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Daynotes Journal

Week of 24 January 2011

Latest Update: Saturday, 29 January 2011 10:54 -0500

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Monday, 24 January 2011
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09:14 - Barbara's dad is doing better. They admitted him because they can't figure out what's causing the edema. He was already on the diuretic 4-chloro-2-(furan-2-ylmethylamino)-5-sulfamoylbenzoic acid, which I think they call Lasix. Or is that the laser eye surgery? At any rate, it may be as easy as changing the dosage or changing to another diuretic, once they figure out if the heart issues are causing the edema or vice versa.

Barbara said they were limiting his fluid intake to 1 liter/day for now, and 1.5 liters/day once he returns home. They've told him to weigh himself every morning and call the doctor if he gains more than 3 pounds (1.5 kg) in one day or 5 pounds in a week.

In Winston-Salem, the Fire Department is the first responder, which I think is an excellent idea. The fire truck usually shows up within 2 or 3 minutes, while the ambulance often takes longer. The firefighters are EMTs, with the training and equipment needed to stabilize patients until the ambulance and paramedics arrive. One of the paramedics was nice enough to take the time to talk to Barbara after they arrived at the emergency room. She told Barbara that it was fortunate they'd called 911 quickly. If they'd waited an hour, she said, Barbara's dad may not have made it. She also told Barbara not to wait if her dad had breathing problems again, but to call 911 immediately. She said they'd rather respond to what turned out to be a non-emergency than arrive too late for a real emergency.

One thing I mentioned to Barbara was that I thought maybe her parents should have emergency oxygen handy. Barbara mentioned that to the paramedic, who said it was up to Barbara and her family, but that it wasn't really necessary because the fire department arrives quickly. But, of course, that's not guaranteed. They may have been called out to a fire or another emergency, and our recent weather is a reminder that sometimes the roads are nearly impassable even for emergency vehicles.

I see that the Green Bay Packers, Inc. will face the Pittsburgh Steelers, Inc. in the Super Bowl, Inc. What I don't understand is why anyone cares. Do they hold stock in one of these corporate entities? I understand that some people like to get together and have a winter party, but what's the point of doing it around a pathetic sports exhibition?

Here's an interesting article in Forbes that says what I've been saying for twenty years or more: that the decline in science education is having a profound impact on the ability of the US to compete in the world economy.

One fix we should pursue immediately is to require any public middle-school or high-school science teacher to have at least a BS and preferably an MS in a hard science, and I don't mean a degree in "science education", so-called. A degree in education, science or otherwise, is worthless, but particularly so when it comes to teaching rigorous subjects like science and math. And, just as having a degree in education says nothing whatsoever about one's ability to teach, let alone to teach a particular subject, the absence of such a degree also says nothing. Having a degree in the subject one is teaching does provide at least a reasonable expectation that the person understands the subject matter. If we require real degrees from our teachers, abolish teachers' unions and tenure, and simply employ teachers year-to-year, firing the incompetent ones regularly, we could dramatically improve our public schools overnight.

My new Kindle is supposed to arrive today. I haven't downloaded any books for it yet. I'll probably pick up a bunch of free ones any maybe one or two inexpensive titles to start.


Tuesday, 25 January 2011
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08:45 - Barbara called just after lunch yesterday to say they were sending her dad home. He weighed 217 pounds (99 kg) when he arrived at the emergency room Sunday morning. By lunchtime yesterday, he was down to 202 pounds. That's 15 pounds or nearly 2 gallons of water-weight loss.

Unfortunately, even though they'd gotten rid of most of the excess fluid accumulation, Dutch again experienced some difficulty breathing, so they decided to keep him in hospital for a while longer. Barbara just headed over to the hospital. We're hoping they get the problem resolved, or at least diagnosed, and Dutch will be able to go home today.

My new Kindle arrived yesterday. I'd already downloaded all of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vor Saga novels for free from the Baen web site. (I don't feel badly about that, since I've bought everything she's written at least once, and many of them several times to give away to others.) The zip files include various formats. Some of them, like epub, are useless on the Kindle, but they also include either a .prc file or a .mobi file, either of which the Kindle reads. I also downloaded a free R. Austin Freeman novel from Amazon, and promptly got an invoice in my email for $0.00. Bizarrely, although the book is freely downloadable and in the public domain, Amazon slapped DRM on the file.

I also downloaded Calibre, intending to use it to strip the DRM from the Freeman novel, but I haven't yet installed the DRM-stripping plug-ins. Calibre looks to be very useful for organizing and managing an ebook collection--adding tags, metadata, and so on--and for converting one format to another. I would imagine that I'll eventually have hundreds and then thousands of e-books, so it's important to get started right. Also, I don't want my ebooks living in the cloud, so I'll maintain local, DRM-free copies of everything. I don't expect Amazon to go out of business or suddenly decide to revoke all my e-books, but one never knows.

I used the Kindle last night to read Bujold's The Vor Game, which it turns out I'd never read before. I bought it at least once, and I think several times, new and used, but apparently I gave it away before I actually got around to reading it. I wonder how many other times that's happened.

I just started using the Kindle without reading any instructions. I'm sure there are many features I'm unaware of, but it's intuitive enough if all you want to do is read a book. I did, finally, come up with a good answer to the Coupling sofa-cushion rant (although, to me, sofa cushions are the things you sit on and rest your back against; what they call "cushions" I'd call "pillows".) A sofa pillow is ideal for resting the Kindle on while you read. The e-ink display is excellent for reading under normal illumination. If anything, it's actually easier on the eyes than ink on paper because it's very dark gray on light gray rather than black on white. Page turning was a bit distracting at first. I expected the screen to clear to white or black during page turns, but you can actually see the new page being constructed. I soon got used to that, and was able to ignore it completely.

Here's a collection of useful links.

From: Richard H. Brown Jr.
  To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Date: Mon Jan 24 11:14:13 2011
  Re: Free E-Book Sites
Dear Mr Thompson:

Since you've gone over to the dark side to save the planet by not buying real books, but virtual ones, you might find these free book sites worth looking at:


http://www.ereader.com/ Note: There are some free e-books in here, you just have to search.



http://www.mobileread.com/forums/ebooks.php?do=getall&order=asc&sort=dateline&page=10 Both a forum on various readers, modifications, software, and uploaded books.

http://www.munseys.com/site/home Lots of 50-60's hard boiled detective books and other genre.


http://www.palmdigitalmedia.com/home.html may be another e book format of www.ereader.com


http://fathom.lib.uchicago.edu/index.shtml University of Chicago educational materials from several libraries


http://chestofbooks.com/index.html read online free only, as far as I can tell.

http://www.baen.com/library/ free e-books for download. Most of these are contained in the free to copy and give away cd's that they include in selected hard cover books. But you can go to this site:


and down load either the individual books or the .iso images of the cd's and burn them to a disc, and then copy to your e-book reader, the ones you want to read. Note: A lot of the books are repeated in the Cd's you have to pay attention to what you've selected and copied to your reader software.

These are just a few of the free e-book sites out there, you may have to free range graze sites like MIT's open course site to see if they make their course books available either in a d/l format readable on line.

Feel free to extract the web url's and post them on a  Cheap Bastard's guide to Free E-Books page you might like to put on your site.

Keep plugging away at your science books.

Best to the wife and the dogs.

Richard H. Brown Jr.


Wednesday, 26 January 2011
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09:15 - Here's some cheerful news: Churches Find End is Nigh. Apparently, the foreclosure crisis is going to be hitting churches big-time starting this year. What kind of lunatic loan officer would lend money to a church, anyway? A church has no guaranteed source of income, and the property they're pledging as collateral is never worth even a small fraction of the amount it costs to build it. I mean, if you repossess a church building, who are you going to sell it to? Another church?

And who are you going to go after to recover any of your money? The church members aren't responsible. Neither is the pastor. No one is legally responsible for that debt other than the church itself, which usually has minimal or no assets other than the church building itself. It's completely circular. If I were a banker, the only way I'd lend money to a church is if a sufficient number of the members co-signed the loan, agreeing to be jointly and severally responsible personally for the debt. And I'd make sure they had sufficient personal assets to cover several times the amount of the loan.

It's also long past time that we stopped giving churches a pass on property taxes. The rest of us, including atheists, end up paying a lot more taxes to subsidize these leeches. There's no Constitutional reason that churches shouldn't have to pay property taxes at the same rates as any other commercial enterprise.

Of course, I'm a Constitutional literalist. The Founding Fathers were quite literate, and said exactly what they meant. If they'd intended to say "with respect to", that's what they would have said. Instead, they said "respecting" which means "showing respect for". So, as far as I'm concerned, what they really meant was that Congress shall pass no law that shows respect for the establishment of religion. If you think that's a stretch, consider this: the people who drafted the Constitution, almost without exception, were deists, which is basically just another word for atheists.

13:22 - Barbara's dad was released yesterday and returned home. This morning, Barbara took Dutch for a follow-up appointment and then took him back home before heading to work. She called earlier to let me know that her dad is doing very well. He was able to walk into the doctor's office on his own, and didn't need the step-stool she carries to climb in and out of her SUV. The only downside is that his fluid intake is extremely limited for now. He's allowed only one liter of fluid per day, and that includes "wet" foods like custard or gelatin. Barbara said the doctor wanted to keep an eye on things for a week or so, and then Dutch may be allowed two liters per day.

More on the Kindle and Calibre.

From: Gary Mugford
  To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Date: Tue Jan 25 15:02:00 2011
  Re: Calibre and the Kindle


Calibre is a wonderful piece of software still very much in evolution. The author (well, head author) Kovid Goyal, has specific views on what does and doesn't constitute a user interface and he's fairly obstinate about changing things based on those views. Other times, he hears an idea and BAM! it's in the program on Friday (he and the team update just about every Friday). Now, some of the times, those interface changes will cause you to examine the heavens, but mostly, the changes are for the good. I've actually sent along a donation to both Kovid and to the guy behind the 'programming' language in Calibre, Charles Haley. Not much, but just to show appreciation for a piece of software that is easy enough for my mother to use. (Find the book. Press Convert Book, EVEN if it's already in the right format. Press Send to device. Obey all rules for connecting and disconnecting and enjoy).

That said, Calibre doesn't strip DRM. In fact, in Kovid's  Calibre forum at Mobileread.com (Absolutely essential for Calibre, a bit less for Kindle), his tag says he doesn't have anything to do with removing DRM.

Now, MY experience with the Kindle has been nothing but positive. I, without any help from my friendly neighbourhood tech guy, jailbroke the Kindle so that I could dictate cover shots used when turned off (or in hibernation, actually). I now have a series of old SF Magazine covers show up in alphabetical order. About 100 in all. Quite pleasing and waaaaaay better than the Kindle defaults. I also changed the margin. Beyond that, no playing around. No changing fonts from the one I picked, which is good enough. I charge the thing once a week when I add whatever stuff I've accumulated through the week. I'm still awaiting honest to goodness flow control on PDF conversions. I've tried various articles and even a manuscript for my first collection of bridge columns and it just makes a hash of the hand  and bidding diagrams. Brings back memories of my first couple of columns at the Brampton Guardian where the type-setters took north, south, east and west more as suggestions than actual directions. That first column's diagram resembled a giant smile. It's only been recently, after 30 years of carrying a grudge, that I've been able to smile at it. And now, PDF conversion is giving me those same old nightmares.

Anyways, glad to see you come on board with the Kindle. As somebody who bought FOUR eReaders of various stripes for family members last year, I'm one of those obnoxious converts, after years of saying "No, no, not me!"


Gary Mugford
Idea Mechanic
Bramalea ON Canada


Thursday, 27 January 2011
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12:56 - There's an interesting guest-post up this morning on Joe Konrath's blog. Terri Reid's post itself is interesting, but the most interesting thing to me was Joe's prefatory comment about the effect of price on sales of an e-book by Ken Follett, a first-tier author by anyone's definition. Follett's publisher increased the price from $7.99 to $9.99, and unit sales were promptly cut in half. My guess is that if they'd instead cut the price of the book from $7.99 to $5.99, sales would have doubled, and if they cut it from $5.99 to $3.99, sales would probably redouble. In other words, if total revenue at $7.99 was X, revenue at $3.99 would probably be 2X, if not more.

I mentioned at one point that I believed unit sales for an e-book priced at $2.99 would be literally ten times those at $9.99, and I see no reason to change that estimate. In other words, for every $10 in revenue you produce with a book priced at $9.99, you could instead be producing $30 in revenue if the book were priced at $2.99. And, of course, an author who's published by a traditional publisher gets about $2.50 of that $10, while the self-published author gets about $21 of the $30.

The real problem is that the cost structure of traditional publishers won't allow them to survive if they price e-books at $2.99. Of course, their survival time will be even shorter if they continue pricing their e-books at $9.99. They can't reduce e-book prices below about $9.99 because they rightly fear that cheaper e-books will cannibalize sales of profitable hardback books, although even hardbacks have become much less profitable than they were even a year ago. Worse still, e-books priced at $2.99 will quickly kill paperback book sales dead. With Kindles selling for $139, one doesn't have to buy all that many books to come out ahead paying $139 for the Kindle and anything from $0 to $3 for e-books to load onto it versus paying $8 each for paperbacks.

What's a traditional publisher to do? Their business isn't selling books. It's selling paper books. With unit sales of printed books--hardbacks and paperbacks--spiraling downward fast, the fixed costs of traditional publishers will drive them into bankruptcy before long. The $9.99 price for e-books is simply a desperate attempt to stave off that collapse for a little while longer. Traditional publishers had only one thing justifying their existence. They controlled distribution. They no longer have that trump card. Authors no longer need them, period. The only thing keeping traditional fiction publishers in business now is author lock-in. Publishers were smart enough to grab e-book rights in nearly every contract they've made for the last decade or more. They also have multi-book committments from their big-name authors.

But all that is changing fast. Joe Konrath, rightly I think, advises mid-list authors not to sign any traditional publishing contract that offers an advance less than seven figures, to make sure to define "out of print" very strictly in their own favor, and to include verbiage about reversion of rights in the event of bankruptcy of the publisher. (That last is probably ineffective; bankruptcy courts do pretty much anything they want to, and regardless of any reversion verbiage the trustee is likely to successfully claim rights as part of the assets of the bankrupt company.) Of course, no publisher is going to offer a million-dollar advance to a midlister, let alone accepting those other terms, so the trickle of authors who self-publish is about to become a flood.

Right now, there are a lot of fiction authors--midlist to bestseller--unhappily working out the remaining books on their contracts, which will be the last books they'll sign with a traditional publisher. I give the Big Six traditional fiction publishers another five years, tops. I think there's a good chance we'll see at least one of the exit the business this year, and almost a certainty that one or more of them will be gone by 2013. They're all on life support now, and there's only so long that the tubes and wires can keep them breathing.

Oh, yeah. I love my Kindle. I'll still buy printed non-fiction books, particularly the kinds of books I write, because with their page layouts and color illustrations they're not nearly as adaptable to e-book readers. But I really have no intention of ever buying printed fiction again, hardback or paperback. And, just as an experiment, I may put the documentation for the microchemistry kits up for sale in Kindle format. Priced, of course, at $2.99.

I know that many of my friends at O'Reilly read my journal, and I wonder what they must think. I suspect that O'Reilly will be around long after the big fiction publishers are smoking piles of rubble, and still selling a lot of print books, but still it must be disconcerting to be in the publishing industry nowadays. I don't think they really have much to worry about. They're an extremely competent group, with skills that remain necessary even if print books disappear entirely. But the day may come when I'm contracting out individually with some of them for various services like editing, page layout and design, indexing, e-book formatting, cover design, and so on.

I suspect that the O'Reilly crew would tell you that I turn in manuscripts as clean as any they've ever seen from any author, but they're just that: manuscripts. Turning those manuscripts into actual books, printed or otherwise, takes a host of skills that I don't have and don't have the time, talent, or desire to master. Smart authors know they can't do it alone, and I've never been accused of being a stupid author.


Friday, 28 January 2011
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08:57 - When Amazon announced back in July that they were selling more Kindle e-books than hardcover print books, a lot of people blew it off. After all, hardbacks are expensive, luxury items that sell in nowhere near the volume of mass-market paperbacks. Well, Amazon just announced that they're now selling more Kindle e-books than they are mass-market paperbacks. So far this month, Kindle e-books are outselling MMPs by a 115:100 ratio. That is simply stunning. The collapse of traditional publishing may be nearer than I thought.

In more bad news for traditional publishers, e-book readers are selling like hotcakes. I just saw a survey on the CNN web page asking readers if they owned an e-book reader. About 25% of respondents said they do. But the real numbers may be even higher because the question was ambiguous. I suspect that most of those who responded affirmatively own actual e-book reader hardware, and that many who have e-book reader software installed on their smart phones or iPads did not claim to own an e-book reader.

And, in more good news for authors who are self-publishing, it seems that people who buy a Kindle buy books from Amazon at about 3.3 times their previous rates. Why not, when many e-books cost about the same as a cup of coffee? No doubt that means they're reading more, but probably not 3.3 times more. I suspect that what it does mean is that they're buying books that they would previously have borrowed from the library or bought at a used book store. That, of course, doesn't bode well for libraries and used book stores.

From Pournelle's journal:


Purpose: Researchers have been attempting to identify quantitative trait loci (QTLs) for intelligence and cognitive impairment. Although progress has been slow, some gene defects have been identified in individuals with cognitive impairment. However, it has been difficult to identify QTLs which can be replicated in subsequent studies. Some of the difficulty may reside in the populations utilized for the studies. Almost none has endeavored to study a cohort of individuals with high intellectual ability (HIA), those whose IQ is 2 SD above the mean (>130). Just as studies of individuals with cognitive impairment have led to an understanding of brain development and function, studies of individuals with high intellectual ability should be able to provide valuable insight into these areas.

Outline of Study: The proposed study of individuals with HIA will be conducted by researchers at the Greenwood Genetic Center. The study will apply current molecular and genetic technologies to ascertain variations in a person's genome. These variations will consist of either single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) or copy number variants (CNVs; deletion or duplication of genetic material). Across the cohort of HIA individuals, an attempt will be made to identify SNP or CNV associations of significance.

Material Needed: Individuals interested in participating in the study would need to provide the following:

a. Signed consent for participating in the study.

b. Responses to a questionnaire which would provide us with some necessary demographic (age, sex, race, IQ, etc.) and clinical (medicines, behavioral characteristics, handedness, etc.) information.

c. DNA and RNA obtained using Oragene saliva kits provided by us.

Privacy: For the purpose of the cohort analysis, samples will be anonymized. However, if an individual desires to have individual information provided to them, this can be arranged.

Other Notes: Besides individuals, we are interested in enrolling families which have multiple HIA individuals. Such families would provide an invaluable resource for genetic studies of intellectual function which cannot be undertaken in a study of a large number of unrelated HIA individuals. This is a research project. Therefore, results will not be immediately available and final analysis of all the findings will likely take more than 2 years. Additionally, some of the analysis will be undertaken by scientists in collaboration with researchers at the Greenwood Genetic Center. It is hoped that funding for the study will be provided by NIH (National Institute of Health, US) and/or other private/public sources.

Contact: Individuals with IQ 130+ or families with multiple members having an IQ 130+ who are interested in participating in our study should contact:

Dr. Charles Schwartz
Principal Investigator
Greenwood Genetic Center
113 Gregor Mendel Circle
Greenwood, SC 29646
ceschwartz [AT] ggc [DOT] org


Cindy Skinner, RN
Sample Coordinator
Greenwood Genetic Center
113 Gregor Mendel Circle
Greenwood, SC 29646
cindy [AT] ggc [DOT] org

To which I replied:

From: Robert Bruce Thompson
  To: Dr. Charles Schwartz, Cindy Skinner
Date: Fri Jan 28 08:33:06 2011

I'm interested in learning more about your study, and seeing the results.

I took the SAT in 1970 as a high-school senior and scored 800 math, 767 verbal, and 800 on each of the three supplemental SAT tests I took. The last time I took a formal IQ test I was in high school. I scored 185 (SD15).

Alas, at age 57, my mental agility and memory are no longer what they once were. Also, I've never been convinced that assigning numbers to IQs much beyond four sigmas above the mean says anything meaningful. Still, I remain a pretty bright guy, and I'd be happy to provide a DNA sample if that would be useful to your study.


Saturday, 29 January 2011
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10:54 - I've heard from dozens of people who've bought their first e-readers, either for Christmas or since I started posting about ordering a Kindle for myself. So far, everyone who's told me they've just bought a dedicated e-reader (as opposed to an iPad) has bought a Kindle rather than a Nook, Sony, or one of the other competitors.

I really like my Kindle. Since I got it, I've not read any printed fiction, despite the fact that I was half-way through a Beverly Connor paperback when the Kindle arrived. I put that aside (I almost never have two fiction books going at the same time) and started reading books on the Kindle instead. I also have a new John Sandford novel that Barbara brought me from the library, and it's still on my TBR pile. I don't think the novelty of the Kindle is the reason for that; the novelty wore off after the first five minutes. It is possible that it's the authors involved that make the difference. I like Connor and Sandford, but I've been (re)reading Lois McMaster Bujold, who is in an entirely different class.

Despite the fact that the Kindle displays only about half a page worth of text on each screen, reading seems to go faster on the Kindle. It's also more convenient physically than a printed book, particularly for reading in bed. At least for me. I have reasonably large hands--just large enough to palm an NBA basketball--but they're only just large enough to grip the Kindle easily one-handed without squeezing the bezel. Someone with smaller hands might have a hard time getting a solid one-handed grip on a Kindle without using pressure. Of course, there's no particular reason not to grip it by squeezing the bezel rather than spanning it across one's fingers and thumb.

I just did a 15-second experiment with Barbara. She wears a women's extra-large golf glove, but she can just barely grip the device one handed without squeezing the bezel, and her hold that way is uncomfortable for her and none too secure for the Kindle. She demonstrated the girl-way to hold the Kindle, using both hands with most of her hands behind the device and both thumbs on the front. She finds that method quite comfortable.

I now have a couple of dozen books on my Kindle, none of which I've actually paid anything for. Some are PD, but most are from the Baen Free Library. Several of my readers have sent me books with the DRM stripped, which I haven't loaded on the Kindle. Amazon provides free first-chapter previews of every e-book I've looked at, so if I want a book I'll check those first and then buy it. Assuming it's $2.99 or less. I do wish that every author would put up a PayPal tip jar. That way, I could simply torrent a DRM-free version of any overpriced e-book and send the author $2.04 directly. (Their 70% of the correct $2.99 list price, less the $0.06 delivery charge that Amazon deducts.) Actually, of course, I'd just send them the three bucks. Or perhaps several times that much, if I'd torrented several of their titles.

Boy, if the music and movie industries complain about torrents wiping out their business models and profits, wait until it hits the publishers. An average e-book is less than 1 MB, which would take literally one second to download on my broadband connection. In one hour, one could download more e-books than most serious readers read in a lifetime. And I'm told there are already big zip files readily available that contain thousands of e-books in one file. Stuff like 5,000 mystery novels or 8,000 SF novels all in one file.

Publishers--the ones who price e-books at $9.99 or even $14.99--should be worried about that. No, they should be in a complete panic. Let's see: pay ten or fifteen bucks for a DRM-crufted file that can be revoked at any time, versus pay $0.00 for a DRM-free copy of that file. A few people will spend as much as an entire second considering that deal. Most won't. On the other hand, authors who self-publish have nothing at all to worry about. Sure, some people will download free copies of their books. That's called publicity. But a whole lot of people will find it a lot easier just to visit Amazon and pay the man his three bucks.

Put it another way. I (and I suspect many of my readers) think nothing of going to a used bookstore and carrying home $100 or more worth of books. If I can get 33 DRM-free ebooks for that price without even leaving the house, why would I bother downloading e-books for free? And it'll get better once Amazon drops the minimum price for the 70% royalty from $2.99 to $1.99. Most authors will find they sell enough more books at $1.99 to make it more profitable than pricing at $2.99. So my $100 would then buy me 50 titles. That's more than most people read in a year, and probably twice what I read in a month. Eventually, I expect the standard price for an e-book to hit $0.99, where it'll probably stay. And, at that price, authors will earn higher royalties at Amazon's 70% rate than they currently get for each paperback sale. It's wonderful to watch the free market operating.


Sunday, 30 January 2011
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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.