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Messages - johnk [ switch to compact view ]

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How is it possible for the "mash a tree up into pulp and dehydrate it and put ink on it and glue it together" version to cost less than the "ones and zeros" version which can be duplicated almost infinitely, almost instantaneously, and at almost no extra cost?

I realise no-one wants to hear this argument, but I'll repeat it anyway: books are different from music. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the cost of printing and shipping books accounts for 12-13 per cent of the shop price on average (a long-established cost pattern, not something recently concocted by publishers).

And as I said in a separate post, in the UK, ebooks attract 20 per cent sales tax, whereas printed books are tax free. Therefore, logically, ebooks should all be more expensive in the UK than printed books. But they're not.

I do think publishers are terrified by the ebook market and its implications, and they are making some bad decisions (e.g. the agency agreement, which can't last long as it's essentially price-fixing). But I don't think current UK ebook prices suggest we are being ripped off.

There are certainly examples of bizarre price anomalies, but that is down to the agency agreement which some publishers have implemented, so the Amazons of this world cannot discount ebooks, but continue to discount printed books. In the EU at least, the agency agreements are likely to be ripped up sooner rather than later by the lawmakers.

If EU book buyers want to get angry about something, I suggest they get angry about the fact that sales tax is applied to ebooks.

General Software Discussion / Re: Favorite ZIP/RAR application?
« on: March 18, 2011, 11:35 AM »
Edit 2: Asked Winrar about it... here's the answer:

We have different pricing strategy for different markets. ...

-thanks for asking!  :up:

What goes for their answer, well, someone is in total agreement!  (see attachment in previous post)

Yes, WinRar does not even an attempt to justify the price difference in cost terms (companies normally say something like "cost of localisation" (adding a few language files!).

I tried WinRar, and it's an impressive product, and probably worth the money. But I haven't been able to bring myself to buy it, just because of their idiotic pricing policy.

Found Deals and Discounts / Re: JetDrive Defragmentation Suite
« on: March 17, 2011, 06:22 PM »
And what was the brand of the harddrive in that machine? A Maxtor perhaps? These disco's are known to get slower and slower after several years of use, though I've not been able to do any measurements on them :huh:

It's a Seagate. But I don't think the drive brand is relevant here -- any drive would have slowed down with that level of fragmentation.

Found Deals and Discounts / Re: JetDrive Defragmentation Suite
« on: March 17, 2011, 02:59 PM »
The scary thing was I had 35 per cent free space, and the XP built-in defragmenter still wouldn't defrag the files.

Just out of curiosity, do you know which file had 20K worth of fragments. Some sort of database? Or was it your pagefile or MFT?

The most fragmented files were all video files, about 1GB in size.

Found Deals and Discounts / Re: JetDrive Defragmentation Suite
« on: March 15, 2011, 06:47 PM »
It turns out the hard disk was badly fragmented -- the 10 most fragmented files averaging more than 20,000 fragments each! In fact it was so bad that XP's built-in defragmenter wouldn't work. I tried it a couple of times, and it just played with the files but didn't fix them. Just kept reporting that I still needed to defragment my disk!

I turned to JKDefrag, and it did the job. It took 12 hours, but it worked. So yes, in my experience, an occasional defrag is probably a good idea and yes, if your disk is in a bad way, trying a specialist program like JKDefrag is worth a shot.

Scary!  :tellme:

I'm guessing that this drive partition was pretty full, with something like less than 10% freespace available?

The scary thing was I had 35 per cent free space, and the XP built-in defragmenter still wouldn't defrag the files.

Found Deals and Discounts / Re: JetDrive Defragmentation Suite
« on: March 14, 2011, 07:16 PM »
I have always been hugely sceptical about defragging software. Then recently I upgraded my home network to gigabit, but was disappointed by the network speeds from one particular (XP) machine. It was achieving half the speeds of other machines on the network.

It turns out the hard disk was badly fragmented -- the 10 most fragmented files averaging more than 20,000 fragments each! In fact it was so bad that XP's built-in defragmenter wouldn't work. I tried it a couple of times, and it just played with the files but didn't fix them. Just kept reporting that I still needed to defragment my disk!

I turned to JKDefrag, and it did the job. It took 12 hours, but it worked. So yes, in my experience, an occasional defrag is probably a good idea and yes, if your disk is in a bad way, trying a specialist program like JKDefrag is worth a shot.

General Software Discussion / Re: The best RSS reader?
« on: March 14, 2011, 06:40 PM »
+1 for FeedDemon. I see you've tried it. What was missing? It does have a "prefetch items for offline reading" option.

Living Room / Re: England Is Grinding To A Halt.
« on: March 11, 2011, 06:18 AM »
I say we impose a "plutocracy tax" on the rich and let their wealth bring down/pay for higher crude! (In the US, they just buy the candidates who will vote exactly how they want -- if not this election, surely the next.) It's depressing to be at the mercy of idiots. Greedy idiots.

Always an easy target, but the rich are so small in number that they're not really relevant. If you took every taxpayer in the UK who earns more than £1 million (just 14,000 people), and took every penny they earned (i.e. taxed them at 100 per cent), it would net another £20 billion a year or so (source) -- enough to pay less than half of the annual interest on the country's debt. And that's before you work out how many jobs you would have killed off by taking all the money from the rich.

Living Room / Re: Should ebook users have any rights?
« on: March 10, 2011, 05:25 PM »
What a frustrating situation to be in as a consumer.  On one hand, you don't want to do anything illegal.  On the other hand, attempting to do something that is ethical so that your needs are met is illegal.

I think people worry about this too much. Let's go back in time. Way back when the VCR was at the cutting edge of technology, people used to swap video tapes all the time. If you missed an episode of your favourite programme, you went into the office the next day and got a tape from someone who had recorded it.

This was entirely, unambiguously, unlawful (I'm talking about UK law here). But everyone did it. No one was ever prosecuted. Why? Because no court in the land would ever find someone guilty of a crime, and the copyright holders knew it.

Fast forward a few years, and people started making copies of their music CDs for personal use, as MP3s, or CD copies for the car, or whatever. Again entirely illegal. No prosecutions. Same reason. In fact, in the UK at least, the music companies have said that they will not prosecute people for copying their own CDs. Because they know it would be a waste of time.

The real problem here is that, in the UK at least, the copyright law is so out of date. The only protection given to consumers as far as copying copyrighted works is concerned is the right to record TV programmes to watch later. That's it. And that law is more than 20 years old. And because the government has failed to produce modern laws based on principles of fair use, people are having to make it up for themselves as they go along. That's not necessarily a bad thing. At least it seems to have worked so far.

Living Room / Re: England Is Grinding To A Halt.
« on: March 10, 2011, 02:42 PM »
No offence but frankly, if it caused 50% of the cars currently on the UK roads to not be on the road, that would be a Good Thing.   :Thmbsup:

How would it be a good thing?

This is hitting small business owners and the poorer communities whose only means of getting to work each day, is by car.  If they cant afford to work, they dont turn up, business goes slow, eventually closes down, people starve and England becomes a third world country very fast because people simply cannot afford to travel to and from work.
-Stephen66515 (March 10, 2011, 12:43 PM)

There are two ways of seeing this, of course. Jump back a generation to when I was starting out, and you generally lived close to the job. I moved house several times to live close to the workplace. Today, some people in Britain commute hundreds of miles each day. Because they can. You either see that as a great freedom, or an environmental and social disaster.

Anecdotal evidence suggests the price of petrol is reaching a level where it is making people think twice about taking jobs that involve hundreds of miles of commuting a week. That may not be a bad thing.

However johnk, let me ask: what do you (or most computer users) on the computer that complicates it? Just curious, not critical.

It's basically down to available software. You mentioned one example (Photoshop). I do use it, and there is no Linux program that comes close. But it's only one example of programs I use where I struggled to find Linux alternatives of an equivalent standard. Still in the photographic area, there's IdImager (industrial-strength photo organiser), and pro-level photo downloader/tagger/renamer Downloader Pro.

In general utilities, I couldn't find a Clipboard manager of the quality of Clipcache Pro (much more than a clipboard manager really - contains several years worth of web clippings and other data in a robust database). And even in the area where Linux is supposedly at its strongest, I still didn't think the best file managers matched Directory Opus. And is there a Linux RSS reader as good as FeedDemon? A high-volume CD ripper/converter as good as dBpoweramp? The list goes on.

Perhaps this is being unfair, but I sometimes think of Linux as a first-class OS with very limited software -- and Windows being the other way around! (to be fair, Win7 has been a huge leap forward).

most of my time is spent inside a text editor and browser. But I'm not average by that measure.

That's the key, I think. In general, enthusiasm for Linux is a function of your user profile. If most of what you do all day is use a text editor and a browser, it really doesn't matter what OS you use. Why would you spend money on an OS for those purposes? For most computer users, the issue is more complex.

And since my anecdotal evidence seems to support the opposite, no point was proven.
I'm certainly not trying to prove a point, just offering an opinion.

I finally got around to doing my annual Linux trial. Been playing for a week or so.

But actually it's almost two years since I've used it, and some things have certainly improved. Initial install was flawless. Printer support is much improved. Yes, I could do my everyday tasks of browsing and email quickly and without any difficulties.

And then I started wandering off the beaten track. One detailed example -- I wanted to install Swisscenter (my media server of choice). Experience of installing Swisscenter on Windows: download install file, double-click. Experience of installing on Linux: install Apache, PHP and MySQL (using XAMPP), install Swisscenter separately (all via command line, no other option). Spend serious amounts of time tweaking config files of these programs to get them to behave nicely together.

And yes it all worked in the end. But despite many positive experiences in the last week, my opinion remains the same. For undemanding users who just want an email/browser machine, Linux is absolutely fine (as has been for years). For those happy on the command line (and sometimes I edge into that camp myself), Linux is excellent. But for the large group in between, Windows remains a more pleasing and seamless experience.

Exactly where on this planet are you going to find a democracy if I may be so bold?

I didn't know any actually existed.  :)

Now we really are going off topic! I meant democracy in the modern, practical sense. Definition:

The option occasionally, through an election, to replace one set of self-serving members of the plutocracy with another.

So what is the bigger issue?

I was referring to this:

Of course this only assumes those who believe in the market also believe that we exist in a free market... (with no government bail-outs/global plans to censor the internet/intentional worsening of depressions to temporary stave off a more noticeable recession...)

I see. Personally, I do not share those concerns. But for those who do, well, at least people can change a government on a regular basis (making the large assumption, of course, that people live in a stable democracy. For those who don't, the issues we're discussing here are the least of their concerns).

...err yeah, I know you added the Apple situation already but I just can't consider that the bigger issue in light of other err...bigger issues.

So what is the bigger issue? I think the closed OS (iOS) is a bigger issue than the price of ebooks, because the only way you can legally control prices long-term is with closed systems. But ultimately, I guess, if iOS became a dominant force in the ebooks market, and Apple maintained its current stance, competition authorities would step in (in the EU, at least).

Some people seem very annoyed about this (ebook prices and DRM) but we all have freedom to make our choices. I don't like Apple's business methods so I don't buy Apple stuff. I did buy a Kindle because it's great bit of kit but I don't buy Kindle ebooks, I just use the Kindle as a document reader.

Amazon's sales statistics suggest that plenty of people are happy with the price of ebooks and they don't care about DRM. However, Apple's recent decision on demanding a fee from Amazon and others may cause some of those who are content with the current system to think again...

If you believe in the market, the ebook price business will eventually sort itself out. If publishers collude with sellers, it will be declared unlawful. If publishers operate a cartel, it will be found out. Competition has brought us inexpensive print books (certainly in the UK), the same will happen with ebooks. Eventually.

There is of course a bigger issue here related to the topic in another thread where Apple are trying to hang on to Amazon's coat-tails and pocket 30% while they're at it. This goes back to an often-discussed topic here -- the closed OS.

Apple's iOS takes the notion of a closed OS to a new level -- the "economy" of the OS is locked and controlled. This is really dangerous. Closed economic systems are a barrier to progress and efficient markets and they distort competition and discourage innovation.

I do often wonder though if there's pressure on these people to make book buying sound like they're going cheaper to derail the masses from adopting e-books.

My impression of "the masses" (i.e. people I know who buy lots of books and have bought/are considering an ebook reader, but don't follow tech news or tech in general and are blissfully unaware of the debate about ebook prices):

All say they hate the idea of losing the feel of a real book, the tactile pleasure, the smell. All love the idea of carrying around lots of books in a small device. All are impressed with the screens on the latest generation of ebook readers. Everyone over 40 loves the fact that you can vary font size! (this is a huge selling point).

And my point is...the price of books is hardly ever mentioned as a barrier/reason to purchase. They all spend lots of money on books, and they'll continue to do so. Real books, ebooks, whatever. Price is always an issue, everywhere, but I've never heard a member of the "masses" complain about the price of an ebook, or say they should be cheaper than they are. They do moan if the ebook is dearer than the print version. This happens quite often these days, due to Apple's scandalous deal with book publishers, which allows publishers to set ebook prices. This will hopefully be declared unlawful in the UK, as it is essentially a re-introduction of the Net Book Agreement*. The Office of Fair Trading is already investigating.

*For non-UK readers, the NBA was an agreement between publishers and bookstores to fix the price of books. Declared unlawful in 1997.

Quick question: where did these articles get their numbers? Because I'm beginning to wonder if they're just quoting each other considering how closely their figures match.

Well, the reason I started with the Harper quote is that it's from a publishing house (and written by their then boss). And while we can, of course, choose to believe them or not, it is at least from the horse's mouth.

And I'd also be inclined to believe the analyst in the Sunday Times article. These analysts spend their lives studying particular industries, and tend to know their stuff (and won't let themselves be quoted if they're not sure of their information, because it ruins their credibility).

As promised, I went looking for the source(s) that made me think that it cost very little to print books today. I found this from a blog at Harper (from 2009):

"In fact, the paper/printing/binding of most books costs about $2.00…so if we were to follow the actual costs in establishing pricing, a $26.00 “physical” book would translate to a $24.00 e-book…"

So I may have slightly exaggerated how cheap it is to print books, but the general point still stands. There is also the issue that other print book costs (e.g. physical distribution) may also be higher than corresponding costs associated with ebooks.

The statement from the publisher is also nonsense in another way -- saying that a $2 reduction in costs might equate to a $2 reduction in shop price. As we all know, that ain't the way the system of mark-ups works. To be fair, however, if you click the link the writer does go on to say that the discount should be more than $2.

EDIT: Another detailed piece on this subject from the NYT suggests that combined printing and distribution costs of print books account for 12.5% of the average hardcover retail price.

EDIT: A final footnote on book costs from today's (06 Feb 2011) Sunday Times (London), which contains a lengthy article on "inflated" ebook prices. They quote a member of research firm Enders Analysis: "The cost to manufacture a paperback is less than £1 including transportation. The real costs are the advances to authors, the editors, and the marketing budgets." The article concentrates on the pricing agreement between Apple and book publishers at the iBook store, and the subsequent battle between Amazon and the publishers.

No, my phrasing was just ambiguous. My intended definition was: the less you accept government intervention, the more "right-wing" you are.

Hmm... sounds like Libertarianism to me.  :P

You're right, of course. In terms of political philosophy, Libertarianism would be a more accurate term. But I was just making the point that today, in everyday speech, people are more likely to use "right-wing" as shorthand for "in favour of reducing the size and scope of the state".

Another option: For XP I always used the Microsoft Power Toy Photo Resizer. Right-click on file and resize. Can't get much simpler. And someone has re-invented Photo Resizer for Win7. Seems to work fine.

For example, viewed from the comfort of my armchair here in the UK, American politics seems a very frightening beast. You have a right-wing party (the Democrats), an extreme right-wing party (Republicans) and another large political organisation (the Tea Party), for people for whom even the Republicans don't seem right-wing enough. Terrifying.

That's an interesting perspective. From my point of view, there's an extreme left-wing party (the Democrat party which has been overrun by the extreme-left "Progressives"), a moderate-to-left-leaning party (Republicans), and a bunch of people who have noticed that the Republicans, who are traditionally "supposed" to be right-wing, have moved so far left (so-called Tea Party-folk).

See? That's what I mean about the difficulty of using political terminology across boundaries.

This is using the modern, narrow definition of right-wing to mean the extent to which you accept state intervention in everyday life (through taxation, or regulation).

Huh? Did I miss something? By your own definition, "Conservatives" (at least as I understand them in the U.S.) are not right-wing at all, as they generally want smaller government, less taxes, etc.

No, my phrasing was just ambiguous. My intended definition was: the less you accept government intervention, the more "right-wing" you are.


I thought johnk was exaggerating but thanks for that wonderful post.

I assure you I was not wilfully exaggerating. But neither can I quickly find a source for my numbers. I may be wrong. I'll work on it! However I think the essential point is true -- print costs are a very small part of the cost of a book. Authors frequently emphasise this point when discussing book prices with their readers. This article is instructive.

EDIT: For UK readers. Also bear in mind that you pay 20% VAT on top of the price of your ebooks. Printed books are VAT free. It's a significant element.

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