Winner Take All in Books

Two depressing things for any fiction writers out there.

The wonderful Miss Snark (literary agent) More more more! describes how:

publishers demand that writers sell increasing quantities of subsequent
books they publish. Book one can sell five thousand copies, book two
six thousand but by book five you’ve got to sell forty thousand. If you
don’t, the publisher doesn’t renew the contract. It’s very similar to
get promoted or get out in the military. If you don’t make a certain
rank by a certain age, they ask you to retire.

The reason is increasing returns (in the form of fixed costs) in the book publishing industry:

The reason publishers want zillion copy sellers from one writer instead
of ten writers each selling one-tenth of a zillion is because of unit

Unit cost is the cost of each book sold. Add up all the
cost for printing, editorial time, design time, and a percentage of the
fixed cost like heats light and water and voila and voila: what it
costs to make a book happen. That cost is almost same if … Continue reading

We’ll Have to Do Something About the Rich

An excellent piece by Jonathan Friedland in tomorrow’s Guardian (hey, it’s before midnight where I am) about the growing gap between rich and poor in the UK. (Link: Guardian Unlimited | Columnists | It may be beyond passe – but we’ll have to do something about the rich.)

The phenomenon of growing inequality is present in Canada too. Increasing wealth and income at the top, flat or declining wealth and income at the bottom (in absolute as well as relative terms) and as a result changes like this:

When Margaret Thatcher
came to power in 1979, just under 6% of national income went to the top
1%. That figure stood at 9% a decade later, but under Tony Blair it has
risen to at least 13%: a tiny group taking nearly an eighth of our
collective wealth.

The hook is a paragraph about London bankers ordering the most expensive cocktail they could concoct — which came to £333 a glass. "The bankers ordered two rounds for
their table of eight. Their final bill for … Continue reading

Identity Crisis

Philip Pullman’s essay as part of The Guardian’s piece on the possibility of laws to curb the promotion of religious hatred is, like much of what he writes, thought provoking and original. (Norm Geras discusses it as well.)

Part of Pullman’s essay is emphasizing the distinction between what we are (identity) and what we do. He starts this way:

1. What we are is not in our control, but what we do is.

On the other hand, and simultaneously, what we do depends on what we
are (on what we have to do it with), and what we are can be modified by
what we do.

3. What we do is morally significant. What we are is not.

The distinction is important, and he goes on to argue that

But to criticise the
religion of someone who makes that religion the primary marker of their
identity will be, specifically, to criticise them. It will be
criticising what they are, not what they do. And if it comes to the
courts, will the law be capable of distinguishing between a rational
analysis of theology and an incitement to brutal violence? … Continue reading

Rebel Sell Snarky-Tees

I imagine I’ll have a lot to say about Andrew Potter’s Rebel Sell blog. The site, and the book, are insightful and yet frustrating. Potter and co-author Joseph Heath acknowledge, like too many on the left don’t like to acknowledge, that the collective action problem is a real one, and make a lot from it in their book. They also emphasize the uncomfortable truth that "cultural rebellion, of the type epitomized by Adbusters magazine, is not a threat to the system — it is the system".

Their argument is useful because it makes it clear that rebel chic is not the same as real change. The point, I thought when I read the book, is that if we want a just society then we need to focus on actions that lead to real change rather than engaging in individualistic pseudo-protest.

But then they go and do something like Snarky-tees. At this point it starts to look as if they (or at least he — the blog is Andrew Potter’s but not Joseph Heath’s) are more interested in ironically mocking the culturally rebellious (and making a buck in the process) than in promoting real change. It looks … Continue reading

A new eugenics?

Interesting letter by the always-worth-reading Margaret Somerville in the Globe and Mail this morning, following an article by the rarely-worth-reading Mararet Wente on abortion and disability. She says:

Re Margaret Wente’s Disabled Kids Are The Abortion Debate No One Wants
To Have (Nov. 17): Whatever our view of the ethics at the individual
level of parents-to-be screening their embryos and fetuses for genetic
and developmental abnormalities and discarding those that are
genetically or developmentally "defective," these decisions at a
societal level will have the effect of wiping out certain groups of
people, such as those with Down syndrome or achondroplasia (dwarfism),
or who are profoundly deaf or manic-depressive.

And as genetic knowledge expands, other groups are likely to be reduced. Female embryos and fetuses are already being eliminated, and some fear a similar fate if the genes for homosexuality are identified. The cumulative effect of individual decision-making is wiping out certain groups, a situation that would never be tolerated as public policy.

Are we creating a "new eugenics" — deliberately eliminating genetically undesirable people from society? Those favouring screening finesse this question by arguing that an individual’s choice regarding the nature of their … Continue reading

Healthcare Delivery

The healthcare debate south of the border is ferocious, of course. It is good to see one of my favourite blogs, Brad DeLong’s Semi-Daily Journal
keep on delivering the goods on the issue, even if this time BDL is
just passing on the latest Paul Krugman New York Times column on the

DeLong’s was the first weblog I tracked regularly, and it
is still one of the best. I have no clue how he keeps posting several
times a day on average for (pause to see how long it has been going)
well, a few years at least on everything from his main theme
(economics, wot wiv him being an economics lecturer and all) to
America’s Stupidest Dog to many other things. Anyone reading here
should probably go there instead.

Continue reading