Figuring Out The Right Price

I have been doing most of my work with IT Revolution over the last year and we have been looking at a variety of factors that lead to successful outcomes in publishing.

The Phoenix Project has now sold more than 115,000 copies. Less than 1% of books published reach that level and because of that, we watch very closely what happens across our sales channels and publishing formats. One of the questions we return back to often is pricing.

 

Two Ways to Look at It

 

In regard to products and services, price is one of the most important decisions any business makes. McKinsey & Company did some well documented research back in the 1990s that showed a 1% increase in price produced an 11% increase in operating profits. We also know from Economics 101 that price plays a role in demand for a product. Economists refer to that relationship as the elasticity of demand. In the world of book publishing, the amount of demand elasticity there is for books is one that has been up for debate in the last several years.

 

Historically, book publishers have chosen price discrimination as their go-to market technique. Publishers offer the same product to the same set of customers but change features like when they can get it, where they can buy it, or how much they can buy it for. Similar to other media, publishers choose to stagger the release of formats, starting with the original hardcover edition, then releasing the ebook, paperback, mass paperback, and possibly a repackaged movie tie-in edition several years later. For a product like books that slowly declines in value, the biggest benefit to price discrimination is publishers can maximize their profit with the staggered release windows, allowing them to capture maximum value for different customer segments.

 

Amazon sees the world in a completely different way. As founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has said, “There are two kinds of companies—those that work to raise prices and those that work to lower them.” Amazon is clearly the latter, and you can see many of the company’s motives trace back to the school of price elasticity. Roughly translated, this economic concept says, when prices go down, people buy more.

 

Authors who self-publish on the Kindle platform know this well. Amazon has long established $9.99 as an important price point, and the retailer lowers the royalty rate from 70% to 35% if titles are priced at $10 or more. The company creates a huge incentive to keep ebook prices low because they believe that lower pricing creates higher demand for books and in turn more profit for the retailer.

 

Which is right?

 

For The Phoenix Project, we launched the book with a hardcover edition in January 2013. Our retail price was $29.95, on the high end of the range for a business novel. By the time Amazon discounted the price, most people bought it for around $20. The ebook price has always been $9.99.

 

As demand for the book grew in the first year, we started to contemplate a paperback release. Most publishers push to keep the book in hardcover as long as possible because the margins are better. The unit cost of production is about $1.50 more for a hardcover versus a paperback, but hardcovers retail at a higher price point than their soft covered counterpart, which leads to higher margins. This is a classic price discrimination maneuver. For us through, the question was how elastic was demand and could we sell more books to make up the difference in margin lost?

 

At the time, we were seeing continued strength in both hardcover and ebook sales. Another data point was the direct sales we were doing for The Phoenix Project, and we found that we converted more orders with a lower price point. We took the gamble and planned the release for 21 months after the initial hardcover launch and to coincide with our first DevOps Enterprise Summit.

 

We priced the paperback edition of The Phoenix Project at $21.95. The chart below shows the last 18 month of sales. Since we made the switch to paperback, we have increased average sales by roughly 1000 units per month The best part for us is seeing more people overall reading the book.

Phoenix_Project_Sales_-_Google_Sheets

Our conclusion from our switch is that demand for The Phoenix Project is elastic—when we lower the price, we sell more copies. In our case, that was a good decision because additional demand made up for the lower unit margin.

 

Price Matching: Good or Bad?

 

We were presented with a similar question last month when we made The Phoenix Project available through Google Play. The electronic version of the book has been available on Kindle from the very beginning, and we added Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Kobo. Most recently we added the book to O’Reilly and their Safari Online subscription service.

 

Google has been working to get consumers attention, having followed most retailers into electronic media market. Their most recent tactic has been to discount ebooks by 20% for customers but still pay publishers their royalties at the full retail price. This is an attractive offer except Amazon watches competitors’ sites very closely and matches a lower price if they find one. In Amazon’s case, the publisher is paid royalties based on the selling price. Since Amazon has such a large share of the ebook market, the lower royalties from their price matching can have a huge impact on publisher revenues. On the self-publishing forums, many have recommended raising the selling price on Google to offset their 20% discount and eliminate the problems with Amazon’s price match.

 

We decided to take a more open view and look at the data. The question again becomes whether the demand elasticity exists for the electronic version of The Phoenix Project.

 

In the following week after Amazon matched the price on Google Play, sales for the Kindle edition increased and they have stayed higher every week with the exception of one week (see graph below). On average, weekly sales have increased by 11%. At the same time, sales haven’t increased enough to offset the lower unit margins. Our average weekly royalties have decreased by 11% or around $200 per week. So, demand is again elastic, but not enough to offset the lost revenue. The data would support following the advice on the forums and increasing the Google Play price to push the Amazon pricing back to $9.99.

The_Phoenix_Project_-_Amazon_Pricing_and_Royalties_after_Google_Play_-_Google_Sheets

The other factor to consider is the sales activity on Google Play. Right now, we are selling about 17 units per week and making about $120 in royalties. We are not making enough on this newest channel for us to make up the loss at Amazon.

 

In this case, we are making a non-economic-driven decision and have decided to keep Google Play at $9.99 and let Amazon price match for now. We are getting more books into readers’ hands both with the new channel at Google and the increased demand on Amazon. The profit loss is around $100 per week, but we are selling an extra 100 copies.

 

For me, this has been a great exercise in economics, marketing, and experimentation for us in understanding how our decisions have a direct impact in what happens in the marketplace. I wouldn’t use our results to generalize that books as a category have an elastic demand curve, but instead encourage you to gather data, run experiments, and see what works best.

 

What I Read – June 2015

I made a New Year’s resolution to read more books and share what it is I have been reading.

I really slowed up reading last month. I had less time in general as we were closing out the school year and what free time I did have was spent more playing games. Splatoon is a little addictive.

So, just two books this month…

Federal Bureau of Physics  Vol 3 – The writers were trying to go from one place to another and the transition was rocky.  The new destination seems a little forced. I will probably stay with it to see what happens but this left me a little more unsure about the series. 7/10

Monster Factory by Ernie Harker – The book shows step by step how to draw monsters. It was an impulse pick up from the front display at the library and I am glad I picked it up. There were some great examples and now the trick is to picked up the pencil and start doing it.

What I Read – May 2015

Non Fiction

The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna – This book proves there are still a thousand ways to write a beautiful book that can help people find their purpose and Elle picks the right two words to pivot around. 8/10

Startup Season 1 (Alex Bloomberg) – This is the podcast about a guy who wants to start a podcast company. It is not just any guy – Alex worked on This American Life and Planet Money.  I think of it as reality radio, a mix between the reported articles of Inc. Magazine and memoir stories of Moth. The shows on mistakes (#9) and burnout (#12) are incredible and should be required listened for everyone who works in business today and start a conversation about how to deal with both better. 10/10

Graphic Novels

Absolute Dark Knight  by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, and Lynn Varley – This hardcover edition includes both the famous Dark Knight Returns and Dark Knight Strikes Again. These stories by Miller set the stage for Christopher Nolan’s films and in reading them now, I find something much more raw than what made it on the screen. Miller extracts the myths of these heroes and shows us how broken they all are. 10/10

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke – The adventure continues and the story of Zita grows, but there are impersonators in their midsts.  A wonderful second volume to the series. 9/10

Black Widow: The Finely Woven Thread by Nathan Edmonson and Phil Noto – Natasha is atoning for her past – doing solo gigs to give money back to the ones she hurt. This reboot is just OK for me. I can’t quite figure out what is at stake for her, so Black Widow ends up flat. 6/10

What I Read – April 2015

71ThGhz5pvL._SL1500_Zita-the-Space-Girl3130801-01

For 2015, I decided to put an greater emphasis reading more books. Each month I share what I have been reading and listening to.

Non-Fiction

  • Give and Take by Adam Grant –  MY FAVORITE BUSINESS BOOK OF THE LAST FIVE YEARS! Just start reading. 10/10
  • The One Page Financial Page by Carl Richards – I have read lots of personal finance books.  Most set down rules and recommend exactly what you should do. As someone with a wife in medical school and a family now,  there are so many different factors to consider.  Richards says start with “Why is money important to me?” He walks the reader through that great question and gives the some solid ways to think about the important money decisions. 9/10
  • Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free by Cory Doctorow – The opening essays by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer are worth the entire price of the book. I have followed Cory’s work closely and the power of the book is seeing his provocative thoughts all next to each other. And I think I finally understand why I like his perspective–he writes at the intersection of economics, technology, and law, which means he appreciates decision-making, modern tools and the vastly outdated rules we are governed by.  The book is about the world right now and what should change to account for the new world of media. 9/10
  • Smart People Should Build Things by Andrew Yang – Such a great title and I was interested in hearing more about Venture for America. There is too much focus on Ivy League grads going to work on Wall Street. There is also too much emphasis on Yang’s story. The stuff worth reading starts in Chapter 13 and by then I lost my interest. Opportunity missed on this one. 5/10
  • Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff – Kristin’s work is often mentioned alongside that of Brene Brown. I am interested because her approach is directly influenced by Buddhist traditions. There are many important teachings shared in the book, but this approach didn’t make a big impression on me. 7/10

Graphic Novels

  • Low Volume 1 by Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini – The Sun is in its early stages of supernova and humanity uses the waters of the ocean to protect against the radiation. Stel Caine is trying to save all of humanity including her family and never gives up hope that she can do it. The story is built well for comics, but I had a hard time getting pulled into the fairly predictable plot. Maybe things happened too fast for me to really care about the characters. Not sure. 7/10
  • Lazarus by Freg Ruka, Michael Lark and Santi Arcas – This is good stuff and it is not just me thinking that, the TV rights just got picked up.
    • Volume One – The world has returned to fiefdoms and the ruling families are fighting for power. The Carlyle Family have a ringer, a super soldier named Forever. I liked this one but wasn’t sure. I ordered V2 to give it one more chance . 8/10
    • Volume Two – This volume covers some Forever’s backstory, what it is like for a ‘Waste’ family to live in this world, and the unrest created from those who don’t like it. I got even more drawn into the world and the creators made some good story choices. 9/10
    • Volume Three – The tensions between fiefdoms intensifies and Forever finds herself square in the middle. So much good stuff and it ends on a wonderful cliffhanger. I may have to start reading single issues. 9/10
  • Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke – This is an all ages comic about a girl who risks her life to save her friend Joseph after he gets sucked through an energy portal.  Zita meets a wonderful cast of characters as she tries to make her way through the alien world. The book is fun and full of surprises. There are two more books in the series with the third having just been released. So good. 10/10
  • Avengers by Jonathan Hickman, Jerome Opena and Adam Kubert – I decided to start reading the Jonathan Hickman’s run on Avengers. There is a much bigger cast in this series, anchored by cast from the Avengers movies. I read issues #1-#23 and it is messy. Too many characters make it difficult to care about any of them. And it suffers greatly from the crossover effect. 6/10

We Are Having A Moment

0.

One juror, Steve Sammut, 62, said it was difficult coming to a verdict.

“We were split there for a while,” he said, adding that a key point was how Ms. [Ellen] Pao’s reviews at Kleiner deteriorated over time. He also said the witnesses for Kleiner, most of whom came from the firm, helped seal the case.

Another juror, Marshalette Ramsey, 41, said she believed Ms. Pao was discriminated against. The male junior partners at Kleiner “had those same character flaws that Ellen was cited with,” but they were promoted, she said.

“I’m going home emotional,” said Ms. Ramsey.

Ellen Pao Loses Silicon Valley Bias Case Against Kleiner Perkins by David Streitfeld, New York Times, March 27, 2015

1.

I have found that people describe me in many different ways.

Some people call me the girl who was shot by the Taliban.

And some, the girl who fought for her rights.

Some people, call me a “Nobel Laureate” now.

However, my brothers still call me that annoying bossy sister. As far as I know, I am just a committed and even stubborn person who wants to see every child getting quality education, who wants to see women having equal rights and who wants peace in every corner of the world.

-From the acceptance speech of Malala Yousafzai, winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize with Kailash Satyarthi

2.

I was meeting with a Boston-based VC in his office. He had a window behind his head and, unbeknownst to him or the other people in the office, I could see a reflection in that window of what was going on behind my head in the corridor (all-glass offices can be quite revealing in this way.) As I pitched him, one of his partners engaged in a pantomime in the corridor, making a circle with the fingers of one hand while poking his other fingers through the circle, then thrusting his hips in a sexual fashion. I found it rather hard to concentrate on my pitch.

It’s Different For Girls, Heidi Roizen, March 2014

3.

Karasek wasn’t satisfied. In February of this year, she and 30 other current and former Berkeley students, some as old as 60, filed two complaints with the U.S. Department of Education charging that the school violated their Title IX rights by mishandling their cases and, in some instances, discouraging them from filing reports. The 70-page, 35,000-word document alleges negligence, botched investigations, and general incompetence, and includes incidents that date to the 1970s. It comes on the heels of a federal complaint Karasek and LaVoie filed with the Department of Education last May alleging violations of the Clery Act, a 1990 law that requires universities to publish a comprehensive list of crimes on campus. And it’s one of at least 13 such complaints filed by women within the last year against Swarthmore College, Dartmouth College, the University of Akron, and the University of Southern California, among others.

Changing How Colleges Deal With Rape by Claire Suddath, BusinessWeek, April 3, 2014

4a.

By the time Rolling Stone’s editors assigned an article on campus sexual assault to [Sabrina] Erdely in the spring of 2014, high-profile rape cases at Yale, HarvardColumbia, Vanderbilt and Florida State had been in the headlines for months. The Office of Civil Rights at the federal Department of Education was leaning on colleges to reassess and improve their policies. Across the country, college administrators had to adjust to stricter federal oversight as well as to a new generation of student activists, including women who declared openly that they had been raped at school and had not received justice.

There were numerous reports of campus assault that had been mishandled by universities. At Columbia, an aggrieved student dragged a mattress around campus to call attention to her account of assault and injustice. The facts in these cases were sometimes disputed, but they had generated a wave of campus activism. “My original idea,” [managing editor Will] Dana said, was “to look at one of these cases and have the story be more about the process of what happens when an assault is reported and the sort of issues it brings up.”

A Rape on Campus: What Went Wrong by Shelia Coronel, Steve Coll, and Derek Kravitz, Rolling Stones, April 5, 2015

4b.

We would like to apologize to our readers and to all of those who were damaged by our story and the ensuing fallout, including members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and UVA administrators and students. Sexual assault is a serious problem on college campuses, and it is important that rape victims feel comfortable stepping forward. It saddens us to think that their willingness to do so might be diminished by our failings.

Everything We Know About the UVA Rape Case by Margaret Hartmann, New York, April 6, 2015

5.

“For guys,” she said, in a slightly mystified, irritated tone, “I think they have maybe 13- or 15-player rosters, but all the way down to the last player on the bench, who doesn’t get to play a single minute, I feel like his confidence is just as big as the superstar of the team.” She smiled and shook her head. “For women, it’s not like that.”

The Confidence Gap by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, The Atlantic, May 2014

6.

This morning, a friend noted a discrepancy between two recent headlines at The Mac Observer:

March 5: “Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer to Retire, Luca Maestri to Take Over”

May 7: “PR Queen Katie Cotton Leaving Apple”

I tweeted the two headlines and corresponding URLs, with a single word of commentary: “Hmm”. I said no more partly because I was near the 140-character limit, and partly to see what the reaction would be. Some got it, but many repliers missed my point, mistakenly thinking it was related to an exodus of executives from the company.

My point was to draw attention to the disparate job descriptions: “Apple CFO” vs. “PR Queen”.

Titles by John Gruber, Daring Fireball, May 8, 2014

7.

In four studies, Bowles and collaborators from Carnegie Mellon found that people penalized women who initiated negotiations for higher compensation more than they did men. The effect held whether they saw the negotiation on video or read about it on paper, whether they viewed it from a disinterested third-party perspective or imagined themselves as senior managers in a corporation evaluating an internal candidate. Even women penalized the women who initiated the conversation, though they also penalized the men who did so. They just didn’t seem to like seeing someone ask for more money.

Lean Out: The Dangers For Women Who Negotiate by Maria Konnikova, The New Yorker, June 10, 2014

8.

With Frozen, Jennifer Lee cracked two glass ceilings at once: She became the first woman to direct a Disney animated feature and the first writer to ascend to the director’s chair on one of the company’s animated films (she cowrote Wreck-It Ralph). And she did it with a risky project. “It was a big musical with two female leads,” says Lee, who quit her job as a graphic designer in book publishing to enroll in film school at age 30. “So it was a let’s-try-to-be-fearless-and-see-what-happens kind of thing.” What happened was, the fairy tale of two sisters, released last Thanksgiving, earned $1 billion and became the highest-grossing animated movie of all time, not to mention a multiple Oscar winner and merchandising juggernaut–thanks in large part to Lee’s collaborative style (songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez helped pen the script).

Most Creative People 2014 by Bruce Fretts, Fast Company, May 12, 2014

9.

For her analysis, Armstrong divided the cohort in two, with wealthier women in one group and the working-class ones in the other. Each group tended to band together, with the poorer half feeling excluded from Greek life and other high-status social activities. Several of the low-income students, for example, balked at the cost of the $50 “rush” t-shirt, Armstrong said.

The rich women tended to view casual sex as problematic only when it was done outside of steady relationships, and even then, only when it included vaginal intercourse. Meanwhile, frequent “hooking up,” which to them included kissing and oral sex, did not a slut make. “I think when people have sex with a lot of guys that aren’t their boyfriends, that’s really a slut,” as one put it.

The poorer women, by contrast, were unaware that “hooking up,” in the parlance of the rich women, excluded vaginal intercourse. They also tended to think all sex and hook-ups should occur primarily within a relationship.

The two classes of women also defined “sluttiness” differently, but neither definition had much to do with sexual behavior. The rich ones saw it as “trashiness,” or anything that implied an inability to dress and behave like an upper-middle-class person.

One woman, for example, “noted that it was acceptable for women to ‘have a short skirt on’ if ‘they’re being cool’ but ‘if they’re dancing really gross with a short skirt on, then like, oh slut.’”

The poorer women, meanwhile, would regard the richer ones as “slutty” for their seeming rudeness and proclivity for traveling in tight-knit herds. As one woman said, “Sorority girls are kind of whorish and unfriendly and very cliquey.”

Armstrong notes that midway through their college experience, none of the women had made any friendships across the income divide.

There’s No Such Thing as a Slut by Olga Khazan, The Atlantic, May 28, 2014

10.

An Ohio middle-school student named Sophie told local news channel FOX19 that she wore a T-shirt on which she had hand-written the word “Feminist” to school on class picture day. She wore the shirt through the school day without incident, and wore it in her class picture.

However, when photos were released later, she found that the school had doctored the photo to erase the word “feminist” from her shirt.

The school’s principal, Kendra Young, told FOX19 that the photo was doctored to remove the word “feminist” to avoid any “unintended controversies.” She admitted that the shirt does not violate any school policies or dress codes, but said that the reasoning behind the decision was that students buy the photos, and she wanted to avoid any possibility of any controversy.

School erases feminist T-shirt from class photo by Nisha Chittal, MSNBC, April 17, 2015

10a.

July 2, 2014 – Diane Nelson, DC’s president, commented on the difficulties of making a Wonder Woman movie last year, saying, “We have to get her right, we have to. She is such an icon for both genders and all ages and for people who love the original TV show and people who read the comics now. I think one of the biggest challenges at the company is getting that right on any size screen. The reasons why are probably pretty subjective: She doesn’t have the single, clear, compelling story that everyone knows and recognizes.”

10b.

February 23, 2015 – [T]his weekend brought good news on the Wonder Woman front: shooting will begin this fall for the hero’s upcoming solo adventure, with — as previously confirmed — Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad vet Michelle MacLaren in the director’s chair.

In an unrelated casting story over at Deadline, the trade reports that filming for Wonder Woman will begin later this year, with Gal Gadot in the leading role. Gadot will make her first appearance as the hero in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in 2016 before moving onto her solo film, which is set for release in 2017. The actress will then reprise the part for the first Justice League film, hitting theaters later in 2017.

10c.

April 13, 2015 – “Given creative differences, Warner Bros. and Michelle MacLaren have decided not to move forward with plans to develop and direct Wonder Woman together.”

-Link credits to Comics Alliance

11.

“At one point, Whitney Wolfe was promoted as Tinder’s “inventor” and co-founder in fashion magazines like Harper’s Bazaar. She named the app, and her marketing savvy was often cited as the reason it found an audience among young women. Her role in the company was widely touted as an exception to male-dominated startup culture.

According to the lawsuit, [Justin] Mateen told Wolfe, who was 24 years old at the time, that “he was taking away her ‘Co-Founder’ title because having a young female co-founder ‘makes the company seem like a joke’ and ‘devalues’ the company.” Mateen had also been designated a co-founder of the company despite joining after the fact, and argued that Wolfe’s title undermined him.

The suit says that Mateen spewed constant invective at Wolfe, often in front of colleagues, calling her (among other things) “disgusting,” a “desperate loser,” a “slut,” and a “whore.” It includes damning text messages from Mateen that further berated her. When Wolfe complained to Sean Rad, Tinder’s CEO, her concerns were ignored. She alleges that Rad eventually forced her out of the company because of the abusive situation with Mateen.”

Tinder Co-Founder’s Lawsuit Reflects Tech Industry’s Rampant Sexism by Mary Emily O’Hara, Vice News, July 2, 2014

12.

When Silvia Tomášková, director of the Women in Science program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, brings up famous female scientists with her students—and this has been happening since she started teaching 20 years ago—she gets the same reaction: “Marie Curie.” Tomášková always tries to move them on. “Let’s not even start there. Who else?” What about Vera Rubin, who confirmed the existence of dark matter? The experimental physicist Chien-Shiung Wu? Hedy Lamarr, the Hollywood starlet who invented a communications technology that paved the way for Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth?

We Need to Stop Ignoring Women Scientists by Rachel Sawby, Wired, April 2015

13.

Scandal
The Good Wife
Broad City
The Mindy Project
Girls
Parks and Recreation
Orange Is The New Black
Veep
Homeland
Dora
Glee
Orphan Black
Agent Carter
Law & Order: SVU

14.

The petition spelled out a sorry history. “As of May 1, 2014, more than 100 USA Swimming coaches have been banned for life, making this one of the worst sexual abuse scandals in the U.S. Olympics sports world,” it stated. “Many of these coaches had well-known, long histories of sexual abuse, yet [Chuck] Wielgus enabled these men to continue to coach for years. … [He] has not been a leader in protecting victims; he has instead responded to outside pressure, and only after other avenues of obfuscation have been exhausted.”

Unprotected by Rachel Sturtz, Outside Magazine

15.

Mo’ne Davis was on the mound for the first time since her suffocating performance in the Mid-Atlantic Regional championship, when she shut out Delaware-Newark National to lead Taney Youth Baseball Association of Philadelphia to the Series. Most of the announced 15,648 in attendance recognized the potential for something historic to unfold.

Could she live up to the hype?

Yes.

A Mound Becomes a Summit by William C. Rhoden, New York Times, August 15, 2014

16.

Gloria Steinem turned 80.

17.

Anita Sarkeesian, creator of the popular Tropes vs. Women video series, is at the center of yet another death threat. The Standard Examiner reports that the director of Utah State University’s Center for Women and Gender, along with several other people, received an email promising a mass shooting if they didn’t cancel a speaking engagement for Sarkeesian, who was scheduled to talk at the center on Wednesday morning.

‘Massacre threat forces Anita Sarkeesian to cancel university talk by Adi Robertson, The Verge, October 14, 2014

18.

Twin Peaks is the most successful example of a new generation of restaurants, what people in the industry euphemistically refer to as “the attentive service sector” or, as they’re more casually known, “breastaurants.” Twin Peaks Chief Executive Officer Randy DeWitt doesn’t care much for the word, not that he’s complaining. Last year, Twin Peaks was the fastest-growing chain in the U.S., with $165 million in sales.

Twin Peaks:’Hooters Just Wasn’t Racy Enough’ by Devin Leonard, BusinessWeek, September 25, 2014

19.

Over the next 12 years, Christensen personally tried roughly 40 sexual-assault cases and supervised the prosecution of another 300. His decision to focus on sex crimes was unconventional in the military. A JAG was expected to be a generalist — to learn about environmental and labor law, about contracts and medical malpractice claims — and to spend only a few years trying cases. But Christensen liked the challenge of helping victims who had no one else in their corner. He knew the base commanders often did not have their best interests at heart. Instead commanders worried that a court-martial could lead to the loss of a prized fighter pilot. It could create turmoil at the base and produce a blemish on their own records. These pressures, Christensen had come to learn, all conspired to upset the scales of justice. Time after time, he witnessed commanders demonstrating their support for the accused by sitting behind him in the courtroom; in one case, after a pilot was found not guilty of rape, the commander leapt from his perch and yelled, “Yeah!” Commanders selected the jury, which sometimes issued sentences far lighter than those meted out in civilian courtrooms. He saw one commander withdraw an airtight rape case days before trial, without explanation. He saw another commander testify at sentencing that the noncommissioned officer who had just been convicted of sexually molesting his daughter, a 13-year-old with a developmental disability, was nonetheless of great value to the unit and should therefore be retained. The judge granted his request.

The Military’s Rough Justice on Sexual Assault By Robert Draper, New York Times Magazine, Nov. 26, 2014

20.

In the capital city of Stockholm the number of women in street prostitution has been reduced by two thirds, and the number of johns has been reduced by 80%. There are other major Swedish cities where street prostitution has all but disappeared. Gone too, for the most part, are the renowned Swedish brothels and massage parlors which proliferated during the last three decades of the twentieth century when prostitution in Sweden was legal.

In addition, the number of foreign women now being trafficked into Sweden for sex is nil. The Swedish government estimates that in the last few years only 200 to 400 women and girls have been annually sex trafficked into Sweden, a figure that’s negligible compared to the 15,000 to 17,000 females yearly sex trafficked into neighboring Finland. No other country, nor any other social experiment, has come anywhere near Sweden’s promising results.

By what complex formula has Sweden managed this feat? Amazingly, Sweden’s strategy isn’t complex at all. It’s tenets, in fact, seem so simple and so firmly anchored in common sense as to immediately spark the question, “Why hasn’t anyone tried this before?”

In 1999, after years of research and study, Sweden passed legislation that a) criminalizes the buying of sex, and b) decriminalizes the selling of sex. The novel rationale behind this legislation is clearly stated in the government’s literature on the law:

“In Sweden prostitution is regarded as an aspect of male violence against women and children. It is officially acknowledged as a form of exploitation of women and children and constitutes a significant social problem… gender equality will remain unattainable so long as men buy, sell and exploit women and children by prostituting them.”

In addition to the two pronged legal strategy, a third and essential element of Sweden’s prostitution legislation provides for ample and comprehensive social service funds aimed at helping any prostitute who wants to get out, and additional funds to educate the public. As such, Sweden’s unique strategy treats prostitution as a form of violence against women in which the men who exploit by buying sex are criminalized, the mostly female prostitutes are treated as victims who need help, and the public is educated in order to counteract the historical male bias that has long stultified thinking on prostitution. To securely anchor their view in firm legal ground, Sweden’s prostitution legislation was passed as part and parcel of the country’s 1999 omnibus violence against women legislation.

http://esnoticia.co/noticia-8790-swedens-prostitution-solution-why-hasnt-anyone-tried-this-before

21.

For years, we thought it was us. That we were failures. We thought that if we just did twice as well as the pasty hoodie-wearers around us we’d move up through the ranks too. Instead you got twice as much work out of us than you did out of our male peers, and tossed us a few scraps of “women’s networks” and “Lean In Circles” instead of promotions and raises.

Fuck that, we’re done. It’s not us, it’s you.

http://tableflip.club

22.

I asked Gomperts why, as a Greenpeace activist, she chose abortion as her cause. She thought for a minute. Her philosophy, she said, was about the “reduction of suffering” but also about self-determination. She said she was “interested in finding the blind spots of the law.” She liked upending the system. “I enjoy that,” she said. “If I was interested in money, I’d have a company in the Cayman Islands, getting all the tax deductions I could to get rich.”

The Dawn of the Post Clinic Abortion by Emily Bazelon, New York Times Magazine, August 28th, 2014

23.

In his new book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, President Carter has focused his attention on what he calls “the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge” of our time – the discrimination and abuse of women and girls. The book reflects his wisdom and perspective having traveled to over 145 countries and been a firsthand witness to a system of discrimination that extends to every nation in which women are routinely deprived of education, healthcare and equal opportunity, “owned” by men, forced to suffer servitude and child marriage, or trapped, along with their children, in cycles of poverty, war and violence.

In his groundbreaking book, he also writes about the most shocking and disturbing human right abuses, ranging from the infanticide of millions of newborn girls and selective abortion of female fetuses, female genital mutilation, the global pandemic of rape, including rape being used as a weapon of war, and the worldwide trafficking of women and young girls. The book also covers many timely issues that impact women and girls in the United States, such as the way incidences of sexual assault and rape are treated with relative impunity on some of our most prestigious college campuses as well as in the U.S. military, or the social undercurrent of discrimination that results in fewer promotions, lower pay, and unequal representation in leadership positions in politics and many others sectors of society.

Jimmy Carter on His New Book Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power by Marianne Schnall, Huffington Post, March 31, 2014

24.

Hillary Clinton launches her 2016 presidential campaign.

25.

Both agree they had sex. But what actually went on between them that night, and throughout their yearlong relationship, would become highly contested. After the relationship ended, Clougherty accused Lonsdale of sexual assault. Stanford investigated whether he broke the university’s rule against “consensual sexual and romantic relationships” between students and their mentors and, later, whether he raped her. The findings from the investigations have sparked a war of allegations and interpretations, culminating last month with dueling lawsuits, filled with damaging accusations. This case, which has been picked up by the media, does not fit neatly into the narratives that have fueled an ongoing national conversation about sexual assault of students on campus. But it exposes the risks of Stanford’s open door to Silicon Valley and the pressure that universities are under to do more for students who say they’ve been raped. It also reveals the complexity of trying to determine the truth in a high-stakes case like this one.

The Stanford Undergraduate and the Mentor by Emily Bazelon, New York Times Magazine, Feb. 11, 2015

26.

#YesAllWomen

What I Read – March 2015

Do Purpose by David HieattLeap First by Seth GodinRocket Girl by Montclair and Reeder

For 2015, I decided to put an greater emphasis reading more books. Each month I share what I have been reading and listening to.

Non-Fiction

  • Do Purpose by David Hieatt – Loved it. I would call it cranial caffeine for entrepreneurs. A fast read that reminds you of the important things in startups and points you to examples of people doing them. 10/10
  • Leap First by Seth Godin – This is Seth’s new two disc live audio set from Sounds True. I like that it was recorded as a talk with the intention of being listened to. He talks about a host of things from his last few books–meaningful work, hope, prajna, and just doing the next thing.  If you like Seth, you will like this. 9/10
  • Scary Close by Donald Miller – I saw Don at WDS in 2013 and he was highlight of the event for me. I find him clear, honest and funny. Scary Close is his latest book and uses the courtship with his now wife as the arc to explore intimacy and what health relationships look like. His anecdotes are universal, his honesty is uncommon. 8/10

Fiction

  • Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey – This was another suggestion in a list of sexy SFF titles that Tor.com published in response to the fervor over the Fifty Shades of Gray movie release.  The main character Phèdre is a courtesan who lives in a fictionalized Europe and listens very close to her clients (and their secrets). The Fifty Shades nod comes from how Phèdre “experience[s] pain and pleasure as one.” I read 300 pages but I eventually ran out of interest in medieval political maneuvering and the kind of services Phèdre offered. A very subjective 6.5/10.

Graphic Novels

  • Rocket Girl – Volume 1 by Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder – What a great book. A protagonist has the courage to go back in time to right a wrong not knowing the effects it will have. Did I mention she is 15 and wears a jetpack? There are so many juicy dualities of young/old, good/evil, past/future that I had to go back and read it a second time.  They leave you hanging a little at the end, but the good news is the next arc starts with issue #6 in May. Required reading girls 10 or older 8.5/10
  • Ms. Marvel – Volume 1 by Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona – This book is important. Kamala Khan is the first Muslim character to headline a Marvel title. Kamala’s family and culture play large in these first five issues. For me, I wanted to like it more. Everything centered around the awkward teenage origin story and the fierce conflict with her family. That misses the mark for me as a reader. 10/10 for comics, 7/10 for me.

Project: The Buckstens 2014 Newspaper

2014 Buckstens Newspaper JPEGS

This year, our New Year’s card was a newspaper detailing the happenings of our family over the last year.

I started this project in 2013 and struggled to find material to fill the pages. I got myself to a half completed prototype and my commitment waned.

In December, I opened up the InDesign file again and decided to take another run at it. 2014 was a different year for us. There was so much more movement. I spent two weeks in Japan. As a family, we took at two week road to Colorado and back. There were hikes and crafts, friends and baseball. There was a kinetic nature to our year that could be more easily expressed on broadsheet pages.

This was also an experiment in publishing. You can now print books, magazines, and newspapers one copy at a time. I still find myself amazed by the fact. My first publishing project 10 years ago cost $10,000 to get the press started and get the first copy; the next 1499 copies were basically free. Today, that first copy costs $20.

Newspaper Club is this amazing company in the UK that produces newspapers in quantities 1 to 1000’s. I printed 100 copies of The Buckstens 2014 for $300 including the shipping from the UK.  I received them about 10 days after I placed the order. Amazing.

2014 Buckstens Newspaper JPEGS22014 Buckstens Newspaper JPEGS32014 Buckstens Newspaper JPEGS4

2014 Buckstens Newspaper JPEGS5

What I Read – February 2015

World War Z FBP-Vol-2-1

For 2015, I decided to put an greater emphasis reading more books.

I slowed down a little in February and have partially gotten through a pile of books, leaving me plenty to report on next month.

Fiction

  • World War Z – The Complete Edition: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks – I throughly enjoyed this audiobook edition of WWZ. The structure of the book lent itself so well to bringing in a cast of Hollywood actors to play the characters that are interviewed in the aftermath of a decade long war that nearly kills humanity. Brooks creates an expansive alternate history with enormous failures to recognize the growing threat, surprising shifts in geo-poltical power, and the haunting regrets carried by so many survivors.10/10 And P.S. there are several audio editions and you want ISBN 978-0804165730.
  • Dawn from Lilth’s Brood by Octavia Butler – Tor.com publish a list of sexy SFF titles in response to the fervor over the Fifty Shades of Gray movie release.  Lilth’s Brood, a complied trilogy, was listed and the concept was intriguing. Dawn is the first book in a trilogy and traces the life of Lilth after she is taken aboard a vessel after a nuclear war nearly destroys all life on Earth. The story is her journey of meeting her captors and slowly understanding what they have in store for the human race and their own. I couldn’t stay away from the story and read continuously.  The way some of the important details were shared felt clunky at times, but I would recommend this one with hesitation. 8.5/10

Business Books

  • Jobs-to-be-Done The Handbook by Chris Spiek and Bob Moesta – I am on the #JTBD bandwagon and I hoped this $20 book would deepen my understanding of this method.  The book is only 66 pages and it looks like it was adapted from a powerpoint deck with 24 point font and copious illustrations.  It’s a beta book that I wish was sold more clearly as that.  Having said all that, I just want more and I would be happy to hear when a more detailed edition is released. 5.5/10 in its current state with 2.5 points reserved for when they add more material.

Graphic Novels

  • Sex Criminals Volume 1 by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky – I understand the interest in this book but I don’t get all the buzz.  The book puts sex at the center of the plot; the twist is that the main characters stop time when they do. What they do in those frozen moments is bad, ranging from rude to illegal.  I am probably in the minority but that angle doesn’t work for me. The same thing happened to me when I read The Superior Foes of Spiderman, too much of watching people make bad choices. This is sad because their approach to the character and their sex lives is honest and very human. 6/10 for me.
  • FBP Volume 2  by Simon Oliver and Robbi Rodriguez – As I said last month, I went barreling into the next volume of Federal Bureau of Physics and it doesn’t disappointed. The creators explore a new story with wonderful character diversity and a crazy fun story that plays with our perception of reality(s). And the reality is that they are in big trouble as this arc ends. Volume 3 is due out May 5th :) 9/10

My New Mantra

“My job isn’t to predict what titles will work but rather to find authors who want to create books through insight and spread their message with conviction.”

I am borrowing heavily from Mark Suster for this one. He recently wrote a post about how entrepreneurs can rely on venture capitalists to make their hardest decisions.

Sister says he job is to:

…find great entrepreneurs who are passionate about solving a problem. They become obsessed with why the problem exists and they start chipping away at ideas for solving the problem. They develop so much conviction that they can solve it that they do the most difficult thing one can do with one’s ego. They tell the world publicly that they not only are going to solve the problem but they’re going to do it better than anybody else in the market.

I want the same kind of authors—the ones with a clear idea of the problem and the solution AND the drive to get that book into the hand of every person who can be helped.

Also see: Paul Graham on being relentlessly resourceful.

What I Read – January 2015

Smartest by Shane SnowFBP - Federal Bureau of PhysicsThe Wake by Synder and Murphy

Over the last two years, my book reading has dropped off significantly. I often blame it on the amount of reading I am doing in my day job but the further away from actively reviewing of books, the more I find myself reading magazines and online features.  I certainly like that I am still avidly reading. What I miss with this current content mix is the deliberateness you find in the writing for books.  There is a more careful consideration for a topic. Books are containers with boundaries and edges.

So in January, I adjusted my reading mix to heavy dose of hardcovers and paperbacks.  I largely read in two categories – business in a very general sense and comics/graphic novels. Each group is organized roughly in the order I finished them and with a hint of commentary.

Business Books

  • Creativity for Sale: How I Made $1,000,000 by Wearing T-shirts and How You can Turn Your Passion into Profit by Jason Surfapp – Jason sold $75,000 worth of advertising in this book before he got started on the book. I had to see what it was about. Jason does a lot of selling himself – the shirt he wears, the right to his last name – so it would only make sense that he would bring that to his book.  His story was interesting, the rest was OK. 5/10
  • Customers Included: How to Transform Products, Companies, and the World – With a Single Step by Mark Hurst and Phil Terry – I could never figure out what the authors were trying to do with this book. Didn’t get past page 20. 2/10
  • Everything I Know by Paul Jarvis – Couldn’t get into it. Lots of high level, commonly heard advice that made it difficult to grab on. ?/10
  • Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators and Icons Accelerate Success by Shane Snow – I liked this book. There is some nice unexpectedness in the stories and research. My one smallish complaint is that Snow turns the corner too fast with many of his chapters hinging on a person’s story and one interesting piece of research. I would like to have seen more material to bolster the points in his framework. (which are Hack the Ladder, Train with Masters, Rapid Fastback, Platforms, Waves, Superconductors, Momentum, Simplicity, and 10X Thinking). 7/10.
  • Hipster Business Models : How To Make A Living in The Modern World by the team at Priceonomics – I like this book a lot but it is a little hard for me to know who I would recommend to. The authors have pulled together 22 stories that have been featured on their blog and filled out the details a little more.  The stories are of people doing what they want to do and possibly finding a way to make money doing it – underwear with a pocket, jellyfish tanks, a better frisbee. If you love seeing lots of alternative business models or reading about entrepreneurs trying to make their businesses work, this book will work for you.  Otherwise, skip it because you will likely fail to see how cool all of these people are. 8/10 for me.

Comics and Graphic Novels

  • Usagi Yojimbo Vol. 1 – The Ronin by Stan Sakai – This rabbit samurai bodyboard has been saving feudal Japan since 1984.  This is my first run through this classic series and it is fun. 8.5/10
  • The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 1  by Gillen McKelvie and Wilson Cowles – If you follow comics at all, you have been hearing about this title.  There is a soundtrack. All the praise is well deserved. I only buy collected issues in paperback and Vol.1 ends with amazing things just getting started. Given that, I recommend waiting until July until Vol. 2 is released, so you can read straight through. 8/10
  • Viktor Kalvachev’s Blue Estate Hardcover – I bought this on a tip from Wink Books and I liked it. What is there not to like about movie stars, assassins, Russian mobsters fighting Italian gangsters and a few misunderstandings that create a self-propelled storyline? 7.5/10
  • The Wake by Scott Snyder and Sean – I liked this limited run too. Lots of nice alt-biology and alt-future history running through two storylines separated by 200 years. 8.5/10
  • FBP by Simon Oliver, Robbi Rodriguez, and Ricorenzis – Buy this now! The authors have created a world where the laws of physics aren’t as constant as they used to be and the Federal Bureau of Physics is called to investigate and fix the rips and tears in space-time, some accidental and other created on purpose. I burned through Vol.1 and had to buy Vol. 2 immediately. 9/10
  • The Fear Agent Volume 1 by Remender, Moore and Opena – I wanted to like this more. Maybe it is the reckless cowboy angle that didn’t work for me. I am not sure. You should give it a shot if you haven’t. 6/10

My Work in 2015

This year is going to be exciting.

How do I know?

Well, in 2012, a local tech entrepreneur, after attending one of my publishing workshops, sat down with me to talk about a book project he was working on–a novel for people who work in IT. He said, “It will be as big as The Goal“.

“Sure,” I thought.

The book he was referring to was written in 1984 by Eliyahu Goldratt. The Goal sold well over two million copies, arriving on the scene just as Lean was just taking off in manufacturing. It is still standard reading in MBA programs. The unusual part was Goldratt chose fiction to share his lessons about the theory of constraints, and it worked. The story was compelling and we wondered if Alex Rogo would save the manufacturing plant and his marriage with equal importance.

The entrepreneur also said he was already a published author and had written two books whose combined sales were over 250,000 copies. I ordered copies of The Visible Ops Handbook and Visible Ops Security from Amazon. The books were just over 100 pages each, black type on shiny, white coated paper. The list price was $21.95.

“Really?,” I thought. These unknown bestsellers lacked positioning and packaging in almost every way, making the outcome even more unbelievable. Success is success, though.

I told him to send me what he had written. The first 100 pages of the manuscript were compelling. There was wonderful tension. Anyone who had worked anywhere close to IT would recognize the problems. Readers would read this book.

The bet I was making with my business at the time was that there would be authors who wanted to avoid commercial publishing but wanted help publishing commercial quality books. That is what this guy was looking for. From my side, I had a good book written by an author with a track record for selling lots of books.

I said yes to the project and over the last three years, I have said yes several more times. The journey is worthy several more blog posts, but for today I have one big piece of news to share.

Today, I am joining IT Revolution, the small company that has grown out of this work, as General Manager.

I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be working (even more) with Gene Kim. Anyone who knows him or has worked with him will tell you he is a gem. Gene wants to change the lives of 1,000,000 people working in IT by finding better ways to get work done.

We have made a good start. This month, The Phoenix Project, that crazy IT novel, will pass 80,000 copies sold. In October, we co-hosted a sold out event called DevOps Enterprise. And Gene continues traveled all over the world to promote the cause.

The team we have is incredible. Aly Hoffman works with Gene and the other thought leaders working with IT Revolution. Robyn Crummer-Olsen joined us last month as editorial director to watch over all of our publishing efforts. I expect there will be others who join as we continue to grow in 2015.

Gene, Aly, Robyn and Todd

Gene, Aly, Robyn and Todd

For now, thanks for listening and Best Wishes to all of you in 2015!

#YearInReview 2014

In 2010, Seth Godin asked people to make a list of what they shipped that year. I did the exercise in 2010, 2012 and 2013. I have come to believe that this is a important exercise, especially for solopreneuers to see what they have accomplished.

The biggest thing I did in 2014 was start a publishing company. Astronaut Projects shipped five titles this year, widening distribution on two books and launching three new ones to the marketplace. As for the new ones:

  • If you work in enterprise IT or know someone who does, The Phoenix Project is a great book for them. We have more than 75,000 copies and the sales keep growing each month.
  • If being a leader is a part of what you do (and a hint: it is a part of what everyone does), then you need to read 10th anniversary edition of Radical Leap and then read Radical Edge.

Playing publisher this year has had me going to trade shows, dealing with inventory stock-outs, and planning strategy for how to build on the successes we have had. The most important thing it has shown me is how the scale of distribution can make a huge difference in the success of a book.

The second thing I did was travel. Alot. In July, I spent two weeks solo in Japan. In August, we took a two week road trip to meet my family in Colorado. And in September, I spent the better part of a week in San Juan Islands with a great friend. I also had trips to San Francisco and New York City.

The one goal I didn’t accomplish was relaunching the Every Book Is a Startup. I looked at it several times throughout the year. I got the book moved out into a format I could edit and found that I wanted to rewrite the whole thing. My view of books as startups has evolved alot in the last two years. The time to clarify those views was hard to come by. I continue to think it is important and am thinking about how I can accomplish this one in the new year.

I am grateful for everything that was 2014 and I found myself more focused on the quality of the effort rather than the magnitude of the outcomes.

There are changes afoot for 2015. More about those next week.