04 August 2010

Overcooked Link Sausages

Lost yesterday's sausages to car repairs. Urghh. And today's are offered in an environment already approaching a double-triple (triple-digit humidity and temperature {Fahrenheit — as much as I wish the US would adopt the metric system, it hasn't yet}). This is almost literally "steam-fry your slider on the roof of your car" weather. [Update, 1330] To put it another way, this is the kind of climate in which one throws a couple of two-liter, store-temperature soda bottles in the trunk... and there's condensation on them fifteen minutes later when one gets home.

  • Long overdue: a state Attorney General's antitrust investigation of e-book pricing appears to be underway. Now, just maybe they'll do the same for general trade book pricing... or, given this time of year, textbook pricing. I just got a look at the elder remora's probable textbook list for this fall. Gulp.
  • Here's one of many stories on the potential/pending sale of Barnes & Noble. Whichever story discusses this matter, you should note that it is based not on publishing, but on two counterfactual assumptions of modern investing:
    • That the proper measure of a company's value to each potential investor is fully and adequately reflected in the price of publicly traded shares; and
    • That the price of publicly traded shares, and consequent differential from initial investment, does not reflect non-specific concerns not relevant to the particular corporation.

    First, let me restate something that should be much more obvious: Securities markets are most emphatically not all-knowing, instantaneously adjusting measures of the objective, real value of a security or what that security represents. If the relatively recent (and repeated!) problems with market valuation don't demonstrate that, just say "Enron" three times fast. More importantly, though, the misuse of market price as a proxy for valuation, with the assumption that the correlation between the two is 1.0 (or even close), fails at a fundamental mathematical level; leaving aside the obvious problem of differing investment objectives, and the corollary problem of entrenching incompetent/backward-looking management, it represents reducing everything to a dimensionless scalar value — and that's bad math, bad physics, bad chemistry, bad economics, bad anything... except, apparantly, it's not considered bad finance.

    This is not a harangue against private ownership, or public distribution of private ownership; it's a harangue against the pernicious effects of treating individual market issues as if they are merely miniature markets in themselves. In short, I'm just pointing out that the parallel distinction between Newtonian physics and quantum mechanics seems to operate in securities markets, too, so we should act like it. Whether that means that B&N shareholders should vote "no" on any particular (and, at this time, hypothetical) merger/buyout offer is a different question entirely; it does mean, though, that the purported "maximize shareholder value" meme is not sufficient justification for any action apparently being contemplated... and, in particular, any action that has potential First Amendment implications. Perhaps markets do a good job in aggregate, but basing management decisions on individual share prices assumes that all things are equal — and as soon as nonfinancial implications like the First Amendment, artistic freedom, etc. come into the picture, nothing is equal.

  • The SFWA website has a good article on tools for tracking submissions, an underappreciated part of the business end of publishing for writers. I've been using something like the OpenOffice version for this purpose, and other nefarious ones, for years. And, as a coordinate point, SFWA Treasurer Amy Sterling muses on some other business-of-publishing stuff for writers.
  • Even more disturbing than usual sausage-making: the creation and definition of dialects. I don't endorse everything in the piece, but it's an interesting starting point...