Monday, June 23, 2008

Cultural landmarks ... like Bambi. And Vegemite

I was looking at the product ID numbers of the ebooks we've been uploding to Payloadz, and confess to being somewhat gobsmacked. The first upload we did was number 464810. The last one we did was number 468107. That's 3297 ebooks which have been added to the Payloadz list in the couple of days it took us to process through the Mel Keegan ebooks. Or, about 1650 a day. That's a hell of a lot of ebooks, especially when you remember that around as many are being added to the Lulu list, and a dozen other DIY lists, before you even get to those entities which characterize themselves as third party ebook publishers, and undertake to market books on one hand, and pay out royalties on the other.

One can't help wondering if the mainstream publishers are a tad bit worried. It doesn't seem to matter what you want or need these days, you cn get it online, and often at a fraction the cost of store prices. In this country, books are an appalling price. A garden-variety paperback can be $26 -- we're not talking about trade size here; just your ordinary 'pocket' size paperback. And the same book, used, will be up around $10. Hardcovers? Put it like this: if you have to ask what they cost, you can't afford them. You do tend to start looking at book exchanges for hardcovers.

The best used book store I ever found is in Anchorage, AK. I used to do a lot of shopping at Title Wave, and still would, if I was traveling to and fro the way I used to between '97 and 2001. (Not that it's affordable these days. Gas prices have gone through the ceiling and dragged ticket prices after them.) I have fond memories of Title Wave. Bought so many books there, I used to mail them back rather than trying to carry them.

These days, though, when you're looking for books, the first place you look is online. I bought the new(ish) TROJAN WARS hardcover, used, via Amazon for something like $17 all up, including postage; it was $60, new, in this country. Ouch. I can only guess that the online shopping trade is hurting local, domestic retail. A while ago, I wanted to download the soundtrack to MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD. I fond it at iTunes for $9.99 ... great. Then I discovered I was looking at the US store. The system forced me to login to the Australian store -- fair enough; but the price shot up from US$10 to A$18 for the same item. The exchange rate is way under 10% right now, the price is way too high to be 'right.' So I went to Amazon and got a brand new, shrink-wrapped CD, airmailed to my door, for the greenback equivalent of A$13.

Something somewhere isn't gelling yet, and one hopes it will be made to gel soon. I realize that a lot of pricing is an almost cultural thing. When a motion picture soundtrack will cost about A$34 (!!!) in a local store, iTunes Australia probably figures they can't charge much less than 50% for the download, or they'll get run out of town by some chamber of commerce.

It's an almost cultural thing, like Vegemite in Australia, or reindeer sausage in Alaska. A great many people outside Alaska have heart failure when they imagine grinding up Bambi for sausage. A great many people outside Australia think you can use Vegemite to clean the driveway -- and it's definitely responsible for killing the septic tank.

The whole thing is definitely cultural. Vegemite should come with Special Instructions for North American Users, to stop it being the subject of substance abuse. I've seen Americans actually retching after trying it ... and I also saw why.

I think I saved a life. I was in the States, visiting friends in Seattle, who had very kindly (and I mean that sincerely: I like my Vegemite for breakfast, like twenty million other people down here) laid on a jar. In the nick of time, I stopped my friend actually spreading it on the bread.

US and Canadian residents, take note: no matter what it looks like, Vegemite is nothing remotely similar to chocolate spread, or hazlenut spread, or peanut butter. You don't put several ounces on with a trowel, level it out roughly and try to eat it. Caution: this practice can result in a dash to the emergency room!! Vegemite is a yeast extract, very rich, very salty. As rich and salty as anchovies ... thicker than peanut butter ... darker than dark chocolate. VERY tasty and VERY high in nutrition, if used correctly. Follow these instructions with care:

Butter a slice of bread. Go on, BUTTER it, don't just wave a greasy knife over it. Butter tastes better than the other stuff anway, and there's no transfats. Now, if you spread on 10g of butter ... spread about 3g of Vegemite, over the top of the butter. The more butter you use, the more Vegemite you can use, but notice the ratio: three or four to one, guys! Get it just right, and the flavor is -- ah! Beef bouillion!

All of which has absolutely nothing to do with the price of books and the proliferation of eBooks.

But, the next time you're confronted by someone demanding you try Vegemite, there's absolutely no *need* to panic. (By all means panic if you want to, but there's no actual requirement for it.) Just assume a smug expression, firmly take charge of the knife, the big yellow jar, the butter, and a loaf of fresh bread. And then show the smart-alec a thing or two, because when it comes to the Aussies' edible drain cleaner, you know your stuff. Remember -- you read it here first.

Got to get some work done now.


GDad said...

I think I need to try some of this stuff. The name alone intrigues me.

Mel Keegan said...

Hi, gdad - do give the substance a try ... just make sure you get the real thing. People will tell you that Marmite, Promite, Mightymite and so on are "the same." Nope. They're all different. It's the way the Vegemite mixes in with the fresh butter that makes it so good. At 4:1 or 5:1 as a ratio of butter to Vegemite it has that "beef boullion" taste. Generations of kids have grown up on it. Uh ... I guess I was one!

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