Somebody Gets It (Sort Of)

Frédéric Filloux in Monday Note focuses on ebooks as the “giant disruption.” Notes Filloux:

In less than a year, the ground has shifted in ways the players didn’t foresee. This caused the unraveling of the book publishing industry, disrupting key components of the food chain such as deal structures and distribution arrangements.

Filloux further identifies the “culprit” in this drama. Amazon.

Money quote:

For authors, the growth of e-publishing makes the business model increasingly attractive. Despite a dizzying price deflation (with ebooks selling for $2.99), higher volumes and higher royalty percentages change the game.

I think Filloux is being a little optimistic (proponents of giant disruptions invariably get carried away with themselves) — forgetting that while there is room for more “success stories” like Amanda Hocking, opening the stadium doesn’t mean everyone will turn into a Tom Brady. [Let’s not forget that Amanda Hocking opted for a traditional publisher once her success was established; it was too much work for her to do everything a publisher normally does. She wanted to focus on writing books.]

Filloux also forgets the promotional role traditional publishers play. Can Amazon get me on the talk shows? Will they? Do they even care?

Back in the day, Penguin got me on the Sally Jessy Raphael show to promote “Butcher, Baker.” It was a big deal. That kind of publicity is hard to buy.

Butcher, Baker: Hidden City, Pt. 3

Trooper Sgt. Glenn Flothe has described Cindy Paulson (Kitty Larson), the young woman who escaped Hansen and led to his downfall, as one of the best witnesses he’s ever worked with. Hidden City: Anchorage mentions, for example, that she’d memorized the tail number of Hansen’s plane. She also memorized the location of his house. And everything in his basement.

She did so because, in her own words, “this motherfucker wasn’t getting away with it… I knew I was in trouble… But if there was any chance of me getting away, he wasn’t getting away with it.”

As in any criminal investigation, details matter.

Consider what occurred when Cindy Paulson was at Merrill Field ID’ing Hansen’s plane with an officer from the Anchorage Police Department. While they were observing the plane, a private security guard at the air field approached and told them he had seen someone at 5:14 a.m. that same day.

[The security guard] observed a white male running from that Super Cub to a green vehicle and that he noted the vehicle to have Alaska license number BJZ775. [The guard] also stated that the man was wearing a green coat and cap and that he ran from a wooded area at the rear of the airplane toward the green vehicle. When the man saw [the guard], he slowed his pace to a walk, and entered the green vehicle and drove away.

That license number turned out to be registered to a green Buick, owned by Robert Hansen. There were several people being very observant that day. None better than Cindy Paulson. But she was not alone. Details matter.

Want to learn more about the Robert Hansen murders? Read “Butcher, Baker,” by Walter Gilmour and Leland E. Hale. More here…

Butcher, Baker: Hidden City, Pt. 2

There’s a wonderful bit in the Robert Hansen portion of Hidden City: Anchorage where Marcus brings in professional tracker Ty Cunningham to give a sense of what Hansen’s victims were up against. It’s an extremely powerful segment. Except that the segment was filmed in winter snow. According to Robert Hansen:

“This was a summertime project.”

Since Hansen’s wife was a teacher, and often travelled during the summer, it kind of makes sense, you know? When the cat’s away, and all that… But let’s not take this summertime thing too far. Hansen kidnapped and raped a woman back in 1971, just days before Christmas.

Of course, he also had the good sense to take that victim to a motel.

Bonus: Video Clip: Hidden City Anchorage: Tracks of Terror (tracking in the snow)

What about the chase? It is, after all, a recurring theme in discussions about Robert Hansen. Well, the chase started the minute he first stalked his victims. But in Hansen’s universe, the chase was always (out)balanced by questions of control.

We know that Hansen worried about the intangibles. The known unknowns. The women had to be alone when they reached the rendezvous. Hansen always picked a spot where he could see everything and everyone. Even early on, he used a restraint of some type, eventually graduating to handcuffs. By his own admission, he was obsessive about the mechanical reliability of his car when he kidnapped women. Didn’t want to break down with some woman in handcuffs.

Those control issues extended to the bush. Even in the bush there’s the risk that some hooker can outrun him, even for a little while. She can kick her heels off, right? And, you know, the Alaska bush ain’t no frickin’ island. Those were troubles he just didn’t want. Given all that, it’s my view that he started shooting sooner rather than later.

Loss of control, baby. Not so good. And being “in control” ultimately trumped other considerations. Including the chase. He really, really liked this “game.” Lose control, you lose everything. In fact, there was one who got away. Yeah. She was the one who brought him down.

Quotes from Robert Hansen’s Inconvenient Confession (February 22, 1984)

RH: I only, I only used the airplane three times and maybe if I kept on going like that I would have had a problem… [But] where I have my plane parked there isn’t a lot of people in and out right there and the girl was almost more scared of being in the airplane than she was scared of me…

GF: Scared of being in the airplane. You mention that this area was pretty populated but in the winter time with skis you were somewhat unlimited as to where you could go. Your privacy was pretty much up to you. Or were you concerned about flying a long time? You mention three girls but I’m just wondering, with skis, you know in the winter, you could go just about anywhere.

RH: I could but winter time wasn’t the time to do it. Things were dormant in the winter time. This was a summertime project.

GF = Glenn Flothe
RH = Robert Hansen

Want to learn more about the Robert Hansen murders? Read “Butcher, Baker,” by Walter Gilmour and Leland E. Hale. More here…

Butcher, Baker: Hidden City, Pt. 1

If you saw last night’s great Hidden City episode on Anchorage, you were treated to an excellent — and highly-graphic — overview of the Robert Hansen murders. One of the segments featured the ballistics test on the murder weapon which, as host Marcus Sakey points out, was critical to getting a Robert Hansen confession and conviction.

The true story of the ballistics test on the murder weapon is actually MORE dramatic. Much more dramatic.

Trooper Sgt. Glenn Flothe’s plan was to send the rifle to the FBI Quantico, Virginia, lab for the ballistics. To make sure it got there, he requested that a Trooper hand-deliver the weapon. That request was turned down, so the rifle was sent to Virginia by mail.

Then Flothe got a call from the FBI. Wondering where the rifle was. It hadn’t arrived as expected. As you might imagine, Sgt. Flothe went into a panic. This was the crucial piece of evidence. And now it had gone missing. If only they’d let him hand-deliver that weapon… If only…

Bonus: Video clip of ballistics test, with Bob Shem of the Alaska State Crime Lab.

Thankfully, there was a happy ending. Days later, the rifle showed up on a loading dock. It was sent on to the FBI Quantico, where ballistics tests proved it was the murder weapon. Close call. Way too close.

Want to learn more about the Robert Hansen murders? Read “Butcher, Baker,” by Walter Gilmour and Leland E. Hale. More here…

Robert Hansen’s Attic (with murder weapon)

Cache of weapons found in Robert Hansen's attic. Included is the murder weapon.

The Nicolas Cage Audience

In another link-bait story on Nicolas Cage (Who Keeps Watching Nicolas Cage’s Ridiculous Movies?), journalist Annette Bourdeau wonders why Nicolas Cage keeps wasting his talent on action-heavy duds. She’s even kind enough to give us her “bottom five” list of worst offenders.

But Ms. Bourdeau knows the answer to her own question.

In case she missed it, let’s take a look at the audience for Cage’s latest opus, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. It cost Sony $70 million. It made $22 million in its opening weekend. The reviews are terrible and its earnings are down over 50 percent from the inaugural Ghost Rider. So who actually showed up and laid down cash-money to see this film?

Big surprise: the opening weekend audience was 61 percent male and 48 percent under 25. We’ve talked about this audience before.

Ms. Bourdeau captures the spirit of these “dudes” when she quotes a Ghost Rider commenter: “I don’t give a shit how bad quality the acting or story line is, a flamin’ skeleton riding a motorcycle to heavy metal music makes it worth my money.” Oh and did we mention that the Cage character pees fire?

Unfortunately, even the core audience is deeply divided on Ghost Rider: The Sequel. There are lovers: “I watched this movie and it was fricking brilliant and by a 1000 times better and brutal than the first.” There are haters: “Just saw it this movie sucks. Save your money, it ain’t worth it.” And very little room between the two.

The critics, meanwhile, just hate it.

Is Bourdeau on point when she suggests Cage is doing these movies simply because of his financial troubles? Perhaps. But the bigger problem is the adolescent male rut that Hollywood now finds itself in: Action-adventure-sequels for the testosterone set.

Here’s hoping a new Hollywood, taking advantage of the long tail and a renewed revenue model, arises from the flames of movies like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Unfortunately, it appears Hollywood shares that hope — and can’t yet translate it into box office. I’m not holding my breath.

What Gets Made
Drama, Comedy and Romance account for 60% of movies made.

Horace Dediu -- Hollywood by the Numbers (What Gets Made)

Road ‘Roids

You know you’re getting old when, apparently, you drive too slow. And somebody FREAKS over it. That’s the best explanation for what happened to me earlier today.

I was driving east on I-90, a route I have taken for more than ten years during my daily commute, first to Boeing and then to Microsoft. Usually an uneventful drive. Until today.

Crossing the I-90 Bridge, a vehicle swerved into the center lane, nearly clipping me. I backed off and avoided the crash. The vehicle then got in front of me and slowed. I backed off some more. The driver next moved over to the passing lane, almost pulling off entirely, his emergency blinkers on. Thinking he thought he’d accidentally clipped me, I moved up to wave him off. No harm, no foul.

He suddenly accelerated and swerved back into my lane. I moved over to the slow lane. Same game. He continued to do the swerve and sway all the way across the bridge, as if a provocation and a near crash solves anything. Ok, so this isn’t, um, about a near-accident. This is deliberately infantile behavior. Been there, done that. Sorry, dude; like all bullies, you ain’t worth acknowledging.

By this time, traffic had started to back up. I called 911. I was not the first; according to the dispatcher, several calls had already come in. Hell, they already had his vehicle ID. What an idiot.

I don’t know what happened next, except that the road rager exited to 405 South and I updated the WSP of that fact. I did not follow; I had a lunch appointment at Eastgate, just off I-90. The last thing I saw was a trooper get off I-90 eastbound and head west, back in the direction of 405. WSP dispatch told me they’d updated their officers. Good. Hey, dude, we’re not all idiots, you know…

Oh yeah — and the person I was driving over to meet for lunch? Failed to show. Ok. Wow. Did I have the wrong day?

Just Lost a Friend

I called my literary agent today and asked to speak to his assistant, Carolyn Larson. Carolyn happens to be one of my favorite people on earth. I learned that she died in her sleep last week, at the age of 70.

My heart broke. Carolyn will be much missed. She was relentlessly upbeat. Her joie de vivre was infectious. Her acumen and professionalism were always spot-on. No task was too big — or too small. Here’s to you Carolyn. You were the best.

Leland Hale

Amazon vs Walmart

Amazon gets a lot of ink about its innovations and business practices. Deservedly so. Wired magazine’s Tim Carmody has even compared them to Walmart. In a provocatively titled article penned last year, Carmody asked: “If Amazon Out-Walmarts Walmart, Can Anyone Out-Amazon Amazon?”

Good question. Flawed premise. Amazon’s biggest problem, a persistent one, is that after twenty years it still doesn’t know how to manufacture a decent profit. We go to MG Siegler of TechCrunch for the most recent evidence:

  • “Not only did Amazon only make $177 million on sales of $17.4 billion last quarter, they’re warning that they could actually lose money this quarter.”
  • “Last quarter, Walmart pulled in $109.5 billion in revenue, which led to $3.3 billion in profit. As with Amazon, the margins are awful, but at that scale, it doesn’t matter.”
  • “In fact, Amazon’s margins are so slim that Facebook, which just filed to go public […], recorded nearly double the profit of Amazon last year ($1 billion versus $631 million).”

Notes Siegler: “Compare this to Apple’s most recent quarter in which they posted a record $46.33 billion in revenue and, more importantly, a record $13.06 billion in profit. The margin difference could not be any more stark.”

I write this not to diss Amazon (although paying a little more attention to the bottom line couldn’t hurt) as much as to put Amazon in perspective. On the publishing side, there is great fear of Amazon. A recent article by Nico Vreeland points fingers at the publishing industry for not having their act together as compared to Amazon. Point taken.

Just remember who Vreeland’s talking about when he says:

So publishers: it’s time to embrace technology, put your customers first, and entirely revamp the logistical architecture of your industry, or Amazon’s publishing arm will do it for you (and nobody wants that).

Hidden City: Anchorage

Marcus Sakey’s Travel Channel series, Hidden City, recently filmed in Anchorage, Alaska. Among the topics: Robert Hansen. Well, of course; Hansen is the state’s worst serial murderer. (The series calls it Robert Hansen’s Most Dangerous Game.)

The show marks the incredible resurgence of interest in the “Butcher, Baker” story. First the movie, The Frozen Ground. And now a Hidden City episode.

The episode also covers the infamous Blackjack Sturgus murder. Sturgus, the first police chief in Anchorage, was shot in the back with a bullet from his own gun. He is said to haunt the Anchorage Hotel, working on the ultimate cold case. His own.

Mark your calendars! We’ll be watching. Hope you will, too.

Air Date: Tuesday, September 21, 2012.