Sunday, February 07, 2010

- The Sociology of Snow

After the recent giant snowfall, it suddenly became clear that snow made manifest all kinds of hidden things. It was like dusting for fingerprints. Suddenly, all kinds of things that are normally invisible, marked only in the air, are now marked in... water. And HA! The water is solid. It is snow. Everyone can see every step you have taken, the mark of your foot, the path you have chosen.

And what fascinated me in a city was that it also became a visual declaration of everyone's relationship with otherstheir social contract was declared for all to see: upheld, breached, broken. Leaving us to shake our heads. To speculate. To categorize.
Just down the street there's a house full of "those college kids." Here are their stairs and front sidewalk:
Yes, true to stereotype no one did anything ever. No effort was made to clear their own stairsone can imagine the internal dialogue: "I'm cool. I can make it down. Why waste my time making any easier for anyone else?"  

As for sidewalk, the conversation might go, "Public sidewalk you say? Litigation? Hey, I'm not going to have to pay for anything. Someone's parents would have to ante up if something happens and we're out of luck."
Recent addendum: Boys had visitors of the female type after a giant snowfall and were heard to announce loudly as they toiled up the snow covered steps, "Someone stole our shovel!" Good line....
Then there's what I call the "Me 'n' Mine...but not You."

college.jpg Yes, a carefully cleared personal walkway, but then all bets are off. The sidewalk? No additional effort expended for their fellow maneven though they are going to be walking on it fairly frequently too. The personal pain of shoveling is limited solely to the area of 100% personal gain. Anything that others might benefit from (even though they also benefit) is not effort worthy.
Below we seem to have a No Man's Land in front of a Gas Station. Perhaps they are not liable? They certainly don't seem to have made any effort to clear the sidewalk, allowing the path to be created by many feet heading for bus stop, etc.
no mans land.jpg 

I titled the one below "Me 'n' You 'n' My Car." Here, the person (I'm thinking guy, but don't want to be sexist) cares enough about the car to buy it a little outfit, to clear their own stairs, to clear the car's path AND to clear the public walkway while 
they were at it. Nice, eh?
me n you n my car 2.jpg Below is another ode to one's car. Someone had not only cleared the sidewalk, and the car, but also created this adorable little path to their Mini. I've titled this "Me 'n' My Mini." I thought this especially charming as it may only work once. When they drive off, there's no guarantee the spot will still be there on their return.  
And just down the road there was the sad sight of a comparatively uncaring and neglectful car owner. Their formerly "hot" new VW Bug lies buried under a heap of snow. No path, no interest, no warm intentions. Can you see how snow has made everyone's intentions and attitudes almost uncomfortably visible in a way previously invisible to all?
Some techniques: here's exactly a one shovel width walkway. Beware people with strollers! You have to back up and find a pull out to allow them to pass, just as if you were a car or trying to get to the bathroom on an airplane! one shovel width.jpg 

Unlike the nearby Gas Station, this stately home and museum (Tudor Place)takes up almost an entire block and they always clear the sidewalk, even though most is just along their garden. (Just discovered their secret: Snow Blower!) The dog walkers and joggers are very appreciative. tudor place litigation.jpg
And of course, if there's money in it, effort is expended. Commercial establishments tend to have very welcoming sidewalks.  

college.jpg And I haven't even touched on methodology! The shovelers (elbow grease & the muscle power), the sweepers (getting those nooks and crannies), the salters (no expense spared, little effort, maximum result, maximum negative environmental impact). And snow blowers--rare in a city, but I'm much more sympathetic to them than the irritating leaf blowers! Then the participants themselves: the do-it-yourselfers (voluntary and volunteered), the hire-it-outers, the hire-me-please-ers.
So that is my photo essay on the sociology of snow.  For those of you that live snow-deprived lives, this may be a glimpse into a new world. For those whose winter starts in October and ends in May, this may not go far enough....
Isn't it fascinating how snow makes people's attitudes to others, to their possessions, to what they consider "worth their effort" so visible? And while our interpretations may not always be accuratean owner may be absent, infirm, equipment-less, whateverI do enjoy speculating!
Do you live in a city or town? What do you do/not do and why? I'm fascinated!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Amazon Vs Mcmillan--or "Yes, Amazon's at it again..."

Well, some may get their entertainment by watching those Taiwan reenactment animatronic clips of Tiger & Elin, or Jay and Conan in superhero outfits going at it, we get to be entertained by chest thumping in our own publishing space, with Amazon taking a page from James Mason in The Seventh Veil ("If you won't play for me, you won't play for anyone!") in classic monopolistic strong arm technique, as, indeed they have done before.

I just found the attached poignant and illustrative story in the wikipedia excerpt for "memory hole" ( you might enjoy:

"In an ironic twist of fate, in 2009,'s electronic book, the Kindle, was purged of copies of Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm. Customers who earlier downloaded those books, found them surreptitiously erased from their Kindles, in what some said was the books' being "sent down a memory hole."[4] The book retailer denied accusations of "Big Brother-like behavior", and stated that the books were uploaded to the Kindle store by a publisher who did not have reproduction rights, thereby necessitating the deletion. "We removed the illegal copies from our systems and from customers' devices, and refunded customers," a spokesman said.[5] Some critics likened this to Barnes & Noble selling a book, then burglarizing a house to reclaim it whilst leaving a check. stated that they might not repeat the actions in the future.[6] A Shelby Township, Michigan student is the lead plaintiff in a proposed class action lawsuit, which claims that his annotated notes for a class were rendered "useless" when his Kindle's copy of 1984 was purloined using secret technology to invade his computer via an undisclosed Trojan horse.[7]"

I've included a bit from a recent Publishers Marketplace, and John Sargent's letter, posted there, but there's stuff all over the web, on various sites, Publishers Weekly, Publisher's Marketplace, and of course some of Amazon's Kindle users are a bit hot under the collar if you want to look further.

So just to say--support all your bookstores and choices in the electronic sphere if you can.  Allowing one to be overly dominant is not good for business.  And if we need additional proof, Amazon has amply demonstrated that should it dominate the market, it would not hesitate for an instant to behave ruthlessly in its short term self interest, to the detriment of it's customers and content providers.  I did just see the Darwin movie. I should know this!

Publisher's Marketplace Saturday, January 30, 2010

Since I couldn't figure out how to do a link to the newsletter I'm just excerpting my favorite bit:

"Another senior publishing executive said that "Amazon may 'spin' that the consumer is at the heart of the decision, but really their goal is a monopoly position in books. Publishers don't want a monopoly - they want consumers to have choice through a number of partners and channels. They want digital pricing which allows bricks and mortar retailers to survive and thrive alongside a growing digital market." That person added, "This reaction proves what Amazon's true motives are. It is a signal to any other publishers not to change the model and weaken Amazon's pathway to a monopoly. I hope authors, agents and publishers see what these motives are and stand by Macmillan."

To: All Macmillan authors/illustrators and the literary agent community
From: John Sargent

This past Thursday I met with Amazon in Seattle. I gave them our proposal for new terms of sale for e books under the agency model which will become effective in early March. In addition, I told them they could stay with their old terms of sale, but that this would involve extensive and deep windowing of titles. By the time I arrived back in New York late yesterday afternoon they informed me that they were taking all our books off the Kindle site, and off Amazon. The books will continue to be available on through third parties.

I regret that we have reached this impasse. Amazon has been a valuable customer for a long time, and it is my great hope that they will continue to be in the very near future. They have been a great innovator in our industry, and I suspect they will continue to be for decades to come.

It is those decades that concern me now, as I am sure they concern you. In the ink-on-paper world we sell books to retailers far and wide on a business model that provides a level playing field, and allows all retailers the possibility of selling books profitably. Looking to the future and to a growing digital business, we need to establish the same sort of business model, one that encourages new devices and new stores. One that encourages healthy competition. One that is stable and rational. It also needs to insure that intellectual property can be widely available digitally at a price that is both fair to the consumer and allows those who create it and publish it to be fairly compensated.

Under the agency model, we will sell the digital editions of our books to consumers through our retailers. Our retailers will act as our agents and will take a 30% commission (the standard split today for many digital media businesses). The price will be set for each book individually. Our plan is to price the digital edition of most adult trade books in a price range from $14.99 to $5.99. At first release, concurrent with a hardcover, most titles will be priced between $14.99 and $12.99. E books will almost always appear day on date with the physical edition. Pricing will be dynamic over time.

The agency model would allow Amazon to make more money selling our books, not less. We would make less money in our dealings with Amazon under the new model. Our disagreement is not about short-term profitability but rather about the long-term viability and stability of the digital book market.

Amazon and Macmillan both want a healthy and vibrant future for books. We clearly do not agree on how to get there. Meanwhile, the action they chose to take last night clearly defines the importance they attribute to their view. We hold our view equally strongly. I hope you agree with us.

You are a vast and wonderful crew. It is impossible to reach you all in the very limited timeframe we are working under, so I have sent this message in unorthodox form. I hope it reaches you all, and quickly. Monday morning I will fully brief all of our editors, and they will be able to answer your questions. I hope to speak to many of you over the coming days.

Thanks for all the support you have shown in the last few hours; it is much appreciated.

All best,