there was one moment when Kimberlin came up with a defense about the judge being convicted of bribery, so he didn’t feel that those particular verdicts should be discussed, but that turned out to be an unrelated civil matter, and Judge Vaughey then insisted that the convictions remained in the record.

But, Walker didn’t press the credibility of Kimberlin enough. He was too easily sidetracked by the latter’s machinations, and every time Walker veered off, the Judge got madder.

Last portion of the trial, once the Judge decided he’d heard enough, came when Walker was asked, repeatedly, when does this all end? Judge cited his own upbringing in Brooklyn, where when guys had disagreements like these two did, somebody’d get picked up in a truck and they’d go have it out near the East River or words to that effect.

Walker at this point stated what he wanted was for Kimberlin to be tried by the State’s Attorney for perjury related to that earlier assault thing. Judge kept pressing Walker on this, stating that it’s entirely the Government’s business to decide who to punish (Libertarians might disagree), asking if the uproar could end, bringing up the concept of “Too Much Justice,” asking if Walker was aware of this–the latter indicated he was. Then the Judge and Walker swapped precedents for a little while, with the Judge… unimpressed.

Then the Judge ruled. He upheld the Peace Order, and he further stated that Walker was in no way allowed to harm Kimberlin–and by harm or contact the Judge sending blog posts or tweets. The latter was justified, in the Judge’s opinion, on Walker’s supposed “mob” having issued “death threats” to Kimberlin.

I left at that point. But apparently, Walker couldn’t quit while he was ahead, kept talking, and was arrested for, I assume, contempt. I hope contempt, and that he didn’t lose it further.

One other thing, besides technical illiteracy that may have motivated the Judge. MoCo is a notoriously timid place. There was a recent case where the authorities “didn’t do enough” in another peace order/DV matter. By all accounts, the burden of proof lies, in the extreme, with the defendants in such matters, and it’s likely the MoCo Judge was even more circumspect than usual.

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Hey, Muppet, Can You Hold This Bag For Me?

Mother of all disclaimers to follow, but after seeing Amazon desperately pitching its Kindle Fire on ESPN, kinda have to comment.

Disclaimer: I’ve been buying puts against Amazon stock for weeks. After their earnings date, those puts went through the floor. I bought more; they recovered. With gusto. Despite taking some profits, enough that I’m, as they say, playing with house money, I still hold a bunch of puts, and will of course take other profits as they come along, given the fact that 99% of all puts expire worthless.

That said, the final straw that caused me to double down against Amazon was the Goldman Sachs it’s going to $300 nonsense.

I mean, maybe. Y’know, it isn’t every day you can score a company with 1% profit margins, fast-growing accounts payable, fluctuating cash positions, a couple bil. in debt and the need to keep buying its own stock every quarter just to offset employee compensation. But let’s look at what the company has done since its initial success with Kindle.

For me, the first sign of trouble wasn’t the whole #amazonfail censorship thing. Amazon had always censored. And it wasn’t even the Orwell deletion thing. That was just stupid.

No, first problem came when, after iPad debuted, Amazon decided to insult the intelligence of half their market.

Seriously. Who thought insulting men who liked iPad was a good idea? Did Suzanne research this?

The full force of Amazon’s bad Kindle decisions were only felt by the market beginning last summer. But it was pretty clear to me, given that I’ve five imprints, all of whose customers are 80% male, that Amazon was screwing up.

First sign that Kindle wasn’t quite going to plan came with Nook Color. As bad as Amazon has been for men, Barnes & Noble? Ever been to one? They’re like a hostile reading environment. But suddenly, guys who hadn’t set foot in a B&N in years started visiting, buying Nook Color, and then “hacking” them. And it wasn’t because they liked seeing chick lit or why he sucks, or whatevs, it was because though the idea of an ebook reader appealed, the Kindle… not so much.

B&N never figured out this advantage, started censoring a few months later. Amazon, of course, to get those male readers back, started censoring in earnest end of 2010, then, after denying the need for a tablet rushed Kindle Fire to market. Meanwhile Apple, whose sales of the 2011 iPad still beat B&N + Kindle handily this year, became the default reading platform with its newer, 2012 model (if it hadn’t been there already).

Saddest part of Amazon’s hail mary at ESPN? If they knew a damned thing about male readers, they’d at least be pitching the Kindle Fire on the MLB Network. Y’know, for those high income literate guys who find ESPN incredibly annoying and have been abandoning the network in droves. But, clearly, Amazon still works from a stereotype of dudes.

The joke is, all of Amazon’s nonsense with censoring, and removing buy buttons, and their own half-baked publishing initiatives, have only cost the supposedly foresighted company in the long run. Apple never cared, much, about consumer titles. They, already having things like the free Yale University open course works (which, umm, ask you to buy titles from somewhere, forget where, iTunes Bookstore or something), want the academic market. Which, interestingly, is about 10x the size of the genre market. And is just starting to grow.

But tell me again how Amazon sees the future. And, really, say it loud. Those 2014 puts can be a bit cheaper, to my eyes, even though Amazon is really a $30 stock at best, and perhaps worth the $5 premium some of those out-of-the-money puts are getting on the expectation that intervention in the market will end one of these days.

/Disclaimer. I’ve had drinks with Angela James of Carina Press, and my mother, a Ph.D. who’d always rejected traditional gender roles, was grateful to receive an inscribed copy of Beyond Heaving Bosoms from Sarah Wendell. I’ll be the first to concede that erotic romance outsells smut by 3-1, if not 10-1. But women were not the earliest adopters of ebooks, and if you’re doing anything to drive men away from your platform, as B&N + Amazon are, but Apple + Google + Kobo aren’t, you’re not controlling your future.

//Headline explained.

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Gotta Question the Timing

Whatever your feelings about the Agency Model for publishers–and I know I’m conflicted, ‘cuz once it came out, I went from getting 35% of certain books to 70%, with most ebooks by competitors selling for considerably more than my $3-5 sweet spot–one really strange thing that hasn’t been much discussed in today’s partial DOJ settlement came out yesterday. I didn’t even send John Sargent a Christmas card.

But regardless of your take on “discounted” titles and Most Favored Nation clauses, look at what else has happened with the government’s latest intrusion into the marketplace.

Essentially, Amazon, having ’til now pretty clearly lost money on ebooks in general and the Kindle device in particular, was trying to force the Big Six publishers to pay considerably more for co-op marketing, a situation in which, after giving Amazon favorable discount terms for the books in question, you then kick back a certain addition percentage for “placement” of titles, something that in the music industry is better known as payola but has gone on in publishing for quite a while.

The Big Six said, ahem, no.

That co-op hike, roundly rejected, was Amazon’s real financial motivator. It’s why they wanted 90% of the ebook market at any cost. A monopoly rent, if you will, and one that readers would have ended up paying dearly for in the long run. Without co-op, Amazon loses money on ebooks, Kindle Fire is dead in the marketplace, and, eventually, the gang in Seattle has to start being kind to the content providers again.

So, co-op rejected, the next freaking day, Justice Dept. announces they’ve gone after the Big Six, and will be suing Apple, Macmillan and Penguin. Further, all the gory details that come out make it clear most of the investigation for this case was done by Amazon, largely by the employees they’ve hired from Big Six Manhattan publishing
firms.

It’s also been pretty clear that that class-action against Apple’s pricing was largely backed by Amazon, much as years ago, SCO Computing got Microsoft’s help against Linux, in a case that really only benefited Microsoft, much like today’s DOJ action really only benefits Amazon.

As with anything coming out of Washington these days, my predictions for the litigation go something like “who knows?” However the case plays, the Big Six, IPG, and most smaller presses would be better off selling their ebooks direct. But I’ve been saying that for a decade. However if you go by the history of technology companies, the outlook’s pretty clear for one firm. Amazon as a technology player is over. A Microsoft future, where they just rack up cash quarter after quarter while the stock does nothing, is unlikely, as Amazon in fact loses cash quarter after quarter, and sustains its stock price on “revenue growth,” shorts throwing in the towel, and, near as I can tell, one high-frequency trading firm out of Chicago funded by the Federal Reserve whose mission is to keep equity prices high despite lack of interest by the broader public. There is nothing else about that stock to recommend itself, and if you look at the put premiums for Jan. 2013, lot of people are paying quite a bit of money to protect themselves should the stock fall further than 30%.

It’s also clear that Kindle Fire is nothing to Apple’s iPad and the Kindle 8 format has not maintained Amazon’s, let’s call it ebook device market share. iPad 3 is absolutely driving the market; iPad 2, though last year’s model, also blows Kindle Fire away. Apple, though named in today’s suit, and not a firm for whom ebook revenues… matter, is committed to reinventing the textbook. They’ve also got a hundred billion in cash. Amazon’s got a stock price that they use to subsidize relatively meager compensation, declining market share in a core business, have just outsourced bullying, the firm’s go-to business strategy, to the federal government, and despite today’s cave to the government by some players, have seen none of their would-be victims respond in a manner Amazon will find profitable.

I don’t recommend shorting the company. While more and more people are agreeing with me about the “value” of the stock, it hasn’t shown up yet in the share price. But if you read and understood Michael Lewis’ second work on the housing market, you’d have to think, those Jan. 2013 90 Puts on Amazon look real interesting.

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My Guess: For Penguin It Is Just About the Money

Probably the nonsense about “friction” means more to Penguin than I think, but only a little bit more. They know that all their newest titles–Signet, I suspect is the one most checked-out on ebook devices–are all available for free download from the web in a matter of seconds. But I don’t think they like the disintermediation, with people seeing “Overdrive” everywhere. They’re already dealing with Amazon, a firm that is at least technically competent.

Overdrive’s got a fascinating business model. For years, given ebook demand, they were largely beneficiaries of a wealth transfer, between themselves and taxpayers in a given library district. Their exorbitant fees–I mean, bandwidth, really? I’m giving away 10 times as many books as they are in a given month, and these days I’m nothing compared to Hadrien, let alone Gutenberg–meant that Overdrive didn’t much have to care about compensating publishers or pushing ebooks.

Even after Kindle and iPad launched, Overdrive’s content wasn’t able to be used on those devices. BlueFire, which syncs reasonably well with Overdrive services, came roughly a year after iPad, Overdrive for Kindle just this summer/fall? Meanwhile, Overdrive collected its fees.

I suspect Penguin sees little benefit to itself in supporting Overdrive’s business model any further, particularly given the Amazon arrangement.

The more interesting question is: Penguin’s new partner, assuming one emerges. 3M is fascinating, but I don’t know how much of a reach they’re gonna have. Ingram’s another that also offers ebooks to libraries, and I’d hoped to see more from their CoreSource initiative, but haven’t yet. The Ebooks Corporation is still around is well. Overdrive, despite its fees, despite librarian anger, really does have kind of a lock on the market.

Unless, of course, a 3M or an Ingram, maybe Blio, which is still alive, turns around and launches itself, with one of several of the Big Six (who of course will be receiving far better terms than Overdrive is offering.)

Penguin, already dealing with Amazon, may not want another digital behemoth, but they really better announce that new partner soon if they’re serious.

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Intent v. Execution in Amazon-land

While I agree that folks like the ABA, B&N, BAM, everyone else on the planet may be “playing into Amazon’s hands” by refusing to stock titles from Amazon’s publishing arm, this kinda ignores that Amazon itself won’t stock titles if, you know, they’re printed by LSI, not CreateSpace, or maybe there isn’t a Kindle edition, or else the discount isn’t set to what Amazon wants, or, you know, the person at Amazon’s whim. To my knowledge, nobody at ABA/BAM/B&N has coerced even a single publisher. OK, B&N back in their heyday. Amazon, on the hand, employs coercion as a matter of routine.

In fact, Amazon has now refused to carry, for various reasons, so many titles, there really is an opportunity for a google to come in and become the “Earth’s Largest Bookstore” that Amazon used to be. But whatever. This post is on Thomas & Mercer, Amazon’s crime publishing imprint that I’m actually kinda familiar with.

The first Thomas & Mercer book I read was handed to me at BEA last year. It was… amazing. Essentially, in a knock-off of Jim Thompson’s first novel, a guy sues God, but in this case wins billions from the Catholic Church and flees to Mexico, where he fights drug dealers from his plane using his bare hands, a lasso and, inexplicably, a mule. It’s the kind of thing that might have worked if the locale was Florida, in an Elmore Leonard kind of way, and the book was edited for coherency, but, for some reason the author was from L.A., land of James Ellroy and Raymond Chandler, and had actually won awards for his clear resemblance to those two.

So, that was my first T&M book. Amazon, to their credit, realized there was a problem, went and hired some names to edit the series. Then, in their big coup, they scored the ebook rights to Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels.

Now, that’s kind of a bigger deal. The series isn’t a personal favorite, but Evan Hunter, who wrote as McBain, also penned The Blackboard Jungle, one of the all-time greats.

Six months after signing Hunter, Amazon made the 87th Precinct available, heavily discounted (of course). I bought about a dozen of ‘em, searching through to try to start in order. Actually, though obtaining the rights, Amazon still didn’t have all the books in the series, missing quite a few from the early days.

Here’s where it gets funny. The first one I read, think it was The Con Man–had an amazing number of typographical errors. I’ve learned to expect that from the Open Roads of the world, but, Amazon–and this is their big push? In fairness, a second McBain I’ve just started has much cleaner text, through from the intro it’s apparent Amazon digitized a 1994-era trade paperback, likely one with aired-out text and a 14 pt. or greater non-serif font. Not that I know anything about scanning old pulps, but a book like that’s just a bit easier to digitize than, say, a 1956 Permabook.

However, Amazon spent a huge chunk of change on McBain, and then didn’t even have quality control in place to fix commonly known digitizing errors from old paperbacks. And also didn’t have the oldest paperbacks die-hard McBain fans are guaranteed to want. Why? And why do the marketing push until you do have those books?

I’m sure Amazon’ll make future splashes with Thomas & Mercer for a few years in their continued push to force exclusivity on people. Spending a fortune in the process. And, really, I expect nothing but continued nonsense from the company until the stock price corrects to more properly value a firm that’s seen its cash position fall in half in 12 months and expects to lose money this quarter. As long as AMZN shares hold 160, 190, whatever, on incredibly thin volume, the company will be arrogant in all its dealings with all parties, no matter how little cash is left in the bank.

When those shares hit 16, 19, as happened with ebay, another firm that relied primarily on third-party sellers for profits, regularly abused its business partners, expanded haphazardly in all directions, and then saw it all come crashing down, a lot of ill-conceived, poorly executed Amazon missions will hit the chopping block. And even though ebooks have absolutely led to a crime fiction renaissance, just look at the bestsellers on Nook, I suspect Thomas & Mercer will be among the first that go.

/Ebay used to tick me off. A lot. These days, they’ll let you list your non-pr0n backlist for a nickel with free subtitles. Fine.

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