by S.D. McPhail
On a quest for vengeance against a criminal known as the Viper, Prince Rasteem becomes suspicious when his army easily conquers Dodrazeb. Princess Laneffri is desperate to expel the Persian invaders from her kingdom and will stop at nothing to protect its secrets--especially the Origin Key, a powerful, ancient device. Is Dodrazeb hiding the Viper or something even more dangerous? When Rasteem learns what the Origin Key can do, he must find a way to make the princess an ally to save both their kingdoms from annihilation.
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by Russell Newquist
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by Morgon Newquist
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Surprise, surprise, Vox.com author Constance Grady completely fails to understand how business actually works. Specifically, in this case, how Amazon.com works.
Amazon routinely takes a loss on its book sales, often charging customers less per book than it pays publishers and swallowing the difference. It’s a priority for the company to be your preferred bookseller, even if it has to take a hit; its business model can accommodate the loss, because it generally makes up the extra dollars on the last-minute impulse buys customers toss into their shopping carts. Meanwhile, on the e-book side of things, Amazon’s low prices help drive sales of its Kindle.
That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.
Like most big corporations, Amazon engages in a primary business and a few dozen complementary businesses.
Let’s think through an example: Google. Google earns 78% of its revenue by selling ads on its search engine. Obviously, Google stays focused on search ads. But to keep making that money, Google must remain the dominant search engine. Also, Google wants to get more and more people using online search altogether. To help meet those goals, Google invests in business areas that complement online search: mobile phones, high speed internet connections, etc. Google doesn’t make much revenue or profit off of Android or Google Fiber. In fact, they don’t even need to make any profit to meet Google’s goals. The point of these endeavors is to keep people – preferably more and more people – using Google search, and therefore clicking on the ads that make Google money. These are the complementary businesses that Google engages in.
Like most big corporations (and many small companies, for that matter), Amazon also sometimes uses loss leaders as a sales tactic. Companies like to pick a small number of products to sell at a break-even point, or even at a loss, knowing that they’ll make it up later. People buy product or service A, but then they end up also buying product or service B while they’re shopping. The largest local gun store in town has a range attached. Given their pricing models, they can’t be making any profit off of the range itself. That’s not the goal. The range brings customers in the door – then they spend money on more ammunition, more firearms, more accessories, etc.
Both of these tactics work, and they work best when the loss leader product is also complementary to your main business. In other words, they work best when you use them together.
Ms. Grady’s post shows that she seems to have some understanding of these concepts. But she’s gotten it all backwards. Amazon’s loss leader isn’t books. Books (and, these days, other digital content such as movies and television) is Amazon’s primary business. Amazon may, indeed, occasionally take a loss on specific books. It most definitely does not do that on a general basis with books. Pay attention: Amazon sells more ebooks than print books, and has since 2011. EBooks tend to sell for less money. But because it spends less on distribution and storage costs, Amazon makes a lot more profit off of them. The same is true of streaming music and movies. Amazon has focused on the primary business of delivering digital goods for years now.
Kindles are the complementary business – and the loss leader. That’s why it sells Kindle Fire tablets for so much less than other comparable tablets. That’s why it put so much effort into dominating Kindle sales. They’ll replace Kindle Fire (kids edition) tablets for free for basically forever – so that you’ll keep buying content. That’s why they got into the FireTV market. They replaced my first Kindle e-reader for free even after I straight up told them that my two year old son stepped on it. And Kindle e-readers themselves are dirt cheap to begin with. You can buy a brand new entry level reader for only $80.
As Brian Niemeier notes, however, this article isn’t about getting the facts right. It’s about the Big 5 publishers being terrified of Amazon.
The last time I saw that many weasel words was in an MRK rant. To translate from the demagogue, they don’t know. Note to Huffpo: “And this goes on and on” is not a data point.
What Vox.com and Puffho are studiously overlooking here is the minor detail that, if any of these speculative scenarios are true, all of the books ultimately came from the publisher. The most risible theory is that unscrupulous reviewers are able to sell ARCs because review copies aren’t marked “not for resale”. Apparently, protecting their copyrights isn’t worth the expense of a ten dollar rubber stamp.
Amazon selling books through third party distributors isn’t a big deal for indie publishers or self published authors. As Brian notes, there’s no way for a third party distributor to get our books in the first place except through us – unless they’re engaging in practices that are already both illegal and against Amazon’s terms of service. This is just one more way for Amazon to sell more of our books. Ultimately, that’s a good thing.
This doesn’t mean that Amazon is our friend. Amazon cares about Amazon. But at the moment, Amazon is also good for the publishing industry.
It’s just not good for entrenched interests and old power.
Back in December I left a review of the Shady Rays sunglasses I’d just picked up. I also promised a follow-up on that review. Six months have passed since then, making it time to fulfill my promise.
Miraculously, six months later I still have both pair of sunglasses. Part if this is luck. I haven’t lost either pair yet. My spare pair is momentarily misplaced, but it’s somewhere in the house. I haven’t needed them in a few months, so I haven’t looked for them. I set them aside when I first bought them, but I had to use them when I left my primary pair at work one day. They never made it back to their designated set-aside location. When I need them, though, I feel confident that I’ll find them.
A nice bonus, however, is that neither pair has broken in the past six months. That’s hardly a record for my sunglasses, but by my standards it’s a good run. My experience over the past few months also confirms my initial impression: Shady Rays built a sturdy product. I don’t know how they hold up to expensive sunglasses like Ray-Bans, but their construction quality definitely exceeds the Iron Man sunglasses I’d been wearing.
I do have one complaint after some time with them, but it’s relatively minor. The rubber nose pieces detach easily and unexpectedly. My primary pair is missing a nosepiece at the moment. Shady Rays sells replacement nosepieces at a reasonable cost. I’ve never bothered to order any, but the option exists. Next time I find my nose piece – or, more likely, whenever I finally buy replacements – I plan to superglue them in place so that they don’t fall off. I would recommend the manufacturer do something similar in future pairs.
In every other way, I’m even happier with my Shady Rays than I was when I first bought them. They’re durable, affordable, comfortable, and stylish – at least by my standards of stylish! I heartily recommend this product, especially if you manage to find one of their “two pair for $45” deals. Even at $45 a pair, however, these are reasonably priced for what you get.
I need to begin this review by offering my friend Brian Niemeier a sincere apology. I promised him this review a long time ago. [Full disclosure: I received a review copy free of charge.] In my defense: The Secret Kings is the first non-Silver Empire fiction book that I’ve read in 2017. Yes – that’s for the last five months. Thankfully, I’ve had some time to catch up a bit. I’m I lucky, I might clear my backlog before Monster Hunter Siege comes out.
I should have made The Secret Kings a bigger priority, and not just because I promised Brian. This is a heck of a read. The story is crazy – and I mean that in the best possible way. Old friends return – beaten, battered, and bruised, and then thrown into the fire one more time. This tale will take you from one end of the galaxy to another – and it revisits the premise that started the series. Once more, the space pirates return to hell. Only this time everything is different, and the stakes are even higher.
This stunning space opera carries you all over the known universe – and outside of it. The intriguing characters will stick in your thoughts long after you’ve finished the book, leaving you thirsty for more. Furthermore, this book ties together books one and two a bit more clearly, pulling the whole thing into a cohesive whole.
Jeffro’s new post on Jupiter Rising hits upon a key insight I’ve wanted to discuss for some time.
But the acting and the dialog is not what ultimately ruined this film. Structuring it around a female romantic lead did. Here’s why:
Stinger: Bees are genetically designed to recognize royalty.
Jupiter: Boy, are you going to be surprised when find out what I do for a living.
Stinger: It’s not what you do, it’s who you are.
This is an inherently anti-pulp premise that is being grafted onto an otherwise pitch perfect expression of classical space opera. Granted, Tarzan was Lord Greystoke. Arthur was the son of Uther. And Luke Skywalker turned out to be part of a space dynasty. “Who you are” does matter in these things. But what these characters do matters more. And these characters proving their worth and their mettle matters even more.
I’ve noticed a disturbing trend over the last four decades or so (and perhaps longer). The iconic heroes of my childhood were all ordinary men. Luke Skywalker, John McClain, Rocky Balboa, Indiana Jones, etc. At least, in their original incarnations.
Consider Luke Skywalker from A New Hope (and, for a moment, pretend that none of the other films exist). He’s a nobody farmer on a backwards planet. His parents aren’t amazing to speak of, and certainly aren’t shown as royalty. He’s the son of a knight, nothing more. Even so, it proves to be a huge step up from his own life. Yet he goes on to rescue the girl, defeat the bad guy, and save the rebellion.
Next consider Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Again, pretend that the other films don’t exist. He’s an ordinary, everyday American. His parents? Not even mentioned. He earns his position himself, through hard work.
John McClain? A New York cop, an ordinary guy. Rocky Balboa? Another nobody. Every single hero Heinlein ever wrote? Still ordinary, self-made men.
Now, consider the transformations even some of these same characters have undergone over the decades.
Luke Skywalker? It turns out he’s the scion of the greatest royal family in the galaxy.
Indiana Jones? His big-name archaeologist dad set the stage.
But who are the big pop culture heroes of the new millennium?
The trend isn’t universal, but it trends distinctly in favor of aristocrats and away from self-made, ordinary men. This isn’t a healthy sign for our society. Indeed, it’s one more symptom of our devolution from democratic rule to aristocratic rule. Jeffro rightly picks up on this as being anti-pulp. Yet it’s more than that – it’s distinctly anti-American.
I leave with one last passing observation: note this particular moment and its distinct reactionary nature to this phenomenon. I cite this as one (of many) reasons that this franchise performed so well.
In the ongoing discussion of the pulp revolution making its way around the blogosphere, one question has vexed many who have entered the fray: what, exactly, does it mean to be “pulp?” Many have tried to answer. Most have struggled. The current winner seems to be answer by exclusion: defining what pulp isn’t. Today I propose an answer by analogy: Dwayne Johnson (aka “The Rock”) is the living embodiment of Pulp.
His entire career is built on charisma. But where does his charisma come from? He’s not a particularly great actor. Many of his movies aren’t particularly great from a writing standpoint, yet people love them. Why?
It’s because he’s having fun. And that fun is infectious. It doesn’t matter if the movie concept is patently absurd (The Fast and the Furious). That’s ok – in fact, it’s a great Pulp trait. It’s crazy, but it’s fun. It doesn’t matter if it’s a mediocre remake (Get Smart). We don’t care if he’s a good guy (The Scorpion King) or a bad guy (The Mummy Returns). It doesn’t even really matter if the movie’s any good (most of his films actually aren’t). Watching him on screen is always tremendous fun.
The Rock picks films that have an absurd – but cool – premise. He plays over-the-top roles, and he plays them as larger than life. His sense of fun shines through in every role, and his fun is infectious. He doesn’t care that people don’t take him seriously – because he never takes himself too seriously, either. His style plays to the tastes of the masses, not the elites. He’s never afraid to make fun of himself.
You ask me, “what is Pulp?” My friends, I give you The Rock.
NASA released a plan the other day to build a manned space station orbiting the moon. I’ve already seen a lot of talk about how bad a plan it is. And it is a pretty poor plan – but not for the reasons everyone says. A lunar orbiting base isn’t stupid in and of itself. It’s only a bad idea because of how NASA’s doing it. The critics say that this won’t produce enough science. They have it exactly backwards. This station produces too much science – like everything else NASA does.
Understand something important: NASA is really, really good at science. They do a lot of wonderful work. I have friends and family who do some of this work for NASA, and it’s brilliant. But NASA’s focus on science prevents the agency from focusing on what should be its primary mission: making access to space regular, easy, and cheap.
The biggest cost contributor, launch costs, will already fall dramatically over the next ten years. The private space race and companies like Space-X, Virgin Galactic, and Blue Origin, are already winning that battle. Space-X’s rocket system is already far cheaper than competitors, and as they make it more and more reusable it will become even cheaper.
But launch costs still won’t become “trivial.” As such, we’ll need to ensure that we’re using the mass we launch effectively. And the best way to do that – as I’ve noted before – is to build space infrastructure.
That is what NASA’s primary mission should be. Private industry will likely redo everything NASA does on the infrastructure front – and do it better and cheaper. Eventually. But planting the seed of that infrastructure would have huge payoffs.
One core piece of that infrastructure, as I’ve also discussed before, is that a system should be in place for earth-moon transit. And that system should largely consist of a ferry that travels only between two space stations – one in Earth orbit, and one in Lunar orbit. We already have a station in Earth orbit, so NASA’s new lunar orbit station could fulfill the role for the second part of that, right?
Possibly. But it would be a pretty crappy system if we built it that way, even by government standards. Both stations really need to serve two purposes, and only two purposes:
Basically, we need two giant truck stops in the sky.
The ISS is horrible at both of these tasks. It wasn’t built for it – because it was built to do science. And NASA’s new lunar orbit station looks poised to be built for science, also. As others have complained, there’s not enough science it could do to justify the cost.
But if we built it to support infrastructure, then the future science done – not by it, but by those who use it as a layover – could more than justify the cost.
Alas, NASA is too good at science to follow the better path.
Tales of the Peluda dragon come down to us from French legend. According to the tale, the Peluda terrorized the village of La Ferté-Bernard, France during medieval times. Its name comes from the Occitan language (still spoken today in southern France and northern Spain). It literally means “shaggy beast,” as if someone let a three year old Stark of Winterfell name his dragon.
They named the monster honestly, however. Although its basic shape follows the form of the traditional European dragon, the details meander a bit. Rather than scaly lizard skin, the legend tells us that hair covers the dragon (or, depending on the version, porcupine-like quills). The hair ends at the long, serpentine neck. The head resembles a snake more than the traditional lizard-like head of a European dragon, and the beast also carries a snakelike tail. It walks around on the stumpy legs of a tortoise when not in flight. The green creature grows to roughly the size of a large ox.
According to myth, Noah denied the Peluda entry on the ark. The beast toughed out the flood in a cave in France, where it hid for many years. Eventually it returned to terrorize the countryside. In addition to the typical fiery breath of a dragon, the beast could ruin crops with its breath, spit acid, or shoot a stream of water rather like an evil fire hose. Tales tell of at least one occasion where it flooded the region simply by stepping in a river, and it could shoot its poisonous quills at will. Its tail could kill a full grown man with a single blow, and beast proved invulnerable to all attacks.
One day the Peluda ate the wrong maiden, as dragons do. Her fiance tracked down the beast and, enlightened by the wisdom of an old crone, cut off its tail – attacking the Peluda’s only weakness. The beast died instantly.
I cropped the picture of the Peluda above from the cover of my forthcoming novel, Post Traumatic Stress. My cover artist, Andy Duggan, drew a wonderful representation of the beast. I flavored the creature a bit to fit my novel, choosing the hairy version rather than the quilled version. Also, the full powers of the beast don’t come to the fore in this novel. That tale is brewing in the followup novella, Vigil, due out in late 2017 or early 2018.
We’ve received some fantastic submissions for our upcoming superheroes anthology – and I mean that in every meaning of the word. However… the submissions continue to roll in, and we’re still getting good ones. And I’ve got one or two specific authors that have promised stories that I’d really like to have. So we’re extending the deadline by just a little bit. We will continue taking submissions at least through May 31.
You can find the submission requirements here.
The second draft of Post Traumatic Stress is DONE!
It took me a few months to get back to it, but once I did it took less than two weeks to finish the second draft. In a way, it’s better that it took me a while. A little bit of distance from the manuscript meant that I looked at it with very fresh eyes. I’m quite happy with the current state of the manuscript. The ultimate judgement lies, of course, with the readers.
I’m looking for an additional ten beta readers. Beta readers will receive a free copy of the manuscript in its current form sometime in the next week. Anyone can apply to be a beta reader, but I need a commitment to the following:
If you’re interested, send your request to email@example.com.
If you’ve already signed up to be a beta reader, thank you! There is no need to sign up again.