Why Fair and Square Pricing Fails

Purple and White Speech Bubble Clothing Logo-2I like for the price to be the price. But, I must be one of the few people who think that way. Fair and square pricing works for me: I can budget for what I need to purchase, and know when it is okay to splurge a bit. However, I have a dear friend who won’t buy anything unless she negotiates a better price. This practice is downright embarrassing at times. Recently, we were in a charity thrift store and she saw a large ceramic vase filled with fake flowers. (I know, taste varies.) Anyway, it was priced fairly, but she stood in line to ask a harried clerk to lower the price by $5. The clerk said, “The price is the price.” My friend walked away. “It’s a charity,” I reminded her. As we got into the car, my friend made up some excuse about the quality of the item. But, I know her. No discount, no sale is her motto.

I’ve sold items on eBay for almost a decade. But, recently, I’ve been rather frustrated with the “Buy it now or best offer” feature on eBay. As a seller, I prefer to list an item at the price I want for it, and my potential customer can pay for the item and the shipping (which isn’t free, so I never pretend that it is) or not. However, if sellers don’t activate “best offer” when creating the listing, eBay will do it later, and before long, I start getting half price offers. Yep, the default “best offer” setting is literally half price. I hate telling customers, “no.” And, I have learned that counter offers seldom result in a sale. Lately, I have been listing items a couple of dollars more than I normally would ask, then setting the best offer for the real price. Yes, the whole thing bothers me, but many, many shoppers want to feel that they got a discount, especially on really low priced items. I’ve literally gotten an offer of $2 on a genuine leather designer handbag.

And, this gotta have a discount mentality is not just for used items, such as the pre-owned books and garments that I generally list in my eBay store (The Alternative Article.) Remember the absolute disaster of “Fair and Square” pricing at J.C. Penney? Although I am not particularly fond of that merchant, I really liked their pricing when that experiment was underway. Apparently, I was alone, however. J. C. Penney customers stayed away in droves until the management jacked up the prices and paid newspapers to print coupons so customers could “save” 40% off.

It’s psychology. And it sucks.

The Future of Learning for K-12

ChromebookNews organizations have truly embraced the old adage, “never let a crisis go to waste.” With every new pronouncement regarding the COVID-19 virus, the sky gets a bit closer to falling. Many of the public schools in my area have closed, but most of them are posting assignments online. Indeed, one of them has offered Chromebooks for check out if the family lacks a computer. This strikes me as a leap into the future of K-12 education.

Having taught both web enhanced and hybrid classes for the Technical College System of Georgia, I fully understand how to teach from my couch. In those classes, students had access to an online learning suite (either Blackboard or Angel, depending on the flavor of the year) wherein I listed assignments or offered online assessments. For those readers who are not chronologically gifted, the idea of closing schools seems unthinkable, but for anyone who has attended a post secondary school in the past decade, these fortnight long closures are no big deal. Indeed, I used to make jokes (during face-to-face class sessions at school) about teaching in my pajamas!

For younger students, such as those in K-12, however, quite a few of them have little experience with online learning, and some of their parents may not have experienced it at all. With a bit of coaching, both students and parents will come to see that much of what happens in a classroom can happen at home. In fact, in some cases, it is better to have online content. Forgot what happened to that important handout? Just print another one. Want to check the due date for an assignment? Just look at the online lesson plan. Need extra help? Email the teacher with your questions and concerns and you should get a prompt, personalized answer. Missed a class? Watch a recorded video session. In my experience, most college students eventually came to appreciate online resources, even if they didn’t embrace them. There is a learning curve, of course, as anything new requires some learning. Parents around here are about to embark on a new way of helping their kids with homework.

Who knows if the COVID-19 will actually be a serious threat to public health? Only the perspective of time will let us know that. However, this unprecedented interruption of business as usual in public education will demonstrate the power of online instruction. No doubt there will be some kinks in it, as this is new for some folks. But, the future of K-12 will be online, and this is just a preview of how it will work.

Resources for Readers

DaVinciWhat to read? When I was young (a very long time ago) my mother took my sisters and me to visit the public library every week. This was “free” entertainment, and as we were fairly poor, it was a great deal. However, there was that day when I’d read everything of interest to me in the children’s and young readers category. Again, this was a long time ago, when “young adult” publications were not a big category. I remember her guiding me over to the adult fiction section (meaning not for kids, but nothing racy—it was a public library) and she suggested some titles. My first reads from that section were what mom would term “mysteries” although romantic suspense would be closer to the genre of that time. The authors were Phyllis A. Whitney and Mary Stewart, although I can’t remember the titles. So began my transition into reading for pleasure, an activity that is still a big part of my life.

Mom has been gone for a long time, as she had cancer and died before she should have, but there are plenty of other places to find recommendations for reading. I do belong to way too many Facebook Groups, and most of those have advertising that I largely ignore. For a time, Amazon was my favorite place to find books, and while it is a source for content, the weirdo reviews have made it less and less reliable for recommendations. Also, big A encourages authors to buy ads, making it even less relevant. If you are lonely and want to be inundated by promotional emails, there are lots of sites that promote books via that route, but by and large that content comes from paid ads, so it’s not reliable either. I read a lot of eBooks these days, and my public library has a few thousand titles, but I’ve noticed that far too many of them are “reprints” wherein established authors are giving their backlist titles new life, and I have either read those books are wasn’t interested the first time. So, what to do?

There are some solutions. First, check out Goodreads. It’s now owned by Amazon, but it seems to work quasi-independently from big A, so the reviews are more often by serious readers. Authors can have a “page” on Goodreads, too, which can be helpful. If you like a certain genre, typically there are blogs that feature books of interest. As a lover of science fiction romance, I like this blog: SFR Brigade. Some authors maintain a blog or a Facebook group, so check on a favorite writer’s web presence. Often writers will mention fellow writers or their own favorite reads. I’ve really enjoyed Susan Grant’s books and her blog, Come Fly with Me (now found via her website).

In addition to big A, readers sometimes leave reviews on traditional bookstore sites such as Barnes and Noble and Books a Million. As these sites primarily serve readers, the reviews tend to be written more literate customers. There may be fewer reviews, but I believe they are more reliable.

Also, if you know others who like to read, try forming a book club. My sister belongs to such a club, and members propose which books to read. She’s given me some suggestions of books that were well-received by her group, such as my current read: DaVinci, by Walter Issacs. It’s fascinating, and I would never have chosen it without the recommendation of that group over in Richmond, Virginia.

 

 

Why do writers need editors?

editing-apps-800x600Before you say, “Duh!” please remember that some people have lots of self-confidence. Others can crawl off into a mental state and ignore the world around them, which can be considered a skill in the writing biz, but conformity is comforting to readers. Other writers seem to think that the rules don’t apply to them, like ee cummings. A few insist on ignoring the red and green squiggles that the word processor uses to offer help in eliminating common mistakes. Writers suffer from any of those problems, or have other idiosyncrasies that make editing necessary. Yes, I considered dealing with editors to be something of a pain, because I am self confident and not afraid to break a few rules.

However, I have learned quite a lot from writing teachers and editors. Friends and family will offer a few tips, but if those friends really like you, brutal honesty is off the table. Sometimes the distance combined with authority that goes along with having an editor is transformative. My first novel was a hot mess when it finally got a full length reading at the micro press that ultimately put it through line editing. My second novel was better, but still needed a lot of work in the editorial phase, beginning at conceptual, then line by line, and finally, proofreading. At that time, WCP did not pay proofreaders, instead relying upon volunteers, which was a bad business decision. My work suffered from that lack, as a few errors made it into the printed work, and sales were less than optimal.

Publishers seldom take on a fiction manuscript that isn’t complete, which leaves out the project development phase. Once the novel is finished, most writers will attempt to put it into the hands of either an agent or a publisher. Problems with style or continuity may crop up at this stage, but if the work is compelling, those can be addressed. What most people consider editing is copy or line editing, which is a line by line examination of grammar, spelling, mechanics, and style. Any “big changes” in the manuscript probably occur at this stage. The back and forth over details can be annoying or even funny, but most problems in the work are solved at this phase. Once, an editor challenged me on a detail where I described a man wearing a glen plaid suit. I thought it descriptive, but she thought it was a weird description that no reader would understand. Ultimately, the description remained, but that is the kind of thing that comes up in line edits.

Before printing comes proofreading, when any style or content changes have been addressed—so what’s left is a last look at spelling, capital letters, and adjustments to make the page layout work. I remember the copy editor at Whiskey Creek Press had to substantially change one sentence to avoid a page with a single word on it, and I was okay with her changes.

A good editor makes printed work better—by questioning, suggesting changes, and insisting on being absolutely correct. Real editing makes the author’s work shine, without the distractions of mistakes or inconsistencies. Nowadays, many people think that word processors have made editors obsolete. Unfortunately, that is simply wrong, and writing is suffering mightily. Errors abound, and the solution is a great editor who reads and corrects. Technology is advancing, but it cannot replace editorial expertise.

The book of the year?

The price we pay book cover
Lots of books are published each year, and I can only read a few of them. But, when a really important general interest book comes along, I often put it on the top of my “to be read” pile. In September, Dr. Marty Makary, a surgeon associated with Johns Hopkins, released a book entitled The Price We Pay: What Book American Healthcare—And How to Fix ItSince most people in America eventually get sick or have an accident, and only a few of us are fifty rich, this is the ultimate general interest book.

In Part I, entitled “Gold Rush” Makary doesn’t have to travel far—he visits “health fairs” at local churches, where salespeople disguised as medical professionals do screening tests and scare participants, mostly those on Medicare, into unnecessary and rather expensive procedures, such as placing stents into leg veins. In the second chapter, he discusses the lack of transparency in hospital pricing, as well as the astronomical rise in common procedures. For instance, a medical center in New Jersey offers joint replacement surgery for $135,400.00, which rose a mere 76.8% in a single year. BTW, Medicare only pays 13K for that procedure. For his third chapter, Makary travels to Carlsbad, NM, where the medical center seems to have overcharged and then sued almost everyone in town. Back in Virginia, Makary visits the courthouse to learn more about similar shenanigans at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg. Sadly, this hospital is supposed to be a “not for profit” hospital, and thus receives favored tax status, too. Also in this section, Makary provides an analysis of the proliferation of for profit helicopter ambulance services, which charge somewhere between $40K and $60K for a ride that I could make in an hour in my Toyota.

In the second portion of the book, Makary delves into some medical practices that can be improved by focusing on individual physicians. One OB doctor in Florida had a reasonable rate of C-sections, until figuring in Fridays, when the rate rose 80%. Why? The good doctor didn’t want to be bothered on the weekend, so moms who were in labor on Friday got the surgery. This section of the book also discusses the opioid crisis, and Makary admits that he had to learn to write fewer prescriptions for pain pills, after learning about the misuse of all those pills.

Part III of the book is about “Redesigning Healthcare” and it does offer several solutions to problems, but one chapter in this section explains how drug prices are affected by middle men (pharmacy benefits managers) who don’t supply anything other than a big bill for their services. Here’s an example: A pharmacy is paid $34.94 for 90 40mg doses of Zocor, but the employer is charged $442.85–and the PBM gets over $400 on that one transaction. Another chapter discusses problems in health insurance, which less and less helpful except in catastrophic circumstances, and there is even a chapter on “wellness” and how those well meaning programs are far too costly, especially as they often mean an invasion of privacy, or worse, over-treatment for minor issues.

Makary doesn’t make the mistake of only discussing problems without discussing solutions. Several positive programs are mentioned throughout the text, including websites such as ImprovingWisely.com, and the last chapter is a bit of a call to arms. In short, legislators and employers need to be educated on these matters, and healthcare consumers should do everything possible to demand transparent pricing for upcoming procedures.

The Price We Pay is a very important book. This should be the topic of your next book club, a gift for your friends and/or family, or even a holiday gift for your doctor or your legislator. Please buy this book, read it, and pass it on. Knowledge is power, and as this text has lots of information for Americans, this may well be the most important book you will read this year.

Overdignosed— a brief review and commentary

OverdiagLike many people in the USA, I am concerned about the state of our health care. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to live in a country that has lots of great medical facilities and practitioners. But, I’ve watched people go through some pretty difficult situations, too, so I read Over-diagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Healthcare in hopes that I’d learn more about what sometimes goes wrong with our healthcare system. This book offers some first hand insights from three physician authors, and I learned a great deal from it.

Many of the chapters have a “case study” to frame the discussion. One of the most memorable is the story of an older gentleman with a borderline diagnosis of diabetes. In the interest of keeping those blood sugar numbers in the optimal range, the principal author (Dr. H. Gilbert Welch) prescribed medication. Unfortunately, the gentleman’s blood sugar dropped, causing him to lose control of his car, resulting in an accident that broke his neck. The gentleman survived, but he had to wear a halo brace for many weeks while his neck healed. When it was all over, the doctor and patient agreed that the best practice in his case would be to forgo the diabetes medication. This anecdote is a great way to illustrate how over diagnosis can make people sick!

Each chapter explains how modern testing, coupled with ever changing standards for “normal,” have resulted in more and more people being diagnosed with something. The approach is cautionary, explaining that many times a diagnosis might be correct, but if the condition is unlikely to cause the patient any reduction in quality of life, or end the patient’s life early, then it is far better to not treat the disease. However, once diagnosed, both the patient and most physicians will be reluctant to “watchfully wait.” Indeed, the principal author states in the introduction that he does not have routine checkups, even though he works in healthcare and could easily do so. Instead, he waits for something to go wrong. As the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The mammogram is probably the first test that my doctor wants me to have done, but our author states that for most women, they do more harm (due to radiation) than good. Aggressive cancers can develop in the one to two year interval between tests, but slow growing cancers can result in over-reaction by doctors and patients. Also, many women go through the “false positive” situation, which might mean more testing, including a breast biopsy. I’ve known several women who had that done, only to find out that the mammogram was incorrect (or incorrectly interpreted.)

Another interesting story is a conversation between the author and a pharmaceutical rep. The latter was touting the benefits of a drug for women with bone density issues. After a friendly discussion, the drug company rep admitted that the greatest risk for these women is mostly hip fractures, which can lead to all sorts of problems, including premature death. The author states that helping women prevent falls, though physical therapy and other practical measures, would be much more useful. And the testing phase of the drug was eventually discontinued due to subjects developing bone cancer.

The author is firm in his stance that patients are often over-tested and over-diagnosed. He believes that many doctors do this out of an interest in finding answers for their patients, and not merely in making more money. He is also firm that the threat of a law suit can be a driver for hyper testing and the end result of over-diagnosis. I’m all for people having the right to seek redress in the case of gross malpractice, but doctors who have been the defendant in a case, win or lose, will often err on the side of caution and order tests that probably aren’t needed and will refer cases that are only marginal. The costs of this mind set are not negligible, as tests can costs hundreds or even thousands, and that doesn’t include the costs of treating a condition that might not need any treatment. Nor does it address the mental stress of having a chronic “condition.”

Common sense is sorely lacking these days. Certainly many aspects of modern America are getting totally weird, so I guess it is not unusual that medicine is affected. I am grateful to Dr. Welch and his fellow authors for this very cogent discussion of the problem of over diagnosis. I am seriously contemplating what to say at my next doctor visit, when I will face that computerized list of items that modern medicine says I need, but just might result in me joining the long list of those who are “over-diagnosed.”

Trinity is Free for Three (days)

Beginning at midnight on July 14, the giant-sized internet seller of books and other sundries will be offering the eBook version of my science fiction novel, Trinity on Tylos, for free! I’ve seldom used this option, but as their Prime Day promotions will be going on, I thought I might get a few people to download it. If I’m really lucky, I might get another positive review, too. Anyway, here’s the book cover; just click for a link to the sale.

ToT_cover_final_webLG

Here’s an excerpt of my favorite review of the novel:

TRINITY ON TYLOS… is instead a thought-provoking book that will challenge one’s beliefs about the importance of motherhood, duty, and sacrifice. At times, the choices made by Venice and even Allie are ones the reader will disagree with and perhaps even be angered by them. However, one of the trademarks of a well-written novel is its ability to inspire others to debate. TRINITY ON TYLOS accomplishes this and so much more. Pamela J. Dodd has truly demonstrated her gift as a writer with this stunning book.” —

A romance from the grave

Texas FreeRecently, I updated my credentials to virtually check out books from my local library. Free is a good price, right? Unfortunately, apparently, there is little demand for science fiction at my library, so I looked at titles in the romance genre.

When I first read romance novels, I had a list of authors who were my “go to” writers. One of them was Janet Dailey. Generally, she did a good job of integrating setting, plot, and character, and that’s no easy task, because romance writers are under a lot of pressure to produce, produce, produce. Romance readers seem to be perpetually thirsty for new novels, and I saw a new series by Janet Dailey, so I checked out Texas Free,  copyright 2018.

The opening states that the events happened in 1985, which would have been at Dailey’s peak, in terms of both popularity and proliferation. The story is actually a good one, if a bit formulaic. Rose Landro returns to her childhood home in Texas, on the run from a Mexican drug cartel. Unsure of her welcome, but desperate, she stakes her claim on land that should have been hers, as it belonged to her grandfather who had intended to deed it to her before his untimely demise. As the land is an access point to water for cattle, her stake is controversial, and the reader follows the twists and turns of the plot, wondering if Rose will succeed in establishing a homestead, and if any of her neighbors will assist her in her quest.

Janet Dailey has penned a great many books, but the copyright page indicates that this one belongs to a “Revocable Trust” created by some folks who share the same last name. So, is this “Tylers of Texas” series a repackaged group of novels from earlier, or are her heirs using a ghost writer? I suspect the latter, as Janet Dailey died in 2013.

Ghost writing has been around a long time, and there are sometimes very good reasons for using the process. Celebrities who are good at something else often write books, but the more honest ones have a “with so and so” under the author line. Both Tom Clancy’s and Robert Ludlum’s publishing careers have gone on without the author as other, named writers, do the work, but these ghost writers are a least named in the fine print. As I have the eBook version of Texas Free checked out, I might not be seeing it, but if there is an acknowledged ghost writer I didn’t find it. On the other hand, authors I know have reprinted their books with new titles to “up date” them. I kinda think that is cheating a bit, but reputable writers do it.

As I have a back list title that I republished as an eBook (Trinity on Tylos) I am not complaining about republishing, but unless there is a dusty old manuscript, or computer file somewhere, a back list title should be just that. A novel written by someone other than the named author breaks the contract between a publisher and the reader. If I see an author’s name, I expect that the author wrote the book, and I doubt that I am alone in that expectation.

The entire Tylers of Texas series has publication dates after 2013. FYI.

Book selling for negative profit?

I’ve sold books online via Amazon (and I’ve listed on eBay also) for several years. Unless I got very, very lucky, I seldom made much money on those books. However, recently, I’ve seen negative profits. That’s right— the fees and postage are so high that Amazon is getting all the profit.

See this screen shot:

Amazon fees

Basically, the math isn’t in the seller’s favor here. For a $2.00 book sale, Amazon charged me $3.69 in fees, and for a $2.50 book sale, Amazon charged me $3.76. Even with the actual shipping cost being slightly less than the customer paid, I lost money, as I had to provide shipping materials and get the item to a post office. The only reason I got paid at all was the $6.56 book had a fee of $4.37. Sadly, since my state (Georgia) insists that Amazon collect sales tax on these used book sales, the buyer is not getting good value either. That book cost the buyer nearly $7, which is not a good deal for a used pamphlet.

Clearly, Amazon is not the best solution for book selling any more, so I removed all listings wherein the “fee” was as much or more than the book. Those will either be listed on eBay, or donated.

While I really love putting books into the hands of readers who will enjoy them, there is no sense in losing money to this relentless corporation.

iBooks and eBay—a winning combo

liver-rescue-apples

Apples and Apple, Inc.

As a reader of eBooks, I’ve been exploring new ways (and revisiting old ones) to view content. Recently, I saw a title touted on Facebook, and a quick look at eBay revealed several purchase options, including an eBook which was offered as a pdf file. I paid a golly whopping .99, and it arrived via email. Not quite as quick as Big A, but the seller offered pretty quick service. I tried reading the file via my email app, but that didn’t save my place, so I downloaded the file to iBooks. Winner, winner, but no chicken dinner. However, the iBooks app is a very good way to read a pdf file, and the app is easy to use, just like other, more well known ways to view eBook content. Certainly, the price was right, too.

When Big A (the relentless internet seller) decided to give me the old “heave, ho” I was a bit concerned about when and where I’d get new books to read, as I am not buying from them at the moment, but that fear has been allayed by the eBay and iBooks combination. The title I purchased is “Liver Rescue” which I won’t review, as I sincerely hope my readers don’t need it, but I’ll let you know that one way to help the liver is to eat lots of apples. Actually, I am very pleased to get a 500+ text for a buck, and the advice to eat a fruit I really like is welcome, also. Thanks eBay! And thanks to Apple, for making such an intuitive app for the iPad. Reading about apples on an Apple product is quite appropriate, isn’t it?