An Oligopoly Does Not Free Market Make

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Image of an Arrow with Most Competitive and Least Competitive business types. Image Source: https://www.reviewecon.com/oligopoly1

Oligopoly

Oligopoly–noun–a state of limited competition, in which a market is shared by a small number of producers or sellers.

So, this blog post has been sitting around on my hard drive for a while, but I decided finally to write this as I was going through advertisements for Internet services in my area. I have a Fiber-optic connection at my home that delivers “Gig” speeds– it can transfer data at very fast speeds and I currently have it set up for 1 Gigabit transfer speeds, although they offer 10 Gigs, 100 Gigs, and I believe 1000 Gigs (but that is primarily for businesses and requires special equipment) for additional prices. Considering that Comcast Xfinity and AT&T are still in the Megabits (Megs), I have all of the speed that I need for streaming, gaming, etc. As I don’t bring my game system or streaming devices with me, I don’t really need a full fledged Internet when I’m at school (between my GTA office and the library, I have pretty much enough internet access to do schoolwork & other school-related access).  So, for me, I only need a basic internet package to check email and the like when I’m at my apartment.  But–guess what I can’t buy–yes, you win a prize! In a capitalistic country, I can’t buy the product I need, I can only buy the (over-priced) product that the company wants to sell.

Things that make you go Hmmm . . .

So, the reason that I can’t buy a simple 19.95/19.99 per month dollar internet package, but instead must buy an overpriced 40 dollar plan, is that Internet companies got local governments to classify them as a “Utility.” Once that happens, that means that only one or two companies get to be in the market and those are the only companies through which you can have service. Now, as this is local in nature, not everywhere in America does this, but in Murfreesboro–a college town, mind you–there are only 3 main choices for internet (really 2, as the 3rd is a small company that seems to have “satellite” based internet.)  The two main sources for home internet (2, mind you) are, yes, you guessed right again, Comcast Xfinity and AT&T.  Both offer, as their lowest cost packages, 40 dollars for internet (home).  Hmmmmm. Let’s see, 2 companies, who are competing for business have the same price for their respective products.  Hmmmmm.

Okay, I’ve seen this before–when two gas stations are on the same corner, they tend to have the same prices.  But, when I’ve seen other gas stations around the city, the prices are highly variable. Prices, when there are multiple competitors, vary all across the city. Internet is NOT a utility, it is a service, just like cell phones or any other consumer item.  However, the Internet service providers (you’ll notice how the term ISP has gone away since the 2000s when it was at its height because of the ability to get local governments to give them a virtual monopoly or oligopoly).  In this case, the loser is the consumer–in this case, me. I know what I want, but because of the “tricks” used by corporations, they get to bypass the normal “market forces” that economists always claim will keep capitalism rolling along.

Call me a (Free) Radical

I’ve complained about this topic before, but this is essentially why I feel that there is currently an imbalance in power between corporations and consumers. Like the post on AMC that I did last year, corporations now have too much power to side-step rules and market forces because the government no longer feels that monopolies/oligopolies are detrimental to consumers. In essence, “those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”  The seeds for Tomorrow’s Robber Barons are being planted in these policies where the corporations are allowed to sidestep the “market forces” that would constrain their profits by allowing consumers to choose what is best for them, rather than having the corporations choose for them. At some point, these monopolistic/oligopolistic practices are going to come back and bite us all in the rear, but for now, and for as long as I can, I going to be a radical and say No!  I refuse to purchase internet service for 40 dollars when I don’t need it because I have another service that is far superior in price and speed elsewhere. Until either Comcast or AT&T offers a lower priced option in my market that is more in line with what I–as a consumer need–instead of what they–the corporation–wants me to purchase–I do not plan to participate in an oligopoly. Step up corporations, do what’s right by your consumers, not what’s right by your shareholders.

Sidney

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Joined Amazon Associates Program–Supporting My Writing Endeavors

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Person at a Macbook Pro Laptop, Image Source: The Balance

Sorry this post is so late, but I had a meeting with a professor at my school this morning and I wasn’t able to write the blog at my normal time.  Should be back on schedule now.

So, when I was a teacher of 6th Grade Language Arts, one of the teachers who taught 8th Grade discovered that I was into creative writing and a published author and she wanted to show her support by buying my work on Amazon as it was the end of the school year and both she and I were leaving (she was going to a new school and I was leaving the teaching profession to come to graduate school).  I was so grateful and happy that she wanted to read/purchase my writing.  And then she asked if the purchase would benefit me in any way because she really wanted to help support me as a writer.  I was so grateful, but I had to admit that no, there aren’t royalties to publishing short fiction like there was for books and novels–the purchase would only help me tangentially by the fact that supporting the publishers would allow them to stay in business and perhaps publish more of my stories later, but no, the actual purchase that she made wouldn’t help me directly.  She still made the purchase (Thanks, Ms. L!) and enjoyed the work, but I felt kinda’ bad that I had no way to have her purchase of my works help me out directly as this was part of her purpose in buying them.

Going Commercial?
I tell that story to sort of explain why I chose to set-up an Amazon Associate program in that it allows me to (finally) come up with a way for those who want to purchase my things to benefit both the publishers who publish my work (they get money to stay in business and hopefully publish me or other writers in the future) and myself (I get a small percentage of the sale for those who click on the Amazon links and buy it directly through the links.)

Oh, so you’re commercializing the blog?

Nope.  I’ve been a Bookseller at Waldenbooks and I am convinced that it was management’s decision to focus on the selling of the loyalty card rather than focusing on their core business, i.e., selling books, as the key that kept them from seeing and responding to the challenge of larger retailers like Barnes & Noble and the online presence and power, of well, Amazon and this help speed their demise.

I’m a professional writer and that’s what I do.  That is where my love is and that’s where I will continue to put my focus.  I only want to 1) give those who want to support me as a writer a way of doing so, 2) a way to help both small presses who don’t get exposure of larger publishers, and myself as well as small presses can’t offer royalties like the large presses do.

What does it mean for the Blog?

  • Not much, if I’m honest.  I’ll add links under my signature that, if you click on them, will take you to the relevant page.  If you purchase the item (i.,e., Oneclick or place it in your shopping cart and complete the purchase), I’ll get a very small percentage back.  The links that are currently for places where you can find my work for “free” will continue just as they are (one of the two remaining stories under consideration is actually at a “free” publication, so if it gets accepted, I’ll add it as normal).  Links for free and paid content will show up under my signature–once it gets to unwieldy, I’ll probably drop the “Archives” Section and move the links to the sidebar).
  • A new page that is a curated list of things that I have on my bookshelf that I really like (books, games, movies, and other media).  If any look interesting, please feel free to click on it, if not, then no worries.
  • A Saturday update of the “Favorite Media” page (okay, now this is going to be hard–I try to use the weekends to brainstorm for blog ideas for the upcoming week, so I can’t promise that this is always going to happen, but I will try my best).
  • And a small sentence at the bottom of posts to let readers know that I’m a part of the Associates program.  Now, to be clear, I don’t work at Amazon.  I’m a writer and a graduate student (for now, at least, but more on that later).  But Amazon (and I) want to be clear that the links that I promote are “commercial” in nature.

And that’s it!  I’m going to test out the link below for my story, “Faerie Knight” which was on the Tangent Online 2014 Recommended Reading List.

Feel free to click on the Amazon link if you choose, or not, as the case may be.  Hope you have a great day!  And it is back to writing for me–revising All Tomorrow’s Children so that I start submitting it over the weekend.

Sidney


As EA’s Value Rises With its Shareholders, EA’s Value is Plummeting With Gamers (especially me)

 

Okay, as you know, I try to have this blog reflect my diversity of interests and as video games are now were a lot of really interesting things are happening in Science Fiction and Fantasy (& one could say Horror, with the explosion of VR and non-VR Horror titles), it is safe to say that I devote quite a bit of time to video games on this blog.

However, some may have noticed that I’m not talking about some of the games that I profiled earlier in the year from EA even though two of them have been released: Need for Speed Payback Star Wars Battlefront II (2018). This is because EA has lost their focus as a company and I’m not really interest anymore in the product that they are producing.

Let’s Talk About Audience
So this is going to be about micro transactions, right? Well, yes and no.  EA has been trying to walk a fine line for a long time.  They want to publish video games and make a profit by having more people buy them than it takes to make them.  However, they’ve increasingly wanted to appeal to their shareholders with business strategies that are designed to get more money, but not through games.  They had a program called Project Ten for a while, designed to get customers to pay ten dollars more for “Deluxe/Enhanced/DLC/etc” for their games, before that it was Season Passes, and so on.  They were the publisher who partnered with Microsoft to make the original Titanfall game an X-Box One exclusive (even while the console was “going down in flames” due to its original “Always On” conception & restrictive used game policies).  In the past month, EA has cancelled a Star Wars game, shuttered a Studio, and included micro transactions in two of its flagship titles (one of which it has “temporarily” rescinded).  All of this is great news to shareholders, but horrible news for gamers–the people who actually purchase games.  Currently, EA seems to feel that they’re number one job is pleasing the shareholders and not their core audience.  Not a great move.

The “Mass Effect Andromeda” Effect
So, I realized what happened after I bought the game Mass Effect Andromeda for full price when it was first released.  I reasoned, “yes, the reviews are lackluster, but this is a seminal “brand” for them–they wouldn’t completely mess it up or they would destroy their fan base.  They would have the same care of the ME brand as Disney had for the Star Wars “brand” after they bought it from George Lucas.  We’ll, Caveat Emptor (let the buyer beware).  The game was a buggy mess that was mediocre at best.  Yes, it ran, but not well–from glitches, to frame rate issues, to a storyline that started strong, but meandered and filled with quests and side quests meant to pad the length of the game–it was a huge disappointment.  I linked to it before, but below is a video of a longtime Bioware/ME fan who quit the game out of frustration for such a disappointing effort.

Why did this happen, you might ask?  The answer was simple: the game just needed 6 more months of development time.  However, six months would have put it into the window of Star Wars Battlefront 2 (which is releasing now).  They can’t push that game because of the movie (The Last Jedi) which opens in month, but also they have Anthem coming down the line, and so they chose to release something that wasn’t ready and sell it at full price.

I personally finished ME:A–my completionist nature at work–but I decided that, while I would still buy games from EA, they would now receive the lowest consideration on my part, to be bought only when I bought/played all the other games I was interested in playing.  It will be at least a year based on school and other games in the queue before I get around to purchasing an EA game–and I’m okay with that–and that’s the problem.

Unholy Alliances
Between that experience and the micro transactions, EA has proven that they care not a whit about me as a gamer and as a consumer.  They prefer their share holders over me, so I’m content to wait.  The whole goal of a company is to produce products that an audience loves and will purchase again and again–Apple, anyone?–not to try to dig extra money out of your audiences pockets through tricks and manipulative schemes, so that your numbers look all rosy at the next Investors’ Conference Call.  You can’t make “moon-calf” eyes with the angel while dancing with the devil.

As someone who has bought games from EA, back when they originated (heck, I even remember when Trip Hawkins founded the company and have some of the company’s newsletters from that time period) and they produced games like: Starflight (the “original” ME:A back in the day), Skyfox, and The Bard’s Tale II from the company’s inception, all the way into adulthood, I feel that EA is missing the point by chasing the fickle investor who will dump their stock like a ton of bricks no matter what EA does the moment EA’s dividend doesn’t meet with their expectations.  EA needs to get its priorities straight and until they do, I’ll buy games from other companies that still seem to “get it.”

(Not) a Short Fiction Market Renaissance

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Science Fiction Fantasy Writers Association Qualifying Markets Word Cloud, Image Source: KLWagoner.com

I was listening to the Writing Excuses podcast and one of the presenters mentioned that there is something of a short fiction renaissance market happening right now.  The presenter mentioned that there were more fairly well paying markets for short fiction (speculative–sci-fi/fan) right now and that in the past there used to be only the big three (such as Asimov’s, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Analog).  As someone who is currently “in the trenches,” I have to take a bit of an issue with that characterization of the market.

With all due respect to the presenters on the podcast, they are named authors.  They don’t have to worry nearly as much about the fierce competition from all of us unnamed authors trying to earn recognition and money in this system.  No matter how much people may say having a recognizable name doesn’t matter, it does.  I received another rejection letter yesterday (it noted that the story was well-written, but the publisher decided not to publish it (one of these days I may do a postmortem on a rejection letter in a blog post, but I digress).  That lowered my average acceptance rate (tracked via Duotrope) to 7.9%,.   Try going to your boss and telling him or her that you have succeeded in 7.9% of your tasks and because you’re doing more than others, you deserve a raise.

Also, what the presenters on the podcast don’t realize because they are both named authors and they don’t have to try to make a living at selling short fiction/this isn’t their primary “gig” so to speak, is that only half of the markets are available at any given time. Sure, there are a lot of markets, but many of the higher paying markets that they are alluding to are either “on hiatus” or “temporarily closed,” or worse yet, “permanently closed.”  Some even have fairly ludicrous submission requirements just to limit the number of submissions that come in.  Nearly half of the places where I’ve submitted stories to in the past are currently unavailable for submissions and those that are available either pay little to no money or are brand new on the market place (& usually can’t afford to pay writers or pay them very much as they have no audience yet).

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Fantasy Scroll Mag Cover (currently listed as DNQ on Duotrope at the time of this writing).  Image Source: nerds-feather.com

For example, Lightspeed, a well paying market is temp. closed and has been for most of the year.  The Leading Edge (where supposedly a couple of the named authors on the podcast got their start as listed in mag’s description on Duotrope) has 0.00% acceptance rate of authors who have tracked their submission through Duotrope and currently has an astounding 444.9 day(!) response time to authors who submit stories to them.  That’s a year and half (approx.) for short-fiction.  Imagine waiting 444.9 days for your next burger and fries!  One magazine is only open for submission 4 weeks out of the year (one week in Apr., June, Sept., and December) and if you miss those periods, too bad.  One magazine is only open for submissions between for about 24 hours every Monday/Tuesday, and I could go on.  Looking at my list of submissions, I see so many Temp. Closed, On Hiatus, Closed, Defunct, and Does Not Qualify (DNQ–the publisher has made some change, no longer lists guidelines, no longer accepts submissions from unagented writers, etc) listings that it gets harder and harder to find places that I haven’t sent the story (that actually pay money).

So, while I enjoy listening to the podcast and I have learned a lot about writing, and being successful in writing, I simply must take issue with the characterization that we’re in short fiction market renaissance.  I respectfully submit, having been in the trenches for way longer, that the waters are as turbulent as ever for writers trying to make a name for themselves through short-fiction markets so as to make the jump to the more lucrative novel writing profession.

Sidney



1 Dollar = Four Quarters, Right?

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Dollar Bill and 4 Quarters Image Source: Leeds Radio

So, I just want to make sure that the rules of US commerce haven’t changed?  1 dollar bill still equals four quarters, right?  No one loses money in the exchange–you’re just changing the same amount of money from one form to another, correct?

My question is rhetorical as I know that this is still the case.  I’m just trying to decide when American businesses decided it was not in their interests to change money from one form to another.  I currently have tire with leak–the tire is due for replacement when I take the car in for major surgery (service) in about 2 weeks, so I’m trying to “nurse” the leaky tire along as best I can by making sure that it is filled with air.  Now, when I travel back and forth from school, I try to make sure that the tire is filled because one of the major causes of highway blowouts is under-inflated tires (a tire gets fairly hot at highway speeds because of friction).

Yet, this morning when I stopped at a Service Station in Murfreesboro to fill up the tire, I was told by the cashier that there wasn’t any change in the register.  Not to call the attendant a liar, but having worked retail and having worked at a library’s circulation department that handles money due to fines, fees, etc., I KNOW for a FACT that you don’t start the day without any change.  If it is the fact that you’re afraid to open the register because you might be robbed (as I had to fill up the tire earlier in the week on Wednesday), then you need to take out all services that require COIN-BASED transactions, such as AIR.  I need $1.50 in QUARTERS to complete the transaction, but if I have $1.00 bill AND .50 cents in Quarters, I CAN’T BUY your product even IF I have the money to do so.

THIS is what businesses get wrong, both small and large, mom-and-pop stores and corporations.  They treat the CUSTOMER as some sort of HOST that they can “leach” money off of in order to fatten their bottom line, but then turn around and treat us as the PARASITE to be when we aren’t fulfilling our “host” duties.  The air machine is located on their property.  Even if they don’t see a direct profit from the vendor of the air hose, there is a contract in place in which the gas station sees a small “kickback” for allowing the vendor to place it on their property.  This is how most vending machine operations work.  However, most vending machines today can accept dollar bills and coins, and some, like the ones on campus, can take debit and credit card transactions.

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Air Machine (Coin Operated Only) Image Source: Long Island Weekly

So, even though I had the money to complete the transaction because of an unhelpful (or fearful) attendant and lack of modern technology on the vending machine/Air Machine, I had to risk a highway journey on an under-inflated tire, knowing full well the risk that I was taking.

Don’t Be Evil.  It’s a simple concept that American businesses large and small have simply lost and can’t seem to understand.  It would be far cheaper to make the transaction than risk a lawsuit if something untoward had happened during the journey.  I’m not looking to rob the store with a dollar bill in hand–I’m looking to make a transaction to convert the money that I have from one form into another so that I can use the service that you provide (it is on their property, they advertise the cost, but deny access when the form of the money you have doesn’t match the form that the machine takes, and then deny access again by refusing to change money via a one-to-one equal transaction.

And then businesses and corporations wonder why they then must hire “image/reputation clean-up firms” to massage their online and real world reputation because of their self-damaging practices.  There’s a reason that Comcast Xfinity isn’t just simply Comcast–as the owners so burned customers that they had to “rebrand” the service in order to attract new customers and stay “competitive” in the cable market.  For my part, the gas station has lost a potential customer as I will make sure that I never spend a dime at that particular station again.

You want customers to come back time and time again to buy your products?  I’ve got one simple rule for you: Don’t Be Evil.