A look inside the ebook (counter) revolution

The Justice Department has looked at the method in which ebooks are priced and doesn’t like what it sees. Apple and five major publishers are at the heart of the controversy—a pricing method and potential antitrust violation called “the agency method.” Publishers set the price and all the players get their cut. This was designed as a way to get at big, bad Amazon.com, the Honey Badger of the industry, which prices books as it pleases — and wants to sell ebooks more cheaply to fuel sales of its Kindle products.

Of course, the practice is standard. I set the selling price on my ebooks, too. The agency method is actually a boon to independent authors, since it allows them to set their prices low to help build sales when they don’t have a traditional publishers’ marketing clout. For example, right now, I’m running a promotion, setting the price of one of my books at 99 cents.  If the agency model was abolished, I could sell my books to retailers for 50 cents and hope they sell them for 99 cents, but they might decide instead to sell them for $9.99. Fewer books would sell, and I’d still nly get 50 cents. So, if the e-tailers moved away from the agency model, it could take away independent authors’ pricing flexibility, which would be bad both in the short and  long term. 

But underpricing isn’t the problem the Justice Department and others are looking at right now.

An antitrust case is pending. Reuters has more:

In a parallel class action lawsuit now in a Manhattan court, Apple is accused of working with publishers just before its iPad was launched in 2010.

The suit brought on behalf of e-book customers, alleges Apple and the publishers colluded to shift e-book pricing from a wholesale method, where retailers pay for the product and charge what they like, to agency pricing, where publishers would tell retailers what they can charge.

The class action lawsuit, filed by law firm Hagens, Berman, Sobol, Shapiro, LLP, accuses Apple of being a “hub” for collusion.

Apple’s push for agency pricing was detailed in Walter Isaacson’s biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs.

The book says that Jobs, who died in October, was aware of publishers’ frustration with Amazon. It quotes Jobs as saying: “So we told the publishers, ‘We’ll go to the agency model, where you set the price, and we get our 30 percent and yes, the customer pays a little more but that’s what you want anyway.’ … So they went to Amazon and said, ‘You’re going to sign an agency contract or we’re not going to give you the books.'”

To read the full article, click here.

The Scarlet Letter – in elementary school?

New Mexico school officials parade a girl in front of her schoolmates in an assembly and announce that she’s pregnant. Wow. Is this a case of bullying, or what? Valerie Strauss thinks so:

Outing a teenager as pregnant is nothing more than bullying, but when an adult does it, it sends a message that such behavior is acceptable. Whatever one thinks about the pregnancy of an eighth-grader, there’s no way to condone a school leader humiliating her in front of her peers.

Here’s the local report, filed by KOB.com in New Mexico:

A Gallup teen says she was kicked out of middle school then publicly humiliated by the school’s director and counselor because she was pregnant.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of New Mexico filed suit Tuesday against the Wingate Elementary School and the officials on behalf of Shantelle Hicks, 15.

Hicks was a student at the Wingate boarding school, which is near Gallup and is run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

She claims school administrators violated her constitutional right to equal protection under the law, Title IX’s prohibitions against sex and pregnancy discrimination and violations of her right to privacy

Read more.


Update: Brambleman now available at Barnes and Noble

Update: The Nook version of Brambleman is now available at Barnes and Noble online, which also overs readers the opportunity to pre-order the paperback version for only $12.78! (You should have a copy in your hands within a month.) This is the cheapest price it will be, I guarantee. The list price for this 464-page novel is $18.95, and the Amazon.com price is unlikely to be much under $15.00 (I would know).

Down-and-out Atlanta writer Charlie Sherman has no idea what madness awaits him when a mysterious stranger convinces him to finish a dead man’s book about a horrific crime that’s gone unpunished for decades. Charlie becomes convinced he’s been chosen by a Higher Power to wreak vengeance on those who profit from evil. Either that, or he’ll die trying. Eventually, he realizes the deal is an otherworldly setup.

Now available in ebook version at Smashwords. Available in all electronic formats. Buy or download a free samply today!

Rush Limbaugh’s apology dissected

Update: How poor a job did Rushbo do of apologizing? Advertisers continue to desert him and now radio stations are dropping his show AFTER his attempt at damage control. Read more.

Dear Prudence, advisor on manners and morals at Slate.com, has taken the time to analyze Rush Limbaugh’s apology for his attempt to stigmatize Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student who spoke out on the issue of insurance coverage of contraception. Or perhaps I should say, his attempt to apologize. Ms. Fluke has dismissed his apology as being essentially meaningless.

Throughout the controversy, Limbaugh and his allies have deliberately misconstrued what Ms. Fluke had to say—but then again, that was their purpose. Limbaugh’s comments were unacceptable in civil discourse. (And if you don’t know what he said, I envy you.) He ramped up the volume on his invective until he put the advertisers for his syndicated radio show in the position of having to back him or leave him. They’ve been leaving him ever since.

What does Limbaugh think of advertisers leaving his show?  Well, he thinks it’s a “shame,” but he also said this:

“They decided they don’t want you or your business anymore. This program is always about you… I knew the political inclinations of these people. They didn’t care that they were profiting, and I didn’t either. No radio broadcast will succeed by putting business ahead of the needs of its loyal audience.”

Apparently, pride cometh during a fall, too.

The coincidence of events and the man’s tone shout down Limbaugh’s claim that his apology is sincere. Indeed, Emily Yoffee, aka Dear Prudence at Slate magazine, has dissected Limbaugh’s apology and shows that there’s more wrong with it than there is to it.  It should be noted that in this case, her advice is unsolicited.

She makes a devastating case that Limbaugh has yet again provided us with a bad example—this time, it’s on how not to apologize. For her analysis, click here.

Global warming and freedom chilling

This is a story about an assault on freedom by a so-called freedom lover.

The Virginia Supreme Court has blocked the state attorney general’s attempt to pry into a former University of Virginia researcher’s private records on the subject of climate change. In what is a rather chilling assault on academic freedom, state attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a conservative Republican and climate-change skeptic, used his office in a fishing expedition in hopes of finding something to discredit the growing body of scientific knowledge on the subject.

Cuccinelli demanded the records under the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act. The University chose to fight him (even though he’s the school’s attorney), and the usual suspects—ACLU, AAUP, Union of Concerned Scientists—joined the fray. The state Supreme Court ruled against Cuccinelli not on First Amendment grounds, but on the technical application of the fraud law. The state law applies to individuals, and the university is not an individual.

If the court had based its ruling on First Amendment grounds, Cuccinelli would have been able to appeal it on a U.S. Supreme Court track. But since the case was decided on state law, this is the end of it. As the legal scholar Nelson Muntz would say: Ha, ha.

Still, it seems like a tremendous abuse of power for an attorney general to pursue such an ideologically driven case. But there’s been a lot of disturbing news coming out of Virginia lately. By the way, Cuccinelli calls himself “Defender of the Constitution” on his official website. This view of the man is not universal, however. From Wikipedia:

Several papers who chose not to endorse Cuccinelli wrote editorials critical of his political views. According to the Virginian Pilot, “Cuccinelli’s election would bring embarrassment to Virginia, instability to the state’s law firm and untold harm to the long list of people who don’t fit his personal definition of morality.” The Washington Post echoed a similar sentiment, writing, “given his bizarre ideas, he would very likely become an embarrassment for the commonwealth” in an editorial titled “Mr. Cuccinelli’s Bigotry”

Embarrassed yet, Virginians?

Here’s what the researcher whose records were coveted had to say, from Inside Higher Ed:

Michael Mann, the researcher, currently teaches at Pennsylvania State University. Via e-mail, he said that he was “pleased that this particular episode is over.” But he added: “It’s sad, though, that so much money and resources had to be wasted on Cuccinelli’s witch hunt against me and the University of Virginia, when it could have been invested, for example, in measures to protect Virginia’s coastline from the damaging effects of sea level rise it is already seeing.”

Mann said that he hoped the decision would send a message not only to Cuccinelli, but to others. Mann said that he and other climate scientists face “a coordinated assault against the scientific community by powerful vested interests who simply want to stick their heads in the sand and deny the problem of human-caused climate change, rather than engage in the good faith debate about what to do about it.”

The article is well worth reading in its entirety. Check it out.