Frozen Ground: Argentina Update

Having just returned from Argentina (it was great, BTW), I now have another update on the release of “Frozen Ground.” Thanks to my friend Elisa, here’s a link to an Argentine web site (cinesargentinos.com) with the following update (Spanish):

Basada en una historia real, un policía del estado de Alaska se une a una joven mujer que ha escapado de un asesino serial, para encontrar al delicuente y llevarlo a la justicia.

TITULO ORIGINAL: Frozen Ground
ACTORES: Nicolas Cage, Vanessa Hudgens, John Cusack.
GENERO (genre): Suspenso.
ORIGEN: Estados Unidos.
DURACION: No informada
CALIFICACION (rating): No disponible por el momento

ESTRENO EN BUENOS AIRES: 07 de Marzo de 2013

Rough translation: Based on a true story, an Alaska State Trooper meets a young woman who has escaped from a serial murderer, finds the offender and brings him to justice.

Movie Update: Don’t Cry for Me “Frozen Ground”

In the latest Frozen Ground update, we note a few changes about its impending release. First, the release date has been moved from early December 2012, to March 2013. Second, the theatrical premiere is now scheduled for Argentina. No word on when, if ever, the film will be released in U.S. theaters.

Other tidbits.

  • Not sure how I missed it the first time, but E (Entertainment Online) has a snarky piece on Vanessa Hudgens playing a stripper in the Frozen Ground, the serial murder film inspired by Butcher, Baker.
  • Speaking of snarky, there’s the always dependable Chelsea Handler on Chelsea Lately. This time, she digs at Vanessa Hudgens (Cindy Paulson) and 50 Cent (50 plays Cindy’s pimp).
  • Or was that Vanessa Hudgens and Nicolas Cage?
  • At any rate, the whole Nicolas Cage dust-up over Vanessa Hudgens seems to have rated an apology, if not a denial.

You can still buy the original work on Amazon. Yes. “Butcher, Baker” is the real thing. No made up scenes. No gratuitous drama because, really, it isn’t necessary. This is true edge of your seat stuff. And you don’t have to go to Argentina to get it (although that sounds like a great idea).

Take Two: Frozen Ground Trailer

For the moment, there seems to be a site where the Frozen Ground trailer actually works. Thanks, Emmett/Furla Productions. Our collective breath is, um, not exactly being held… UPDATE: The PC-friendly version was Gone in 15 Seconds. Or should I say, Gone In 60 Seconds.

However: The trailer still works on my iPad. And my smartphone. So, we recommend mobile devices for viewing the trailer. It’s the only way. Go figure.

Frozen Ground Trailer

And if nothing else you can always read the original. Butcher, Baker, is available at Amazon. Highly recommended.

Cereal Killers & All That

Nice to hear some buzz about “The Frozen Ground,” the movie inspired by “Butcher, Baker.” But then you come across a piece like the one below in Yahoo! Answers and you, ah, start to wonder. I’m quoting:

Is anyone looking forward to “The Frozen Ground”?

Its a movie about the 1980s Alaska hunt for the cereal killer Robert Hanson. Its got Nicholas Cage and John Cusack, it looks fantastic. Its in filming now and comes out in theaters on the 1st of December.

At least the Best Answer sets the record straight. Whew. Gotta love the image of Frosted Mini Wheats trying to run away from bad Bob Hansen…

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…

Placing Bets on Disruption: A Losing Game?

In 1998, Microsoft was under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for antitrust violations, including charges that it held a monopoly position in computer operating systems and used its market power to reach anticompetitive agreements with its partners.

In his defense, Bill Gates wrote a response piece in the June 13, 1998, edition of the Economist. It’s worth quoting:

The current popularity of Windows does not mean that its market position is unassailable. The potential financial reward for building the “next Windows” is so great that there will never be a shortage of new technologies seeking to challenge it.

In a similar vein, Gates told Forbes author Daniel Gross in 1997:

We’ve done some good work, but all of these products become obsolete so fast… It will be some finite number of years, and I don’t know the number — before our doom comes.

This notion that technological change comes swiftly, is unrelenting and has no sympathy for incumbents is a recurring meme. Certainly no one dared predict that Apple would overtake Microsoft back in 1997. But in the late ’90s, the Justice Department thought it should help shape the future of technology. There’s a cautionary tale here.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice has set its sights on Apple and a handful of publishers, whom they are accusing of eBook price collusion. Fair enough. Hell, let the EU jump on, too.

The danger here is that these well-intentioned bureaucrats may create another problem by solving the one allegedly at hand. As the esteemed Frederic Filloux points out in, “Ebooks: Defending the Agency Model,” Amazon’s Kindle format presently accounts for 60% of eBook sales. Sure, that’s not monopoly territory.

Yet.

But a ruling that undermines Amazon’s competitors, while giving it a leg up in the eBook market, may very well take things in that direction.

As Bill Gates pointed out many years ago, bureaucrats often tread on soggy ground when they jump into technology wars, especially those of the disruptive kind. Yes, the current battle is also about prices. And market share. But the underlying causality is something quite different. Oh ye regulators, be careful what you wish for…

A Tale of Two Maps

Toni Lister was reported missing in Seward, Alaska, on March 7, 1982. Her body was found a month and a half later. An autopsy showed she had been sexually assaulted and brutally stabbed 26 times with a Phillips screw driver.

Nine months later, on October 26, 1982, Robert Hansen was arrested on kidnapping and rape charges — and later confessed to the brutal murders of four women in Alaska, although the known death toll is much higher (at least 17 victims). In the final days and months of his killing spree, according to autopsy reports, Hansen had gone into a frenzy of violence, not only shooting the women, but stabbing them multiple times. When asked about the Lister murder by Alaska State Troopers, however, Hansen denied it.

It wasn’t until 2007 that cold case investigators made an arrest in Toni Lister’s murder. The man they arrested was not Robert Hansen. They instead arrested Jimmy Lee Eacker, a trade school friend of Lister’s husband. He had been an early suspect.

Is it possible that police have the wrong man?

Let’s be clear. Jimmy Eacker is no choirboy. He has an armed robbery conviction. He’s a registered sex offender. At his 2007 trial, at least two witnesses testified that he’d raped and threatened violence against them during the ’80s. He acknowledged he’d had sex with Toni Lister on the night in question. Beyond that, he claims he can’t remember killing Toni Lister because he was high on mushrooms.

To complicate matters, the critical DNA evidence in the case — the DNA that tied Eacker to Lister’s murder — was seriously compromised. More specifically, it was contaminated to the point where more than one person’s DNA was found. Several factors were involved, including sloppy lab work. The judge, upon learning of this, threw out Eacker’s conviction and ordered a new trial.

That’s where the maps come into play.

When Hansen was arrested, troopers found aviation maps at his home with hand-drawn markers on them. Those markers later proved to be spots where Hansen victims would be discovered. Once troopers started unearthing bodies, Sgt. Glenn Flothe created a parallel aviation map, marking spots that Hansen had “missed.” Flothe also color-coded his map, with blue marks for victims Hansen acknowledged killing, yellow for those he denied.

There are key differences between those two maps. Flothe’s map has more markers than Hansen’s. Including one very near where Toni Lister’s body was found (#23) — a marker missing from the Hansen map.

Glenn Flothe’s cryptic note about #23? “Denied.” Indeed, the Flothe map shows that Hansen claimed only one of the Seward markers represented a victim. The sole exception was Joanna Messina (#17), whose body was found in… 1980.

So by his own admission, Hansen had been in the Seward area as late as 1980 — and routinely visited Seward in the ’70s, during which time police have evidence of at least one kidnapping and rape (1971). There are also two very suspicious Seward disappearances (1973, 1975) that Hansen denied; suspicious because Hansen was known to be in Seward both times. Troopers speculate that Hansen denied those presumed murders because the victims weren’t prostitutes.

Could Robert Hansen have killed Toni Lister? Yes. Could Jimmy Lee Eacker have killed Toni Lister? Yes. Anyone else? Maybe.

The lesson? If you are going to go cold-casing, don’t cut corners on the lab work required to pinpoint the DNA. After thirty years, memories go bad. DNA evidence is not always perfect or pristine, but carelessness in the lab can be prevented.

AST Version of Hansen’s Flight Map (portion)

Sgt. Glenn Flothe's version of Hansen's flight map

Hansen’s Flight Map (portion)

Hansen's original flight map

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.