02 January 2012

Beginning of the End of the World News

It is 2012 now, after all. It's not just the Mayans; it's also Nostradamus. And an unjustly underappreciated Anthony Burgess novel. And if the incessant blathering of the Heffalumps isn't enough to make one wish for the end of the world, I don't know what will be...

  • Stephen Hawking nears 70 and is still more productive trapped inside of an ALS-ravaged body than any politician or business leader.
  • Sauron Rupert Murdoch joins Twitter. How's that MySpace purchase working out again?
  • Another lament about resale price maintenance agreements for e-books (misleadingly mislabelled the "agency model" by its conglomerate-publisher advocates) and their negative effects on everyone involved. When you come right down to it, the real justification for RPMAs in book sales is to prevent unpredictable sales shifts between products in the same conglomerate more than anything else. This upsets all of the pseudomathematical models from accurately predicting cash flow, royalty obligations, etc.,1 and therefore upsets all of the MBAs now running the show.
  • The almost incomparably wise Ursula K. Le Guin objects to the award culture and its underlying assumptions. She's a lot more generous than I would have been: The primary objection that I have to awards is that too often, they're made too soon. To draw on an example from her piece, right now is about the soonest that anyone should really, really be considering what were the "best" works in category x of the last half of the twentieth century under any criterea — the shininess of the new should have worn off by now so that we can realistically expect to compare, say, JR (National Book Award, 1976) to Sabbath's Theater (National Book Award, 1995) and come up with a reasoned answer. It won't be a definitive answer, by any means — if only because taste really does enter into the discussion — but it will be reasoned. And the less said about the way H'wood establishes eligibility for awards based on when a work is in limited release in two cities, instead of generally, the better...

  1. Two observations:

    • Just because it's got numbers associated with it doesn't make it mathematically sound. If you want a classic example, consider net-present-value calculations, which are no better than the multiple assumptions built into them about interest rates, uniform time-value, opportunity cost, etc.
    • Then, too, there's the issue of royalty obligations and predictability. If one believes publisher accounting, or even the stark evidence of publisher royalty statements and the absence of checks attached thereto, the "vast majority" of books never end up paying royalties to authors; instead, royalty earnings chew away at the advance, which all too often remains as out of reach as the tree is to Xeno's arrow. For example, if one accepts the industry meme that 80% of books never earn out their advances, a particular sales cannibalization within an imprint — or even across imprints within the same conglomerate — has a (0.80)2 = 64% chance of not increasing the actual publisher outlay to any author. Only when sales aggregate do they result in such payments... and that demonstrates the quantum effect of royalty calculations. (Unfortunately, my HTML-fu is not good enough to accurately represent the underlying math.)