26 March 2009

Adulterated Sausages

...with 72% more sawdust and other fillers than usual!

  • I'm no fan of book blurbs, but my disdain for them is nothing next to Alastair Harper's disgust. The real problem with book blurbs is not that they're out of context, or indeed anything else about the blurbs per se; it is their very existence. They reflect the worst aspects of S&M quasiacademia, as an offshoot of "brand awareness" studies on laundry detergent that have never been validated for noncommodities... and that's one of their good points.
  • Here's an example of what is most wrong with the publishing industry... and it's not even the publishing industry itself. Ordinarily, payment from bookstores to publishers is net-60, net-90, or net-120 (depending upon the nature of the book and the store; most trade fiction, for example, is net-60, but it's not a book-by-book negotiation or anything like that). Now Amazon UK is offering to go to net-15... if publishers agree to accept a 2% additional discount. There are two, equally disgusting, things wrong with this — aside from the obvious antitrust problems and question of whether it's really an effective change in terms:

    1. In substance, this is a finance charge. And it's a finance charge of 2% for a 45-day "loan" (and remember, it's on returnable consignment goods!), or an effective interest rate of 16.2% at a time when central bank rates are near zero. And that's measured against the cover price; the actual "interest" is 4% for a 50% discount ((0.52/0.50)-1), or an annualized simple interest rate of over 32%.
    2. And here's the screw-the-author effect: There's a high probability that these sales will be treated as falling into deep-discount sales, halving the author's royalty... and resulting in a profit to the publisher. Consider, for example, a trade paperback paying a 6% royalty, but with a deep-discount clause halving the royalty for copies sold at a discount of more than 50% (a typical term; it does vary, but the large distributors are always riding the edge of it). Now, along comes Amazon UK, and it's buying those copies at 52% discount. Thus, the author's royalty is cut from 6% of cover price to 3% of cover price. Last time I checked, 3% > 2% for positive values. Thus, the authors would be the ones paying for this... unless their agents had negotiated some room into the deep-discount clause, which is disturbingly rare.
  • Aaaaaand Bud loses another round of trademark disputes in Europe, which actually leads to a more-substantive question. The territories at issue are the Czech Republic, Germany, and Austria. What makes Anheuser-Busch think that its version of Budweiser would not be inherently self-tarnishing in those territories? If there's any part of Europe that can spot the actual difference among "lager," "pilsner," and "horse urine" in a blind, drunk taste test, it's there!