jueves, 23 de abril de 2015

The customer is the market

[UPDATE AT BOTTOM]I like going to market. Not "the grocer" or "the mall". Think something similar to Borough Market (London, UK). I was raised going to market, I'm raising my kid... It develops a certain sensibility of the relationship between seller and customer.

My father went from travelling salesman to co-CEO of a mid-sized business during some of the worst crises in Spanish history, current one included. I learned certain ideas of capitalism on his knees.

I've said before that bookselling seems to piss on both, customer relationships and capitalism. It's not the only one.

You see, my market experience and my awareness of small and mid-sized businesses makes me try to buy local, makes me glad every time I find a local business for something I used to call from far away. And yet, I keep doing it less and less.


Last year, about this time, several hatchet men were joining voices to raise the prices I paid for my books. Some months earlier, several bloggers at a SF imprint’s site were both insulting anything out of their experience and saying "my way or the highway"; my answer to that kind of rhetoric has been predictable since... forever.

This autumn I kept trying to tell several writers that keeping exclusivity on Amazon was not sensible. I was discarded, unimportant, a nuisance of an anecdote. My reaction was about that, yes. So was, probably, the one that scores of readers had after searching those books to no avail.

Some days ago I tried to reach a fountain pen store through email; it's maybe a third of a mile from home. I explained them I'd been a fountain pen user and I wanted to get back on the horse. Their first answer directed me to the website (which I had already told him I'd visited), their reply to my further questioning is yet to arrive...

This Christmas I was searching for some whisky rocks, at an "off-license" shop [*] maybe 200 yards from my own door. It was Christmas, so some delay was understandable. Yet, I insisted after that... and I'm still waiting. Well, no; waiting no more. Haven't bought him a beer since.

A friend had the same happen with knives. He had to buy some Spanish knives, a specific kind of knife and a grinding wheel (Spanish brand) at foreign suppliers. Two burst of shopping, about 400 bucks, for something he spent several days searching around, finding problems everywhere.

But markets dwindle. I was talking with a butcher last week, and when the refurbished market opens, there will be about a fourth of the butchers that were there when he started, about half the number that were five years ago.

Fountain pen users are not getting any younger, but, sure, please do alienate returning customers, much less new ones.

And, guys, don't think for a second this does not apply to writers. The recent Hugo ruckus made drop several writers I'd enjoyed, made me recover one (kudos to Mrs. Kowal). And yet, some writers insist on pampering their publishers, on being gross to some abstract group of readers, not realizing that readers are everywhere, that they don't often match their perception, and that... we can go somewhere else.

And people still wonder if the SF market is diminishing. That of the Big Names? Sure. But small publishers are everywhere, Kris Rusch is publishing a long novel a month... in a specific series, above and beyond her normal, and smaller similar stories are everywhere. Published from a garage, sold through amazon, while the Big Names in publishing and bookshops falter.

Don't put hurdles in your customers' path.

Don't insult your customer.

Is it eally that difficult?

Take care.

[*] It works different, here, but the idea is about that.

UPDATE: Got the pens through amazon-ES and Fontoplumo, a Netherlander site. A place that sells fountain pens a sneeze short of 7000 €, but also in the teen-range, plus inks and notebooks. A place whose caretaker sent me a personal email warning me that Monday is a national holiday for them and the post is going to be delayed. And a slight discount for future orders. I can assure you I didn't buy anything in the high price range. And, yet, I got customer service. Compare.

miércoles, 22 de abril de 2015


Yes. Yet another.

I'm going to try my best to give my thoughts about those. From the POV of someone who hasn't (yet) read most of the work, or who doesn't much care for American politics. Not my country, not my starting assumptions. I can love Spinrad's A World Between and certain Michael Z. Williamson's Freehold. Or Drowning Towers, by George Turner and works by John Ringo (we shall not mention the last Paladin of Shadows, though).

Now, in general, there's a lack of information around the Hugos that's biting SF in the ass. With poison and serrated teeth. Specially as it receives increased eyeballs. For example, if the Campbell Award for new writers is for writers who've first published professionally in the last two years, and there's a prize in the Hugos for essay, how come Eric S. Raymond is in the slot? The Cathedral and the Bazaar, 1997. And others after that. Or, why are markets that qualify for pro status in the SFWA labelled as "semipro"? How some writers could indie-pub things in the past and have them in the ballot following the year these were published "professionally" and yet have the same denied to Wright's novelette. I can think of legit reasons for all these, but they should be explained. Publicly, in the same web page as the Hugos. If they're not explained, it harms the image of the Hugos. Again.

So, I'm not much into this years nominations. Likely in part because both puppies went either too wide (I might have proposed Butcher... and it would have been difficult: I don't touch Hachette) or too narrow (I don't touch Vox). Mind you, we better get used to that. The comfort (heh!) of previous issues is gone. Either forget about awards anything similar to what they are (close them or let them be controlled by rabid dogs) or open them far and wide (as I understand it, the original purpose of the Sad Ones); but if you open them far and wide, if you really do, be prepared for surprises. Because people you don't know will be entering in droves. [*]

Don't close up, guys. Hachette did. Traditional publishing has. And it's a shadow of what it used to be. Myself, these days, hardly read any "big" house books. Certainly, beware of insulting your own readers, you dolts! Saying some things because that's what the publishers' side is saying is silly. You can ditch your publisher (go indie, if everything else fails), but you can't ditch your readers!

Now, more specific:


I haven't read any of those. I haven't bought Hachette or Tor for quite a while, as explained above. I can't see any reason for the "No award!" cry, though. First, because both houses have pretty solid SF histories. Second... well, Leckie has a pretty hefty award density. Kevin J. Anderson... I mean, Kevin J. Anderson, guys! That's like doubting Resnick, Brackett, Rusch... [+] Butcher... I rather prefer his earlier books, but I'll likely enjoy this one. The other two? A mixed race up for king having troubles? A Chinese work? Call the Genrish Inquisition! These are... What? WASP?

Also, I think Kloos is seriously mistaken. The award is not decided by a certain MENSA-proud loudmouth (Voldemort; it's shorter than He-Whom-I-Won't-Name). It's decided by the fans. It's rich that someone who writes about Valor awards can't realize that. A bit like a soldier dismissing an award because he doesn't like the officer who signs the recommendation. Don't. Ditch. Readers.


Kratman: I usually (not always) enjoy him. Yes, he's uncomfortable. Your point? Or you find Spinrad or Turner a balm? I don't know a thing about Arlan Andrews or his work. Analog's a solid name, though.

John C Wright: Okay... I think I've read something by him, in some shared anthology. Can't tell what, right now. I don't like several blog posts of his, though. And... Okay. A nomination per category, I could understand. Three in a single one? Bad taste, man. 3? Really? TV series have the excuse of having different staff in different episodes. What's his? Besides bad tactics, I mean. I think Trek renounced an option in the 90s to increase the exposure of the other candidate. I personally think these situations should be merged.


Analog in triplicate. Should be good. The name has heft. About the same regarding IGMS, even if I consider Card a liability (those declarations just before the premiere? Really? Couldn't he wait?) Lightspeed, about same. Plus, the magazine has a certain cred for minorities. I don't share that view, but it should protect it from certain kinds of fallout.

Now, Wright, the same one I mentioned above, was discarded on a technicality. I wouldn't have had a problem with this nomination. It's a different category. I am having problems about the way it was discarded, since it's not coherent with previous experiences. It should be clarified publicly.

Short story

By and large, the same as with Analog above.

However... How exactly a group decrying the "WASP-ness" and general ISM-ness of certain proposals finds the gall to push a lesbian off the list escapes me.

Related work

Hey! This time I've actually sort of read a couple. The one in Baen's site and, likely, some of MZW's writings. The rest, see the previous two.


Sorry, "graphic novel". Yes, sure. You just saw why there are more people at ComicCon. Pretentious will get you so far, not an inch further.

Rat Queens, kickass women by an artist with a lesbian BDSM comic, a paranormal romance, an epic fantasy... I don't see why there should be a problem with this one, unless some people don't want to be reminded about Croatia and the mess the West did there. But you certainly can't accuse him of cisthis or WASPthat. I don't know about the rest, but they look solid.


Long this and that. On a glance, the most widely represented roster. A hard SF story (Interstellar), a not-so-hard adventure (Edge of Tomorrow) with time travel. Lego... raises an eyebrow, but I haven't seen it. Will have to, I suppose. Captain America is about as SF as James Bond, I'd say.

Guardians of the Galaxy? Monte Cook's Planescape. Enough said.

I strongly dislike Cruise and anything related to Hubbard's bastard child. This doesn't mean I'm going to (try to) boycott the film.

TV episode

As before, but short.

Doctor Who. If you have troubles with that, you're reading the wrong guy. Flash... I didn't really enjoy it that much, but origin stories are usually pretty SFish, even if sometimes a tad soft. Thrones... Haven't seen it. Personal issue about unfinished sagas (Wheel of Time, anyone?). Grimm and Orphan look interesting.

Editor, shorts

In general, I don't know squat about them. Also... No WMG? Fiction River, guys! [#]


See above. I'll recognize some work, because some names ring a bell, but my brain and names are out of phase.

Semipro zine

I see no reason against them, but that they are classified as "semi" pro is an insult all the way around. See the introduction to this post.


I really don't have the foggiest idea.


See above. I don't really like the medium.

Fan writer

Okay... Why? Why is a certain quantity of sales in self-publishing enough for entry into the SFWA and yet those same sales put you in the "Fan writer" slot? Since this ruckus about the Hugos is possibly going to imply a revision, I'd suggest looking into things like that. Or "semipro" magazines, or time limits, or PR, or... Guys, it's so broken it ain't funny, and yet you keep pointing at the upset uncle and the rude in-law.

Fan artist

Will have to look deeper. At least one looks a tad too professional for my taste and my understanding of the category.


Eric. S. Raymond.


Cordova? New?

We'll see if I actually like them. I really don't know. However, what I can't see are reasons to dispute this is SF/F. Or even to argue that most of the candidates are some sort of Adolf Khan. I can argue some classifications, some ideas. But the rage against those works is, at the very best, misdirected. Also, childish.

Take care.

[*] An aside, but related. I recall when the Spanish SF fandom had trouble WRT that. On one hand "we're always the same ones, we're not enough...", but on the other, any suggestion to open up to manga or TCGs was a heresy. Even trekkies were barely "in". Fivers were a weird... subset of Trek, almost. Considering one of those against heresy was the original distributor of Magic, the Gathering in Spain... (Nicknamed, adequately enough, The Pope). While numbers are inflated, the local ComicCon has about three figures over the SF Con.

[+] Sigh... Been done, has it not? Sorry. Not US. I didn't recall that. It does illustrate my point in more ways than I could wish, though.

[#] Next year I'm going to push for the Anniversary Day series, I warn you.

sábado, 11 de abril de 2015

Luxury and the price of the commercial artisan

I was with some friends for Palm Sunday. We had some fun times, and we checked, among other things and mostly for the fun of it, Montblanc fountain pens and knives (we did have to buy some kitchen knives, but we explored some extra).

I kept some of that exploring at home, from the computer, and something has been bothering me.

We've lost the core idea of craftmanship. You see, when I was a late teen, the core Montblanc pen was about 100€. These days, it's about six times that. That's not inflation. It's the price handmade fountain pens are sold at.

There are similar differences in knives, but this will do.

We've reached a point where a demi-luxury brand (because there are way more luxurious things than the basic Montblanc), machine made, thinks it's worth the same than the artisan (maybe machine helped but still artisan) producer.

When an ebook is priced in the high teens and pundits defend the agency price and the uniqueness of Books written by Snooki while artisans, indies, price their books reasonably and, from obscure sites, sell about as much.

Being out of touch can hurt.

Take care.