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Monday, January 23, 2012

Remembering Sylvia Faust

Oh. My. Gosh.
Over at Comics Bulletin, Daniel Elkin spends a whole column reminiscing about Sylvia Faust, the "magical romantic comedy" I wrote and Greg Scott drew for Image Comics. It was about a magic-using girl who joins the staff of a crazy 24-hour movie house patterned after a certain indy theater in Austin.

After issue two, I'm sure I'll want to introduce this comic to my parents. Maybe after issue three we'll talk about moving in together. After issue four I'll find myself lingering in front of jewelry store windows eying rings I can't possibly afford. After issue five . . . Oh . . .With these long range romantic plans dancing in my head, I set upon myself the task of trying to track down every issue I could find ofSylvia Faust.To my initial horror, I found out that Sylvia Faust was only planned to be a four-issue mini-series through Image. To further rip my heart out, though, only two issues came out! Nobody on the internet seems to know what happened to the series. It's like the last two issues were kidnapped by some mysterious malevolent but maladroit mustachioed menace and taken to some terrible titanic tower in an alternate alien dimension. Sylvia Faust is in peril! A hero must be summoned to take on the quest of saving it and journey through terrible trials and tribulations! Who will rise to the occasion?

We did two issues, and then schedules got the best of the team and we never completed the series. This has always made me sad. Check out Daniel's column if you'd like a taste of the "practical magic" world of Sylvia Faust.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

So Piracy Doesn't Matter, Right? Prove it.

Matthew Yglesias' article at Slate-- about how even a good anti-piracy bill would be fruitless because piracy doesn't matter-- compels me to re-run this piece:

Piracy pays for itself. Isn't that the argument? So you could prove it, right? Over at Stacey Jay's blog, I joined a conversation a week or so ago about e-book piracy. Pretty soon the argument came down to two sides:
  1. Those who thought pirated e-books hurt the sales of the author's books and cut down revenue
  2. Those who predicted that pirated e-books would actually act as advertisements and would lead to a revenue lift. (Also known as "can I show you this musing from Neil Gaiman again?") It doesn't matter to these people, by the way, whether I agree. They want free books without going to a library or borrowing one, but they're compelled for some reason to want me to feel better about it.
This second point is a popular point; the people who make it are arguing that piracy is like libraries; where a person gets a taste for an author and then will buy later. My position was that libraries work that way because they're still very limited; with a pirated book, you can have a copy and so can everyone else. I might be incentivized to read more of the author, but there's no incentive to go buy a book.
One poster on the blog raised the phenomenon of suggested donations, but a suggested donation system is a scenario where the author makes the book free and asks for a donation. That's a floating discount, not piracy.

All of which brings me to this: prove it. I'm a businessman, so I'm easy to talk to about these things. Show me a business case. The poster at Stacey Jay's blog answered this request with:
OK GO, Family Guy, Justin Bieber, South Park. Schmoyo (the autotune the news guys) I could cherry pick examples of people made wealthy and famous by internet file sharing all day, but then so could someone arguing the counterpoint. There are plenty of examples of both, so to say that all piracy is bad and all piracy is done with rosy hearted intentions is intellectually disingenuous.

Are there plenty? All of that paragraph is interesting but it's anecdotal, and also it's not about books. Here's what I want-- pick a case of e-book piracy and send me a spreadsheet that shows that the piracy grew revenue. Pick something major and pirated, like Mockingjay, but to do this you're going to need real numbers. I want to see a success in the field. Since piracy has been going on for awhile, the example showing the value of piracy should be out there. Stacey Jay says that low sales due to piracy actually killed a book for her, so I guess that's not the example we're looking for. To win this, you need a case where piracy helps. Pro-piracy proponents insist that this will be readily available.

Key to the business case will, I suppose, be the percentage of readers downloading a pirated copy and deciding to purchase a book. What would that percentage be that would purchase the actual downloaded pirated book? Probably less than 1%, but we might also have a line for the percentage who downloaded a pirated copy and then decided to purchase another book by the same author. What percentage would that be? I'm guessing-- rather liberally-- maybe as high as 1.5%, but bring me the proof to show me different. In theory, if 1.5% of 100,000 people who stole a book buy a second book because of this for $10, that's $15K for the vendor, which (assuming she has two books with a total costs of $150K, a completely made-up number intended to bring in salaries, etc.) means a negative NPV for our piracy program so far. Your piracy program so far is $135K in the hole, so if it were up to me, I'd cancel the piracy initiative and go back to selling books without the benefit of piracy.

But wait, you say. $150K as a cost for two books was way too expensive. You should be able to publish a book online for practically free. Okay, make it free. So now I spent nothing and made 15K, but I can do better in the current environment where I have a time-limited government-issued monopoly on my work. At 15K, I go back to slinging hash, and the only people who can afford to create work will be the very wealthy. So long, democratization of thought.

But if my data is wrong, bring me the right data. The way people talk this scenario up, there should be plenty of data showing the value of promoting piracy. Because this might sound anecdotal and swell to you, but I actually pay bills through the benefit of copyright. It works for me. It's a system that works well, that allowed Stephen King to end his own poverty by selling Carrie.

If someone can show me a two-year business case with a positive net present value for piracy, I'll send them an Alex Van Helsing ARC (reader copy.) It won't even be pirated.

Busy working on proposals...

...but I will be back soon!

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Terminator (1984): The CES 2012 Episode of the Castle Dracula Podcast

In just a few days I'll be attending CES 2012, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, so our in honor of consumer tech at its finest the Castle Dracula Podcast discusses THE TERMINATOR (1984.)

Along the way we discuss whether Arnold could have made a good Mr. Freeze, and all sorts of time paradoxes, such as why in the world a man would be super-enthused to keep giving his friend a picture of his mom-- that will mean his death! 

If you haven't seen the original in a long time, this is a fun episode to listen to.

The Terminator: a cyborg assassin played by future California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who goes back in time from the year 2029 to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton. Michael Biehn plays Kyle Reese, a soldier from the future sent back in time to protect Sarah.

Hear the new episode of the Castle Dracula Podcast:

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Hammer Vault-- a MUST for Hammer fans

I just got my hands on The Hammer Vault. But first I have to ask:
Are you a Hammer fan? The funny thing is I find that generally if you understand the question, the answer is yes. Every week or so I post something about Hammer horror, and responses are divided between people saying I love Hammer! and What is Hammer?
Here's what I wrote in another blog entry:

In Horror, there's one world that holds together like that: a landscape slightly European and slightly British, slightly historical and modern, adaptable to many plots and characters and yet always recognizable. In Horror, there is the Hammerscape.
What is the Hammerscape? You have to see it to truly get it, but it is a cohesive horror universe reflected in curiously stagy and yet convincing sets, oddly lurid and sumptuous and yet stunningly classy colors (Ah, burgundy! Burgundy everywhere!), and not a single element that doesn't fit into the Hammer Ideal.
What made these films special? The conventional article on Hammer will suggest that the trick was to make Dracula and Frankenstein more "modern." They used color, after all. They explored sexual themes. All of this is true; it's a first-glance thesis that misses a lot. Hammer was not more "modern" than Universal- in fact, Hammer was quite the opposite. Hammer used modern tools to throw its films body and soul into a crushing and complicated love affair with antiquity. Universal's Frankenstein and Dracula came from a time when science had conquered the world and could conquer monsters, too. Hammer came from a time when we'd grown out of that ideal and found ourselves fearing the unseen once again.
So what am I going on about Hammer about this week? Oh, something outstanding: Marcus Hearn's THE HAMMER VAULT, a new book that collects all sorts of items-- lobby cards, memos, screenplay pages, magazine covers, publicity guidebooks, newspaper articles, and more-- related to every Hammer movie release from 1954's Quatermass Xperiment to next year's new Hammer release The Woman in Black with Daniel Radcliffe.

This is a very cool book for any horror fan because the articles and copy provide new information, covering the strategies for each of the films, internal politics and squabbles between creatives and censorship boards, and more. It's definitely a book I'll be pulling down to flip through over and over again.

Highly recommended for all Gothic horror fans and Hammer fans.

(Review copy received from Titan Books.)