Rocket Bomber

Amazon's Monopoly isn't Books.

filed under , 24 October 2014, 18:52 by

Amazon has a monopoly — but their monopoly power is not a stranglehold on books.

Amazon owns the customer base for books. Amazon owns the readers.

And now you’re about to object to my stark declaration, for obvious reasons: that’s not the way markets work. Customers are the free-est of free agents, and no one (except the government) can force you to spend money if you don’t want to. Companies don’t own customers, they are earned through competitive pricing and excellent customer service.

Customers are usually happy to be associated with a company — maybe just as a satisfied end-user, but perhaps also as a genuine fan of the product, or a smiling repeat customer at a store or restaurant, or an advocate for the brand online (through glowing reviews) — in the best/worst case: maybe you just can’t shut up about how great the damn thing is to friends, family, strangers, the internet, and even—in quiet moments alone—to yourself. A chunk of your personal identity may be tied up in the product. “Guinness Drinker”, “Steelers Fan”, “Apple User”, “Amazon Kindle Author”, Whatever. Who am I to judge? After all, your enthusiasm—no matter how fierce—is dependent on the product continuing to meet your expectations. Loyalty earned can be banked but also just as quickly frittered away; no company can coast on past accomplishments for long.

Unhappy customers are the ‘canary in the coalmine’ for emergent monopolies, in fact. When you find yourself grudgingly paying money for something, maybe even something you hate, that’s generally when we know something other than ‘free markets’ are at work. Cable companies, I am looking directly at you.

So it is impossible to say that Amazon owns readers, because no one owns a customer. Except, of course, that Amazon kinda does own us.

Not all readers: there are folks who are definitely book customers, but only buy one or two books a year. There are plenty of people who borrow books from the library, dutifully adding their name to the waiting list instead of rushing out to buy the latest bestseller. There is a small contingent of Amazon haters, an even smaller group that shops online from Powells (and others), and a number employed as booksellers who can pay less than Amazon asks by using their employee discount — well, about half the time. (Amazon prices are really hard to beat.)

So not all readers. But the most avid readers? People who buy more than one book a month (or a week)? Folks who not only buy books the day they come out, but preorder them? The unlucky (or is that lucky?) few who have literally run out of space for books — every shelf is full and every flat surface has a stack of books on it? Oh yeah, these are the Amazon customers I’m talking about.

Amazon owns you. It’s not outright deed-and-title ownership, of course, because free markets etc. etc., but Amazon has your credit card on file—and the fancy one-click patent—so it is so often so much more convenient to just buy stuff there. Pre-orders are even easier, and your card isn’t charged till it ships. Amazon makes suggestions — kind, neighborly suggestions — because it knows you, everything you’ve bought or even just looked for on the site. And, since Amazon had the first ereader device worth owning, Amazon is likely your supplier of choice for your digital library, too.

You could leave Amazon. Indeed, to prove some snarky blogger wrong, you could likely go to your shelf (or lean over and pick one off the table) and hold up a book and say, “See this? This book I bought in a store! I didn’t get it from Amazon. Stuff it, Matt, you’re over-exaggerating again,” and I’d have to sit here and lump it, because even Amazon Prime subscribers and the most avid of readers will have at least one book like that.

Of course. But, he asked with a smile and a glint in his eye, did you find out about that book (or discover the author) through Amazon? Or maybe Goodreads?

Oh yeah, Amazon owns your ass.


Amazon, even at 20 years old, is a new business, and a new way of doing business. We can point out parallels to the past (and I have) but even after taking into account the ‘internet’ part, Amazon is still running a business quite unlike anything that has come before.

Monopoly (or monopsony) doesn’t quite fit as a description for what Amazon is doing — obviously, because from 1890 (or maybe 1911) most companies have been very circumspect about even looking like a monopoly.

So maybe we need a new word. Amazonification of a market, “related to or resembling Amazon’s transformation of book markets from 1998 to 2011” — or maybe “bezopoly” would be better. ‘Monopsony’ (currently much in vogue in this discussion) wasn’t coined until 1933, so there’s certainly a precedent for it: new vocabulary for new realities. Ignoring for a moment whatever term we’ll use for what it is – it’s easier to describe what Amazon isn’t, and Amazon is not a book monopoly.

Amazon will likely always face competition — at the very least, the indy bookstores as a group, and Apple in ebooks, and whatever-fills-the-barnes-and-noble-sized-hole that seems inevitable at this point. Outside of the book market, the two other large e-tailer competitors (eBay and Rakuten) are joined by at least two huge competitors for digital content sales (Apple iTunes and Google Play) and three huge competitors for digital services (IBM, Google, and Microsoft). Smaller competitors are also constantly nibbling around the edges, either selling their own product online or completely inhabiting a niche (think ThinkGeek, in this case, or direct-from-manufacturer sales).

In a world where Walmart is still seven times as big as Amazon, it’s kind of hard to make the argument that Bezos runs a monopoly (monopsony, bezopoly, whatever).

but what Amazon will never face off against is another ‘Amazon’ — the barriers to entry are too high: you can’t build a billion-dollar distribution operation overnight. While eBay and Rakuten are both huge online retailers, neither can assail Amazon in the book market. Barnes and Noble still sells $6 Billion in books (and assorted non-book cruft) but their website is a small fraction of that and nowhere on the scale of Amazon.

Amazon’s ‘lock’ on the avid readers can be seen as even more important

Amazon doesn’t have 100% control but it has enough:

  • and when Amazon stopped acting like Amazon (for example) in the Hachette dispute, where Amazon stopped taking preorders, stopped discounting, and shifted from two-day delivery to taking a week or two (or more), both Hachette and other trad-publishing stalwarts cried foul, saying that for Amazon to stop pleasing readers on their behalf was unfair and somehow anti-competitive. The unstated admission is that Amazon owns the readers — or at least, there was no easy way to reach Amazon’s readers without Amazon.

Amazon has the book business locked up, not through a monopoly on books but by focusing on readers. Amazon is the single biggest bookstore and likely always will be. Amazon is more than that, of course, but a huge portion of their public image is invested in books (…and specifically targeting readers as customers is also good business). It would be hard to argue that a company as customer-focused as Amazon would do anything to make anyone (any customer, anyway) unhappy — at least while Bezos is in charge. But Amazon still ‘owns’ us in ways we tend to forget about.

Is Amazon’s monopoly on the readership bad? Let me be the first to welcome our new benevolent book overlords. But the key phrase is still, “at least while Bezos is in charge” — at some point, the company will change. If you’re an Amazon customer (we’re all Amazon customers, including Kindle-published authors) my best advice is to enjoy it while you can, but keep an exit in view (or at least, in the back of your mind).

From post-World-War-II until the mid-1970s the Book-of-the-Month Club was the ‘best thing ever’ for readers. Then in the 1980s the mall bookstore chains were the ‘best thing’; in the 1990s and early aughts it was the Big Box Book Superstore. Prices have gone down, selection has gone up, and customers were happy — until the next big thing came along.

If Amazon lets it.

The best thing we could hope for, in my opinion, is Amazon as a “common carrier” for books, where publishers and authors get to compete with each other while having equal access to Amazon’s locked-in base of rabid readers. The reader becomes the product that Amazon then ‘sells’ to publishers — well, I suppose it would be more accurate to describe it as access to readers, since even after the door is open you still have to convince the readers to buy from you as opposed to buying literally any other book on the planet.

It’s not in Amazon’s interest to do this, at least not for free — but we can see hints of how it might work just by noting how Amazon treats its large network of 3rd party sellers (for everything other than new books or ebooks). We should shift our thinking away from Amazon-as-retailer and toward Amazon-as-network-provider. Instead of acting like a wholesaler and ‘making’ Amazon buy the books from you for resale, petition for access to the Amazon’s ‘network’ and sell your books directly to Amazon’s readers. If Amazon will let you — my whole point is that Amazon’s real monopoly is on the readers — and I think Amazon will always want to stand in that final space between reader and seller, no matter what the rest of the book industry looks like or how we get there.

Links and Thoughts 36: 14 October 2014

filed under , 14 October 2014, 08:05 by

James Gang – Funk #49

Good Morning.

It’s not a new piece but it was new to me (and likely to you as well): a good long read at the Atlantic on just what Columbus and the rest “discovered” in America -
“Before it became the New World, the Western Hemisphere was vastly more populous and sophisticated than has been thought—an altogether more salubrious place to live at the time than, say, Europe. New evidence of both the extent of the population and its agricultural advancement leads to a remarkable conjecture: the Amazon rain forest may be largely a human artifact”
1491, Charles C. Mann, 1 March 2002, The Atlantic []

“Many people blame this process on human population growth, and there’s no doubt that it has been a factor. But two other trends have developed even faster and further. The first is the rise in consumption; the second is amplification by technology. Every year, new pesticides, new fishing technologies, new mining methods, new techniques for processing trees are developed. We are waging an increasingly asymmetric war against the living world.
“But why are we at war? In the rich nations, which commission much of this destruction through imports, most of our consumption has nothing to do with meeting human needs.”
The Kink in the Human Brain— How Are Humans OK with Destroying the Planet?, George Monbiot, 12 October 2014, AlterNet [republished from]

“Apollo didn’t die; it was killed. The Apollo Program might have continued for many years, evolving constantly to achieve new goals at relatively low cost. Instead, programs designed to give Apollo a future beyond the first lunar landing began to feel the brunt of cuts even before Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. By the time Apollo drew to its premature conclusion – the final mission to use Apollo hardware was the joint U.S,-Soviet Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) mission of July 1975 – NASA was busy building a wholly new space program based on the Space Shuttle. Throwing out the Apollo investment and starting over with Shuttle was incredibly wasteful both in terms of learned capabilities and money.”
The Space Shuttle was fantastic, but c’mon.
Dreaming a Different Apollo, David S.F. Portree, 13 October 2014, Wired Science Blogs – Beyond Apollo []

“What’s going on at Twitter? Not the trendmap which shows whether people are more interested in news of Ebola or The X Factor at any given moment but the social media company itself, where the number of top executive exits has started to trend. Last week it was the turn of Vivian Schiller, the high-profile TV executive recruited less than a year ago to the newly created position of head of news and journalism partnerships. Her resignation follows those of chief operating officer Ali Rowghani and media head Chloe Sladden, two executives she thanked for ‘convincing’ her to join the company in three 140-word farewell notes tweeted last Thursday.
“Yet the fallout from internal conflicts is of less interest and importance than what these departures say about the future direction of a service that has become such an important tool for journalists. If anything, the management meltdown has simply served to highlight an ongoing struggle within Twitter over whether it should largely be a conduit for journalism or PR.”
Can Twitter make money out of breaking news or is it a PR platform?, Jane Martinson, 12 October 2014, The Guardian []

Wait, should this get the Media or the Technology tag?:
“In November 2014, YouTube will open the new YouTube Space New York to give creators resources, tools, and guidance. YouTube users with more than 5,000 subscribers to their channel will have free access to equipment, workshops, and other events at the space. YouTube already has similar studios in Los Angeles, London, and Tokyo.”
YouTube to Open New Space in New York City to Give Creators Resources, Tools, and Guidance, Glen Tickle, 13 October 2014, Laughing Squid []

Music & Technology:
“Native Instruments is trying to kill that image — or part of it, at least. Its new flagship DJ controller, the Traktor Kontrol S8, is its first to feature built-in multifunction LCD displays. You still connect to a laptop running Traktor Scratch Pro, but the onboard LCDs take the place of many tasks that would normally necessitate burying your head in your laptop’s display”
Video and plenty of pretty pictures of the deck at the link -
DJs of the future won’t be staring at their laptops, Chris Ziegler, 13 October 2014, The Verge []

Cities and Citizens:
“Today, those roiling factories, trains and even the very rails they rode upon are long gone. However, the rotting cavern persists, just a stone’s throw from downtown office towers, the city zoo, several multi-billion-dollar art collections and a growing residential neighborhood, all underserved by transit.
“The seemingly endless potential of the defunct rail line has inspired years of talk — but little action. Now, a new federal planning study is raising hopes for the tunnel once again and could hold lessons for other cities coping with the difficult question posed by abandoned infrastructure.”
Hopes Rise Once Again for Abandoned Philadelphia Rail Line, Ryan Briggs, 13 October 2014, Next City []

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Amazon Healthcare

filed under , 13 October 2014, 23:05 by

Here’s a thing:

“I want Amazon to run healthcare instead of selling books: customer focused, zero profits, ruthlessly driving down costs, single provider”

Amazon is disrupting an entire industry (at least one — but they started with books) and by-and-large everyone agrees that even if some suppliers are hurt, Amazon’s efforts have resulted in something amazing: readers love it, a whole new class of authors love it, books are bought-sold-read-enjoyed-and-discussed in unprecedented volume and the relentless pursuit of customer satisfaction while ignoring profits (actually: reinvesting all profits in better customer outcomes) has vaulted an out-of-the-garage startup into a $122 Billion behemoth that controls either/both 41% or 67% of the market (print- and e-) in 20 short years.

Amazon, like Wal-mart, also aggressively negotiates with suppliers (publishers, in the case of Amazon) to squeeze out anything but survival margins and actively innovates to open new markets and find new ways to satisfy their customers.

I personally feel Amazon is *at least* 49% evil even if they aren’t entirely evil but I’m in the minority on that. But now I’m asking:

If Amazon is so very, very good for customers, a business to be admired and emulated, and a model for how disruption of established industries can only be good for customers

… then where is the Amazon for health care?

Why is there no push for a single-source, nationwide health care provider that would muscle both the insurers and the pharmaceutical companies to stop sucking people dry in the name of profits, and provide comprehensive health care that focuses on customers and outcomes, not the status quo and “you can keep your plan”?

Your plan sucks. My plan sucks. The whole health care mess is ripe, overripe, for disruption on the scale that Amazon has foisted upon an unsuspecting book industry.

The famous quote is “Your margin is my opportunity“. Other than higher education (and college loans are another rant) there is no other industry with fatter margins than healthcare. Amazon’s predatory tactics — excuse me, ‘innovations’ — are given a huge thumbs-up by the Dept. of Justice [“nope nope no threat of monopoly here”] so let’s let Amazon loose on an industry that actually needs a shakeup.

Disclaimer: I personally believe in government supplied, single-payer healthcare – “medicare for everyone”. Which you probably already guessed. That said, I’m also 100% for an ‘Amazon’ Healthcare system where a private company borrows billions — and gets a free pass from Wall Street for at least five years — to provide customer-driven health outcomes at lowest cost, with delivery anywhere, and focused not on what the suppliers have predetermined the market wants but instead is open to actual demand as determined by what customers are asking for.

I invite comments: if Amazon is such a great business model, why in the hell don’t we have Amazon healthcare yet?

Links and Thoughts 35: 13 October 2014

filed under , 13 October 2014, 08:05 by

Jerry Masucci Presents Salsa, Fania All Stars Live at Yankee Stadium, 1973 [1hr 17min]

Good Morning.

Our first link (and also the musical embed from YouTube, above) go to a great conversation I heard on NPR last Friday, remembering and celebrating “salsa dura”, the music created in New York in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, by Peurto Rican immigrants (and others) in what was called Spanish Harlem. 48 minutes of audio at the link:
“Crisp, hard, irresistible music for dancing. Not the softer, romantic salsa of today, but the driving, percussive salsa you could have heard any night down at the Palladium Ballroom. These days, Spanish Harlem Orchestra keeps it hot and alive. Old school. Still irresistible. This hour On Point: the music of Spanish Harlem Orchestra and bandleader Oscar Hernandez, with salsa dura.”
There Is An Orchestra In Spanish Harlem, On Point with Tom Ashbrook, NPR, 10 October 2014

Cities and Citizens:
“Richer people, the researchers found, tend to own single-family homes and drive cars even when they live in highly urbanized neighborhoods. In other words, even though there is a diverse range of suburban and urban neighborhoods, the affluent people who live in them lead relatively similar lifestyles. As the rich move back to cities, they take their preferences for and abilities to purchase larger home or condos and private cars.”
The Fading Distinction Between City and Suburb, Richard Florida, 6 October 2014, City Lab []

“About half of the graduating class of 2014 has already found gainful employment. But a survey by jobs site has found about half of those people are working in jobs that do not require a college degree.
“The survey found that 31% are not working at all, while 4% are in internships and 12% are working at temp jobs. Only 51% of those currently working said their position was related to their college major.
“There’s nothing wrong with starting at the bottom and working your way up – as long as you aren’t carrying a massive student loan balance. In some cases, the first post graduation jobs is simply stop-gap employment – on the way to something better.”
Most employed 2014 college grads in jobs that don’t require degree, Mark Huffman, 9 October 2014, Consumer Affairs []

“Only 44 percent of Americans now say getting a college education is ‘very important.’ That’s down from 75 percent in the same annual poll just four years ago. The real answer is: It depends. If you’re a Columbia grad with a computer-science degree, you can probably write your own ticket. But if you’ve spent six years and gone into debt for a degree in hospitality, you probably won’t get the return on investment that would make it worthwhile. The poll numbers reflect this reality, as people see their children coming out of college and then taking jobs that require no more than a high-school diploma.”
Is college worth it?, Post Editorial Board, 22 September 2014, New York Post []

“There is talk about the poor educational outcomes apparent in our graduates, the out-of-control tuitions and crippling student loan debt. Attention is finally being paid to the enormous salaries for presidents and sports coaches, and the migrant worker status of the low-wage majority faculty. There are movements to control tuition, to forgive student debt, to create more powerful ‘assessment’ tools, to offer ‘free’ university materials online, to combat adjunct faculty exploitation. But each of these movements focuses on a narrow aspect of a much wider problem, and no amount of ‘fix’ for these aspects individually will address the real reason that universities in America are dying.”
How Higher Education in the US Was Destroyed in 5 Basic Steps, Debra Leigh Scott, 16 October 2012, AlterNet []

just one more link this morning, an ‘in case you missed it’:

“The sheer size of the [Mobile Suit Gundam] franchise though, combined with all the twists and turns and alternate timelines, is daunting (to say the least) for the casual anime viewer. All the information you need is available from Wikipedia and other sources, but once again, the volume of material is a huge barrier to entry. Where do you start?
“I still can’t tell you where to start – but I can give you a list:”
Gundam Reference, Rocket Bomber, posted yesterday (12 October 2014).

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Gundam Reference

filed under , 12 October 2014, 18:09 by

There are more than 700 “episodes” of Gundam (broadcast TV, movies, OVAs, shorts — and not counting the manga, video games, or plastic model kits) and the history of Gundam—more formally Mobile Suit Gundam (機動戦士ガンダム Kidō Senshi Gandamu)—goes back 35 years

35 frickin’ years

…so when we get news that Sunrise is finally getting serious about making Gundam available to American fans its a Big Freakin’ Deal, Kids. (well, for a certain stripe of anime fan, anyway.)

The sheer size of the franchise though, combined with all the twists and turns and alternate timelines, is daunting (to say the least) for the casual anime viewer. All the information you need is available from Wikipedia and other sources, but once again, the volume of material is a huge barrier to entry. Where do you start?

I still can’t tell you where to start – but I can give you a list:

Odds and ends:
1988 SD Gundam (13 OVAs)
2010 SD Gundam Sangokuden Brave Battle Warriors (51eps, 10min shorts)
2010 Model Suit Gunpla Builders Beginning G (3 OVAs)
2013 Gundam Build Fighters (25eps) season 1
2014 Gundam Build Fighters Try – currently airing
2014 Mobile Suit Gundam-san (13 3min shorts)

“After Colony” timeline:
AC0195 Mobile Suit Gundam Wing (1995) (49eps)
AC0195 Gundam W: Operation Meteor (1996) (4) – compilation OVAs, also known as “Odds and Evens”
AC0196 Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz (1997) (3 OVAs) – also edited into a theatrical movie release in 1998

“AD” timeline, presumably our (sci-fi) future:
AD2307 Gundam 00 (2007) (50eps)
AD2314 Gundam 00 the Movie Awakening of the Trailblazer (2010)

“Advanced Generation” timeline:
AG0115 Gundam Age (2011) (49eps) – there are three generational story arcs, each about 25 years apart.
AG0140 Gundam Age: Memory of Eden (2013) (2 OVAs) – re-edit of the 2nd Gundam Age story arc

“After War” timeline:
AW0015 After War Gundam X (1996) (39eps)

“Correct Century” timeline:
CC2435 Turn A Gundam (1999) (50eps) – the 20th Anniversary Gundam, “affirmatively accepting all of the Gundam series“ but still in it’s own alternate timeline.

“Cosmic Era” timeline:
CE0071 Gundam Seed (2002) (50eps)
CE0073 Seed Destiny (2004) (51eps)
CE0073 Gundam Seed C.E. 73 Stargazer (2006) (single OVA)
Gundam SEED MSV: Astray – two 5min shorts, in Japan included on the Stargazer release
[Tokyopop & Del Rey published quite a bit of the Gundam Seed manga adaptation – 17 volumes – starting back in ’04. just mentioning it as an aside]

“Future Century” timeline:
FC0060 Mobile Fighter G Gundam (1994) (49eps) – oh boy. see comments below.

“Regild Century” timeline:
RC1014 Gundam Reconguista in G (2014), 25 episodes, currently airing. According to Wikipedia, the Regild Century comes after the UC timeline, below. So I guess it’s in continuity?

“Universal Century” timeline:
This is ‘main line’ Gundam – the 1979 series was set in the Universal Century, and Sunrise didn’t start messing around with alternates until 1994. However (and it pains me to bring this up), some of the material in UC represents a re-edit and re-release of older material (for theatrical releases) which was on occasion also changed so there are “canon” and “non-canon” versions — which I’m not going to go into.(Note, this is UC timeline order, not our-boring-AD-calender order) -

UC0068 Gundam: The Origin, currently scheduled as a 4 episode OVA series for 2015 – though with ‘event screenings’ in theaters (in Japan, anyway).
UC0079 Mobile Suit Gundam (1979) (43eps) – or as some call it, “OG” (original gangster) Gundam
UC0079 Gundam Movie Trilogy (1981-2) – 1979 series re-cut into 3 movies, each ~2hrs 20min in length
UC0079 The 08th MS Team (1996) (13 OVAs)
UC0079.1 MS IGLOO The Hidden One Year War (2004) (3 OVAs)
UC0079.2 MS IGLOO Apocalypse (2006) (3 OVAs)
UC0079.3 MS IGLOO 2 The Gravity Front (2009) (3 OVAs)
UC0080 War in the Pocket (1989) (6 OVAs)
UC0083 Stardust Memory (1991) (13 OVAs) – re-cut into a movie in 1992, released as Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: The Last Blitz of Zeon
UC0087 Zeta Gundam (1985) (50eps)
UC0087 Zeta Gundam – A New Translation (2005) – similar to the 1981 movie trilogy, a re-cut of Zeta Gundam into 3 films for theatrical release
UC0088 ZZ Gundam (1986) (47eps)
UC0093 Char’s Counterattack, Movie (1988)
UC0096 Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn (2010-2014) (7 OVAs, 60min each)
UC0123 Mobile Suit Gundam F91, Movie (1991)
UC0153 Victory Gundam (1993) (51eps)


  • Like many anime fans (at least, mecha and robot anime fans), I am super-aware of Gundam but have seen remarkably little of it. So there’s that; Wikipedia is the better place to go for information on Gundam, but I am quite happy to share with you my impressions of it.
  • Outside of any ‘official’ timeline—though technically UC—is the SD (superdeformed) Gundam specials, and the more recent Gundam-san show (based on what is apparently a popular 4-koma). For Gundam fans, these excursions into comedy are likely a lot of fun, but for most of us it would just be confusing. I doubt Sunrise & Rightstuf are bringing these over, though we may see them as extras on some of the box sets.
  • 1993 Mobile Fighter G Gundam is of, ah, *special* note: 49 episodes of mecha-as-pro-wrestlers. This got a Cartoon Network broadcast in 2002, so some of you may have fond memories of it. It’s very different from the rest of gundam, though. “This hand of mine is burning red!”
  • 2013 Gundam Build Fighters and 2014 Gundam Build Fighters Try – where kids build and fight with model Gundams, could be thought of as Pokémon Gundam if we’re being uncharitable. (the more direct comparison would be 2001’s Angelic Layer or 1983’s Plawres Sanshiro, but yes, they’re all proxy fighters). There were 25 episodes in the first season; the second season is currently airing. I’m pretty sure anyone could pick this up as it really is a stand-alone, but I’m guessing knowing about the mecha makes it more entertaining. (Apparently, there are also lots of easter eggs in this show, too)
  • The entry point for folks in North America is probably still Gundam Wing, which was on Cartoon Network in 2000 (Gundam Wing was the first Gundam series to be broadcast on U.S. television) and is available on DVD (sort of; check Ebay and Amazon and budget for ‘collectible’ price points) — Gundam Wing matched the Gundam mecha designs with bishonen pilot character design, with a side dish of politics and a heaping helping of dialog. Gundam Wing exists in its own timeline and is different from the rest (though not so different as G Gundam) but still, for many, this was their first and so colors their perception of the franchise.
  • If you’re more interested in action, The 08th MS Team also got a DVD release, it’s much shorter, it’s more military-oriented (as you might have guessed from the name) and while part of mainline UC Gundam, it works pretty well as a stand-alone story. This was my first Gundam (via Netflix rental) ten years ago.
  • Easiest entry point? 1979 OG Gundam, probably, as that’s where the whole story started. A close second though may be the other series Sunrise and Rightstuf are leading with: Turn A Gundam. As the 20th Anniversary series and given both the involvement and the comments from Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino, it would seem Turn A aspired to be more “Gundam” than the original Gundam. I look forward to watching it. While I will likely buy both (for the sake of the collection and my OCD) I will be purchasing Turn A first.
  • Cautionary warning, for those seeking out Gundam DVDs: there are several companies that licensed bits of Gundam over the years, with various dubs produced. Actors aren’t always consistent from release to release and the quality of dubs is more miss (well, middling) than hit. Just sayin’. I don’t mind reading subtitles so it was never an issue for me, but you might find this overview at Otaku Revolution helpful.

I’m sure I missed something; please post any [mild, factual] corrections in the comments.

Links and Thoughts 34: 10 October 2014

filed under , 10 October 2014, 08:05 by

Maynard Ferguson – Chameleon (Herbie Hancock cover)

Good Morning.

“Last year, Jack White’s Third Man Records and reissue specialists Revenant Records released The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records Vol. 1, a doozy of a box set that included 800 tracks from the early days of the Wisconsin label that launched the careers of everyone from father of the Delta blues Charley Patton to a pre-bandleader Louis Armstrong. It was housed in a lovingly constructed oak ‘cabinet of wonder,’ based on the iconic Victrola VV-50, and took cues from the Arts and Crafts design aesthetic prevalent during the label’s beginnings. It included two books, six 180-gram LP records, a thumb drive containing all the music, and all manner of ancillary material. It was the kind of box set that isn’t easily matched, let along[sic] outmatched.
“But that doesn’t mean Third Man couldn’t try.
“It was never a mystery that there would be a second volume. But we weren’t expecting it to be so impressive in such different ways.”
Jack White Just Curated the Ultimate Box Set of Iconic American Music, Peter Rubin, 9 October 2014, Wired []

“Kevin Kelly was an editor/publisher of the Whole Earth Review, the founding editor of Wired, and is the editor of Cool Tools. At this year’s XOXO Festival, he kicked off the event by sharing his approach to making stuff, the real impact of technology on our lives, the benefits of having time, and the benefit of optimizing your life.”
∙ Video at the link and on YouTube; from the description there: “Recorded in September 2014 at XOXO, an arts and technology festival in Portland, Oregon celebrating independent artists using the Internet to make a living doing what they love. For more, visit”
Kevin Kelly Talks About Making Stuff, Finding the Right Tools, and Having Time, 9 October 2014, Tested []

I love this kind of video — really smart people talking about smart things in digestible chunks (10-30min), too short to be considered a ‘class lecture’ but certainly much longer than just the soundbite or 3 paragraph pull-quote (which is what we usually get). That said, there is a danger in these very short introductions — primarily, in that usually just the one narrative (point of view, side of the argument) is presented, and after a TED-like-talk, you can walk away thinking there’s a solution to the problem when in fact we haven’t even finished defining the problem. Read more:

“The key rhetorical device for TED talks is a combination of epiphany and personal testimony (an ‘epiphimony’ if you like ) through which the speaker shares a personal journey of insight and realisation, its triumphs and tribulations.
“What is it that the TED audience hopes to get from this? A vicarious insight, a fleeting moment of wonder, an inkling that maybe it’s all going to work out after all? A spiritual buzz?
“I’m sorry but this fails to meet the challenges that we are supposedly here to confront. These are complicated and difficult and are not given to tidy just-so solutions. They don’t care about anyone’s experience of optimism. Given the stakes, making our best and brightest waste their time – and the audience’s time – dancing like infomercial hosts is too high a price. It is cynical.”

“Perhaps it’s the proposition that if we talk about world-changing ideas enough, then the world will change. But this is not true, and that’s the second problem.”
We need to talk about TED, subtitled “Science, philosophy and technology run on the model of American Idol – as embodied by TED talks – is a recipe for civilisational disaster”; Benjamin Bratton, 30 December 2013, The Guardian []
∙ quote above presented out-of-sequence to give me that wonderful punchline; that’s my prerogative as an editor and fine so long as I do not misrepresent it (and so, the ellipsis and this gloss right here to tell you it’s not quite the original quote)

Three Words:
Star Wars Battlepod

Cities and Citizens:
“Inspired in part by psychogeography theory (which emphasizes playfulness in travel), a group of researchers from Yahoo! Labs in Barcelona in collaboration with University of Torino sought to add a bit of pep to these services. In a newly released paper, they explore how mapping apps could theoretically generate short walking routes that are more beautiful or quiet than standard offerings.”
What If You Could Choose Between the Fastest Route and the Most Beautiful?, Lex Berko, 17 July 2014, City Lab []

Rabbit Hole:
If you follow this next link, be prepared. You’ll lose a few hours.
what are your favorite blog posts of all time?

Tweet by Emily Gould (@EmilyGould), 3:29 PM 9 October 2014 []


Diary entry for 10 October:

If my citations seem especially labored — as in the xoxo-video-on-YouTube-embedded-on-Tested followed by the-editorial-on-TED-at-the-Guardian with the chopped-and-screwed blockquote, above — let me just note two things for you:

1. Yay for citations! Let’s say you saved this post with a ctrl-c,ctrl-v into a text file and didn’t have the hyperlinks—or plaintext link, for that matter—but with the author, date, and source you can certainly google that at some point later.
2. I’m trying — which is more than you get from a lot of folks on the internet.

I also had to figure out a way to cite a tweet this morning. I found some guidance online [] but you’ll note what I settled on does not follow MLA. I like to think I split the difference between repeating what’s in the embedded tweet and giving enough information (and attribution!) to find/read the original. It’s another case of at least trying to accommodate all the readers — web, mobile, touchscreen, read later apps, broken links 25 years from now when someone, gods know who is reading the archived version of this post on’s Wayback Machine, scrapers stealing my content so you’re reading it on a .cz or .ru somewhere and only have the text because lazy scraper didn’t included any images, links, embeds, or context, and all the folks who just click the link while thinking I’m trying too hard to be pretentious.

I am, of course, overthinking it — but that’s what I do best. And maybe I’m being pretentious too, but I *like* the idea of academically rigorous citation in a blog.

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Kitchen Journal

filed under , 2 October 2014, 15:17 by

In the past, I’ve kept notes for recipes on my computer — bookmarked links, mostly — while also using what might be called “grandma measures” when cooking day-to-day: grandma never needs to measure anything because she’s made each of those recipes so many times — she can eyeball it and knows when a dish ‘looks right’ or ‘feels right’.

That said, I did have to get a bit more scientific in the kitchen last year when I tried making my own sourdough starter. I have a text file on my hard drive where I tracked a dozen or so various iterations on whole wheat sourdough bread, but that stalled when my baking experiments shifted to biscuits and tortillas (both of which are yeast-free, so easier to make on the spur-of-the-moment) (also, the key to both: give your dough an hour to rest in the fridge so the flour has a chance to fully hydrate – makes a world of difference).

The sourdough starter prompted me to buy a digital kitchen scale, which came in handy later when I also found myself trying out some DIY Soylent (It’s not as gross as you think, especially when you mix your own and know what went into it — think oatmeal smoothie, not 70s Heston).

So quietly, behind-the-scenes, I’ve been doing quite a bit of ‘kitchen science’ while attempting to keep myself fed (and lose some weight) and while I might not get around to blogging any of it any time soon, I just wanted to say that keeping a kitchen journal is a great idea for even a casual chef. Whenever you’re forced to make a substitution (yogurt for buttermilk, say, or banana for eggs in a bread or brownie mix) or are just trying something new — write it down! Make notes not just on the results but also the process, and the motivations:

“Ran out of eggs so I’m going to try half a can of pumpkin pie filling as a substitute in a muffin recipe. Found the suggestion after Googling ‘egg substitutes for baking’”
“Pumpkin pie muffins were Aces! Repeating recipe but dropping a chunk of cream cheese in each”
“Cheese filling was OK but could be better: switching to a mix of mascarpone with a drop of vanilla and a little sugar”
“Mascarpone filling in the pumpkin muffins was fantastic – really, really good. Doing the same with blueberry this Sunday”
“Had a little bit of the mascarpone muffin filling left, didn’t want to throw it out. Made french toast and sandwiched the cheese filling inside — just enough for one! really good with syrup. might be good with pancakes too”

You don’t have to keep a kitchen journal like you would a log book for your college chemistry class — brief notes are all you need. Reminders, sign posts, warnings, just a little something to keep you on the right path. Think of it as a map — a treasure map, even, as you never know when you’re going to go from Googling for an egg substitute to instead find yourself, 11 recipes later, enjoying pecan-pumpkin pancakes and maple-candied bacon for brunch.

“The only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down.”

When my employment prospects improve and I move past a beans-and-rice survival diet, I think I’ll go back to posting ‘sunday supper’ recipes once a week. I came across the Adam Savage quote, though, and it prompted me to write about how important just ‘writing things down’ can be. Get a cheap spiral bound notebook (note: cheap, as it *is* going to get stuff spilled on it) and keep it on your counter (maybe next to or under the paper towels). Take notes. Drop some science on it.

You’ll likely be surprise how much it will augment, and improve, your skills in the kitchen.

Links and Thoughts 33: 1 October 2014

filed under , 1 October 2014, 17:37 by

Maceo Parker – Shake everything you’ve got

Good Afternoon.

The great thing about link round-up posts is there generally isn’t a narrative through-line to worry about — each post is a stand-alone, so even long delays between posts might as well be no delay at all, really — and raiding my cache for (slightly) older links is also fine, as an old link is still a good read so long as the stories are new to you.

In light of the Ebay/PayPal spinoff and the introduction of Apple Pay, I thought this article was worth revisiting:
“A decade after the idea was first sketched on the proverbial drawing board, Starbucks is poised to finally let its customers order their coffees from their phones. And the company’s plans for building on its wildly successful mobile app don’t stop there.
“The Seattle-based coffee giant, which said in March that more than 14 percent of purchases in its U.S. stores are paid for through its app, will allow customers in one undisclosed geographic test market to start placing pickup orders from the Starbucks app later this year, according to the company’s Chief Digital Officer Adam Brotman. This should not be confused as an experiment, Brotman made clear. Starbucks is determined to eventually roll out the technology nationwide, no matter how long it takes.”
Starbucks Has Bigger Plans in Mobile Payments Than Most People Realize, Jason Del Rey, 17 July 2014, Re/code []

“Of course, it has its limits. Testing sewage won’t tell you who’s using, or even how much, Holcomb says. You can’t measure whether the concentration changes over time because more people are ingesting certain drugs overall or because a few people are just ingesting more.
“But it can tell you some things according to Banta-Green — trends over time, for example, or variation by day of the week. Hypothesizing that recreational users partake more on weekends while serious users go all week long can also reveal patterns. And other things, like certain diseases or even medication use, can be measured by sewage as well. University of Puget Sound Associate Professor Dan Burgard has used the practice, often called sewer epidemiology, to study how students use Adderall around exams.”
What Sewers Can Reveal About a City, Rachel Dovey, 1 October 2014, Next City []

“But that’s just it, there’s no incentive to try. Likes breed laziness. Why should a site bust its balls and budget producing exemplary pieces of writing when posting the same, tired, gimmicky viral content will guarantee the good times will never end? There’s every reason to lower the bar, and no reason to raise it. That’s why the content business is where it is. The truly remarkable writing is being carted off into high-brow ghettos like Byliner that can’t even afford to keep an editorial staff together, not to mention the New York Times’ well-publicized financial troubles.
“The Internet media world is a maelstrom of homogeneity. Every site’s editorial mission has become the same: Appease the Facebook user no matter what, even if it means becoming glorified content re-branders rather than legitimate news and opinion outlets, even if it means becoming a carbon copy of a thousand other websites all racing each other to the very bottom.”
The Internet has a content diversity problem, Matt Saccaro, 11 June 2014, The Daily Dot []

Doomed to repeat it etc etc:
“Once upon a time wars were fought for fun and profit; when Rome overran Asia Minor or Spain conquered Peru, it was all about the gold and silver. And that kind of thing still happens. In influential research sponsored by the World Bank, the Oxford economist Paul Collier has shown that the best predictor of civil war, which is all too common in poor countries, is the availability of lootable resources like diamonds. Whatever other reasons rebels cite for their actions seem to be mainly after-the-fact rationalizations. War in the preindustrial world was and still is more like a contest among crime families over who gets to control the rackets than a fight over principles.
“But times have changed, Krugman points out. ‘If you’re a modern, wealthy nation, however, war — even easy, victorious war — doesn’t pay,’ he writes. ‘And this has been true for a long time.’”
Krugman on the Terrifying Reason Nations Keep Waging War subtitled, “War is a huge money loser. So the motive is not greed”, Janet Allon, 18 August 2014, AlterNet []

“Over the last few years, the cognitive science of drawing has begun to receive some serious attention. Previously, researchers had been more interested in understanding the way we appreciate fine art, from Leonardo da Vinci to Jackson Pollock, but far fewer studies had concerned the kind of everyday scribbles we all produce. Yet it seems that our rough sketches do serve important functions. One study has found, for instance, that far from being a distraction, doodling can prevent our minds from wandering into daydreams about the past or future, boosting concentration and memory”
Are we hard-wired to doodle?, David Robson, 1 October 2014, BBC Future []


Today’s Book Recommendation is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; it’s not my recommendation per se (though I have certainly done so many times in the past) — instead, today’s rec comes from C.G.P. Grey:

“I’m going to attempt, for a little while anyway, to make public some of my notes from some of the books that I’ve read. This is partly because people are forever asking what I’m reading, but it’s mostly as a way to try and encourage myself to read both more deeply and more frequently — a target I have been trying, and failing, to hit for all my adult life.” …
“These won’t be reviews, they really will just be some sections of the book with a line or two on why I highlighted them. But I hope that they can give you a good idea of if a book might or might not be for you, and if you should read it yourself. Many non-fiction books can be summarized with a few lines, but Bird by Bird captures, for me, why it still often feels necessary to read the entire thing and why you may want to as well even after reading my notes.”
link to the rest: Book Notes: ‘Bird By Bird’ By Anne Lamott


Diary entry for 1 October:

First, a note on the links: since I am (at least temporarily) linking to some relatively ‘old’ stuff, I’ve switched the formatting a bit — not just a hyperlink, but something closer to the way I cite quotes in my long essays. This isn’t APA, MLA, or Chicago Style (over time I’ve fallen into my own pattern without referencing these, based off of vague 20-year-old memories of MLA and now-ancient high school and college papers) but you’ll note I included the date (for those of you who, for whatever reason, won’t read something unless it’s ‘new’).

Also, for my book recommendations, I’ll be relying on (and linking to) the rich (nigh limitless) trove of book reviews and blogs online, and a bit less on my own personal reading. Indeed, if I get to the point where I’m posting one of these every day, I’d quickly run out of books (or begin to sound like a broken record as many of the books I like are going to be similar to each other, for obvious reasons).

And let me hide this little bit at the bottom of the post: [metablogging] Yeah, haven’t written much for the blog recently and I’m kind of sorry for that but not really sorry and I’m thinking about what to do about that and which direction to go from here [/metablogging]

We’ll both see about that, and what comes next, when it comes.

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A Secret History of the Paperback

filed under , 8 September 2014, 22:09 by

A Secret History of the Paperback:
and how not everything that happened to publishing since 1935 is going to repeat itself with ebooks.


I’m going to start with three pull-quotes from The Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History, Volume 2 [while published in 2003 — well before the current ebook thing, and certainly citing scholarship that is much older than just 2003 — I find this information very interesting given current debate.]

“Cheapness meant that a best-seller of the 1850s might sell fifty times the copies of one in the 1810s. Paper had constituted 50 to 66 percent of the cost of a book in 1800 but was only 7 percent by 1910, and leather covers were replaced by cheaper cloth. …
By the 1860s and again in the 1880s, proliferating titles and longer print runs had occasioned such competition among booksellers that many were squeezed out of business. Publishers complained that there was too much competition, too low prices, and too few outlets. Once again their response was price fixing.”

“The volume of book production increased substantially during the twentieth century despite the fact that for some commentators, particularly from the 1960s on, the advent and rapid development of new electronic technologies suggested that the demise of the book was imminent.”

“Following World War II, technological developments spurred book production. Photocomposition and offset printing enabled higher print runs (100,000 copies and more) than ever imagined, prompting what observers called the ‘paperback revolution.’ The paperback format was now used for light fiction as well as for the second edition of hardbound books. Their cheap price and ‘disposable’ quality encouraged book sales.”

Yes, I thought it important to include the dig about 19th century publisher price fixing — but also note it follows booksellers going out of business and book markets tightening. The larger point here is that paperbacks weren’t quite the price revolution portrayed by some; book prices had been falling for over a century.

I found this article buried in a ten-year old economics textbook by using a Google Books search — which is kind of off topic here but also illustrates how far we’ve come. Thanks to Google (and perhaps irritating to OUP) I can embed the search findings below.

[The Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History, Volume 2 isbn 0195105079 pub date 2003 edited by Joel Mokyr]

The paperback was not a sudden or seismic shift, or one that magically jumped into existence on 30 July 1935 — I’ll use the Penguin date because Amazon did * — and I’m not just talking about the ‘paperback’ formats that predated the ‘pocket books’ of Penguin and American competitor Pocket Books.

Decades of innovation preceded the mass-market paperback of the late 1930s — the first steam-powered presses emerged in the 1810s, to be replaced about 30 years lated by even faster rotary presses that replaced the piston-like flatbed press with a continuously operating rotating drum. On the pre-production side, Linotype machines significantly improved typesetting, starting in 1884, while parallel developments in lithography led to the introduction of offset printing (for paper) in 1904.

All these developments were driven not by the needs of book publishers but by the newspapers, which greedily adopted every technology that increased the speed and volume of print — and which lowered costs — in the drive to expand their business and reach. (Historic circulation numbers are hard to come by but we see newspapers doubling—at least—over the first half of the 19th century, and on toward hundreds of thousands for big city papers, as exemplified by the circulation battles between Pulitzer and Hearst.) The demands of newspapers drove the technology not only of the presses but also the paper — and anyone with a shelf-full of cheap, yellowing paperbacks knows the look and feel of newsprint-grade paper.

Cheap paper, fast presses, and perfect bindings (invented in 1895) combined in the 1930s to give us an affordable paperback.


There are three other magic ingredients to consider. First was volume: unit costs go down the more units you print, and Penguin stockpiled 200,000 books for their initial launch (20k copies each of ten titles) [source] — an unprecedented bet in an era when even a bestseller like Ernest Hemingway only got initial print runs of 10,000 hardcovers. The bet paid off, of course (and Penguin would actually sell 3 million books in its first year). Second, the newsstands (“news agents” to my Anglophone readers who don’t speak ‘murican) in train stations and on street corners everywhere represented a much larger sales channel than the small, and infrequent, bookstores of the era. (I don’t know why this is occasionally presented as a ‘hurdle’ the paperback publishers had to overcome, or a huge innovation; the newsstands were already selling cheap print—as fiction magazines—and had done so for decades).

And the final reason Penguin paperbacks were so cheap was the fact that paperbacks were reprints of books that had already been published by others. Of the first 10 titles Penguin chose, the original year of publication ranges from 1912 to 1929 — each at least five years old and highlighted by the inclusion of the debut novels of established authors Hemingway and Agatha Christie. Penguin didn’t have to invest in new manuscripts and herd authors along through a drawn-out editorial process, they just had to typeset the books and print ‘em off (with a kickback to the original author/publisher; how much you want to bet that—at least at first—the paperback rights went for a song).

The first work of original fiction to debut in paperback didn’t come along until 1950 — and around that time, hardcover publishers were claiming up to 50% of the royalties on paperbacks, squeezing on one side, while competition in a crowded market squeezed paperback publishers from the other. The switch to paperback originals was probably inevitable; it was friction from the ‘legacy’ publishers (of 1950) that prompted it.

[If you’d like to compare the 10-15 year gap between reprints and originals in the new format, I’ll note that Kindle Direct Publishing launched concurrently with the first Kindle device in 2007.]


Paperbacks were an advance, both in terms of accessibility (price points and physical availability) and visibility for books. The equivalent of the mall bookstore in this era was on the first floor of your downtown department store [sources: 1900, 1920, 1949] and so, were of course limited to places that had department stores, and downtowns — and in the late 30s, there were only 500 bookstores in the U.S., “which did not exist everywhere and more closely resembled antiquaries’ shoppes than the current megamarts” [source]. It’s not that Americans did not read, but the primary vehicle for fiction was the magazine (and I’ll also throw in full-page serial weekly comics in the newspapers as an aside) as well as the 3,500 public libraries. The paperback model that became mainstream in 1935 didn’t hide books in a dusty shop corner or a behind a library circulation desk — the books (for the cost of a pack of smokes) were on a rack at the five-and-dime, and on the newsstand next to the magazines and newspapers people were already used to buying daily. And in America at least, the paperbacks quickly adopted the lurid covers that (for some) also defined the format.

I don’t know that I see the same benefit from ebooks. Yes, like paperbacks, the format is cheaper to produce (though that cost is not zero). Ebooks also get full marks for ‘accessibility’, considering you can just download one to your phone. Where ebooks do not quite match the true revolutionary potential of the paperback is in expanding the market. Paperbacks *blew up* the market for books — finding readers where they lived, and transitioning a pre-existing magazine fiction market to the new format, vastly expanding the profile (and sales) of genres like sci-fi, mystery, westerns, and romance.

What we’re missing in the ebook revolution is that “pre-existing magazine fiction market”, its half-century of material that fed into paperback racks, and the valuable experience a generation of authors had publishing there — a farm team, feeder system, or escalator (pick your metaphor) into pulp paperbacks for the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. We, and by ‘we’ I mean everyone, managed to largely kill off magazines in the decade before the Kindle launched. For ebooks to really impact the business in the same way paperbacks did, we’ll need to find (or invent) something like the magazine fiction market of the 30s and 40s, and find (or invent) ways to get book covers in front of eyeballs the way the spinner racks and magazine stands used to. (lurid optional; I really dig those pulp covers though)

Web sites are literally freakin’ amazing and book sales sites like Amazon are the brave new future of bookselling where nothing ever really goes out of print and any title is available — if you can find it. 10 million book listings is not only unprecedented but jaw-dropping when you stop to think about it. But (and you knew a ‘but’ was coming) Amazon doesn’t transform the reading audience like Penguin, Pocket, and Fawcett did. The people going to Amazon are already readers. Those who already buy books, and buy the most books, are the early adopters on the digital platform and the most vocal of its advocates. A web site is not going to put a book out there for discovery — or an impulse buy — in the same way that a Penguin paperback of 1935 did. In fact, web sites tend to bury books (really bury books when search algorithms and results are manipulated) in a way that’s different, even, from the bad luck of bottom-shelf placement in a corner in a 20,000sq.ft. bookstore.

Paperbacks moved books from an expensive luxury and lifestyle statement out to the places where people actually lived — a migration that began with train stations and street corners and eventually settled into the B.Dalton/Waldenbooks era of mall bookstores and from there to the late 1990s and early 2000s big box stores — in 2005 we reached a peak of roughly 1500 ‘book superstores’ run by the chains and that, honestly, is about as good as things will ever get (for physical books). Paperbacks, the revolutionary format of 1935, had been absorbed by publishers and the book trade (with mass-markets and trade paperbacks accounting for roughly 80% of books sold) and made bookstores better, arguably made book publishing better, and certainly made reading both more accessible and more popular over the decades, even with competition from television.

Ebooks threaten to reverse that, moving books from an everyday commodity back to a lifestyle statement and comparative luxury. Yes, an ebook may be cheaper at $9.99 (or $2.99, or 99¢, or even free) but to read an ebook, you need a smart phone, a tablet, a dedicated ereader, or a computer — and a credit or debit card. These appliances get cheaper all the time, but from 2007 right up to last year, we’re still talking about an investment of $100 or so. (Yes, please tell me about Amazon&iTunes gift cards and second-hand ereaders from ebay plus free phones on contract and all the other work-arounds — but admit that it’s all a bit more costly and complicated than a paperback for six pence or a quarter.)

Ebooks still have a long way to go, in my opinion, and I also have more than a few reservations and lingering questions about the format. I also think Amazon has a bit too much control over the new format, more than I personally am comfortable with. Additionally (and once again in my opinion) the *real* format shift was in 1993 with the new “printing press”, the World Wide Web. Ebooks feel like a step sideways, not forward, though any model that results in paychecks for authors can’t be all bad. Just like technological changes in printing that began in the 1840s eventually gave us the Penguin paperback of 1935, the massive shift in publishing that began in 1993 will eventually result in a similar revolution. (I just don’t think the 2007—or 2014—ebook is it. And even with the accelerated pace of technology today, compared to the 19th century, I don’t think 10 years is enough time yet to see exactly what that change will be.)

I’d also like to note I used Google Book Search to find five sources, ranging from public-domain sources as old as 1900 to the citation that started this article, from a textbook/encyclopedia from 2003 (more recent, yes, but equally unavailable in practical terms). That’s a power shift and democratization of information on par with the Carnegie libraries of 130 years ago; not every change in media is about formats.


* For those of you who like book trivia: German publisher Albatross beat Penguin to the ‘modern’ paperback by three years, though Albatros did not attempt the (then) massive print runs that Penguin did in ’35. However, I’ll note that Albatross innovated the trim-size and those iconic, color-coded covers (minimal, with typography and logo but no illustrations) now deeply associated with classic Penguin. How much ‘Penguin’ copied from ‘Albatross’ I’ll leave to your own judgement. I’ll also note that Tauchnitz Editions predate Penguin by nine decades — though the Tauchnitz books were never sold as paperbacks per se; the books were intended (by the publisher) and purchased as unbound books in a ‘wrapper’ with the understanding (at least until the 1930s, when Albatross snapped up Tauchnitz) that the editions would be rebound at purchaser’s cost by a local binder (turning them into hardcovers). Not all of the Tauchnitzs were, of course, though ironically this makes the paperbacks rarer and (potentially) more valuable than a leatherbound hardcover version of the same book.

Those interested in the some of the primary sources I used should check out the Mental Floss article, How Paperbacks Transformed the Way Americans Read by Andrew Shaffer (which is linked above but you probably missed it) and A Short History of Paperbacks by Oliver Corlett [from the Independent Online Booksellers Association newsletter, The Standard vol.II no.3 December 2001, and archived online]. And if you’re still with me at this point, you should also read The Stigma of Paperback Originals, Joanne Kaufman, WSJ, 23 September 2010 and Soft Target: Have reports of the paperback’s death been greatly exaggerated?, Katie Arnold-Ratliff, Slate, 20 June 2013.

Most (but not all) of the Wikipedia links I used above on the paperback format: offset printing

And finally, this post was touched off a couple weeks back (hey, research takes time) by the, interesting, open letter Amazon published at

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