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EBook Pricing – my yearly brain dump

So, yet again the wonders of ebook pricing have built up in my brain meats and need to be expunged, lest they cause my eyes to bleed any further. This is partly inspired by reading shouty arguments on CNet talking about the rights of Amazon buyers to give 1-star reviews to ebooks they consider expensive – I don’t want to get into the concept of right to review, but the things they were using as arguments for ebook pricing in the comment stream were a lot of the things that I used to consider truisms, just said with a slab of bile and uninformed anger.

If someone invokes the Libyan, Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings in a discussion related to none of them then they lose the argument, á la Godwin. This I decree. Idiots.

So, how much does it cost to produce a hardback book? How much does it cost to produce a paperback book? How much does it cost to produce an ebook? It doesn’t matter. This was the point that I’ve got stuck on in the past, but as I’ve looked into book pricing more and more the price of the underlying physical materials (and editing, and author fee, and admin, and advertising, and transport, and storage, etc, etc) means very little – books are sold at the price which the market will bear. This jumps up by a pound or two on paperbacks every few years and hardbacks bounce all over the place based on how well the publisher thinks the book will sell, but no matter how much the book takes to produce the price stays the same.

The actual physical costs of producing a book, the bit that varies between ebooks and papperbøks, is something that it’s difficult to get out of people. I’ve heard estimates of everything from 2-5% up to 75% of the overall cover price of the book, and as far as I can tell all of those numbers are probably correct – the price of the book is not to do with how much it costs to make.

Unfortunately it is here that we hit on the problem – people know that nicer things cost more money. If you have a flimsy, fall apart, US edition mass market Mills & Boon novel you don’t expect it to sit on your shelf for years in pristine condition (unless you are one of those special collectors – well done…in a scary kind of way) and they are not constructed in such a manner. If you have a hand-bound, engraved edition of one of Neil Gaiman’s books, signed in quill pen by the man himself while Amanda Palmer serenaded him on the way to their wedding then you are probably expecting it to last a while. At those two extremes the manufacturing cost will most probably impact the asking price, but probably not as much as you may think. The normal books, the ones that are £15-18 undiscounted in hard back and £7-£9 in paperback when they appear, probably don’t cost all that much different per unit (considering all the associated costs, not just physical) in the long run and almost certainly not the 2x multiplier that the cover price suggests. But the hardback is demonstrably a ‘nicer thing’ that people are more happy to pay more for, because there appears to be a reason why it costs more. The real reason is that the publisher wants the early adopters to pay a premium, before the cheaper, less profitable, paperback appears at a time in the future. Windowing, I believe this is called.

Anyways, now we come to ebooks – £15 for a newly released ebook, £14.99 for the hardback version. At the back of our lizard brains we immediately cry “No!”. Why should we pay more for an ebook, with “no production” costs and no physical object to fondle in a way that shows our money was spent wisely? There are several pieces to this, but in general I agree – if the price is just a made up figure then the publishers, understanding human psychology (as they should – if not, there are books about it), should probably tweak the price to be below the physical book price. However there are a couple of bits:

  1. Ebooks have VAT charged on them, paper books do not. This will hopefully stop soon, as I’ve heard tales of changes being pushed through european law to classify ebooks as books (although that is a legal minefield open to manipulation if they don’t get it right) but at the moment in the UK 1/6th of the cover price of an ebook is tax. So, our £15 ebook is actually £12.50, rather than £14.99 for the paper book. The ebook looks a little bit better now.
  2. Discounting. Amazon are the main place that ebooks are actually being sold in a reasonable quantity at the moment (the reason I have a Kindle is due to the woeful state of non-Kindle ebook sales, including availability as well as price) and they were originally very good at offering ebooks at a lower price than they did a physical copy (whether paperback or hardback was currently the standardly available edition). However, at the end of last year they introduced the ability of publishers to set the price of an ebook, which meant that in many cases the price then rose to above the physical copy’s price. I’m not sure if Amazon allow publishers to do this for physical copies (as I suspect the price setting was a bargaining chip used to get more ebooks into the Kindle store in order to make it a worthwhile proposition to book buyers) but Amazon do discount a lot of their physical books, cutting their margins in order to ship more units – being an online seller they can do this and it’s why brick and mortar book stores are closing all over the country. So, the £14.99 for our hardback copy was probably an RRP of £18, making our ebook look even nicer in price.

These two points don’t justify the high initial pricing of ebooks, but it does give a couple of extra reasons why it’s not as unreasonable as the shouty people on the internets think. In the end though the price of a book is really just a number plucked from the air. For physical books that go through the publisher system a large number don’t make any money (again, the percentages I’ve seen that say how many do make money vary as wildly as almost any stat publishers produce seem to) but in the end it all balances out so that some cash is finally made. Over time the publishers are learning, and some have already done so – look at the top of the non-free Amazon chart and you will see authors who you wouldn’t normally expect, all with ebooks priced at less than the regular going rate; at the time of writing there are two sub-£3 Stieg Larssons, a £5.99 Wilbur Smith and 7 books at less than £1 by authors I’ve not heard of (apart from Stephen Leather, who I know as “the guy who’s books are in the Amazon top 10 because they are sold for 71p each”).

Vote with your wallets, that’s the only way I think we’ll manage to get the publishers to change their ways. If people don’t buy the books then the publishers will either be forced to raise or lower prices to cope. However, I don’t think necessarily that book prices should fall. If I’m happy to pay more for an electronic version of Iain M Banks’s latest novel, which I was, due to the convenience of having the electronic copy delivered to me immediately and not having another hardback to find space for in my book-filled flat then I think I should pay the asking price. Paying a decent price for a book in order that the publishing industry has enough money to continue, helping to get the work of new and smaller authors into distribution channels is another thing that I’m broadly in support of, despite the spectre of easy self publishing that hangs over things at the moment (there is still a place of publishers, in my opinion. That may change over time, but that’s the way the world works), and the strange feeling of people that we should be entitled to cheap books (especially with the restricted forms that ebooks are delivered in) is one that alarms me. I can understand why most people ebooks should be cheaper (although the restrictions on them that people complain about – resale, lending, etc – are things that I don’t care so much about) and can see that over time the publishers will probably start honouring that even more than they are doing now, but as with other media that have gone digital, it’s a hard road on the way there.

Head Wound

Hello, and thankyou for coming in today. Before we start I’d just like to point out that my current facial state isn’t normal. I would have worn a hat, but in the current surroundings I felt that would raise more questions than a brief explanation at the beginning of this interview would. So, my fairly unavoidably visible head head wound is due to my double life as a semi-professional wrestler.

I have to bill it as ‘semi-professional’ for tax-reasons as well as adhering to company policy. HR frown on moonlighting, even when it’s in a distinctly separate field. I think you should take that into account when considering this position, although it doesn’t affect all that many members of staff. I like to get that out of the way as early on in an interview as possible, so as not to cloud the air with it later.

So, last night was a title match with me billed as a face against Crippler Cranshaw’s crowd beloved heel and the natural escalation of ticket price demanded something more from us than our normal nipple tweaking, mat slamming fun-fest. They upped the place of battle to a barbed wire (well, more chicken wire with ‘barbed wire’ written in red paint on a few clapboard signs that were zip tied through the large metal loops) cage containing a ‘typical family living room’ – subsidies from the home office have led to alterations in the scenarios we play out in the ring and each week they seem to focus on a different ‘message’ that we impart to our baying audience. This week’s ‘message’ was that while considered comparatively harmless, the lounge can be the most dangerous room in case of a home invasion, unless you are prepared.

The bout started as one would expect, with me in my usual attire of tweed plus-fours, smoking jacket, guards tie, wrestling pumps and pipe, sitting in my ‘front room’ listening to Camilla, née Shand previously Parker-Bowles now surname-less, gracing the hallowed grounds of Ambridge with her temporary presence. With a gentle knock upon the door, the only solid item in the walls of our field of battle, The Crippler™ (as he is known amongst his Definite Article loving fans) announced his presence and I stood up, turned down the wireless, adjusted my protective cod-piece (part of my signature pre-match preparation, accompanied by the sound of a wine cork being removed forcefully from a bottle of Chateau Lafite 1979, and affordable expression of the classic which is having the value pushed upwards by my fans) and turned pantomime style to the door. With the audience shouting at me to avoid a door-opening situation and me holding my hands to my ears in the universal sign of not being able to hear their roar I turned the handle and the fight was on.

He sprung through the gap and turned a full 360 degrees, drinking in the crowds cries of disapproval at this tiny deceit, his cape flowing and gilded Nixon mask catching the light in that special way only it can. As he finished turning the crowd quieted and he slowly withdrew from a crouch to face me.

“What is this”, I cried, “an interloper in mine house? For what reason dost thou interrupt my radio listening on this frost-bound eve?”

[The flowery language is written for me by a team of scribes selected by our shadowy overlords from the best of ITV’s sitcom writer’s room and then kidnapped during the dead of night and chained together in a room under Westfield’s shopping shed – so close, but just out of reach of the hallowed turf of BBC TV Centre to which they aspire]

“It is I”, he retorted, “The Crippler™! [pause for audience reaction] And I have come to…[further pause]…CRIPPLE YOU!”

And with that the bout began. We slipped naturally into a grapple, flicking seamlessly through the 3rd, 7th and 26th positions (a classic opener, made famous by Killa Kasparov in ’86), before breaking and flinging each other into carefully selected collapsible items of furniture. I extracted myself from the remains of a Louis XIII cabinet (replica) and grabbing a crossbow tried to put a bolt through through the head of my opponent. This was, of course, scripted and, throwing pieces of hostess trolley in my direction, he intercepted the bolt with his cloak and was pinned to the sideboard. As I approached he tore himself clear and launched at me with his signature move, the pinking shears. Gripping my head in a vice like grip between his powerful thighs he proceeded to lay punches down along my back in a zigzag pattern before throwing me effortlessly (with significant effort from myself, I might add) into an altered Ikea GRÖNÖ, which shattered at my touch.

I will stop describing the ebb and flow of combat at this juncture, as my contract forbids blow by blow accounts due to the impact on pay per view writeups, a significant income driver in these days since The World British Wrestling Foundation Society (Southern Division) has been forced from our television screens by the spectre of political correctness gone quite mad. Suffice to say that at one time I was hanging upside down from the collapsible paper lampshade as The Crippler™ pummeled my kidneys with a Jamie Oliver Flavo(u)r Shaker and at another time he was bent over the divan chair as I went about his behind with a pair of M&S slippers. It’s not as choreographed as some might say, but our sponsors do love their products to be used in contractually specific ways.

The bout was only billed to last for 20 minutes, due to only having forty 50 pence pieces ready to be inserted into the meter, and we played the crowd right up to the button. In the dying moments I removed a razor blade from the chinese puzzle box that had fallen ‘to chance’ under my hand after a heavy fall through John Lewis Mystic Square glass table, and while thrashing amongst the beaded safety glass opened a small cut in my forehead. Blood streamed as I stood, with theatrical shaking of my head and general scooping of said fluid aiding the effect. I rounded on my attacker and, spoiler alert, performed my signature move on him, pinching first left then right nipple, before hooking his nose from the middle of his confused face and flinging him over my right shoulder into a, until that time, carefully avoided stack of Habitat vase-ware. He at last lay still and with a flourish of arm and leg entanglement I pinned him, the referee (the second of our match, after an hilarious incident involving the first and a porcelain petunia) declaring my win after a slow and, for once, uninterfered with 3 count. I stood, leaving my opponent feigning unconsciousness amongst the flapping neon tetras of a broken fish tank, and walked out of the cage into the bosom of my beloved audience.

Now we’ve got that out of the way, why did you choose us over other financial service establishments?

I have interviews to give this week. I have a chunk missing from my forehead due to an interaction with a low bookshelf while visiting my mum this weekend. This is the explanation I am tempted to go with.

Books 2010

57 books read this year, so up 12 on last year. And, as usual, some stats:

Graphic novels: 22 (otherwise excluded from here-on)
‘Proper’ books: 35
Paperbacks: 14
Hardbacks: 3
Ebooks: 18
Of which were on the Kindle: 14
Of which were read on my new Kindle since September: 10

So, almost half the books I read this year were ebooks, almost exactly the same proportion as last year. Also this year there were 6 non-fiction books (with 2 more still sitting half read by my bed), again the same proportion as last year. I am nothing if not consistent.

So, books of the year. This was surprisingly easy, as book number 57 wins – How I Escaped My Certain Fate, by Stewart Lee. If you like comedy and especially if you like Stewart Lee then you must buy this now. It’s about £6 on the Kindle and Waterstones are currently doing it half price at £6.50 (as usually it’s a very expensive paperback at £12.99). It’s part autobiography and part dissection of three of his most recent shows, all accompanied by footnotes that probably are over half of the text.

Here’s the list:
Read more »

Film 2010

…and not the god awful screen rendered turd with Claudia Winkleman. I saw 10 minutes of it and decided that if I ever have the chance I will run a bulk eraser over the stacks of hard drives that they use to store the master recordings for the good of mankind.

So, this year I watched 52 films. Lots less than in previous years, but I’ve been too busy drinking (and have probably missed out a few from my list).

Here’s the big list (in sort of reverse order) and the traditionally pithy reviews. Italics are rewatches, bold is in the cinema:
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Movember

As I already posted (in overly effusive and probably annoying style) over on my booze blog I have decided to take part in the joys of Movember this year – growing a moustache for November in aid of men’s health charities in general and prostate cancer charities specifically. My approach to it is slightly different to most people’s – I’m used to having facial hair (and have done so for about 10 years) so the initial removal of said hair (from my face) is the important bit for me. Anyways, I done did that already, and have photos to prove it:

The Full BeardThe DechinningThe Piccadilly WeeperThe BikerThe EntertainerThe Misjudged Chaplain

The final picture of my naked jowls will have to wait until my blotchy face has recovered from its trauma (ie. tomorrow morning) and I hope (if I remember) to document my incredible moustache growing prowess over the next 30 days. I suspect it will not be successful – the first time I grew a beard I was asked if I was Amish. I really don’t like the abbreviation ‘Mo’, -tache is much better. Aug-tache isn’t as good a name though and would have led to Australians (the lovely chaps who started the whole thing) with chilly faces.

So, if you want to be lovely and sponsor me then you can over on my ‘Mo-space’ on the Movember site. At the time of writing I have raised £5, go me.

Edinburgh Festival 2010

Edinburgh 2010

I done went to Edinburgh, as has been my wont on occasion over the last few years. Yet again I went to the festival and stayed in the excellently located flat with the wonderfully uncomfortable beds that I have the last couple of visits, and I went to see many things. I was also good and didn’t let my hunger for booze blogging materiel get in the way of wandering around between shows and spent most of my time surprisingly sober. I did get food poisoning from a dodgy shepherds (actually cottage) pie, that only led to me missing one planned show (Simon Munnery – the first half was, according to comedy buddy Michael, excellent and new, but the second half was stuff that you have probably seen before if you’ve seen him in the last couple of years), but other than that things went swimmingly.

There were a few things that I wish I’d made time to see, but above all of them is Joe Power. Yes, Joe Power of being exposed as a fraud (although only by inference) in Derren Brown’s recent TV series. His show has had the level of success that I would have hoped, although he has had some with people paying just to heckle and walk out before the end. Michael Legge wrote up a lovely account of his experience with him on his Award-Winning Blog. I really dislike Joe Power, although as I’ve never met him I think it’s fairer to say that I dislike the concept of Joe Power.

For those who like the sound of my voice, me, Michael and other comedy buddy Will Howells did a podcast. Well, we spoke and Michael turned it into a podcast. It’s here, but also clickable on the little thing below:

[audio:http://thomyk.podbean.com/mf/web/kph644/090_Edinburgh.mp3]

So, things what I done saw (most of which are represented in ticket and flyer form above):
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NomNomNom – The Votening

Hello lovely people. As I posted the other day the NomNomNom 2010 voting is now open and you can be lovely (see opening sentence of this post) and vote for my team!


Strange hand position due to a large gooseberry stain on my shirt

Voting for me and Melanie (The Tarragons of Virtue) is good because:

  1. Warm fuzzy feeling, etc, etc
  2. Mel could win some knives
  3. I could win some gin.

Mel likes knives, I like gin. Anyways, please click over to the website and do some votiness. Due to the voting system that Annie Mole is using you can vote once a day, so if you do feel like stuffing a ballot box please feel free to click over every 24 hours. I might even share the gin with you.

NomNomNom – Stuffed Loin of Pork

As I posted a couple of weeks back, I decided to do NomNomNom again, this time teamed up with Melanie Seasons of OmNomLondon. When discussing the division of labour for the day we decided that I would be entrusted with the burning of meat to make our centre piece and after some researching around on the internets we found a recipe on the BBC website and settled on a Loin of Pork stuffed with Apricots and Pine nuts. Before the day I had a couple of practise attempts (with a loin and a rolled shoulder, with the loin winning on ease of cooking and taste) but the recipe didn’t change much between start and finish.

IMGP5284 IMGP5309
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Recipe:

  • 1kg boned pork loin, butterflied
  • 1/2 a medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2tbsp chopped sage
  • 2tbsp fresh thyme
  • 30g crumbled bread
  • 30g pine nuts
  • 10 dried apricots, chopped

Firstly I gently fried off the onion with some of the sage and thyme, until it was very soft and translucent. I then combined it with the bread (the inside of a fresh french stick made into breadcrumbs as best as I could) apricots and pine nuts. This mixed together into a fairly dry stuffing which I added a little seasoning to.

On the day we got our piece of pork from The Ginger Pig and the butcher boned and butterflied the loin for us. However, he also recommended that we didn’t stuff it as I had done in my experiments (simply dumping the mixture onto the butterflied pork before rolling it up, as seen in the piccy above) and cut a small pocket in the meat which we filled with our stuffing. This meant that nothing fell out during the cooking and everything looked prettier on serving. I then rolled it up and tied it with string (I used cocktail sticks to hold it together in my experiments but the nice butcher also threw a small ball of string into our bag, along with the ribs that he had removed when preparing our joint – I had them roasted for my dinner…they were very nice).

To aid the creation of crackling (the most important bit of most porky dishes in my opinion) the butcher scored the skin while preparing it. I then thoroughly dried the top, rubbed it down with salt and olive oil before sprinkling some more big sea salt crystals on top along with the remains of they thyme and sage, and a few good grinds of pepper. It went into the oven at 250°C for about 30 minutes before cooking for a further 30 at 160°C and finishing at 200°C for 20 minutes (unintended but fortunate as it really helped the crackling). It came out pretty much perfect, although maybe slightly under done. I cut a slice for the judges and finished it off in a pan to ensure that it was cooked all the way though, leaving the rest to rest, during which it did finish cooking – the perils of cooking to a time limit with only a vague plan.

NomNomNom10 #nom10

The crackling was great, really crispy and flavoursome, but the pork was maybe a little dry – some fruity gravy to go along with our peas and creamed leeks would have made it perfect.

We didn’t win, that honour going to Rachel and Danny – Pilluelo and the Catalan Queen, but there was some rather good food knocking around for us to dig into afterwards. Plans are already afoot for next year…

Ta muchly to Annie Mole and The Cookery School for looking after us (especially the lovely Marcella, who put up with me being frantic in a kitchen for a second year running, and the guy who cleaned up the wall that I covered in stewed gooseberries when I dropped a bowl) and to all the lovely people who loaded us down with goodies when we left.

There’s also a post over on my booze blog about our dessert…

Karaoke Circus at the 100 Club

Another pair of months has past and another Karaoke Circus has been and gone. This time it was slightly different from the last couple as it was a) at the 100 Club and b) featured the Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra in its quite wide expanse – they filled most of the width of the 100 Club with strings and brass, and the stage with a harp and Jeremy Limb (of The Trap) on piano. Another thing that was different was that I had my Proper Camera with me, having been lugging it around as ballast in the bottom of my laptop bag – the bag falls over if it doesn’t have a camera in the bottom. As such there were pictures, which are up on flickr. However as I like pictures here are a few:

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Chris AddisonRobin InceDan and The Baron
The Shaft ChorusIMGP5412

The next Karaoke Circus is at Latitude and the one after that is at the Edinburgh festival at midnight on August 17th. I arrive at 2:30pm on August 18th. The fates hate me.

NomNomNom 2010

A year has passed and I’ve managed to yet again inveigle myself into the realms of the food bloggers of London – for the second year running I’m in the finals for NomNomNom.

NomNomNom is, quite simply, a cooking competition for bloggery types. You turn up at The Cookery School on the chosen day, dump your gear, run off to the nearby market and purveyors of tasty foods, and then return to cook a three course meal for four people – one portion is served to the judges, the other three shared around the hungry competitors. We’re encouraged to go for as local food as possible, respecting seasonality and organic growing, all of which is helped by the nearby location of Marylebone Farmer’s Market and The Ginger Pig. We also have the restriction of having at least one dish prepared without any cooking, for added interest.

Last year I teamed up with Kang, of London Eater, and cooked some rather tasty things (accompanied by raw veggies), but this year me and Mel Seasons of om nom London (and also my companion behind the bar at the Blaggers’ Banquet, as immortalised in photographic form in the local paper) have appeared on the scene as the mighty Tarragons of Virtue, and we will brush all before us into a tidy heap before placing them hygienically in a bin. They didn’t ask for a team name on the application form this time, but we have one anyway.

Blaggers' Banquet
Photo (c) Carmen Valino

Our menu is decided (well, as decided as the deliberately vague descriptions we’ve given will allow. Experimentation will be done) and contains pigs, raw things and whisky, so all the food groups are covered. The big day is on the 11th of July, when we and 9 other teams will compete for the coveted title of NomNomNom Champions 2010. Hopefully this year I won’t serve a Michelin starred chef raw carrots but will cook tasty things, both of which did happen last year, although only half of them by design.

There will probably be posts about experimentation to follow (especially as I have a nice empty day on Saturday) and hopefully glory in triumph, or at least free drinks in defeat. In the meantime, here’s what I done did last time: