A Philosopher's Blog

Amazon vs. Hachette

Posted in Business, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on June 6, 2014
Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...

Cover via Amazon

As this is being written, Amazon is involved in a dispute with the publisher Hachette. While the dispute has gotten considerable media attention, my main concern is not with the specific battle but with the general matter of the changing nature of publishing and selling books.

I, as shown by my Amazon author page, have published many books through Amazon’s Kindle and Create Space. While Amazon has been subject to some criticism, my experiences as an author have been positive. As I see it, Amazon (and similar open publishers such as Paizo and DriveThruRPG) has some important positive features. The first is that such publishers are open to everyone—this allows independent authors to bypass the elite circles of the self-proclaimed curators of culture and make their work available to the public at no cost to themselves. This sort of open publishing is revolutionary. Second, these publishers general pay very good royalties. For example, authors selling through Amazon can get as much as 70% of the cover price. However, arguments have been advanced in favor of the traditional publishers and these are worth considering.

One stock argument in favor of traditional publishing is the quality argument. This argument does have some appeal.  Since Amazon and other such publishers do not put books through the sort of editorial process followed by the traditional publishers, the books published by independent authors will tend to be inferior. Thus, traditional publishers are needed to protect the quality of books.

There are two obvious replies to this. The first is that the traditional publishers publish significant numbers of books that are not good (such as 50 Shades of Gray and the Twilight series). The second is that independent authors do produce some excellent work. As such, the traditional publishers cannot claim a decisive advantage here. They do, after all, churn out a lot of crap.

Another stock argument in favor or traditional publishing is that it provides extra value to the author. This extra value includes such things as editorial review, layout & design, promotion and other such services. Of course, an independent author can pay for these things herself—after deciding whether or not they are worth the cost.

One thing that is not always mentioned but is of critical importance is that the top traditional publishers enjoy strong connections to the other curators of culture—those that review books, those that interview authors and so on. It is no accident that the authors who are part of the stable of an elite publisher get the media attention that is rather important to having a successful book. It is also no accident that I will never be interviewed on NPR by Diane Rehm or by Stephen Colbert on his show. After all, I am just an independent author with no connection to the curators of culture. This is not to say that an author cannot break through on her own—I have enjoyed surprisingly good sales and some independent authors enjoy amazing success. But, the support of the cultural elites provides a great advantage.

As a final point, I will consider one of the specific points of the Amazon-Hachette dispute. Amazon, obviously enough, wants to sell books at low prices. Hachette, and other publishers, also want to make money. So, the heart of the contention is over the money—if Amazon charges less for Hachette books, Hachette makes less money. If Hachette gets a larger percentage of the sale price, then Amazon gets less. One argument advanced in favor of the publisher getting more is that the publishers can then pay authors more and this is essential in order to keep the top writers writing. This is, of course, based on the assumption that authors are motivated primarily by money.

One obvious reply is that most authors do not make much money, yet they keep on writing. In some cases, the authors are not making much money because (to be honest) the books are not very good. In other cases, the authors are writing for a small audience: academics, gamers and other niches. Since these folks write for little (or no profit) it is clear that authors will write for little (or no profit).

Another obvious reply is that (as noted above) publishers like Amazon offer very generous royalties—so an author could do very well indeed selling through Amazon rather than working with a traditional publisher.

The obvious counter is that while “amateur” authors like myself will keep cranking out books regardless of the profits, the “elite” authors will cease to do so if they are denied large advances and fat paychecks. This would, one might argue, be a great loss to culture. As such, the traditional publishers serve a vital role and need to claim a significant portion of the sales price on books sold through Amazon and other merchants.

One obvious reply is that these authors would still presumably make rather good money even if their publishers made less. Another reply is that these authors could jump ship for Amazon and perhaps make even more money. A third response is that if the “elite” authors quit, there would still be a vast army of independent writers and from their numbers would emerge, as has always happened, a new “elite.”

In closing, I have worked with traditional publishers and with the new model, that of Amazon and other companies. While traditional publishers certainly still have a place, the landscape has been shifting and the traditional publisher might soon go the way of the manual typewriter.

 

My Amazon Author Page

My Paizo Page

My DriveThru RPG Page

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Drones to Your Door

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on December 4, 2013
MQ-1L Predator UAV armed with AGM-114 Hellfire...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a clever move to grab media attention on Cyber-Monday, Amazon announced its plans to develop drone delivery. The United States has, of course, been leading the world in delivery via drone, although we have mostly been delivering missiles Amazon proposes to make drones a much more welcome site—they will be bringers of what you want, rather than bringers of death.

On the face of it, drone delivery is certainly possible. After all, the basic technology already exists and Amazon has deep pockets and political influence. However, the drone delivery system does face some challenges.

One obvious practical challenge is getting the drones to safely and reliably travel from their launch sites to the delivery site and then back. Doing this will require that the drones avoid hitting things like towers, trees, power lines, other aircraft, birds and people. While the drones are probably going to be relatively small and slow moving (compared to the military drones made famous in Afghanistan and Pakistan), a drone could damage property and injure animals and people. However, there seem to be no compelling reason to believe that a drone could not operate as safely as a delivery truck, which is a reasonable standard for drone operations. This will probably require special drone routes that are well clear of conventional airspace and perhaps specialized landing spots for drone deliveries. After all, having a drone just plop down at someone’s front door could be very problematic.

Another obvious practical challenge is the fact that people will interfere with the drones. In some cases, people (mostly kids) will try to catch or knock down the drones for the malicious fun of it. In most cases people will be trying to hijack the drones in order to steal their cargoes. This interference might be done by technological means such as trying to jam the drone or even take control of the drone. Naturally, people will also resort to lower tech methods, such as hitting them with thrown (or shot) objects.

Because of the threats presented by people, Amazon will need to ensure that their drones are protected from jamming and hacking. They will also need to find ways to deter people from attacking the drones. While people are usually reluctant to attack a human delivery driver, the threshold for willingness to go after a drone is certainly lower. One obvious option is to equip the drones with cameras that record the area around the drone, thus enabling videos of thefts and attacks to be sent to the police. This option does, of course, raise moral concerns about drones flying about cities recording from on high. After all, the drones will have a vantage point that will allow them to see into fenced yards and in other areas where people normally expect privacy. Amazon could handle this by erasing the recordings of the drones if no incident takes place or by limiting access to the drone recordings to the police. Of course, it seems likely that police and security organizations might very much want access to the drone recordings—it might turn out that the NSA will use the Amazon drones like they now use our phones—just another tool for the police state.

In addition to the moral concern about spying, there is also a minor moral concern about the fact that drones provide such rapid delivery. In some cases, this could be an important service—a person could, for example, get a critical part needed for their business or car (perhaps delivered right to the car). In other cases, this could simply be yet another way for people to fail in the virtue of patience.

As to the question of whether or not I will use it, the answer is probably “yes”—if only once and only to see that drone touching down in my driveway, chopping up wayward squirrels into chunks with its whirling blades.

 

My Amazon Author Page

My Paizo Page

My DriveThru RPG Page

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Tower of Zakelana at DriveThruRPG & Paizo Store

Posted in Miscellaneous, Pathfinder by Michael LaBossiere on September 19, 2013

Zakelena-Cover

Description

Roughly three centuries ago the young Zakelana began her adventuring career as a wizard. She was well known for her gift for turning foes to allies and for having a rather broad definition of what counted as a legitimate target for adventuring. This approach earned her the anger of many powerful people who sent assassins or monsters to exact their vengeance. Whenever possible, Zakelana attempted to persuade any would be killer to switch sides. The best known example occurred when a rival mage send a creature to torment Zakelana in her dreams. According to the tale, Zakelana was able to win over the creature with the gift of a pony named “Giggles.”

In her later years, she retired from adventuring and one day she simply vanished. Some speculate a final experiment failed and banished her eternally to some other dimension. Another tale relates how one of her many enemies finally killed her. In any case, she vanished but left behind a tower and a magical gateway to the space containing the tower. Some tales claim that the guards of the tower are monsters that Zakelana won over but could not allow to roam freely. The tales also speak of the great wealth and magical secrets within the tower.

Tower of Zakelana is a Pathfinder Role Playing Game compatible adventure. It is intended for a party of 10th-12th   level characters.

Here are some of the features of the adventure:

  • Usable as a side adventure or extended encounter.
  • Detailed color map for the adventure.
  • Full statistics are included for all encounters—no need to look up monsters.
  • New spells (Zakelana’s Dimensional Tunnel and Zakelana’s Dimensional Pit).

Available on Amazon.

Available at DriveThruRPG.

Available at the Paizo store.

Downloads

Tower of Zakelana Monsters & Map PDF

Hero Lab Portfolio Folder

See paizo.com/pathfinderRPG for more information on the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

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Kelok’s Tomb Available Now at DriveThru RPG

Posted in Pathfinder by Michael LaBossiere on August 21, 2013

A Pathfinder compatible adventure for 2nd-4th level characters.

Description

The wizard Kelok achieved some minor fame developing original spells, some of which were apparently extremely dangerous to the caster. While some of his descendants claim he developed many spells still used today, unbiased experts claim that his original spells have all been lost. His detractors claim that this is a good thing, at least for wizards who prefer not to be imploded by their own magic.

Because of his love of magical research and dangerous machines, it is perhaps fitting that the legends claim that he met his end whilst researching a new spell. Those friendly to his memory claim that he perished while nobly expanding the boundaries of magical knowledge. His detractors insist he perished while making his last and greatest mistake. Whatever the truth of the matter, nothing has been heard from Kelok in 150 years and it has long been accepted that he perished and was placed within a tomb of his own design.

Little is known of his tomb. According to legend, the tomb was located in the wilderness to keep unwanted grave robber and pilfering adventures away from his treasures. There are, of course, the usual tales about the tomb of any wizard, namely that it is packed with great wealth and fantastic items. Naturally, there are also the usual tales of the elaborate precautions, terrible traps, and vicious monsters that protect the tomb.

Here are some of the features of the adventure:

  • Interesting encounters on the journey the tomb.
  • Detailed color maps for the tomb.
  • New monster (Iron Guardian).
  • New spells (Kelok’s Claw, Kelok’s Companion, and Tigermane’s Wolfskin).
  • New Traps (Fire Square and Ice Square).
  • Full statistics are included for all encounters—no need to look up monsters or traps.
  • Robust opportunities for role-play and combat.
  • For character levels 2-4.

Available on Amazon.

Available at the Paizo Store.

Available at DriveThru RPG.

Downloads

Kelok’s Tomb Monsters & Maps PDF

Hero Lab Portfolio Folder

See paizo.com/pathfinderRPG for more information on the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

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Dungeon of Leche Now available at DriveThru RPG for 99 Copper Pieces

Posted in Pathfinder by Michael LaBossiere on August 20, 2013

A Pathfinder compatible adventure for character levels 10-12.

Description

During the beginning of the Third Cycle of the endless Abyssal War, the First Kingdom fell before the onslaught of the demons. Despite this defeat, the gods dispensed rewards to the heroes of the war. The cat heroes were granted a gift of magical golden cows that provided an endless supply of delicious milk that could be claimed by any righteous cat.

Over the centuries, cows were lost to chance, murder, or negligence until but one remained. The last golden cow was taken to the greatest Temple of the Cats. Tragically, the priests eventually succumbed to greed and kept all the milk to themselves. Because of this selfishness, the gods cursed the priests with endless thirst (and gigantic hairballs) and took the cow from them. However, they ruled that if a cat were cunning enough to learn the location of the golden cow, brave enough to recover it and generous enough to share the milk, then the magic milk would flow again for all cats. To ensure that the cats would have a tough time of it, the gods turned over the creation of the dungeon to Yote, a god of trickery. Unfortunately, he allowed his nephew Scradoo to help design the dungeon. After it was completed, the dungeon was given appropriate canine and milk based guardians.

Since that time many a cunning cat has set out on the search for the golden cow. However, all have failed. While the very cunning were sometimes able to find it, they either perished in the dungeon or failed the final test. It is now time for new heroes to search for the golden cow.

The Dungeon of Leche: Search for the Golden Cow is a Pathfinder Role Playing Game compatible adventure. It is a humorous adventure intended for a party of 10th-12th level.

Here are some of the features of the adventure:

  • A canine and dairy themed dungeon crawl with two scoops of monsters and traps on top.
  • A humorous adventure that still provides serious play.
  • Detailed maps for the dungeon.
  • New monsters (Golden Cow, Butter Golem, Cheese Golem, Cheese Hungering Mouse Swarm, Ice Cream Golem, and Yogurt Ooze).
  • New spell (Create Milk).
  • Full statistics are included for all encounters—no need to look up monsters.
  • Robust opportunities for puns, jokes and combat.
  • Not fat free.

Available for 99 cents on Amazon.

Available at the Paizo store as a 99 cent PDF.

Available at DriveThruRPG for 99 cents.

Downloads

Dungeon of Leche Monsters & Maps PDF

Hero Lab Portfolio Folder

See paizo.com/pathfinderRPG for more information on the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

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Shark Island Pathfinder RPGCA Free on Amazon

Posted in Pathfinder by Michael LaBossiere on July 11, 2013

Shark-Island-Cover

A Pathfinder Role Playing Game compatible adventure for 1st 3rd level characters.

Free on Amazon from 7/11/2013-7/15/2013

Description

After the fall of a great empire, the survivors set out in the remaining ships in search of new lives elsewhere in the world. In the course of the voyage, some of the ships became lost. During one particularly violent storm, several ships were separated from the main fleet and most of those were destroyed. A few, however, survived to see the sun shining on a promising new home-a seemingly empty island. After discussing the matter, the captains decided to remain on the island and the people set out to construct a fortress and a village.

For the first year, things went well for them. They completed their houses, established the fortress and planted crops. Unfortunately, the survivors had brought their doom with them.

Available on Amazon.

Downloads

Shark Island Monsters & Maps

See paizo.com/pathfinderRPG for more information on the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

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76 Fallacies in Print

Posted in Philosophy, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on March 19, 2013

76_Fallacies_Cover_for_Kindle

76 Fallacies is now available in print from Amazon and other fine sellers of books.

In addition to combining the content of my 42 Fallacies and 30 More Fallacies, this book features some revisions as well as a new section on common formal fallacies.

As the title indicates, this book presents seventy six fallacies. The focus is on providing the reader with definitions and examples of these common fallacies rather than being a handbook on winning arguments or general logic.

 

 

 

The book presents the following 73 informal fallacies:

Accent, Fallacy of

Accident, Fallacy of
Ad Hominem
Ad Hominem Tu Quoque
Amphiboly, Fallacy of
Anecdotal Evidence, Fallacy Of
Appeal to the Consequences of a Belief
Appeal to Authority, Fallacious
Appeal to Belief
Appeal to Common Practice
Appeal to Emotion
Appeal to Envy
Appeal to Fear
Appeal to Flattery
Appeal to Group Identity
Appeal to Guilt
Appeal to Novelty
Appeal to Pity
Appeal to Popularity
Appeal to Ridicule
Appeal to Spite
Appeal to Tradition
Appeal to Silence
Appeal to Vanity
Argumentum ad Hitlerum
Begging the Question
Biased Generalization
Burden of Proof
Complex Question
Composit

ion, Fallacy of
Confusing Cause and Effect
Confusing Explanations and Excuses
Circumstantial Ad Hominem
Cum Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc
Division, Fallacy of
Equivocation, Fallacy of
Fallacious Example
Fallacy Fallacy
False Dilemma
Gambler’s Fallacy
Genetic Fallacy
Guilt by Association
Hasty Generalization
Historian’s Fallacy
Il
licit Conversion
Ignoring a Common Cause
Incomplete Evidence
Middle Ground
Misleading Vividness
Moving the Goal Posts
Oversimplified Cause
Overconfident Inference from Unknown Statistics
Pathetic Fallacy
Peer Pressure
Personal Attack
Poisoning the Well
Positive Ad Hominem
Post Hoc
Proving X, Concluding Y
Psychologist’s fallacy
Questionable Cause
Rationalization
Red HerringReification, Fallacy of
Relativist Fallacy
Slippery Slope
Special Pleading
Spotlight
Straw Man
Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy
Two Wrongs Make a Right
Victim Fallacy
Weak Analogy

The book contains the following three formal (deductive) fallacies:

Affirming the Consequent
Denying the Antecedent
Undistributed Middl
e

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30 More Fallacies in Print

Posted in Philosophy, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on March 15, 2013

30_More_Fallacies_Cover_for_Kindle

Now available in print on Amazon and other book sellers.

30 Fallacies is a companion book for 42 Fallacies. 42 Fallacies is not, however, required to use this book. It provides concise descriptions and examples of thirty common informal fallacies.

Accent, Fallacy of
Accident, Fallacy of
Amphiboly, Fallacy of
Appeal to Envy
Appeal to Group Identity
Appeal to Guilt
Appeal to Silence
Appeal to Vanity/Elitism
Argumentum ad Hitlerum
Complex Question
Confusing Explanations and Excuses
Cum Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc
Equivocation, Fallacy of
Fallacious Example
Fallacy Fallacy
Historian’s Fallacy
Illicit Conversion
Incomplete Evidence
Moving the Goal Posts
Oversimplified Cause
Overconfident Inference from Unknown Statistics
Pathetic Fallacy
Positive Ad Hominem
Proving X, Concluding Y
Psychologist’s fallacy
Rationalization
Reification, Fallacy of
Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy
Victim Fallacy
Weak Analogy

My 99 Books 99 Cents Kickstarter

My Amazon Author Page

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42 Fallacies in Print

Posted in Philosophy, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on March 13, 2013

42-Fallacies-B&N2

My first Kindle book, 42 Fallacies, has been manifested in the physical world.

Available now as a paperback on Amazon.

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Free Pathfinder Adventures for December #4: Ril’s Lesser Sanctum

Posted in Pathfinder by Michael LaBossiere on December 22, 2012

A Pathfinder compatible adventure for 3rd-5th level characters.

Description

This adventure will be free on Amazon from 12/22/2012-12/26/2012! Merry Christmas!

This adventure is the second in the Rils’ series. It is preceded by the Tomb of Rils.

The brave adventurers travel to a desert land in search of the Lesser Sanctum of Rils. There, they will face the dangers of the desert before entering the sanctum. Within its dark chambers, they will face terrible monsters, cunning traps, and one of Rils’ failed students. Those strong enough to survive will leave the desert land laden with treasure and new knowledge. Those that fail shall leave their bones and flesh to the whims of the necromancer.

This adventure includes new monsters, new spells and new magic items.

Available now on Amazon.

Downloads

Rils’ Lesser Sanctum PDF

Hero Lab Portfolio Folder

See paizo.com/pathfinderRPG for more information on the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

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