I’ll be on the road much of next week, so I thought I’d do my annual predictions about the publishing game a little earlier than usual this year, mainly so I can loaf through the holidays and dip into more eggnog than I ought to. So for whatever they’re worth, here they are:
1) Subscription services will make it much harder to sell books. The voracious readers who are most likely to try an indie with a “WTF purchase” will instead tend to borrow instead of buy. This will result in drastic reductions in author take-home pay, all assurances of “increased exposure” aside. A whole group of readers are being conditioned to believe that books have little or no value/should be free/should only be read if virtually free. This will continue. For an idea of where this progression ends, look at music. Musicians can’t earn decent money anymore by having a hit, or even several hits. The economic model is broken in such a way that the artist sees virtually nothing, with the intermediary company that enables the download taking the lion’s share of the revenue. Musicians now earn their livings by touring, by selling merchandise (shirts, hats, etc.), by selling virtually anything but music. Alas, authors don’t have the option of filling coliseums at $50 a ticket or being cool or mainstream enough to hawk $22 concert T-shirts with their likenesses on them, so expect things to get much harder.
2) The importance of brand will increase. What do I mean? Well, I like to use water as an example. In developed countries, water comes out of the tap, and is virtually free. This has been the case as long as I’ve been alive. And yet savvy marketers have convinced the lion’s share of consumers that they need to pay, often large amounts, for a product that is essentially identical (it’s H20) to what they can get free. This is a triumph of consumerism and I believe there’s a lesson in it. As art becomes increasingly commoditized in the eyes of consumers, being able to create demand for a particular brand of commodity becomes essential. Authors who want to have careers doing something besides chasing the next fad will have to develop a brand in their readers’ minds that’s worth paying for. Back to water. Not only is water free from the tap, but there are countless generic bottled water producers. And yet some manage to position their identical product (H20) at many dollars per container, while others are almost free (bottle cost, shipping, filling, inventorying). The difference is the apparent value of the brand. Some brand adherents will go so far as to claim one virtually identical product tastes better or is in some other way superior to those icky generic variants, never mind the drinkable, safe tap water. That’s genius from the brand management standpoint, and smart authors are well advised to pay attention to what’s worked to create billion dollar industries from nothing.
3) Perma-free isn’t what it used to be, but it’s still pretty good. Used to be you could put your first book free in a series and be guaranteed tens of thousands of downloads per month, with some conversion factor to the rest of the series (paid). Now, not so much, in that the number of downloads will be lower. But it still beats putting your book out and tweeting “Buy my book” or “Today only – .99!” until blue in the face. I noticed a substantial drop in free downloads via Amazon once KU came out, so the subscription model has monetized some percentage of those readers who largely or only read free – but at the expense of author discovery. Good for Amazon. Not so much for authors trying to get visibility by giving readers a taste for free.
4) Apple is coming on strong. B&N isn’t. Kobo, yawn. Google Play, mmm, not so much. Exclusivity to any vendor will continue to cost authors more than it earns them over the mid-to-long term. The reason is that exclusivity used to pay better, in that Amazon made it sort of worth your while. Now? If you think selling your novel for $1.39 royalty via borrows is a good reason to forego every other vendor out there, hey, you better than I know what your work is actually worth. But for anything longer than a novella or short story, I don’t see it as a decent deal for anyone but Amazon. And I’m not alone in that perception. Sometimes Amazon throws us a great big meat-covered bone, and sometimes a rotting table scrap. This time, it’s not even a scrap, although I know some authors who have done well. They are exceptions. Diversification across all vendors will continue to be important for smart publishers, indie especially. On a side note, traditional publishers get full royalty on a borrow, from what I understand – it’s only the indies whose work is considered worth a fraction of a sale royalty. That should tell you a huge something about how the vendors view indies as business people, as well as how they view the value of their work. Doesn’t take rocket science to figure it out. Whether they’re right, or wrong, is open to debate. I don’t like selling ten to fourteen hours of entertainment I invested hundreds of hours into and spent thousands editing, proofing, creating covers for, etc. for $1.30-something. Some may well might. Up to them.
5) Trad publishers will step up the competition with lower priced backlist offerings. The reluctance to price lower will give way to shareholder demands for fat profits, meaning a lot of $2.99-$5.99 novels from quality names. This will result in the average price paid for an ebook continuing to spiral downward, reducing the apparent value proposition of indie offerings. As I said in my last blog, if I can buy an edited, professionally presented novel by a marquee name for $4, my interest in paying that for an amateurish, questionably or non-edited screed from someone I’ve never heard of is going to be pretty low. That’s going to make it harder for new names to break out, as well as for many names that have respectable sales to maintain them moving forward.
So there we have it. Nothing revelationary, but hey, what do I look like, frigging Nostradamus? I could make more inflammatory predictions, but wouldn’t have confidence in them. These I believe accurately describe the 2015 playing field as it’s shaping up.
All in all, it’s going to be a tougher year in 2015 than in 2014, which was tougher than 2013, which was tougher than 2012, and so on. However, there will still be breakthrough authors who come out of nowhere and whose work electrifies an audience. There will still be exceptions. Many of those will be indies.
It remains an exciting time to be an author. I certainly can’t complain. To wrap up my year, I was on the cover of The Wall Street Journal and in The Times, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, and a host of others at the top of the year, have sold nearly a million books now (not counting my co-authored tomes), released my co-authored novel with Clive Cussler in Sept. and hit #2 on the NYT Bestseller List with it, sold foreign rights to Germany, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic, have a half dozen name production companies nosing around JET and my Assassin series, have a wonderful agent who has forgotten more than I’ll ever know about the biz, and have generally had a nice run of it. Next year will see a host of co-authored romances, five Russell Blake novels, another co-authored tome with Cussler, and plenty more surprises, I’m sure. For the end of my 42nd month in the publishing game, can’t whine too much, although I certainly do, early and often.
Oh, and for those who buy my crap (which should be everyone at this point), JET – Survival is available on pre-release and goes live December 26th. Hint, hint.
I just looked at the Amazon top 100. #1 is a trad pub title at $2.99. #2 is a trad pub title at .99. #3 is an Amazon imprint pre-order at $4.99. #4 is Baldacci’s latest at $10.99, #5 is Michael Connolly’s latest at $3.99, #6 is Gone Girl at $2.99, and on and on and on.
For those indie authors who have seen a marked downturn in sales since KU came in, I believe that’s only part of the story. The other is that since Amazon got lower prices from trad publishers, the price of trad pubbed books is through the floor. Sure, some of that’s holiday discounting, but not close to all.
Which means that the tried and true gambit most indies have been using, which is selling based on price, at .99 or $2.99 or $3.99 or $4.99, likely won’t work particularly well anymore. Because when you can buy Gone Girl for $2.99 and Connolly’s latest at $3.99, why would most readers buy your book at or around the same price?
If your answer is “because I wrote it,” you are likely in for a very rude awakening. If you haven’t already gotten it, my hunch is you soon will.
Readers are now being presented with a host of worthy, readable, high-quality offerings at or below the same prices indies offered their books at, eliminating the bargain perception/edge that indies learned to rely on as a differentiator.
That will translate into crap sales for many, and the effective end to many careers that relied on their work being attractive because it was cheap. In a world where everything is cheap, selling based on price doesn’t work.
Bluntly, if you as an author want to sell books in this environment, you have to do it the old fashioned way: you have to write books your audience will gladly pay for, even if a dollar or two more than the latest Michael Connolly, or Gillian Flynn’s blockbuster. That means you need to up your game, that suddenly story and craft will matter more, and that simply being cheap, with a homemade cover and lackadaisical or no editing, won’t cut it.
That’s awesome news for readers. It’s disastrous news for many indie authors.
(As an aside, I suspect if I dug into the publishing contracts with many trad pubbed authors, I’d find a clause that cuts their royalties to almost nothing when the selling price of a book is greater than a 50% discount. I recall reading about that before – a $10 list price book will pay X percent at $5 to a vendor, and drop to Y percent at below $5, making the author peanuts but the publisher a buttload of bucks if the incremental sales offset the drop in net revenue per unit. All good for the publisher, who shifts double the units to make up any shortfall, but a reaming for the author, whose revenue could drop far more than the incremental increase in units moved.)
So the days of putting out just okay work and hoping it will sell are over. That’s so 2010. This is the end of 2014, and the competitive landscape is going to get a whole lot tougher.
Now for the good news. As my prior blog discussed, more authors than ever before are earning good money as indies. So it can be done. But those authors are very, very good at delivering a reading experience their following will pay for, and they value their readers above all – they don’t put out slop, they don’t think in terms of “good enough,” and they’re every bit as demanding of their work as the harshest acquisitions editor.
At $3.99, Michael Connolly represents an amazing value. If you want to sell a reader your novel, and you’re in the same genre, you need to ensure it’s as good or better, whatever that means. To me it means the editing has to be pro, the story engaging and professionally told, the word choice and grammar above reproach, the cover a professional effort, and on and on (I use Connolly as an example – if you look at the top 100, you’ll see that virtually every genre has similar offerings, so it’s not only mystery).
If you can do all that, and communicate to interested readers that you have what they’re interested in buying, you will probably do well at this, even in the more competitive market. If you can’t – if your work’s amateurish, if you decided to spare the bucks on editing or covers, if your approach to your story is “that’s probably fine – look at all the crappy books that sell,” or any of the other litany of mistakes I’ve covered in this blog more times than I can count, chances are you won’t.
It’s that simple.
My message is that the honeymoon’s over. Time to knuckle down and demand more out of yourself at every turn, because even if you don’t, your readers will. And they now have more choices than ever at lower prices than I’ve ever seen, and those choices are largely good.
Awesome for readers. Good for some authors. Not so much for many others. But in the end, better for the business moving forward. Competition is always good. Always. Except for those who can’t compete. There’s a term for them in all businesses: Road Kill.
Don’t. Be. Road. Kill.
And don’t kid yourself that this is going to get anything but tougher. Pro basketball players don’t tell themselves that they don’t have to be all that great because there are plenty of mediocre players. Pro dancers don’t argue that they should be given center stage because they’re precious snowflakes, and their deficiencies should be ignored. Pro competitors in any arena strive to be the absolute best, and demand the most out of themselves, making no excuses, asking for and offering no quarter.
Welcome to 2015.
I was talking with another author, who does extremely well as an indie, and we started comparing numbers. He/she will earn close to two million dollars this year. Most have never heard of him/her.
I had an email exchange with another indie a few days ago who clears a cool half mil a year. You’ve likely never heard of him/her, either. He/she is friends with another author who works the same genre, who does a little better than he/she does – probably close to three quarters of a mil this year. We all trade tips and help each other – there’s no competitive snarkiness between any of us.
I’m part of a group of authors on Facebook, have been for about two years. In that time, more than a few have gone from earning a few hundred a year to tens of thousands, and in several cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. You’ve probably never heard of any of them, either. As with the above buddies of mine, everyone is supportive of each other regardless of the stage of their career. One of the reasons might be because we’ve all been alive long enough to have learned that you meet all the same people going up as you do coming back down. Another might be that we don’t feel competitive – there’s no limit to how well any of us might do, other than the market’s fickle nature and our own abilities and drive.
I thought it was fitting as we wind up the year to comment on this, and to point out that as much as we whine about the impact of Kindle Unlimited on our sales, and on the dearth of decent ad sites, and the constantly shifting marketplace, more of us than ever before are earning decent, and in some cases, magnificent, incomes, from writing and publishing, without any help from the traditional channels that used to have the book selling business locked up.
What do all of these authors have in common, though? All these indies who are making serious, and in some cases, insane, bank? First, they publish regularly. As in once every few months, and in some cases, once every month. Second, they work in genres that will support them. While most of the top earners are in romance or one of its offshoots, others are in science fiction, which voraciously consumes indie work; some are in my genre (action thrillers), some in mystery, some in fantasy. Third, they all work long hours and take this extremely seriously. Fourth, they operate their publishing businesses like businesses, not like hobbies. They have production schedules they stick to. They market and promote. They invest in professional help when necessary and grasp that you have to spend money to make it. Fifth, they write books readers enjoy reading, as opposed to books their muse dictates they write. That’s an important distinction, because what we as authors often want to write might not be all that marketable. So we compromise based on our understanding of the market. And sixth, they’re constantly adjusting their sails to best negotiate treacherous water and ever-shifting winds. They’re pragmatic. And most have great senses of humor, as well as a keen appreciation of irony. That goes with the gig, I suppose. As does pragmatism.
Some of them write magnificently original novels that push the envelope. But most don’t. They write genre fiction that supplies what their consumers want to buy. Some do it with remarkable prose, some with workmanlike sentences, but the point is that it doesn’t matter to their fans – they write the prose their audience wants.
I’ve been extremely lucky in my career thus far. Writing with Clive Cussler, I’ve learned a lot. Working with my agent, I’ve learned still more. But mostly, being paid by readers to write as many novels as I have has allowed me to hone my skill in a manner most couldn’t only a few short years ago. And seeing what readers respond to has shown me where the path to growth lies.
Most have never heard of Russell Blake. Probably 99% of my target audience has no frigging idea who I am. I find that exciting and motivating. It means that there’s a whole world out there to conquer, of potential readers who might enjoy one or more of my yarns, and might tell a friend.
Most importantly to me, I’ve been able to write novels that I would read, the way I like to write them. The good news is there are plenty of viable styles, and all of them sell well, if delivered with conviction. Certainly, as with reality TV, some fiction is written for folks who can barely make it through TV Guide, and that’s fine. I don’t read that style, but that doesn’t make it inferior. Other fiction is written so densely I can’t get more than a few pages through it without yawning. That can sell well, too. Whether you favor prose that’s more monosyllabic, or that pushes the boundaries of what language is capable of, it’s all good – do it well, and there’s someone who will buy it. In many cases, a lot of someones.
That’s my early wrap-up for the year as I wind it down in preparation for 2015. It’s been a hell of a ride, starting with being above the fold in the WSJ in early January, and continuing from there. How many authors are ever featured on the front page of the WSJ? That alone I could retire on (and some hoped I would). Fortunately, folks still buy my stories so I don’t have to, yet. But the point is I’ve already surpassed any expectations I had for this little writing thing I do.
I find it humbling, as well as inspiring, that so many authors, some of whom were traditionally published and have all the usual horror stories that go with it, but most of whom who never were, are earning incredible livings publishing their own work. It’s a wonderful and ever-evolving literary world that I’m glad to be a part of.
Here’s to 2015! Now get to work. 2015 could well be your year, but if you look at the six things the bestselling indies I know all have in common, you’ll see that hoping doesn’t feature. Hard work, application, being very smart about what you publish and how you publish it, constantly striving to improve your craft…these are the things that make your career. Sure, luck plays a role, but not nearly as large a role as many seem to believe.
There are no guarantees, except that if you don’t do whatever it takes to succeed, you won’t.
That’s been my life lesson so far. I see nothing to change my view now that I write for my dinner.
We live in a magical time, when self-determination as authors is within reach. Revel in it.
And of course, buy my crap.
If you’re expecting tips on dating in other countries, or an excerpt from my next one, Forced By The Latin Alpha Billionaire, hate to disappoint you. This blog’s about tamer fodder, although the topic is near and dear to my heart: money.
It’s been a great year for foreign rights sales, largely due to the diligence of my agent in pursuing those markets, as well as increasing international interest in my books.
Germany has been a wonderful market, with Amazon Crossing having released King of Swords in April there and it selling respectably, and Luzifer having released the German language version of JET in October.
I also sold JET and JET Betrayal to the Czech Republic, and The Voynich Cypher to Bulgaria, to release next year.
Why is that important, besides augmenting my ability to pay my bar tab? Because I view all of that as found money, and because it highlights that even if you’re not madly pursuing a trad deal, good agents still have a valuable role they can play in the mix, even with indie published books.
Are foreign sales enough to live off? Hardly. But they will pay for some nice dinners and more than a year’s worth of good tequila. For something that I’ve already done all the work on, and what to me seems like money for nothing, to date myself with song. Having been in this business for a whopping 36 months, being paid for translations in countries I never even knew purchased rights is a nice kiss on the lips, in a biz that’s a roller coaster of ups and downs.
In other news, I’m in South America nosing around for some new places to get into trouble, but am writing madly, as always (on a questionable laptop that’s developed a penchant for crashing at the worst moments, and with the spottiest internet in memory). My production schedule for Russell Blake next year will take my offerings to well over 40 n0vels (figure 5 Russell books – one Assassin, two Ops Files, two JETs), with another three or four co-authored tomes (romance with Melissa Foster using my RE Blake pseudonym), and another Clive release next fall. That’s just a crazy number. Actually, with the Clive tomes and the RE Blake books, more like 45 novels. Somebody stop me.
So much for slowing down. Oh, and I’ve already mentally outlined a dystopian romp tentatively titled The Day After Never, and a conspiracy thriller that’s the first in a new series (and I’ll possibly be releasing the first in an adventure series, too), if I get the time to write ‘em. One never knows. Sigh.
Hmmm. That doesn’t really seem to be a slowdown, does it?
Ah, well. Perhaps 2016…
One side note: authors will notice that I already have a good idea what I’m going to write over the next 13 months. I’m not waiting for my muse to phone it in. I have a business that requires constant production, and I have my editors and proofreader slated for my output at specific times. That’s not to say you have to do as I do, but I will point out that my income is remarkably steady from using this approach of regular releases throughout the year, most augmenting successful series, with an occasional new series tossed into the mix. Is it the only way to make a good living at this? No. Is it the way I recommend? Absolutely.
Ironically, those who argued two years ago that my approach wasn’t a good one, or that I was too dogmatic, or whatever the argument was, are still trying to make a living at this with negligible results, while every month I get emails from authors I’ve never heard of who took my counsel to heart and have quit their day jobs, earning multiples of what they were at their careers, using the same approach I have. That’s not to say I’m so smart so you can all suck it, although there’s certainly some of that, but rather that every month more authors are doing this successfully, and if my guidance in blogs like How To Sell Loads Of Books helps them achieve their dreams, awesome.
I was telling a new friend the other day that this is more like buying yourself a new job, one you love, than in winning a lottery with a single book. I think approaching it in that manner, as an ongoing vocation that requires consistent application rather than birthing a single effort every now and then and hoping it goes viral, is the healthiest perspective. It’s a job, not a final destination or a solution to all life’s problems. To me, a wonderful job where I get to flex my storytelling and craft muscles every day, but a job nonetheless. That’s becoming far clearer as the market matures and the gold rush days become a dim memory.
So those are my thoughts for the day, such as they are. Foreign sales are good. Making money from doing something you love is good. Alpha Billionaires are still in vogue, and I’m a gonna tap that shitz like nobody’s business, unless I take a nice nap instead.
Now go buy my crap. Because everybody can use more crap around the holidays.
It’s coming up on Xmas, so it must be time for JET 8! What’s that you say? Where can you buy it now, on pre-order, so it’s automatically on your kindle the day after Xmas? Glad you asked.
You can pre-order it from Amazon, and whenever Smashwords gets around to putting it through their system, from all other quality ebook retailers.
I think it’s a good one. So much so I’m really looking forward to JET 9, to see where everyone winds up going from here.
That’s a good feeling.
Here’s the cover. It was inspired by my German colleague Michael Schubert, who is way too busy to churn these out at the rate I write books, but to whom I owe a large debt for putting a look I adore to my prose.
December will be my 42nd month self-publishing.
The world’s changed a lot since summer, 2011. Gone are the euphoric days where bright new names were selling millions of .99 books, seemingly with ease. Gone too are the heady times where you could run a free Select promo and sell 10K novels at $4 a pop in the afterglow. It was an incredible period, and I feel fortunate I got to participate on the second half of it.
My buddy D.D. VanDyke has released his new mystery novel, Loose Ends, and is running a giveaway everyone should sign up for. Just do it unless you want that Ebola that’s going around. And if you act now, you can get it for only .99!
That golden era lasted about two years. Kindles were the new shiny plaything and everyone wanted one. And they needed content. Enter indie authors, who could sell a novel for less than a fast food meal.
Fast forward to today. 2014 marked a big change in many authors’ fortunes. The marketing gimmick of running Select free days on Amazon and seeing a big spike in sales afterward are over. Likewise, the effectiveness of putting your first book perma-free has diminished – either because of Amazon monkeying with their algos (free books don’t show up in also boughts any more, as one example of how visibility has been reduced) or due to a glut of free content.
Since summer, selling indie books has gotten even tougher. Amazon introduced Kindle Unlimited, which enables customers to pay $10 a month and borrow as many books as they like – with the caveat that only some titles are in the program, which pays $1.33 for a borrow instead of the royalty an author would normally see (except for Amazon imprints and trad pubs, which see their full royalty on a borrow); a windfall for those writing 10K short stories or serials, but not so great for those with novels, hence limited participation. I have some of my stuff in the program, and those are doing okay, for the ones selected for Amazon promos. The others can’t get arrested. So for me, net neutral, as over 20 of my novels aren’t participating.
But the effect it’s had on a lot of indie authors’s sales has been devastating, because apparently many of those who might have bought a book are now no longer buyers, they’re borrowers. I’m hearing stories of 60, 70, 80% drops in sales from authors who are recognized names and who shift tonnage of books. Some genres have been hit harder than others, which makes sense – for instance, NA and romance, which are well known for having voracious readerships, have seen the biggest drops in sales. My action thriller genre, not nearly as bad, however it’s still down.
So what’s an author to do? My strategy is to continue writing books I’d want to read, and hope that my readership grows over time, and feels that my stories and prose are a fair value at their $5 or so price point. I’ve had an amazing three and a half year trajectory, culminating with the release of my co-authored novel with Clive Cussler, The Eye of Heaven, in September. I can’t bitch. I mean, I can and do, but I really have no grounds for it.
My thinking is that this is a business of peaks and valleys, as is all retail, and while the valleys suck, they’re necessary if you’re going to have peaks at all. My philosophy is that if you can have higher lows and higher highs, that’s awesome. If not, change it up, look hard at what you’re doing, and ask yourself what you can do better – then do it. Aside from that, I know of no magic bullet, but after three and a half years of writing for a living, I can think of worse ways to spend my time, and I’m always extremely grateful to my readership, because there are any number of great books out there, and I’m fortunate they’re reading mine.
Now go buy my crap so I can continue punishing my liver. Because it’s evil and deserves it. Trust me. I would know. Bad dirty organs. Bad bad bad.
Why would I say such a thing? Why, you ask?
Because everywhere I look, there’s blatant evidence that there’s no rule of law anywhere, and that the bad guys do whatever they like, with total impunity, telling the world to suck it.
The latest example: A year or so ago, Germany told the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (a privately owned bank, mind you) that it wanted to repatriate 300 tons of the 1700 tons of gold it had stored in its vaults (back during the cold war, when Russia looked like it might invade Germany at any moment, it seemed prudent to keep it in NY).
The Federal Reserve responded that it would take seven years to return that fraction of Germany’s gold, but not to worry, because it, like, had it. It just didn’t HAVE it, have it, to where it could actually return it, or show it to them to prove it. You know. Because of stuff, and, well, things.
Fast forward. A year later, instead of delivering what it was supposed to (three hundred divided by seven), it managed to scrape up 5 and deliver that. None of which was actually Germany’s gold, which is stamped with their proprietary logo, serialized, etc. It was different gold. The excuse for why it wasn’t actually the German gold was ludicrous, as have been all the Fed’s excuses, so I won’t even bother repeating it here (something about the original pure gold German bars being “obsolete” – I shit you not – which ignores that gold is gold is gold). The point is that the bank that is holding something like 1700+ tons of Germany’s wealth couldn’t even return a fraction of that.
Fast forward to this summer, when after failing to get any gold in 2014, the politicians in Germany announced that they had decided to keep their gold in NY, because it was a good idea.
The easy translation is that they can’t get any of the gold back, because it’s all been stolen by the private bank, leased out or outright sold to banks like GS and JP Morgan so they can manipulate the gold market down, making the dollar appear stronger in relationship to gold (all markets theoretically, if they function correctly – read are honest – are based on supply and demand. Increase supply by selling 1700 tons of someone else’s gold you don’t own, and you can distort the supply curve pretty drastically. Of course that’s theft, but hey, details, right?), likely at the request of the U.S. government, which wants to continue running the printing presses around the clock, massively inflating the amount of U.S. currency, but having the dollar appear to be retaining its value compared to gold and silver, which have traditionally been money until the U.S. declared them to be obsolete (right after they got caught lying in 1971, and couldn’t give France the gold it owed that country when France wanted to exchange its dollars for gold, as was its right) and abruptly stopped backing the dollar with gold.
So, basically, a group of private bankers has stolen the German peoples’ gold, and the politicians the Germans elected have been bought off or threatened by the U.S., and have declared that they trust the NY Fed, ending the matter. As if by declaration the German politicians can make it all O.K.
In the old days this was called fraud and theft. Now, it’s never that, but always something else. I was going to write a fiction novel surrounding this, but the circumstances are so weird, so implausible, nobody would believe it: Germany was refused the ability to audit their gold and verify it was actually in the vaults the Fed claimed it was stored. “We have it. But you can’t see it.” “Why?” “Because of stuff.” “Oh.”
I couldn’t make this up.
Obviously, the Germans have decided that short of going to war, they’re never going to get their peoples’ wealth returned, so better to not rock the boat and tell anyone asking that the matter is ended and they’re satisfied, and hope there isn’t a revolution where they’re burned at the stake.
The disheartening part is that this sort of rampant criminality by the NY bankers reappears throughout history (the European bankers as well – they own the Fed, as well as Bank of England, every central bank in the world, including the central bank of the central banks – the Bank of International Settlements in Switzerland), and nothing happens. They confiscate the wealth of entire nations via outright theft, and because they control the money and therefore who gets elected, they have complete impunity for their behavior.
That’s the real world. And it’s a cheat. Hence my title: The World Is A Cheat.
Now go buy my crap. BLACK is on sale for $1.99. Unlike Germany’s gold, if you hand Amazon $1.99, you’ll actually get delivery of the book. At least we’ve all got that going for us…
I know. Crazy talk.
But it’s true.
So come on, cheapskates. Now’s your big chance. Read all four for less than eight bucks. That’s fractions of pennies per word. And I put in a lot of them. Some long. So more value.
For now, anyway. The whole thing’s exhausting. There is an endless stream of articles in the mainstream media that misstate, twist, obfuscate, and flat out lie about many key aspects of the disease, and keeping up with them is a full time job I don’t have the time for.
In order to clarify the elements that are oft ignored in these articles, as well as by those vocal pundits whose total knowledge of the disease appears to be a cursory read of Wiki, here are some points to chew on that are factual, and which virtually all mainstream media articles simply ignore.
Which should have you legitimately asking, what field of science ignores data that shows its core hypothesis to be wrong? The answer is, none. Because at that point it’s not science. Science immediately modifies the hypothesis to include the new data and be consistent with it, or rejects the hypothesis as incorrect.
Ideologies, on the other hand, routinely ignore niggling facts that show them to be flawed. They make loud pronouncements, argue from authority, point to august groups who repeat the same ideology as though by sheer numbers of supporters they can convert the outcome of 2+2=4 to be whatever they wish.
So point #1 you won’t see on Yahoo news or any of the other mainstream outlets:
1) 13% of all Ebola cases will be asymptomatic, as in won’t ever present with a fever, even when contagious. Those carriers will not be caught by temperature screening. They are also likely to, as the NY doctor who romped around for two days after feeling fatigued and out of sorts, dismiss their other symptoms as something benign. But their viral load will be sufficient to spread the disease. The mainstream articles dislike this statistic because if they acknowledge it, most of the ideological posturing they are trying to prop up would fail on its face. If they admitted that 13 out of every 100 people who contract Ebola won’t be easily diagnosed by presenting with a fever, they would be forced to conclude that allowing those folks into the country and rejecting quarantines is tantamount to inviting the spread of a virulent, deadly plague. And that’s not on the agenda.
2) 5% of Ebola cases will present with the disease after the 21 day period being tossed around as if it was gospel. 5% will present from days 22-41. Again, you won’t read about that, because the mainstream media doesn’t want you to understand that even after being “cleared” of disease at 21 days, there’s that niggling 5% who aren’t clear at all. Because that makes it seem like a particularly bad idea to allow those who have been in Ebola hot zones into your borders, even with a 21 day monitoring period.
3) Although unlikely, Ebola can be spread by aerosolized droplets. Which is why BSL-4 handling procedures require a closed loop ventilation system and a closed, positive pressure breathing apparatus for those coming in contact with a BSL-4 pathogen. You won’t see that in the mainstream most of the time because understanding that, it would appear that the official position of allowing health care workers to not be quarantined after being in contact with Ebola is a really bad idea. It also introduces the difficult topic of what to do with those who treat Ebola patients in the US – science dictates they too should be quarantined until it is certain they haven’t been infected. But that would make it costly, as well as difficult to get anyone to treat them. So it’s simply ignored. Likewise, the CDC ignores BSL-4 handling precautions in favor of protocols that are not 100% safe for handling BSL-4 pathogens, which will guarantee additional spread among health care workers who are treating Ebola patients using the CDC recommended protocols.
It seems like most of the articles I see that distort do so with two agendas in mind: First, they are anti-travel ban and anti-quarantine because that would make it difficult to get doctors and nurses to go to Ebola hot zones. Which might be true, but they are utterly unconcerned with how to ensure the returning medicos don’t spread the disease in their home countries. Second, there are articles that both prepare the public for more cases of Ebola in the near future, while assuring everyone that it’s really no big deal and science will protect them. These ignore that mortality rates run 50-70% once you have a large enough sampling of cases, not the 10-15% we’ve seen in North America, for one simple reason: Not everyone once it starts spreading is going to be young, healthy, and have a great immune system. Older folks will get it, as will children. And they’ll die like flies. So that 10-15% will quickly regress to the mean once there are more cases with a broader cross-section of humanity, and it will be a death sentence at least half the time in North America, as well.
4) The cost of treating someone with Ebola can easily run $500K to a million just for the patient. The further costs of tracking all their contacts, and monitoring them for 21 or 42 days (you by now know which I favor), and sanitizing exposed areas, runs into the millions. In some cases, the many millions. And the soft costs that are associated with justified trepidation, like wanting to avoid flying since anyone sitting next to you could be a carrier given the current immigration rules and lack of quarantines, run into the tens of millions or more for each patient. So the cost to keeping the borders open and processing expedited visas at a clip of 150+ per day for travelers from Ebola hot zones is massive for each patient.
Now I shall return to writing, as the whole mess is really becoming depressing. I see the inevitable outcome of the misguided agendas, and it’s not pretty. Some disagree with me (ironically, 80% of the US favors travel bans, so it’s a small minority that disagrees), but their disagreement doesn’t make any of my four points above less true or applicable. Their disagreement inevitably stems from ideological grounds, not scientific.
They are entitled to their opinion, even if I find it naive and misguided, and frankly, alarmingly dangerous. Too many experts have admitted that we just don’t know enough about the disease to take chances with it. Those that disagree are doing so with the mistaken assurance that we do know enough not to endanger our fellow man, or alternatively, to contain it. That’s simply unfounded.
We will no doubt see more countries taking the stance of Canada, Australia, Colombia, Venezuela, etc. etc. and banning travelers from Ebola hot zones. As the disease progresses and we are in January and February, if the WHO estimates of 1.4 million cases are even close to correct, the ideology will break down as the US becomes the #1 Ebola carrier’s preferred destination (because the taxpayer will cover the expensive medical treatment and because the survival rate is higher there) and the health system is forced to acknowledge that perhaps its proclamations of being “ready” were driven more by hubris and ideology than by fact. By then it will be too late to care that the 20% who disagreed were badly wrong, because the disease will be spreading in North America, which will endanger not only the U.S., but the less developed countries to the south, who will be ill prepared for the spread and unable to contain it. The glib, facile assurances that more have married Kim Kardashian or die of bee stings than died of Ebola in the US will lose their humor value when it becomes obvious those were quips from the beginning of the outbreak that no longer apply. There will be no smug confidence in the face of a virus with no cure that kills the majority of those it infects.
And please. I know the flu kills 250K-500K a year. I also know that it has an extremely low mortality rate and is far more contagious, so comparisons are specious. I’m not saying that the whole planet is going to expire of Ebola. I am saying that there will be a significant number of cases in the US, that the system will overload far earlier than anyone imagines possible, and that the cost of being so casual about introducing it into North America will be mind-boggling before this is over.
Time will tell whether I’m out of my mind, or eerily prescient. Either way it won’t matter. And please. As always. No wagering.
My recent blog posts have generated a lot of controversy. On the one hand, there are those who agree that there should be a ban on issuing visas to Ebola hot zone nations, as well as mandatory quarantines for returning medical workers. On the other there’s a vocal contingent that feels that science doesn’t support that.
My position is clear. We have a deadly, virulent pathogen with 70% mortality rate, for which there’s no cure. It doesn’t present with any fever 13% of the time, so that marker, for screening, or for quarantine purposes, is meaningless as a protective measure. And 5% of those who will fall prey to Ebola do so after the 21 day incubation period is over – up to 42 days after, so the 21 day quarantine is guaranteed to fail to catch one in twenty of those who will go on to have it, infecting plenty as they go.
There’s been a lot of hand-wringing and arguing by the vocal contingent that feels that quarantines are part of the “hysteria” that folks who don’t understand the issue with their keen insight fall prey to.
That’s badly mistaken. But that’s what they believe, generally without having done much, or any, research beyond watching the news and reading an occasional Yahoo article. Of course, they also feel they shouldn’t have to know anything besides what their heart tells them. Research? That’s for crazies. Who’s got time to research?
The arguments are always politically motivated, with no basis in science. But they’re strident arguments. Usually peppered with pejoratives. “Hysteria.” “Scare-mongering.” “Panic.” “Loons.” That sort of thing.
The problem is they lack any merit.
As an example, they will argue till blue in the face that they know Ebola can’t be transmitted via a cough or a sneeze. Which is patently false, as this recent segment shows. My only addition to the doctor interviewed’s comments is that in that 13% of Ebola victims who never develop a fever, their viral loads can easily get to critical levels without the fever marker signalling they’re a public health risk, so the answer is, “Yes, it can spread that way, but it’s unlikely unless they’re one of the 13 in 100 who are asymptomatic.”
I tend to be skeptical of all claims, and use logic, science, and research, to arrive at conclusions. And I listen to acknowledged experts. For instance, a premier heart surgeon’s opinion carries significantly greater gravitas than someone who’s read two articles about the functioning of the heart on Web MD.
Enter a man, a doctor who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology in 2011. He knows a thing or two about Ebola, and about epidemiology. One could argue he knows more than most living on the planet. Certainly more than politicians or clueless media hacks. He’s about as big as it gets on the topic, and he has spoken.
Guess what? He favors strict quarantines. For the exact reasons I have been arguing.
Surprised? Why would you be? I talk to a lot of doctors. They universally think the political BS that’s driving policy decisions on Ebola are likely to result in a lot of people dying who could have avoided it, because the measures that are in place have very little value.
And the NY doctor who lied about his self-quarantine? The nurse in Maine who refuses to comply with her quarantine? They are either complete dolts willing to endanger everyone as tribute to their narcissism, or they are deliberately trying to endanger their fellow man. Those are the two possibilities. I frankly don’t know which it is, and don’t much care.
I do know that the debate about quarantines is misguided foolishness. Of course you need to quarantine anyone who could spread the plague, especially given that 13% won’t have a fever even when their viral loads are through the roof.
But don’t take it from me. Take it from the 2011 Nobel Medicine prizewinner in medicine. I think we can all agree that makes him more up on the topic than anyone reading this blog. If you still feel your opinion is superior to his, I invite you to share your Nobel prize in medicine with us so we can grasp what the good doctor missed.
Of course, the vocal denier contingent, like Holocaust deniers or those who are convinced the earth is flat, won’t be swayed by one of the world’s foremost experts in the subject telling them they’re sadly mistaken. Because they have a unique grasp of the truth.
Normally I wouldn’t care. But this is the future of the U.S., and the entire continent, we’re talking. Isn’t it about time to start listening to the adults, and not those with foolish political agendas?
We are staring a full blown epidemic full in the face, and the politicians and CDC are inviting potential carriers into the country at a rate of 150+ per day, in spite of the fact that most hospitals are not equipped to deal with a BSL-4 pathogen, ensuring it will spread when the infected show up at their local medical center. The CDC, the President, and a bunch of idiot health care providers are arguing against quarantines – which the Nobel prizewinner says is a recipe for epidemiology disaster. Guess how many arguing against quarantines are experts on epidemiology? None. They’re political creatures advancing a political, ideological agenda, not good science.
Which should scare the crap out of every thinking person. It’s akin to giving the sixteen year old the keys to the liquor cabinet and the car, and asking him to voluntarily behave while you’re out of town for the week.
It won’t end well.
For those who are convinced they “know” that Ebola can’t survive very long on something like a subway poll or an airline armrest, I’d invite you to read this summary of a 2010 study that shows that knowledge to be completely wrong, as well.
See, that’s the problem with researching things to the point you actually understand all the aspects, versus spouting off whatever uninformed opinion you developed from watching the news or reading Wikipedia. These things are knowable. Most just won’t spend the modicum of effort to be informed. Usually because it runs counter to their agenda.
Which places us all at tremendous risk.
Here is commentary from an ER physician that was published today in the Minneapolis StarTribune. It says precisely what I’ve been saying:
Statements stating that quarantine of Ebola-exposed healthcare workers is not supported by medical science are misguided.
It would be true to say that quarantine takes into account best current medical knowledge and considers the vagaries of disease presentation, difficulties with protocols, the unpredictability of human behavior and the incredible risks involved.
Repeatedly it is stated that individuals are not infectious until they are symptomatic. Where is the large scale data supporting this? At what point is someone deemed symptomatic? There is considerable uncertainty here. Sources citing “symptomatic’ doctrine invariably cite fever – suggesting that if no fever there is no risk.
An elevated temperature is a “sign”. It is an objective manifestation of a disease process that can be seen, felt or heard by an examiner (e.g. rash, mass, heart murmur, abnormal reflex, etc)
Feeling “feverish” (hot, chills, fatigued, etc) is a symptom. Symptoms are sensations perceived by a patient (e.g. pain, nausea, weakness, muscle aches, etc). Multiple times I have seen patients for an unrelated injury (e.g.laceration) and they are incidentally found to have a temperature but do not “feel” feverish or suspect their temperature is elevated (i.e. are not symptomatic).
Additionally confounding is the fact that disease presentations are variable. Every experienced clinician has seen atypical presentations of disease – it is commonplace.
The clinical upshot of these realities is that it is difficult to identify when symptoms begin, and sometimes symptoms are not present in spite of a sign suggesting illness (e.g. fever/infection).
One could make the case that the NYC physician (fingers crossed for this caring man’s recovery) was symptomatic on Tuesday (noted he felt weak) but did not develop temperature and seek attention until Thursday. Do we really know with certainty at what point exactly he was capable of passing on the disease (a kiss, a nosebleed, severe trauma and ambulance transport to the ER, other?)
The fact is that we really don’t know as much as press releases suggest we do. The biologic and medical manifestations/consequences of disease are not as cut and dried as reports suggest. The art and science of medicine involves consideration of what is not known. Experience warns against hubris and false assuredness. Signs and symptoms are inexact. Each person reacts differently to illness and our experience with Ebola is limited. Basing major public health decisions on individuals’ ability to make such determinations is a risk.
Given the uncertainty of signs and symptoms, the inability to determine the exact moment of infectious potential, the human element and the tragedy of infecting even one person with Ebola, I believe that it is reasonable to quarantine those with significant exposure to the disease. Quarantine is supported by sound medical judgment – it differs in that it includes a greater margin of safety than lesser recommendations. This difference in opinions also applies to flight restrictions and quarantine options for W. Africa.
The need for healthcare providers is real and tremendously important. West Africa needs the world’s utmost humanitarian, medical and economic support. Though quarantine of risk individuals may make recruitment of medical personnel more difficult, it is not a reason to reject our commitment to protecting others.
My respect for Dr. Anthony Fauci, the CDC and others who have commented and wrestle with this issue is high. Support for quarantine of exposed individuals is consistent with medical knowledge. The differences in opinion involve what constitutes an “abundance of caution”.