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It’s bubble time?

Warning: cynicism alert!!!file1601303090808.png

So, Amazon has missed its target (surprise, surprise) and its stock price has gone down by 10%, as investors realise that the Emperor really may not have any clothes. In other words, Jeff Bezos really doesn’t know what he is doing on a macro scale. Oh, sure, he may have some good ideas, but he also has some real clunkers. Want numbers? Here’s numbers:

The world’s largest online retailer yesterday reported a second-quarter loss of $126 million, more than double what was predicted, even as sales climbed 23 percent to $19.3 billion. Expenses jumped 24 percent to $19.4 billion.

And you know what the crazy part about investing in Amazon is? Want more numbers? You can’t have them. No-one knows what’s going on in there, because they never tell us.

Key portions of its business are absent from its financial reports, including Kindle sales, membership figures for the $99-a-year Prime program, and the profit it collects from its main online store.

(all this comes from Bloomberg)

Is this really a value investment when we have no idea what’s going on inside the company? In fact, even though the shares are falling, maybe this would be a good time to short Amazon:

…there’s little sign sizable profits are coming and Amazon issued a forecast yesterday for a wider loss in the third quarter.

Oh, goody. And you can’t blame it on market conditions. A major competitor of Amazon’s is turning a profit. Yes, Jeff, that’s one of those funny situations where you actually take in more money than you spend:

Amazon’s lack of profits stands in stark contrast to Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., which has better margins and is planning an initial public offering soon. The Chinese Web retailer disclosed in a prospectus in May that its profit totaled $2.8 billion for the nine months ended Dec. 31 on revenue of $6.5 billion. Amazon earned $274 million for all of 2013 on sales of $74.5 billion.

The difference between “visionary” and “fucking lunatic” is sometimes hard to see. But after this amount of time, it should now be possible to see that Amazon is not really “visionary”. Mind you, it’s not just Amazon where “investors” (the fancy name for gamblers with other people’s money) seem to have a blind spot:

Forty-seven percent of financial professionals view the equity market as close to unsustainable levels, while 14 percent already see a bubble, according to a quarterly poll of 562 investors, analysts and traders who are Bloomberg subscribers.

And if that depresses you, take comfort from the fact that at least a few people are getting rich out of selling… nothing, really:

Bloomberg’s Adam Johnson reports that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg saw his wealth increase by $1.6 billion on the company’s surging stock price.

The free market in action.

Entitlement – the 21st century sin?

This is something that has been gnawing at me for some time – the prevalent idea that the world, society, God, whatever, owes you whatever you think you are owed. It seems to be creeping in more and more to all kinds of areas, but I see it in writing, because that’s where I am right now.

A couple of examples.

The writer of the books on which the Game of Thrones series, George RR Martin, has been pestered by fans who want him to finish his series. And they’ve done it in a way that shows they feel entitled to his books, rudely asking him if he was going to do it before he dies.

His reply, as reported, was even more offensive, involving the word “fuck” and a middle finger waved in the face of the interviewer.

“I find that question pretty offensive, frankly, when people start speculating about my death and my health, so fuck you to those people.”

Whatever his private thoughts on the matter, surely as a public figure with a public that is responsible for your livelihood, you are not entitled to go around insulting your customers in public (because that ultimately, is who your readers are). Even his his spin doctor realised that this was a mistake and somehow tried to make it sound as though “those people” referred only to the interviewer. You are not entitled in this case to go around saying what you may think in private. At least his PR person understands this, even if there are several people defending his “entitlement” to arrogance and rudeness.

My second example comes from self-publishing (something which I have done in the past, and an area which I know can lead to self-delusion) and was triggered by a rather pathetic Facebook post from someone who writes for self-therapy, but can’t stand the negative reviews that her writing receives. I have two answers for her: don’t put your work out in public; and learn to write better. But no, she seemed to think that everyone should love her work (”my babies”), because she writes for herself and it is doing her good. And she was supported by her friends – “do what you do”, “screw the haters”, etc. I feel sorry for her – stuck in her world where she feels she is owed sympathy, and praise, and recognition, regardless of how much or how little talent she actually possesses.

She’s not the only one. I see this all over the place. Kickstarter, though it definitely has its uses, has far too many campaigns that seem to say “I’m wonderful, and I deserve money and fame and fortune (though I am not really willing to do the work that an Elon Musk would do to make an idea succeed)”.

Or am I too harsh? I just seem to see far too much of this kind of thing around me (and I really want to avoid the same fault in my own life).

Why murder for gain?

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Just an interesting little point which has a lot to do with Sherlock Holmes plots, made by Bloomberg Businessweek, of all places, in a discussion on inequality, specifically on Piketty.

Its point was about wealth disparity, as opposed to income disparity (and it is important to understand the difference), and the sentences that caught my eye were:

He [Piketty] details a dire possible future that looks a lot like the past—which is to say, a world in which inheritance trumps almost every other possible way of making money. There’s a reason that characters in Victorian novels spend so much time scheming to marry heiresses, murdering inconvenient older brothers, and ingratiating themselves with rich uncles. It’s more profitable than working.

Now that is an interesting thought, and while we may find some plots of Sherlock Holmes adventures to be somewhat incredible, there is actually some reason for the actions of some of the villainy. If you’re writing Holmes pastiches, or other fiction set in the same period, it’s a point to bear in mind.

Beta readers wanted (Asian romance)

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This is a new romance novel by my friend Ey Wade, who wants readers based in Asia to beta-read her novel. If this looks interesting to you, please contact me (click here) and I will pass on your name. Here is what she has to say about this:

When Clouds Touch is the embodiment of a story of soul mates, Paisley and Malachi.

Destined to meet since before birth, their story wraps us somewhere between loving and caring, wanting the best for someone, while wanting to see them happy, even when it is risky and they must obey the demands of family.

Paisley is a woman, meek, yet makes no apologies for seeking what she yearns. And she yearns for freedom and love, even at the cost of her health.

Malachi has a sense of humor and a sensitive side, determined to win her love, even against the wishes of her parents.

I want Asia-based beta readers because Paisley is of Japanese descent and I want to be sure I have the culture correct without being stereotypical and that my phrases are correct.This is the video I made for inspiration.

If you think you would enjoy being a beta reader for this novel, please let me know.

Ey’s site is here.

Review of “The Candy Machine”

The Candy Machine: How Cocaine Took Over the WorldThe Candy Machine: How Cocaine Took Over the World by Thomas Feiling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wish the grading system here was a little more subtle. This is really a 75% rating. Anyway…

I have never lived in a society where cocaine use was as common or popular as claimed in this book – in fact, I had no idea that the price had dropped in the UK and the USA to the extent where it was as widespread as described here, or that the boom had come and gone, so much of this was completely new to me. The book was written in 2008, and much has changed since then, especially in relation to states’ attitudes towards cannabis use.

The author is of the opinion (which I share) that the “War On Drugs” is a canard. For example, he quotes a 1994 RAND Corporation study which concluded that the US could spend $783,000,000 on reducing the amount of cocaine consumption in the US by 1% by attempting to eradicate the flow of drugs from Colombia through interdiction. Alternatively, it could spend $34,000,000 on drug-treatment programs (23 times less) to achieve the same result.

However, since the law-enforcement and security industries: police; prisons (including privatised incarceration facilities); military, etc. make so much money from the draconian and illogical (and also racially biased) anti-drug policies in place, including the seizure of assets, there is little pressure from those circles for a change in policy. There is also the American tendency to see military force as the answer to all problems (according to the author). Added to which is the supposed puritanical attitude of the American voter, which approved the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s, and opposition to which is supposedly the kiss of death to any American politician wanting to change the situation (illogical given the number of Americans who have apparently used illegal drugs). This would be bad enough if it were only the USA where this was happening, but the US bullies and forces other nations into its illogical and violence-based “solutions” to the problem, including cooperation with some very unsavoury groups indeed.

Feiling admits that drug abuse is a problem, and gives statistics to prove his case. While making a case for legalisation of drugs (or at the very least, decriminalisation), he points out some of the problems associated with them, but at the same time, argues that the cause and effect of drug use in poverty-rampant urban areas round the world are often confused. He quotes the examples of countries such as Portugal to show that decriminalisation does not automatically lead to a massive increase in drug use.

In the end, though I have a lot of sympathy with what he is advocating (and share many of his views), I found Feiling to be a little shrill and ultimately not 100% convincing, and I cannot say why. In the meantime, I do recommend anyone with any interest at all in the subject to read the book – there are some excellent sources, and a lot of good meaty facts to chew on and digest.

View all my reviews

Buy Alice (and Sherlock Ferret)!

If you’ve never read Alice in Wonderland (or more pedantically, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) with the original illustrations by Sir John Tenniel, you should seriously consider doing so. If you only know the dumbed-down picture books or the cartoon versions or Tim Burton’s parody, then you owe it to yourself to discover just why this has become a classic.

And so here’s our sales pitch. We (that is, the talented Andy Boerger, the hard-working folks at Inknbeans Press, and me) would love you to buy this particular edition of Alice – it’s a very nicely- produced reprint from Dover. Here’s the Amazon US link, or click here for your local Amazon:

201406061100.jpgAnd by all means order Through the Looking-Glass in the same edition while you are at it. It won’t break the bank, and you’ll have a book to remember.

But why, you may be asking yourself, are we suggesting that you buy books from a long-dead author, where there is no benefit to us if you do so?

Well, part of it is that we think these books should be part of everyone’s childhood. They are old-fashioned in places, true, but they still contain lines which can make children think, and then laugh.

‘Who did you pass on the road?’ the King went on, holding out his hand to the Messenger for some hay.

‘Nobody,’ said the Messenger.

‘Quite right,’ said the King: ‘this young lady saw him too. So of course Nobody walks slower than you.’

‘I do my best,’ the Messenger said in a sullen tone. ‘I’m sure nobody walks much faster than I do!’

‘He can’t do that,’ said the King, ‘or else he’d have been here first.’

But also, we want to sell our tales of Sherlock Ferret. And we have a cunning plan, my Lord (thank you, Baldric).

If people buy a well-loved book in a popular edition, like these Dover Thrift editions, and also buy our Sherlock Ferret titles, then the Amazon page will show:

Frequently bought together…

And everyone will then realise that Sherlock Ferret and the Missing Necklace, and Sherlock Ferret and the Multiplying Masterpieces are destined to become children’s classics, just like the Alice titles..

So what we want you to do is to buy Alice, and drop a Sherlock Ferret title (or two) into the Amazon cart while you’re at it.

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Thanks!

April is the cruellest month…

april.jpgSo wrote T.S. Eliot, but he wasn’t talking about book sales. However, I’ve been keeping records, thanks to Novelrank for a year now, of the sales of my books made through Amazon US, starting in June 2013, and ending with May 2014. April was definitely the cruellest month for me, even though there were fewer titles on my list at the beginning of the period than there were at the end.

However, there are some interesting things to be pulled out of all of this:

  • Print is not dead – at least in some genres. Amazingly, a full third of my sales through Amazon US were print copies. Of course, not every genre is going to sell as many print copies as Sherlock Holmes, but if you do not produce a print edition of your book … you may be losing out on sales. One of my titles sells as a 99¢ Kindle and a $5 paperback. Many months, the paperback has outsold the Kindle!
  • Making your book cheap won’t automatically sell it. My Kindle editions are not free, and only two of my titles (both short stories) are 99¢. My hardback compilation at $25 sells more than one non-Holmes $3 Kindle title.
  • Print sells more (and proportionately more) at Christmas – no big surprise, really.
  • Sherlock Holmes is still popular (another blinding flash of the obvious)
  • Amazon reviews don’t matter. A gross overstatement, but one of my best-selling titles has a mere nine reviews. The most helpful review, right at the top where everyone can see it, is a 2-star review (reasoned constructive criticism, I am not complaining about it). Another non-Holmes book has many more reviews, most of them 5-star, and it’s not selling.
  • I also look at the UK. Per head of population, more books get sold there. The criticisms are harsher, too! However, if you don’t include your titles on non-US Amazons, you are going to miss out on sales.
  • Amazon sales reporting as far as ranks are concerned is screwed up (another blinding flash of the obvious).

Of course, this is all from a relatively small sample sales of mainly specialist genre books, but it seems to me that there are some things here that apply to everyone.