The Death of the Independent Book Store

October 30, 2009 on 5:42 pm | In General | No Comments

Remember going to independent music stores? I remember when Ann Arbor was filled with them. They almost all died out. Even the venerable School Kids Records succumbed. After a while the larger chains such as Tower Records died out too.

These deaths had nothing to do with piracy or the internet. Nope, this took place well before Napster was even conceived and prior to the existence of what we now call the internet.

Back in the 90s the music industry decided to focus on the big guys, Best Buy, Walmart, etc to sell their plastic discs. For example, when I worked at a mom & pop music store back in the 90s, stores such as Best Buy were selling CDs cheaper than we could buy them. Eventually, most independent music stores died out because it was impossible for them to compete.

Apparently, it’s only a matter of time before independent book stores are dead too. From the Consumerist:

Independent book stores can’t even buy new releases for the low prices that Target, Walmart, and Amazon are offering them to the public — which has led to rationing in order to keep the independents from buying and reselling the books at a profit.

Apparently one can now buy new release books for about $5 cheaper than the wholesale price. From the WSJ:

“The retailers are losing money on each copy sold because publishers charge them about 50% of a book’s hardcover price. The prices for the 10 books involved in the promotion are also lower than the wholesale price independent booksellers pay for the merchandise.

Arsen Kashkashian, head buyer at the Boulder Book Store, in Boulder, Colo., said he had intended to buy as many as 70 copies of Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Lacuna” from Walmart.com, Target.com or Amazon, because their prices are “more than $5 cheaper than what we can get it for from the publisher, Harper.”

The books in question are from Stephen King, John Grisham, Dean Koontz and James Patterson among others. The books have list prices of $22 to $35, but can be found at retailers for about $9.

In five years, will everyone blame this on the internet?

Update – Nov. 6, 2009:

And so it begins. Borders To Close 200 Bookstores.

Update – Jan. 1, 2011:

Borders is unable to pay its creditors. eBooks are to blame.

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Ebert on Healthcare Reform

October 28, 2009 on 5:20 pm | In Ebert's Quotes, Economy, General, Health Care | 2 Comments

Ebert has a editorial on his blog ripping a part the libertarian and free market objections to universal healthcare. I love this part the best:

It has been argued that universal health care is an offense against individual liberty. I’ve been told by readers that they’ll deal with their own health care, thank you very much, and have no interest in government interference. At root this is a libertarian argument; conservatives are more likely to oppose it on the grounds that it undermines the free enterprise system. They warn of a Nanny State.

But what, I ask libertarians, about your families? Your children? What if the day comes that you lose your job-based health insurance and can’t afford your own? What if you’re denied coverage? That’s their business, they tell me. I should butt out.

But it won’t remain their business if a family member suffers a major illness. I know from personal experience that few people have the financial resources to deal with such an illness, and I suspect no one reading this is ready to deal with two. You and I will end up paying for them, even though they were unwilling to help pay for us.

I’ve written about this previously. It’s simply impossible for a family to financially survive a catastrophic illness or injury without the government giving a handout.

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Facebook users summed up in one perfect quote

October 28, 2009 on 12:17 pm | In General, Law, internet | 1 Comment

It’s not something I’m proud to admit, but I read advice columns everyday. Not for the advice, but for the bizarre situations people can get themselves into. In this one instance, the advice was pretty good.

A person wrote advice columnist Amy Dickinson asking how to deal with old people wanting access to young people’s Facebook accounts. Amy summed it up perfectly:

There are plenty of middle-age people capable of navigating on Facebook, but the experience is easier for everyone if the older generation accepts that Facebook “rules” are dictated by people who want to be able to reveal all — but don’t want for anyone else to violate their “privacy.”

This can be seen in the uproar over a decision in Canada where a court forced a person to turn over information he posted on his “private” Facebook account. People were shocked and outraged that their private writings, which were shared with countless friends, could be brought into court.

Facebook users want to share private details with their friends, but they want to keep those details private. That’s not how the world works. If you want to keep something private, you keep it private. The second you divulge the information to someone else, it’s no longer private. (Assuming that “someone else” does not have some sort of legal duty to maintain your secret, such as private conversations with your physician or maybe your clergy.)

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The Detroit Lions: Cutting off its head to save its finger!

October 20, 2009 on 3:19 pm | In Economy, General, Logic, Sports | 4 Comments

Most NFL fans know about the blackout rule. If the game does not sell out, you’re not able to watch or listen to it on local TV or radio. That never made sense to me. My analogy is a band on tour claiming that if a venue does not sell out, they’ll refuse to let their music play locally on the radio. How does that help the band?

There’s also a childlike meanness to the rule. Like the fans need punishment for not doing what they’re supposed to be doing. “If you won’t play my way, I’m picking up my toys and going home!”

The best case example in support of the NFL’s blackout rule would be a successful team with a winning record that still cannot sell out games. The players and team think, “God what else can we do? We’re winning games, why won’t people come and see us play?”

But even in that best case example, which I’d guess rarely happens, if ever, there is simply no reason to punish your fans. No one does a hobby or enjoys entertainment because they’re forced to. The minute you’re forced to do something, it becomes a chore.

It also ignores that the ticket prices in the NFL might be too high. However, instead of lowering prices, the NFL would rather punish its fans for spending its money on food, clothes, and mortgages. Is that how you build a fan base?

It also ignores the fact that by making it difficult to see games, the next generation of young people growing up will not be exposed to your team. So any short term benefits earned from the blackout BS will kill the support for your team in the long run.

Let’s face it, the vast majority of football fans do not go to see the games in the stadium. But yet they’re still fans. They still watch the game, listen to the game, and buy team merchandise.

If a team pulls its local coverage, so that the vast majority of fans cannot follow the games, how long will they remain fans? And because the children of these former fans did not grow up watching the local team, they’ll have no emotional tie to the team. So those future fans will be lost too.

I’m sure plenty of you are thinking that the blackout rule has been around for a long time and it has not killed any teams yet. But it has. Every time a team moves due to lack of local support, e.g., the Browns moving to Baltimore to become the Ravens. Or the Jacksonville Jaguars and five other teams considering moving to Los Angeles.

And the team I’m most concerned about is the Detroit Lions. They completely suck. Their suckage is legendary. Based upon the massive amount of suck, the Lions simply do not deserve any fans to go and watch them play. The whole “fair weather fan” criticism is complete bullshit. Fans should ignore teams that suck. Exactly what incentive is there for a team to do better if they’re selling out all of their games despite their losing record?

And think about this, would you consider buying your favorite fast food if it started tasting like shit? Would you buy CDs from your favorite musician if his music completely sucked? Would you continue seeing movies from your favorite actor, even though they completely sucked? And would you continue buying and drinking your favorite beer if they added horse urine as an ingredient? No of course not. When something sucks you stop supporting it.

And that’s why the Lions are in so much trouble. Right now there is no reason to go to the stadium to watch them. So the games are blacked out, so any remaining fans cannot watch. That means over time there will be fewer fans. Eventually the team will reach a tipping point where nothing will be able to save it and the team will be forced to leave the state and change its name.

Wait, maybe that’s a good thing!

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Thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are!

October 20, 2009 on 12:48 pm | In Logic, Religion | 1 Comment

The Flint Journal has a story about a grand-standing politician attempting to ban abortion. I added the following comment:

What I can’t understand is why these so-called “pro lifers” are so adamantly against any healthcare reform. A good example of this is right-wing nutjob Michele Bachmann’s statement that members of the Right should commit suicide rather than let even moderate healthcare reform be passed. Bachmann would take her own life, the lives of her friends and family, and the lives of her supporters rather than to give one poor child necessary healthcare. Exactly how is that extreme view pro life?!

Because I called Bachmann a “nutjob” a Christian named patman71 asked,

why is there so much hate coming from the “pro-choice” crowd?

Someone else responded:

didn’t you call someone a jackass?

This is how patman71 responded:

well i certainly did! people should think one in a while. look at this issue and think about it.look at what Jesus said.If people want to deny truth that is their problem but in the end we all are going to pay for our actions and I am ok with mine. are you?

For some bizarre reason, because he’s with Jesus, he’s allowed to call people names. That’s beyond “do as I say not as a do.” That’s an “I’m a fricken hypocrite.”

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Garth Brooks: Lock up 300 Million People so I can buy a new Mansion!

October 16, 2009 on 3:53 pm | In Copyright, General, Intellectual Property, Law | 1 Comment

Garth Brooks is back. I never knew he went away. But apparently he’s out of retirement and back in the news.

He’s complaining that the government is not doing anything to crack down on file sharing, which is allegedly killing the music industry, even though it’s not. (See also here, and here, and here.)

To the government he complains,

You’ve ignored us, because there’s 50,000 of us and 300 million voters. You’ve ignored us.

Think about that. Brooks is admitting that the use of file sharing is widespread. He acknowledges that everyone is doing it. But yet he wants the government to crack down on every single person in the US so that he can earn a few million more a year.

That’s some fricken balls! I almost feel like I should give him some credit for being so completely self-centered. It’s one thing to complain, “My family is starving so I need government help to feed my kids.” It’s another thing to complain, “Why won’t the government help me so I can buy my fourth fricken mansion?!”

I should point out that it’s already against the law to use P2P to infringe copyrights. The punishment for such use goes way beyond any physical crime. If I go to Walmart, stick a gun in someone’s face, and steal a CD, the most I’ll have to pay monetarily is for the price of that one CD, about 20 bucks. However, if I download a CD worth of music, I’d have to pay millions of dollars.

But yet that draconian law is not enough for Garthy. He wants more! Does he want incarceration? For all 300 million of us? Apparently so. Apparently, his “lost” money, which has nothing to do with P2P, is worth more than the liberty of every citizen in the US.

But this isn’t the first time Brooks put his bank account above the rights of citizens. He also claims that selling used CDs is stealing. I’m not making this up. According to Brooks, the simple act of selling a used CD is a criminal act. Of course he’s wrong. But your right to sell your stuff is nothing compared to Brooks’ right to buy a mansion.

Of course the main reason he’s having trouble selling CDs is that his time in the spotlight is over. When rock and roll killed off the careers of the vocalists from the 50s, Sinatra, Mathis, Cole, to name a few, those guys didn’t ask the government to stop the switch to rock music. They graciously accepted their time was over and moved on. It’s time for washed up has-beens like Brooks to do the same.

Artists of today realize that the net is not a hindrance to making great music, but is actually a great tool for connecting with fans.

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Garry Trudeau’s fix for the newspaper industry: Lock up the news behind a monopolistic pay wall!

October 6, 2009 on 7:05 pm | In General, Law | 2 Comments

Garry Trudeau recently spoke about the future of his comic and how the print news industry can move into its internet future:

I don’t believe there’s anything I can do personally to prepare for a post-newspaper future, other than hope that the large media companies will come to their senses and form a gated Web collective along the lines of cable TV. They need to form a news utility, financed by subscription or micropayments because going it alone has been disastrous for all of them.

Essentially, Garry Trudeau is arguing that our news (information about our planet, our countries, our cities and towns, our laws, and our lives) should be locked up behind a gate. That competition in the news industry should be tossed away. That we should allow for a single monopolistic collective to filter and disseminate what we read and learn. And lastly that we have to pay for that privilege.

Trudeau’s plan would completely screw us over, we’d get less news, we’d get less diverse news, we’d get highly filtered news, and it would cost us more.

One question for Garry Trudeau: What the frick do we the people get out of this deal?!

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Is salting food before you taste it really such a horrible thing?

October 5, 2009 on 8:17 pm | In General, Logic, Thought of the Day | 1 Comment

There’s what I’ll call a joke about people who salt food before they even taste it. The punchline is basically, how do they know the food needs salting before they’ve tried it?

I remember reading about a job recruiter who’d meet potential employees for lunch. He would not hire anyone who salted food without first tasting it, because such people are somehow impulsive as they’re acting without having all the facts. Dear Abby says it’s impolite to salt food you haven’t tasted. So if you salt food without tasting it you’re basically a rude idiot.

First, I’ll get this out of the way, I tend not to salt food. It’s not good for you, but even more so, I just never think about it. In fact I usually forget to salt even when I’m cooking, which is annoying. What I’m saying is that I’m neutral on this issue.

With that out of the way, I sort of understand the logic of the taste-before-you-salt argument. It doesn’t really seem to make any sense to change the taste of something without first knowing what it tastes like initially. And of course the person doing the cooking somehow feels slighted when someone does not trust his or her cooking enough to even taste it before changing it. However…

Would you ever in your life ask someone, “Why did you put ketchup on your fries without tasting them?” “Why did you put butter on your baked potato without tasting it?” “Why did you put tartar sauce on your battered fish without tasting it?”

It’s certainly possible that the fries are so good they don’t need ketchup, that the potato is so awesome it doesn’t need butter, and the battered fish is so incredibly cooked to perfection that tartar sauce is not necessary.

But yet we never ask those questions. People “always” put ketchup on their fries because of a constant conjunction of events in their pasts where they learned that “fries tend to taste better with ketchup.” The people who love highly salted food have learned the same lesson. They love salt, lots of it, so they pour it on accordingly.

Heck, one could ask why anyone adds salt to food while cooking. How does the cook know it needs salt prior to tasting it? It’s simple. Because the recipe always required a set amount of salt. If it needed it in the past, it certainly makes sense that it would be needed in the present.

So why do people get so riled up about people who like lots of salt? There are plenty of people who don’t like ketchup on fries, but people who do like ketchup on fries are clearly in the majority.

However, as an example, people who put steak sauce on steak are in the minority. My dad despises anyone who puts steak sauce on a steak. He thinks its an abomination. I think the reaction people have to steak sauce is very similar to those who like a lot of salt on food. Because the majority of people do not like it and would not add it, they’re perplexed at why anyone would add it. The fact that this minority is adding it without even tasting it first somehow makes it even worse.

You’re putting what on your food?! Did you even taste it yet? How do you know it even needs it?!

The same is true of my tartar sauce example above. It’s quite common to put tartar sauce on battered fish, but a lot of people consider it an abomination to put it on non-battered baked or broiled fish.

So in a nutshell, the reason people salt their food without tasting it is because they like it that way. And the reason this bugs other people is because they do not like it that way.

Is something as subjective as liking food a certain way really worthy of moralizing and passing judgment against a person? To me not hiring someone because they like salty food is about as asinine as not hiring someone because they like ketchup. There’s nothing wrong with either person. They’ve only learned the same lesson cooks and David Hume learned. If we liked it a certain way in the past, we’ll probably like it the same way in the present.

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