Sign of the Times – 03-17-14

Some observations from today’s New York Times: A story on the technology, film, and music festival SXSW laments the infusion of brands and big bands in what used to be an indie scene. A few choice quotes:

“No one will miss the stranglehold the large music labels had on the industry, but having shoe and snack food companies decide what is worthy could strangle the new, unruly impulses that allow the music business to prosper.”

New, unruly impulses. I like that. And then:

“You hear a lot of the Ramones on commercials these days, but if the suits were in charge when the band was first playing, you never would have heard of them at all. (Anybody who wonders about the impact of big companies as cultural gatekeepers need only go see a studio blockbuster.)

Makes you wonder if literature could move toward a similar respect for the indie scene.

Another story on Disney’s The Lion King becoming the top-earning show on Broadway caught my eye. This is the musical equivalent of a backlist title, a show that is over a decade old. Using complex and secretive pricing algorithms timed to the season and the day of the week, Disney has been able to maximize profits. Two things to note (and possibly learn from): The first is their refusal to charge as much as their competitors do at the top end. One of the reasons for this? To reduce the chances of buyer’s remorse, according to the show’s producers, which leads to more positive word-0f-mouth.

Finally, a large company is considering the psychology of pricing and purchasing, and the result is that they are killing their competitors, who charge more for the same seats. A quote from the piece:

“If you purely listen to what yield management folks would advise, we could charge a little more . . . But our theory is, because we’re in this for the long haul, we’ve decided we’re not going to set a new high ticket price for the street.”

Compare that to the digital price-fixing publishers employed in jacking up e-book prices. The long view is to take backlist, look at demand, consider the psychology of price in purchasing decisions (and regret), and beat the crap out of your competitors. Makes my ideas with New HarperCollins sound like profit-making suggestions, huh? In some quarters, they’ve been considered all risk with no reward.

One more interesting story from today’s Times:

On the cover of the business section, the story of how start-up space companies are competing with the top dogs. One satellite company in particular is poised to disrupt the global imaging sector with a network of cheap and lightweight satellites that leverage over-the-counter components for massive cost savings. According to the Times, “These start-ups have one thing in common: They think they can undercut the old guard with lower prices and smarter thinking.”

These satellites are the size of shoe boxes and are designed to last a handful of years on standard laptop batteries and solar panels. Even better, they are constantly being upgraded, even as the complete network of 100+ satellites is being deployed. The 7th editions are in space and the 10th editions are being assembled on the bench. The assembly takes place in what has been dubbed

“a ‘clean-ish room,’ separated from the kitchen by some loose plastic sheets”

A team of 40 is creating a network of imaging satellites with $65 million in contracts already in place, and the promise to resolve down to the level of an automobile and show before, during, and after images of any natural disaster. The uses for their data are numerous. The way they’re going about collecting it is ingenious.

There was one other story in today’s paper that caught my eye, but I’m too busy to hunt it down again. And while I’d love to do this every day (the signs of digital disruption are everywhere that you look), I think it’s better, simpler, and gloriously ironic to suggest you take out a subscription. Yes, for the paper edition. I can’t recommend home delivery of the Times enough. Seriously. It will change your life. Get rid of the cable bill and read the paper every day. If you dream of being a writer, it will fill your head with ideas for new plots and improve your vocabulary and your writing.

6 responses to “Sign of the Times – 03-17-14”

  1. Hugh, if I were to follow your advice, and go back to reading the NYT, how do you suggest I deal with the pages and pages of exploitively hateful bigotry directed against people like me that I would have to wade through for these gems?

    1. Not sure what you are referring to, but I would avoid the op-ed pages. I never read them.

      I don’t see any of the bias others claim to see in the NYT by sticking to the news articles. Not saying it isn’t there, but I haven’t seen it.

      1. >Not sure what you are referring to

        >I don’t see any of the bias others claim to see in the NYT

        Make up your mind, please.

        1. What “you” are referring to


          the bias “others” claim to see

          There’s no conflict. Maybe you are referring to liberal biases, which others claim to see. I don’t see that outside the op-ed page. But I didn’t want to assume. Maybe you see a bias against homophobic Christians or something else. *shrugs*

  2. One of these days you’re going to have to put out a non-fiction omnibus. Love reading your thoughts about the world.

    Re: Newspapers: I still prefer to read physical books over ebooks, but I much prefer reading newspapers online than on paper. Turn to page C17? No way! I find online browsing so much more convenient.

    I think the newspapers are pricing the digital subscriptions too high. At about $200 per year for digital subscriptions, I’ve only taken out a subscription to the New York Times. If they reduced prices, I’d subscribe to so many more of them. I quickly run out of the free articles on the Seattle Times, WSJ, Washington Post, Economist and LA Times. I say if these newspapers/magazines started charging $50 a year instead of $200, subscriptions will more than quadruple. Wonder why it’s either free or $200. Aren’t there numbers in between?

    1. The thing about physical newspapers is that they coerce you into reading about topics that you normally wouldn’t “click” on. :)

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