A theory on e-book pricing

As far as I understand it, the price of the physical book is a trivial portion of the cost to produce a book. The difference in price between hardcover and paperback may have misled us in this regard, but what you’re paying for with a hardcover is traditionally earlier access to the book, with greater durability as a kind of bonus. Though I do not know the details, it seems obvious that the price differential between an e-book and a physical book is far greater than the price of the physical artifact — indeed, it’s almost certainly much greater than the cost of the physical artifact plus storage and shipping costs.

What accounts for the price differential, then? Part of the problem is surely that almost no one would buy e-books if they were the same price as a paperback. Yet I propose that the real root cause is Amazon, which has already aggressively pushed down physical book prices and irrevocably damaged the profitability of traditional publishers and bookstores. They’ve already racheted down what people are willing to pay for books, and e-books give them a pretext to cut the price even further.

Hence my theory: e-books, at their current price levels, are loss-leaders meant to ensure Amazon’s long-term control over publishing. My worry, though, is not so much that they’ll raise prices once they get monopoly power, but rather that they simply won’t do the stuff that traditional publishers have done — that they’re ushering in a world of universal self-publishing, with no infrastructure for providing editing and other services to authors who are not able to pay for such services out of pocket.

Annotated List of Notable Books I Read This Year (in no particular order)

  • Speedboat & Pitch Dark, Renata Adler

2013 was a good year for Adler. Sure, it took a couple of years and NYRB re-publications, but her two wonderful novels, Speedboat and Pitch Dark are finally being given the due they deserve. Adler’s prose is precision sharp, psychologically dense (& as a result quite real), and nothing really feels particularly dated in either book. Pitch Dark is arguably a bit better, but the bursts of Speedboat are more explosive & make it a better starting point.

  • Seiobo There Below, László Krasznahorkai

Krasznahorkai’s most recent book is, let’s be blunt, his greatest so far. And, in truth, it’s probably the greatest thing published in English this year. You think I’m exaggerating, but I am not. The man is a wizard, and he pulls off audacious, seemingly pretentious maneuvers like twenty-page sentences, such that you quickly lose sight of the audacity and find yourself instead wherever he damn well wants you. Beauty and horror never so much collide or come at odds in Krasznahorkai’s world, nor are they infused or resolved dialectically. They somehow interpenetrate the other in unbalanced, sometimes grotesque ways. Seiobo There Below repeatedly rehearses precisely how this looks, and I could not look away.

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A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature: Ecologies of Thought Released

I am really excited to announce that my first book has just been published in the Radical Theologies series at Palgrave Macmillian. It’s too expensive for now, though a paperback should come out in a year and I hope some of you will request your library order it. I have written a short, personal preview at the invitation of Political Theology. Over at Environmental Critique Christine Skolnik has written a very kind review of the book.

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Speculative Medievalisms and From Decision to Heresy

Some of you may be interested in two volumes that have recently come out that I am proud to have been involved with. First is the Speculative Medievalisms volume which collects the papers from the two events of the same name. This is available from the publisher as a free open-access PDF in addition to a print copy you can buy. My contribution is entitled “The Speculative Angel” and includes some translations from Lardreau & Jambet, Corbin, and Gilles Grelet. It includes a lot of other very interesting material.

Second is the Urbanomic/Sequence collection of essays by Laruelle entitled From Decision to Heresy: Experiments in Non-Standard Thought [US] [UK]. I co-translated, with Nicola Rubczak, three of the essays found there, but Robin Mackay has done a stellar job of editing the volume. His introduction is a mix of interview and exposition that is really helpful and clear.

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Noteworthy Books of 2012

A few weeks ago, Scott Esposito (editor of the consistently great Quarterly Conversation) asked me for an annotated list of the five best books I’d read in 2012. After doing so, I started feeling bad about the books I left off the list, so I sat down and compiled a larger one. Below the fold you’ll find that I’ve re-listed a couple of the most noteworthy ones I originally highlighted, and a slew of others. Feel free to provide your own list in the comments. Read the rest of this entry »

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All I want for Christmas is books

There’s more to us than joyless cynicism here at AUFS — we also want stuff, we want things. In the last couple years, for instance, I’ve started to want a lot of clothes. I suspect that this is a desire that can be satiated, since I experienced a similar lust for shoes for a while there, which calmed down once I obtained my rather minimal idea of a “full set” (one casual and one dressy in black and brown; one set of tennis shows).

My clothing drives would have to reach truly pathological levels, though, to reach the intensity of my desire for books. Every time I’m at Anna Kornbluh’s house, for instance, I long for her full sets of Lacan and Freud in the original. And this leads me to my proposed open thread today: what gift of books would be your wish come true? (Assume money is no object.)

For me (sorry, Lacan!), I think it would be the Corpus Christianorum edition of Augustine’s De Trinitate, along with a gift card good for ten volumes in the Sources Chrétiennes series.


Does anyone know of an affordable edition of the Presocratics with the Greek text? Or a readily accessible online resource? We’re reading them in the Natural Science 1 course I’m taking this semester at Shimer, and I’d like to take a closer look (and perhaps ultimately dig into Heidegger’s work on them — is it worth working through his courses?).

A Great Authors curriculum

A strange thought occurred to me: what would the “Great Books” curriculum look like if it was restructured around a “Great Authors” principle? That is, it wouldn’t be a matter of picking out the most exceptional or useful works to build a curriculum, but of picking out a handful of authors, whose works would be read in full (or as close as possible). What would it look like to provide a plausible education in such a format?

One major change is that the “Stockholm Syndrome” approach that one will often favor in introducing students to new texts (i.e., read as charitably as possible, construe the arguments as strongly as possible, etc.) would be unsustainable. Let’s say you chose Freud, for instance — you couldn’t start from a “Freud is always right unless we’re really, really sure he isn’t” position, because Freud changes his mind too much. After a certain point, it’s no longer about figuring out “what Freud thinks,” but about figuring out the persistent problems that he’s responding to. If students could come to that point, they might arguably have a more lively grasp of what’s at stake in psychology than if they had a sampling of several authors’ views.

Or maybe not. In any case: Who would you choose? And keep in mind that I’m from a less strictly orthodox Great Books school, so you’re allowed to pick contemporary authors and, more generally, there’s no requirement of overtowering obviousness. (In my view, the only author who would be totally non-negotiable is Kafka.)

The Synaptic Gospel: Published!

The Synaptic Gospel habituating in my basement work area.

I am pleased to report that The Synaptic Gospel is published and I have now seen the finished product.  Thanks to everyone who pre-ordered the book.

The book is an attempt to force a conversation between phenomenology and affect neuroscience to re-think religious communities’ practical paradigms for worship and religious education.  Thinkers engaged along the way include Husserl, Stein, Panksepp, Csikszentmihalyi, and others.

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After the Postsecular and the PostmodernAAR Discount

Our session at the AAR was great and I have a pretty good recording of most of the talks that I will upload soon. I wanted to let people know that have a few copies of the book left over from the talk that we are selling at a good discount. If you would like a paperback of After the Postsecular and the Postmodern we have limited copies at $25 plus $2 to help with shipping. It sells on Amazon for $45, so you will be saving a significant amount of cash. If you are interested please email me at anthonypaul.smith(at)gmail.com and we will arrange payment and I’ll ship it out to you. If you live in the UK and are interested in the discount also feel free to drop me a line and we will work something out. This deal ends November 30th, so it is very limited.


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