Get Over Brit! Or, Why I Quit Blogging

Time was when I would leap to the keyboard every time something in the news or in the mass media irritated me, and vent to the world through one blog outlet or another. Nowadays, not so much. In fact, my blog’s been pretty low on new content recently, and I’ve been concerned that this, in turn, is likely to impact on my overall profile, inasmuch as kicking out content is key to the art of self-promotion, which is vital when it comes to things like selling books (because yes, I write books. Music reviewing is, believe it or not, just a sideline).

So what’s changed? Has everything in the world turned a lovely rosey hue, whereby all is good and everything’s fine and I’m content with my lot? Far from it. In fact, the opposite is true, and that’s precisely why my blogging has tailed off. There simply isn’t the time to blog about everything that gets my goat, that grinds my gears. Moreover, while I love to rant, and it seems people enjoy reading rants more than the occasional positive piece I’ve posted (who wants a good news story? Put simply, many people are only happy when they’re unhappy), I simply found it was wearing me down.

The majority of my most ire-fuelled articles have focused on the vapidness of mainstream celebrity culture, corporate crap and advertising – which often go hand in hand when it comes to where the movements of money are concerned: they’re all integral parts of the capitalist equation in the 21st Century. It was while watching a few minutes of the BBC News Channel that crystallised precisely why I stopped blogging. The newscaster briefly mentioned the Brit Awards and reeled off a handful of winners announced at that point, with the promise that there would be more on the Brits later.

 

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The Brits: Corporate-sponsored self-congratulatory bollocks

 

The Brit Awards aren’t news and I couldn’t have cared less about who’d won one. I found myself wondering just how many people outside the mainstream music industry give a shit about the Brits. Reading a headline in The Metro over someone’s shoulder a few days later about the TV viewing figures for the awards, it would appear the answer is very few. Or, more to the point, people are more interested in exchanging opinion about such events on-line than in the actual events themselves.

 

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Who? More to the point, who gives a fuck? Critics’ Choice nominees, apparently. No, I didn’t get to nominate or vote.

 

I should perhaps also mention at this juncture that I used to skim The Metro on the way to work: not having the time to immerse myself in in-depth news reportage but wanting to keep abreast of current affairs, it seemed like a reasonable thing to do. But having concluded that the majority of the ‘news’ in the paper was out of date, sensationalist, or otherwise fluff and outright drivel, I prefer to read a novel while in transit these days. It’s not that I’ve lost interest in current affairs: I’m simply of the opinion that most mainstream news media aren’t covering much of what’s important, and there has to be more happening than political bickering, the continued rumblings of the phone hacking ‘scandal’, allegations about DJs and soap stars with wandering hands and floods. Equally, flippant, punny headlines and tabloid trash about ‘celebrity’ nonentities say nothing to me about my life and convey nothing of real importance.

 

Metro-Nigella

Pundemoneum, sensationalism and advertising. Keeping the masses indignant, ill-informed and buying stuff they don’t need with money they haven’t got. 

This isn’t to say that the novels I read, the novels I write, the music I review are more important: in the grand scheme of things, I realise all too well that nothing I do amounts to anything. And this is precisely why blogging seems like a waste of time and energy. My real work is the novels, the reviews, the spoken word performances, and reading the fiction of others is enriching and makes for vital research. Meanwhile, keeping my mouth shut and my virtual pen lowered when it comes to everything else means I can maintain focus, because it’s all just pissing in the wind. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up and surrendered to the world, or that my dissenting voice has been silenced: it just means there are other ways of rebelling.

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at christophernosnibor.co.uk

The Changing Face of Consumerism: Public Opinion, Booze Culture and Bartering

The local newspaper recently ran a front-page headline about proposals to open three new pubs in York’s city centre. Two local breweries – The Leeds Brewery, formed as an offshoot of the York Brewery, and the Ossett Brewery, had submitted plans to take over vacant premises – one a former cafe, the others retail units, previously an estate agent and an army surplus store.

The objectors raised all of the concerns you’d expect them to. Predictably, there was concern about the city centre becoming a mecca for drinkers, that having such a concentration of licensed premises would send a message that York promoted the already endemic booze culture that is, we so often told, a leading problem in Britain that causes the taxpayer billions, and that the opening of these three new hostelries would encourage an even greater influx of stag and hen parties and cause violent, alcohol-fuelled crimes and other such sordid scenes to soar.

But these aren’t the kind of places rowdy stag and hen parties would frequent. we’re talking about traditional ale houses that would also serve traditional pub grub. The kind of places tourists – particularly those from America and Japan – flock to in their thousands in order to experience a slice of culture they simply do not have back home. As a historic city, visitors to York want to see and sample tradition. They also want refreshment.

Other critics argued that it was essential that the city preserve retail premises for retail when conditions improve. Will they ever? This is also the same council that approved another out of town retail park, which objectors – not least of all local business owners – have opposed on the grounds that by taking the retail trade away from the city centre, the place is slowly dying. It’s a complex argument, not least of all because the major chains and small independent stores serve different markets. Nevertheless, they can’t have it both ways, by encouraging more retailers to move out of town and then complain that there is an abundance of vacant premises once occupied by retailers, especially in the middle of a lengthy economic downturn. Remember the words ‘credit crunch’ and ‘recession’? For some reason, people seem to think things are improving just because the FTSE’s up and more houses have sold in the last 6 months – never mind the huge numbers of redundancies announced by large employers like Aviva, Co-op and HSBC.

There is of course another angle to this, namely, if everyone’s redundant, they’ll need nice pubs to sit in and while away the hours as they drink their redundancy pay-offs and dole cheques.

The same day I read the article, I was walking home through the city’s pub-packed centre when I ran into musician, poet, diarist and rambler Mark Wynn, a man who’s inspiring in his complete disregard for any kind of consumer trends or capitalist-led operating models of industry. As ever, he’d been travelling the length and breadth of the city, the county and the country, playing poorly-paid gigs in pubs of the very sort the Leeds and Ossett breweries run and giving away most of his CDs for nothing or in exchange for a beer. It’s something to be applauded. he’ll never be rich, but in sharing his art, he never goes thirsty. Moreover, his approach represents the epitome of the punk ethic: he’s out there doing it himself on zero budget and building a fanbase from a grass roots level. that’s what I call sticking it to the man!

We exchanged pamphlets: I had the very last copy of my Liberate Yourself! pamphlet folded in my bag (there are now 100 copies in circulation, and having been left on trains, in pubs, inside self-help books in WHS and who knows where, their whereabouts and readership I haven’t a clue) while he had a batch of a new A5 publication called Dirty Work containing some selected highlights of his spectacularly off the wall and very funny tour diaries and, stapled inside the back page, a PVC wallet containing his last album. Arguably, I was up on the deal, but these things always balance out over time (some weeks later, Dirty Work 3 would see the light of day, containing more rampant ramblings and a new CD EP by Mr Mark E Wynn with additional text by Sam Forrest of Nine Back Alps and The Sorry Kisses, and myself). The important thing was, we had traded our art with one another, we’d both received something we wanted and what’s more, the cash-free barter had taken place on the street. Retail outlets are just so last year.

 

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Shops? Who needs ‘em?

 

And if you’re loving my work, The Changing Face Of Consumerism – the book – will be out some time in June.

Redressing the Balance: This Book Isn’t Nearly as Stupid as the Title Suggests… Or Is It?

For all of the claims made by myself and my publisher for the audacious anti-literary bent that drives my latest novel, This Book is Fucking Stupid, the fact that the core thread – the story itself – is essentially a straightforward piece of contemporary literary fiction is something that’s been very much underplayed.

As the paperback edition is out today, I thought it would be an idea to post an excerpt from one of the more conventional narrative passages, if only to prove to the world that as a writer I am capable of ‘normal’ things like plot and character development (after a fashion) and not only about text that function on a theoretical level…. Ok, well I half mean it…

 

from This Book is Fucking Stupid

 

It was just another day at the office, the same as any other. Ben sat at his desk. He had spent the last three hours trying desperately to compile his latest report based on a series of site visits to out-of-town shopping developments ahead of Friday’s deadline, but it was proving nigh on impossible. For a start, the buildings were in a poor state of repair: his surveys had uncovered a number of significant structural flaws which were bad news all round. The trouble was, he found these modern prefabricated monstrosities composed of concrete and corrugated iron the most uninspiring of all buildings to assess, and while he had most of the information he required to hand, some of his notes were a little patchy regarding some of the sites, as he had been tired, bored and hungover while conducting the surveys. That said, he didn’t really find buildings in themselves all that inspiring. Surveying hadn’t been a calling for him, but then, for whom is surveying a calling, a passion? Surveying was a job, which required an even and pragmatic approach to factual data and a grasp of figures and certain scientific concepts regarding the deterioration of concrete, the weakening of iron girders, the flammability of certain materials and so on.
    The appreciation of architecture was not a prerequisite for becoming a government inspector of commercial property. Yes, a civil servant. But the modern out-of-town retail park developments were still the worst: once you had seen one, you had seen them all. But feeling tired and grotty made any report on such buildings even more wearisome, and with a tight deadline looming, even more troublesome to a man who was not a big fan of typing long reports, preferring, if possible, to keep communications down to brief notes and bullet-points. Equally troublesome, his phones – landline and mobile – kept ringing, interfering with his train of thought. No sooner had he regained his flow and begun formulating a coherent sentence detailing the defects in the roofing structures or damp coursing than another call would demand his attention and haul him away from the job at hand for just long enough for him to forget exactly what it was he had been about to write next.
    Ben sat and rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. His skin felt rough and dry, his eyes sensitive and watery. He had been staring at the screen for what felt like hours. How long it had really been, he was uncertain. The text was beginning to drift before his eyes as he read it again and again. The text was beginning to drift before his eyes as he read it again and again. He was exhausted, and this was reflected in his sallow appearance. He had spent the last week and a half driving long-distance between the sites he was surveying for this report – Wednesday last, Southampton, Thursday last Birmingham, Friday last Nottingham, followed by Bath on Monday, Stoke on Tuesday, Newcastle on Wednesday and Norwich this morning – before returning to the office with a sheaf of scribbled notes, digital camera shots, notes recorded on a Dictaphone while on the tops of various buildings, muffled and inaudible due to high winds blasting across the mic as he had mumbled tiredly and unenthusiastically about various joists and joints. He rubbed his eyes again and returned his bleary eyes to the screen. He rubbed his eyes again and returned his bleary pupils to the screen. He needed a break. Needed to clear his head, to regain his focus. Yes, he had a deadline looming, but he’d never make it like this, he simply couldn’t focus his mind.
    The Foo Fighters’ track ‘The Best of You’ rattled from his pocket for the umpteenth time that day. He loved that song – it rocked – but he was beginning to tire of its polyphonic yet stunted ring-tone version intruding into his life every five minutes. He was also weary of his works mobile. Why they wouldn’t upgrade to something more contemporary and functional like an iPhone or a Blackberry, he had no idea.
    It wasn’t that Ben was a he fan of the iPhone, although he did rather like its multimedia functionality, and its now classic design. He liked its dimensions, a cozy yet suitably chunky 115.5mm x 62.1mm 12.3 and comforting 133g weight. He also had an appreciation for its TFT capacitive touchscreen, even if its sleek surface, with its with its scratch-resistant oleophobic coating, became a slick of greasy thumb-prints within seconds, even while in the pocket, and these obscured the screen, despite its presenting a respectable 320×480 pixel 3.5” view at a density of 165 pixels per inch. Similarly, the Blackberry was a classic example of contemporary design. The Curve 8900 had real appeal. Despite the rather fiddly QWERTY keypad, it was practically a mobile office that would fit in the pocket, and with its 256MB ROM memory, 250ppi display, albeit at a smaller 2.5” – a whole inch smaller than that of the iPhone – its 65K colours made it suitable for checking out pics emailed from different sites while on the move, and then there was the card slot with a reader that could handle an SD card of up to 32GB. It also had the better camera. Still, neither the iPhone nor the Blackberry had a battery life worth writing home about, while the clunky piece of Nokia crap work had provided him with only needed charging once a week.
    He checked the name on the incoming call. It was Ruth, his ‘better half.’ They had been together almost eight years now – long enough for him to have known almost instinctively that it would have been her ringing.
    “Hi, Ru,” he said, half sighing, half croaking, his voice cracked with fatigue.
    “Hey,” she chirruped back.
    A slight pause – as was customary. He never liked to jump in and ask why she was phoning this time – it sounded tetchy, and she was the sensitive type – but she never came straight out with anything either, hence the waggledance of telephonic etiquette each time they spoke, even after all this time. Particularly after all this time: it had become habit, and he knew it. He knew not, however, of a way to break it, or even if there was any point in doing so – or even if he wanted to do so. It was harmless, but did take seconds out of his busy day. Seconds that could have been spent on other matters. He fought this involuntary irritation that he felt – that he had been feeling for the past few weeks, or possibly longer, he’s not been paying that much attention as he’d had a lot going on – and reminded himself that Ruth didn’t actually do anything to annoy him and that his tiredness was simply making him irrationally irritable. It wasn’t his fault he was tired and stressed. It wasn’t her fault he was tired and stressed. He just was.
    “Hey,” he echoed back, as he commonly did. It bought time, breathing space, signalled to her that he was listening, like a call-and-response of ‘Copy,’ ‘Roger.’
    “I was just wondering what time you’d be home for tea tonight,” she said in her usual even, gentle tone.
    He sighed and rubbed his tired, itchy eyes again. Ruth liked her routine. Daily, she called around 3.30 or 4pm to enquire when he’d be home, although he was rarely able to give a specific answer. There were invariably deadlines to be met, which frequently entailed working later than anticipated, however he budgeted his time, however hard he worked, and however closely he worked to the premise that however long one anticipates something taking, double it and add ten per cent to get a more accurate estimate. Then there was the matter of the drive home. On a good day – or a weekend – it would be a 40-minute drive. But on a weekday, during the rush two hours, it could be anything up to an hour and a half, and that was provided there were no accidents, freak storms or other unusual circumstances which may extend the journey time still further. Ben enjoyed driving, but did not enjoy being stuck in slow-moving traffic for hours on end on the same stretches of rode night after night. Open country roads with the windows down, the wind in his hair, shades on and the stereo up loud and his foot the the floor, that was his idea of driving. It was to liberating, that sense of freedom, the idea he could go anywhere he wanted, and fast. It was the precise opposite of being hemmed in between the mushroom walls of the office in which he worked, with its Jacobs Twist Axminster carpet in a fetching shade of blue-grey by the name of Fen and regimented rows of desks, each with identical Dell base units and monitors, accompanied by ergonomic keyboards and mice and standard-issue high-backed office chairs without arms.
    “I dunno,” he replied after a pause. “I’ve got a lot on at the moment.” “Ok, do you think you’ll be home before eight-ahuh?” she asked, her voice rising at the end and a small not-quite-laugh following the last syllable. He pictured her, smiling as she did, her nose wrinkled a little and her eyes half-closed, an endearing expression which he had been fond of from the outset when they had met some seven years ago. How time flew! He had been in his early twenties then, and having recently relocated following the securing of a decent job in Sheffield, Ben had been on the brink of embarkation on his career proper.
    “I don’t know,” he reiterated. “I hope so, but I wouldn’t like to say for definite.”
    “Ok, well I thought we might have chops tonight and they grill in no time, so I shall wait until you get in before starting the tea.”
    “Fine.”
    “Call me when you’re leaving work?”
    “Sure.”
    “Ok, I’ll speak to you later, bye.”
    “Yeah, bye.”
He couldn’t help it, he knew he sounded ‘off.’ The simple fact was that he had been feeling decidedly fractious lately, and it was difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons why. And because he didn’t know, he felt he couldn’t really talk about it with Ruth – what was there to say? It was his problem, and he didn’t want to push it onto her. She had her own things going on, namely the fact that she would soon be unemployed – again. After a succession of unappealing and unsatisfactory temporary jobs, mostly in big corporate offices, the type of place she hated – so many people, so many awful people, the sort she’d not have given a moment of her time to through choice – she had landed herself a fantastic job on a medieval library archiving project. Only now the project was almost done and the funding had run dry and so her contract was to be terminated in a couple of weeks. Ruth’s unemployment, or otherwise low wages did place a strain on things for them financially. Again, Ben never liked to make an issue of it, because to do so would be unfair. He accepted, and in some ways, thrived on fulfilling his role as the dominant male, the breadwinner. He’d always been ambitious, and while he’d never been certain as to what career he wished to pursue, he’d always been ambitious to earn. A good income, a nice house, a fast car…. It’s what every man wants, and it had always been his dream to live the life, to work hard and to reap the rewards, and to spend those rewards in such a way that everyone who saw him knew it, that he was a successful person.
    But right now he didn’t feel successful, and he was struggling to put his finger on exactly what the root of his niggling discontent was. But he had realised that he was not content, and despite his reasonable income – £42K pa plus car plus mobile phone, etc., was a fair salary, he knew that, although after tax there was little benefit, he felt, to earning £42K over earning £25K. He knew he wasn’t like those he left behind in school, those whose profiles he had read on Friends Reunited….

One Star

 

And if you’re loving my work, please buy a book. This Book is available in print from Clinicality Press and as an e-book through Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

Paul McKenna, Gnostic Bastard – The Power of Persuasion and the Great Hypnotic Con

Since the new year, there’s been a large poster on the bus shelter where I catch the bus to work each morning advertising Paul McKenna’s latest book, Hypnotic Gastric Band. The first time I saw this poster, bleary-eyed at 7:45 on January 7th, I misread the title looming out of the darkness at me as Gnostic Bastard. Having made this rather curious error, I’ve since had to force myself not to read it as such each subsequent morning. In order to do so, I’ve found myself staring long and hard at the hoarding, and each time with growing consternation.

The poster itself is fairly bland: a large image of McKenna’s book, with the title and subtitle (‘The New Surgery-Free Weight-Loss System’) at the top, and at the bottom, the deal-clinching information that there’s a ‘free CD and DVD’ with the book. This is the same text that appears on the book cover itself, meaning the same words appear twice on the poster. Since repetition is the most basic but often effective form of brainwashing, I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t some form of brainwash to make people go out and buy the book – beyond the overt premise of the poster being an advertisement and therefore designed for that explicit purpose, I mean.

The book’s cover itself is interesting. On the face of it, it looks like any other crappy mass-market self-help book. The typeface is plain and bold, clean white lines on a darker background. It says ‘empowerment’. McKenna’s face stares out of the cover. But whereas most self-help gurus wear an expression that shows tranquillity, assurance, confidence, trustworthiness, in a way that say ‘I understand your problems and your pain. I’ve been there. I’ve turned my life around and I can help you to do the same. Have faith. I’m not going to lie to you or fob you off. I’m happy with my life now, and with my help, you can be too’, McKenna’s gaze is focused on… you, of course. He’s looking into your eyes, into your very soul. It’s not a calm look of inner peace. He’s lasering straight into your brain.

You’re so engaged in eye contact with Paul that you don’t really notice that nebulous cloud of lights, a little like a cut-out-and keep magazine rendering of an astronomer’s chart, over his shoulder. It’s a little fainter than McKenna’s image and the strong text above and below.

Within this two-dimensional representation of a multi-faceted polygon, fainter still, is a pale blue sac with tubing above and below – a representation of a stomach, no less, with something resembling a belt pulled tight like a noose just above the top of the bulbous mid-section. This, of course, is a gastric band. Because you need to visualise that band, drawing tight around your intestine, restricting your capacity for food. You’re not hungry, you’re full, and if you eat any more that band will draw so tight and constrict your internal organ that you’ll die.

The image itself is curious and compelling in equal measure. On the one hand it’s quite obvious what its purpose is, there on the cover of the book. On the other, it’s rather weird. I mean, in short that it looks odd. Compositionally, representationally. A sanitised, pseudo-scientific representation of a bulging pouch of muscle in the lower reaches of the intestine in the middle of something not dissimilar from an architectural sketch of the done from The Crystal Maze. What is it saying, and precisely to whom is it speaking when it issues forth those enigmatic utterances?

The kind of people who don’t really consider what they’re consuming to the extent that they may require a gastric band are the kind of people who struggle to associate images of life-threatening obesity, enlarged organs and stupendous amounts of fat when they’re shown on television with their own ruined bodies. But this image on the cover… As I stand, waiting for my bus to arrive, music injected into my ears through my in-ear phones attached to my MP3 player, I find myself mesmerised and wondering as I’m drawn into the billboard, is the gastric band itself hypnotic?

Never mind how the ‘system’ works (note, it’s not a ‘diet’ – largely because any food intake is a diet and we’re looking specifically weight-loss diets here, but more to the point, ‘weight-loss system’ is a perfect example of pseudo-scientific meaninglessness), I find myself totally absorbed by the image. And then I remember it’s all utter bollocks. If it was as easy as all that for the people this book is aimed at to exercise mind over matter to lose weight or otherwise remain at a size that’s considered healthy by the medical profession, then there’d be no need for the book, with or without the ‘free’ CD and DVD. And while only an idiot would believe that the CD and DVD are actually ‘free’ rather than incorporated within the purchase price (CD and DVD cost pennies and the cost of producing a book that’s a mere 144 pages in length (at least in the quantity of print run this is indubitably produced in) is negligible against the RRP of £12.99 which is approximately 9p per page), equally, only a complete cretin would buy into this crap. Let’s face it, The Hypnotic Gastric Band is another way to shift responsibility from the lazy and the weak-willed: which plus-sizer wouldn’t want the results of a weight loss diet without actually dieting? When it comes to mind over matter and the power of persuasion, the only trick here is getting desperate and gullible chubbers to part with their cash. But it’s a massive market (in all senses), which probably explains why the book’s sitting comfortably in Amazon’s top 10 right now….

 

Hypnotic Gastric Band

Paul McKenna: Gnostic bastard or con artist?

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

Smooth Salsa and Jizzy Jazz: The Great Corporate Crap Giveaway

I recently lent a friend of mine, who works for a large financial organisation, a handful of CDs. When he returned them, there was an extra disc. it’s not unusual: he often lends me music. On this occasion, said disc was housed in a gaudy digipak decorated with segments of primary colours and it was still in its shrinkwrap. A gift? Or an accident? No. Entitled ‘A World of Discovery’, the album was a compilation that promised ‘a journey through the world of jazz, soul, funk and blues’, and it had been ‘specially compiled’ for another financial firm by Jazz FM. The bastard! He’d offloaded this piece of corporate crap on me, knowing full well how much I despise jazz, soul, funk and corporate crap because he didn’t want it. And who could blame him?

There’s something that makes this kind of corporate crap particularly abhorrent. Sure, I get the idea of a ‘global’ corporation doling out promotional gubbins that reflects and encapsulates the spirit of their ‘brand’ (or what they hope is the way their brand is perceived), and a compilation of music from around the globe says ‘multinational’, ‘global’ and ‘inclusive’, and music supposedly transcends all borders of nation (the fact I think this is utter bollocks is something for another time). But it’s about as credible an image of global culture and a celebration of diversity as a Benetton ad. United colours? One world together in music? One world under the cosh of capitalism pretending to be friendly would be closer to the mark. Does anyone actually buy this idea? Do the creators even think that this is the face of finance, or are they laughing up their expensive suit sleeves and steaming up their Rolex watches?

There’s another thing, too. I appreciate that some would accuse me of being narrow-minded musically at loathing jazz, soul and funk, and while I’d strongly disagree, the point is that I do loathe jazz, soul and funk and I’m certainly not alone or even in a minority. I daresay that in attempting to associate themselves with the artists concerned (I’m assuming the artists all gave their consent and were paid handsomely for selling their music and souls in such a way), the company in question think they’re being ‘hip’ and presenting a ‘cool’ image to potential clients and partners. But in producing and distributing a compilation such as this, they’re making a huge assumption regarding people’s musical tastes. Either that, or they’re hoping to dictate people’s musical tastes, in which case they should be sponsoring something on MTV or Radio 2. But Jazz FM? What does that say about the company, really?

Sidestepping that question and letting it serve as a rhetorical device, I’ll admit that I haven’t actually played the CD at this point. But then, do I really need to hear the ‘old school raw soul quality of Australia’s Electric Empire on their number ‘Baby Your Lovin’’, or ‘Let me Show Ya (Funkhaus Sessions)’ by Jazzanova of Germany?

Against my better judgement, I bung the disc in the player. It’s fucking hideous and sounbds exactly the the way you’d expect it to. A flicker of flamenco, a splash of salsa, with the horrible drum machine backing favoured by the Peruvian pan flute bands that play on the high streets. Laid-back Latina grooves smoothed to slick perfection transports the listener to a forgettable restaurant where the wallpaper, food and music all melted into one beige blur not even worthy of a smiley snap for Facebook. The ‘United Kingdom’, incidentally, is represented Escala, with their multinational smash, ‘Feeling Good’. Er, yes, quite. Escala, the ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ finalists covering Nina Simone. What in? Well, in keeping with the jazzy jizz of the rest of the material here, stringy sonic spunk.

In a time of recession, I do understand that companies need to find new promotional angles, and even when times are tight, it’s necessary to speculate to accumulate. But surely that’s all the more reason to ensure that promotion is effective – and cost effective. Even if the clowns who cooked up this cack-handed codswallop campaign genuinely believe that most people do like jazz, soul, funk and blues, what do they expect the recipients of these discs to do with them? Play them on an evening or at dinner parties to show how sophisticated they are, while subconsciously deciding they ought to do business with the company who gave them out? But as we’ve established, not everyone likes jazz, soul, funk and blues – so then what do you do it you’re the recipient of one of these dodgy discs? Landfill seems horribly wasteful. There’s the local charity shop, but who would buy it and would you want to be seen donating it? And while CDs make great coasters, it’s not everyone’s style. Which means the best option is to pass it on to your mate who happens to write music reviews and ranty blogs about pointless causes of irritation.

 

yikescds

A substantial stack of crappy unwanted CDs, not unlike the one in my house.

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

The Changing Face of Consumerism XII: Applied Economics and the Kindle Generation

Sometimes it’s better just to keep your mouth shut. I know this. I may be opinionated, but there’s a time and a place to express those opinions. More often than not, 9:05am in the office is neither the time nor the place. But sometimes I just can’t help myself.

It was just another day at the office, same as any other. I was trying to do something productive, because despite my abhorrence of ‘the system’ and working for ‘the man’, I appreciate that I’m being paid (albeit not nearly enough) not only for my time, but to use that time fruitfully (when IT permit) and besides, I’m one of those people who prefers to actually make busy rather than feign being busy. Perhaps I’d feel differently if I felt any affinity with the goons who occupy the desks within conversationable proximity to mine, but endless drivel about ‘Corro’ and ‘I’m a Celebrity’ fills me with a compulsion to burrow myself into a small dark corner, meaning that more often than not, I’ll bung a CD in the player or find an album on-line to stream, plug my phones in and create my own virtual cocoon in which to work. But sometimes I find it’s impossible to shut out the babble, and equally impossible to keep my trap shut.

Such was the scenario the other day. Three or four people seated behind me had been discussing books. Books I wasn’t bothered about. By which I mean, I’m not big on thrillers, and am wholly indifferent to the works of multi-million selling thriller author James Patterson. I was able to let the debate over whether or not his name was Patterson or Pattinson drift by, although I was pleased when one of the debaters thought to look him up on-line, and was also thus able to confirm the title of one of his books, courtesy of Amazon.

And so the subject moved to the topic of the Kindle.

“I love having my Kindle,” pronounced the middle-aged woman in the centre of the conversation, who’d been recounting how she’d hooked her husband on a certain author’s books by buying him one once. “But Kindle books are so expensive!”

“I know, I’d have thought they’d have been about a quid or something,” replied the colleague to her left, a tubby guy with a beard and spectacles in his mid to late twenties.

It’s a common complaint. If you read reader reviews of books on Amazon, there’ll invariably be a number harping on about the price of the Kindle edition – especially with new publications – to the extent that some titles attract dozens of one-star reviews without a single mention of the writing, the plot, the characters or any other aspect of thee contents of the book itself. Many of the reviewers aren’t even in a position to comment on the book, having posted their review in a fit of pique at the rip-off price being asked for the text with remarks like ‘I refused to buy it at that price’ and ‘I’ve ordered the paperback instead, but will have to wait several days for it to arrive in the post. And I’ve had to pay shipping on top!’

In today’s culture of immediacy and instant gratification, no-one wants to wait. And no-one wants clutter, either, hence the popularity of the Kindle. As the people behind me noted, it’s possible to store several hundred books, which would otherwise require many feet of shelves, on a single, portable device. But no-one seems to think it reasonable that they should pay for this convenience: they want it now, and they want it cheap, or better still, for free. But of course, that isn’t how capitalism works. Exploitation may be a significant feature of consumerism, with both consumer and producer being exploited for the benefit of the capitalists who hold the real power, but there has to be as degree of give and take, and if there’s no profit to be made from a end product, there’s simply no point in producing it, however useful it may be. But by the same token, the more useful or desirable a commodity, the higher its value in the marketplace. Whether that value is real or perceived is largely down to supply and demand, the market and marketing. It appears the perceived value of an e-book is comparatively low.

And so they whinged on in this fashion for a couple of minutes or so, bemoaning the fact that Kindle e-books are overpriced considering the fact there are no production costs involved.

As someone who has experience of publishing, both as an author and a publisher – albeit on a small scale – I felt qualified to wade in on this debate. Not that these individuals would have been aware of this: I tend to keep myself to myself, and not to talk about my writing or publishing activity in the workplace. Nevertheless, on this occasion, I found it impossible to let it go, and the fact my involvement in the publishing industry is on a small scale means it’s something that’s particularly close to my heart: it’s something that’s real and tangible, whereas with large-scale publishing – as with any large organisation – the realities become more abstracted as the process becomes increasingly distant. As with the music industry, Joe Public only conceives of the colossus: the multi-billion dollar international labels and the major-name chart acts. It’s understandable, of course, but the big names – and the big money associated with them – only account for a fraction of the whole. The common misconception is that everyone who has a book published is coining it in, because they hear about the immense earnings of the likes of J. K. Rowling and E. L. James. The majority of people don’t seem to realise that there are countless books that aren’t on the bestseller list, that aren’t published by Penguin or Bloomsbury. These are the people who buy one or two books a year, or possibly three when they raided a 3-for-2 offer at Waterstones or WHS or maybe their local supermarket. These are the people who, in the days before Kindle, would make sure the one, two or three books they purchased were at least 400 pages long because a 400-page book represents better value for money than a 250-page book that costs roughly the same. They’re the people who read series books because they know the characters and are comfortable with them, but are reluctant to try anything else because they don’t know what to expect: they might not like it. Better to play safe and go with what you know than risk disappointment and wasting money.

I don’t actually believe that all artists (by which I mean musicians writers, film-makers, dancers, whatever) should be able to make a living from what they do, even if such a scenario was feasible. There simply isn’t room for every artist, aspiring or otherwise, to achieve such widespread recognition as to sustain a living wage from their work, and there are many who simply aren’t worthy or, to be blunt, good enough. But I do believe that all artists should be fairly paid for what they do, just as any other form of labour should receive reasonable recompense.

If Kindle e-books really did all cost in the region of £1, you can guarantee that the ones who would see the biggest reduction in their cut of the profit (and there’s scant profit to be made on anything costing a pound) would be the writers. It hardly seems fair that the person responsible for the creation of the product should be paid less because some consumers choose to purchase a different format. The end product may be different, but the input itself remains the same. Would an office worker – the likes of the individuals idling away large portions of their working days debating the ways in which they spend their disposable income and leisure time – consider it acceptable to be paid less for dealing with emails instead of printed letters? Of course not: in fact, I suspect the opposite would be true, and that they would probably consider it reasonable to expect to be paid more, because the reduced overheads associated with e-comms over conventional paper and envelope snail-mail would logically enhance company profits – why shouldn’t they benefit? And this made for the starting point of my interjection into the conversation.

“The writers have still got to be paid,” I began. “On a paperback, they get pence in royalties…”

Naturally, the precise amount varies between books, publishers and authors, and the range is immense, and the actual royalty will depend on whether or not the book sells at its RRP or at a discounted price. But, for simplicity’s sake, it’s not unreasonable to work on the basis of the author’s royalty for a paperback being it’s around the 8% (although anywhere between 5% and 10% would be considered ‘average’), for hardback around 12%, and for e-books in the region of 20%. If a paperback retails at £7.99, you’re looking at 63p per copy going to the author (before tax). It takes a many multiples of 63p to equal a living wage. Given that it’s reported that 95% of all books published achieve sales of 100 or fewer, you can hardly consider writing a surefire route to riches, and when you also take into account the number of hours it takes to write a novel…

“Of course the writer’s have got to be paid,” agreed the woman, peering over her reading glasses. “But there’s no printing cost with a book on Kindle…”

I realised I needed to keep it brief and simple. And so I elected to pass on the details of the debate, hoping against hope that my sowing the seed may at least give them a prompt that would set these everyday consumers on a track of consideration.

I decided not to explain that obviously, the bigger the publisher, the more people are involved in the process. But against that, higher volumes of sales mean it’s easier to reduce unit costs… although it usually takes a bigger marketing budget to achieve those sales volumes. I also let pass the idea of there being a correspondence between market forces and cost in capitalist culture, namely that there’s a clear logic to charging the most people are willing to pay for a commodity. If a significant portion of any given target market are willing to pay, say, £10 for something, but consider £15 too expensive, why would anyone in the business of business, i.e. making a profit, charge only £5 for it?

The fact she’d already told her colleagues, “I buy loads more now I’ve got my Kindle. I keep finding stuff and thinking ‘What’s that?’” was evidence enough that however unreasonable she considers the price of e-books, the cost isn’t high enough to be prohibitive – and so the equation of balancing cost against demand and convenience works. This woman clearly isn’t alone, and as much as anything, I suspect the convenience is the real key here. The Kindle appeals to the demand everything, demand it yesterday if not sooner consumer society we live in and that the Internet has facilitated. Our needs haven’t changed all that radically, but our expectations have. Consequently, our demands have changed in line with those expectations. This then becomes a self-propagating cycle, and like a junky who experiences diminishing returns with every hit as their habit becomes more complete, so the consumer appetite grows evermore insatiable, needing more and faster. Yet each time the demand is met, so expectations grow, and as those expectations come to be met, so demand grows.

“That’s true,” I countered, “but the print cost actually only accounts for some of the actual cost of publishing a book. With an e-book, you’ve still got the bulk of the other costs involved in the publication process, like paying proof readers, like cover art, promotion… and you have to reformat a text for Kindle. Plus you’re paying for the convenience of the format, of having it instantly. Besides, given how little authors do earn on each book sold, if there is scope for paying a bit more, then that can only be a good thing.”

The woman looked at me boredly, then replied, “Yes, I know and understand all that, but I still would have thought they’d be cheaper. You know, like around a pound or so.”

 

Kindle

A Kindle. Publish a book formatted for this, charge over the odds and make a mint. It works for me! Pass the Bolly, will you?

Pill-Popping and Apoplexy

Prone as I am to venting my spleen to friends, family and via my blogs, I’m not generally the sort to make formal complaints to companies. Having spent a number of years dealing with customer complaints in a corporate / financial environment, I’m all too aware that complaining is pretty much futile, and moreover, if I’m enraged enough to complain about something, then the response I’m likely to get will only increase that anger tenfold. Yes, despite being a placid individual in person, and not the sort to become embroiled in heated discussion on-line either, I’m an angry fucker. As a rule, however, I focus that anger constructively, into my writing.

Sometimes, though, I get grumpier and angrier than usual, and those times often occur when I’m not feeling well. And, not feeling well last week while under the cosh of a heavy cold, I decided to use my lunch break to pick up a few off-the-shelf pharmaceuticals to alleviate my suffering when purchasing some foodstuffs including a jar of organic strawberry jam, and a couple of beers for the evening (it would have been rude to pass on bottles of Shepherd Neame’s Spitfire and Marston’s Pedigree at £1 a bottle, after all).

Suffering from blocked sinuses, a headache and uncomfortable back, and aware that restrictions exist regarding the sale of paracetamol, I thought better of filling my basket with enough drugs to anaesthetize an elephant and only went for the essentials. Even that proved to be a problem, though, prompting me to fire off a stern email to the supermarket concerned….

In the York Monks Cross store today during my lunch hour I attempted to purchase 1 x 16 Ibuprofen, 1 x 16 Paracetamol and 1 x Max Strength Congestion relief but was told by the cashier, Tina, I could only purchase 2 units and had to nominate one of the products to leave. This is absurd.

I understand the law limits the sale of paracetamol to 32, but I should therefore still be able to purchase 32 Paracetamol and up to 32 Ibuprofen as these are not of the same ‘family’ of drugs.

Even assuming the limit of 32 tablets of ANY painkillers is justifiable, given that the decongestants I wanted to purchase contain neither ibuprofen nor paracatamol, but phenylephrine hydrochloride, this product should not have counted toward the 32 tablet / 2 unit limit. These 3 different products would clearly not constitute an overdose hazard.

The NHS website states: “GSL medicines can be sold by a wide range of shops, such as newsagents, supermarkets and petrol stations. Often, only a small pack size or low strength of the medicine may be sold. For example: the largest pack size of paracetamol that shops can sell is 16 tablets but pharmacies can sell packs of 32 tablets. the highest strength of ibuprofen tablets that shops can sell is 200mg but pharmacies can sell tablets at 400mg strength.”

Because the 3 products were required for different purposes, it was then necessary for me to extend my lunch break in order to purchase the third product – a box of 16 200mg ibuprofen – elsewhere. Not only was this extremely frustrating and inconvenient, but also wholly unnecessary, and all due to a complete misapplication of the law. I would strongly recommend you ensure all your staff are given clear training on the sale of certain products.

The reply I received a couple of days later proved to be kind of dismissive bollocks I should have expected, penned in a style that veered between the informal and the businesslike, but maintained a suitably patronising tone throughout:

Thanks for your email. I’m sorry you were unable to buy all the over the counter medication you recently wanted to while in our Monks Cross store. I can understand this would have been disappointing as you then had to extend your lunch break to ensure you could purchase all three.

As a reputable retailer, we take our responsibilities very seriously. There is a limit on the number of paracetamol based products our colleagues can sell through the checkouts. There is a limit in place of 32 tablets in total, this can consist of 16 paracetamol and 16 ibuprofen for example.

We train all our colleagues to take this responsible selling approach very seriously. I can appreciate this may have seemed slightly over zealous on this occasion, however my colleague was following their training.

There are pharmacies available in our stores were customers can purchase larger quantities of medications should the need arise. Please don’t ever hesitate to speak with the local pharmacist should you need to.

We’re grateful you’ve taken the time to contact us with this feedback and we look forward to seeing you in store again soon.

Kind regards

So, while acknowledging the limit for paracetamol tablets is 32, it would appear that Sainsbury’s have decided rather than risk breaking the law on medications, to dumb it down to the dumbest point imaginable and then take it a step further by reinterpreting the limit of 32 tablets of paracetamol at a non-pharmacy counter as 32 tablets of anything… unless – as this email could also be taken to mean – they believe ibuprofen is a paracetamol-based product. Which it clearly isn’t.

Assuming it’s simply the case that they’re enforcing a strict limit of 32 tablets of any type at regular checkouts (and while I could have got to the pharmacy counter, it seems needlessly obtuse to make customers queue at two separate counters to purchase items they can, by law, purchase at just the one), then I’ll concede that it wasn’t the cashier being (apparently) ‘overzealous’, but the store itself.

And this really the crux of my issue: the laws concerning the sale of paracetamol products are not being applied with any common sense. Am I to take it from the email that I couldn’t buy, say, ibuprofen for my headache, antihistamine for my hayfever and fibre tabs for my blocked-up bowel in one transaction if the 3 products in combination exceeded 32 tablets despite the fact that none of them contains paracetamol and there are no laws concerning the sale of either?

Anyway, a couple of days later I found myself back in the same store (working in an office on the edge of an out of town shopping park doesn’t give much scope for a diverse range of activities and if I don’t get out of the office I’m likely to crack up). I had no pharmaceuticals in my basket this time, but was once again short on time and short on patience.

There’s a reason I dislike supermarkets – and shops in general, and most public places for that matter, and that’s because Sartre was right: hell is other people. I was reminded of this as I waited for what felt like an eternity to buy my booze and bananas and cheese, thanks to the two overweight, mutton-dressed as lamb middle-aged hags in front of me who were too busy gassing and cackling to pack their shopping into bags as it came through the checkout. Although they were together, they were shopping separately, and the one who had been served was busy clucking and tearing open a bag of mints she’d bought. Offering one to her lard-arsed mate, she proclaimed enthusiastically, “Ooh, they’re really minty!”. Of course they are : they’re fucking mints.

On the final item being rung through, the minty binty dropped her card and flapped a coupon around before realising her shop was 23p short of qualifying for the extra Nectar points offered on the coupon, prompting a call of “Sweets! Do you have any sweets on the end? No, wait, I need new potatoes!” and proceeded to wobble off to pick up some spuds to take her shop over £50 so she’d get her 200 extra Nectar points. The cashier then failed to scan said spuds, and the drippy tart bunged them in her bag. On realising the error, the cashier asked for the potatoes back. “Oooh, you’d better scan ‘em, I don’t want to be settin’ off the beepers!” the chubby dumbass clucked – as if they put alarm tags on £1 bags of fucking new potatoes!

As I seethed in silence, I had ample time to read and reread a new notice which had been tacked beside the checkout regarding the sale of 12 certificate games and films, notifying customers that. to purchase these products, they’ll need to provide proof of age. Acceptable forms of ID are a current passport or driving licence. Ok. But if the age limit is 12, then a 13-year old could legally purchase said items… but what 13 year old carries their passport or has a driving licence?

A lot of people just tell me to chill out and let it all go, but I can’t. It’s years of people doing precisely that which have brought us to this ridiculous situation. The trouble is, I don’t know what’s worse: retailers, local governments, etc., and the countless others who consider themselves to have a ‘social responsibility’ taking it upon themselves to dictate what we can buy, do, say, etc., etc., by effectively rewriting the law under the guise of ‘responsibility’ and ‘protection’, or a population stupid enough to believe potatoes might be security tagged and actually need those decisions making for them…

 

busy-supermarket

Stock photo of sheep in a supermarket, happy to provide ID in order to purchase a bar of soap (limited to 1 per customer in case someone eats it).