[Plura-list] Indie booksellers during the pandemic; Podcasting Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town; Billionaires thriving on our pandemic losses

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Mon Apr 27 12:16:29 EDT 2020

Today's links

* Indie booksellers during the pandemic: Better news that you might expect.

* Podcasting Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town: "A glorious
book unlike any book you've ever read."

* Billionaires thriving on our pandemic losses: Plutocracy is comorbid
with pandemic.

* Pandemic proves ISP data-caps were always a pretense: Rent-seeking vs

* Hospital cuts healthcare workers' pay, pays six-figure exec bonuses:
Denver Health Medical Center shows us who really matters.

* This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2015, 2019

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing
projects, current reading


🧟‍♀️ Indie booksellers during the pandemic

Some hopeful news from the pandemic: some indie booksellers are managing
to thrive under the lockdown.


Books - and entertainment more broadly - are counter-cyclical, seeing
upticks in times of economic distress as people seek to distract
themselves from the world's turmoil. But this is
entertainment-sector-wide, and books are competing with streamers and
games, etc.

What's more, Amazon's "essential business" designation has given it even
more of an unfair advantage over indie booksellers (beyond the tax
evasion, cross-subsidy, and anticompetitive data-mining):


Despite all this, indie booksellers are hanging in there. Stores like
San Francisco's Borderlands Books are shipping their available stock
(including their excellent selection of rare books) to buyers now:


And for the newly launched Bookshop platform - which pays a commission
to your local bookseller when you buy from them - the pandemic couldn't
have been better timed, driving their sales vastly beyond their
pre-launch predictions:


Meanwhile Barnes and Nobel - under new PE (ugh) ownership and new
management by James Daunt (yay!) - is using the shutdown to renovate its
stores to fit Daunt's vision of a network of beautiful indies rather
than a chain of sagging scented-candle stores.


All of this is hopeful news for writers like me; I have three books out
in 2020 and don't expect my tours to happen (though who knows?). I rely
heavily on hand-selling by booksellers, and those three books are
critical to both my career and my family's finances.

The indie bookselling industry has been nurtured into a slow and fragile
recovery by dedicated booksellers and their dedicated customers. I've
been very fearful for them since the shutdown. The glimmers of good news
from the field are a fine way to start the week.


🧟‍♀️ Podcasting Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town

Today on my podcast: part one of my new reading of my 2009 novel
"Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town," a contemporary fantasy
novel about wifi, which Gene Wolfe called "a glorious book unlike any
book you've ever read."


It's the tale of Alan, whose mother is a washing machine and whose
father is a mountain; who relocates from rural northern Ontario to
Toronto's bohemian Kensington Market, where he falls in with crustypunk

Alan becomes gripped by a holy mission to establish an open,
community-based wireless network that blankets all of Toronto, but also
must contend with one of his brothers, a murderous, revenge-driven
monster who has come back from the dead.

And his neighbors in a communal student house that includes an amazing
bartender/guitar player who is also in cahoots with Alan's brother; and
Mimi, a mysterious young woman with wings sprouting between her

It's easily the weirdest thing I've ever written! The official
audiobook, read by Bronson Pinchot, is amazing, and you can get it
anywhere audiobooks are sold EXCEPT Audible, who refuse to carry me. I
also sell it direct:


Here's a direct MP3 link to today's installment:


And here's the RSS feed for my podcast:



🧟‍♀️ Billionaires thriving on our pandemic losses

Writing in The Guardian, Mona Chalabi perfectly captures the most
long-term destabilizing fact of the crisis: that even as pandemic has
ruined the fortunes of most people and businesses, it has been a bonanza
of profit-taking for billionaires.


America's billionaires are $308,000,000,000 richer than they were at the
start of the crisis, while 26,000,000 Americans are out of a job. A new
report from The Institute for Policy Studies reveals that between Mar 18
and Apr 22, US billionaires grew their fortunes by 10.5%.


Eight US billionaires have added $1B or more to their personal fortunes
since the start of the crisis, including Jeff Bezos, MacKenzie Bezos;
Eric Yuan; Steve Ballmer; and Elon Musk.

Plutocracy is a co-morbidity of pandemic.

Much of the wealth transfer was through public subsidies to the
country's wealthiest, least-impacted people, including the $349B
"Paycheck Protection Program" for small businesses, 94.5% of which went
to large businesses, who drained the program dry.


"Heads we win, tails you lose," is the modern plute's motto, the
shorter, sharper version of 2008's "Privatized gains, socialized losses."

Or, as Chuck Collins has it, "The rules of the economy have been tipped
in favor of asset owners against everyone else."

It's an accelerated version of the post-2008 "recovery" that was
entirely driven by the stock market, whose stakeholders have dwindled to
an ever-richer, ever-whiter few.

"Billionaire wealth soared 1,130% in 2020 dollars between 1990 and 2020.
That increase is more than 200 times greater than the 5.37% growth of
median wealth in the US over this same period."


🧟‍♀️ Pandemic proves ISP data-caps were always a pretense

The central claim behind Comcast's long holy war against Net Neutrality
is that without "network management" (slowing down your connection to
the sites you like unless they pay bribes to Comcast), their network
would face "congestion."

This was obviously bullshit all along, but all doubt was erased in 2015,
when a set of leaked memos from Comcast management affirmed that
"network congestion" is a pretence for charging customers to use the
service they are already paying for.


Nevertheless, Trump FCC Chairman Ajit Pai cited this "congestion" as
justification for his slaughter of Net Neutrality, an accomplishment he
was only able to pull off by pretending that millions of comments from
fake/stolen identities were "evidence" for his case:


The shills who cheered on Pai's cheating have spun the pandemic as
evidence for the value of network discrimination, claiming that the
killing of Net Neutrality incentivized investment in ISPs' networks
(despite a sharp *decrease* in investment).


As Karl Bode writes, the pandemic is the best evidence yet that the
claims of network congestion are absolute self-serving bullshit. After
all, when Comcast lifted their bandwidth caps they did *not* experience
the network collapse they warned us of.


The telcoms sector knew they'd be pilloried if they surprise-billed
locked-down Americans for exceeding their caps, so they eliminated them,
and...everything was fine. Almost as though the only reason for the caps
was to gouge Americans.

Big Telco shills have a way to spin this: they say that the caps exist
to allow for "price differentiation" that allows light internet users to
buy cheaper packages - but if that was so, you'd expect your relatives
who only check email once/day to get a $3/month plan.

No such plan is in evidence. Instead: "Everybody pays a high price for
broadband in America. Again, with with a few regional exceptions,
because it's a broken, monopolized market."


🧟‍♀️ Hospital cuts healthcare workers' pay, pays six-figure exec bonuses

This month, Denver Health Medical Center CEO Robin Wittenstein notified
front-line health workers that they should expect paycuts.

Also this month: Denver Health's exec team got bonus checks ranging from


These were "performance bonuses" for 2019, and it's entirely possible
that the execs involved performed well in 2019.

But to pay them bonuses while cutting health-workers' salaries speaks
volumes about the hospital's priorities. Presumably, the workers also
performed well.

And the downturn is no more the workers' fault than it is the execs'
fault. What's more, the majority of execs can work from home, while the
pay-cut workers are putting their lives in jeopardy to care for the sick
and injured during a pandemic.

Wittenstein is finessing the paycuts by asking the workers to use
mandatory leave, paid leave, and personal leave to reduce payroll expenses.

The workers are low-waged. The execs are not. CMO Robert Borland's base
pay is $270K, and he got a $53K bonus on top of that.

GC Scott Hoye brings home $402k. His bonus was $78k on top of that. CMO
Connie Price ($507K) got a bonus of $96K. CHRO Michelle Fournier-Johnson
($348K) got a bonus of $65K.

Wittenstein's base pay is $967K. Her additional bonus is $230K.

"We want to try to pay people fairly." -R. Wittenstein.

After the local CBS affiliate started asking for these figures,
Wittenstein wrote to execs, "urging them to voluntarily give something
back, suggesting they might waive accrual of PTO for 3 months, take
unpaid time off or make a cash donation to the Denver Health Foundation."

She says every exec took at least one of these suggestions, "So every
single member of our leadership team, 100%, is making a contribution."

The hospital operates at a loss.


🧟‍♀️ This day in history

#15yrsago US govt admits RFID passports are danger to Americans

#10yrsago The "fair use economy" is enormous, growing, and endangered by
the relatively tiny entertainment industry

#10yrsago On Peter Watts's sentencing hearing

#10yrsago UK election: ask your candidates if they'll repeal the Digital
Economy Act

#5yrsago Town will cut off power to families of kids who commit

#5yrsago Portraits of e-waste pickers in Ghana

#5yrsago Getting rid of EU territorial restrictions is good for minority
languages and creators

#5yrsago In the 21st century, only corporations get to own property and
we're their tenants

#1yrago Lawyer for kid whose parents paid $1.2m bribe to get into Yale
says the high price shows grifters' anti-Chinese bias

#1yrago The DCCC is sabotaging Marie Newman's primary challenge to Dan
Lipiniski, a hereditary, anti-choice, anti-minimum-wage, homophobic


🧟‍♀️ Colophon

Today's top sources: Late Stage Capitalism

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 756 words (8161 total).

Currently reading: I'm finally finishing Anna Weiner's memoir about
tech, "Uncanny Valley" and I wrapped up reading Jo Walton's forthcoming
novel "Or What You Will" this weekend.

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 01)

Upcoming appearances:

* Apr 29: Reset Everything https://reseteverything.events/

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book
about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here:

"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583

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*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla* -Joey "Accordion Guy"

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