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Archive for the tag “Amazon”

TWAS THE NIGHT AFTER CHRISTMAS

Steamed milk. Sugar. Chocolate – dark chocolate this time. A dash of cinnamon and, was that nutmeg? Whatever it was, the beverage was just the thing to warm tired bones after a long, frigid night.

Kringle took a long pull from the steaming mug of cocoa and eased back into the easy chair. He shivered a little, pulled the red and green plaid blanket a little tighter over his legs.  A man his age shouldn’t go out on nights like this; especially when nights out for him lasted, well, an impossibly long time. They had to. How else to get all those toys delivered in one evening?

Kringle set the mug on top of an old book, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, on the table next to him. A bit of whipped cream slid down the side of the mug, which was a stout, blue ceramic item with flecks of gold and his initials filigreed on it, or at least the initials of the name he was most commonly called by – “SC”. Head elf Flifle had given it to him a century before and he’d enjoyed a cup of cocoa in it every Christmas night since.

Santa sat. Just sat. He hadn’t done that the entire pan-dimensionally long night. All over the world. Down the chimney. Up the chimney. Springing to the sleigh, springing out of the sleigh. Icy roofs, barking dogs, the odd sneaky kid trying to grab a peek. Occasionally getting singed by a fire that didn’t properly extinguish itself.

It was a young man’s game.

And Kringle was not a young man.

Every year, he thought about retiring. His predecessors had done the job until they dropped – faded into the other world or whatever. But he was tired. More so all the time. It was getting hard to press on. Even harder now.

Stop it, Kris. It’s Christmas! The most joyous time of year. He was the poster boy for holiday cheer – jolly ol’ St. Nick, Ho ho ho, and all that. But once in a while, when the presents were delivered, the workshop was shuttered until January 1 when production ramps up again, and the elves had gone home…well, these quiet holiday moments can be killers, can’t they? Worries that this year just wasn’t as merry as the last; regret over harsh words to the elves, frustration that little Sophie wasn’t going to get the exact doll she’d wanted. Concerns about the ratio of naughty to nice on his list.

In the past, he could count on Mrs. Claus to pull him out of a holiday funk with a joke or an encouraging word. One year, he’d quit being Santa all together and went to live in the Real World. Mrs. Claus, with the help of good ol’ Flifle and a couple of kind real worlders had pulled off a bit of Christmas magic worthy of, well, himself, he supposed. He chuckled awkwardly at the notion of his own legendary status. A status he never would have achieved without his beloved Mrs. Claus.

But things change. The seasons pass and so do those we hold dear.

Santa watches the children – sees them sleeping, knows when they’re awake, knows who is bad or good.

But what about himself, Mr. Kringle. Who will watch over Santa now?

Kringle shivered again. But it wasn’t from the cold this time. Santa drained the mug, but the warmth of the chocolate failed to penetrate the chill that stayed with him even when he delivered presents to the tropics. It was the chill of loss and mortality, not of climate.

There was a faint rapping at the chamber door. As it opened on ancient hinges, The light from the hallway spilled into the darkened room, Flifle’s jingle bells echoed in the silent night.

“Sir,” Flifle said. “I have the children’s letters If you’d like to read them now.”

“The what?”

“Oh,” Flifle said. “I thought you knew.”

“Knew what?”

“Mrs. Claus set it up before…well, before. She thought tonight of all nights you’d be wanting to read some of the millions of letters from the children who love you.” Seeing the somber look on his boss’s face, Flifle prepared his retreat. “I can take them back to the workshop if you like.”

Kringle looked at his old friend and helper. The warmth he’d been seeking finally pushed out the cold. “No, that’s all right, ” he said slowly, the twinkle in his eye not quite there, but definitely emerging. “I’ll take them.”

Flilfe left St. Nick alone with his letters. But he wasn’t really alone. No one who carries the spirit of Christmas in its many forms can ever really be.

Happy holidays!

Psst…want to read more about St. Nick, Mrs. Claus and Flifle? Let Rudolph’s nose lead you here. (Or whatever book purveyor you choose)…

http://smile.amazon.com/St-Nick-Time-William-Pepper-ebook/dp/B0092902GW/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1418447515&sr=8-2&keywords=In+the+St.+Nick+of+Time

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EGGS TO NOG, BOOKS TO FLOG

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I KIND OF MISS VIDEO STORES

Remember video stores? When I was a kid, they were the coolest new thing. Libraries for movies and for three bucks you could TAKE ONE HOME and watch it, give it back and rent another one. Great big plastic VHS tapes full of any move you wanted – as long as what you wanted was  Back to the Future II . (And it was what I wanted.) Renting VHS movies was awesome. I even rewound the tapes before returning like a good little renter.

Yeah, I know there are still video stores around. But they’re kind of lonely, sad little relics of former hipness now, aren’t they? When you pass a video store in the 21st century, it’s a little like stumbling across a MySpace page. Or the ninth season of “The X-Files”. Or looking in my clothes closet. (For example: right now, I’m wearing TARDIS socks – ding! obligatory Doctor Who reference)

But back in the day, when I was a kid, going to the video store was an event. You no longer had to wait months or years for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to show up on network television with commercials and the swears dubbed out. You could go to the store, rent it as a new release and – for only 99 cents! – pick up an older movie or two for  a double (triple) feature. You browsed the shelves, read the blurb on the back of the actual tape box or a copy of the label, then took home whatever you like. You could rent as many movies as you wanted – as long as you got them back the next day or they’d fine your ass, especially if you didn’t rewind.

You can, of course, get more movies now than ever for very little money. But Netflix, Hulu, iTunes and the like are a little like buying books on Amazon or other online repository. Sure, you can get anything you want while sitting on your ass in your lonely, little room. But it’s like shooting cinematic fish in a barrel. Where’s the thrill of the hunt, the joy of nabbing the last copy of “The Pick-Up Artist” before that dork across the store gets it?

I’m not sure why I’m thinking about video stores lately. I enjoy movies. I like being able to turn on TV or instant streaming and watch whatever, whenever. But maybe that’s the problem. When you can have anything you want, you, ironically lose the thrill of discovery. When you had to go to the video store, you didn’t really know what you’d find. Sometimes, you’d find out the thing you wanted most, wasn’t even the thing you went in looking for.  (Mannequin 2) Maybe I’m just yearning for some sort of unanticipated thrill that’s been missing from a pretty static lifestyle of late.

Or maybe I just wanted an excuse to use the word “yearning”, because…awesome word.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go work a shift at my second job. I’m still paying off an overdue rental fee from failing to return the VHS of “Gremlins 2: The New Batch”.

 

THE WAY WE BUY STUFF NOW

When I was a kid, my Christmas list was culled partly from Saturday morning cartoon commercials. You see, kids, back in the dark ages, you couldn’t just willy nilly watch cartoons whenever you wanted. (Though, being the 1970’s, many other variations of willy-nilliness were allowed. To wit: disco. And corduroy.) You got three channels and watched whatever they gave you – whether it was the Superfriends with Gleek or without.

Cartoons were basically confined to an early Saturday morning block on the three networks that existed back then. Time for the kids! Thanks, network executives!

But…they had money to make. So, interspersed with The Superfriends and Bugs Bunny and Scooby-Doo were cereal adds and toy commercials. Many a year my Christmas dreams – perhaps a Hot Wheels track or Six Million Dollar Man play set – were fed to me along with bowl after bowl of Cocoa Puffs.

Mostly, though, my Christmas list came from the toy section of the Sears Christmas Wishbook. This was back in the day when Sears was THE department store and the Wishbook was the pinnacle of catalogs – and not just because you could see Cheryl Tiegs (SPELLING) in her underwear.

There were pages and pages and pages of kid stuff. Action figures. Race tracks. Licensed character apparel and bedding. I even got a Moe (as in the Three Stooges) ventriloquist dummy one year. Another year, it was a talking Grover. I never got the Fonzie action figure though. Always kind of regretted that.

So, back then, if you wanted a toy that wasn’t available in the toy department of the local department store (probably Sears. There was no Wal-Mart then.), you ordered it out of the Wishbook and waited for the mailman (or Santa) to deliver it in four-to-six agonizing weeks, punctuated only by daily whinings to Mom and Dad “Is my toy here yet….?”.

And now, my kids are the ones reading the Wishbook. Well, the Sunday toy ads anyway. Do they even make the Wishbook anymore?

And it won’t be long before we can order something and thirty minutes later a flying death machine an Amazon drone will plunk your new Nerf Prostate Exam Fun Kit on your front lawn. Sorry about Fido, though. Hell of a way to go. But, hey, free shipping!

And we can’t even enjoy a bowl of Cocoa Puffs while we wait. Because, you know, sugar and obesity and diabetes and stuff. Being more of aware of things is no fun at all.

*Sigh*

FA LA LA LA LA PSA

I was cruising Amazon recently (Take my advice: Lots of great deals, but the porn is awful.) and I saw this little gem for sale:

handgun ice cube tray photo

It’s the “Fred & Friends Freeze Handgun-Shaped Ice-Cube Tray” and it’s exactly what it sounds like: an ice-cube tray that makes handgun-shaped ice cubes. You can also get one that makes AK-47 shaped ice.

Nothing makes a party quite like a bit of cool weaponry to ice down your beverage.

This isn’t a post about wacky holiday gift items. You can watch any late night talk show this time of year for that sort of thing. I just wanted to mention this one item, because when I saw it on Amazon, it literally made me fall off my web-surf board (it’s clever wordplay like that that lets me pull down the big blogger bucks). I’m not making fun of it (well, maybe a little), endorsing it, or advocating that anyone else do those things.

Just consider this public service announcement a little yuletide stocking stuffer from me to you.

Ho. Ho. Holy cow.

MOM, HIS UNIVERSE IS TOUCHING MY UNIVERSE!

So, Discover Magazine ran this article that says, basically, all that mysterious stuff floating around the universe that we can detect scientifically, but can’t actually see, so called “dark matter”, might actually be evidence of another universe; a universe that our own universe might be sitting on top of right now, forcing it to say “uncle”.

And now scientists think they might have a way to sort of light up this dark matter so that we can see what it is. How are they going to do this? Well, all this technical stuff that isn’t as fun as thinking about little space aliens flailing their tentacles saying, “Hey, get off! Come on, guys. You’re squishing me!”

No offense, space-people.

The scientists are feeling pretty confident they will find a way to look inside dark matter. They don’t know exactly what they’ll find.

But I do.

Get ready, Discovery Channel. You’ll be wanting to do a whole special about my amazing predictions. I’m all set for my TV debut. I’ve already got my make-up on.

So here’s what’s out there:

1. Evil doppelgangers Everyone knows that parallel universes are always populated by people who look exactly like us, only a lot more pissed off about everything.

2. And they have goatees.

Duh.

3. My original Star Wars Millenium Falcon. It disappeared when I was a kid. I looked everywhere. Except a parallel universe.

I feel so stupid for not having thought of that.

Buckle up for light speed, Chewie.

4. Entire planets that have never heard of cauliflower.

(This one might be more of a hope than a scientific analysis. I really don’t like cauliflower. Don’t tell my kids.)

5. Large-breasted, Amazonian dinosaurs parallel-parking rocket cars outside the diner where all the food comes in pellet-form.

6. Rose Tyler.

(That one’s for you, Doctor Who fans.)

7. Affordable health care.

8. Cats and dogs working together in cooperative alliances to enslave their human cattle.

9. Sticks of butter, car hoods and kids’ sandboxes with the imprints of myriad butts from our universe. You know, from all the parallel universe squishing.

10. An entire planet with nothing but keychains, old socks, combs, eyeglasses and the purity lost by the peoples of our own universe.

I’ll be waiting by the phone for Stockholm to call about when I can pick up my Noble Prize.

WHAT RICH PEOPLE DO WITH THEIR COUCH CUSHION MONEY

When I was a kid, I found a twenty dollar bill in the park. It seemed like a fortune. Not sure what I did with it. Probably bought some books.

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, found $250 million in the cushions of his couch and bought a newspaper.

Make that a newspaper publisher.

Those that follow the business and publishing worlds were caught pretty much off guard this week this week when it was announced that Bezos had bought The Washington Post, the whole damn company.

Not Amazon.

Bezos himself.

$250 million.

Out of his own pocket.

Yep.

The collective analysis seems to be: What the hell for?

The Post, like every other paper, is struggling. Bezos does know a thing or two about turning a profit out of a failing company. Amazon failed for years when it was first founded. Now it’s a global behemoth. A little Bezos-magic, if there is such a thing, might be a good shot in the arm for the foundering publishing industry.

But…

A lot of people dislike Amazon. Oh, let’s not be coy, a lot of people really, actively, viscerally, with drool and spittle flying, HATE Amazon.

Even a lot of Amazon devotees hate Amazon. But, dammit, if they don’t offer good deals.

Amazaon a bully to other retailers by low-balling them with low prices, is often accused of declaring war on the publishing industry, and treating authors who have books to sell dubiously.

Still, all the reports make it very clear that the purchaser of the Post is NOT Amazon. It’s Bezos himself, who will be operating it as a privately held company, keeping, apparently, the existing management structure in place.

Does that fact make this more palatable to Amazon haters and/or Post lovers? I don’t know. It’s tempting to think Bezos will turn the venerable Washington Post into some sort of low-rent tabloid, turning a quick buck at the expense of quality journalism.

But we don’t know that. What we know is that the Post will continue to go on. That’s more than can be said for a lot of print papers these days. If we love that the Post gets to live, we gotta give Bezos a chance. The other choice is, what? Root for the Post to go down after eighty years just to stick it to Bezos?

I didn’t think so.

Go, Jeff, go.

We’re all counting on you.

THE FUTURE OF BOOKSTORES REVISITED

I write a lot about why bookstores are dying and what in my humble opinion (shut up – I’m the most humble person ever) they could be doing differently to change the downward spiral they’re caught in.

So here I am writing about it again.

In Santa Barbara, CA, in June, Granada Books will open its doors. No ordinary bookstore is this. Rather, it’s a weird new creature. Not entirely non-profit community center. Not entirely a for-profit bookstore. It will be both.

“Hey! You got chocolate in my peanut butter!”

“And you got peanut butter in my chocolate!”

And they called it a bookstore.

Is this the new wave? The new trend? The future of book selling?

I dunno.

Granada Books hopes the same people who browse bookstores, then buy online for less, will be willing to instead spend their money in the brick and mortar location to help support the community center, which in turn will feature readings, book fairs, yoga classes and other stuff. Their inventory is mostly donated and about half-and-half new books and used or rare books. The hope is to eventually turn the whole thing non-profit and focus on public education and literacy.

And selling books.

That you can pick up and thumb through first.

Right there in your local community.

Sounds pretty nice.

No fancy bells and whistles. No eight dollar cups of coffee. Just books and doing a little something to shop local. Granada Books is offering something online retailers can’t: your neighbors. The people you live and work with every day.

It’s the future. Leap into it.

THERE’S A LOT OF NOT WRITING IN WRITING THESE DAYS

To prepare for this blog post, I read a United States Supreme Court opinion.

That’s how much I love you.

Specifically, I read Kirtsaeng v. Wiley, a decision handed down by the Supreme Court March 19, 2013. It has to do with copyright law and the “first sale” doctrine  in federal law. The doctrine says that if you legally possess a copyrighted work, you are allowed, without getting the okay of the copyright owner, to “sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy or phonorecord.” In Kirtsaeng, the Court extended that doctrine to copyrighted works lawfully made abroad.

SO…

I read the Court’s opinion and was all set to write a nice little blog post about the ever-changing publishing landscape and what the ruling might mean for all of us who do this thing.

But then, as I started to type, I was struck by a crippling fatigue. I slumped to the floor, spilling the coffee (sigh) and banging my head repeatedly on the way down. I still have the bruises. I also can’t remember my kids’ names. For now, they’re just “Boy Kid” and “Girl Kid”. They’ll just have to deal with it.

Here’s the thing: I work really hard on the writing part of being a writer. I don’t want to read Supreme Court opinions. I want to make stuff up and giggle while I commit it to paper or a Word file.

But here’s the thing about the thing: writers, we’re alone out here. Yeah, there are still agents and publishers and what not. Look hard. There’s one over there behind the big rock. Shh! You’ll scare her!

They want to help, but they have to watch their own backs too, lest Amazon devour them and poop out little 99 cent used e-books.  (You think I’m kidding? Amazon really wants to do this. Er…the part about selling used e-books, not the pooping part.) Or they have to worry about their company merging with some other company to become, uh, Cyborg & Sons or something, and putting them out on the street.

If writers want to be relatively safe in the creative-eat-creative world we write in today, we can’t keep our heads buried in the iPad. We gotta look up once in a while, if only to duck shrapnel from the latest collision of e-book publisher and vanity press, both of which are flying down publishing-row in a mad dash to curry our favor.

I don’t want to spend time reading Writers Beware! blogs , but I don’t want to be scammed by greedy “publishers”. I don t want to think about marketing, but if I want to sell books, I better. I don’t like the weird duality of shopping at Amazon for great deals while at the same time worrying what their business practices are doing to my industry. I don’t like mourning the death of book & mortar bookstores like casualties of war, but I do.

And sometimes I read Supreme Court opinions.

I do all of these things because this is the life I’ve chosen. And, occasionally, late at night, I find a few minutes of writing time for actual writing. Assuming I don’t fall asleep at the keyboard.

Because that’s what it means to be a writer today.

WHAT IF BARNES AND NOBLE CLOSES?

With Nook sales revenue down twelve percent during the holidays, and books sales in the stores down about the same, watchers of the book business are worried (again) about Barnes & Noble’s future. It doesn’t help that many of the stores closed in 2012, a dozen or so just since Thanksgiving.

The chain, which has something like 700 stores nationwide, is, by all accounts, in trouble. Only a year or so after Borders finally succumbed to…well, whatever killed it: greed, not having an e-reader, opening too many stores, the demise of print books. The cause depends on who you ask.

And now it seems to be happening to Barnes & Noble. The company hasn’t announced it’s bankrupt or anything, of course. But publishing industry watchers smell blood on the page…er in the water. And this is troubling. With Borders gone, B&N is about the only national chain left. There are some regional ones and some indies still dot the landscape here and there. Maybe they’d get a boost from B&N getting out of the way. But then, B&N got a boost from Borders closing and now that’s evaporated.

So what would be left with if B&N closes? If you’re lucky enough to have an indie in your town, then maybe you don’t care. But what if you don’t?

Amazon.

As with most things retail, Amazon will presumably come out on top. Again. I can’t sneer too much at Amazon, even with their low prices that undercut everyone and the frequent criticism they get for being ruthless with competitors and with the very people and companies who try to sell books and products through them. I do spend more at online booksellers than I do in brick and mortar stores. It’s just a fact.

The reason is simple. Bookstores charge too much for what you get. If I can get the new Stephen King hardcover at Amazon for $14, what can my local B&N offer me that makes it worth driving there and paying $30? Nothing. Yes, I, and many other people, like the ambience. We like meandering through the shelves of books, inhaling the rich scent of coffee and paper. Maybe even flip through a book in one of those overstuffed chairs. (To be honest, though, the chair thing has never really been for me: feels weird to stretch out and get all comfy in the middle of the mall with strangers and Muzak. I’ll just go home to my own overstuffed chair that’s been molded to my proper butt shape, thank you.)

This is the problem with the modern bookstore: It’s not modern at all. Brick and mortar stores these days are little more than warehouses for books. Expensive warehouses. They can’t beat Amazon because there is no cheaper “shelf” space than online.

I don’t think print books are dead. If B&N, and other stores, want to pull out of the tailspin, they need to offer something I can’t get online. More face time with authors (and they don’t have to be famous ones). Hell, let me meet and talk to some publishers, editors and agents too. Avid readers are interested in the production side too. More workshops for writers. More book clubs. More staged readings and plays right there in the store. More costume parties (and not just when the new Harry Potter is out) and theme events (Nick Hornby night! Edgar Allen Poe Appreciation Day! Whatever.)

You bookstore guys aren’t doing any of this. And that’s why, we avid readers flip through your stock, smile and wave at the checkout clerk, then go sit in our car and order that same book we just looked at from our smartphones for sixty percent less than you were charging.

So the painful reality is, if B&N does fold completely, Nook owners will be dealing with a different vendor (someone surely will pick up the slack), but otherwise for most of us not much will change.

And that’s the problem.

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