About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stealth Mode

So the Post Office quietly raised its prices for what it calls "Shipping Services" on the 18th, Express & Priority Mail and the like, but not for first class mail which will go up in May.  And I do mean "quietly."  I mean, I'm in the Post Office three days a week and don't think I saw a sign or notice or anything anyplace.

I hate the fact that they do it in stealth mode.  That's just plain wrong to me.

Aside from that, because real world wise most businesses don't make a big deal about raising prices, shrinking your half gallon of ice cream or your Skippy peanut butter jar to a few ounces less, it gets more and more transactionally expensive to market books by clients in the foreign and translation markets.  Now, the costs of these foreign mailings are charged to clients as a disbursement, so at the end of the day on a lot of this I don't care.  But I'm a nice guy and very conscientous of the fiduciary obligation I have to my clients not to spend their money frivolously.  So as prices go up, how aggressive do I start to be on hard/soft books about holding off the big foreign rights marketing push for the paperback?  You can't do this every time, but if you're in book #5 of a series and there's a market where nobody has yet to buy book #1, let alone #2/3/4, does it matter if I send my sub-agent the paperback in 2010 instead of the hardcover in 2009?  But then that means I still have to sit on the hardcover copies just in case and then do something with 18 hardcovers a year later when the paperback comes out?  Do we start to use those pain-in-the-neck M-Bags where you walk to the Post Office with a big sack full of books that you can send cheaper by the pound than a Flat Rate Priority Box, which is in turn cheaper if you can fill the sucker up than to send all of those books individually?  Do we click'n'ship and spend more of our time printing postage here to save a couple of dollars than when the Post Office can spend a little more time while I stand at the counter reading a book or newspaper?

And there's a recurring theme thru almost all of this, which is that as a general rule all of the things I might do to minimize the disbursement hurt to my clients end up being more work for me.  It isn't so much that the cost is less, as that it gets transferred.  

& then when I'm done thinking about the joys of stealth rate increases at the Post Office, I can ponder instead the 16% increase in the health insurance premiums come the March bill, which will bring the monthly bill for just two employees to $1000 each.  I don't usually talk politics on the blog, but I've got to make very clear that the current health system in this country cannot stand.  I take on a new employee, and the insurance alone is now $6000.  I'm a really nice guy, but that's the kind of thing that makes you think interns, part-timers, throwing clients overboard, anything and everything you can possibly do before you add another full-time warm body with benefits to the staff roster.  I'm unabashedly liberal on the solution, which has to ultimately be government run single-payer health care.  Market based solutions don't work, because we really can't go "oh, I'm having a heart attack, so let me quickly go on-line and compare all of my local doctors and hospitals and find the one that has the best results for dealing with heart attacks."  Please!  If you need -- and I mean NEED because the old one stopped working -- a new refrigerator, as opposed to buying one as part of a remodel or something, you're hardly going to go around to six places to comparison shop while your food is melting, and a lot of the time you can't do that with your health care either.  There's also the conservative approach that tries to incentivize people to use less health care through health savings accounts or by jacking up the co-pays or otherwise transferring costs to an employee, or eliminating the tax deduction to my business so I'll shop around for the Best Insurance Plan and not have some Cadillac Insurance Plan for my office when we should all be taking the Kia Rio Insurance Plan.  Some of this kind of thing might be possible if you're a big company and can have a dedicated person doing this kind of thing, but in a small business that means taking a lot of time and then maybe getting the insurance cost down by a small amount.  And even though I have health insurance, I still dread any and every little piece of interaction I have with the health care system.  The system is broken, it needs to be fixed, and market-based won't do it.

I'm essentially powerless to do much about our dysfunctional health care system, so I'll spend idle minutes musing on the true eternal questions of life -- to Click 'n' Ship to save $2 to my clients on the costs of mailing that Priority Mail Flat Rate box of books, or not to save.  At least those questions I feel I have some control over answering.


Tim Akers said...

The other truth about the insurance thing is that it ends up hampering your clients, too. One of the main reasons a lot of us stay at our day jobs is insurance. My wife already works out of the house, and makes good money, but until there a better way of getting insurance for single-owner businesses, I'm stuck writing whatever I can at lunch or in the evenings when I'd rather be spending time with my wife.

Point is, I'm with you.

The Brillig Blogger said...

It hasn't been as big a deal the past few years, but some groups once liked to publicize that special day in April or June or whenever http://www.taxfoundation.org/taxfreedomday/
when you started earning money for yourself instead of the government. But I guess it doesn't bother them if it's a private insurance company that you then have to work off paying for the next six weeks.

That was also one of the things I disliked most about Steve and I parting company, that after a bit he doesn't have his job-based health insurance, that he doesn't have any money of his own to buy, and it shouldn't be that way.

Maria said...

Personally I don't think government based insurance will work either. Private insurance hasn't worked, not denying that. But government insurance, by design has to spread out over so much, that you think you have insurance, but you spend all our time trying to file the paperwork and trying to figure out the cost and on and on. (I handle government based insurance called medicare for my parents.) Believe me, it is no cup of tea--and the prices for the various drugs change every year--by up to 6 times the original amount on some of the drugs. Same thing with some office visits. You have coverage at x out of pocket one year--the next--rules change. It's a nightmare of paperwork, just as bad or worse than running the tax stuff on a small business each year.

HemlockMan said...

Socialized health care. Let's have it.