Archive for December, 2009

My year of adventure in pain

Sorry I haven’t been keeping up the blog this last week. I said I would have some articles to put up on it, but life got in the way. Work and illness.

2009 has been, without doubt, the second worst year of my life. I haven’t said much about it during the year, because I don’t like to complain, and it would be tiresome to hear it too. But I always look for meaning in even the bad things that happen to us. This year, I have learned to be sympathetic to those in pain, in a way that you can only when you’ve experienced pain. I hope to bring that sympathy with me through to 2010 and beyond.

As much as I can find purpose in this dire year, I really want a better one for next year. Come January, I plan to set about making it just that.

This year I learned something about my writing too. I’m not as talented a writer as I thought I was. Actually, it’s not that I thought I was hugely talented (in some vain way), it’s that I just always assumed I had what it takes to “make it”. In the end, despite what anyone will tell you, publishing, like life, is a bloody lottery, even though you do your best. What I do about that in 2010, we’ll see.

For now 2009 is limping to a close, and me right along with it. I’m exhausted. Blindsided by a bad year that came out of nowhere. And a stomach bug over Christmas too, just to see out the year consistently! But I’m looking forward to the new year of hope.

I won’t wish you all a happy new year, because we can’t know what will come our way. However, I wish that you learn to have a good 2010, in all its sorrows or joys.

Add comment December 26th, 2009

Avatar

I was ambivalent about going to watch Avatar. The trailer, as with many Hollywood trailers nowadays, doesn’t leave a taste of mystery, but rather exposes too much of the thrust of the story, and revealed it to be a fairly standard, even cliched, tale.

And so it was.

Dances with Smurfs, as South Park lampooned it.

The story wasn’t a surprise, but the visuals were. The sheer amount of them. They were endemic in the film. In 3D, the film certainly looked 300 million dollars (or whatever it cost). With a budget like that I suppose the last thing they could afford to do was take risks with the story. It ticked all the psychological boxes, straight out of film-writing school: hero with a goal that changes half way through, meets beautiful girl, falls in love, earns the hand of said young blue maiden, big battle with the baddies at the end, good prevail over evil.

The themes of the story are surprisingly prescient, considering the story must have been written years earlier. James Cameron tapped into the zeitgeist of the time, and it seems even stronger now. Like many American films, the military figures dominantly, but this time they are the bad guys (or rather the unquestioning warmongering mentally is the enemy). It has a strong ecological theme too. It reminded me, in many ways of Final Fantasy. Remember that one? The last great reinvention of film, before Avatar. How quickly we forget reinventions!

One of the striking differences of the visuals in Avatar is the use of colour and light. Why is it that CGI has always been to represent dark a gloomly things thus far? It was nice to see something artificial realized so vivaciously. It enhances the themes too – the good guys full of colour and light, and their militaristic counterfoils in bland steel greys and muted khakis.

Is it the groundbreaking reinvention of cinema claimed by the hype? No: after all, how many films will have a budget like that? Perhaps it is a milestone though, a landmark consolidation of the state of CGI, thanks again largely to Weta Digital. The reinvention will come when such quality visuals become even more affordable for the average film budget of a non-blockbuster film that can afford to take risks with more original stories.

My expectations were low, but I did enjoy it more than I expected I would. At the very least, Avatar is a fantastic, immersive, vibrant, and entertaining sojourn from the real. Much needed in these times.

Add comment December 18th, 2009

What’s Amazon up to?

Dealing with corporate clients, handling their last minute rush requirements that absolutely have to be done by Christmas (happens every year!) got me thinking about the megacorps of publishing. The megacorp of publishing – Amazon. Ok, so bear with me. I’m have a suspicious mind. It comes from reading and writing all those thrillers.

When I first considered self-publication a year ago, BookSurge was the candidate. In the meantime, it has been subsumed into the great belly of the Amazon beast. Not long after, Amazon stated that the only vanity press they would list on their site was … BookSurge (CreateSpace as it has recently been renamed).

There’s the rub. And a portent of the future. That was a clear case of Amazon leveraging it’s online market dominance to push out other vanity presses, and so maximize its profits from that sector of the market. It is a common strategy of all megacorps, like Tesco and Walmart. Suppliers are so glad to get into chainstores like those, that they will take a financial hit for the sake of wide exposure. And the megacorp will squeeze them financially, because they know they will take it.

In the Internet age, if we are not vigilant, we will live in an age of monopolization of the distribution channels. The companies who control the distribution channels set the rules of the game, and can squeeze suppliers.

So who are Amazon’s book suppliers? The publishers? Yes and no. Mostly no. Because it is the authors who actually make the product. Amazon knows this. This is why CreateSpace makes such sense for them, especially in the long term, as I will explain shortly. If they capture the huge volume of vanity published authors, it doesn’t matter if they sell only a few books on each. Amazon aren’t fussy, because one person’s buck is as good as any other. Multiply a few book sales out by the volume of vanity authors they can capture (remember, they control the main distribution channel). And they can charge the author for the privilege of using their vanity services too (the willing supplier will be squeezed gladly for access to the distribution channel).

Publishers aren’t really the suppliers. They are the middle men in Amazon’s paradigm. Amazon need publishers for now, of course, because Dan Brown’s latest will drive browsers to Amazon in droves. But in the future … who knows. Apart from squeezing supplier’s profit margins, the other strategy megacorps use to maximise profits is shortening the supply chain. On the Internet, this is known as disintermediation. The middle men are kicked out, because the distribution costs are kept low, and the Internet company can connect supplier directly to customer. Authors linked directly to customer, by Amazon alone. Internet companies will use and tolerate any intermediary only so long as it makes financial sense for them. With Borders bookstores closing daily, will Amazon grab some high street pick-up points for their consignments on the cheap in a recession? If Amazon become the distribution channel for books, what’s to stop them signing contracts with Dan Brown once his contract with his publisher expires? What’s to stop them from setting up an X-Factor book site to crowd-source the next Dan Brown from the ranks of all the CreateSpace authors?

Publishers beware. And watch what Amazon is up to. Gradually, Amazon’s interests may be to push the publishers out of the chain and deal with authors directly. Small shifts, inexhorably, over time. Too suspicious for you? It’s not just me: Publishers need Amazon – but do Amazon need publishers?

The big worry, in such a doomsday scenario for publishing, is who would be left to fight back against the megacorp in the author’s interest?

But, for now, we’ll all happily use them. They’ve got the biggest, best distribution on the Internet. Right?

Add comment December 14th, 2009


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