Tucked into the late afternoon news cycle on Monday was the announcement that Amazon founder/CEO/demi-tyrant Jeff Bezos had purchased the venerable Washington Post for a measly $250 million.
As for the reaction from the paper…its memo to its staff is the understatement of the year: You’ll have heard the news, and many of you will great it with a degree of apprenhension.
I’m not panicking over the purchase, as newspapers have been in decline for years, but I have to admit a curiosity for what he will do with it. He didn’t get WaPo’s online news outlet Slate. And all the things that generally make a newspaper money (advertisements and subscriptions) are down, so what does he get out of it other than prestige?
It certainly won’t be for an objective book review section (especially when it comes to New Harvest or other Amazon imprints).
Still, I’m reminded of this scene from Citizen Kane:
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Over the weekend, Shelf Awareness broke that story of Amazon dramatically slashing prices on hardcover bestsellers; in some cases, they’re selling books for even less than the Kindle editions.
It’s crazy capitalism. Sell a product at a loss, generate next to no profit, yet watch your stock continue to raise its share price. Lather, rinse, repeat.
We’ve been down this road before, and my response is aways the same: booksellers should shop Amazon for their stock. They’ll get a better discount than most publishers or wholesalers, while, at the same time, helping Amazon towards their race to the bottom.
Heck, booksellers buying from Amazon might even be able to pay it forward by extending discounts to their loyal customers.
But, at the end of the day, this is all crazy talk. Amazon quietly slashes prices, the book industry gets infuriated, and in doing so gives Amazon a lot of free press (this blog included). The timing of the discounts is a little too cozy, as Monday finds President Obama giving a major economic speech at an Amazon warehouse.
Shelf Awareness describes this latest move by Bezos and Co. as emboldened, which seems pretty spot on. They’re on top of the world, having come out on the winning side of the DOJ’s ebook price-fixing trial and having the President give a speech at a warehouse owned by a company with a track record of rather egregious working conditions.
The capitalists that I know always discuss how falling markets aren’t crashes, they’re corrections. One wonders how long shareholders will tolerate the growth of Amazon’s marketplace dominance without a comparable growth in profits.
Let’s just hope that the Amazon warehouse President Obama is speaking at has better ventilation than the one in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.
Or, perhaps Obama would be better off giving a speech at Kiva Systems, the robot manufacturer that Amazon purchased last year.
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Cheryl Strayed’s Wild that is.
The LA Times reported Wednesday that Reese Witherspoon has been signed to play the lead in the film adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild.
This should surprise no one, as it is Witherspoon’s production company that is putting the picture together.
What intrigues me even more about this film is that novelist Nick Hornby has written the screenplay. Hornby’s screenplay to the film An Education was quite good, so I imagine that he will perform a similar service to Strayed’s story of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
At least, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he will.
Unlike many other projects in Hollywood, there is no tentative release date for the film of Wild, but this should play big, especially in the Pacific Northwest.
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Everybody is abuzz over the revelation that the author of the mystery/thriller The Cuckoo’s Calling (Mulholland HC 9780316206846 $26) was not Robert Galbraith, as the cover states, but rather J.K. Rowling.
I would never claim to have suspected as much. Why would I doubt the publisher when they say in the author bio that Galbraith “spent several years with the Royal Military Police before being attached to the Special Investigative Branch (SIB) of the RMP…Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym”.
However, somebody over at the Sunday Times suspected that the novel was far too acomplished to have been written by a novice. A Twitter conversation ensued, sending the Sunday Times in the direction of the truth.
Now, color me skeptical, but this seems a bit too convenient. According to the New York Times, the Twitter account in question has been closed down, so there is no way to verify who pointed the finger at Rowling. Really? This is the same Internet that can tell me what Suri Cruise puts in her Fruity Pebbles, but can’t find cached tweets?
Consider this: the last non-Potter Rowling book, The Casual Vacancy, sold very well for its publishers, but ultimately failed expectations. So much so that returned copies of the hardcover will be pulped (and probably sent to the same landfill that those Atari E.T. videogame cartridges were buried), never to sully themselves on a dusty remainders table. A lot of the disappointment boiled down to unsupported hype. Nobody could read the book before it was published (including most employees of the publisher), and everybody relied on the mere mention of the name Rowling to generate sales.
Now you have what appears to be a mid-list debut novel receiving an abundance of praise, but not much in the way of sales…until now.
Which makes me wonder; how much was Rowling/Galbraith paid for The Cuckoo ’s Calling? If they paid less than the going rate for a Rowling manuscript, I wonder how many copies they’ll need to sell before making back their Casual Vacancy lucre?
In the end, whether this was a cynically calculated move on the part of the publisher/author, or, the genuine discovery of something unexpected, it worked. The book is currently number one on Amazon (not that they, or anybody else, has copies to ship), and I have heard more about this book on a Sunday than I did the entire hardcover lifecycle of The Casual Vacancy.
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry:
A)Apple has been found guilty of violating anti-trust laws with regards to e-book pricing. Now, if only the DOJ would look at predatory pricing…hey, stop laughing.
B)Orson Scott Card, clearly not concerned at all that his years of being outrageously homophobic might harm the box office receipts for Ender’s Game, is publicly learning to live with gay rights. Now he wants gay rights and marriage equality supporters to be tolerant of his beliefs.
On the first point, it just seems crazy. Nobody would agree that if it is proven that publishers colluded with Apple to fix e-book prices, they violated the law. But, in all of this discussion about ebook prices, as well as the evaporating discount at Amazon for print versions of books, that no discussion is being had about the prices of books as set by publishers.
I continue to use the music business as an example. When digital piracy was devastating the industry, Apple came along and set the bar of the pricing of music: 99 cents a song, and ten bucks for an album. Compact discs generally sell for $14-$18, a price that held firm for much the last twenty years. Now that Apple (and yes, I’ll grudgingly admit Amazon helped in this too) got the labels to drop the price of an album to around $10, the price of physical music has come down as well. I rarely see compact discs selling for more than about $14 dollars or so, unless their either a big name like the Beatles or a boutique label that makes up for smaller sales with higher margins.
But, think about this: an album by an artist like Beyoncé may cost a million dollars to produce and package, but it will sell for about the same retail price as an album by some plucky indie band that cost less to record than Beyoncé’s catering bill. But for some reason, the Dan Browns and the J.K. Rowlings of the world have their books priced so stratospherically high, they will often cost as much as ten or more dollars than a debut novel or a short story collection. Both industries pay ridiculous amounts of money to their top-tier artists, but for some reason, books keep going up in price, and their is a large discrepancy in how books by different writers are priced.
Perhaps it’s because, at the end of the day, even in the face of piracy, more people still buy music than books.
For the second big thing that happened today (or at least that I found out about today), regarding Orson Scott Card, pre-emptive commercial death-bed confessionals aren’t usually worth the paper they’re printed on. He argues that the gay marriage issue for him is moot. He’s not saying that he’s realizing that perhaps he was being a tad reactionary in his views. Rather, he’s saying that if Ender’s Game tanks at the box office, it will be because the world is filled with intolerant people.
It reminds me of the films that were made of Atlas Shrugged. The films did little to no box office and now languish in on-demand hell. But if you were to ask the filmmakers about the movies failure, it will be chalked up to an organized conspiracy of the Hollywood Liberal aristocracy, and not at all due to the fact that, by most accounts, the films were very poorly made and were marketed abysmally.
I don’t think we’ve heard the last of Mr. Card trying to dig himself out of this particular ditch.
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Remember all the hullabaloo that director Guillermo del Toro was going to do a film adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness?
Yeah, me too. Too bad it never happened. Don’t get me wrong, my inner Godzilla fan is excited to see his giant monsters getting pummeled by giant robots movie Pacific Rim, but I would really liked to have seen what a director with his sensibility and style would have done to the material.
Now, there comes word that he might be working on an adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s Slaughterhouse Five.
What makes it even more attractive is that Charlie Kaufman, the screenwriter for Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. If anybody can think of a way to render Vonnegut’s nightmare of the firebombing of Dresden on-screen, it’s Kaufman.
George Roy Hill made a film of the book in 1972, and it was (fairly) well received at the time. I’ve embedded the trailer for this film above (sorry for the commercials), it seems to hold up well (I haven’t seen it for a good twenty-five years or so), but I have no doubt that Kaufman’s version will be even more loopy.
That is, if the bloody film ever gets made.
There really isn’t much to talk about in the light of both the completion of the Penguin/Random House Merger and the fact that this is a holiday week.
However, before you go out to begin an extended period of grilling and (depending on where you live) illegal fireworks, please consider this: the Seattle Parks department is seeking out names for a new park under construction. One of the names under consideration is Octavia Butler.
While the science fiction author was not born in Seattle, she lived in King County for the last five years of her life.
And even though she is buried in Los Angeles, how cool would it be to visit Octavia Butler Park?
If such things matter to you, you can vote for a name here.