Archive for September 15, 2008

Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #205

September 15, 2008

Thousands of jobs lost, billions wiped off your savings, fears more banks may fail… How much worse will it get?

A chilling reality dawned after the fall of two of the world’s biggest banking superpowers in the most calamitous 48 hours the financial world has endured since the Wall Street Crash.

Some 4,500 Lehman workers lost their jobs in Britain amid scenes of despair at the Canary Wharf offices.

While the loss of two global financial icons was itself barely imaginable, analysts forecast that more are likely to go under in the coming weeks amid fears of a prolonged worldwide recession.

Emphasis added by me.

“Barely imaginable” — by who?! There are still top companies 1, 2, and 3! They will fall too! Why aren’t people grasping that this is terminal?

Get this:

In New York, several angry workers snatched art works from the walls in a desperate bid to get back the money from salaries they fear will never be paid.

And I would put real money that these people are the very same ones who will bleat in our ears about property rights, private property, earned profits, vote Republican, blah fucking blah. But when push comes to shove, their thievery is out in the open. It’s OK if you and I are being fucked over by them — but when it’s their turn, when justice bites their ass? No.

The Masters of the Universe are the pathetic crybabies I always knew them to be.

When you’re on the soup line — when you are on the soup line — and one of these bastards reveals himself to be there too, punch the bastard in the head, knock him out, and kick him to the gutter to starve!

All prior Chronicles of Depression 2.0 posts. Read them before you must.

Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #204

September 15, 2008

Nightmare on Wall Street

EVEN by the standards of the worst financial crisis for at least a generation, the events of Sunday September 14th and the day before were extraordinary. The weekend began with hopes that a deal could be struck, with or without government backing, to save Lehman Brothers, America’s fourth-largest investment bank. Early Monday morning Lehman filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It has more than $613 billion of debt.

Emphasis added by me.

And:

With these developments the crisis is entering a new and extremely dangerous phase. If Lehman’s assets are dumped in a liquidation, prices of like assets on other firms’ books will also have to be marked down, eroding their capital bases. The government’s refusal to help with a bail-out of Lehman will strip many firms of the benefit of being thought too big to fail, raising their borrowing costs. Lehman’s demise highlights the industry’s inability, or unwillingness, to rescue the sick, even when the consequences of inaction are potentially dire.

Emphasis added by me.

How long can it go?

Very:

Even if markets can be stabilised this week, the pain is far from over—and could yet spread. Worldwide credit-related losses by financial institutions now top $500 billion, of which only $350 billion of equity has been replenished. This $150 billion gap, leveraged 14.5 times (the average gearing for the industry), translates to a $2 trillion reduction in liquidity. Hence the severe shortage of credit and predictions of worse to come.

I said there is at least another five hundred billion dollars in writedowns still to come.

Now do you see that too?

Indeed, most analysts think that the deleveraging still has far to go. Some question how much has taken place. Bianco Research notes that while the credit positions of the 20 largest banks have fallen by $300 billion, to $1.3 trillion, since the Fed started its special lending facilities, the same amount has been financed by the Fed itself through these windows. In other words, instead of deleveraging, the banks have just shifted a chunk of their risk to the central bank. As spectacular as this weekend was, more drama is on the way.

Emphasis added by me.

Central bank = you and me, fellow suckers!

All prior Chronicles of Depression 2.0 posts. Read them before you must.

Print Book Publishing: DOOMED

September 15, 2008

Sorry to say I’ve forgotten who it was on Twitter that pointed me to writer L.J. Sellers’ blog, where she published: The End of Publishing (as we know it). I read her post and left a comment.

Her post was a reaction to a major article in the latest New York Magazine: The End: The book business as we know it will not be living happily ever after. With sales stagnating, CEO heads rolling, big-name authors playing musical chairs, and Amazon looming as the new boogeyman, publishing might have to look for its future outside the corporate world. (I recommend this printer-friendly version; it’s long!)

Some excerpts with the usual sniping:

But first, a horror story. Debbie Stier, Miller’s No. 2 at HarperStudio (as this little imprint is called), has been collecting videos for their blog. “You want to see what happens to books after they go to book heaven?” she asks. On the screen of her MacBook, a giant steel shredder disgorges a ragged mess of paper and cardboard onto a conveyor belt. This is the fate of up to 25 percent of the product churned out by New York’s publishing machine.

Emphasis added by me.

That is a rather misleading characterization. It sounds like one-fourth of everything winds up shredded. The fine-grained truth: some entire runs of a book will get shredded, with not one copy being sold.

There’s the floundering of the few remaining semi-independent midsize publishers; the ouster of two powerful CEOs—one who inspired editors and one who at least let them be; the desperate race to evolve into e-book producers; the dire state of Borders, the only real competitor to Barnes & Noble; the feeling that outrageous money is being wasted on mediocre books; and Amazon.com, which many publishers look upon as a power-hungry monster bent on cornering the whole business.

Emphasis added by me.

And:

By the nineties, five big conglomerates were divvying up the spoils and their lucrative backlists.

A “desperate race?” Desperate in what way? I see absolutely no “desperation.” I see gouge-us pricing and a refusal to put books I want to buy in eBook format.

Publishers must be really, really bad at math. Amazon is one company. One giant behemoth. It can be brought down — or at least made to heel. You’re really telling me five global corporationsand many, many independents — cannot defeat one dotcom company? Five-plus against one are bad odds?!

Lately, the whole, hoary concept of paying writers advances against royalties has come under question. Following their down payments to authors, publishers don’t have to pay a cent in royalties, which are usually 15 percent of the hardcover price, 7.5 for paperbacks, until that signing bonus is earned back. The system is supposed to be mutually beneficial; the publishers guarantee writers a certain income, and then both parties share in the proceeds beyond that level. But it only works for publishers if they’re conservative in their expectations. As auctions over hot books have grown more frequent, prudence has gone out the window— paying a $1 million advance to a 26-year-old first-time novelist becomes a public-relations gambit as much as an investment in that writer’s future.

That money has to come from somewhere, so publishers have cracked down on their non-star writers. The advances you don’t hear about have been dropping precipitously. For every Pretty Young Debut Novelist who snags that seven-figure prize, ten solid literary novelists have seen advances slashed for their third books.

Emphasis added by me.

Let me decode that shit: Publishers are taking writers who are otherwise good and are ignoring, bleeding, and then discarding them. I know some of these writers too. They never got any sort of push, despite the fact their publishers have done multiple books with them. It’d be one thing to drop a new writer after one book — but to fuck up someone who can actually write and whose books, one after the other, have been sent into the world without any press at all? There’s a word for that: sabotage.

[Dale] Peck sees an increasingly hostile environment for the kind of books he used to write. “When you get $100,000 for a novel,” he says, “you want $150,000 and then $200,000, so when they pay you $25,000 for the next one, and my rent is $2,500 a month, what do you do? The system works just fine for commercial fiction. But for literary fiction, I think we had a nice run of it in the commercial world.”

Emphasis added by me.

Hey, baby, I wish I could afford that rent. So do the majority of people reading this blog!

Note this:

[Dale Peck] rarely sold more than 10,000 copies

And exactly what is “literary” fiction anyway?

Oh wait, Charles Bukowski knew. It’s all that boring shit that puts readers to sleep and deforms the brains that try to make sense out of it. A far, far cry from classic literature — Dickens, Hugo, Dumas, et al, — all who knew how to tell a story and did it well. Today’s litterateurs — note the extra T, for it’s even spelled pretentiously! — are absolute ass by comparison. Balzac would laugh in your face and Poe would piss on your feet in contempt. (And note that neither one of those immortal writers could afford a $2,500 per month rent, either!)

It’s inherently risky, though. You have to wonder about the prospects for one new book that Elberse had her students case-study—Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World. Grand Central, inspired by the best seller Marley & Me, is betting on the new mini-genre of cat-related nonfiction. Grand Central initially offered $300,000, then went up to $1.25 million. Gobs more will be spent on marketing. You’ll likely be hearing about Dewey when it comes out this month, and if half a million of you still feel that you can’t get enough heartwarming pet stories, it just might earn back its advance.

Christ, even I have heard of Dewey. And I love cats. But this was done and over with after Cleveland Amory did his cat books. How many times are you going to count on cats to save your asses?

One key advantage of corporate publishing was supposed to be its marketing muscle: You may not publish exactly the books you’d like to, but the ones you publish will get the attention they deserve. Yet in recent years, more accurate internal sales numbers have confirmed what publishers long suspected: Traditional marketing is useless.

“Media doesn’t matter, reviews don’t matter, blurbs don’t matter,” says one powerful agent. Nobody knows where the readers are, or how to connect with them. Fifteen years ago, Philip Roth guessed there were at most 120,000 serious American readers—those who read every night—and that the number was dropping by half every decade. Others vehemently disagree. But who really knows? Focused consumer research is almost nonexistent in publishing. What readers want—and whether it’s better to cater to their desires or try harder to shape them—remains a hotly contested issue. You don’t have to look further than the pages of The New York Times Book Review or the shelves of Borders to see that the market for fiction is shrinking. Even formerly reliable schlock like TV-celebrity memoirs doesn’t do so well anymore. And “the next thing,” as Publishers Weekly editor Sara Nelson notes drily, “is not bloggers writing books.

Emphasis added by me.

Well, first: a big Fuck You for the blogger snipe, bitch. You wish all books had the readership of the biggest blogs! Now to address the rest …

“Media doesn’t matter, reviews don’t matter, blurbs don’t matter[.]”

What media? What reviews? What blurbs?

Where are you advertising these books? Probably on sites — or, forgive the term, blogs — that cater to a niche audience of book readers. That is, book fans, instead of the entire totality of possible book readers. There’s a strategy for continued FAIL. Turn books into something out there on the margins. (And I don’t mean “margins” as in cool — I mean “margins” as in retarded.)

Reviews? Do you know how many books I discovered via the New York Times Book Review? Probably less than ten. Because the so-called “reviews” were invariably more about the reviewer and how allegedly “smart” he (and it was always a he) was than the book under review. Face the fact that the NYTBR was — and still is — nothing a but a circle-jerk fanzine for your little clique. It had little to do with gaining new book readers.

Blurbs? Hey, I discovered new writers because of blurbs from Ken Bruen and Victor Gischler and others. But I think I know the kind of blurbs you mean. Blurbs from those you deem literary and the rest of the world deem boring assholes. Such blurbs are like anti-recommendations to everyone else. Yeah, keep trotting out those Big Names who are actually irrelevant to everyone else outside your little club.

Marketing a book these days is like playing a slot machine; hitting one 7 won’t get you a dime. “There has to be this constellation of events,” says Daniel Menaker, whose departure was tied in the press to the low sales of Benjamin Kunkel’s much-ballyhooed debut novel, Indecision. “Not only a Times Book Review front cover but Don Imus talking about it and Ellen Pompeo actually reading the book on-camera. And Barack Obama has just bought it.”

How did Ayn Randa short, frumpy, heavily-accented self-alienated drug-addicted madwoman — manage to have The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged turned into the foundational bibles of the pre/post-Reagan neoconservative movement without Imus, without Oprah, without Obama?

Further: How is it that despite getting glowing reviews, just about all of the writers who were contemporaneous to Raymond Chandler are today out of print and forgotten while his works are back in print and now hailed as “literature?” (“The high critical regard in which Chandler is generally held today is in contrast to the critical pans that stung Chandler in his lifetime.” I quote from the wikipedia entry, with emphasis added by me.)

Lastly: Ellen Pompeo — who?!!? (Oh, Christ. That was a joke, right?)

Editors insist that plenty of books get skipped [instead of being bought by Barnes & Noble]. Richard Nash, head of indie publisher Soft Skull Press, estimates that one in twenty are passed over, though ten to fifteen copies are shipped into their warehouses in case there’s a special order. Many more are getting smaller initial orders than ever. That’s a very long, very skinny tail.

I went to Soft Skull Press’s website. They seem to have a semi-savvy grasp of things. But — and this is important — where are the eBooks?! Don’t whine to me that you can’t get your stuff out to readers through the dying print outlets. You’re allegedly an independent publisher, dammit, so why are you playing by the established all-against-you rules? Small and indie publishers should be leading the way with eBooks. This is an area where all of you can actually set the rules. Kill the price-gouging, for one. Second, you’re Net savvy, but why haven’t I heard of anything you’ve published until now, via what’s virtually an extended obituary for print publishing? Third, heard of Perseus Book Group’s Constellation service? (If that has too high an entry fee, test the waters on your own.)

Editors and retailers alike fear that [Amazon is] bent on building a vertical publishing business—from acquisition to your doorstep—with not a single middleman in sight. No HarperCollins, no Borders, no printing press. Amazon has begun to do end runs around bookstores with small presses.

I don’t know what the lead time on this article was, or what got cut out in editing, but the lack of mention of the Sony Reader astonishes me. It’ll be in four countries before year’s end (America, England, France, and Germany). It’s now on sale in probably over 2,000 retail stores (Borders plus Target). It’s the only eBook reading device that supports ePub, has reflowable text for PDF files, and which can borrow eBooks from public libraries. It is, in short, not locked into any one store or publisher. It is a viable alternative to the abominable Kindle. Yet it’s never mentioned!

The ultimate fear is that the Kindle could be a Trojan horse. Right now, Amazon is making little or nothing on Kindle books. Lay down your $359 and you can get most books for $9.99. Publishers list that same Kindle version for about $17.99, though, and—as with all retailers—charge Amazon roughly half that price for it. Which means that Amazon keeps only a dollar on each book, while the publishers make $9.

And hey, stupid, that $9.00 payment is your self-destruction. That’s what the top price of an eBook should be. What possible excuses other than brain damage or deterministic suicide are there for thinking an eBook should be priced the same as treeware?! Even a mouth-breather addicted to TV novelizations would understand that no paper, no shipping, no weight has to equal lowered production costs. Even if they can’t break out a spreadsheet to prove it, they feel the cheat.

One indie publisher has been pitching an imprint around town that would go beyond what Miller’s doing—expanding into print-on-demand, online subscriptions, maybe even a “salon” for loyal readers. He envisions a transitional period of print-on-demand, then an era in which most books will be produced electronically for next to nothing, while high-priced, creatively designed hardcovers become “the limited-edition vinyl of the future.” “I think they know it’s right,” the publisher says of the executives he’s wooing, “but they don’t want to disrupt the internal equilibrium. I’m like the guy all the girls want to be friends with but won’t hop into bed with.”

He has a clue. So of course they’ll ignore him.

creatively designed hardcovers become “the limited-edition vinyl of the future.”

In other words, what I initially mocked Seth Godin about but have since come to embrace: A souvenir!

The overall impression of this article is the truth of their ruination. This is a small group of people who are basically a fucking snooty club who are getting their asses reamed by a changing world. And they have no clue. No fucking clue! And when they are told the way out, it gives them the goddammed vapors and they have to pop out to the Four Seasons for a mid-afternoon martini and cry amongst themselves.

Dewey the fucking cat?! That’s not publishing. What the hell does that have to do with the “civilzation” Jane Friedman righteously cries about in the article? Show me where the Renaissance, the American Constitution, the Apollo 11 moon landing were inspired by a cat! Publishing a book about a cat has one single goal: keeping their paychecks coming. All pretense other than that is stripped away by that act. Don’t bleat to me that “the money from the cat will let non-cat books be published.” It’s lazy. It’s stupid. It’s cowardly. And it’s like an addictive drug. Instead of concentrating on real books and doing the hard work that’s required to push real writers, you’ll be distracted into looking for the next non-book fix. And as you churn out Stupid after Stupid, you’ll wonder why books are dying, why the general public has become as stupid as the Stupid you’ve pimped, when it’s your hand on the pillow smothering books and your crap diminishing the minds of readers!

And all those corporate-savvy bean counters who are slowly infiltrating your ranks and changing the internal dynamics? How smart can they be if they haven’t yet realized that eBooks are the way out? Do they read anything other than spreadsheets? How difficult can it be to do the equation of Minus Paper, Minus Printing, Minus Shipping, Minus Returns, Plus Low Impulse-Buy Pricing = PROFITS PROFITS PROFITS?!

I’m absolutely certain this post will be ignored by anyone with power who happens to read it. Hey, that’s your loss, baby, not mine. Writers are entering an age where you lot are irrelevant. You’ll get limited licenses for our direct-published worksnone of which will be about fucking cats! — so you can keep crying at the Four Seasons over your mid-afternoon martinis about how you’ve been reduced to peddling printed souvenirs of eBooks.

Enjoy your self-created future.

Writer Mitzi Szereto’s Facebook Adventure

September 15, 2008

The Facebook Virgin

So funny!

Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #203

September 15, 2008

I didn’t notice this til a few minutes ago. I’ve been busy on a post about the dying dinosaurs of print publishing.

It doesn’t much matter. We’ve seen this pattern. Tomorrow a greed-powered rally.

Bad Writing. Bad! Bad!

September 15, 2008

Via Twitter from the much-missed top_book:

The Top 15 Bad Romance Novel Opening Lines

13. “The heaving waves on the vast, ink-black ocean sent a salty spray over the proud bow of the three-masted ship, leaving beads of water on the exposed alabaster skin above the bodice of the tall, raven-haired woman who stood sobbing on the deck, her salty tears mixing with the storm-tossed sea.”

I’m already sea-sick …

It’s an open secret that — at least at one time — many romance novels were written by men under pen names. Men who no doubt had utter contempt for their reading audience.

If you give your readers absolute shit, how can you expect them to recognize non-shit? Like the non-shit these men wanted people — women people — to read.

Thus, self-interest = short-sightedness = self-sabotage.

As usual.

Orson Welles: His Final Appearance

September 15, 2008

Orson Welles on the Merv Griffin Show – 1985

That magnificent voice!

Reference: Optimize PDFs For Sony Reader

September 15, 2008

I don’t know how this one slipped by me all this time.

Sony has a 43-page PDF about how to create PDFs that are optimized for viewing on the Sony Reader.

Even though the screenshots and instructions are for Windows, PDF is PDF and these instructions are probably also applicable for people who create PDFs with Mac OS X or Linux. It’s worth a shot.

I think this is a must-have guide for anyone currently offering — for free or for pay — their writing as PDF files. The Sony Reader has the possibility of being the major player in eBooks due to its openness.

Right click and Save As this link.

I was going to post this Saturday, but held off to consult with an expert. I’ve been told that despite the new PDF text reflow capability Sony recently added to the Reader, these instructions still stand as the best way to do Sony Reader-optimal PDFs. In addition, for ePub files that contain graphics (charts, photos, drawings, etc), customizing the ePub file to the size of the Sony Reader screen will ensure the illustrations don’t go all screwy when rescaled to screen size. PDF and ePub files are generally, I believe, formatted for 8.5″ x 11″ paper printing.

Ralph Nader Told You So, Fool

September 15, 2008

Quoting from today’s email from the Nader/Gonzalez campaign:

We woke up this morning early.

Turned on C-Span radio.

And heard Brian Lamb quoting Ralph Nader.

From years ago.

With Ralph warning about extravagance, recklessness, and excessive compensation on Wall Street.

Warning years ago about the undue influence of Fannie and Freddie on Democrats and Republicans alike.

Warning about the failure of our government to protect small investors.

Throughout his career, Nader has strong been a strong advocate for due diligence.

For protecting shareholder rights.

For prudential regulation.

And strict oversight of the markets.

While the Democrats and Republicans have bent to the whims of their corporate masters and Wall Street’s bottom line imperatives.

Nader has been steadfast in his advocacy for safety, regulation, and protecting the little guy.

Unfortunately for the nation and for investors, his warnings have gone largely unheeded.

On this momentous Monday, as we watch the fallout from the failed policies, greed and extravagance of the corporate political class unfold, we make this simple note.

Due diligence, prudential regulation, and strict oversight of the markets — Nader-style — would have gone a long way to averting the disaster currently hitting Wall Street.

Instead, it was short-term fast and dirty profits, muzzled politicians, and throw caution to the wind.

And so now, the American people are learning the hard way about the consequences of a reckless corporate dominated political economy.

But thanks to your hard work, we are in a position to give America a choice in November.

For prudence.

For strict oversight.

For regulation.

Emphasis added by me.

I will admit that since Sarah Palin came on the scene, I’ve been considering voting for Obama in order to prevent a highly-probable Palin Presidency.

But now I’m seeing that the unraveling is happening exactly as I said it would — and much more is on the way.

So every, every fiber of my being screams, No! I must vote for Nader. He is the only candidate who can save us.

If McCain gets in office, do you really think he’ll give us anything different than what we’ve had under Reagan and Bush and Bush?

If Obama gets in office, do you really think he will have the knowledge and backbone to rip out the roots of this corrupted and rotted system?

Ralph Nader is the only person who has been doing that for decades.

He comes without strings attached to him from corporate supporters. His allegiance truly is Country First — as in its citizens, we the people.

There’s more financial meltdown ahead. At least another five hundred billion dollars of writedowns and disaster in the wings ready to jump on center stage.

By election day, you will be thinking very differently about who needs to be in the White House.

Vote Nader 2008 website
Vote Pact

Previously here:

Free Speech TV: Ralph Nader In Denver
Reference: Presidential Candidate Skeletons
Why I Vote For Nader
Quote: Ashley Sanders
Scholars Ponder Bible Typos
NOW Would You Vote For Ralph Nader?
Ralph Nader: FISA Music Video
Nader: Rush Limbaugh Is On Welfare!
Obama Vs. Nader: Politician Vs. Man
Mumia Abu Jamal Comments On Ralph Nader
The Disgusting Truth In One Image
Ralph Nader On ABC’s “This Week”
Ralph Nader On ABC’s “This Week” Sunday
Twelve Thousand Dollars An Hour
Obama-Nader 2008? Never, I Say!
Ralph Nader In NYC Tonight, June 18, 2008
Ralph Nader On Democracy Now!
Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #126
The People Have The Power
John McCain: Fascist For President
He’s Not Spoiled. Our Political System Is.
Jive-Ass Turkey
And People Are Going To Vote For This Eejit?
The Final President Of The United States
There’s Only One Choice For President
Meet, Support Ralph Nader For President!
The Deserved Fall Of General Motors
Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #112
Ralph Nader: Activist Presidential Candidate
Why Democrats Lose
Ralph Nader Now Has A Merch Store
Wordless
East Coast Corporate Liberal
A Civics Quiz
Vote For Ralph Nader To Take Back America!
Ralph Nader: The President We Need
Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #017
Another Reason To Vote For Ralph Nader
Lincoln, FDR, Nader
Ralph Nader Tomorrow, March 9 2008, In PA
Just Say Yes: To Ralph Nader!
Ralph Nader On The Daily Show Tonight
Nazicrats
Weasels, Part Three
Weasels, Part Two
Ralph Nader’s Big Birthday
Exxon Can’t Hide
Happy Birthday, Ralph Nader
To Name Three: McCain, Hillary, Obama
Now I Can Vote This Year: Nader Is IN!
The Presidential Candidate You Laughed At

Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #202

September 15, 2008

Yes, Bloody Monday Will Affect Hollywood

With once high-flying investment firms and banks around the world now grounded, the debt market seems nonexistant, so studio and indie films companies are going to find it nearly impossible to find new financing. And, if they do, the terms will be poisonous.

There’s an accurate term: poisonous.

And don’t just think Hollywood. Book publishing. Music publishing. Anything that involves novelty.

Welcome to the Eat Shit Or Die America.

Oh, you thought before this it was like that?

Welcome to worse.