It’s All About the Stats!

We live in an age obsessed by figures and statistics. The corporate, capitalist world of business has seeped into every corner of our lives and our achievements are all about quantity. You have a blog: how may hit does it get? You posted something on Facebook: how many likes and shares has it had? How many friends or followers have you got, how many retweets?

My brain is predisposed to counting pointless things, so this really does bring out the worst in me. So how am I doing? What have I been doing?

For me, April 2015 looked like this:

Music reviews written / published: 51

Books read: 4

Book reviews published: 1

Live concerts attended: 6

Hand-dryers photographed: 5

Rage Monologues written: 4

Rage monologues spoken word performances given: 0 (3 booked, all cancelled for various reasons, none of my doing)

Words added to novel-in-progress: 3,512

May 2015: must try harder.

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Ignorance is Bliss – All Cock, No Bull

What’s the big deal with ‘antiques’ ‘dealer’ Kate Bliss (née Alcock)? Is she the new Carol Vorderman, some kind of so-called ‘thinking man’s totty’ for daytime TV viewers?

There’s a reason I ask… Some time in 2011, I banged out an off-the-cuff blog post about daytime TV show Secret Dealers, in which I commented on the absurdity of the show’s title in relation to its actual premise. There was a brief flurry of comments, primarily attacking my flippant criticism and largely missing the point, as is usual. After a few days, all fell quiet and like pretty much everything else I post, it sunk without trace – until a few days go, when suddenly hits on my blog skyrocketed. All the hits were on this singe post. This has now continued for the best part of a week.

This was unexpected, and I was compelled to undertake some cursory research into what may have prompted this upsurge in my post’s popularity. Had she died? Thankfully, no. Divorced? Not as far as I could tell. Given birth again? Nothing to suggest as much. In fact, news on Mrs Bliss is scant, with little in circulation that’s later than 2010, and precious little on her painfully sparse Wikipedia entry (not that I can talk. I don’t even merit a Wikipedia entry).

People are asking – and I know this because my analytics tell me so – ‘why did kate bliss leave secret dealers’. I don’t know. I don’t care. My blog does not have the answers. They’re asking ‘when did kate bliss leave secret dealers’. I don’t know. I don’t care. My blog does not have the answers. They’re also simply searching for ‘secret dealers kate bliss’. Why? What is wrong with these people? Do they have some sort of thing for slightly bug-eyed, big-chinned bottle blondes in their late 30s, with an Oxford education and detailed knowledge of antique jewellery, in particular silver? I don’t know. I don’t care. My blog does not have the answers. She’s certainly no Catherine Southon. So what’s the deal? I don’t know. I don’t care. My blog does not have the answers.

 

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Kate Bliss. No, really, she’s all yours mate.

 

But I do have questions. Really. I mean, TV career (such as it is) aside, she’s clearly doing ok. She has her own firm for a start, and the media coverage she’s received in recent years can only have boosted its profile (even when her estimates have proven wildly inaccurate. She’s invariably closer to the mark than Flog It! host Paul Martin, who’s completely fucking useless). How else do you account for her company’s fees (which are anything but bargain (hunt) basement)?

  • Hourly rate                 £140+VAT

  • Minimum fee              £150+VAT

  • Travel expenses         40pence/mile +VAT or public transport at cost +VAT

Guess what? I don’t know. I don’t care. My blog does not have the answers.

 

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

Blah, Blah, Blah, Blog On…Why I Quit Blogging Part 2

I couldn’t give a shit about your blog. I’d say it’s nothing personal, but in truth that’s exactly what it is, because your blog is you, your life, your innermost thoughts, out there, in the public domain. I should admire your courage, your openness and honesty. Your brutal truth. Your disarming humility, your humanity. The fact you’re so willing to open up and reveal your insecurities, the mechanisms of your daily existence. You’re real, you’re normal: we’re all insecure, we all eat, sleep, dream. I almost feel as though I know you, as if I’m living your life with you, like I’m there, a part of you and your life, your beautiful, brilliant, ordinary life, where I’m sharing your dreams and hopes, your knock-backs, disappointments and failures, the long, hard hours you put into your work, your family, your writing, your emotional release.

 

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Do as the sign says and love yourself a bit more

 

And therein lies the problem. We all do exactly the same, fundamentally, and it’s no secret as to what it is to be human. Get a fucking grip. you’re not special.

Half the people who have blogs harbour ambitions of being a writer. Stop telling me about how you’re so engrossed in mapping the plot, how you’re starting to live and breathe the characters, your creations, your babies and get on and write it. The endless hours spent writing blog posts about your writing process could be spent actually writing something. But then, so could the hours spent arranging flowers (and posting pretty pictures of your arrangements on your blog), baking (and posting semi-pro shots of your magnificent cakes and mouthwatering confectionary), taking coffee with friends, making – and photographing – endless pots of speciality teas in your humble, small but tasteful cottage kitchen. So you like Earl Grey, love brownies and hate confrontation but more than anything you want to write that book and see it published.

 

Blog1

So many blogs, so little time

Me, I like to keep quiet about my personal life, what I get up to. No-one gives a fuck that I suffer chronic insomnia, woke up at 4:30am in a state of panic and drenched in sweat as I wondered how I’m going to pay he next electricity bill and the rent while reeling amidst tumultuous thoughts whereby my abject failure both as an artist and a human being scream at me until the dawn breaks.

No-one cares that I stumbled downstairs in my dressing gown at half past six with a raging hangover, crazed and delirious from a fitful sleep punctuated by nightmares to make a cup of tea – no-brand with semi-skimmed milk from Asda, five days out of date and on the turn – that went cold while I emptied my bowels, a lose movement with a small trace of blood, before hauling my sorry arse into the spare room where the computer – hopelessly out-of-date and only semi-functional – sits and attempt to hack out some words. You don’t need to know how I pissed away my day in isolation, fielding phone calls from my mother and three different offshore sales departments. How I cooked a bland meal of pasty oven chips and a tepid frozen pizza before vegetating on the sofa in front of some brainrot ‘reality’ TV because there’s nothing else on on a Saturday night. No, you just don’t want to know.

Better just get on with it.

 

Blog2

You don’t have to have anything (important) to say to blog about it.

 

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

Picture this…. and this… and this… and this…

As someone who has a keen interest in visuals, I often feel frustrated by the limitations of my abilities as a photographer, and of my camera. As a music reviewer, I often like to take pictures of the bands I see, and while my images are often of a reasonable standard, I will confess to feeling somewhat embarrassed when standing in the front row with my £49 Fuji Finepix JZ100. The whole car / camera lens / penis extension analogy is entirely applicable, and the sneers at my diminutive kit aren’t purely paranoia.

Not everyone’s toting a £2,000 digital SLR with a telephoto they can rest between the monitors while lounging by the sound desk, of course. The vast majority of people snap away on their smartphones, which often pack cameras with insane specs. The Sony Xperia Z1 comes with a 27.1MP camera, and the Nokia Lumia 1020 not only has 41MP is advertised as a camera first and a smartphone second. And with a Xenon flash and Zeiss optics, we’re talking pro photography standard gear here. And again, these posers look down on my paltry 14MP cam with its mere 8x optical zoom and wonder why the fuck I’m not using flash. Granted, I do end up with more dark blurry shots than they do, but when I time a shot right, I do succeed in capturing the lighting as it is on stage, rather than a washed-out shot that illuminates the blank wall at the back of the stage. And I do think I have a reasonable eye for composition, something that the best camera in the world and all the Instagramming under the sun won’t give you.

But there’s something more than this that renders the current obsession with expensive, high-spec photography equipment utterly pointless, and that’s how we (that’s ‘we’ as in the techno-savvy mainstream populace) view pictures. There’s no question that we live in a visual age. As the Internet has evolved (back in the mid 90s content was essentially text-based) so the importance of visuals has come to the fore. We expect and demand good graphics, and lots of them – to the extent now that many gig reviews consist only of images, with no text whatsoever, and every fractional corner of our lives are documented in images. Millions of images. Over and over. A hundred pictures of every night out, several dozen snaps of ever day trip or walk in the park, every meal and drink meticulously recorded for posterity as evidence of the full and fulfilling lives everyone leads. People are obsessed with providing proof that their life is being not only lived to the full and jam-packed with fun and amazing experiences, but a reminder that they have the best device on which to capture all of these fantastic experiences in a quality that’s even more intensely real than reality itself.

Arguably, people are no longer really living ‘in the moment’ because they’re observing every moment through a display screen. Looking back at the images and video clips doesn’t recreate the moment, or facilitate a re-run of a pre-lived experience: it becomes the experience in itself, a second-hand version, a document that represents the moment never truly lived first-hand. Everyone’s a viewer, a recorder, a spectator. Where are the actual participants?

Above all, though, despite the fact screens on smart phones are larger than ever before and have higher resolution than at any time in the past, the fact remain that the bulk of images are posted to social networking sites or photo sharing sites, and viewed on smart phones or tablets. Real-life, shot in ultra-high-resolution, viewed on a screen 3” or 4” wide. What a waste.

 

sigma-telephoto-300x193

Fuck yeah! $32,000 well spent… check this awesome pic of my breakfast! That fried bread is so real-looking you could eat it off the screen!

 

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?

How Not to Party… BT Ad Execs Get Down with the Kids

I find it difficult to watch television without getting wound up by something, and lately that something has been the BT HomeHub ‘Hallowe’en Party’ advertisement. The students all rock up at some undergrad’s shindig and the party ain’t swinging because they’ve got crap Internet, so the smug fucker (he’s a smug fucker in all of these ads) ends up sort of unwittingly and unwillingly winding up with the party moving to the pad he shares with a bozo and a chick who’s supposed to be smart and attractive because they’ve got the ‘Infinity’ uber-broadband from BT that’s so well-priced even broke students can afford it, and then the place is buzzing because they can get the tunes going…

Students sure know how to party these days thanks to the Internet.

Wait, so the snarky bim who’s supposed to be the ‘DJ’ has turned up at the party without any music? Ok, so she’s spent ‘all week finding the perfect playlists’. What’s she doing, streaming tracks off Spotify (and showing her Facebook ‘friends’ what she’s listening to in real-time while she’s at it)? Never mind compiling her own playlist: she doesn’t even have her set of bangin’ choons and choice cuts on her hard-drive or iPod? She needs the Internet to DJ? Is this really what ‘the kids’ are doing these days?

In my day we turned up with tapes we’d compile (we’re not talking that long ago, either) and cranked it up so loud speakers would blow. But it didn’t matter, and nor did the music really because we’d all be utterly shitfaced before we even arrived.

Or is this advertisement just another example of a completely unlikely scenario cooked up by some bozo ad exec who thinks letting credibility get in the way of a half-baked idea is a waste of time because, hey, no-one will notice?

If you’re not online you don’t exist: Christopher Nosnibor ceases to be… thanks to Microsoft

Five years is a long time in the ephemeral zone that is the virtual world. Although I’ve been an Internet user since around 1997, it took me a while to make the transition from consumer to creator of content, but I’ve maintained a fairly strong on-line presence since 2007 – and it’s no coincidence that my first book, the short story collection Bad Houses was published that year.

The received wisdom is that if you want to succeed, you need to be on-line, and if you don’t have a website then you pretty much don’t exist. After all, without a website, how will anyone find you? It’s a fair enough question, and because my output is wildly disparate and flung to the infinite corners of the virtual world, it made particular sense for me to have my own domain as a means of providing a hub that linked to all of my various appearances in small press magazines and so on.

Not being much my way of an expert when it comes to the practical aspects of building a website, I went with Miscrosoft Office Live, which provided useful templates, customised domain names and email, was piss-easy to use and, best of all, it was cheap. In short, it suited my needs and my abilities.

And, by arrangement with Clinicality Press, I was able to set up a store through which to flog my work in print. In addition to the main titles, I put out a handful of limited-run pamphlets (many of which I have to admit are still sitting in a box in my office. Ah well. Serves me right for being so prolific and antagonistic toward all literary and publishing conventions).

However, while the website has its definite uses, I’m a strong believer that ubiquity is the key to global domination. As such, my quest has driven me to myriad social networking outlets and to try other means of getting my name – if not my face – known. My blogs and articles posted elsewhere have always received more hits than my website, which I would say validates my approach. What’s more pretty much all of my book sales are made through Clinicality or Amazon, and since most of my titles were published in Kindle, Kindle sales have accounted for around 95% of my sales. I’m cool with that, but it does mean that the website is simply one aspect of my broader on-line presence, and is by no means something that’s making me rich by its existence.

So when Microsoft announced they were discontinuing Office Live and ‘upgrading’ it to Office Live 365 I was less than enthused, not least of all because the ‘migration’ of existing websites entailed the users rebuilding them, from scratch. Custom domains – or ‘vanity domains’ as they began calling them – needed the owner to switch all of the registry information themselves, and reconfigure any ‘vanity’ email addresses (the term hardly makes it sound appealing, but then it’s still more appealing than having your name or business’ name with a Microsoft suffix by way of a domain name).

Still, for continuity’s sake, I ‘migrated’ christophernosnibor.co.uk to the new platform, taking advantage of the three month free trial on offer, and using the opportunity to redesign the site a little. I soon discovered that Windows Live 365 was nowhere near as user-friendly as its predecessor, and lacked some of the essential functionality. Particularly frustrating was the fact there were no reports, meaning it was no longer possible to determine the number of hits or the search terms used to bring traffic to the site. Then of course there was the pricing.

Whereas Office Live had been around a tenner a year, the new supposedly improved but actually inferior service costs that a month – with an additional charge of three quid per email address.

The plan had been to find a suitable alternative during the three month trial and shift everything over before the time was up, but in the event, being a writer – and a writer who also happens to have a full-time job and a life as well – it didn’t happen. So, in concentrating my efforts on producing content, which is ultimately what I’m about, and what the website’s purpose is to promote, I find myself with six days of my free trial left. The simplest thing to do would be to pay up and forget about it. It’s hardly a king’s ransom, after all. Besides, chuntering about the price won’t achieve anything. But because the revenue it generates is nowhere near the cost of the hosting, it makes no sense to cough up for the sake of maintaining the presence, especially when it costs more for less (which seems to be the way everything’s going these days, and that’s capitalism for ya, but that’s a whole other blog).

At some point, I shall convert the blog, hosted by WordPress, to christophernosnibor.com and redesign it so it not only has the content that was on the website, but so that it looks like a website. When that will be, I wouldn’t like to say. So from now on, if you’re loving my work, there’ll be more of the same (only different) here.

 

Microsoft

Microsoft Office 365: a load of crap and more than ten times the price of Office Live