Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Archive for February 2010

The yearly Swedish book-sale

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Every year, towards the end of February, the yearly Swedish book-sale takes place: All the bookstores in the country lower the prices on parts of their respective line of books, often considerably, for a fix time period.

Understandably, this sale has been very popular among book-lovers. Today, however, I read a Swedish articlee lamenting, among other things, that books that were “traditionally” a part of the sale are no longer so, and noting that its popularity has decreased considerably in just a few years (e.g. due to competition from Internet-based bookstores).

Well, the latter is easy to understand: The previous popularity was a direct effect of the overly high prices charged the rest of the year. In effect, the sale was an attempt to eat the cake and have it too: Prices were held artificially high through most of the year, giving a nice profit margin; and then dropped for a time to ensure that a sufficient quantity of books were sold on a yearly basis. While this scheme is dubious ethically, it is also quite clever—provided that cheaper books cannot be procured elsewhere during the rest of the year. With most Swedes having Internet access this condition is no longer true (in particular, as many Swedes are good at English, which makes online bookstores targeted to the UK or the US an alternative).

Obviously, the book industry has never admitted this scheme. Instead they try to deceive people with claims about getting rid of surplus or unsellable books, that the books sold off are often cheaper special prints, or similar.

The first may have been the historical reason, and to some part remains true today, but is certainly not the main reason—except to the degree that the system is rigged to yield such surpluses (cf. above). Besides, if an involuntary surplus was the problem, how come some books are sold off every year? Would this not imply a considerable lack of judgment?

The second points to one of the biggest lies of book selling everywhere: That the cost of printing makes out most of the book price. (Also used to justify the drastically higher prices for hardcover editions over pocket editions.) This simply is not true (with some reservations for luxury editions): numbers around 10 %e have been mentioned as realistic estimates. Even if we manage to cut the printing cost in two, e.g. by using cheaper paper, this would only allow a 5 % reduction…

Germany uses another somewhat perverted system to fool its book buyers: The “recommended” cover price is legally binding in Germany. Every bookstore must sell the books for this exact price, which eliminates competition and allows for an artificially high price. Instead, books deemed too poor sellers are eventually remaindered. In addition, long term price reductions can often be reached by issuing new editions of a different quality, allowing for some amount of price segmentation.

Written by michaeleriksson

February 27, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Avatar, box office, and the development of records

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Comparing box office numbers is a tricky thing: US domestic box officee has Avatar as the clearly highest grossing film in raw dollars, but it reaches only place 15 in an inflation adjusted viewe—behind all three original Star Wars movies and Gone with the Wind, the 71. y.o. queen of the box office. (Retrieved on 2010-02-25; in both cases beware that box-office figures change over time.)

Still, such comparisons provide an excellent illustration of a common phenomenon that applies much more generally:

Records tend to be smashed, with the new record standing out for a long time, while the rest of the world slowly closes up, possibly even surpasses the record—and then the record is smashed again.

This is by no means an infallible rule, but surprisingly often, it is correct. (In particular, when correcting for e.g. phases of rapid natural growth due to changing circumstance or a period of weak records, say because a new technique or material has dramatically changed the circumstances).

Consider the list of Highest-grossing films (US and Canada)w provided by Wikipedia, and note how the number one spot tends to reside with a clear all-time leader, with the occasional series of several breakings leading up to a new clear number one. (This is even more obvious if we compensate for the extreme inflatione between Star Wars and E.T.)

A similar principle appears in the world-wide box office, but less clearly (and with a lot more leg-work).

For other examples look at Wikipedia’s Timeline of world’s tallest freestanding structuresw or some of the world record progressions in athletics present at http://www.athletix.org/e (but beware that what is considered a smashing in athletics is very different from in the box office; also note some counter-examples like the men’s high jump until Sotomayor). Alternatively, try your hand at an arcade game and note how your high score develops over time.

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February 25, 2010 at 1:03 am

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Commercial language

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It is usually obvious when someone has written a text to inform his readers and when to convince them to do something—and in the latter case, the readers tend to be loath to comply. Whether these “convincing” texts bring a net benefit will depend on the readers’ intelligence, education, and experience; but I note that ad writers (and writers of “corporate” texts) naively tend use the same cheap language tricks irrespective of target group—in particular, failing to consider that many of the readers will be smarter than the ad writers themselves are…

This type of writing seems to be spreading further and further, even be it in a less intrusive form than in advertising. Nevertheless, this increase in self-serving language is an annoyance, while, in fact, serving no-one: On the contrary, I fear that it reflects a lack of humility and self-perspective (or may, conversely, affect thinking).

For instance, in my recent exploration of free (legal) sources of music, I found the following snippets on an overview page for the Internet Archivee:

muzic is proud to share their collection with the world in partnership with the Internet Archive.

Why “proud”? Any pride that could be relevant here is the type of pride to be avoided.

Download free recordings of classical music performed live in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s Tapestry Room. These exclusive recordings from the museum’s regular concert series feature…

The first sentence uses an imperative—a big no-no. The second uses the word “exclusive”; which is not only ad language, but also hackneyed.

Listen to this collection of 78rpm records and cylinder recordings released in the early 20th century.

Imperative again.

RadiOM.org is a unique new music resource providing access to historical and contemporary material recorded over a fifty year-plus span.

“Unique” is another hackneyed ad word—and one that tends to be used untruthfully to an even higher degree than most others. In addition, the sentence as a whole gives a negative impression, e.g. by use of “providing access”. Consider instead:

RadiOM.org provides music recorded over the last fifty-plus years.

If these had been adverts in a newspaper, I would had said nothing, possibly even thought myself lucky; however, consider the context they were in.

Some articles on my website deal with similar topics, notably Idiocies of ad writing.

(For those unconvinced, consider whether the addition “I am proud to exclusive share this unique article with you. Read it NOW!” would increase or decrease your wish to read it.)

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February 21, 2010 at 11:37 am

Me, blogging, OpenDiary, and WordPress

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When I first heard the term “blog” (possibly in the late nineties), it had distinctly negative connotations. In many ways, it was like Twitter today: Some people wanting to keep others abreast of their doings, others satisfying their vanity, others yet spreading junk content, and similar.

Naturally, I stayed away from the area—and, as it turned out, carried a prejudice long after the “blogosphere” had evolved from fish to reptile.

Came 2009, I started my own website. Not long thereafter, I decided to try out my own blog in order to increase traffic (in particular, to overcome the initial dry-spell before I was picked up by the search engines). Only having made minor experiences with the blogs of others, I landed at OpenDiary—without realizing how unsuitable it would be for my purposes (while perfectly valid for a diary), e.g. by having the wrong audience, providing only minimal functionality, deliberately blocking search engines, …

(I have a surprisingly hard-to-defeat tendency to assume too much about the minimum functionality provided in different areas—where even the market leaders often lack functionality that I would consider near-mandatory. For this reason, I failed to do the research I should have done.)

This was originally not a big deal: My main task was to build a website, blogging was just an incidental side-activity, and most of my entries were shortened versions of things I had written for my website. As time has gone by, however, several things have changed, notably that I have become much more aware of the advantages blogging can bring, of the many quality blogs that exist today, and that there are blog services with functionality that is actually useful. A particular benefit: I have many ideas and short texts with too little mass to make a good article for my website, but which fit reasonably in a blog.

Further, to my surprise, I am beginning to see some value in the occasional more personal entry (more akin to those found in other OD diaries). While I understand perfectly how others can benefit from “sharing”, I like to keep my private life private. Still, there are occasional events that I would like to write about, but that do not really fit with my other writings (e.g. my recent OD entries on Internet radio).

As a result, I have decided to move the conventional blogging part from OD to WordPress and use my existing OD account for more personal entries (likely with a reduced posting rate). Occasionally, entries may be posted on both, like this one.

My website: http://www.aSwedeInGermany.de

My OD diary: http://www.opendiary.com/entrylist.asp?authorcode=D794738e

My WordPress blog: https://michaeleriksson.wordpress.com/e

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February 18, 2010 at 7:49 pm

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