Robert Hansen Dies at 75

Serial killer Robert Hansen died Thursday, August 21, at an Anchorage hospital. He was 75. His death appears to be from natural causes. According to the Alaska Department of Corrections, Hansen’s health had been declining for the past year.

The Anchorage Dispatch News quotes retired Alaska Trooper Glenn Flothe on Hansen’s death. Fittingly, it is Flothe who gets the last word.

“On this day we should only remember his many victims and all of their families, and my heart goes out to all of them,” wrote Glenn Flothe, a retired Alaska state trooper who was instrumental in Hansen’s 1984 capture.

“As far as Hansen is concerned, this world is better without him.” Flothe wrote.

Glenn Flothe in 1982, shortly after Robert Hansen’s arrest.


The Anchorage Dispatch has additional coverage of Hansen’s transfer to the Anchorage Correctional Complex, prior to his death. According to troopers, Hansen had “Do Not Resuscitate” paperwork on file with the Department of Corrections. He got his wish.

The Publicity Sales Bump

Butcher, Baker is in its fourth, and perhaps final, print publication cycle. I say perhaps because I’ve been wrong before. But the last year has provided me an eye-witness perspective on the difference publicity makes in book sales.

One of the “jobs” I’ve had over the last year and a half is to track Butcher, Baker sales. We wanted some independent accounting in our discussion with Todd Communications. As it turns out, Amazon has some amazing tools for tracking book sales, with data from Nielsen BookScan.

The numbers tell quite a tale. I’ll let them do most of the talking… In the first graph, you can clearly see three sales spikes:

  • First, when the film was announced (The Frozen Ground)
  • Second, when Todd Communications re-published Butcher, Baker
  • Third, when Christmas sales took over

Butcher, Baker Sales: 2010-2012
Butcher, Baker sales, 2010-2012

In the second graph, you see the magnitude of the Christmas spike. Book sales jumped to a recent high (highest sales were during the book’s first printing in 1991; we sold close to 100K). Of course, you can also see the steady decline in sales from that high-point onward. Indeed, Butcher, Baker, is headed back toward “normal” levels (note the pre-July 2011 line in the graph above).

Butcher, Baker Sales: September 2011-June 2012
Butcher, Baker sales, 10-2011 to 6-2012

Go See: The Frozen Ground, the movie inspired by Butcher, Baker. Opening in theaters December 2012.

James Eagan Holmes On Drugs

Well, you know, this guy’s pretty much a hated person.

Accused mass murderer James Eagan Holmes.James Eagan Holmes.

It’s easy to see why. 12 dead. 58 injured. Bug eyes. Orange hair. Who in America loves a crazy man with tons of guns?

The Colorado criminal justice system agrees. They’ve lobbed 142 criminal charges against the dude, 24 of them homicide, plus the injured, plus the bombs. Not sure about the homicide math. 12 dead does not equal 24 homicide charges. But ok, whatever. It turns out the dual charges are based on different legal theories.

And yet… My most immediate thoughts on this homicide say… Darkness, Darkness by Jesse Colin Young.

Most Anticipated Movies 2012: The Frozen Ground?

IMDb, the movie database, has a social feature that encourages fans to put together lists of their most anticipated movies. It’s a fun feature, not to be taken too seriously, but a peek into the psyche of the devoted movie-goer nonetheless.

My question is this: where does The Frozen Ground, the movie inspired by Butcher, Baker, show up on these lists?

The answer is “pretty high up.” Here’s a sampling. Of course, this is a very selective sample. What did you expect? There’s more than a few lists where… um… The Frozen Ground is nowhere to be found. You can find those lists on your own!

Movies We HAVE to see in 2012 (lulie1810)IMDb - lists

30 Most Anticipated Movies of 2012 (simon-evgp) IMDb - lists

Movies That I Can’t Wait Till They’re Released (lbtrev) IMDb - lists

Most Waited to See in 2012 (cristianoumberto) IMDb - lists

The Most Anticipated Movies of 2012 (romtonkon) IMDb - lists

Harry Marks Quits Reading

So this Harry Marks dude announces he’s going to quit reading for a year. Ok. Sure. Count me skeptical.

This whole stunt reminds me of the Breatharian, Wiley Brooks. Brooks, like many Breatharians, claims he can live solely on light and air. He doesn’t need food. Or drink. Which is fine, if you can get away with it.

In 1983 he [Brooks] was reportedly observed leaving a Santa Cruz 7-Eleven with a Slurpee, hot dog and Twinkies. He told Colors magazine in 2003 that he periodically breaks his fasting with a cheeseburger and a cola, explaining that when he’s surrounded by junk culture and junk food, consuming them adds balance.

I imagine the same fate will strike Mr. Marks. He’ll get busted reading a food label. Or someone will spot him reading a highway sign. You know, something like “Detour Ahead.” At some point, he’ll need to find the EXIT. Or choose something from the MENU. I’m not saying it’s going to happen at a Santa Cruz 7-Eleven. But it could. It really could.

Hey, Harry. No cheating.

Microsoft Decides

Last November, I speculated as to which, if any, eBook format Microsoft would support in Windows 8 tablets.

[Mistakenly, I also ranked Windows Media Center as “more central” to Microsoft’s media consumption story. What? It’s just one piece of the puzzle. Anyway. Always willing to admit mistakes.]

And now it looks like we have our answer. A $1.7 billion answer, by the way. Call it the Nook. From Barnes & Noble.

Microsoft agreed to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in Barnes & Noble’s Nook division on Monday, giving the bookstore chain stronger footing in the hotly contested electronic book market and creating an alliance that could intensify the fight over the future of digital reading.

ePub is now the official winner in the eBook format wars. Why do I say that? It’s the eBook format supported by nearly everyone. Apple. Sony. Adobe. Kobo Reader. Blackberry Playbook. Everyone except Amazon, which uses a proprietary variant of the Mobi format; to be kind, they also support a command-line ePub converter called KindleGen. Woo woo.

Oh wait… I’m missing something… Amazon owns 60% of the eBook market. And the U.S. Department of Justice apparently wants to help them get back to 90%. Winner: Mobi.

At any rate, here’s what Microsoft has decided:

  • On the eBook format side, Microsoft chooses ePub by investing in the Nook Division. It’s the primary eBook format for the Nook Color and that’s the future. Winner: ePub.
  • On the device side, the news release says the Nook Division will create a Nook Reader for Windows 8. That reader will likely read multiple format types (the Android-based Nook already does), with ePub prominent among them. Winner: ePub.

eBook Prices & Monopoly

The classic construction has it that monopolies enforce higher prices. And in the current suit by the U.S. Department of Justice, accusing book publishers of price collusion on eBooks, the bad guys are the ones raising prices. By that definition, Amazon could not be a monopolist. They want lower prices. Way lower prices.

The reality is a little more complex. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Amazon is not a monopoly. Where does that lead us?

The business literature is filled with examples of how firms use lower prices to gain market share or competitive advantage. In the Amazon case, we have the example of “penetration pricing,” or price discrimination. That’s exactly what they’re doing:

Setting lower, rather than higher prices in order to achieve a large, if not dominant market share.

The question, of course, is whether any of this can lead to an eBook monopoly for Amazon. This much we know:

  • When any firm gains competitive advantage, it can begin to dictate terms to its suppliers. Take Wal-Mart, for example. Or Apple’s iPhone/iPad supply chain.
  • Before Apple and agency pricing, Amazon had 90% market share. They had the eBook market to themselves and were pricing aggressively to gain competitive advantage. The adoption of agency pricing, to my mind, proves they were on their way.
  • With the advent of agency pricing, Amazon’s eBook market share fell to 60%. Barnes & Noble gained 25%, Apple gained 15%.
  • Almost as soon as the U.S. DoJ announced a settlement with three of the six parties on the collusion allegations, Amazon announced it would again lower eBook prices.
  • As it must. Under the settlement, the publishers are required to “to grant retailers – such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble – the freedom to reduce the prices of their ebook titles.”

REPLAY: Amazon gains 90% share of the eBook market?

The sad thing here is how many apologists (sorry, I lack a more elegant term) contend that there is “spin” involved when making the argument that Amazon is lowering prices to gain competitive advantage. In the most egregious example, Peter Scheer makes the specious claim that Amazon cannot be simultaneously selling eBooks AND Kindles at a loss.

Now, both of these statements can’t be true. It’s not possible for Amazon to both (1) sell e-books at a loss in order to reap big profits on Kindle devices, and (2) sell Kindles at a loss to reap big profits on e-books. It may be doing 1 or it may be doing 2, but it can’t be doing both at the same time.

Of course, Peter Scheer is correct. Unfortunately, he’s casting the question in such a way that the only logical answer is the one he wants. Getting to first causes, let’s pose the question differently:

To gain a dominant market share in eBooks, Amazon is willing to sell eBooks AND Kindle Readers at a loss. Because, really, you can’t have one without the other.

Still sound “impossible?”

Again, think Wal-Mart. They sell lots of things, make money on many of them and can afford a few losses elsewhere. Same for Amazon. The idea of using those few losses to gain a dominant position in one corner of a business has to be… Ummm… Appealing. And, up to a certain point, it is perfectly acceptable business behavior. There are other examples… Take Dell. Or Nokia, just for starters.

We grant that this strategy doesn’t always work, or doesn’t work forever. But it’s always nice to have powerful friends helping you out along the way.

Sanford & Sons

Sanford, Florida, that is. Where now, according to Michael Miller of the Miami NewTimes, Armed Neo-Nazis are patrolling the neighborhood. Prepared for a violent Trayvon Martin backlash. Or, I think they put it, “race riot.” Ok. Crazy.

The neo-nazi story prompted me to write Walter Gilmour and get his response. He said a lot of things, most of which I won’t repeat here. But I do think he got to the nub of the issue. Here’s what he said:

At this time Alaska Law recognizes that a person does not have to retreat in their homes, or cars, if they feel that their life is in danger. Any one electing to use deadly force must be able to articulate three things.

  • That they were faced with a deadly threat
  • That the threat was imminent
  • And if the threat was carried out, they would/could be killed or seriously injured

The key word for me is “electing.”

The question is, when you are faced with an imminent deadly threat that could get your ass killed — how much “electing” are you doing? I am taking “elect” in the sense of it being “to determine in favor of (a method, course of action, etc.).” In other words, conscious action. Conscious action that puts all three factors — deadly threat, imminent danger, injury or death — into consideration beforehand.

Unless you’re a trained professional, I doubt much of any of that happens in imminent danger situations. Because imminent danger is… imminent. One has to act fast, not think about it. It’s either be quick or be dead.

So how do you sort it out? Maybe that’s what law enforcement and the criminal justice system get to do. After the fact. They get to sort it out. Hmmm…

Scott Turow on the DOJ

I am not really a fan of Scott Turow’s books. Potboilers, mostly. But hey, I still like crime mysteries, so… There you go. Maybe it’s just a case of professional jealousy…

But count me among those who agree with his stance as Authors Guild President that the DOJ, in its investigation into price collusion between Apple and major publishers, “may be on the verge of killing real competition in order to save the appearance of competition.”

One set of numbers tells the tale:

  • Before Apple entered the eBook market, Amazon accounted for an estimated 90% of eBook sales.
  • After Apple entered the market, that figure dropped to an estimated 60%.

Yeah, I know he’s been criticized… Called a turncoat… It’s the same rhetoric over and over… In the three-legged stool represented by publishers, authors and consumers… The consumer is king. Yeah, we all like cheap. And while we’re at it, let’s kill the goose.

An Open Letter to Mike Daisey

Mike is an artist, not a journalist. Nevertheless, we wish he had been more precise with us and our audiences about what was and wasn’t his personal experience in the piece.

Statement by The Public Theater on the controversy surrounding Mike Daisey’s play, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.

Yeah you took on Amazon. Burned out on the Peter Principle, you told stories out of school, as former-Amazon colleague Matthew Baldwin so eloquently notes. What the hell. That’s theater.

Next? You put Apple in your sights. Why not? Lots of $$$ and Chinese factories that are a muckraker’s field of dreams. We all love tales of wealth’s evil side and the contradictions of our privileged existence. Plus, the halls of Amazon are filled with ex-Microsofties. Lots of Apple love/hate memories to surf on. You knew the drill.

But you have to get it right, Mike. This line you insist on drawing between journalism and the theater doesn’t exist. At least, not in the context of The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. Because it’s a work that provokes demands real-life changes in Chinese factory conditions, it demands real-life truths. Not fabrications, confabulations, dramatic malfeasance or the like. Phrases like “I’m feeling,” I’m thinking,” and “I read” are NOT weasel-phrases. They are part of the truth. And, no, this is not a case where the end justifies the means.

Ok, you made a mistake. We all make mistakes. You just make big ones. Huge ones. You’re forgiven. But you should have seen this coming. Brendan Kiley did, with a simple fact check. You only get so much free hubris. Eventually somebody sees through your shit.

So what’s next for you, my man? A prediction…

Next Stop: REHAB.

Hell, there’s another monologue in there about “truth,” “lies,” “damned lies” and “journalists.” Throw in the whole This American Life bit. Spin it for all it’s worth. Yeah. Rehab. It’s the quintessential American experience. You’ll be genius.

You already have a theme song. “The Biggest Lie,” by Elliott Smith. Like I said. Genius.