The Okob Imperium, the Six Towers, and the Marble Horses

1st Day – The Neverending War & The Old Man

The Okob Imperium could not be defeated. It had stood for as long as the people could remember.

The old gaunt man stood looking upon the Six Towers that comprised the capital city of the Okob Imperium. There were three walls circling the capital. The walls had never been breached. There were 11 Gates scattered along the three walls. Each Gate was well guarded and fortified with special metal alloys blessed by the spells of the grand magicians of the six towers.

The old man thought back to what his father had said when he had set out on his journey.

The Okob Imperium cannot be defeated.

It had taken the old man 17 years to build up his army of free men and women. His father and brothers weren’t part of it – he suspected even 100 years wouldn’t be enough to convince them his war was winnable.

The old man turned back towards his army and spoke. The words flowed out with the weariness of age and the magic of hope. His blind faith and charisma turning them into sounds more melodious than the songs of angels.

His soldiers had been ravenous – the days of marching and adrenaline setting them on edge. His words stoked the fires in their hearts. The old man looked upon them one last time and then gave the command.

The army rushed forward, pouring upon the capital like the darkness of eternal night.

227th Day – The Neverending War & The Decision

The meeting of the Grand Wizards had been hastily arranged. Two of the walls were down. The gates of the third wall were at breaking point.

How long would one solitary wall protect the six towers?

The Imperium Council sat behind their ornate desk. The five of them resplendent in robes built upon the blood of millions of peasants.

There’s no other way. We have called upon the Dark Wizardesses. The Marble Horses have been readied.

A shudder passed through the hearts of the Grand Wizards. They were as children in front of the Dark Wizardesses. They had given up something, perhaps their souls, for powers that exceeded the imagination. The Dark Ones would win them the Neverending War … but at what price?

We have no other choice. We have no other choice at all.

253rd Day of Battle – The Neverending War & The Marble Horses

The old man had just lopped off the head of an Imperium Soldier. The third wall was there for the taking. Its southern gate was beginning to crack.

A slow smile flitted across the old man’s face. The Neverending War was about to end. As the old man envisioned what it would feel like to tear down the Towers, a screech pierced the air and stilled the fighting.

Soldiers from both sides stopped and looked back towards the outer fields. There were 7 great marble horses there. The Old Man had tested them – they were all solid marble. No seams. No surprises.

Nothing for a few moments. Then the marble horses shook themselves.

The giant marble horses had come alive. The old man crossed himself. What manner of cursed magic was this?

The ground around the marble horses began to move. Ghastly dark soldiers dug their way out of the ground and stood by the marble horses. Then, without warning, the marble horses and the dark soldiers started rushing towards the battlefield.

578th Day of Battle – The Neverending War & The Horn

Two of the marble horses still stood. Thousands of the dark soldiers were still fighting. The Imperium had hardly any soldiers left. The old man’s army was almost gone.

The old man stood by the southern gate, which still stood. His army was surrounded on all sides and defeat crept ever closer.

This is what it had come down to. The Six Towers and the Imperium would win. The old man felt the last gasp of hope leave his body as one of the remaining Marble Horses brushed aside his guards and approached him.

Then a horn sounded.

The Old Man looked towards the South. Everything stood still for him. The Marble Horse stopped … taken aback by the change in the old man’s eyes.

The horn sounded again.

The old man looked more carefully. A dark line was forming in the South. It grew from something amorphous into a line of people. It stretched as far as his eye could see. He smiled. The people. The idiots. What could they do against dark soldiers and Grand Wizards? Yet he smiled wider.

They could not stand against the swords and shields of the Imperium. They could do nothing against the Dark Soldiers. If his army, trained painstakingly and equipped magnificently, had lost – what hope did some peasants have?

Then he saw the second line. Then the third. Then the fourth. Slowly despair crept into his soul. It would be a massacre. The peasants could not hope to take on the Imperium and survive. Yet, the never ending lines of peasants and villagers kept marching forward.

The End of the Neverending War

The old man’s army, the little of it that remained, the dark soldiers, the last two marble horses, and the few remaining Imperium soldiers – all stood and looked upon the endless rows of peasants.

The first line stopped 80 paces from the edge of the battle. 4 young girls stepped out of the first line. They were dressed in black, faces painted white. The mark of the angels were carved into their dresses.

The old man thought back to the legends and shivered. Surely, those were old wives’ tales.

The girls raised their hands and started chanting. Lighting bolts started raining out of the sky.

The old man knelt down and wept. He had lost. Yet, the Six Towers would be defeated. He looked back as the southern gate cracked and fell. Then cries rang out and the endless lines of peasants rushed towards the Towers.

There are an infinite number of very good authors and an even larger number of very good books

A large portion of my time in 2013 has been spent browsing through ebook stores and app stores and finding the good books & apps out of the endless lists.

A few similarities stand out –

  1. It’s shocking how bad the search engines and discovery engines are. Apple and Google and Amazon almost seem to be trying to make it hard to find ‘the next great read’ or ‘the next great app’. It’s particularly puzzling in the case of Google. They make their money from search. Surely, they could come up with an app search engine that at least pretends to work.
  2. There’s a race to zero. People keep getting upset when this is mentioned – that doesn’t change the fact that it’s happening. Apps are all free or $1 or $3. The only app companies making non-trivial amounts of money are ones that either sell a service or product OUTSIDE of the App Stores (think Netflix) or the ones that sell people purple cows and rainbow candies for $1 each (Candy Crush, Clash of Clans, Zynga, etc.). With books we are seeing more and more authors offer free books. Book prices are going down steadily. The stores are trying various things to prevent this, but the race to the bottom can’t be stopped. The stores are just delaying the inevitable – at which point all their investment into hardware and infrastructure is going to look like Genius. NOT!
  3. There’s an unlimited supply of both apps and books. There are millions of ebooks available and hundreds of thousands of apps available. Given that it takes at least a few minutes to try out a book sample or an app, you could literally spend your entire life trying out books and/or apps and never run out of choices. You wouldn’t even have to actually read a full book. Just a few minutes per book and you’d never run out of books. Authors are writing books and publishing them faster than anyone can read books.

However, there is one area in which ebook stores and app stores differ very, very widely –

  1. There are a very small number of really good apps. For any given users’ needs, out of the hundreds of thousands of apps available, only a few thousand would classify as ‘good’ and just a few hundred would classify as ‘very good’. In fact, if you wanted to be picky you could make a reasonable claim that there are just 5 to 25 very good apps in each app category. The rest are all basically worthless.
  2. There are a very, very, very large number of very good books. In each and every genre, there are hundreds of really good books. The problem is finding them.

Note: In some ways this is an unfair comparison. With books we have thousands of years of work, while with apps we have just 4-6 years of work on apps. The point remains – there are a very, very, very large number of readable books.

Why are there so many more ‘very good books’?

To write a good book you need just three ingredients –

  1. A life that provides enough experience and memories to write a good story. Let’s call this the ‘inspiration’ for the book.
  2. The ability to put the story down in words. Let’s call this the ‘writing skills’ part.
  3. A platform to publish your work.

If you consider that 73% of people want to write a book, and that perhaps 5% to 10% of them have enough of the above two ingredients, we end up with a shockingly high number of ‘very good’ books.

The third part, a platform, is now freely available. Kindle Store. Nook Store. Kobo Store. iBooks Store. All of them accept books from ANYONE. No gilded wings or silver spoon required.

Please Note: By ‘very good’ we don’t mean ‘the best book ever written’. We mean a book that a reader enjoys reading. That’s it – a very good read.

Making a very good app is much tougher because –

  1. Firstly, you need the coordination of a lot of different skills OR the combination of a group of people with different skills. The first is nearly impossible and the second is really hard to manage.
  2. Secondly, apps cost a LOT more to make.
  3. Thirdly, in apps there are lots and lots of places you can go wrong – design, coding, testing, etc.
  4. Fourthly, the approval process for apps is painful. There are a thousand reasons an app might get rejected. Much of the credit for this goes to the ‘Closed Ecosystems’ that use ‘quality’ as an excuse to filter according to their personal biases and their own motives.

Basically, writing a good book just needs someone who can write well and who has enough inspiration and motivation. For an app you need a team of people and all/most of them have to have time and skills and inspiration and life experience.

You write a good book and every store will take it. With an app each store has its own requirements and review processes.

The second big factor is that a LOT more people can write a book than can code or program an app.

While lots of people might WANT to make an app, a ridiculously small percentage of them can actually code or design or test. On the other hand, a huge percentage of people can write and are quite capable of writing a book. Interestingly, more people want to write a book (73% in the US) than read a book (13% to 20%, depending on what statistics company you check with).

This brings us to the topic of this post.

There are an infinite number of very good authors

By infinite we mean – so many that, for the average reader, you are NEVER going to run out of good books to read written by these authors.

The reason we still struggle to find good books to read is that

A) Lots of these authors haven’t been given a shot.

B) The Discovery process is completely broken. By design. The stores want lots of books to be able to say ‘We have 2.45 million books’ but then turn around and show only the books they want to sell. It’s a different sort of gatekeeping.

Most of these ‘very good’ authors haven’t been given a shot to even publish. That’s why you aren’t getting enough books you love at prices you love. That’s the key thing that’s going to change in the next 5 to 15 years –

  1. We’ll see tens of millions of talented and inspired and ‘capable of writing very good books’ authors get a chance to publish their books.
  2. We’ll see systems come into place to bring these ‘very good books’ to readers. Very good discovery engines and ‘what to read next’ engines and serendipity engines and search engines.

When that happens, we’ll see –

  1. An infinite number of very good authors rise up.
  2. An infinite number of very good books become available.

Try an experiment and see this for yourself.

Your Experiment: Seeing for yourself that Sales Rank isn’t indicative of Writing Talent or Book Quality

Pick your favorite Genre of Books. Go to any store (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks, Sony) –

  1. Pick out a few of the best-selling books.
  2. Pick out a few of the books just out of the Top 100 lists.
  3. Find and pick out some of the books that have very low sales ranks.

It’s important to pick out books that seem interesting to you. Basically, pick the books you’re drawn to. Just make sure to pick them from different sales rank ranges.

You’ll notice a few interesting things –

  1. There will be almost no difference between the books qualitatively. What I mean is – the books will, for the most part, be roughly as good as each other.
  2. There will be a LOT of very good books that don’t see many sales. It’s absolutely stunning how many super good books are lost in the lists and piles.
  3. There will be some rather poor books that will see lots of sales.

Where it gets really interesting is that you’ll see the EXACT SAME PATTERN if you pick books in –

  1. The Top 100.
  2. The Top 1,000.
  3. The Top 10,000.
  4. The Top 100,000.

While there will be a higher percentage of good books in the Top 100, there will still be lots of very good books outside the Top 100,000.

The first time you realize there are books with sales rank 125,785 that are really well written – It’s a huge shock.

Why are really good books not selling? Why does no one know about a really good book that even has great reviews? Why does no one know about the tens of thousands of such books that are adrift in the ‘No Visibility outside the Top 100’ sea?

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense.

Online book stores have just a few shelves – Top 100, Movers & Shakers, Store Chosen Books

What did we get with the traditional model?

  1. Publishers chose just a few thousand authors each year. We had a total of perhaps a few hundred thousand authors.
  2. Bookstores chose to display 5,000 to 10,000 books. All of these books got shelf space and visibility.

What do we get with the new model?

  1. Absolutely anyone can publish. We’re rapidly approaching a stage where we’ll have (if we don’t already) millions of authors.
  2. Online stores are stuck displaying the Top 100 and perhaps a few hundred other books. So, instead of 5,000 to 10,000 books getting visibility in each store, and the books varying across the different stores, we get just 100 to 500 books highlighted in online stores and most stores having little variance in books shown.

We’ve gone from a few hundred thousand authors to a few million (we will be there soon). But the number of books getting visibility has gone from tens of thousands to a few hundred.

It’s IMPOSSIBLE for 95% of very good authors and very good books to get ANY visibility

Why? Well, for several reasons –

  1. The above mentioned aspect of only a few hundred books getting visibility in online stores.
  2. Stores wanting to highlight books they can sell for $10 or more and make money from. That leaves out nearly all authors trying to compete on price.
  3. Stores wanting to highlight books they publish themselves and/or books they get paid to promote.
  4. Most ‘very good’ authors having ‘no clue’ how to market.
  5. There being a huge scarcity of marketing opportunities for ebooks. Where could you get visibility when the stores are the only channels?

Why talk about all of this? Because this is hiding a New Key Reality in Books.

There are an infinite number of very good authors now

By infinite we mean ‘so many that you’ll never run out of very good authors to read’.

What you’re seeing now are just a few of the Publisher built-up authors and a few of the Indie authors who understood how to thrive in the new world of Publishing and/or got picked by the stores.

They are just 3% to 5% of the very good authors.

Most very good authors are failing in making themselves seen and read. There are a LOT of authors who are writing books good enough to be bestsellers but aren’t able to get even a few dozen people to read their books and see for themselves.

The system is failing them.

And by failing these ‘very good authors’, the system is failing readers.

There are an infinite number of very good books

Most authors write more than one book.

Sometimes, even not-so-good authors produce a gem.

Quite a few very good authors produce more than one ‘very good book’.

That means that –

  1. Only 3% to 5% of the very good authors have been discovered.
  2. Only 1% to 2% of the very good books have been discovered.

You can see this happen every single day.

There’ll be a book with 1 review or 2 reviews. It gets mentioned somewhere. In a few weeks it has 50 good reviews.

There are books that had no reviews in 2011 that now have hundreds or even thousands of 5 star reviews.

While this happens all the time in books (with new books, and sometimes with old books), it’s happening at a MUCH faster rate with ebooks.

Why?

Because more and more very good authors are jumping into publishing their books (often themselves). Because more and more very good books are being published.

On the Cusp of Infinite Very Good Books

In Summary, we’re on the cusp of a Publishing World where the both the number of very good authors and very good books is going to be infinite.

All three statements are worth thinking about –

  1. There are an infinite number of very good authors.
  2. There are an even larger number of very good books.
  3. We’re soon going to be in a world where readers can easily find ALL/Most of these authors and books.

This is what scares the Old Publishers and the New Publishers. This is what they are fighting against. All the moves you see, are the last attempts of the Gatekeepers to keep readers and authors detached from each other and from Reality.

Apple price-fixing case will helps books and ebooks and readers in ways people don’t realize yet

In the wake of Apple being found guilty of conspiring with Publishers to fix ebook prices, people are reacting in very emotion-driven ways.

How could the Judge find Apple guilty? How could the Judge make things easier for Amazon? What will save us from Amazon now? Does this really help customers?

People are reacting so strongly that this story is the #1 story on both Techmeme and Mediagazer.

It’s interesting to see most people miss the point completely –

  1. Apple eBook Ruling doesn’t do much for consumers.
  2. For Consumers, not much changes. For Apple, a lot could.
  3. Forbes find it hard to believe Apple is wrong – Did Apple conspire to raise prices?
  4. David Streitfeld at NY Times – E-Book Ruling gives Amazon an Advantage.

Let’s look at what this ruling REALLY does.

Precedent

This court verdict, especially if upheld on appeal, establishes precedent.

  1. Any group of powerful companies, when trying similar things in future, will know that they are going to get slapped. Particularly true in books and ebooks and Publishing.
  2. Precedent that doing something wrong will probably get you punished.
  3. Precedent that any company (group of companies) that causes prices to go up 30% or more for consumers, illegally, will get brought to justice.
  4. Precedent that even a media darling company like Apple can’t bypass Justice. If you read some of the Press’ articles it’s just disappointing to see them use weak strategy like ‘Amazon shouted and screamed in meetings’ to try and get Apple off the hook. Precedent that all the media could be your dumb brainwashed little lapdogs and you’ll still get brought to justice. This is a very big deal.
  5. Precedent that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

You can paint any picture you like. The bottom-line is that Apple and Publishers introduced the Agency Model and caused tens of millions of readers to either pay higher prices or wait for 6 to 12 months. That’s just not the right thing to do. What kind of parent raises their kids to do things like that? Seriously – would you raise your kids to exploit other people in that way? To take away a book they were dying to read for 6 to 12 months, unless they paid an exorbitant price for it?

Readers are the people who pay for EVERYTHING. To mistreat them like this is just wrong.

Note: Most companies, including Amazon, have their own little ‘we’re too big for our breeches’ episodes. That’s why it’s important to show that no company, no matter how big and powerful, can get away with doing wrong things.

Creative Destruction and Ensuring Progress

What Apple and Publishers were trying to do, and what now Amazon is trying to do, is stop the Creative Destruction that is happening in Publishing.

It’s inevitable. The existing gatekeepers will fall. Then the new gatekeepers, so happy to seize the opportunity that they don’t see the barbarians at the gate, will fall.

If we let Apple and Publishers get away with it, then it makes Amazon and the new gatekeepers feel they can get away with it too. Now, they know they might get caught. They will still try. However, we have PRECEDENT and we have punishments.

The second great revolution in publishing is not going to end with one gatekeeper replacing another. It’s going to end when gatekeepers are replaced by servants. Servants who serve authors and readers instead of lording over them.

The Court’s decision ensures that some of the obstacles slowing down the much-needed creative destruction are struck down. More importantly, it ensures that the people busy setting up new obstacles think ten times before doing evil.

Room for New Players

Who’s going to take books and publishing forward?

  1. Publishers and Apple, who want to pretend we’re in the paperbook world.
  2. Amazon, who wants to pretend that we’re in the paperbook world with Publishers replaced by Amazon.
  3. Readers and Authors.
  4. New Players that serve Readers and Authors.

Only 3 and 4 are actually interested in progress.

The dream situation for Publishers is for eBooks to suddenly stop growing or die out. The dream situation for Amazon is for eBooks to replace books but within Amazon’s closed ecosystem.

Readers, Authors, New players – they all want a new system. They will get it.

Why? Because attempts by the existing gatekeepers and attempts by the self-anointed rising gatekeepers, to impede progress –

A) Will only delay the inevitable.

B) Will lead to court decisions like this one, and give the guilty parties the double slap of public shaming and destruction of their strategy.

The number and types of moats that can be built to protect the existing castles and fortifications just got reduced drastically.

Consumer Focus

What won the case?

The fact that the HARD FACTS showed that prices went up due to Apple’s efforts. That this was bad for consumers.

At the very least, this ensures that future meddlers and scum, who try similar tactics, will try to minimize damage to customers when they try to corner the market.

That can only be good for readers. If all the players involved are painfully aware that any exploitation or abuse of readers/customers will lead to eventual justice.

Better shot for Indie Authors

If companies had the option to just make indie authors disappear, they would.

Now, any attempts to hinder/hide/handicap indie authors will be rethought. Because if these methods get found out, and it can be shown that it led to higher book prices for readers, then it’s the exact same mess that Apple got into.

You can bet a lot of emails are getting deleted at various eBook platform companies regarding handicaps and boosts and pricing methodologies that are not pro-customer.

No company will want trouble of the sort Apple has gotten into. At best, they will stop their meddling with indie author rankings. At worst, they will use even more subtle, hard to track methods – these, in turn, will perhaps be less effective.

This ruling HURTS Amazon, not helps it

Why could Apple and Publishers pull off the Agency Model? Because they had the power. This is the KEY thing everyone is missing. Without power you can’t do much abuse.

What company has the most power now? Amazon.

So, the company most likely to abuse power is Amazon, not anyone else.

If the Court and the Judge clearly indicate that they will not stand for abuse of power that hurts consumers, then Amazon is going to be wary. What damage can Apple do in books now? Not very much. Amazon, on the other hand can cause lots of problems. This ruling serves as a strong warning to them to not abuse their power too much.

This ruling is a warning to Tech Companies that try to prostitute users and their rights

You could bet $1 million dollars that in dozens, if not hundreds, of companies’ boardrooms, this ruling is being discussed and has served as a warning.

If you do things that hurt consumers’ best interests, then you might be brought to justice. All these companies know that they aren’t the media’s darlings, or America’s Favorite Tech Company that makes everything in China, or the company that made thousands of people rich via its stock (well, up to $700 it did).

If Apple can get hammered, then so can they.

In Summary – It’s about the Future of Books

This isn’t about allegiance to a company, wariness of another company, or about looking out for your own selfish best interests.

It’s about what THE RIGHT THING TO DO is.

What’s the right thing for readers? What’s the right thing for authors? What’s the right thing for the future of books?

District Judge Denise Cote has ruled in favor of doing the RIGHT thing for Readers and Authors. Every few years, there’ll be a company that has power in books, and tries to exploit readers and/or authors for its own selfish interests. It’s up to readers and authors and the DOJ and the Judicial system (which might be our only hope) to fight against this. Only the powerful can prevent abuse of power. Only readers and authors and the judicial system can protect the future of books and reading and readers and authors.