Dynamist Blog

Neal Stephenson's Anathem on sale for $1.99 for Kindle

I've written columns for Bloomberg and TheAtlantic.com taking issue, in different ways, with publishers' stubborn refusal to recognize price elasticity when deciding how to price their e-books. In recent months, however, I've noticed that, unlike most publishers, HarperCollins gets it and, in particular, understands how price elasticity interacts with short-term sales on books whose authors have big fan bases. In short, if you give them a low enough price, a lot of fans will buy electronic copies of books they already own and also recommend them to new readers. If you follow my Twitter feed, you might have noticed, for instance, the $1.99 sale they ran on the Kindle version Neil Gaiman's American Gods (now back to $9.99) and a later one for his Neverwhere.

The latest example is a similar $1.99 sale on the Kindle edition of Neal Stephenson's excellent novel Anathem, which I coincidentally just listened to on CDs (28 of them--it's fat). I already own the Kindle edition--which came in handy when a CD was scratched at the most famous line in the book (about a protractor), and I had to do a search to find out what I missed. But if you don't and you like science fiction with vivid settings and big ideas, this is a great deal. And for $1.99, it's so cheap you don't have to feel obligated to tackle it any time soon. Here's the Amazon link. And here's an article I wrote on why short-term sales are a good idea. HarperCollins seems to up the urgency by not saying when the sale ends--but "soon" is a good guess. I wonder if they'd be up for a sale on The Substance of Style...

UPDATE: HarperCollins has agreed to a Kindle sale on TSOS, starting May 1. Watch this space, Twitter, or Facebook for details.

Where Are David Brooks & HuffPo's William Bradley Getting Their Story Ideas?

It certainly must be at the same idea-supply store. Here's Brooks in the NYT. Here's Bradley on HuffPo. Both Thursday columns tell the exact same story: Ex-Marine Nathan Fletcher would be running for mayor of San Diego but the stupid right wingers won't endorse him. "The San Diego Republican Party has moved sharply right recently" and "spurned Fletcher in the mayor's race, endorsing the more orthodox conservative, Councilman Carl DeMaio" (Brooks). "His party has moved further to the right, with its endorsed candidate, San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio, helping lead the way" and "the San Diego Republican Party endorsed a much more conservative city councilman over Fletcher." (Bradley) I don't think I mixed up the quotes, but who can tell?

I knew Carl DeMaio slightly when he was barely out of college and working for the Reason Public Policy Institute. RPPI was a very wonky place and he didn't seem like a scary guy, but maybe he's taken on some unsavory positions. I don't know, and you won't know either if you rely on Brooks or Bradley to tell you. They aren't interested in the actual candidate's policies, only in using DeMaio as a symbol of evil right-wing crazies. Or maybe they don't know anything about his policies, since maybe whoever's feeding them this story didn't bother with that part of it.

Update: My friend Cosmo Wenman, who lives in the San Diego metro area (and also pointed me to the Reason.tv video below), points out that Carl DeMaio is San Diego's first openly gay city councilman, a fact that probably didn't turn up in the 10 minutes David Brooks spent researching his column* but that Bill Bradley, a veteran California political writer, surely knows. So why does he mislead readers by emphasizing Fletcher's pro-gay credentials, leaving us to infer that DeMaio is a social con? "Fletcher has also backed gay rights, giving an emotional speech in the Capitol as a decorated Marine veteran opposing the "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" policy and voting for legislation requiring curriculum materials to reflect the role of gays and lesbians in history. " Before he turned hero of the moderates, Fletcher was trying to out-conservative DeMaio by, among other things, gay-baiting. Also a HuffPo commenter supplies the missing policy content, which is exactly what you'd expect from a former RPPI guy. He is "all about privatizing City services." A fiscal wonk. Scary!

Professor Postrel caught Patt Morrison gushing over Fletcher on KPCC yesterday. I haven't listened to the show, but if you're interested, here's the link. You can tell me whether Fletcher's gay-baiting came up.

Monday Update: Cosmo spots LAT columnist George Skelton recycling the same story, spun the exact same way.

*About how long I spent on this blog post. If it were a column, I might have started with DeMaio's RPPI studies.

Has Jane Mayer Destroyed the Cato Institute?

This Breitbart article on the ongoing Kochs-vs.-Cato fight makes stronger claims than its evidence supports. (One damning quote doesn't make Ed Crane responsible for Jane Mayer's hit piece.) But it does claim one piece of new reporting, which confirms my own hypothesis that the fight is a direct result of Cato's reaction to Mayer's piece--trying to distance Cato rather than defend the Kochs.

Mayer's New Yorker article prompted a September 2010 phone call between David Koch and Crane. According to a source with direct knowledge of the call, Crane alleged that the damage to the Koch brothers' reputation had been so severe and had generated so much intense (and negative) media scrutiny that the Cato Institute's association with the Kochs had now become a liability. To remedy that, Crane said that Cato's shareholder arrangement should be scrapped. Specifically, Crane said the Kochs ought to forfeit their shareholder rights. Furthermore, Crane proposed radically altering Cato's existing governance structure to that of a "self-perpetuating" board.

If the report is correct, Jane Mayer has probably destroyed the Cato Institute.

Retouching as Relief Work

When photo retoucher Becci Manson went to Japan to help with tsunami relief, she wasn't expecting to use her professional skills. But, like Deborah Rodriguez of the famous Kabul Beauty School (discussed in The Substance of Style), she discovered that people in dire straits often want more than food, shelter, and clothing. In this case, they wanted their old photos saved. From an article telling her story on the Creativity website:

Originally, she was slated to be in Tohoku for three weeks, helping with evacuations, food, shelter and clothing. But people were bringing in cameras and photographs they found among the piles and piles of debris everywhere. So Manson started to hand-clean them.

When Manson realized how much there was to be done, she got on Facebook and asked if there was anybody who might want to help. "Overnight, there was tons of enthusiasm," she said. "I really realized then what we could do."

In June, Manson returned to the U.S., grabbed some equipment, made a few more contacts, and went back to Japan, deciding that she would stay until All Hands had to pack up and leave.

Amazon's "Marketplace" Trust Problem

Here's an interesting article on a problem for Amazon customers: "genuine" replacement parts that aren't. Perhaps because Amazon's Marketplace has grown so large, a lot of phony claims have slipped in--including ones on products actually fulfilled by Amazon.

The good news in all instances – and not coincidentally Amazon's ultimate defense – is that Amazon was willing to take everything back and pay return shipping. The not-Canon toner cartridge went back (repurchased at Costco), the Lenovo battery went back (ordered later from NewEgg.com) and the faux Dirt Devil filters, which I kept, led to an accepted offer of a $10 promotional credit to cover the price difference.

Was I satisfied? Yes. Was I happy?

You can guess the answer to that. This sort of "voice" criticism is as important as the "exit" to other sellers, and, judging from the comments, Amazon needs more of it on this subject. Too few customers are using the quality control mechanisms described in the comments by honest sellers.

This Is a Test

I'm working on a way to make posts easier, enabling me to restart the blog. This is a test of the system.

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