‘Restoring the Promise’ Review: High Cost, Low Yield

25 June 2019

Not exactly about books, but PG would bet that over 80% of those who read the books written by regular visitors to TPV (excepting authors of children’s and YA books) are college graduates.

From The Wall Street Journal:

We are at the end of an era in American higher education. It is an era that began in the decades after the Civil War, when colleges and universities gradually stopped being preparatory schools for ministers and lawyers and embraced the ideals of research and academic professionalism. It reached full bloom after World War II, when the spigots of public funding were opened in full, and eventually became an overpriced caricature of itself, bloated by a mix of irrelevance and complacency and facing declining enrollments and a contracting market. No one has better explained the economics of this decline—and its broad cultural effects—than Richard Vedder.

Mr. Vedder is an academic lifer—a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois and a long career teaching economic history at Ohio University. In 2004 he brought out “Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much,” and in 2005 he was appointed to the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, a group convened by Margaret Spellings, the U.S. education secretary. “Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America” is a summary of the arguments he has been making since then as the Cassandra of American colleges and universities. Despite the optimistic tilt of the book’s title, Mr. Vedder has little to offer in the way of comfort.

As late as 1940, American higher education was a modest affair. Less than 5% of adults held a college degree, and the collegiate population amounted to about 1.5 million students. This scale changed with the first federal subsidies, Mr. Vedder notes, beginning in 1944 with the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (the “GI Bill”). Within three years, veterans accounted for 49% of all undergraduate enrollment—some 2.2 million students. Having earned degrees themselves, the veterans expected their own children to do likewise.

Such expectations were supported by still further subsidies, through the National Defense Education Act (1958) and the Higher Education Act of 1965. By the 1970s, there would be 12 million students in the American college and university system; by 2017, there would be 20 million. Meanwhile, more and more federal research dollars poured into campus budgets—reaching some $50 billion in direct funding by 2016—and set off infrastructure binges. To pay for them, as Mr. Vedder documents, tuition and fees vaulted upward, while the federal programs that were intended to ease the financial burden—especially low-interest student loans—only enticed institutions to jack up their prices still higher and spend the increased revenue on useless but attention-getting flimflam (from lavish facilities to outsize athletic programs). At Mr. Vedder’s alma mater, Northwestern, tuition rose from 16% of median family income in 1958 to almost 70% in 2016. Over time, armies of administrators wrested the direction of their institutions away from the hands of faculties and trustees.

Today a college degree has become so common that 30% of adult Americans hold one. Its role as a bridge to middle-class success is assumed—though bourgeois comfort is rather hard to achieve these days with a B.A. in English literature or a degree in, say, sociology. The modern economy, says Mr. Vedder, simply doesn’t possess the number of jobs commensurate with the expectations of all the degree-holders.

The over-educated barista is one of the standing jokes of American society, but the laughter hasn’t eased the loan burden that the barista probably took on to get his degree. Mr. Vedder says that student loans have injected a kind of social acid into a generation of young adults who, over time, manifest a “decline in household formation, birth rates, and . . . the purchase of homes.” Pajama Boy was born, and took up residence in his parents’ basement.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

And a quote from economist Herbert Stein:

What economists know seems to consist entirely of a list of things that cannot go on forever . . . . But if it can’t go on forever it will stop.

PG suspects that this practice may have become impolite or illegal, but when he was interviewing for his first job out of college (before he went to law school) one of the last questions he was asked by the final interviewer, the head of the department in which the job opening existed, was, “What were your SAT scores?”

Evidentally PG’s answer was satisfactory because he was hired for the position despite having absolutely no training or education that might lead a reasonable person to conclude he was prepared for the specific tasks involved in carrying out his job responsibilities.

What the interviewer was trying to ascertain was whether PG might be smart enough to learn how to do the job if he was hired. (PG was, and received a promotion after about a year, but left the company when a better job beckoned.)

PG has read that the SAT and ACT tests (for visitors to TPV from outside of the United States, these are standardized tests required for entry into virtually any college or university in the country) are effectively proxies for IQ tests.

IQ tests were first developed during the early part of the 20th Century for the purpose of identifying retardation in school children. During World War I an intelligence test was devised to help quickly screen soldiers coming into the US Army for assignment to either basic training or officers training. (At the start of the war, the US ground forces included about 9,000 officers. At the end of the war, there were over 200,000 officers.)

After World War I, IQ testing became much more widespread in both education and business. Unfortunately, it also became entangled with the eugenics movement during the 1920’s and 1930’s.

On a general basis, there is a correlation between educational attainment and IQ – MDs, JDs, and PhDs have higher IQ’s on average than college graduates who, in turn have higher IQ’s than those who attended college but did not graduate and those individuals have higher average IQ’s than those who graduated from high school, but received no additional education.

In this as in countless other things, correlation is not causation. There are plenty of people who possess the inherent intelligence and ability to become MDs, JDs and PhDs who choose not to pursue that educational/occupational path. Such individuals do not, of course, become less intelligent if they go in another direction. From personal experience, PG can attest that there is no shortage of attorneys who do stupid things.

A US Supreme Court case titled Griggs v. Duke Power Co., decided in 1971, effectively forbade employers from using arbitrary tests—such as those for measuring IQ or literacy—to evaluate an employee or a potential employee, a practice that some companies at the time were using as a way to get around rules that prohibited outright racial discrimination.

Griggs began when African American workers at the Duke Power Company in North Carolina sued the company because of a rule that required employees who wished to transfer between different departments to have a high-school diploma or pass an intelligence test.

By a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that the tests given by Duke Power were artificial and unnecessary and that the requirements for transfer had a disparate impact on African-Americans. Furthermore, the court ruled that, even if the motive for the requirements had nothing to do with racial discrimination, they were nonetheless discriminatory and therefore illegal. In its ruling, the Supreme Court held that employment tests must be “related to job performance.”

Griggs and resulting civil rights laws notwithstanding, prospective employers still want the best evidence available that a job applicant possesses the abilities (including intelligence) to succeed in the position that needs to be filled.

Given the regulatory environment in which employers operate, post-high school education is a common (and legal) requirement specified in a great many job descriptions. In the US business world, a bachelor’s or advanced degree is often a hard and fast must-have. Written or online job applications always include a section for the applicant to list undergraduate and post-graduate degrees and the institutions that granted such degree(s).

In addition to a degree, the identity of the college/university the applicant attended is often regarded as a proxy for the applicant’s intelligence and ability. The holder of a bachelor’s degree from Harvard will generally be assumed to be more intelligent than someone who graduated from Northeast Hickville State College and Welding School regardless of the personal abilities, talents, work ethic and raw intelligence of the latter.

So, back to the OP,

  • A college degree from an institution generally known for its selective nature is becoming more and more and more expensive because there is no indication that increased tuition and other costs will have any adverse impact on the number and general qualifications (intelligence) of its applicants; and
  • A college degree from some institution, high-quality or not-so-high-quality, as a proxy for intelligence, regardless of the field of study, is a requirement for obtaining a job with a reasonable salary or even getting a foot in the door at a very large number of employers; and
  • Government and other loans are available to any student who wishes to attend almost any college, regardless of a student’s field of study or ability to pay; and
  • As a general proposition under US bankruptcy laws, it is difficult or impossible to avoid the obligation to repay student loans, especially for recent college graduates or graduates who have obtained jobs, regardless of the amount of their current income.

PG wonders one of the ways to address this problem would be to permit employers to receive the results of an IQ test or quasi-IQ test like the SAT or ACT from a job applicant without risking litigation or other penalties for doing so.

Yesterday

25 June 2019

Not much to do with writing, but perhaps a writing prompt.

The premise for a new movie PG just stumbled upon, Yesterday, is that due to some cosmic occurrence a small-time struggling musician is the only person on the earth who remembers The Beatles and their songs. For everyone else, The Beatles never existed.

Here’s a trailer:

From The Wall Street Journal:

How much is an idea worth? In show business it often depends on who came up with it.

In the surreal comedy “Yesterday,” a struggling musician catapults to fame by singing Beatles tunes as if they were his own, following a freak occurrence that erases the band from the world’s collective awareness.

The real-life story behind the movie, in theaters Friday, tracks nearly the opposite trajectory: A struggling screenwriter comes up with an original idea, but can’t get the project made until he passes the torch onto someone much more famous.

. . . .

Moderately successful TV writer Jack Barth had spent many a hard day’s night trying to write for the big screen, penning more than 20 scripts over the course of his career—none of which he had ever managed to sell. Then, inspired partly by his own failures, the 62-year-old Mr. Barth had the idea for “Yesterday,” and spent a few years trying to get his script made into a movie. But it wasn’t until Richard Curtis—the acclaimed writer and director of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Love Actually”—heard Mr. Barth’s idea that the dream started to become a reality.

Although Mr. Curtis had experience adapting other people’s ideas—most notably with Helen Fielding’s novel “Bridget Jones’s Diary”—in this case he preferred to write his own version of the story. Mr. Barth, selling his idea for what he calls “a fair price,” hoped for the best, knowing he no longer controlled the film’s fate. He didn’t reveal the price.

Mr. Barth credits Mr. Curtis with writing a charming movie, even though their respective scripts take different turns; in Mr. Barth’s more cynical version, the film’s protagonist, also named Jack, fails to attain stardom.

“My view was, even if I woke up and I was the only person to know “Star Wars” or Harry Potter, I probably wouldn’t be very successful with it, because that’s kind of the way things have gone for me,” Mr. Barth says.

. . . .

“When I wrote my version I hadn’t actually read Jack’s; that was the deal,” Mr. Curtis says. “So I guess it was my natural instinct that went for a more optimistic version.”

. . . .

Because of his decision to sell the script, Mr. Barth can’t take credit for writing the movie and isn’t accorded the coveted “Screenplay By” credit. Instead, he shares the less prestigious “Story By” credit with Mr. Curtis, which means he is also ineligible to receive major awards.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

The Land Where the Internet Ends

25 June 2019

From The New York Times:

A few weeks ago, I drove down a back road in West Virginia and into a parallel reality. Sometime after I passed Spruce Mountain, my phone lost service — and I knew it would remain comatose for the next few days. When I spun the dial on the car radio, static roared out of every channel. I had entered the National Radio Quiet Zone, 13,000 square miles of mountainous terrain with few cell towers or other transmitters.

I was headed toward Green Bank, a town that adheres to the strictest ban on technology in the United States. The residents do without not only cellphones but also Wi-Fi, microwave ovens and any other devices that generate electromagnetic signals.

The ban exists to protect the Green Bank Observatory, a cluster of radio telescopes in a mountain valley. Conventional telescopes are like superpowered eyes. The instruments at Green Bank are more like superhuman ears — they can tune into frequencies from the lowest to the highest ends of the spectrum. The telescopes are powerful enough to detect the death throes of a star, but also terribly vulnerable to our loud world. Even a short-circuiting electric toothbrush could blot out the whisper of the Big Bang.

Physicists travel here to measure gravitational waves. Astronomers study stardust. The observatory has also become a hub for alien hunters who hope to detect messages sent from other planets. And in the past decade, the town has become a destination for “electrosensitives” who believe they’re allergic to cellphone towers — some of them going so far as to wrap their bedrooms in mesh in hopes of screening out what they believe to be harmful rays.

. . . .

In theory, I could achieve this kind of freedom anywhere by shutting off my cellphone and observing an “internet sabbath.” But that has never worked for me — and I suspect it doesn’t for most other people either. Turn off your phone and you can almost hear it wheedling to be turned on again.

To experience the deepest solitude, you need to enter the land where the internet ends.

. . . .

I wanted to find out what it was like to disconnect in the quietest town in America, so here I was, hiking down a dirt road behind the Green Bank observatory campus. I wandered through a meadow and into an abandoned playground. The rusted swings creaked in the wind.

. . . .

In the distance, the largest of the Green Bank telescopes reared up over a hill like a shimmering apparition, with its lacy struts and moon-white dish. The telescope is so freakishly huge that it looked completely unreal, as if it had been C.G.I.-ed into the sky.

But the quiet was even eerier. Not just radio quiet, but the kind of silence that I hadn’t heard in years: no buzz of the highway, no planes overhead, just the rush of wind through the grass. That — along with the lonely playground — made me feel as if I had stumbled onto the set of an apocalyptic TV series.

. . . .

I peppered Mr. McNally with questions. Did he own a cellphone? He told me he never had. But, he said, lately whenever he ventures outside of the quiet zone, “people tell me you have to get one.” Recently, at a hardware store a hundred miles from here, he tried to pay with a credit card that he hadn’t used in years. That must have tripped some security alert, because the store clerks said that they needed to verify his identify by calling the phone number listed on his account. “They wanted to call me to make sure that it was really me,” Mr. McNally said. He tried to explain that his phone wasn’t in his pocket. It was back in Green Bank, because it was a landline. The clerks couldn’t seem to grasp this.

. . . .

At twilight, I parked near a long, low laboratory building and walked through the gates of the observatory, beyond which no gas-powered cars are allowed (because spark plugs). I passed the row of telescopes and found a dirt path into the woods. The darkness dropped, and the outlines of my body disappeared. Baby frogs — peepers — chirped and creaked, filling the air with their own static. Deer crashed around the brush or scooted across the path in front of me, invisible in the dark but for their white tails.

My fingers twitched for the cellphone that wasn’t there. And then I remembered a moment years ago, maybe in 2011 or 2012, when I first switched from a “dumb phone” to a smartphone and brought the internet with me into the woods.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Google’s Enemies Gear up to Make Antitrust Case

24 June 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

As U.S. officials prepare an antitrust probe of Alphabet Inc.’s Google and possibly other Silicon Valley giants, a loose-knit crew of its rivals is gearing up to help.

In industries from news to travel to online shopping, competitors of Google are readying documents and data in anticipation of meetings with the Justice Department, according to industry representatives.

Many of these companies have long argued that Big Tech platforms illegally abuse their market power. In recent years some of them have found a receptive audience in Europe, where authorities have thrice fined Google for alleged monopolistic practices. Google has paid the fines but is challenging them in court.

Now rivals are stepping up their advocacy in the U.S., where antitrust enforcers recently divvied up the job of examining antitrust concerns at large tech platforms, with the Justice Department preparing a Google probe. The Wall Street Journal reported on the potential probes by the department and the Federal Trade Commission earlier this month, citing people familiar with the matter.

Antitrust lawyers say any probe could take years to complete. Battle lines are already forming. Google is preparing its own data and arguments, the Journal has reported. It also recently overhauled its Washington lobbying operation with an eye toward amplifying the message that its products promote competition and benefit consumers.

. . . .

News Corp, which owns The Wall Street Journal, and other publishers say Google and other tech platforms siphon ad revenue away from content creators.

. . . .

Still more firms haven’t criticized Google publicly, but privately stand ready to provide information to U.S. authorities about practices they view as potentially anticompetitive, according to industry representatives.

“There is a lot more concern that you hear behind closed doors,” said Jason Kint, chief executive of Digital Content Next, a trade association for online publishers that has argued online tech platforms are harming competition and consumers.

. . . .

“We need to assume that internet giants, like any other big companies, will use their assets to maximize profit and strategic value,” said Brian O’Kelley, former chief executive of AppNexus, an advertising technology firm bought by AT&TInc. last year after what he says was an unsuccessful attempt to compete with “the Google Super-monopoly.”

“Either break up the internet giants or force them to treat their component parts at arm’s-length,” he said.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

From the Journal of Antitrust Enforcement (Oxford University, footnotes omitted):

‘Predatory Pricing’ is a legal concept that refers to business strategies, which are designed to stifle competition within markets by driving prices below cost.

In the economic context, this work argues that the current perception of recoupment is too limited and that it can occur without raising prices post-predation. In particular, it demonstrates that recoupment can be achieved in the post-predation stage by achieving greater technological or volume efficiencies that enable the attainment of a previously unattainable ‘break-even threshold’. Accordingly, this article suggests that in certain circumstances, predatory pricing is a sound business decision with a high probability of successful recoupment.

In the legal context, this work seeks to emphasize that under the Sherman Act, a plaintiff must only establish an injury that resulted from a rival’s below-cost pricing and demonstrate ‘a dangerous probability’ that the competitor will recoup his investment in implementing below-cost prices.2 Legally, price predation is inherently injurious and the plaintiff does not have to demonstrate any implication of the act of predation upon consumer welfare.

. . . .

The last section of this work is an attempt to apply these theoretical insights to Amazon’s current business strategy. First, it is argued that theoretically, it is entirely possible that Amazon is engaging in short-, medium-, or even long-term phases of below average variable cost (AVC) price predation as part of its overall expansion strategy. Secondly, the article maintains that if such predation occurs, it is subsidized by short- and medium-term borrowing. Thirdly, it argues that in the long run, recoupment will occur once Amazon achieves its ‘break-even threshold’ and that this type of recoupment will not necessitate any rise in average prices.

. . . .

The test as proposed by Areeda and Turner is composed of two distinct prongs, which must be satisfied to demonstrate predation.

Under the first prong, the plaintiff has to demonstrate that given the nature and condition of the market in which the alleged predator operates, it was rational for the alleged predator to predict that price predation would prove a profitable strategy. This is not a subjective test that requires evidence of the alleged predator’s intent but rather an objective test that involves a demonstration of objective facts that rendered predation a viable business decision. To satisfy this objective test, the plaintiff must prove the likelihood of recoupment at the onset of the predation campaign. In other words, it must be contended that the present costs of predation at the beginning of predation would have been more than offset by the present value of anticipated future profits.

Under the second prong of the test, the plaintiff needs to demonstrate that in a great share of its sales, the alleged predator’s prices were below an applicable measure of cost. This measure of cost is less rigid and depends on the nature of the alleged predator’s market. In some cases, the AVC will serve as an adequate measure, and in other cases that involve short-run price reduction, marginal costs will become a more reliable indicator.

. . . .

However, unlike Areeda and Turner, who assumed that in some particular cases price predation was a rational business decision, (Robert) Bork dismissed the feasibility of predatory pricing in any and all circumstances. In fact, Bork deemed the entire practice as completely irrational and insisted that the reason for the lack of any palpable proof of price predation in the historical cases of antitrust stemmed from the fact that the practice, for practical reasons, was fundamentally financial suicide.

. . . .

Most importantly, Bork defined Areeda and Turner’s theoretical stage of recoupment as the stage in which a firm would raise its prices in the period that follows predation. This narrow definition of recoupment effectively barred other potential strategies that might still ensure ‘that the losses he [the predator] incurs in the predatory campaign will be exceeded by the profits to be earned after his rivals have been destroyed’. And although Areeda and Turner did not articulate all of the ways in which recoupment can occur, it is clear that they did not construe the term as only encompassing raising prices after the goal of monopolization was achieved.

The first major Supreme Court decision that integrated some elements of the Areeda and Turner test was Matsushita. In the decision, the Court determined that the plaintiff was unable to demonstrate that price predation was a rational decision given the nature of the market in question and that the probability of recoupment was non-existent. Notably, however, this was also the first time that the Court cited Bork’s treatise approvingly on the matter as part of its decision. It can be said that the Court adopted the recoupment requirement from Areeda and Turner, but it also embraced Bork’s unsubstantiated rhetoric regarding the overall likelihood of the phenomena in any and all markets.

. . . .

[Critics of Bork contend] that certain markets may induce predation and render recoupment possible.

. . . .

In other words, both Hovenkamp and Bork’s more vocal critics essentially accept, albeit reluctantly, that recoupment can occur only via a rise in prices. To this date, no scholar in the field of antitrust has openly questioned the assertion that recoupment occurs only when the predator raises his prices in the post-predation period.

. . . .

Bork’s limiting interpretation of the term recoupment that ultimately came to be understood as the term’s sole acceptable construction. Only a rise in prices after predation qualified in his view as a business practice that harms both consumers and the competition. The second reason for this limitation was derived from Bork’s rather practical assumption that only a rise in prices in the post-predation period will render predation itself economically sustainable and therefore rational.

To better understand the difference between the definition of recoupment under the original Areeda–Turner test and Bork’s own understanding, the two definitions must be contrasted. Under the Areeda–Turner test, recoupment can be any corporate action that allows a firm to offset the losses it incurred during the predation period. The recoupment act itself does not need to be harmful to consumers. In other words, according to the Areeda–Turner test that harm does not flow from the act recoupment but rather from the entire practice of price predation that always does.

In contrast, Bork’s view of recoupment was composed of two distinct elements. The first was similar to the one articulated in the Areeda–Turner test. But the second required that the act of recoupment harms itself would harm consumers by the rise in prices. According to Bork, predatory pricing is only harmful to consumers if, and only if, its recoupment phase will also be harmful to consumers.

Link to the rest at Journal of Antitrust Enforcement

For the benefit of anyone who has made it through the typically-legalese sentence construction and paragraph structures of either of the two OP’s, PG will attempt to be simple and direct about his explanations and opinions on the subject, particularly as they apply to Amazon:

  1. As a general proposition, any action by a company that offers consumers lower prices for goods and services (or more valuable goods and services without increasing prices) is beneficial.
  2. The primary object of antitrust laws and regulations should be the protection of competition, not the protection of any particular competitor no matter how large or long-established.
  3. Individuals and organizations that attempt to approach the business of providing goods and/or services to others in an innovative manner (for which customers demonstrate their preference by their patronage) should not be limited or restrained because regulators and judges (who are highly unlikely to be competent to judge the virtues or drawbacks of disruptive technology or business innovations) cannot foresee how the innovative party will be able to harvest value from its innovations in the future. Today’s “cut-throat competition” may be tomorrow’s ordinary method of commercial operation.
  4. The ultimate validity of antitrust regulation lies in protecting competition and the opportunity of those inside and outside various businesses to compete with established participants by offering lower prices or other innovations to consumers (individual or business).
  5. The largest danger of the improper use of antitrust regulations lie in the potential for it to be misused to protect business incumbents when their customers demonstrate their preference for better prices or other benefits customers value which are offered by a competitor.

Truth

24 June 2019

Truth, like light, blinds. Falsehood, on the contrary, is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object.

~ Albert Camus

Boar

24 June 2019

 

A photo PG made recently.

The Economics of Writing a Technical Book

24 June 2019

From Medium:

I am not an expert. I have co-authored a single book in 2017 called Cloud Native Infrastructure for O’Reilly Media. Many people have asked me what it was like so I will attempt to explain the process, time investment, and financial incentive here.

. . . .

The process was about what I expected. I was introduced to Brian, our first of three editors, from someone I knew who was already writing their third book. They thought I might be a good fit for what they were looking for so they made the introduction.

I thought about it for a couple weeks and then submitted a formal book proposal which entailed filling out a Word document template and emailing it to the editor. I didn’t hear back for about 3 weeks and then, after a follow-up email, heard the proposal was approved. After a kick-off call it was suggested that I find a co-author to help write the book. I had a week to find one and then needed to sign a contract with O’Reilly for dates and deliverables. I interviewed a few people and Kris Nova and I complemented each others skills perfectly for the content we wanted to cover in the book. She agreed it sounded like a good topic and she was excited to take on the challenge.

The contract seemed fairly standard and focused around content ownership and royalties split. The default split between authors is 50/50 which we stuck with. The contract stipulated that Kris and I own the copyright for the content, but O’Reilly has exclusive rights to use the content any way they see fit throughout the world now and in the future for the duration of the copyright.

Once the contract was signed there was a steady pace of work as we both figured out how to lay out content and what we should write about. O’Reilly provides a platform called Atlas for writing which is quite good. You write in plain text AsciiDoc and then O’Reilly’s Atlas platform can generate a PDF, or other formats, via the web interface or API. We both used atlas-cli to generate PDFs as we wrote. Generating the PDFs was a good feedback loop on the content. It helped make sure formatting was right and also allowed us to take a step back to read what we wrote.

. . . .

On March 1st we were assigned our cover animal which Kris and I named Andy O’Connor the Andean Condor. We were pretty excited to see the cover for the first time even if the subtitle went through multiple revisions. We didn’t get to pick the animal or the picture. We were told up front we wouldn’t get to pick the animal so we knew what to expect. We were also told that Tyrannosaurus Rex and unicorns are not allowed.

We kept writing until the 1/2 draft was due in early June. We turned it in and got less feedback than we expected, but it was still good to have a fresh set of eyes looking at it. We didn’t like what we had created. We had written almost 6 chapters and threw away 3 of them. The first two were heavily edited and the remaining chapter was trimmed down significantly and turned into an appendix.

We had some more planning meetings and came up with a revised outline that we submitted to our editor for review. By this time we were on our 2nd editor who wasn’t very familiar with the project so we got very little feedback and went with what we had.

. . . .

The first Tuesday of September the full draft was due and then went into a review process. There were technical reviewers we were able to suggest but mostly O’Reilly pulled from a pool of their trusted reviewers. We got minimal feedback from most of them (a survey form) and one returned notes on the PDF. We had a week to make edits. During this time the draft was made available as a preview on Safari books. In retrospect I wish we had posted preview chapters sooner which was something our first editor suggested, but we were both too embarrassed to follow through.

It wasn’t enough feedback for me so I reached out to more people and sent them chapters looking for someone to tell me it sucks and why. Luckily, I found someone who would give me the harsh feedback I wanted and I had about 3 days to incorporate their changes into the book before it went off to post production.

The last push was very difficult and stressful. There were a lot of big changes on the last weekend which was a risk, but I think in the end made the book better. The final weekend we moved some chapters around and wrote a chapter from scratch for content we felt was missing.

. . . .

I believe the first PDF came back with more than 1300 edits. Overall there were more than 2000 changes made during post. I later found out this amount of edits is fairly standard for our book length. We had about 3 weeks of emailing large, heavily notated PDFs back and forth which was no fun compared to the plain text git workflow of writing.

. . . .

All in all I worked from Feb — Oct for roughly 5 nights a week at 2–3 hours per night. I also worked about 3 weekends non-stop when a draft or final edits were due. Roughly I’d say I worked about 500 hours total. That was only my time and doesn’t include Kris’. I was lucky to have a co-author to share the load.

. . . .

At the end of final edits I was done (contractually and mentally). I had read through the entire book at least three times and much of the content was starting to lose meaning. After sending the final edited PDF I wanted to stress about missing an edit before going to bed, but I was too tired to care.

. . . .

O’Reilly provides an affiliate program which was terrible to set up and in the end hardly worth the time. You get a cut from all sales that go through your link but I have never received any money from affiliate book sales. The only money I got was when someone used my link and then bought a ticket to an O’Reilly conference.

. . . .

I attempted to set up an affiliate program for Amazon but my application was denied. Amazon offers an author central site to create a 1998 inspired author profile page and an out of date book sale statistics and rankings. I’m really not sure the point of creating the Amazon author information outside of claiming the book(s) you author and confirming that you have a terrible book rank.

. . . .

I would suggest anyone writing a book spend a night to register a domain and set one up. I launched it on August 31, 2017 and it has over 4,600 visits which is terrible by most website standards but good as a place to funnel users for info.

. . . .

From December through March the book has sold 1337 copies. I have no idea how well other books in this category sell. This total also includes 2 book signings at conferences that were sponsored by the CNCF (Thank you!) which was roughly 150 physical books total. On average, the book has sold 222 copies per month which is greatly skewed by the first month which had 930 sales. The last month (March) had 34 physical book sales. I suspect that number will go down even more over the next few months.

Sponsorships was an unexpected source of income. We have been lucky enough to have 3 sponsors so far. The sponsor pays O’Reilly for exclusive rights to provide a PDF and optional print version of the book. The company gets to put a forward in the book that Kris, me, and an O’Reilly editor approve. Once the sponsor completes their contract with O’Reilly they can do whatever they want with the books. Usually, the PDF gets put behind a web form so you fill out your email address and the company uses it for marketing services and getting customer leads. Physical books are usually given away at conferences where they can scan badges.

. . . .

Each full book sponsorship for one month nets me $3,705 and partial sponsorships give an amount based on percentage of the book sponsored (e.g. 5 chapters in a 10 chapter book is 50% sponsored). That’s much better than I expected because a one month full sponsorship is more than all other sales combined.

. . . .

There are also some other sponsorships that I think count as ebook sales but I never got a clear answer how royalties work for those. Book licensing incurs a small payment but I’m unclear how that is used. From my statements, three people have licensed the book or excerpts from it which has netted me $2.37.

. . . .

My April 2018 statement (sales from December — March) says I’ve made $11,554.15 which roughly breaks down to $23 per hour for the estimated 500 hours of work. Without the three sponsorships that would have been $5.29 per hour.

. . . .

The book has provided a few other opportunities that I probably wouldn’t have had. So far I’ve done a couple podcast interviews, spoken at a few events, did one webinar, and have had a few opportunities for more writing projects with O’Reilly (some of which I’ve taken).

Would I write another book? Not for the foreseeable future. I would like to update Cloud Native Infrastructure to keep it fresh with current industry trends, but another book from scratch is not a year long project I’d be looking forward to at this time.

Link to the rest at Medium

Supreme Court Strikes down Ban on ‘Immoral or Scandalous’ Trademarks

24 June 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 Monday that the government may not deny registration to trademarks it deems “immoral or scandalous,” finding that the Patent and Trademark Office violated the First Amendment when it applied such criteria to brand names.

“The most fundamental principle of free speech law is that the government can’t penalize or disfavor or discriminate against expression based on the ideas or viewpoints it conveys,” Justice Elena Kagan said, summarizing the court’s opinion from the bench. “The First Amendment does not allow the government to penalize views just because many people, whether rightly or wrongly, see them as offensive.”

All nine justices agreed that the government had no business deciding what images or words were immoral and thus excluded from the benefits of trademark registration. But three said the ban on scandalous trademarks could serve a legitimate purpose in withholding legal protection from vulgarity and profanity.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

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